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E02525: The Homily (memrā) on the Youths of Ephesus (the *Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, S00287) is written in Syriac during the late 5th/early 6th c. by Jacob of Serugh (c. 451-521). It retells the story of the young men who fell asleep in a cave during the persecution of the emperor Decius and woke two-hundred years later.

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posted on 2017-03-08, 00:00 authored by sminov
Jacob of Serugh, Homily on the Youths of Ephesus

Brief summary:

In his exposition of the young men's story, the author proceeds along the main narrative line of their life as found in the Syriac Story of the Sleepers of Ephesus (see $E...). The homily opens with a brief invocation of Christ and announcement of the topic (p. 23 of Brock's translation). In the main section the story of the youths is retold: when the emperor Decius visits the city of Ephesus, he builds temples to several pagan deities and demands that the citizens offer sacrifices there; a group of eight Christian young men refuse to comply and are threatened with court action (pp. 23-25). When Decius leaves Ephesus for a while, the youths hide in a cave on the mountain in the city's vicinity, where God 'took their spirits and raised them up above, to heaven, and left a watcher to be guarding their limbs.' When Decius returns to the city, he orders the youths to be immured in the cave (pp. 24-25).

As the pagan era passes, God wishes to awaken them: a wealthy man of Ephesus, who wants to build a sheepfold, removes the stones at the cave's entrance and the youths are awakened by the light. One of the youths, named Yamlikhā, goes down to the city to assess the situation and buy food (pp. 25-26). As the young man enters Ephesus, he is startled by the sign of the cross on the city's gates; when he tries to buy bread, the locals are astounded by the old-fashioned coins he is trying to use and think that has found a hoard. When the news reaches the city's bishop, he summons the young man and inquires about his identity; when the young man relates that he and his companions hid during the time of Decius, the whole city rushes to the cave, to see them (pp. 26-29). Having seen this 'living treasure', they send a letter to the emperor Theodosius, inviting him to come and observe the miracle; when the emperor arrives, he tries to persuade the youths 'to come down with him in the midst of Ephesus, and he would build a shrine over their bodies', but they prefer to remain in the cave; after he leaves them, they fall asleep again (p. 30).


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, brothers who fell asleep during the persecution of Decius : S00287

Type of Evidence

Liturgical texts - Hymns Literary - Sermons/Homilies


  • Syriac

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region


Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Serugh Edessa Edessa Ἔδεσσα Edessa

Major author/Major anonymous work

Jacob of Serugh

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Chant and religious singing

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts


The Homily on the Youths of Ephesus is a poetic celebration of the story of the eight young men from the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor, who fell asleep in a cave during the anti-Christian persecution under the emperor Decius (r. 249–251) and awoke during the reign of Theodosius II (r. 408-450). An original Syriac composition, it was almost certainly produced by the West-Syrian poet Jacob of Serugh (c. 451-521). From the presentation of the story in the Homily one can conclude that Jacob derived his information from the Syriac version of the story, which was translated from Greek by the second half of the 5th century (see E...). The Homily belongs to the literary genre of memrā, a narrative poem that employs couplets all in the same syllabic meter. Such poems, which appear to have been recited rather than sung, were presumably used in the liturgy, though there is no evidence from Late Antiquity of exactly how it happened. There is not yet a critical edition of the Homily. Two slightly different versions of the Syriac text were published by Guidi on the basis of manuscripts Vatican Syr. 115 (7th/8th c.) and Vatican Syr. 217. The Homily is attested in several others manuscripts, such as Mardin Orth. 139 and Jerusalem, St Mark Monastery 156 (see Vööbus 1973-1980, vol. 2, 34-35, 162-163). Syriac text: Guidi 1884, 358-369; English translation: Brock 2007; Italian translation: Guidi 1884, 369-372; Russian translation: Paykova 1990, 116-118. For general information on Jacob and his oeuvre, see Brock 2011; Lange 2004; Alwan 1986. On the reception of the legend of the Sleepers of Ephesus in Syriac, see Witakowski 2011.


The Homily presents so far the only specimen of the liturgical commemoration of the Sleepers of Ephesus from Late Antiquity. Like several other of Jacob's homilies dedicated to saints, it contains neither references to the saints' miracles nor appeals for their intercession.


Main editions and translations: Brock, S.P., “Jacob of Serugh’s Poem on the Sleepers of Ephesus,” in: P. Allen, M. Franzmann and R. Strelan (eds.), “I Sowed Fruits into Hearts” (Odes Sol. 17:13): Festschrift for Professor Michael Lattke (Early Christian Studies 12; Strathfield, NSW: St Pauls Publications, 2007), 13-30. Guidi, I., “Testi orientali inediti sopra i Sette Dormienti di Efeso,” Atti della Reale Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Serie Terza: Memorie della Classe di Scienze morali, storiche e filologiche 12 (1884), 343-445. [published also separately as Guidi, I., Testi orientali inediti sopra i Sette Dormienti di Efeso (Reale Accademia dei Lincei, Anno CCLXXXII 1884-85; Roma: Tipografia della R. Accademia dei Lincei, 1885). Paykova, A.V., Легенды и сказания в памятниках сирийской агиографии (Палестинский сборник 30 [93]; Ленинград: Наука, 1990). Further reading: Alwan, K., “Bibliographie générale raisonnée de Jacques de Saroug († 521),” Parole de l’Orient 13 (1986), 313-384. Brock, S.P., “Ya‘qub of Serugh,” in: S.P. Brock, A.M. Butts, G.A. Kiraz and L. van Rompay (eds.), Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2011), 433-435. Lange, C., “Jakob von Sarug, † 521,” in: W. Klein (ed.), Syrische Kirchenväter (Urban-Taschenbücher 587; Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 2004), 217-227. Vööbus, A., Handscriftliche Überlieferung der Mēmrē-Dichtung des Ja‘qōb von Serūg. 4 vols (CSCO 344-345, 421-422, Subs. 39-40, 60-61; Louvain: Secrétariat du CorpusSCO, 1973, 1980). Witakowski, W., “Sleepers of Ephesus, Legend of the,” in: S.P. Brock, A.M. Butts, G.A. Kiraz and L. van Rompay (eds.), Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage (Piscataway, New Jersey: Gorgias Press, 2011), 380-381.

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