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Home > Fathers of the Church > Nisibene Hymns (Ephraim) > Nos. 13-16

The Nisibene Hymns

Hymn 13.

Concerning Mar Jacob and his Companions.

1. Three illustrious priests, after the manner of the two great lights—have carried on and handed down one to another, the See and the Hand and the Flock.— To us whose mounting was great for the two, this last is wholly a consolation. R., Glory to You Who chose them!

2. He Who created two great lights, chose for Himself these three Lights,— and set them in the three dark seasons of siege that have been.— When that pair of Lights was quenched, the other shone wholly forth.

3. These three priests were treasures, who held in their faithfulness,— the key of the Trinity; three doors they opened for us—each one of them with his key, unlocked and opened his door.

4. In the first was opened the door, for the chastisement that befell us—in the next was opened the door, for the King's power that came down on us—in the last was opened the door, for the good tidings that came up for us.

5. In the first was opened the door, for battle between two hosts;— in the next were opened doors, for the kings from either wind—in the last was opened the door, for ambassadors from either side.

6. In the first was opened the door, for battle because of misdeeds;— in the next was opened the door—for the kings because of strife—in the last was opened the door, for ambassadors because of mercies.

7. Lo! In these three successions, as in a mystery and a figurewrath is likened to the sun; it began under the first—it waxed strong under the next; it sank and was quenched under the last.

8. Three figures the Sun also, shows forth in the three quarters:— its rising is keen and bright; its meridian strong and overpowering—and like a torch that is burnt out, its setting is mild and pleasant.

9. Small yet bright is its rising, when it comes to waken sleepers—hot and overpowering its meridian, when it comes to ripen the fruits—tender and pleasant its setting, when it reaches its consummation.

10. Who is this daughter born of vows, enviable above all women—whose successions thus proceed, and her ranks are thus manifold—and her degrees thus ascend, and her teachers thus excel.

11. Do these similitudes belong, only to the daughter of Abraham—or to you too, O daughter, born of vows, whose adorning is according as your beauty?— for as your occasion, so was your help, and as your help so was its minister.

12. According to the measure of her need, there came to her the supply of her need.— Her fathers were as was her birth; her teachers were as was her understanding—her training as was her growth; her raiment as was her stature.

13. Grace weighed out to her and gave all these things as in the scales—she laid them in her balance, that therefrom there might be profit—she drew them into succession, that therefrom might be perfection.

14. In the days of him that was first, peace abounded and peace vanished—in the days of him that was next, kings came down and kings went back—but in the days of the last, hosts assailed and hosts retreated.—

15. By the first order came in, it came in with him and went out with him—by the next the diadem that gladdened our churches, came near and withdrew far away—but by the last there dawned on us, grace that was not thankfully received.

16. Against the wrath that was first, the labour of the first contended—against the heat that was at noon, the shade of the second stood up—against peace that was thankless, the last multiplied warnings.

17. For the first invader of the land was the first and illustrious priest—for the second invader of the land, was the second and merciful priest:— but the prayers of him that was last, repaired our breaches secretly.

18. Nisibis is set upon waters, waters secret and open:— living streams are within her; a noble river without her. The river without deceived her; the fountain within has saved her.

19. The first priest was her vinedresser; he made her branches to grow even unto heaven.— Lo! Being dead and buried within her, he has become fruit in the midst of her bosom:— when therefore the pruners came, the fruit that was in her midst preserved her.

20. The time of her pruning came; it entered and took from her her vinedresser,— that there should not be one to pray for her. She made haste in her subtlety—He laid in her bosom her vinedresser, that she should be delivered through her vinedresser.

21. Be wise like Nisibis, O you daughters of Nisibis,— for that she laid the body within her, and it became a wall without her.— Place within you the living body, that it be a wall for your lives!

Hymn 14.

1. Under the three pastors,— there were manifold shepherds—the one mother that was in the city—had daughters in all regions.— Since Wrath has destroyed her dwellings—Peace shall build up her churches. R. Blessed be He who chose out those three!

2. The kindly labour of the first—bound up the land in her affliction:— the bread and wine of the next—healed the city when site was broken:— the sweet speech of the last—sweetened our bitterness in affliction.

3. The first tilled the land with his labour—he rooted out of her the briars and thorns:— the next fenced her round about—he made a hedge for her of them that were saved:— the last opened the garner of his Lord,— and sowed in her the words of her Lord.

4. The first priest by means of a fast,— closed up the doors of men's mouths:— the second priest for the captives,— opened the mouths of the purse:— but the last pierced through the ears—and fastened in them the ornament of life.

5. Aaron stripped off from the ears—the earrings and made a calf.— That lifeless calf in secret—pierced and slaughtered the camp:— those who had fashioned his horns, — he ripped them up with his horns.

6. But our priest who was the third—pierced through the ears of the heart:— and fastened there the earrings he had fashioned—of the nails that were fixed in the cross, — whereon his Lord was crucified—and gave life to His fellow-men.

7. A son unto death the fire brought forth—Death feeds upon all bodies:— the son of Death who surpassed Death—upon the souls of men he fed.— The calf forsook his provender—for men's minds were the food for him.

8. To the first Tree that which killed,— to it grace brought forth a son.— O Cross offspring of the Tree,— that fought against your sire!— The Tree was the fount of death—the Cross was the fount of life.

9. The son that was born to Death—all mouths were opened to curse him.— He devoured bodies and souls—and multiplied the disgrace of his father.— But the Cross caused to pass away the rebuke—of its father that first Tree.

10. The two sons were even as were— the two mothers that bare them.— The calf which the fire brought forth—the fire consumed in the midst of the people:— the Cross the offspring of grace—divided good gifts to all creation.

11. O my tongue hold your peace and be silent of the histories of the Cross that press to be told!— for my mind of a sudden has conceived—and lo! pangs of travail smite it:— it has conceived these among the last—and they strive to become the firstborn.

12. The babes struggled in the womb—the elder made haste to come forth:— the younger desiring the birthright—laid his hand upon his heel—that which he obtained not by birth—he obtained by the mess of pottage.

13. After the like sort these later histories,— lo! They make light of the former ones—that themselves may come forth and take the birthright.— Let us bring forth the history of our fathers—for lo! The histories of the Crossare the firstborn of all creatures.

14. For if that which has no beginning— is the first of all created things—its histories also are the firstborn—for they are elder than all creatures.— Let the histories of You, O my Lord, yield place—that we may tell of Your ministers!

15. The first in degree of doctrine,— His eloquence was like as was his degree—the next who was second in degree—his interpretation mounted to the height of his degree—the last who was third in degree—his eloquence was great as he was.

16. The first in his simple words—gave milk unto his infants—the next in his plain sayings—gave victual to his children—the third in his perfect sayings—gave meat to his that were of perfect age.

17. She too the daughter of instruction—mounted from degree to degree—along with her teachers and fathers.— A young child she was with the first; a simple maid was she with the next—she came to perfect age in the third.

18. The first dealing with her as a child—loved her and taught her to fear—the next as with a damsel, rebuked her and make her glad—the third as with one fully instructed—was to her a solace of pleasantness.

19. Even the Most High with the daughter of Jacob,gave blandishment and the rod to her childhood—and in her frowardness and full age—gave part in the sword and the Law;— and according to her discipline and instruction—He came to her in mildness and pleasantness.

20. The first that begot the flock—his bosom bare her infancy—the next of glad-some countenance,— cheered with song and made glad her childhood—the last grave of countenance,— lo! He guards her chastity in her youth.

21. The first priest who begot her—gave milk to her infancy—the next priest interpreted—and gave victual to her childhood—the third priest nourished her, and gave meat to her perfect age.

22. The wealthy father who was first—laid up treasures for her childhood—the next for her maturity— multiplied provision for her journey—the third the goodly olive tree—multiplied oil in her vessels.

23. When she comes before Him who is rich,— she will show the treasure of the first—when she comes before the Saviour, she will show the saved ones of the next—when she goes forth to meet the Bridegroom,— she will show the oil of her lamps.

24. Before Him who rewards the weary toilworn,— she will offer the labour of the first—before Him who loves cheerful givers,— she will show the almsgiving of the next—before Him who judges doctrines,— she will offer the discourse of the last.

25. And I the sinner who have striven to be— the disciple of these three—when they shall see Him of the Third Day—that he has closed the door of His chamber—may these three pray Him for me, that He keep the door open a little while for me!

26. May the sinner press into and enter— rejoicing and fearing to behold!— May the three masters call in— the one disciple in their grace!— May he gather up under the table— the crumbs that are full of life!

Hymn 15.

1. If the head had not been right—haply the members had murmured:— for when because of a perverse head— the course of the members is put astray—they are wont to lay the blame on the head. R. Blessed be He who chose you the pride of our people!

2. If now on one that is all goodly—on it we lay our hatred—how much more if we were hateful!— Yea even God though He is kind—bitter men complain against Him.

3. Be like the head O you members!— Get repose in his purity— and pleasantness in his tranquillity—in his sanctity renown—and in his wisdom learning!

4. Get discernment in his mildness—and chastity in his gravity—and bounty in his poverty!— As he is fully and altogether fair—let us be altogether fair with him!

5. See how meted and weighed— are his words and his actions!— Take heed how even his steps— keep the measure of peace!— With all his might he holds the bridle of all himself.

6. He was master over his youth—he bound it in the yoke of chastity:— his members were not enticed by lust—for they were kept under the rod:— his will he had in subjection.

7. For he was ready beforehand for his degree—as he was ready beforehand in his conversation—as he laid his foundations securely.— He became Head in his youth—when they made him preacher to the people.

8. Excellent was he among preachers—learned was he among scholars—and understanding was he among the wise:— chaste was he among his brethren,— and grave among his familiar friends.

9. In two abodes was he— a solitary recluse from his early days—for he was holy within his body—and solitary within his dwelling—openly and secretly was he chaste.

10. But although we my brethren— have put astray those measures—and we have lost that savour,— and have become teachers to ourselves—unto the perfection that called us.

11. Yet that measure of Truth— preserves itself in its vessel:— Truth chose it because she saw it chose her—she has preserved in it her fragrance and savour,— from the beginning to the end.

12. The Head both chaste and grave—that was not wrathful nor hard—nor transgressed even as we did—set and kept his own measures—and cast a bridle on his thoughts.

13. He gave example in his person,— that as he kept the measure of his time,— so was it meet that we should know our time.— We have become strangers to our time,— for we have been witless in the time of discernment.

14. In the beginning the blast of the wind— in its might chastens the fruit—then in the meantime the might of the sun:— but when its mightiness is passed—its end gathers his sweetness.

15. But we— they that were first chastened us—and also they that came next rebuked us—and they that were last added sweetness to us:— then when the time of tasting us arrives—great was our savourlessness.

16. For we came to maturity—that we might wean the children from wantonness—and lead them to gravity:— but our old age stood in need— that we should be rebuked as youths.

17. Accordingly he in kindness endured, nor did he make use of force—that he might increase honour to our old age:— and even if it knew not its degree—let him be magnified who knew its time!

18. And if one say that for the multitude—force and the rod should govern it—even as for the thief fear—and for the spoiler threatening—and for fools open shaming.

19. Yet if with the head as first—the members had hasted to move as second—they would have drawn that which was third—and the whole body from the end— would have followed after them.

20. They that were second despised those that were first—and that were third those that were second:— the degrees were set at naught one by another.— While these within despised one another—they were trodden down likewise by those without.

Hymn 16.

1. Herein is a mirror to be blamed—if its clearness is darkened— because there are spots on its substance;— for the foulness that is on it becomes— a covering before them that look on it. R. Blessed be He Who polished our mirror!

2. For that comeliness is not adorned in it—and blemishes are not brought to view in it—it is altogether a damage to comely things—seeing that their comeliness gain not— adornments as their profit.

3. Blemishes are not rooted out by it—likewise adornments are not multiplied by it.— A blemish that remains is as a loss—that there is no adornment is a defect:— loss is met together with defect.

4. If our mirror be darkness—it is altogether joy to the hateful;— because their blemishes are not reproved:— but if polished and shining—it is our freedom that is adorned.

5. Twofold is the loss in defect—for the hateful and for the goodly—in that the goodly gain no crown—and likewise the hateful get no adorning:— the mirror divides the loss.

6. Never does the mirror drive— by compulsion him that looks therein:— so likewise grace which followed— upon the righteousness of the Law,— does not possess the compulsion of the Law.

7. Righteousness was unto childhood—its adorner of compulsion—for when mankind was in childhood—she adorned it by compulsion—while she robbed it not of its freedom.

8. Righteousness used blandishment,— and the rod to deal with childhood—when she smote it she roused it; her rod restrained frowardness, her blandishment softened the minds.

* * * * * * * * * * *

9. [If one turn from the Gospel,] wherewith we are adorned today, my brethren,— to another gospel he is a child:— in a time of greatness of understanding—he has become without understanding.

10. For in the degree of full age—he has gone down to childhood—and he loves the law of bondmen,— which when he is confident smites him—and when he rejoices buffets him.

11. Whatsoever ornament is compulsion—is not true but is borrowed.— This is a great thing in God's eyes—that a man should be adorned by himself:— therefore took He away compulsion.

12. For even as of His prudence— in its own time He employed compulsion—so likewise of His prudence—He took it away at a time— when gentleness was desired in its stead.

13. For as it is befitting to Youth,— that it should be made to haste under the rodso is it very hateful that under the rod— Wisdom should be brought to serve—that compulsion should be lord over her.

14. Behold therefore how likewise— God has ordered my successions— in the pastors I have had—and in the teachers He has given me—and in the fathers He has reckoned unto me!

15. For weighed out according to their times— were the helps of their qualities;— namely in him in whom it was needful, fear; and in whom it was profitable, heartening; and in whom it was becoming, meekness.

16. By measure He made my steps advance:— to my childhood He assigned terror; likewise to my youth, fear—to my age of wisdom and prudence—He assigned and gave meekness.

17. In the frowardness of the degree of childhoodmy instructor was a fear to me:— his rod restrained me from wantonness—and from mischief the terror of him—and from indulgence the fear of him.

18. Another father He gave to my youth:— what there was in me of childishness,— that was there in him of hardness; what there was in me of maturity—that was in him as meekness.

19. When I rose from the degrees— of childhood and of youth—there passed away the terror that was first—there passed away the fear that was second—He gave me a kind pastor.

20. Lo! For my full age his food—and for my wisdom his interpretations;— and for my peace his meekness—and for my repose his kindness—and for my chastity his gravity!

21. Blessed is He who as in a balance— weighed out and gave me fathers:— for according to my times were my helps—and according to my sicknesses my medicines—and according to my comelinesses my adornments!

22. We then are they that have disturbed— the succession and fair order—for in a time of mildness— lo! We crave for hardness—that You should rebuke us as though we were children!

About this page

Source. Translated by J.T. Sarsfield Stopford. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 13. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <>.

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