Saints of Eastern Traditions
When most people
hear the term
are good they first think of
the Roman Catholic tradition.
However, those who
know of the Church’s foundations
outside Jerusalem realize
that the culture of the earliest
Church changed rapidly.
Within the Roman Empire,
the gospel message took on the
look and feel of local cultures.
Today we speak of the gospel
These differences in
traditions—and the rich ways
the faith was proclaimed,
explained, expressed, lived
and celebrated in worship
and prayer—remain with us
today. Within the universal
Catholic communion of
Churches are those called “Eastern
Churches.” They remain close to the
Eastern origins of Christianity in style
The saints profiled in this newsletter
all come from the Eastern traditions.
St. Ephrem (c. 306-373)
“Praise God!” the young woman said
to Deacon Ephrem as they exited
the main doors of their parish
church. “The new verses you have written
for Our Lady on her feast day are wonderful!
They made me think of how good
our God is to us in Jesus and how lucky
we are to be able to worship today.”
“Thank you, child,” Ephrem
replied. “I am still amazed at how God
allows me to compose music for the
Church, and how you and your choir
members can learn the verses so quickly.
Our Aboon [Pastor] seemed pleased
Life for Christians in the land
between the great rivers—the Tigris and
the Euphrates—sometimes had these
nice moments in it. But as
a pawn in wars between
the two great empires—the
Roman and the Persian—Mesopotamia felt the tensions
of an unstable political
situation. The people of
Ephrem’s time knew what
it was to suffer at the hands
of the great rulers who
fought for control over
this important place.
All must eat
Ephrem’s Syrian communities
in Nisibis and Edessa
knew ravages to their homeland
from nature as well.
Although situated in the
“fertile crescent,” this land
was prey to earthquakes
and, at times, famines—events that take their toll
on the lives of people.
After an earthquake
devastated Edessa, Ephrem made his
way to the point designated for the
distribution of food. Tradition tells us
that during the famine that hit Edessa
in 372, Ephrem was horrified to learn
that some citizens were hoarding
food. When he confronted them,
they offered the excuse that they
couldn’t find a fair way or honest
person to distribute the food. Ephrem
immediately volunteered himself. It
is a sign of how respected he was that
no one argued with this choice.
He and his helpers worked diligently to get food to the needy in the city and
the surrounding area. It is no accident
that the following verses reflect not
only the physical troubles which beset
Ephrem but the spiritual ones as well:
All kinds of storms trouble me—and you
have been kinder to the Ark: only waves
surrounded it, but ramps and weapons
and waves surround me....O Helmsman
of the Ark, be my pilot on dry land!
You gave the Ark rest on the haven of
a mountain, give me rest in the haven
of my walls.
Make a joyful noise
Ephrem the Deacon, known as the
“Harp of the Holy Spirit,” is considered
by many to be one of the foremost
liturgical poets that the Christian
Church has ever produced. In fact,
some compare him to Dante, the
preeminent liturgical poet of the
Western Tradition. Yet Ephrem’s
contribution goes deeper. One of the
purposes of his metrical compositions
was to combat the heresies of his time.
His excellent manner—at once poetic
and symbolic—attracted many who
had strayed from the teachings of the
Church back to firm Catholic belief.
For this he has been named a Doctor
of the Church.
When we think of what it takes
to recognize a saint, Ephrem surely fits
the bill: a man who graces worship with
meaningful and orthodox song, and
who tends to the needs of the poor.
St. Ephrem’s feast day is celebrated
on different days within the universal
Church. In the East, many Christians
venerate him on January 28; in the West,
on June 9. St. Ephrem, pray for us!
St. John Chrysostom (349-407)
Pope John Paul II authorized the
return of the relics of St. John
Chrysostom to his ancestral see
of Constantinople on November 27,
2004. Looted by Crusaders in 1204
and taken to Rome, the bones of one
of the most famous bishops of the universal, undivided (pre-1054 A.D.)
Church came home to rest. This bold
act furthered the possibilities for healing
between the Western Church and the
Nicknamed Chrysostomos in Greek,
meaning “The Golden-Mouthed One,”
John is widely recognized as one of
the most eminent preachers the Church
has ever produced. Revered as a saint
by both the Eastern and Western
Churches, John was a very human
man, with struggles from within and
without. Yet he attained spiritual
greatness and personal sanctity worthy
Born in the fourth century in
Antioch, then the third-largest city in
the Roman Empire, John converted to
Christianity as a young adult. He
received a classical Greco-Roman
education, acquiring the skills for a
career in rhetoric along with a love of
the Greek language and of literature.
As he grew older, he became more
deeply committed to Christianity and
went on to study theology under the
famous teacher Diodore of Tarsus.
Love for Scripture, the poor
John lived an extreme asceticism and
became a hermit around 375. He
spent the next two years continually
committed the Bible to memory. As
a consequence of these practices, his
stomach and kidneys were permanently
damaged. Poor health forced his return
After recovering, John was
ordained a priest (or presbyter) in
386. This event seems to have solidified
the two main focuses of his life: his
love of Scripture and, like St. Ephrem
before him, his clear and outspoken
concern for the poor. The following
quote is typical of the many things
John had to say:
Do you wish to honor the body of
Christ? Do not ignore him when he is
naked. Do not pay him homage in the
temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad.
He who said: “This is my body” is the
same who said: “You saw me hungry
and you gave me no food” and
“Whatever you did to the least of my
brothers you did also to me”. . . .What
good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded
with golden chalices when your
brother is dying of hunger? Start by
satisfying his hunger and then with
what is left you may adorn the altar
Speaking out against excess
This concern for the poor deepened
when, in 398, John was asked to go to
Constantinople to become the chief
bishop or, as properly known, patriarch.
In this wealthy and decadent Roman
capital, John was confronted with all
that he abhorred. It wasn’t long before
he clashed with the Empress Eudoxia,
wife of the Roman Emperor Arcadius.
Used to the pleasures of the most
powerful empire on earth, Eudoxia
had Patriarch John banished into exile
for his criticism of her lifestyle.
John died on the way to his place
of exile in 407, a sad ending to his life
of zeal for the gospel and concern for
the poor and oppressed. Yet his martyrdom
mirrored that of his master, Jesus,
who died that we might live.
St. John Chrysostom, pray for us!
St. Sharbel Makhlouf (1828-1898)
“Joseph, Joseph! Come out of the
monastery! Come home where you
belong!” cried Mrs. Makhlouf and
other relatives, convinced that
Joseph was making a mistake in entering
the monastery. Joseph knew better.
His dedication to God and to a life of
prayer was already firmly planted in
his soul, and he wasn’t about to leave
these behind. Joseph desired to join the
long procession of devout Lebanese
Christians of the Maronite Catholic
Church who have dedicated their lives
to the service of Christ and the Church
through prayer and fasting within
Joseph Makhlouf was born on
May 8, 1828, in the village of Bqaaqafra
in the high mountains of northern
Lebanon. He was the youngest of five
children born to poor, respectable and
devout parents. They made sure their
children were adequately fed and
Obedient and disciplined
In 1853, after a brief time in another
monastery, Joseph transferred to the
Monastery of St. Maron at Annaya,
where he took the name of Sharbel,
an ancient martyr in the Eastern
Church. It is here that the incident at
the beginning of this story took place.
On July 23, 1859, Brother Sharbel
was ordained a priest.
Like John Chrysostom and
countless others before him, Sharbel
led a life of arduous asceticism. Then,
in 1875, the superior of the monastery
gave Father Sharbel permission to live
as a hermit. For 23 more years, he did
not live independently in the solitude
of his hermitage but remained at the
disposal of his superiors, following
very strict discipline. On Christmas
Eve 1898, Sharbel fell asleep in the
Lord, faithful to his vision of total
dedication to the Eucharist, to the
Word of God in the Bible and to
Mary, Mother of God.
The fame of holiness that
surrounded St. Sharbel during his life
spread even more after his death. On the evening of his burial in the
churchyard of St. Maron Monastery,
his superior, Father Antonio
El-Michmichani, wrote in the
...On 24 December 1898, receiving the
Sacraments of the Church, the hermit
Father Sharbel Makhlouf of Bqaaqafra
was struck by paralysis. He was seventy.
Because of what he will do after his
death, I need not talk about his good
behavior and, above all, the observance
of his vows; and we may truly say that
his obedience was more angelic than
human. . . .
Many miracles have occurred through
St. Sharbel’s intercession, including
the fact that his body remained
incorrupt for many years after his
death. These were proofs that led the
Vatican to declare his beatification
in 1965. Pope Paul VI, who ordered
the beatification to coincide with the
closing of the Second Vatican Council,
had in mind to propose the holy
hermit Sharbel as a providential man,
bearing to our modern world a message
of deep spirituality of an ecumenical
character. The pope stated:
At the closing of the Council, when
many souls are inquiring about the
proper measures to be used by the
Church to hasten the coming of the Kingdom of Christ, how appropriately
the Saint of Annaya is reminding us
about the indispensable role of prayer,
of hidden virtues, of mortification.
On October 7, 1977, Pope Paul VI
canonized Sharbel. His life of holiness
and rigor is not for all, certainly. However,
along our way to the Kingdom, such
examples urge us to seriously direct our
own lives to the way of the Lord. St.
Sharbel, monk and hermit, pray for us!
Next: Special Friends of the Poor
Become your best in your cultural setting. Follow in the footsteps of…
• St. Ephrem, who drew many back to the Church through his music, which he
used to combat heresy and clarify doctrine. Use your gifts and talents to uphold
the truth. Thank someone who has inspired your growth in faith.
• St. John Chrysostom, whose love of Scripture, concern for the poor and ascetic
lifestyle led him to criticize the extravagant lifestyle of the empress. Examine
your own lifestyle for excesses and make needed changes.
• St. Sharbel Makhlouf, who responded to God’s call to religious life against his
family’s wishes and active discouragement. Encourage a member of your family or
parish to consider a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. Pray for vocations.
Share how these and other saints inspire you
We will post selected inspirations in this feature.
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