The Vita of St. Ephrem the Syrian (1)

The Vita of St. Ephrem the Syrian1

by Edip Aydın

St. Ephrem the Syrian, known as ‘Harp of the Holy Spirit’ is undoubtedly the greatest poet and theologian that the Syrian Church ever produced. In the words of Dr. Murray, he is ‘the greatest poet of the patristic age and perhaps the only theologian-poet to rank beside Dante.’2

St. Ephrem was not only a well-known figure in the Syriac-speaking world but also had a great reputation in the Greek East as well as the Latin West. Within the patristic age itself Ephrem’s reputation as a holy man, poet and a noteworthy theologian was widely known far beyond his Syrian homeland. Less than fifty years after Ephrem’s death ‘Palladius included a notice of him among the ascetic saints whose memory he celebrated in the Lausiac History. Sozomen the historian celebrated Ephraem’s memory as a popular ecclesiastical writer, some of whose works had been translated into Greek even during his lifetime. St. Jerome recognized Ephraem’s theological genius in a Greek translation he read of a book by Ephraem on the Holy Spirit. And toward the end of the fifth century, Gennadius of Marseilles called attention to Ephraem as a composer of metrical psalms.’3

The testimonies to the great popularity of St. Ephrem throughout the medieval Christian world all refer to works in Greek. Although Sozomen the historian testifies that Ephrem’s works were translated during the saint’s lifetime, the scholars today have come to recognize that there is only a spiritual affinity between the writers of the works ascribed to St. Ephrem in Greek and those attributed to him in Syriac. Moreover, in the hagiographical tradition, an examination of the Greek and Syriac sources for the saint’s life gives us two different images of St. Ephrem. This is also reflected in the iconographical tradition. For the sake of convenience Dr. Griffith styles these two different depicted characters of the saint as ‘icon of Ephrem Byzantinus’ and the portrait of ‘Ephrem the Syrus’.4

The ‘icon of Ephrem Byzantinus’ is the product of the writers in the Greco-Syrian monastic communities of the fifth and sixth centuries. They transmitted the works of St. Ephrem in Greek as well as Syriac, and they even composed new hymns and homilies in Ephrem’s style and ascribed them to him. Also, they composed the Syriac Vita of St. Ephrem and a Syriac work called the Testament of St. Ephrem, which is also attributed to him. These two works are the primary sources for the literary icon of Ephrem Byzantinus.5

In the Vita, Ephrem is depicted as a monk living in a cave on the mountain near Edessa. He only leaves his cave shortly before his death to supervise relief efforts in Edessa during a severe famine. Incidentally, he is said to have composed some madroshe (doctrinal hymns) and memre (verse homilies) in Syriac, to overcome the heresy of Bar Daysan (154-222), a native of Edessa. In this account, to ensure the authenticity of his monastic lifestyle, Ephrem is said to have visited St. Bishoi (Pisoes) in the Egyptian Desert. Even today a visitor to Deyr al-Suryan monastery in Wadi al-Natron is shown a tree claimed to have been planted by St. Ephrem during his visit there. The Vita also tells of his visit to St. Basil of Caesarea in order to guarantee his orthodoxy for the Imperial Church. He flees priestly ordination at Basil’s hands, in good monastic style, though he accepts the office of the diaconate. Parallel to this account, the Testament of St. Ephrem reflects the world-view of a monastic hero, a desert solitary whose stories John of Ephesus may have told. According to Dr. Griffith, ‘This literary, or verbal icon, in fact must lie behind the best-known artistic presentation of St. Ephraem, the composition known as the ‘Dormition of Ephraem Syrus’, in which Ephrem’s body, lying on a funeral slab, surrounded by mourners, is the focal point of a tableau made of other scenes from a cycle of hermits, stylites and recluses.’6 Examples of this are to be found both in the Vatican gallery and the Monastery of Dokherias on Mount Athos. This is a perfect presentation of the profile of ‘Ephraem Byzantinus’.

In the portrait of ‘Ephrem the Syrus’ on the other hand, which is the recovery of Ephrem’s genuine works in Syriac and other texts in Syriac, ‘we find no mention whatsoever of any monastic tendencies, but instead only an overwhelmingly and entirely consistent picture of Ephrem as teacher and caretaker of the souls of the flock and even as a friend and advisor to his bishops.’7 Ephrem was born in 303 to Christian parents (Hymns Against Heresies 26.10), in or around Nisibis and received baptism in his youth (Hymns on Virginity 37.10.1-4). He became a ‘teacher’ (malpana) and a poet who for the majority of his almost seventy years, served the bishops of Nisibis namely Jacob, Babu and Vologeses (Hymns on Nisibis 13-21), as a catechist, biblical exegete, and liturgical composer. When Rome handed over Nisibis to Persia in 363, Ephrem was forced to leave the town and move some hundred miles west to Edessa where he served Abraham, the bishop of Edessa, for the last ten years of his life in the same capacity. He died in 373. St. Ephrem was certainly not a monk; but as an unmarried man he was probably a ‘single’ person (ihidaya) dedicated to the service of God.8

Ephrem refers to himself as a ‘herdsman'(‘alana), a member of the shepherd-bishop’s pastoral staff. At the end of his Hymns Against the Heresies Ephrem wrote of himself, saying:

O Lord, may the works of your herdsman (‘alana)
not be negated.
I will not then have troubled your sheep,
but as far as I was able,
I will have kept the wolves away from them,
and I will have built, as far as I was capable,
Enclosures of madrashe
for the lambs of your flock.

I will have made a disciple
of the simple and unlearned man,
And I will have given him a strong hold
on the herdsmen’s (‘alone) staff,
the healers’ medicine,
and the disputants’ armor.9

This is all that Ephrem is telling us about his role and position in the Church. It is probable that he was a deacon but there is no early Syriac text that identifies him as such. The word (‘alana) translated as ‘herdsman’ is very difficult to define precisely. Most often it is interpreted in relation to the Greek tradition simply as a term meaning deacon. But the normal Syriac word for deacon is mshamshono. As Dr. Matthews has noted, the term (‘alana) ‘is often used to denote a disciple in relation to his master, most significantly, after the pattern of that of Elisha to Elijah. Though in this instance, the term expresses Ephrem’s relationship to God, it is this very same relationship of Ephrem to his bishops’.10 What inspired the Syriac writers to celebrate Ephrem as a teacher par excellence was the fame of his teaching and that of the holiness of his life. The same also led the hagiographers in the Greek-speaking world, and those under their influence, to fashion the image of Ephrem Byzantinus.11

Iconography

In the iconographic tradition the way St. Ephrem is portrayed is not all that different from the literary or verbal icon of the saint himself. In iconography, as in the case of hagiography, one may classify the icons into two different types. The first type of icons is largely based on his Vita that developed in Greco-Syrian monastic circles. The other type is that which depicts St. Ephrem closer to the image that emerges from his authentic writings and other texts in Syriac. Especially some modern Syriac icons attempt to portray him in this way. The former may correspond to what Dr. Griffith has termed the ‘icon of Ephrem Byzantinus’, and the latter to what he named the portrait of ‘Ephrem the Syrus’ in his writing about the images of Ephrem. For the sake of convenience, one may classify the extant iconographic images of St. Ephrem as follows:

  • Icons that fall under the type ‘Ephrem Byzantinus’:
    • St. Ephrem in monastic habit. (The modern icon that covers Kathleen McVey’s book, Ephrem the Syrian Hymns, in the Classics of Western Spirituality series).
    • ‘Dormition of Ephrem Syrus’ in which St. Ephrem’s body is lying on a funeral slab and surrounded by mourners. (See John R. Martin, ‘The Death of Ephraim in Byzantine and Early Italian Painting,’ The Art Bulletin 33 (1951), pp. 217-225).
    • St. Ephrem featured with a scroll and vine. (Based on the Vita, 14, 15).
  • Icons that may fall under the type of ‘Ephrem the Syrus’:
    • St. Ephrem as a deacon. (He is depicted in liturgical vestments holding a thurifer in his hand. An original type of this icon today adorns the wall of St. Mary’s Syrian Orthodox Church in Diyarbekõr, Turkey).
    • St. Ephrem with St. Basil. This is the earliest surviving icon portraying St. Ephrem in a rather appropriate way. (Illustrated in K. A. Manafis (ed.), Sinai: Treasures of the Monastery of St. Catherine (Athens, 1990), p. 145).
    • St. Ephrem the ‘Harp of the Holy Spirit’. (The modern icon of St. Ephrem that came out recently from the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate in Damascus, Syria).

Liturgical Material

In the area of liturgical tradition for the feast of St. Ephrem, Dr. Brock has published a very good article.12 His study, for reasons of practicality, is confined to the printed editions of the Hudra and Panqitho (hymnodies or liturgical books for the yearly cycle of prayers for Sundays and feastdays in the Syriac Church). Hudra is used in the East Syrian and Panqitho in the West Syrian Churches. Here, I shall closely follow Brock’s observations and incorporate a great deal from him.

St. Ephrem is commemorated both in Eastern and Western Syrian tradition. In the Church of the East his commemoration feast, along with other Syriac teachers falls on Friday of the fifth week after Epiphany. The printed Hudra offers little that is very specific: Ephrem (along with Narsai) is celebrated as a teacher who ‘interpreted and illuminated the Scripture’, and who ‘quenched and rendered ineffective the sects of the erroneous heretics’. Ephrem is compared to a ‘skilled doctor who blended the insights of the Scriptures for the healing of the sick world’s ill’. Furthermore, we read in the Hudra that Ephrem ‘became a fountain and caused life to flow for the whole world.’

In the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, the feast of St. Ephrem (together with St. Theodore) is commemorated on Saturday of the first week of Great Lent. One of the striking features of the liturgical texts commemorating the saint is the considerable use made of memro (metrical homily) on Ephrem by Jacob of Serugh.13 This is either direct quotation from the memra or in a rephrased prose form. The direct quotations comprise couplets 21-29 and 148-162 of Amar’s recent edition of the memra. These include a couplet (152) which specifically refers to Ephrem’s role in instructing the women. The couplet reads: ‘This man introduced women to doctrinal disputes; with (their) soft tones he was victorious in the battle against all heresies.’ Further material that is derived from the memro is found primarily in Sedro (a long discourse that usually follows a Premion in the book ofHusoyo, the Syriac liturgical book of propitiatory prayers) which features in the commemoration feast for 28 January (Syrian Catholic only) and on Saturday of the first week of Lent in the Syrian Orthodox Church.

Naturally, the influence of the sixth century Vita is also reflected in several passages, such as ‘God caused Ephrem to pass from paganism and brought him to true faith.’ Also, the anecdote concerning the scroll and vine (Vita 14-15) feature here. The scroll is an indirect comparison of Ephrem’s divine inspiration with Ezekiel’s consuming of a scroll (Ezekiel 3: 1-3). There are also references to Ephrem’s ascetic life on the mountains of Edessa (based on 13 of the Vita) which talk of ‘the fragrance of (Ephrem’s) life of mourning’ (riho d-‘abiluta). There is also a madrosho (doctrinal poem in stanzaic form) on Ephrem that says he was sent to Edessa to combat the heresies of Mani, Marcion and Armianos, son of Bar Daisan. Also from the Vita are a few references to the meeting with St. Basil. There are also many other references from the Vita that feature in the liturgical texts of the feast. Finally, the Mosul edition of the Panqitho contains one of the supposedly autobiographical texts ascribed to St. Ephrem, a Sogitho (dialogue poem) beginning with ‘How often have I hungered…’ This Sogitho is also to be found in the current hymnal book of the Syrian Orthodox Church titled: Zmirotho d-Ito,Songs of the Church, and is chanted at the Divine Liturgy commemorating the feast of the saint that falls on Saturday during the first week of Lent.

The West Syriac liturgical tradition for the commemoration feast of St. Ephrem as we have seen above, draws on a variety of sources, primarily on Jacob of Serugh’s memro on St. Ephrem and the Vita. As Dr. Brock has concluded, ‘The result, not surprisingly, is that no consistent portrait is offered of the saint who is being commemorated.’14

Regarding the transformations that have taken place in the Syriac tradition with the portrait of St. Ephrem, Dr. Brock offers a good explanation. He says: ‘Perhaps all that the fifth -and sixth- century biographers wanted to do was to present the saint in modern guise, to make him relevant to their own context.’15 Dr. Griffith, further illustrating this point, states: ‘It was not that the Syriac-speaking monks in the Greco-Syrian communities of east Byzantium were deliberately trying to conceal St. Ephraem’s true identity behind an Evagrian mask. Rather, their intention was doubtless to praise the virtues of their most famous holy man, in the newly popular Byzantine idiom of asceticism in which the citizens of fifth and sixth-century Edessa were desperate to claim a place of pride for themselves and for their city. So it was that in popular piety Ephraem, the bishop’s man, became St. Ephraem, the model Byzantine monk, the deacon of Edessa.’16

Some Concluding Remarks

By way of a conclusion, I would like to say that St. Ephrem’s memre and madrashe, the homilies and hymns, became central to both East and West Syrian liturgical tradition, and his works have played a decisive role and influenced all aspects of Syrian ecclesiastical life. His fame as a hymnodist and ascetic spread to all branches of the Church. And today, thanks above all to the late Dom Edmund Beck’s editions of St. Ephrem’s genuine works, and the work of other prominent scholars in the field, there is a universal appeal to St. Ephrem. He has become a spiritual Father for the whole Church.

Bibliography

Amar, Joseph P., The Syriac Vita Tradition of Ephrem the Syrian, Ph.D. Diss., The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., 1988.

Amar, Joseph P. (Ed.), A metrical Homily on Mar Ephrem by Mar Jacob of Sarug, Turnhout, 1995 (Patrologia Orientalis 47, fasc. 1, no. 209).

Beck, Edmund, Des Heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Hymnen contra Haereses, Louvain, 1957 (CSCO, vol. 169-170; Script. Syr. 76-77).

Notes

1 This is a paper for a class of Hagiology at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, NY, 1999.

2 Robert Murray, ‘Ephrem Syrus’, Catholic Dictionary of Theology, vol. II, London, 1967, pp. 220-223.

3 Sidney Griffith, ‘Images of Ephraem: the Syrian Holy Man and his Church’, Traditio, (1989-1990), p. 7.

4 Sidney Griffith, ‘A Spiritual Father for the Whole Church: the Universal Appeal of St. Ephraem the Syrian’, Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies, vol. 1 (1998) no. 2, §5 http://syrcom.cua.edu/Hugoye/vol1No2/HV1N2Griffith.html.

5 Idem, §6. See also Joseph P. Amar, The Syriac Vita tradition of Ephrem the Syrian (Ph.D. Dissertation, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., 1988).

6 Ibid. §7.

7 Edward G. Matthews, Jr., ‘The Vita Tradition of Ephrem the Syrian, the Deacon of Edessa’, Diakonia 22, (1988-1989), p. 26.

8 On the significance of this title see Sidney Griffith, ‘Asceticism in the Church of Syria: the Hermeneutics of Early Syrian Monasticism’, Vincent L. Wimbush & Richard Valantasis (eds.), Asceticism, New York, 1995, pp. 220-245.

9 Edmund Beck, Ephrem des Syrers Hymnen contra Haereses, Louvain, 1957 (CSCO, vol. 169-170; Scr. Syr. 76-77), vol. 169, 56: 10 & 11, pp. 211-212. Quoted by Sidney Griffith, ‘A Spiritual Father for the Whole Church…’, §8.

10 Edward G. Matthews, Jr., ‘The Vita Tradition of Ephrem…’, p. 28.

11 Cf. Sidney Griffith, ‘A Spiritual Father for the Whole Church….’, §9.

12 Sebastian Brock, ‘St. Ephrem in the Eyes of Later Syriac Liturgical Tradition’, Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies, vol. 2, (1999), no. 1.

13 See Joseph P. Amar, A Metrical Homily on Mar Ephrem by Mar Jacob of Sarug, Patrologia Orientalis 47, fasc. 1, no. 209, Turnhout, 1995. [Critical edition of the Syriac text with translation and introduction].

14 Sebastian Brock, ‘St. Ephrem in the Eyes of the Later Syriac Liturgical Tradition’, § 23.

15 Idem, § 24.

16 Sidney Griffith, ‘Images of Ephraem…’, pp. 32-33.


Published in print in Golden Horn Volume 7 issue 2 (winter 1999-2000)

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XVIth General Assembly of Syndesmos “Serve the Lord in Unity”: Some thoughts and reflections

Volume 7, issue 1 (summer 1999)

by Edip Aydın

The XVIth General Assembly of Syndesmos, The World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth, was hosted by the Orthodox Church of Finland and held at the Valamo Lay Academy and Valamo Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration, in Heinävesi, Finland from July 17-25, 1999. The General Assembly gathered around 250 participants from among the Syndesmos members, in addition to observers from the Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, and from ecumenical and secular organizations.

This was the third time that the General Assembly of Syndesmos was held in Finland and the second time hosted by the Valamo Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration in Heinävesi, in the beautiful region of Karelia, the easternmost province of Finland. This is why, and rightly so, Dr. Dimitri Oikonomu, the former President of Syndesmos, in his address to the XVIth General Assembly said: “In choosing Finland as a venue for this General Assembly, Syndesmos has very much come home.” Indeed, The Finnish Orthodox Church, the second official Church in Finland after that of the Lutherans, with her 58,000 Orthodox faithful sustained by three dioceses under the auspices of Archbishop John of Karelia and All Finland, holds a special place in her heart and even feels a special responsibility for Syndesmos. Furthermore, Dr. Oikonomu in his President’s address stated:

“For thirteen years, from 1977 to 1990, the Secretariat was located in this land. From 1992 to 1995, Syndesmos’s President was a Finnish priest. For the first time in Syndesmos’s history, thanks to the indispensable support of the local Church, the secretary in Finland had a regular salary and a full time job. On both a human and a financial level, the responsible assistance of the Church in Finland has been enormous and decisive for the well being of the Fellowship. Even today the Finnish Orthodox members are the only ones in the world that unfailingly take up an annual collection from their Churches for the work of Syndesmos.”

Igumen Sergei, the spiritual head of the Valamo Brotherhood, which consists of six monks and four novices, cordially welcomed the Assembly. He said: “The Brotherhood is very happy to be able to serve the Orthodox world this way. Already the second time, Syndesmos held its general Assembly in Valamo last time in 1980.” Valamo, “the heart of Finnish Orthodox life”, was a great opportunity to the participants to learn about the prayer life and service that the Valamo Monastery is offering to the Finnish Orthodox Church as well as to 200,000 visitors (Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike) each year who come on a pilgrimage. For me, as an Orthodox rooted in the Syriac Tradition, it was a thrilling experience to go with Fr. Ephrem Lash to visit Brother Peter in his cell and learn more closely about his monastic life. As I entered his cell, my soul danced and my eyes feasted as they gazed upon the open Syriac Bible standing on a lectern and the Lord’s Prayer hanging on the wall and his study desk covered with Syriac books and dictionaries. When we were seated, he told us about his translation work from Syriac Fathers and ascetics into Finnish. He then added that his translations, with a long introduction about Syriac Spirituality, are going to be published in a form of a book as a service to his monastic community and the Finnish Church in general.

Under the theme: “Serve the Lord in Unity” (Zephaniah 3:9), the Assembly gathered to discuss, create new friendships and cultivate the old ones as well as learn about Orthodoxy and each other.

One of the keynote speeches at the General Assembly was given by Hieromonk Symeon, a Peruvian who lives in the hermitage of Timiou Stavrou under the Stavronikita Monastery on Mount Athos. He spoke about the division in ourselves and among us, and the union given by God, who is love. This was the first time in the history of Syndesmos that an Athonite monk was invited to speak at the General Assembly. It was a good and appropriate choice indeed, because it reflected the connection and fellowship that exists between Syndesmos and monastic centers. Also, it was a golden opportunity for the participants to hear the words of wisdom and learn from the experience of an Athonite monk and the Athonite monastic tradition. Furthermore, it was good for the women participants to hear and meet an Athonite face to face since no women are allowed on the Holy Mountain.

Syndesmos, being a fellowship of Orthodox Youth, was also very appropriate and rather significant to have Ms. Esther Hookway, a young woman who has been actively involved in the life of Syndesmos for many years, speak to the Assembly. She delivered her keynote speech entitled “Orthodox Youth self-awareness”. In her speech she talked about the relation of the world and Church and how to make a worthy contribution to society. She maintained that any contact with the real world is spiritually a beneficial one. According to Hookway, Orthodox self-awareness is about being a Christian in a real way. And one should change oneself before changing the world. Hookway noted that our Orthodox self-awareness is rather feeble. This, she maintained, is due to lack of education, which also means less witness of Christ in our life. She said: “It is important to be educated in theology and live theologically, that is to say to have a prayer life, to fast and do charitable works, etc., which have a profound and lasting influence on oneself and others.”

Among other things, the Assembly Working Groups deserve a mention here. Working Groups are some of the means by which the Assembly analyses and describes the current status of themes of interest and concern in the Orthodox Church and discusses the actions of Syndesmos in this field. The Working Groups list contained the following range of topics to choose from: Secularism as a challenge, Tradition and traditions, Liturgical language, Responsible participation in inter-Christian dialogue, Social service as Christian witness, Laity in the Church, Christian moral values today, Syndesmos’s commission on Orthodox Theological Institutions, and Orthodoxy and environment.

I myself chose the Working Group on secularism with its moderator Fr. Heikki Huttunen, a former president of Syndesmos. It was interesting to hear what Fr. Heikki, who is a Finnish Orthodox priest in the secular country of Finland, had to say about secularism as a challenge as well as to hear the views and comments of the participants who represented countries of different political outlook, faith and religion. Fr. Heikki said: “I think secularism should be taken rather as a circumstance in which we live and not as a positive nor negative thing in itself.” Besides enlightening us on the subject, The Working Group also was a good way to get to know each other better.

The program of the General Assembly also included excursions and trips to some of the churches and religious centers of Orthodox Church in Finland. These trips and excursions exposed us to the life of the Orthodox Church in Finland. One such trip was to Ilomantsi, which is at the heart of Finnish Orthodoxy, with a community established in the 14th century. There we visited the Church of the Prophet Elias, which is the largest Orthodox wooden church in the country and only dates from the last century. On Tuesday, July 20th, which marked the feast of St. Elias, the patron saint of Ilomantsi we were privileged to attend the hierarchical Divine Liturgy celebrated in honor of St. Elias. Following the Liturgy, there was a procession to the nearby lake for the service of the blessing of water. Later, we shared an agape meal under a tent and listened to the address given by Archbishop John of Karelia, welcoming all to the parish of St. Elias and giving a brief account of the parish life and the Church in general. He touched upon ecumenical and friendly relations that the Finnish Orthodox Church enjoys with the Lutherans, Catholics and Oriental Orthodox in Finland. [In fact, I later learned that in Helsinki, where a small community of Oriental Orthodox live, these faithful are allowed to receive communion in the Helsinki parish of the Finnish Orthodox Church. This is something that is rarely practiced elsewhere between Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches]. This was followed by a musical performance played on the kantele by two young girls from the parish. Kantele, a stringed instrument resembling the Middle-Eastern Qanun, is the Finnish national instrument. The instrument originated in Karelia, which is known as the Land of Kantele Music and Song. From there we visited the Joensuu Orthodox parish and the Orthodox Seminary, meeting with representatives of the local Syndesmos members, Orthodox Youth Association (ONL), PISTIS and Orthodox Student Association (OOL).

On Saturday, July 24th, we travelled to the Lintula Convent at Palokki where Mother Marina, who personally took us around the convent and the church, received us. The convent is home to a dozen nuns and open to visitors only during summer. They get about 20,000 visitors in a season. They are self-supporting, maintaining a small farm with sheep and goats but their main activity and income is the candle factory, which produces all the candles used by the faithful of the Finnish Orthodox Church.

On Saturday afternoon, coming back from Lintula Convent, we assembled at the tent for the official closure of the XVIth General Assembly of Syndesmos. After the newly elected Governing Bodies and Auditors of Syndesmos had been officially announced and the past Governing Body as well as all those who worked hard and made the Assembly such a successful event were thanked, the General Assembly was officially declared closed by Manos Koumbarelis, the new President of Syndesmos. The Assembly then sang a cheerful prayer in Greek.

This was later followed by an all-night vigil with the Sunday Divine Liturgy at the Valamo Church of Holy Transfiguration to offer thanks to God Almighty for all that Syndesmos has done and has accomplished for the glory of His Holy Name. Then all faithful shared an agape meal in the Monastery refectory.

On Sunday July 25th, there were two post-Assembly optional excursions. One of these was a pilgrimage to Old Valaam Holy Transfiguration Monastery on Lake Ladoga, Russian Karelia, and St. Petersburg, Russia. The other one was a Finnish Summer camp for the Youth Exchange held at the Kaunisniemi Orthodox Youth Center, Southern Finland. I chose the latter, which I enjoyed immensely. The three-day summer camp was something that I shall never forget. The program included daily worship and introduction to Finnish Orthodox Church life, particularly that of the Helsinki Orthodox parish and its youth work. There was evening entertainment, a traditional Finnish campfire, with multicultural participants singing cultural and religious songs in different languages while enjoying the grilled sausages. Above all, relaxing in the Finnish sauna (the eighth sacrament of the Church!), swimming in the beautiful Loppi Lake and taking trips by boat to the nearby islands was something I shall never forget. In short, the occasion was very enjoyable, relaxing and culturally as well as spiritually enriching.

On the departure day, July 28th, we visited Helsinki and its Orthodox sites, which was a joyous and memorable event in itself.

My final comment on the XVIth General Assembly of Syndesmos is that it was a successful and an enjoyable event. It was a golden opportunity for me to deepen my understanding of Orthodox Church and Tradition as well as to further learn about Syndesmos and appreciate the excellent work and service that it offers for Orthodox youth and the glory of God. Furthermore, it was an enriching experience to witness the vibrant and living Church of Finland with her dedicated priests and many devout faithful. A final word of thanks and gratitude goes to St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and staff for selecting me to represent the Seminary at the General Assembly and making it possible for me to participate by contributing towards the costs of the trip and event.