(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. Ephraim, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
September 14 is the feast day commemorating the elevation of the Holy Cross, and prophetically enough it was on this day in 1384 that St. Ephraim the great martyr and miracle worker was born in Attica, Greece. One of six children orphaned in early childhood, there was little indication that a fatherless waif would, from such humble beginnings, become one day an instrument as well as servant of God.
A sickly child from birth, he seemed doomed to die as a child when his frantic mother brought her frail child to the Holy Monastery of Ammon dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Here he was admitted by the monks to relieve a grieving mother of what seemed to be a dying youngster.
At first appearance it seemed that the boy’s days were numbered, but after tender care and prayer for the boy’s recovery, the monks were delighted to see the boy regain his full health. Interpreted as a small miracle, it served to convince the mother and child that his place was with these holy men who had given him renewed life, a life which thenceforth was pledged to the service of Jesus Christ.
For the next twenty-seven years Ephraim remained at the monastery, which was located at Nea Makri, Attica, perilously close to the hordes that were to overrun the empire. Later he was made a priest of the church. His charm, stemming from the Holy Spirit that dwelled within him, won him many admirers and friends outside of the monastery.
The monasteries of the time of Ephraim were an integral part of the structure of the Byzantine Empire, institutions to whom even royalty looked for lay as well as clerical advice. Ephraim was among the most influential of the fourteenth century monks who helped to hold together a weakening empire. His help to the disadvantaged was inestimable and his spiritual inspiration joined that of other clerics in providing for the will and resolve that were to stand in good stead for the victims of the Ottoman oppressor who was to grasp the land but never conquer the Christian spirit of Greece.
At one point Ephraim felt he needed a freshening of his spirit and made the customary trip into the desert for prayer, that can come only from the solitude of a forbidding corner of the earth in which self-denial and asceticism come with the territory. He enjoyed the proximity to God found in solitude but yearned for his beloved monastery and returned after a short stay in the desert.
But he was shattered when he returned because Ottoman marauders had laid waste to the monastery and the surrounding village.The villagers had taken flight, but while searching among the ruins he was taken captive by a few of the barbarians who had lingered, and was dragged off to their tribal camp. This event presaged the ultimate fall of the empire, since the city’s defenses were intact but the exposed Atticans were powerless in the face of the sheer weight of numbers of neighboring hostiles. Taken in chains before the chieftains, he was ordered to be crucified because he chose to serve the Master about whom they heard and should die in the same manner.
The whereabouts of the remains of Ephraim remained a mystery until they were unearthed in an excavation for a building, on January 2, 1950. It would have passed as just another skeleton until it was noticed that there issued forth from this fleshless form a sweet aroma exuded only by bodies of saints. When detailed research revealed that it had to be the remains of St. Ephraim, the sweet-smelling saint was encased in glass and placed in a chapel specially erected as a shrine to him and is exuding its scent to this day in Nea Makri, Attica.
The shrine of St. Ephraim attracts pilgrims daily, some of whom have reported visions of the saint, while others have claimed miraculous cures through prayer on the site. An inspirational leader in life, he continues to uplift in spirits the hearts of those who believe in Jesus Christ as they visit this holy shrine. The chance discovery of Ephraim’s holy remains has given physical evidence to those of the Greek Orthodox faithful who can see for themselves the closest thing to divinity that there is to be seen. Icons and artifacts are in abundance, but precious few relics of the saints remain. Happily, St. Ephraim is one of them.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.