Under this day’s date is also mentioned, in the Roman Book of Martyrs, St. Ephrem, a deacon of the church of Edessa, in Syria; and great praise is bestowed on his wisdom and virtue, as well as his labor in behalf of the Christian Faith. His work consisted partly in verbally teaching the Christians and partly in refuting the doctrines of the heretics, whose leader and teacher he boldly opposed and publicly confuted. Apollinarius, an arch-heretic, had written his heresy in two books, and had given them into the charge of a notable woman of his party. Ephrem, having become acquainted with this woman, requested the loan of these books, as he wished to study thoroughly the doctrine of Apollinarius. The woman, who thought that Ephrem desired to adopt these doctrines, permitted him to have the books. As soon, however, as the Saint became convinced of the impiety of the work, he pasted the leaves together in such a manner that they could not be separated. He then returned the books to the woman, who did not perceive what he had done, as the outside was unimpaired. Just at this time it happened that Apollinarius was called to a public disputation. As he, on account of his defective memory, was unable to speak much, he had his books brought, in order that one of his followers might read his doctrines out of them. The books are brought, the heretic proceeds to open them, but finds the leaves are pasted together, and that in consequence they are of no service to him. Unable to dispute verbally, he stood for a long time immovable, deeply’ ashamed. At last he ran away, and, not long after this event, expired most miserably. As far as the teachings of St. Ephrem are concerned, they exist to this hour in the splendid works he has left. In former times they were so highly esteemed that they were read aloud in the churches, after the Gospel, for the edification of the people. In these works much is to be found that the holy man said in praise of the Blessed Virgin, as also many prayers in which he invoked her: a proof that already, in the first centuries, the Mother of our Saviour was honored and invoked. His sanctity is demonstrated in the many virtues with which he was endowed, amongst which chastity, deep humility, and untiring benevolence towards the poor, shine most brilliantly.
One day an immoral woman tried to seduce him. Ephrem seemed to lend her a willing ear, and said: ” If I consent to fulfil your desire, you must consent that I select the place for our meeting.” “Where shall it be? Where shall we meet?” asked the shameless woman. “In the public market,” replied he. “Oh! not there,” said she; “we should be ashamed of the people who are there.” This was the answer that the pure servant of God wished to obtain, and he said to her, full of deep earnestness: “Unhappy woman! when the eyes of men are upon you, you are ashamed and will not commit evil; why then, are you not ashamed of the Lord your God, who is everywhere, and who not only sees and knows everything, but who also punishes with the everlasting fire of hell all vices? How much more should His presence deter you from the commission of sin?”
It needed no more to bring the unchaste woman to the knowledge and repentance of her corruption. Ephrem placed her in a convent, where she did most severe penance until her death, never weary of thanking him again and again for the benevolence he had shown to her. Just as the holy man, on this occasion, evinced his love of purity, so he manifested, on many others, his deep humility. When it was intended to elect him Bishop, he to evade this dignity, pretended insanity, and, hiding in a corner, remained until another was elected. So far from valuing the praises of men, he even regarded those who lauded him as his enemies, while he loved, as his best friends, those who despised him. In his last will he ordered that he should not be honored with music, or a costly shroud, or a panegyric; neither did he desire to be buried in a church, but requested to be laid among the poor, to whom he had been more attached than a father to his children. During a great famine, he himself collected from the wealthy corn and other provisions, divided them among the starving people, and assisted them wherever he could, day and night, with untiring kindness. Many other instances of his great charity, which are recorded by the holy fathers, Gregory of Nissa, Basil, Chrysostom, and Jerome, I have to pass over. Only one more will I mention, which the Saint related of himself.
When a boy, his parents one day sent him somewhere out of the city. Passing through a wood, he saw a cow, belonging to a poor man. Out of mischief, he pelted her so long with stones that she fell to the ground, dead. Four weeks later, his parents sent him again out of the city. Night overtook him on the road and the shepherds, whose flock was in the wood, having compassion on him, invited him into their hut, with the understanding that he should continue his journey on the following day. Ephrem accepted the offered hospitality and remained with them through the night. But just before morning the sheep of those men were attacked by wolves and widely dispersed. The shepherds believing that this was the work of thieves, and that Ephrem was one of them, made him prisoner and brought him before the judge, who immediately ordered him to be thrown into prison. At the same time two other men were also incarcerated, of whom one was charged with homicide, the other with adultery. Ephrem wept bitter tears at suffering thus innocently. After forty days his Guardian Angel appeared to him, and asked what he was doing there. Ephrem related to him the circumstances, and declared his innocence. The Angel said: ” I know that you are innocent, but the cruelty with which, some time ago, you treated the cow of a poor man is also known to me. Therefore you must atone for that wrong now, just as those two men, who are also innocent of the crimes for which they are imprisoned, suffer this present punishment for sins formerly committed. Learn from this that God is just, and that He leaves no evil deed unpunished.” Ephrem, coming thus to the knowledge of his fault, repented, and received a promise that he should be set free; and, in fact, soon after regained his liberty. This event induced him to devote himself entirely to the service of the Almighty. Ripe in years, he ended his holy life A.D. 378.
St. Ephrem prevents an evil person from sin, and converts her by calling to mind the omnipresence of the Almighty. Besides the remembrance of the sufferings and death of Christ, the thought of the omnipresence of God is one of the most powerful incentives to induce you to repentance and guard you against sin. Keep it in your memory as long as you live, but particularly at the time of which I have just spoken. Satan has infatuated many persons to such an extent that they imagine, and are even not ashamed to say it, “At the time of Carnival much more is allowed than at any other part of the year. Everything is permitted.” They seem to suppose that God turns away His face and heeds not their evil deeds. Ah! do not listen to such shameful whispers of the infernal serpent. The God who at all other times knows, sees, and hears everything, hears, sees, and knows not less at the time of Carnival. And as He at all other times allows no evil to pass unpunished, even so will He punish evil deeds committed at the time of Carnival. At this season, as at any other, He may call you away in your sins to everlasting perdition. “He has given to no man license to sin,” is said in the Bible (Ecclesiastes, I5th chapter). And what is written there remains for ever true. “For acting wickedly against the laws of God doth not pass unpunished” (II. Mac. iv.).
No matter at what time a man breaks God’s laws and commits sin, he surely will not go unpunished, because it is never permitted to commit sin or to break the laws of God. It is, therefore, only the Evil One who persuades many persons that everything will pass at the time of Carnival–that is, if we understand these words as the Carnival-sinners do, viz., that to sin is allowed at this time and remains unpunished. In another sense they are true, for everything that at such time we think, speak, do, seek, or enjoy, passes away and comes to an end. The pleasures that we indulge in, even by offending God, pass away and vanish. The priceless time that God has given us to work out our salvation soon passes away and never returns. With many, also the conscience, the grace of God, the soul, and future happiness are lost, perhaps for all eternity. Everything passes away, but the reckoning and the accountability to God pass not away: the punishment remains; for it is and ever will be the truth that “To act against the law of God will not pass unpunished.”
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.