On What This Life Has

The present translation comes from Fr. Matthew Keil, a Deacon of the Russian Orthodox Church. Fr. Matthew holds a PhD in Classics from Fordham University. For nineteen years, he has been a Latin teacher in New York City, and he is an adjunct professor of Latin, Greek, and Classical cultures at the City University of New York, Fordham University, and Saint John’s University. We are very grateful that Fr. Matthew has contributed this English version of yet another untranslated text by Ephrem Graecus. Please visit Father’s interfolio page here to read more about him and his many accomplishments.

De his, quae haec vita continet*

Brothers, so that we may not be punished on account of corrupt and evil deeds, but have instead that blessed delight of paradise, and the goods which never perish, which the mouth of man is not able to describe, and which the angels desire to behold — let us hold firmly in our minds the fact that the things of this world will not benefit us at all in the day of our defense. For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, even from the east unto the west, and from the north unto the sea, having all wealth, possessions, and luxury, but shall lose his own soul?  Will those things be able to speak on behalf of his defense?  It was on this account that the wise Solomon used to say: vanity of vanities, all things are vanity.  Indeed, just what does this soul-destroying and vain life have? That all be effort, competition, and sweat on its account, and that the mind of man be surrendered to it.  That there be not a single word nor any earnestness concerning the good things that are to be, while concerning temporary and perishable things there be not only earnestness, but also contests, battles, enmities, and ventures.  Often, in fact, is blood spilled on account of some totally worthless endeavor, only to have the whole undertaking discarded a moment later.  A man goes through life stripped bare and oiled (like an athlete), though reaping no profit from this struggle, nor attaining to the eternal good things. O vain contest! O such a soul-corrupting life! How it mocks man! What, therefore, o man, does life hold that is so worthy of desire? It has stench, affliction, weariness, endless striving, injustice, greed, deceit, theft, drugs, malevolence, captivity, shipwreck, widowhood, bereavement of children, the inability to have children, verbal abuse, social disgrace, blackmail, punishment, robbery, groanings, wars, hatred, jealousy, murder, old age, diseases, sin, and death. Have you heard what the present life has? May you no longer yearn for it, since it is deluding, deceiving, and cheating, making a mockery of many, and blinding many.  O treacherous design of the evil one who rules this world!  How it has drawn all to things temporary and perishable, while making them forgetful of eternal goods!  For there is none that understands (Rom. 3:11).

* Περὶ ὧν ἔχει βίος (CPG 3986), ed. K.G. Phrantzolas, Ὁσίου Ἐφραίμ τοῦ Σύρου ἔργα 4 (Thessaloniki: Garden of the Panaghia, 1992), 293-294.

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