Hymn 4 on the Nativity of Christ (excerpt) by Ephrem the Syrian

Maria lactans (Ethiopian)
Maria lactans, late 18th century. Fresco, Church of Narga Selassie, Dek Island, Lake Tana, Ethiopia. Photo: Alan Davey.

Glory to that Voice that became a body,
and to the lofty Word that became flesh.
Ears even heard Him, eyes saw Him,
hands even touched Him, the mouth ate Him.
Limbs and senses gave thanks to
the One Who came and revived all that is corporeal.
Mary bore a mute Babe
though in Him were hidden all our tongues.
Joseph carried Him, yet hidden in Him was
a silent nature older than everything.
The Lofty One became like a little child,
yet hidden in Him was a treasure of Wisdom that suffices for all.
He was lofty but he sucked Mary’s milk,
and from His blessings all creation drinks.
He is the Living Breast of living breath;
by His life the dead were suckled, and they revived.
Without the breath of air no one can live;
without the power of the Son no one can rise.
Upon the living breath of the One Who vivifies all
depend the living beings above and below.
As indeed He sucked Mary’s milk,
He has given suck—life to the universe.
As again He dwelt in His mother’s womb,
in His womb dwells all creation.
Mute He was as a babe, yet He gave
to all creation all His commands.
For without the First-born no one is able
to approach Being, for He alone is capable of it.

Translated from the Syriac by Kathleen E. McVey in Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns (Classics of Western Spirituality) (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1989), 100–101

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