Mike Aquilina

Syriously Marian

Friday March 07th 2008, 3:08 am

Interesting lecture at Fordham, on St. Ephrem’s Marian poetry:

Women’s Choirs in Late Antiquity Offered More Than Just Hymns, Scholar Says

Though the voices of biblical women were rarely heard, they were prominent and significant, and used as a vehicle of teaching by the Church in late antique Syriac homilies and hymns, according to a scholar at the Orthodoxy in America lecture at Fordham University on Feb. 26.

“The hymns assigned to the women’s choirs in the middle of the fourth century were explicitly liturgical,” Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Ph.D., a professor of religious studies at Brown University. “The church spoke through these women’s choirs.”

In a lecture titled, “Women’s Voices Bearing Witness: Biblical Memories in Ancient Orthodox Liturgy,” Ashbrook Harvey said Syriac writers, such as Ephrem Syrus, gave women, such as the Virgin Mary and Sarah, a rhetorical voice in the lyrics of Madrashes, stanzaic poems of different meters that dealt with doctrinal matters.

“These voices were often lacking in biblical narratives,” Ashbrook Harvey said. “Ephrem’s Mary embraces her social sufferings as a form of power. She was a figure who embodied challenge … and whose voice is a teaching voice.”

Hat tip: PaleoJudaica.

Read more on the Syriac Fathers:

Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life

Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems
Symbols of Church and Kingdom: A Study in Early Syriac Tradition