On Tuesday, March 15, 2016, Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash) fell asleep in the Lord. Father Ephrem was well-known in the English speaking world for his translation work and desire to provide the church with accurate and prayerful liturgical texts which clearly articulated the beauty of our Orthodox Faith.
John Michael Boyer, one of our presenters at the upcoming 2016 Pan-Orthodox Music Symposium in Minneapolis, MN shares his thoughts in a reflection on the impact Father Ephrem had on John's training and life as a church musician.
May Father Ephrem's memory be eternal!
I thought about calling him yesterday, but it would have been too late at night for him. Perhaps he had already left us...
The Very Reverend Father Ephrem (Lash), Archimandrite of the Ecumenical Throne, was perhaps the most remarkable man I have ever met. Scholar, teacher, writer, linguist, translator; many will remember him for these things. To me, he was Father, Priest, Monk, Friend.
People often asked me how it worked that my spiritual father lived across the Atlantic - and maybe it didn't, really - but once I had met him and gotten to know him, in my mind there was no other. I first met Fr. Ephrem when I picked him up at the airport to drive him to St. Nicholas Ranch and Retreat Center for the first workshop of the Koukouzelis Institute in 2006. He was... not at all what I imagined or expected. His whole demeanor was unassuming, simple, kind, but so quick-witted and clever. It may surprise some that the one word that summed him up, to me, was "humble."
Humble, not in the stereotypical or superficial way that we ignoramuses come to expect from Athonite Monks (or when we attempt to imitate them), not in the pietistic, outwardly-directed fashion of those who want to be seen as humble (a very different thing), but truly humble: when he spoke, he spoke the truth with love and joy; when he was praised, his eyes twinkled and he cracked a joke about himself or the typos in his work; when someone tried to cow-tow to his rank and station (outside of Liturgy), he would again crack some joke and immediately make that person feel like a friend.
That first workshop at the Ranch was a bit of a rag-tag operation: It was my first experience organizing such an event, and I was still getting my bearings. There were many good things about it, but the main reason it could be called a success was Fr. Ephrem, who served as chaplain, spiritual father and lecturer for the week. We would occasionally go to services at the Monastery of the Life-Receiving Spring (Fr. Ephrem would insist - rightly - that Ζωοδόχος be translated this way), and when I informed Mother Markella about who he was, she of course gave him pride of place in services.
At the end of a Vespers one evening, all the nuns came and received a blessing from him, as he was the highest ranking clergyman in the Church. When they had all filed through, our students began following suit, each receiving a blessing from him, at which he remarked, "Oh, now don't YOU lot start..."
He abhorred pietism in all its forms, even avoiding using the word "pious" in his translations because of the baggage it carried. When Fr. Ephrem ever remarked "oh, he's very pious," that was not necessarily meant as a compliment, although he appreciated the motivation that often accompanied such piety. He had little use for clericalism, but was strong and confident in his beliefs and opinions - especially in those areas in which he was the leading expert in the world.
When it came to other matters, however, he was happy to defer to others, even a lowly chanter like myself. He was always a joy to work with, and although he insisted on many points of translation, he was also exceedingly flexible when it came to "chantability." He knew - in fact, he was the first person I ever heard make the point - that liturgical texts are meant to be heard, not read.
He was careful and exacting in his liturgical style, but never theatrical or pretentious. He knew every nuance of liturgical order and Typikon better than anyone I've ever known. I learned so much just by observing him in liturgical services. On the way to services, however, he would say, with a twinkle in his eye, "It's time to go annoy the Lord." And afterwards, he would say, "Oh, that was great fun!" He had an uncanny ability to elucidate the heart of a matter while simultaneously deflating any puffed-up pretense one might have about it.
There is so much I could say about this singular man. Even now, I wish I could call him for counsel. I don't think I've ever known a wiser, more loving person. He changed my life; he reenergized my commitment to the Church; he was a touchstone of faith, wisdom, calm, and humor. I find myself incomplete without him, as I am sure many others do. But I'm sure that at this point he would say something like, "Oh, come now, my dear boy: you'll be just fine without me ranting on about this and that. Don't fret: I shall see you in the holy Liturgy." I will try, Γέροντα.
May he ever pray for us sinners at the throne of God, and may his memory be eternal.
Ὁ Θεὸς νὰ τὸν ἀναπαύσει. Αἰωνία ἡ μνήμη τοῦ Γέροντά μας!