Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ephrem, Deacon and Hymnwriter

Ephrem of Edessa (also called the Syrian) is commemorated on this day for his hymns and other writings that are widely known in the Eastern church, where he is known as the Harp of the Holy Spirit. Over four hundred of his hymns are known to exist, and many are assumed to be lost.

Many of these hymns are grouped by theme (some are linked here) . He is credited for showing the church that theology could be spread and reinforced through music and verse in congregational worship. He wrote a group called Hymns Against Heresies, sometimes taking popular melodies of the time to set his instructional verses against doctrines comsidered false at the time. (I agree that more people learn theology through hymns than through sermons.)

The hymns were chanted, and usually included refrains. Many are thought to have been used by nuns, accompanied on the lyre. Exact translations of his hymns into English do not produce "hymns" as we think of them, and much of the poetry and nuance is probably lost. For whatever reason, we are less familiar with his writings than with many hymns originally written in Greek or Latin, translated and adapted into verse over the last few hundred years. This one was translated and made into metrical verse in 1906, but the original would have been very different.

Receive, O Christ, in heav'n above
Our prayers and supplications pure;
Give us a heart all full of love
And steady courage to endure.

Thy holy Name our mouths confess,
Our tongues are harps to praise thy grace;
Forgive our sins and selfishness,
Who in this vigil seek thy face.

Let not our song become a sigh,
A wail of anguish and despair;
In lovingkindness, O most high,
Receive this day our joyful prayer.

O raise us in that day, that we
May sing, where all thy saints adore,
Praise to the Maker, and to thee,
And to thy Spirit, evermore.

Ephrem the Syrian, 4th century
(tr. Francis Crawford Burkitt, 1906; alt.)
Edward Miller, 1790

It took some time for me to settle a tune for this text. Oremus Hymnal uses ST. AMBROSE, which I don't think I have heard before. More chant-like tunes might include TALLIS' CANON and OLIVE'S BROW (played at more moderate speeds), but I also looked at BROMLEY, WAREHAM, and WINCHESTER NEW. They all seem to work in one way or another. Which one do you like for these words? (this would be an appropriate time for all (ha ha) my silent readers to say something - or not)


Leland Bryant Ross said...

Okay, now that the silent readers have commented (heh heh) I will suggest {{panpipe fanfare}} JERUSALEM (PARRY).

Leland aka Haruo

C.W.S. said...

Interesting choice. I don't think I would ever come up with that one when thinking of a Long Meter tune, but of course it is.

Leland Bryant Ross said...

The only texts I think of with it are the Blake original and Carl Daw's "O Day of Peace", but I've occasionally seen others, and it seems to me it would actually work with this text.

Leland aka Haruo

Dorothy said...

I'm really not a "silent reader." I've been on vacation this past week and am just now catching up on what I've missed at Conjubilant with Song. Upon listening to the various tunes you suggest, my vote would have to be for Wareham. But as you know, I am no musician. I just like the somber feel to the tune for these words.

By the way, I do agree that the theology expressed in music and verse has a big impact on people!

C.W.S. said...

Thanks for playing, Dorothy - WAREHAM is a great tune that's useful in many situations and one that people sing well.