On Tuesday the 21st of November Bata Bardak gave a paper on St Ephraim the Syrian’s ‘Hymns of the Pearl’ to the Spiritual Reading Group at the Carmelite Library. Here is Bata's selection of readings from the hymns to accompany the paper.
On a certain day a pearl did I take up
(Hymns on Faith, No.81)
Translated by J. B. Morris, c.1886
1. On a certain day a pearl did I take up, my brethren; I saw in it mysteries pertaining to the Kingdom; semblances and types of the Majesty; it became a fountain, and I drank out of it mysteries of the Son.
I put it, my brethren, upon the palm of my hand, that I might examine it: I went to look at it on one side, and it proved faces on all sides. I found out that the Son was incomprehensible, since He is wholly Light.
In its brightness I beheld the Bright One Who cannot be clouded, and in its pureness a great mystery, even the Body of our Lord which is well-refined: in its undividedness I saw the Truth which is undivided.
It was so that I saw there its pure conception,--the Church, and the Son within her. The cloud was the likeness of her that bare Him, and her type the heaven, since there shone forth from her His gracious Shining.
I saw therein His trophies, and His victories, and His crowns. I saw His helpful and overflowing graces, and His hidden things with His revealed things.
2. It was greater to me than the ark, for I was astonished thereat: I saw therein folds without shadow to them because it was a daughter of light, types vocal without tongues, utterances of mysteries without lips, a silent harp that without voice gave out melodies.
The trumpet falters and the thunder mutters; be not thou daring then; leave things hidden, take things revealed. Thou hast seen in the clear sky a second shower; the clefts of thine ears, as from the clouds, they are filled with interpretations.
And as that manna which alone filled the people, in the place of pleasant meats, with its pleasantnesses, so does this pearl fill me in the place of books, and the reading thereof, and the explanations thereof.
And when I asked if there were yet other mysteries, it had no mouth for me that I might hear from, neither any ears wherewith it might hear me. O thou thing without senses, whence I have gained new senses!
3. It answered me and said, "The daughter of the sea am I, the illimitable sea! And from that sea whence I came up it is that there is a mighty treasury of mysteries in my bosom! Search thou out the sea, but search not out the Lord of the sea!
"I have seen the divers who came down after me, when astonied, so that from the midst of the sea they returned to the dry ground; for a few moments they sustained it not. Who would linger and be searching on into the depths of the Godhead?
"The waves of the Son are full of blessings', and with mischiefs too. Have ye not seen, then, the waves of the sea, which if a ship should struggle with them would break her to pieces, and if she yield herself to them, and rebel not against them, then she is preserved? In the sea all the Egyptians were choked, though they scrutinised it not, and, without prying, the Hebrews too were overcome upon the dry land, and how shall ye be kept alive? And the men of Sodom were licked up by the fire, and how shall ye prevail?
"At these uproars the fish in the sea were moved, and Leviathan also. Have ye then a heart of stone that ye read these things and run into these errors? 0 great fear that justice also should be so long silent!"
4. "Searching is mingled with thanksgiving, and whether of the two will prevail? The incense of praise riseth along with the fume of disputation from the tongue, and unto which shall we hearken? Prayer and prying [come] from one mouth, and which shall we listen to?
"For three days was Jonah a neighbour [of mine] in the sea: the living things that were in the sea were affrighted, [saying,] "Who shall flee from God? Jonah fled, and ye are obstinate at your scrutiny of Him!"
What is it you resemble? (Translation 1)
(Hymns on Faith, No.82)
Translated by Sebastian Brock, c.1975
What is it you resemble? Let your silence speak
to one who listens to you; with silent mouth
speak with us, for to him who hears
the whisper of your silence
your symbol proclaims in silence our Saviour.
Your mother is the virgin bride of the sea
– without its having married her; she fell into its bosom
– without its being aware; she conceived you in it
– though it knew her not. Your symbol
rebukes the Jewish girls when they wear you.
You of all gems are the only one
whose begetting resembles that of the Word of the Most High,
whom, in unique fashion,
the Most High begot, while other engraved gems
symbolically resemble those things created on high.
O visible offspring of a hidden womb!
O mighty symbol, your pure conception
required no seed; your chaste birth needed
no intercourse; you have no brothers,
for your birth is unique.
Our Lord has brothers – and yet He has none,
for He is the Only-Begotten, O solitary pearl,
great is the mystery, for your symbol
stands all alone, yet on the royal crown
you have brethren and sisters!
The fair gems shall be your brothers,
along with the beryls; and other pearls
are as your companions, while gold shall be,
as it were, your relative: the King of kings shall have
a crown constituted out of your dear friends.
When you came up from the depths of the sea
– the living grave – you acquired this
glorious band of bretheren, relatives
and kinsmen. As wheat on the stalk,
So are you on the diadem, set amongst many.
As a debt is justly
returned to you, so you are raised from the depth
to the glorious height. The stalk in the field
bears the wheat: you the king’s head,
as though a chariot, carries about.
O daughter of the waters, who left the sea
in which you were born, you went to the dry land
in which you were cherished. Men cherished you, seized you
and were adorned with you: so too with the Child
whom the gentiles cherished, being crowned with Him.
In symbol and in truth Leviathan is trodden down
by mortals: the baptized, like divers, strip
and put on oil, as a symbol of Christ
they snatched you and came up: stripped,
they seized the soul from his embittered mouth.
Your nature resembles the Silent Lamb
with His gentleness: even though a man pierces it,
takes it and hangs it on his ear,
as it were on Golgotha, all the more does it throw out
its bright rays on those who behold it!
In your beauty is the Son’s beauty depicted:
– the Son who clothed Himself in suffering, nails went through Him.
Through you the awl passed, you too did they pierce,
as they did His hands. But because He suffered He reigns
– just as your beauty is increased through your suffering.
If they had spared you, then they would have cherished you,
for, if you have suffered, you now reign. Simon Peter
had pity on the Rock by which all who struck it
were wounded. It is because of His suffering
that His beauty now adorns both height and depth.
What is it you resemble? (Translation 2)
(Hymns on Faith, No.82)
Translated by J. B. Morris, c.1886
1. Whereunto art thou like? Let thy stillness speak to one that hears; with silent mouth speak with us: for whoso hears the stammerings of thy silence, to him thy type utters its silent cry concerning our Redeemer.
Thy mother is a virgin of the sea; though he took her not [to wife]: she fell into his bosom, though he knew her not; she conceived thee near him, though he did not know her. Do thou, that art a type, reproach the Jewish women that have thee hung upon them. Thou art the only progeny of all forms which art like to the Word on High, Whom singly the Most High begot. The engraven forms seem to be the type of created things above. This visible offspring of the invisible womb is a type of great things. Thy goodly conception was without seed, and without wedlock was thy pure generation, and without brethren was thy singlebirth.
Our Lord had brethren and yet not brethren, since He was an Only- Begotten. 0 solitary one, thou type exact of the Only-Begotten! There is a type of thine in the crown of kings, [wherein] thou hast brothers and sisters.
Goodly gems are thy brethren, with beryls and unions as thy companions: may gold be as it were thy kinsman, may there be unto the King of kings a crown from thy well-beloved ones! When thou camest up from the sea, that living tomb, thou didst cry out. Let me have a goodly assemblage of brethren, relatives, and kinsmen. As the wheat is in the stalk, so thou art in the crown with princes: and it is a just restoration to thee, as if of a pledge, that from that depth thou shouldest be exalted to a goodly eminence. Wheat the stalk bears in the field; thee the head of the king upon his chariot carries about.
0 daughter of the water, who hast left sea, wherein thou wert born, and art gone up to the dry land, wherein thou art beloved: for men have loved and seized and adorned themselves with thee, like as they did that Offspring Whom the Gentiles loved and crowned themselves withal.
It is by the mystery of truth that Leviathan is trodden down of mortals: the divers put him off, and put on Christ: In the sacrament of oil did the Apostles steal Thee away, and came up. They snatched their souls from his mouth, bitter as it was.
Thy Nature is like a silent lamb in its sweetness, of which if a man is to lay hold, he lifts it in a crucial form by its ears, as it was on Golgotha. He cast out abundantly all His gleams upon them that looked upon Him.
2. Shadowed forth in thy beauty is the beauty of the Son, Who clothed Himself with suffering when the nails passed through Him. The awl passed in thee since they handled thee roughly, as they did His hands; and because He suffered He reigned, as by thy sufferings thy beauty increased.
And if they showed no pity upon thee, neither did they love thee: still suffer as thou mightest, thou hast come to reign! Simon Peter showed pity on the Rock; whoso hath smitten it, is himself thereby overcome; it is by reason of Its suffering that Its beauty hath adorned the height and the depth.
O gift that came up, quite free? (Translation 1)
(Hymns on Faith, No.85)
Translated by Sebastian Brock, c.1975
O gift that came up, quite free,
with the diver, relation of this
visible light that shines, quite free,
for humanity, a parable of the Hidden Light
who gives, quite free, the hidden Day-Spring.
The painter too has depicted you in a likeness,
using pigments. But in yourself is faith
depicted with types and symbols,
as with paints, and instead of just a likeness,
in you and in your colour is your very Creator depicted.
You have no scent, but from you the fragrance
of symbols exhales; you cannot be eaten,
but you delight the palate of those who listen to you;
you cannot be imbibed, yet through the telling of you
you turn into a fountain of symbols for the ears.
You are great in your smallness,
O pearl; your dimension is modest,
your measure is light, so too your weight,
but great is your glory: that crown
where you are set alone is without price.
Whosoever does not perceive how great you are
amidst your smallness, should he despise you
he will also lose you, so that he will come to blame himself
for his stupidity; for when he beholds you
on the royal crown he will be drawn by you.
Men stripped bare dived down and drew you up,
O pearl. It was not kings
who first presented you to humankind,
but men stripped, symbols of the apostles,
poor Galilean fishermen.
They could not approach to you
with their bodies clothed, so they stripped
like young children: they buried their bodies
and descended to you. You eagerly met them
and took shelter in them, because they so loved you.
Their tongues proclaimed glad tidings of you
as these impoverished men opened up their bosoms
and brought out for display a novel kind of wealth
amidst the merchants, placing you
in people’s hands, as the Elixir of Life.
The naked divers, symbols of the apostles, saw you rising up
by the sea shore, and by the shore of the lake
did the true apostles see the risen Son
of your Creator: both sea and lake
have been adorned by you and by your Lord!
The diver comes up from the depths of the sea
and puts on his clothing; so too, did Simon Peter
come up, swimming, from the lake,
and put on his clothing. Both have put on,
as their raiment, love of you both, pearl and the Pearl.
I have strayed in my telling of you, O pearl;
let me gather up my mind: having gazed on you
let me imitate you, for you are completely
self-recollected; and because you at all times
remain single, let me too be single in you.
I gathered in the pearl to make
a crown for the Son. In place of the stains
marked out on my limbs, accept my gift,
even though You have no need of it: I have offered it to You
for my own need. O make white my stains!
The entire crown consists of
eloquent pearls; instead of with gold
it is girdled with love, and instead of with links
it is fastened by faith. In place of hands
let praise raise it up to the Most High!
O gift that came up, quite free? (Translation 2)
(Hymns on Faith, No.85)
Translated by J. B. Morris, c.1886
1. 0 gift that camest up without price with the diver! Thou laidest hold upon this visible light, that without price rises for the children of men: a parable of the hidden One that without price gives the hidden Dayspring!
And the painter too paints a likeness of thee with colours. Yet by thee is faith painted in types and emblems for colours, and in the place of the image by thee and thy colours is thy Creator painted.
0 thou frankincense without smell, who breathest types from out of thee! thou art not to be eaten, yet thou givest a sweet smell unto them that hear thee! Thou art not to be drunk, yet by thy story, a fountain of types art thou made unto the ears!
2. It is thou which art great in thy littleness, 0 pearl! Small is thy measure and little thy compass with thy weight; but great is thy glory: to that crown alone in which thou art placed, there is none like.
And who hath not perceived of thy littleness, how great it is; if one despises thee and throws thee away, he would blame himself for his clownishness, for when he saw thee in a king's crown he would be attracted to thee.
3. Men stripped their clothes off and dived and drew thee out, pearl! It was not kings that put thee before men, but those naked ones who were a type of the poor and the fishers and the Galileans.
For clothed bodies were not able to come to thee; they came that were stript as children; they plunged their bodies and came down to thee; and thou didst much desire them, and thou didst aid them who thus loved thee.
Glad tidings did they give for thee: their tongues before their bosoms did the poor [fishers] open, and produced and showed the new riches among the merchants: upon the wrists of men they put thee as a medicine of life.
4. The naked ones in a type saw thy rising again by the sea-shore; and by the side of the lake they, the Apostles of a truth, saw the rising again of the Son of thy Creator. By thee and by thy Lord the sea and the lake were beautified.
The diver came up from the sea and put on his clothing; and from the lake too Simon Peter came up swimming and put on his coat; clad as with coats, with the love of both of you, were these two.
5. And since I have wandered in thee, pearl, I will gather up my mind, and by having contemplated thee, would become like thee, in that thou art all gathered up into thyself; and as thou in all times art one, one let me become by thee!
Pearls have I gathered together that I might make a crown for the Son in the place of stains which are in my members. Receive my offering, not that Thou art shortcoming; it is because of mine own shortcoming that I have offered it to Thee. Whiten my stains!
This crown is all spiritual pearls, which instead of gold are set in love, and instead of ouches in faith; and instead of hands, let praise offer it up to the Highest!
Thou dost not hide thyself
(Hymns on Faith, No.83)
Translated by J. B. Morris, c.1886
1. Thou dost not hide thyself in thy bareness, 0 pearl! With the love of thee is the merchant ravished also, for he strips off his garments; not to cover thee, [seeing] thy clothing is thy light, thy garment is thy brightness, 0 thou that art bared!
Thou art like Eve who was clothed with nakedness. Cursed be he that deceived her and stripped her and left her. The serpent cannot strip off thy glory. In the mysteries whose type thou art, women are clothed with Light in Eden.
2. Very glistening are the pearls of Ethiopia, as it is written, Who gave thee to Ethiopia [the land] of black men. He that gave light to the Gentiles, both to the Ethiopians and unto the Indians did His bright beams reach.
The eunuch of Ethiopia upon his chariot saw Philip: the Lamb of Light met the dark man from out of the water. While he was reading, the Ethiopian was baptised and shone with joy, and journeyed on!
He made disciples and taught, and out of black men he made men white. And the dark Ethiopic women became pearls for the Son; He offered them up to the Father, as a glistening crown from the Ethiopians.
3. The Queen of Sheba was a sheep that had come into the place of wolves; the lamp of truth did Solomon give her, who also married her when he fell away. She was enlightened and went away but they were dark as their manner was.
The bright spark which went down home with that blessed [Queen] held on its shining amid the darkness, till the new Day-spring came. The bright spark met with this shining, and illumined the place.
4. There are in the sea divers fishes of many cubits, and with all their greatness they are very small; but by thy littleness the crown is made great, like as the Son, by whose littleness Adam was made great.
For the head is thy crown intended: for the eye thy beauty, for the ear thy goodliness. Come up from the sea, thou neighbour to the dry land, and come and sojourn by the [seat of] hearing. Let the ear love the word of life as it loveth thee!
In the ear is the word, and without it is the pearl. Let it as being warned by thee, by thee get wisdom, and be warned by the word of truth. Be thou its mirror: the beauty of the Word in thine own beauty shall it see: in thee it shall learn how precious is the Word on High! The ear is the leaf: the flesh is the tree, and thou in the midst of it are a fruit of light, and to the womb that brings forth Light, thou art a type that points.
Thee He used as a parable of that kingdom, 0 pearl! as He did the virgins that entered into it, five in number, clothed with the light of their lamps! To thee are those bright ones like, thou that art clad in light!
5. Who would give a pearl to the daughter of the poor? For when it hangs on her, it becomes her not. Gain without price that faith, all of which becomes all the limbs of men. But for no gold would a lady exchange her pearl.
It were a great disgrace if thou shouldst throw thy pearl away into the mire for nought!
In the pearl of time let us behold that of eternity; for it is in the purse, or in the seal, or in the treasury. Within the gate there are other gates with their locks and keys. Thy pearl hath the High One sealed up as taking account of all.
The thief gained the faith
(Hymns on Faith, No.84)
Translated by J. B. Morris, c.1886
1. The thief gained the faith which gained him, and brought him up and placed him in paradise. He saw in the Cross a tree of life, that was the fruit, he was the eater in Adam’s stead.
The fool, who goes astray, grazes the faith, as it were an eye, by all manner of questions. The probing of the finger blinds the eye, and much more doth that prying blind, the faith.
For even the diver pries not into his pearl. In it do all merchants rejoice without prying into whence it came; even the king who is crowned therewith does not explore it.
2. Because Balaam was foolish, a foolish beast in the ass spoke with him, because he despised God Who spoke with him. Thee too let the pearl reprove in the ass’s stead.
The people that had a heart of stone, by a Stone He set at nought, for lo, a stone hears words. Witness its work that has reproved them; and you, ye deaf ones, let the pearl reprove today.
With the swallow and the crow did He put men to shame; let the pearl reprove now, O ye birds and things on earth ad things below.
3. Not as the moon does thy light fill or wane; the Sun whose light is greater than all, lo! of Him it is that a type is shadowed out in thy little compass. O type of the Son, one spark of whom is greater than the sun!
The pearl itself is full, for its light is full; neither is there any cunning worker who can steal from it; for its wall is its own beauty, yea, its guard also! It lacks not, since it is entirely perfect.
And if a man would break thee to take a part from thee, thou art like the faith which with the heretics perishes, seeing they have broken it in pieces and spoiled it; for is it any better than this to have the faith scrutinised?
The faith is an entire nature that may not be corrupted. The spoiler gets himself mischief by it: the heretic brings ruin on himself thereby. He that chases the light from his pupils blinds himself.
Fire and air are divided when sundered. Light alone, of all creatures, as its Creator, is not divided; it is not barren, for that it also begets without losing thereby.
4. And if a man thinks that thou art framed [by art] he errs greatly; thy nature proclaims that thou, as all stones, art not the framing of art; and so thou art a type of the Generations which no making framed.
Thy stone flees from a comparison with the Stone [which is] the Son. For thy own generation is from the midst of the deep, that of the Son of thy Creator is from the highest height; He is not like thee, in that He is like His Father.
And as they tell, two wombs bare thee also. Thou camest down from on high a fluid nature; thou camest up from the sea a solid body. By means of thy second birth thou didst show thy loveliness to the children of men.
Hands fixed thee, when thou wast embodied, into thy receptacles; for thou art in the crown as upon a cross, and in a coronet as in a victory; though art upon the ears, as if to fill up what was lacking; thou extendest over all.