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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

from its origins to circa AD 700, across the entire Christian world

The Homily (memrā) on *Ephrem (poet and theologian of Edessa, ob. 373, S01238) is written in Syriac during the late 5th/early 6th c. by Jacob of Serugh (c. 451-521). It celebrates the life and achievements of Ephrem, with particular emphasis on his work as church poet and defender of orthodoxy.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Liturgical texts - Hymns

Literary - Sermons/Homilies

Major author/Major anonymous work

Jacob of Serugh

Jacob of Serugh, Homily on Ephrem

The homily opens with a brief exordium, in which the author acknowledges his inadequacy to address the subject (pp. 24-29 of Amar's edition). In the following main section of the Homily, the virtues and accomplishments of Ephrem are celebrated. One of the most prominent subjects in that regard is the ministry of Ephrem among Syrian women, for whom he composed hymns to sing during church services; developing this theme, Jacob compares the saint with Moses (pp. 34-53). Another major aspect of Ephrem's image in the Homily is his defence of orthodoxy against a wide range of heresies, including Arianism, Marcionism and the teaching of Bardaisan (pp. 53-57). On several occasions Jacob expresses his pride in Ephrem as a fellow Syrian, describing the poet as 'an amazing orator who surpassed the Greek in his manner of speech' (p. 33) or as 'the crown of the entire Syrian nation' (p. 65).

Liturgical Activities

Chant and religious singing

Non Liturgical Activity

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy


The Homily on Ephrem is a poetic celebration of the life and achievements of Ephrem the Syrian, the famous 4th c. poet and theologian from Edessa. The Homily belongs to the literary genre of memrā, a narrative poem that employs couplets all in the same syllabic meter. Such poems, which appear to have been recited rather than sung, were presumably used in the liturgy, though there is no evidence from Late Antiquity of exactly how it happened.

There is a critical edition of the
Homily, prepared by Joseph Amar on the basis of manuscript Damascus Patr. 12/14 (11th c.).

Syriac text: Amar 1995; English translation: Amar 1995; Dutch translation: den Biesen 2014. For general information on Jacob and his oeuvre, see Brock 2011; Lange 2004; Alwan 1986.


The Homily presents so far the only specimen of the liturgical commemoration of Ephrem the Syrian from Late Antiquity. Similarly to several other of Jacob's homilies dedicated to saints, it contains neither references to the saint's miracles nor appeals for his intercession.

It is noteworthy that the image of Ephrem in the Homily is free of ascetic ideology. As Jacob limits himself to such general statements regarding the saint's way of life as 'he demonstrated in his own life conduct of the highest order' (p. 65), his portrayal in the Homily stands in contrast to the emphatically ascetic image of Ephrem as a solitary fleeing from the world, found in the Syriac Life of Ephrem ($E###).


Main editions and translations:

Amar, J.P., A Metrical Homily on Holy Mar Ephrem by Mar Jacob of Sarug: Critical Edition of the Syriac Text, Translation and Introduction (Patrologia Orientalis 47.1; Turnhout: Brepols, 1995).

den Biesen, K.,
De zingende vrouwen van St. Efrem de Syriër. Mimro van Mor Jacob van Sarug over de gelukzalige Mor Efrem (Partute: Schatten van de Syrische Vaders 2; Losser, The Netherlands: Bar Ebroyo Press, 2014).

Further reading:
Alwan, K., “Bibliographie générale raisonnée de Jacques de Saroug († 521),”
Parole de l’Orient 13 (1986), 313-384.

Brock, S.P., “Ya‘qub of Serugh,” in: S.P. Brock, A.M. Butts, G.A. Kiraz and L. van Rompay (eds.),
Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2011), 433-435.

Lange, C., “Jakob von Sarug, † 521,” in: W. Klein (ed.),
Syrische Kirchenväter (Urban-Taschenbücher 587; Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 2004), 217-227.

Record Created By

Sergey Minov

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S01238Ephrem, poet and theologian of Edessa, ob. 373ܐܦܪܝܡCertain

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