On the Passion of the Saviour

by Our Venerable Father Ephrem the Syrian

St. Ephrem the Syrian (306-373 AD)

I am afraid to speak
 and touch with my tongue 
this fearful narrative 
concerning the Saviour.
 For truly it is fearful
 to narrate all this.

Our Lord
 was given up today 
into the hands of sinners!

For what reason then
 was one who is holy 
and without sin given up?

For having done no sin
 he was given up today.

Come, let us examine closely
 why Christ our Saviour
 was given up.

For us, the ungodly,
 the Master was given up.

Who would not marvel?
 Who would not give glory?

When the slaves had sinned 
the Master was given up.

The sons of perdition 
and the children of darkness 
went out in the darkness 
to arrest the sun
 who had the power 
to consume them in an instant.

But the Master, knowing 
their effrontery 
and the force of their anger,
 with gentleness, 
by his own authority, 
gave himself up 
into the hands of the ungodly.

And lawless men, having bound 
the most pure Master,
 mocked the one
 who had bound the strong one
 with unbreakable bonds,
 and set us free
 from the bonds of sins.

They plaited a crown
 of their own thorns, 
the fruit borne 
by the vine of the Jews.

In mockery 
they called him ‘King’.
 The lawless spat
 in the face of the most pure,
 at whose glance 
all the Powers of heaven
 and the ranks of Angels
 quake with fear.

See, once again grief and tears 
grip hold of my heart,
 as I contemplate the Master
 enduring outrage and insults, 
scourgings, spitting
 from slaves, and blows.

Come, observe well 
the abundance of compassion, 
the forbearance and mercy
 of our sweet Master.

He had a useful slave 
in the Paradise of delight,
and when he sinned
 he was given to the torturers.

But when the Good One
 saw his weakness of soul 
he took compassion on the slave
 and had mercy on him
 and presented himself 
to be scourged by him.

I wished to remain silent
 because my mind
 was utterly amazed; 
but then again I was afraid 
lest I reject
 by my silence
 my Saviour’s grace.
 For my bones tremble
 when I think of it.

The fashioner of all things,
 our Lord himself,
 was today arraigned
 before Caiaphas,
 like one of the condemned;
 and one of the servants 
struck him a blow.

My heart trembles
 as I think on these things: 
the slave is seated, 
the Master stands,
 and one full of iniquities
 passes sentence 
on the one who is sinless.

The heavens trembled, 
earth’s foundations shuddered; 
Angels and Archangels 
all quailed with terror.
 Gabriel and Michael
 covered their faces 
with their wings.

The Cherubim at the throne 
were hidden beneath the wheels;
 The Seraphim struck their wings 
one with the other 
at that moment,
 when a servant gave
 a blow to the Master.

How did earth’s foundations
 endure the earthquake 
and the tremor
 at that moment, 
when the Master was outraged?

I observe and I tremble 
and again I am stunned, 
when I see the long-suffering
 of the loving Master.

For see my inward parts
 tremble as I speak,
 because the Creator,
 who by grace fashioned
 humanity from dust,
 he the Fashioner is struck.

Let us fear, my brethren
 and not simply listen.
 The Saviour endured
 all these things for us.

Wretched servant,
 tell us why
 you struck the Master?

All servants,
 when they are set free,
 receive a blow,
 that they may obtain 
freedom that perishes; 
but you, miserable wretch,
 unjustly gave a blow
 to the liberator of all.

Did you perhaps expect
 to receive from Caiaphas
a reward for your blow?

Had you perhaps not heard,
 had you perhaps not learned 
that Jesus is 
the heavenly Master?

You gave a blow 
to the Master of all things,
 but became slave of slaves 
to age on age,
 a disgrace and abomination,
 and condemned for ever 
in unquenchable fire.

A great marvel, brethren,
it is to see the gentleness 
of Christ the King!
 Struck by a slave
 he answered patiently, 
with gentleness
 and all reverence.

A servant is indignant,
 the Master endures; 
a servant is enraged, 
the Master is kind.

At a time of anger,
 who could endure
rage and disturbance?
 But our Lord
 submitted to all this
 by his goodness.

Who can express
 your long-suffering,

You that are longed for 
and loved by Christ,
 draw near, with compunction 
and longing for the Saviour.

Come, let us learn
 what took place today 
in Sion, David’s city.

The longed-for and chosen 
offspring of Abraham,
 what did they do today?

They gave up to death
 the most pure Master 
on this day.

Christ our Saviour
was unjustly hanged 
on the tree of the Cross 
through lawless hands.

Come, let us all 
wash our bodies
 with tears and groans,
 because our Lord,
the King of glory,
 for us ungodly people
 was given up to death.

If someone suddenly hears
 of one truly beloved
 having died,
 or again, suddenly sees
 the beloved himself 
lying a dead corpse 
before their eyes,
 their appearance is altered,
 and the brightness 
of their sight is darkened.

So, in heaven’s height,
 when it saw
 the outrage to the Master
 on the tree of the Cross,
 the bright sun’s
 appearance was altered; 
it withdrew the rays
 of its own brightness, 
and unable to look on
 the outrage to the Master,
 clothed itself
 in grief and darkness.

Likewise the Holy Spirit,
 who is in the Father,
 when he saw
 the beloved Son
 on the tree of the Cross, 
rending the veil,
 the temple’s adornment,
 suddenly came forth
 in the form of a dove.

All creation was 
in fear and trembling 
when the King of heaven, 
the Saviour suffered;
 while we sinners 
for whom the only immortal
 was given up
 ever treat this with contempt.

We laugh each day
 when we hear of the Saviour’s
 sufferings and outrage.

We enjoy ourselves daily 
filled with great zeal
 to deck ourselves in fine clothing.

The sun in the sky
 because of the outrage to its Master
 changed its radiance
into darkness, 
so that we, when we saw it,
 might follow its example.

The Master on the Cross
 was outraged for your sake,
 while you, miserable wretch, 
ever deck yourself
 in splendid raiment.

Does your heart not tremble, 
does your mind not quail, 
when you hear such things?

The One who alone is sinless 
was for you given over 
to a shameful death, 
to outrages and revilings,
 while you hear all this
 with lofty indifference.

The whole rational flock
 should look intently
 on its shepherd, 
and ever long for him
 and respect him,
 because for its sake
 he suffered, he 
the dispassionate and all pure.

Nor should it deck itself
 in corruptible garments, 
nor yet indulge in pleasure 
and worldly nourishment, 
but should give its Maker pleasure 
by ascesis and true reverence.

Let us not become 
imitators of the Jews;
 a people harsh and disobedient
and that ever rejects the blessings 
and benefactions of God.

God Most High 
for the sake of Abraham 
and his covenant
 from the beginning bore 
the stubbornness of the people.

From heaven he gave
 them Manna to eat;
 but they, the unworthy, 
longed for garlic, 
evil-smelling foods.

Again, he gave them water 
from the rock in the desert,
 while they in place of these
 gave him vinegar 
when they hanged him on a Cross.

Let us be careful, brethren,
 not to be found
 as fellows of the Jews
 who crucified the Master, 
their own Creator.

Let us always be fearful, 
keeping before our eyes 
the Saviour’s sufferings.

Let us always keep in mind
 his sufferings, 
because it was for us he suffered, 
the dispassionate Master; 
for us he was crucified, 
the only sinless One.

What return can we make
 for all this, brethren?

Let us be attentive to ourselves
 and not despise his sufferings.

Draw near all of you,
 children of the Church,
 bought with the precious 
and holy blood
 of the most pure Master.

Come, let us meditate 
on his sufferings with tears, 
thinking on fear,
 meditating with trembling, 
saying to ourselves,
 ‘Christ our Saviour
 for us the impious 
was given over to death’.

Learn well, brother,
 what it is you hear: 
God who is without sin,
 Son of the Most High,
 for you was given up.

Open your heart,
 learn in detail
 his sufferings
 and say to yourself:
 God who is without sin
 today was given up, 
today was mocked, 
today was abused,
 today was struck, 
today was scourged,
 today wore 
a crown of thorns,
 today was crucified,
 he, the heavenly Lamb.

Your heart will tremble,
 your soul will shudder.

Shed tears every day 
by this meditation
on the Master’s sufferings.

Tears become sweet, 
the soul is enlightened
 that always meditates
 on Christ’s sufferings.

Always meditating thus,
 shedding tears every day,
 giving thanks to the Master
 for the sufferings 
that he suffered for you, 
so that in the day
 of his Coming
 your tears may become 
your boast and exaltation
 before the judgement seat.

Endure as you meditate
 on the loving Master’s
 endure temptations,
 give thanks from your soul.

Blessed is the one
 who has before his eyes 
the heavenly Master
 and his sufferings,
 and has crucified himself 
from all the passions
 and earthly deeds,
who has become an imitator
 of his own Master.

This is understanding,
 this is the attitude 
of servants who love God, 
when they become ever 
imitators of their Master
 by good works.

Shameless man, do you watch 
the most pure Master 
hanging on the Cross,
 while you pass the time 
that you have to live on earth
 in pleasure and laughter?

Don’t you know, miserable wretch, 
that the crucified Lord
 will demand an account
 of all your disdainful deeds,
 for which, when you hear of them, you show no concern,
 and as you take your pleasure
 you laugh
 and enjoy yourself with indifference?

The day will come, 
that fearful day, 
for you to weep unceasingly 
and cry out in the fire
 from your pains,
 and there will be no one at all
 to answer
 and have mercy on your soul.

I worship you, Master,
 I bless you, O Good One,
 I entreat you, O Holy One, 
I fall down before you, Lover of humankind,
 and I glorify you, O Christ,
 because you, only-begotten
 Master of all,
 alone without sin, 
for me the unworthy sinner
 were given over to death, 
death on a Cross,
 that you might free
 the sinner’s soul
 from the bonds of sins.

And what shall I give you
 in return for this, Master?

Glory to you, Lover of humankind! 
Glory to you, O Merciful!
 Glory to you, O Long-suffering!
 Glory to you, who pardon 
every fault!
 Glory to you, who came down
to save our souls!
 Glory to you, incarnate
in the Virgin’s womb! 
Glory to you, who were bound!
 Glory to you, who were scourged!
 Glory to you, who were crucified!
 Glory to you, who were buried!
 Glory to you, who were raised!
 Glory to you, who were proclaimed!
 Glory to you, who were believed!
 Glory to you, who were taken up!
 Glory to you, who were enthroned
 with great glory
 at the Father’s right hand,
and are coming again
 with the glory of the Father 
and the holy Angels 
to judge every soul
 that has despised
 your holy sufferings
 in that dread
 and fearful hour,
 when the powers of heaven 
will be shaken; 
when Angels, Archangels, 
Cherubim and Seraphim
 will come all together 
with fear and trembling 
before your glory;
 when all the foundations
 of the earth will tremble,
 and everything that has breath
will shudder at your great
 and unendurable glory.

In that hour
 your hand will hide me
 under its wings
 and my soul be delivered 
from the fearful fire, 
the gnashing of teeth, 
the outer darkness
 and unending weeping,
 that blessing you, I may say,
 ‘Glory to the One, who wished
 to save the sinner 
through the many acts of pity 
of his compassion.

Text and translations by 
Archimandrite Ephrem