…as if He were a seed in our garden, or a small flash of light for our pupil, He shone forth and diffused and filled the earth.
(Saint Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns for the Nativity)
Days crack like soil.
In the parts of the world where summer parches
we wait like potholes for the rain.
December’s slow refrain is singing
songs that speak of joy. Repeat
the sound of joy, though it may cloy
against the tune of years. We see
the line of kings; the throne, the rings
disappoint. The crown is twisted;
what can grow between these thorns?
A king, smaller than a seed
and vaster than the spheres.
He rose up like a shoot before Him, a shoot from the parched earth; something spoken secretly occurred openly today.
(St Ephraim the Syrian, Nativity Hymns 1)
TV screens bear children’s prayers to a jolly man in red.
My wish list is as full as my cupboard; my spirit is silent today.
From department store dreams and desires filling reams,
O Son of Man, release us.
Shadows cast by desert palms long ago predicted
that only the thirsty will come to the well,
only the helpless will kneel.
Read history with alien desperation:
strangers in their homes know better than we
who never need long for Christmas.
Now it happens
in places with names we know:
near streets we have walked,
in stadiums and concert halls,
in coffee shops,
where violence never breathed before,
where we were safe.
Now we look for signs of links
to Syria, to al-Assad,
ISIL, and cells which fire.
Nothing has prepared us, yet
to others this has brewed for long.
The boundaries ever shifting say
that nothing was ever safe.
When French Charlie can’t say his name
without all heads turning at once,
the times are only waving a sign.
Once, when peasants were offered cake,
no-one ate to celebrate
Today, remember: Damascus’ streets bustled before,
and in the days of Noah men ate and drank
and no-one saw the rain.
For the occasions past and present, when sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by action or omission against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us forgiveness.
(Pope John Paul II, May 2001)
I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
The year the towers fell, John Paul
set foot where he was not welcome.
A Polish pope stretched out his hand,
though age had made him weak in grasp,
and held the breach, deep into past,
and said that it was wrong.
How far are spirits breached? How long
must souls be searched to find the start?
A silent prayer in Umayyad
cuts back to Hagar, Ishmael.
The God-who-sees hears whispered prayers
and knows how nations fell.
If we don’t speak of Cyprus now,
if East and West still cannot meet,
if schism is a constant truth
and where Saint Paul walked stands a wall:
thank God for arms that span the breach
and bear our coffin nails.
We cannot see al-Assad now
beside the pope and hope that he
will bring the peace we long to see;
the breach stands still, is deeper now,
yet Spirit moans for unity,
for being Three-In-One.
Behold all that are asleep, awake and rise to sing praise…
(From Psalm 148, Midnight Prayer liturgy, Syriac Orthodox Church)
Could we have seen it coming?
Was our slumber too deep?
Midnight’s for sleeping, yet You do not sleep,
nor did You sleep
as boundaries changed and names were rearranged.
You did not sleep as serpents hatched their eggs.
As feet kicked against the goads, awake, You rose.
Do You sleep?
We lie now as wide-eyed at midnight as at midday,
yet every praise that You ordain spells death to faithful lips.
And waken us to see the grace
that lies here with us,
Your garments glisten, my brethren, as snow;—and fair is your shining in the likeness of Angels.
(St Ephraim the Syrian, “Hymn for the Baptised”)
You are the light of the world;
you are the body of Life.
The persecutor kicked you;
you kick within yourself,
yet you remain – kept, preserved;
you cannot be hidden.
You are the beaten body.
Yet the body shines more for being broken;
more like the Head with every thorn,
you live because your foes assault you.
Hold up the Body by the crown
and it will radiate before all men.
Glisten with water, with blood,
Child of God.
Your cradle is pillaged;
the persecutor walks your roads again.
Over seas, the body binds itself,
strikes and licks its wounds,
kicks its own goads.
Yet you are the child.
Glisten and radiate –
let the earth see and know.
Your roads stood firm beneath the Zealot’s feet;
your foes became your brothers. Shine:
though the cradle may fall, the life remains.
While my body silent lies, May Thy power keep vigil; Let my sleep in Thy presence Be like the rising incense.
(St Ephraim the Syrian).
What can we offer?
The day is proud in its confidence;
night is helpless.
If they come, our shelters are weak,
our bags packed, our feet ready –
yet the shadow shelters too, here and in exile,
and the silent vigil is constant.
From threats which stalk without, within, we are kept:
though we are as mud-drops in an ocean,
the ocean protects.
Unknown the direction, unseen the foes;
yet we drift – tonight, tomorrow – in You,
sea of mercy, protecting light,
everything when nothing.
This day are opened, our mouths to give thanks. They who opened the breaches, have opened my sons’ mouths.
(St Ephraim the Syrian, The Nisibene Hymns)
The night begins our day; we raise
our open mouths to praise.
falls in orange sleep, but wait
expectant of the dawn.
The gates are breached; the night is deep.
The wall is broken so we reach.
You took our king to make us kneel
and rent the sky to make us gape.
The night begins the day; we raise
our gaping mouths to pray.