Mellitus vs. Ephrem of Nisibis

In perhaps the first true resounding upset of Lent Madness 2019, Marina the Monk swept aside Dominic 62% to 38% to secure a spot in the Saintly Sixteen against Ignatius of Loyola.

In the last matchup of the first full week of the saintly season, it's Mellitus vs. Ephrem of Nisibis. Or Bishop vs. Deacon (not that we'd ever encourage the pitting of ecclesiastical orders against one another).

After a full, intense week of reading, learning, disagreeing, and hopefully being inspired, it's time for some respite from our little competition. From here on out, there will be no contests on Saturdays or Sundays. We occasionally share some weekend posts here on the website, and you can always check Facebook and Twitter for additional content, including some saintly recipes courtesy of the Lent Madness Celebrity Chef, Maria Virginia.

After today, the next vote will take place first thing Monday morning as the round of 32 continues with Tabitha vs. Dismas. In the meantime, get to it!


MellitusAt the end of the sixth century, Augustine traveled to Britain to establish an official Christian presence in the region, although Christianity had been practiced in Britain for approximately 300 years. With the conversion and subsequent support of King Æthelberht in Kent, Augustine was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury. Four years later, Augustine sent word to Pope Gregory I that he needed more clergy to join the mission of converting the kingdom.

Mellitus was part of this group traveling to Britain. A Roman and son of a noble family, Mellitus may have been an abbot at a monastery before he was commissioned for the trip. In 604 ce, Augustine consecrated him Bishop of London. Mellitus established the first of many churches that would be built on the site of the current St. Paul’s Cathedral. Mellitus and his fellow missionaries also brought with them books and other items needed for Christian worship. One of those books, St. Augustine’s Gospels, is still part of the Cambridge collections and is the oldest surviving Latin Gospel book.

After several years in England, Mellitus attended a council of bishops in 610 in Italy. The early church was in many ways still a loose confederacy of liturgies and practices. Mellitus supported the Roman date for Easter rather than the Celtic date (a controversy that would be decided at the Synod of Whitby some fifty years later).

When the kings who had welcomed Augustine and Mellitus died, their sons saw little political need for alliances with the Christian bishops. According to Bede, the sons wanted to taste the consecrated bread. When Mellitus refused, they exiled him to Gaul. Mellitus eventually returned to Canterbury after the death of Laurence, the second Archbishop of Canterbury, and was consecrated the third Archbishop of Canterbury.

Legend holds that a fire threatened Canterbury Cathedral, and Mellitus diverted the fire and saved the town and the cathedral with the rush of wind brought by his prayers. He died in 624. An icon honoring his ministry hangs near the American Chapel in St. Paul’s, keeping watch over a book inscribed with the names of Americans who died in World War II.

Collect for Mellitus
O God, you have brought us near to an innumerable company of angels, and to the spirits of just men made perfect: Grant us during our earthly pilgrimage to abide in their fellowship, and in our heavenly country to become partakers of their joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-Laurie Brock

Ephrem of Nisibis

EphremEphrem, a deacon, doctor of the church, and saint greatly revered in the Syriac Christian tradition, was born around the year 300 ce in Nisibis, now part of modern-day Turkey. Most sources claim that Ephrem and his family were among the burgeoning Christian community in Nisibis, while some later traditions claim his father was a pagan priest. Regardless, Ephrem grew up in an incredibly diverse city linguistically, ethnically, and religiously—on the frontier of the Roman Empire.

Baptized as a youth, Ephrem was a part of a proto-monastic movement called “Sons and Daughters of the Covenant” (think Scouts + youth group, but way more intense). Members of the movement, both men and women, lived dedicated lives of celibacy, discipline, prayer, and service to the church from within their own homes. He would eventually be appointed a teacher and then ordained as a deacon by his bishop.

After Nisibis was conquered by the Persian Empire in the ongoing conflict between Persia and Rome, Ephrem and many of his fellow Christians settled in Edessa where they encountered even more religious and ethnical diversity. In the context of various pagan, Jewish, and Christian sects, Ephrem made an impassioned defense of Nicene orthodoxy, including writing a number of Trinitarian hymns. A prolific writer, he is known as “The Harp of the Holy Spirit,” and he supported the rise of hymns sung by choirs of women, including “From God Christ’s diety came forth” (The Hymnal 1982, #443). The female choirs gave women a role in the early Syriac church and encouraged Christian formation among women and families.

Lest we believe that Ephrem was all head and no heart in ministry, he died from exhaustion while ministering to the victims of a famine.

Collect for Ephrem of Nisibis
Pour out upon us, O Lord, that same Spirit by which your deacon Ephrem declared the mysteries of faith in sacred song, and so gladden our hearts that we, like him, might proclaim the riches of your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-Marcus Halley

Mellitus vs. Ephrem of Nisibis

  • Ephrem of Nisibis (70%, 5,669 Votes)
  • Mellitus (30%, 2,480 Votes)

Total Voters: 8,149

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Mellitus: Heritage Image Partnership Ltd/Alamy
Ephrem of Nisibis: By Anonymous ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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166 comments on “Mellitus vs. Ephrem of Nisibis”

  1. One Mellitus, first Bishop of London,
    By King Æthelbert’s passing was undone:
    Off he fled (so it’s said)
    With the sanctified bread.
    You can read it in Bede, like my son done.

      1. Err... Just a moment, officer. I know I've got my poetic license _somewhere_ around here...

      2. And don't forget that it was just a couple years or so ago right here on LM that we learned who taught Bede to read and write.

          1. I am really impressed with John Cabot's ability to write that AE combo for Aethelbert. very cool and impressive.

  2. Meanwhile, we have a high-energy tribute for today's twosome: sung to the tune of "Today 4 U" from the hit musical "Rent"!

    Lent Mad Ones, our saintly rivals on the Ides of March
    Whose love of God helped spread the Church where our faith had been parched.
    One will advance to the Saintly Sixteen. One is barred.
    Ephem. Mellitis. En-garde!

    Ephrem for you!
    Mellitis for me!

    Ephrem for you!
    Mellitis for me!

    Listen to get on board!
    They’ve earned their just reward.
    Ephrem was born in Cent’ry Three
    In what’s now Turkey.
    An intense proto-monastic group
    Welcomed E.
    They preached chastity and prayer,
    Discipline beyond compare.
    The bishops noticed E, ordained him deacon then and there.
    Then the Romans were roamin’; E packed his box.
    In Edessa, defends what is orthodox
    Nicene Christian teaching -
    And writes hymns.
    He died while serving victims of great famine.

    Ephrem for you!
    Mellitis for me!

    Ephrem for you!
    Mellitis for me!

    At the See Canterb’ry
    Augustine wrote Pope Gregory.
    His plea?
    “I need clergy
    For my ministry.”
    Mellitis sailed north
    In AD Six-Oh-Four.
    Augustine made him bishop;
    M built London’s church and more!
    After a few years,
    Mellitis attends a meeting,
    Supports Roman Easter, but now his time’s fleeting.
    Exiled for his protection of the host from sin.
    Then was the third Archbishop, saved the church with wind.
    Ephrem for you!
    Mellitis for me!

    Ephrem for you!
    Mellitis for me!

    Brackets be damned!
    They were both great men
    Deserving honor and glory
    For what they did then.
    The rules, as we note,
    State we must have a vote,
    You should click that link
    And pick you fav’rite,.AMEN!

    Sing it!
    Ephrem for you!
    Mellitis for me!

    Ephrem for you!
    Mellitis for me!

    I said, Ephrem for you!
    Mellitis for me!

    Ephrem for you!
    Mellitis for me!

    1. "Ephrem was born in Cent’ry Three
      In what’s now Tur-KEY." Hahhaha! I love it when you do that!

    2. You amaze me every day with your wit and mastery with words!!! Thanks for sharing that with us!! I hope you get paid for this gift in your real job!

    3. Terrific, Michael! Thanks so much!! I agree with Mary Pat... great wit and mastery with words.


      1. Love your posts! As a choir director, I respect your way with great lyrics! LOL!

  3. Both great saints. For me I voted for Saint Ephrem/Ephraim because it is Lent. The Orthodox during this time daily pray his Great Lenten Pray:

    Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despondency, lust for power and idle talk. But grant unto me, Thy servant, a spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to judge my brothers and sisters. For blessed ar Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.

    1. Yes, thanks again for sharing his prayer. However, I think I'll stick to Phillips Brooks prayer as published in Forward Movement. But the time to support Phillips is later; for now, I'm for Ephrem/Ephraim!

      1. Oops, put the reply in the wrong place. Just mentally move this up a few lines to Br.Thanasi.

    2. This prayer might well be adopted by the other troubled members of my own United Methodist Church, as we struggle with differences among us. I shall pray it daily.

  4. Ephrem's constant exposure to multiculturalism is an inspiration to me. And a composer for a women's chorus? Unheard of back in the day, so, Ephrem for the win!

  5. Ephrem today - he encouraged women's participation in worship and allowed their voices to be heard in Church. And he lived in a non-gender-exclusive community. God bless him.

    1. at 86 still singing in the choir even though i now have turned into a tenor so must vote
      for Ephrem

  6. It is interesting to learn about the history of the competitors. But of course voted for Mellitus in the end.

  7. It's Ephrem of Nisibus for me, who loved to sing in the choir starting in Junior High (that's Middle School to you younger ones), and who returned to the church and later the choir because of the pull of the music which continued to touch my soul. I'm glad we also have the tenors and the basses, though.

    1. I too loved the story of Ephrem, his choir work and hymn writing. Many of us attend churches which are large buildings with massive organs, buildings set aside to praise God through song. I am grateful to learn that this early Christian was already focused on communal musical and some of his work remains with us in our hymnal today--another moment to experience the Communion of All Saints.

  8. According to Bede, the sons wanted to taste the consecrated bread.

    Were they requesting this apart from attendance at Holy Communion?

    Or was the practice of using monstrances already in existence and it was that ibread they desired to taste?

    1. Mellitus’s Wiki article says that the sons didn’t convert to Christianity. So, at a guess, it was because they were pagans.

  9. Ephrem, in tribute to those ancient Christian communities from that part of the world who are so beleaguered today. That was enough to tip my vote, but also liked that he was part of a dedicated Christian community that stayed in the secular world.

  10. A tough choice for me. I went with Mellitus as having most influence on me. I see this weeks' voting tended toward the less prominent or well known saint. Perhaps that God's purpose in making Lent Madness a part of our religious life.

  11. This is the most difficult choice for me, so far. Before reading Ephrem's posting, I was voting for Mellitus for his work in Britain and his icon in the American Chapel in St. Paul's. But then the women's choirs raised their voices for Ephrem. As a lifelong chorister, I cast my vote and voice for Ephrem.

    1. I wonder how many Lent Madness voters are choristers? It seems to come up a lot! (I, for one, am also a lifelong chorister.)

          1. This prayer might well be adopted by the other troubled members of my own United Methodist Church, as we struggle with differences among us. I shall pray it daily.

      1. I was a choir kid and currently sing in a community choir. I'm also voting for Ephrem because of his contribution to early sacred music.
        Honestly, singing and learning hymns are what kept me compelled in church and school chapel as a kid, and still do!

      2. Many, I would think. I sang in the Junior Choir in elementary school, spent 15 years in charge of the toddler room and occasionally singing with the choir for Christmas or Easter services, now have been a stalwart second soprano in the parish choir for the last 7 years. I love singing.

    2. Janet Irvine: If you hold down a letter on an iPhone keyboard, you will see all kinds of (non-English) possibilities. Voilà!

  12. I voted for Ephraim because his order included both men and women. Even so I am disappointed in the lack of modern Saints on the slate this year.

  13. Those of English Kings bred
          Asked to taste Holy bread.
    Mellitus said no and fled
          He later died upon his bed.

    Famished people were starving
          To feed them he was striving.
    Therefore it is no question
         Ephrem died of exhaustion.

  14. Is there some connection between Mellitus and Diabetes? (One of the technical names for Diabetes is Diabetes Mellitus)

      1. "mellitus" is Latin for "honey-like"--i.e., sweet, which is the characteristic of urine in diabetes mellitus.
        Me, I'm for Ephrem today; a deacon, a teacher, a writer of wonderful hymns (and a prayer I didn't know); a supporter of women's voices; one who helped fill the hungry with good things. Been blending with altos since 1990 and wish I'd had opportunity before that.

    1. The word "mellitus" means"of or pertaining to honey. '
      I had to look because I wondered the same thing. I doubt that the saint is related to diabetes. More likely he was a sweet heart.

  15. Voting for the underdog today. My ancestry is in the British isles so I had to go with Melitus.

  16. Toughest one since Mary and Martha, but it was the music and women’s choirs that decided me, too. There IS a tune named Mellitus, isn’t there? Both so worthy!

    1. In the Hymnal 1982, there is Mellita, but no Mellitus. Couldn't find it in either....

      1. Mellita--Mellitus'wife--little-known fact (unknown fact), she brought coffee to the Germans.
        But I'm for Ephrem because of the women & choirs aspect.

  17. Voting for Ephrem the Deacon for several reasons. First, I think deacons are too much overlooked and compartmentalized and it would be awesome to have one win the Golden Halo. Second, Ephrem had such a gentle heart and loving spirit. Third, the pressure Rome put on the Celtic Churches to knuckle under and do things the Roman way or the highway has irked me for years. The miraculous turning aside of fire notwithstanding, Mellitus was just a bit too rigid and absolutist for my tastes.

  18. I have to get for Efrem. Deacons rule!
    By the way my iPad keyboard turns purple when I visit the site. Neat effect!

  19. A deacon and doctor of the church? As a deacon in training I had to go with Ephrem. An inspiring commitment to worship and service.

  20. Why do the authors of Ephrem say at the end “we believe he was all head and not heart” seems you should have said he was all heart as he died ministering to those in need. Comments should be left out.

    1. It actually says "Lest we believe..." which means just the opposite. (Maybe this got edited after you made your comment but that's what it says now anyway.)

    2. Look again. The blogger writes, "LEST we believe he was all head not heart..." so the blogger is saying, "We should NOT believe he was all head and not heart." And the blogger goes on to provide an example of Ephrem's loving actions.

  21. I had to choose Ephraim, because he was a deacon at the beginning of the "Golden Age of the Diaconate," so-called by James Barnett--the time when deacons held a respected leadership role in the church, before the church minimized them and made them a stepping stone on the road toward priesthood. I am glad to learn of another deacon saint!