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Home > Fathers of the Church > Nisibene Hymns (Ephraim) > Nos. 1-3

The Nisibene Hymns

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Hymn 1.

1. O God of mercies Who refreshed Noah, he too refreshed Your mercies. He offered sacrifice and stayed the flood; he presented gifts and received the promise. With prayer and incense he propitiated You: with an oath and with the bow You were gracious to him; so that if the flood should essay to hurt the earth, the bow should stretch itself over against it, to banish it away and hearten the earth. As You have sworn peace so do You maintain it, and let Your bow strive against Your wrath!

R. Stretch forth Your bow against the flood, for lo! It has lifted up its waves against our walls!

2. In revelation, Lord! It has been proclaimed, that that lowly blood which Noah sprinkled, wholly restrained Your wrath for all generations; how much mightier then shall be the blood of Your Only Begotten, that the sprinkling of it should restrain our flood! For lo! It was but as mysteries of Him that those lowly sacrifices gained virtue, which Noah offered, and stayed by them Your wrath. Be propitiated by the gift upon my altar, and stay from me the deadly flood. So shall both Your signs bring deliverance, to me Your cross and to Noah Your bow! Your cross shall cleave the sea of waters; Your bow shall stay the flood of rain.

3. Lo! All the billows trouble me; and You have given more favour to the ark: for waves alone encompassed it, mounds and weapons and waves encircle me. It was unto You a storehouse of treasures, but I have been a storehouse of debts: it in Your love subdued the waves; I in Your wrath, am left desolate among the weapons; the flood bore it, the river threatens me. O Helmsman of that ark, be my pilot on the dry land! To it You gave rest in the haven of a mountain; to me give You rest also in the haven of my walls!

4. The Just One has chastened me abundantly, but it He loved even among the waves. For Noah overcame the waves of lust, which had drowned in his generation the sons of Seth. Because his flesh revolted against the daughters of Cain, his chariot rode on the surface of the waves. Because women defiled him not, he coupled the beasts, whereof in the ark he joined together, all pairs in the yoke of wedlock. The olive which with its oil gladdens the face, with its leaf gladdened their countenances: for me the river whereof to drink is wont to make joyful, lo! O Lord, by its flood it makes me mournful.

5. The foulness of my guilt Your righteousness has seen, and Your pure eyes abhor me. You have gathered the waters by the hand of the unclean, that You might make for me purification of my guilt; not that in them You might baptize and purify me, but that in them You might chasten me with fear. For the waves will stir up to prayer, which shall wash away my guilt. The sight of them which is full of repentance, has been to me a baptism. The sea, O Lord, which should have drowned me, in it let Your mercies drown my guilt. In the Red Sea You drowned bodies; in this sea drown my guilt instead of bodies!

6. An ark in Your mercy You prepared, that You might preserve in it all the remnants. That You should not desolate the earth in Your wrath, Your compassion made an earth of wood. You emptied them one into the other; You rendered them back one unto the other. But my lands have thrice been filled and emptied again; and now against me the waves rebel, to overwhelm the remnant that has escaped in me. In the ark You saved a remnant; save in me, O Lord, yea in me a leaven. The ark upon the mountain brought forth; let me in my lands bring forth my imprisoned ones!

7. O Lord, gladden in me the imprisoned ones of my fortresses, You Who gladdened those prisoners with the olive leaf! You sent healing by means of the dove to the sick ones that were drowning in every wave; it entered in and drove out all their pains. For the joy of it swallowed up their sorrow, and mourning vanished away in its consolation. And as the chief of a host gives heartening to the fugitives, so the dove disseminated courage among the forsaken. Their eyes tasted the sight of peace, and their mouth hasted to open in Your praise. As the olive leaf in the waves, save me, that You may gladden in me the prisoners of my fortresses!

8. The flood assails, and dashes against our walls: may the all-sustaining might uphold them! It falls not as the building of the sand, for I have not built my doctrine upon the sand: a rock shall be for me the foundation, for on Your rock have I built my faith; the secret foundation of my trust, shall support my walls. For the walls of Jericho fell, because on the sand she had built her trust. Moses built a wall in the sea, for on a rock his understanding built it. The foundation of Noah was on a rock; the dwelling place of wood it bore up in the sea.

9. Compare the souls which are in me, with the living things that were in the ark; and instead of Noah who mourned in it, lo! Your altar mourning and humbled. Instead of the wedded wives that were in it, lo! My virgins that are unmarried. Instead of Ham who went forth from it and uncovered his father's nakedness, lo! Workers of righteousness, who have nourished and clothed apostles. In my pains, O my Lord, I rave in my speech; blame me not if my words provoke You! You put to silence the prosperous when they murmured: have mercy on me as on them that were silenced aforetime!

10. Before Your wrath You made a house of refuge, and all the nations rebelled against it. Noah was refreshed in rest, that his dwelling-place should give rest according to his name. You closed the doors to save the righteous one; You opened the floods to destroy the unclean. Noah stood between the terrible waves that were without, and the destroying mouths that were within: the waves tossed him and the mouths dismayed him. You made peace for him with them that were within; You brought down before him them that were without: You speedily changed his troubles, for light to You, O Lord, are hard things.

11. Hear and weigh the comparison of me with Noah, and though my suffering be light beside his, let Your mercy make our deliverance alike; for lo! My children stand like him, between the wrathful and the destroyer. Give peace, O Lord, among them that are within, and humble before me them that are without; and give me twofold victory! And whereas the slayer has made his rage threefold, may He of the three days show me threefold mercy! Let not the Evil One overcome Your lovingkindness: seeing he has assailed me twice and You overcame him thrice! Let my victory fly abroad through the world, that it may earn You praise in the world! O You who rose on the third day, give us not over to death in our third peril!

Hymn 2.

1. This day are opened, our mouths to give thanks. They who opened the breaches, have opened my sons' mouths. Thank the Merciful, who has delivered the men of our city, nor thought at that time of exacting the debts that were due by us. When they rose up they that took us captive, the worlds in our deliverance, tasted of Your graciousness.

R. From all that have mouths, glory be to Your grace!

2. He has saved us without wall, and taught us that He is our wall: He has saved us without king and made us know that is our king: He has saved us, in each and all, and showed us that He is All: He has saved us in His grace and again reveals, that freely He has mercy and quickens. From every boaster, He takes away his boasting, and gives it to His own grace.

3. The sound of all mouths, is too little for Your praise: for lo! In the hour when our light was smoking, and was at the point to be quenched (seeing that all is easy to You) of a sudden it awoke and shone! Who has seen these two marvels, that for him whose hope was cut off, hope has sprung up and increased; the hour of mourning has been turned into good tidings?

4. This is a festival day, whereon hang the feasts: for if wrath had taken us captive, lo! Our feasts too had ceased. Whereas our peace has conquered and triumphed, lo! Our festivals resound. This blessed day supports all: upon it depends the city, on the city depends the people, on the people depends peace, on peace depends all.

5. Out of these breaches, You have multiplied triumphs. Praise unto the Triune God goes up from the three breaches; for that He descended and repaired them, in His mercy which restrains wrath. He smote the enemy who understood not that He was teaching us. He taught those within, for in His justice He made the breaches; He taught those without, for in His goodness He repaired them.

6. Speak and give glory, my delivered ones on this day; old men and boys, young men and maidens, children and innocents, and you, O Church, mother of the city! For the old men have been rescued from captivity, the youths from torture, the sucklings from being dashed in pieces, the women from dishonour, and the Church from mockery.

7. He came to us with hardness; we were afraid for a moment: He came in gentleness, and we rejoiced for an hour. He turned and left us for a little, we wandered without end; like a beast of prey which is trained by blandishments and by fear, but if so be that men turn from it, rebels and strays and becomes savage in the midst of peace.

8. He punished us and we feared not; He rescued us, and we were not shamed: He straitened us and our vows were multiplied; He enlarged us and our crimes were multiplied. When He constrained there was a covenant, when He gave breathing-space there was straying. Though He knew us He lowered Himself to establish us. In the evening we exalted Him; in the morning we rejected Him. When necessity left us, faithfulness left us.

9. He afflicted us by the breaches, that He might punish our crimes: He raised the mounds that thereby, He might humble our boasting. He made a breach for the seas that thereby, He might wash away our pollution. He shut us in that we might gather together in His Temple. He shut us in and we were quenched; He set us free and we went astray. We are like wool, which passes into every color.

10. We know that when the blessed sons of Nineveh repented, it was not because of mounds they repented, nor yet by means of waters, nor was it by reason of a breach, nor yet by reason of bows; it was not at the sound of the bowstring they feared and repented. They harkened to a feeble voice; they caused their little ones to fast; they made their youths chaste, they made their kings humble.

11. You smote us and we justified You, for it befell not by chance; You delivered us and we gave thanks, for it was not that we were worthy. You had mercy on us not because You erred, in hoping that we should repent. It was manifest to You that when You had mercy on us we strayed. You knew that we had sinned; You knew that we are sinners: with our iniquity that has been and is, You were acquainted when You had mercy on us.

12. Weigh our repentance, that it may outbalance our crimes! But not in even balance, ascends either weight; for our crimes are heavy and manifold, and our repentance is light. He had commanded that we should be sold for our debt: His mercy became our advocate; principal and increase, we repaid with the farthing, which our repentance proffered.

13. Ten thousand talents for that little payment, our debt He forgave us. He was bound to exact it, that He might appease His justice: He was constrained again to forgive, that He might make His grace to rejoice. Our tears for the twinkling of an eye we gave Him; He satisfied His justice, in exacting and taking a little; He made His grace to rejoice, when for a little He forgave much.

14. Ten thousand are the crimes that He has pardoned; ten thousand tongues, are unable to suffice, in presence of His goodness. He has pardoned us and we have not pardoned; we have requited to Him contrariwise; the guilt committed we write up afresh. Pardon, O Lord, we cry; Requite, O Lord, we pray: pardon verily when we have done wrong; requite verily when wrong is done us.

15. Yea not as those without, have we laboured for our lives. They have raised their mounds, but we not even our voices: they have broken through the wall, but we — not even the chains, the frail chains on our heart within have we broken. God has rejected the diligent, for the sake of the slothful; He has rejected the labour done without, though He was rejected from within.

16. He has set free them that talked, and smitten the silent; the wall was beaten, and the people were instructed: He spared them that can suffer, He smote that which knows no suffering. For instead of souls that feel, He smote the stones that feel not, that He might chasten us. In His love He spared our bodies, and hasted to smite our wall.

17. Who has ever seen, that a breach became as a mirror? Two parties looked thereinto; it served for those without and those within. They saw therein as with eyes, the Power that breaks down and builds up: they saw Him who made the breach and again repaired it. Those without saw His might; they departed and tarried not till evening: those within saw His help; they gave thanks yet sufficed not.

18. Let the day of your deliverance, arouse you from sloth! When the wall was broken through, when the elephants pressed in, when the javelins showered, when men did valiantly, then was there a sight for the heavenly ones. Iniquity fought there; mercy triumphed there; lovingkindness prevailed below; the watchers shouted on high.

19. And your enemy wearied himself, striving to smite by his wiles, the wall that encompassed you, a bulwark to your inhabitants. He wearied himself and availed not; and in order that he might not hope, that if He broke through He should also enter and take us captive, he broke it through and not once only; and was put to shame, nor was that enough, even unto three times, that he might be shamed thrice in the three.

20. Let my happiness by God's grace, be also multiplied in your midst! Whereas in you my crimes have been many, many be in you my fruits! Whereas in you I have sinned in my youth, in you let there be mercy for my old age! By the mouth of your sons pray for your son, for I have sinned beyond my ability, and have repented below my ability; I have scattered above measure, and have gathered below measure.

Hymn 3.

1. Fix our hearing, that it be not loosed and wander! For it is a-wandering if one enquire, who He is and what He is like. For how can we avail, to paint in us the likeness, of that Being which is like to the mind? Naught is there in it that is limited, in all of it He sees and hears; all of it as it were speaks; all of it is in all senses.

R., Praise to the One Being, that is to us unsearchable!

2. His aspect cannot be discerned, that it should be portrayed by our understanding: He hears without ears; He speaks without mouth; He works without hands, and He sees without eyes. Because our soul ceases not nor desists, in presence of Him Who is such; in His graciousness He put on the fashion of humankind and gathered us into His likeness.

3. Let us learn in what way that Being is spiritual and appeared as corporeal; and how it also is tranquil and appears as wrathful. These things were for our profit; that Being in our likeness was made like to us that we may be made like Him. One there is that is like Him, the Son Who proceeded from Him, Who is stamped with His likeness.

4. O Nisibis, hear these things, for, for your sake these things were written and spoken. Both to yourself and to others, you have been in the world a cause of strife and of disputations. Mouths over you, O you that were shut up, even over you mouths sang; when you triumphed and wast enlarged, in you mouths were opened, for lamentation and for thanksgiving.

5. The prayer of your inhabitants, sufficed for your deliverance; it was not that they were righteous, but that they were penitent: according as they were disgraced, so did they haste to submit to the rod. In transgressions and in triumphs they had like part. They whose crimes were great, so be their fruit great; they who triumphed in their sackcloth, have triumphed also in their crowns.

6. The day of your deliverance, is king of all days. The Sabbath overthrew your walls, it overthrew the ungrateful; the day of the Resurrection of the Son, raised again your ruins; the day of Resurrection raised you according to its name, it glorified its title. The Sabbath relaxed its watch; for the making of the breaches, it took blame to itself.

7. In Samaria hunger prevailed, but in you fullness prevailed. In Samaria there broke in and came on her, abundance of a sudden; but in you there roared and came in on you a sea of a sudden. In her was eaten a child, and it saved her alive; in you was eaten the body, living and all life-giving; of a sudden He delivered them, the Eaten delivered the eaters.

8. We know that the Blessed wills not the afflictions, that have been in all ages; though He has wrought them, it is our offenses that are the cause of our troubles. No man can complain against our Creator; it is for Him to complain against us, who have sinned and constrained Him, to be wrathful though He wills it not, and to smite though He desires it not.

9. The Earth, the vine, and the olive, are in need of chastisement. When the olive is bruised, then its fruit smells sweet; when the vine is pruned, then its grapes are goodly; when the soil is ploughed its yield is goodly. When water is confined in channels, desert places drink of it; brass, silver and gold, when they are burnished shine.

10. If then it be that man, by chastening makes all things goodly; and if he who despises and rejects chastening, is hated and all rebels against him; then by that which he chastens, let him learn Him that chastens him; since whoever chastens does so that he may profit thereby. For whoever chastens his servants, does so that he may possess them; the good God chastens His servants that they may possess themselves.

11. Let your afflictions be, books to admonish you, for the thrice-besieged, suffice to become for you, books to meditate therein, every hour on their histories. Because you despised the two Testaments, wherein you might read your life, therefore He wrote for you, three hard books wherein you should read your chastisements.

12. Let us avert by that which has been, the thing that is yet to be; let us be taught by that which has come, to escape that which is coming; let us remember that which is past, to avoid that which is future. Because we had forgotten the first stroke, the second fell on us; because we forgot the second, the third bore heavy on us. Who will yet again forget!

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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