Catechesis and Mystagogy in St. Ephrem the Syrian: The Liturgy of Baptism and the Madrashe
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Ephrem’s madrashe (catechetical hymns sung in the liturgy) held a distinctive role in early Syriac-speaking Christianity, and were remarkable not only for the catechetical and mystagogical characteristics that they contributed in public worship, but also for the poetic and lyrical features that were displayed when performed by female liturgical choirs (Bnat Qyama). This study investigates the context and content of Ephrem’s madrashe, with an emphasis on the catechumenate and the liturgy of baptism, both of which have an overall bearing on his mystagogy. The poetic and hymnic characteristics of his madrashe enable Ephrem to be recognized as a poetic theologian. Furthermore, the catechetical and mystagogical characteristics of his madrashe also serve to identify him as a mystagogical figure. Ephrem’s madrashe and the Syriac Vita tradition of Ephrem serve as key sources for studying the catechumenate, the liturgy of baptism, Ephrem’s mystagogy and his faith formational methodology. The following methodological features are discussed: scriptural formation, song-actions and body-learning, mystagogical reflection, and continual reaffirmation through liturgical participation. Ephrem’s rhetorical strategies in his madrashe are also examined, namely inclusio, symbol, paradox, and typological juxtaposition. Through an analysis of Ephrem’s madrashe from the perspective of mystagogy, this study finds that the ultimate role of Ephrem’s madrashe was to praise God, to sing in the liturgy the mystery of God that continues time and time again. For this reason, Ephrem composed madrashe, which are intrinsically catechetical, liturgical, and mystagogic.