Nativity Fast Reflection - Saint Ephrem

 Reflection by Tenny Thomas



Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, One True God…Amen!

Ephrem the Syrian, known as ‘Harp of the Holy Spirit’[1] is undoubtedly the greatest poet and theologian that the Syrian Church ever produced. Ephrem was not only a well-known figure in the Syriac-speaking world but also had a great reputation in the Greek East as well as the Latin West. Within the patristic age itself Ephrem’s reputation as a holy man, poet and a theologian was widely known far beyond his Syrian homeland.[2]

Brikh firo darken wsaba’ kafnuthan moryo, brikh tobo dmenshel mlo kul sniquthan

“Blessed is the Fruit Who lowered Himself to assuage our hunger; blessed is the Good One, Who right away fulfills our need. Glory to Him, Who came to us by His first-born! Glory to the Silence, that spoke by His Voice. Glory to Him Who sowed His Light in the darkness, and was reproached in His hidden state, and covered His secret things. He also stripped and took off from us the clothing of our filthiness. Glory be to Him on high, Who mixed His salt in our minds, His leaven in our souls. His Body became Bread, to make alive our dead state. Glory to Him Who could never be measured by us! Our heart is too small for Him, and our mind is too feeble. He makes foolish our littleness by the riches of His Wisdom.”[3]

“This is the day when the high gate opened to us for our prayers; let us also open the gates to the seekers who have strayed but sought forgiveness. This Lord of natures today was transformed contrary to His nature; it is not too difficult for us also to overthrow our evil will. Today the Deity imprinted itself on humanity, so that humanity might also be cut into the seal of Deity. His swaddling clothes gave a robe of glory to human beings.”[4]

In our lives we know what it is to act contrary to the will of God and His Church. God’s true companionship is with those who keep His commandments, and obey His will.  In order to do so we need to cling to the life of the Church. The fasting seasons conditions us to be self-effacing and self-disciplined.  It challenges us to not only control our bodies but to reflect on the state of our relationship with Jesus Christ.[5]  

We fast before the Great Feast of the Nativity in order to prepare ourselves for the celebration of Our Lord’s birth. As in the case of Great Lent, the Nativity Fast is one of preparation, during which we focus on the coming of the Savior. By fasting, we “shift our focus” from ourselves to others, spending less time worrying about what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, and so on in order to use our time in prayer and caring for the poor. We learn through fasting that we gain control over things which we sometimes allow to control us...We are also challenged to fast from sin, from gossip, from jealousy, from anger, and from all those thing, while well within our control, we all too often allow to control us.[6]

This fast is for the transformation of the world, and it is through the fast that the faithful are called into attentiveness and anticipation. We who have fallen far from God through the magnitude of our sin, are called nonetheless to be close to Him. We who run afar off are called to return. The fast calls us to take our place in creation, to realize that, despite all my infinite unworthiness, Christmas is a miracle for our soul.[7]

We will never fully comprehend this ineffable mystery; but God’s grace will help us to understand – the great mystery of the Incarnation, the awe-inspiring mystery of God Himself become a man. This fast allows us to draw nearer to Christ in faith. “Fasting is not dieting. Fasting is not about keeping a Christian kosher.”[8] Fasting is about hunger and humility (which is increased as we allow ourselves to become weak). Fasting is about allowing our heart to break.) – God does not despise a broken heart. “Glory to God who has shown Himself to us.”[9]

[1] Sebastian Brock, “The Harp of the Spirit”. Studies Supplementary to Sobornost, No. 4 (1983) pp. 5.

[2] J. Bidez & G. H. Hansen (eds.), Sozomenus, Kirchengeschichte (Griechische Christliche Schriftsteller, no. 5.; Berlin, 1960), pp. 127-130. Glenn Chesnut, The First Christian Histories: Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, and Evagrius. Paris: Éditions Beauchesne, 1977. Sebastian Brock, The Luminous Eye: The Spiritual World Vision of St. Ephrem, (Michigan, 1992), pp. 16.

[3] Hymns on the Nativity 3, Kathleen E. McVey edited and translated, Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns (New York, 1989), pp. 82 – 83.

[4] Hymns on the Nativity 1, Kathleen E. McVey edited and translated, Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns (New York, 1989), pp. 74.

[5] Susan O’Keefe, Living the Days of Advent and the Christmas Season 2009, (Paulist Press, 2009), pp. 25.

[6] Martin Connell, Eternity Today: On God and time, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Candlemas, (Continuum, 2006), pp.

[7] Fr. Irenii (Dr. Matthew Steenberg), “He Bowed the Heavens and Came Down: Reflections on the Nativity of Christ” in

[8] Bishoy Marcus, “Hesychasm” in

[9] Kathleen E. McVey edited and translated, Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns (New York, 1989), pp. 82 – 83. 


Tags: Lent

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