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Syriac Christology and St Isaac of Nineveh


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#1 Patrick Walsh

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Posted 25 July 2005 - 07:45 PM

Hello

I am only beginning to explore this wonderful area. And as I explore, my humility grows as I am in awe of the clarity and wisdom of the Church Fathers.

I know that the Syriac Fathers, such as St. Hevagrius of Pontus, St. Ephrem of Syria, St. Isaac of Nineveh, and St. Afraates of Matti come after much of this debate had ended with the council of Chalcedon. But I am curious to understand better where their Christology fits into the picture as a whole, in particular St. Isaac of Nineveh.

The reason I ask this is that the more I read of this topic, the more I begin to understand St. Isaac's particular approach to salvation. This also deepens my understanding of why indeed his theology is Orthodox, and not the Nestorian of the church he belonged to.

Any guidance to help further my understanding is appreciated.

Thanks
Patrick


#2 Eugene

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Posted 25 July 2005 - 10:12 PM

Hello Patrick,

I'm not a Syrologist, but I spent some time studying Syriac fathers, so I migh be able to say something on this topic, and other people will correct me if I'm wrong.

First of all, St. Ephrem of Syria and St. Afraates of Matti lived long before the Chalcedoinan schism and their theology has no sign of Nestorianism, so they both are perfectly Orthodox.

Hevagrius of Pontus is not Syriac, neither he is a saint, his writhings were found to contain some heresy (namely, he beleived in Origen's version of apokatastasis), so he was pronounced among heretics on one of the Ecumenical Councils. However, his writings are still valued in the Orthodox Church, some of them had even been included in Philokalia. He was also very respected in Syriac Nestorian Church, and many of his writings survived only in Syriac translation.

Now, the case of St. Isaac of Nineveh is still a mystery and challenge for us. He is among the most respected spiritual writers and saints in the Orthodox Church. However, according to historical data, he belonged to the Nestorian Syriac Church, and he even was a bishop there for a short period of time. We don't have any historical evidence whether at the end of his days he belonged to Nestorian or Orthodox Syriac Church. In his writings (at least volume 1) he does not say anything expilcitly and definitely on the matter of Christology, so we can not say surely wether he was Nestorian or not. However, the Syriac original of Volume 1 has plenty of references to Theodore of Mopsuestia and Diodore, both are well-known Nestorian writers accused of heresy at Chalcedon. Those references were removed from the text when this volume was translated into Greek in 10-th sentury by Orthodox monks, however they can be wiewed as an evidence that St. Isaac belonged to the Nestorian Church. As far as concern recently discovered volume 2 of his writings, there are a few chapters that contain some Nestorian views, however it is still questionabe whether all chapters of volume 2 belong to St. Isaac. Some people think that the case of St. Isaac challenges our wievs on the possibility of salvation and theosis outside the canonical boundaries of the Orthodox Church.

In Christ,
Evgeny


#3 Patrick Walsh

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Posted 26 July 2005 - 12:00 PM

Please forgive me for not being clear. But I was unaware that Hevagrius was not a Saint. So I learned something in spite of my lack of clarity.

I did not mean to imply that there was a question of my faith in the Syriac Fathers as being Orthodox, or my inability to accept their teachings as valid. Reading and studying St. Isaac of Nineveh has changed my entire perspective on the nature of Christ.

It is true that St. Isaac does not specifically address the Christological debate that brought about the council of Chalcedon. It is hard for me to explain, but the Christology of the two nature--the paradox of the formless form, the finite infinity, the bounded boundlessness--this is there in his writings.

I, as Gregory the Theologian says in his First Epistle to Cledonius, cannot see how one can attain salvation without incorporating the whole man--his spirit, soul, and body--and without Christ's assumption of the whole man with his whole divinity as the Word begotten before all ages. Without bringing the whole man to bear on Christ--the Way, Truth and Life--one is cut off from salvation. St. Isaac teaches the fullness of this truth in spite of the Nestorian church in which he maintained his sacramental life.

So I believe very much that St. Isaac did teach Christology from a somewhat oblique point of view--a point of view based on the wisdom of direct experience and understanding of holiness rather than a theological point of view. Once I disceovered this, I began to see why St. Isaac is so revered in the Orthodox Church.

I see this style of Christology present in all of the Syriac fathers, and in St. Symeon the New Theologian as well. I am hoping to be able to explore this further in order to increase my understanding.

Patrick


#4 Guest_Leandros

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Posted 27 July 2005 - 09:22 PM

Now, the case of St. Isaac of Nineveh is still a mystery and challenge for us.


According to Orthodox tradition, there is no question of non-Orthodoxy about St Isaac of Nineveh (who is also known as St Isaac the Syrian)

St Isaac the Syrian

The great luminary of the life of stillness, St Isaac, was born in the early seventh century in eastern Arabia, the present day Qatar on the Persian Gulf. He became a monk at a young age, and at some time left Arabia to dwell with monks in Persia. He was consecrated Bishop of Nineveh (and is therefore sometimes called St Isaac of Nineveh), but after five months received permission to return to solitude; he spent many years far south of Nineveh in the mountainous region of Beit Huzaye, and lastly at the Monastery of Rabban Shabur. He wrote his renowned and God inspired Ascetical Homilies toward the end of his long life of monastic struggle, about the end of the seventh century. The fame of his Homilies grew quickly, and about 100 years after their composition they were translated from Syriac into Creek by two monks of the Monastery of Mar Sabbas in Palestine, from which they spread throughout the monasteries of the Roman Empire and became a guide to hesychasts of all generations thereafter.

Dismissal Hymn of St Isaac
Let us worship the Word

He that thundered on Mount Sinai with saving laws for man has also given your writings as guides in prayer unto monks, O revealer of unfathomable mysteries; for having gone up in the mount of the vision of the Lord, you were shown the many mansions. Wherefore, O God bearing Isaac, entreat the Saviour for all praising you.

Kontakion of St Isaac
To you, the Champion Leader

As an ascetic and God bearer great in righteousness and an instructor of monastics do we honour you, who reveals of things sacred, and our protector. But, O Isaac, since you have great boldness with the Lord, intercede with Him for all of us who sing thy praise and who cry to you, "Rejoice, O Father most wise in God".

#5 Eugene

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Posted 27 July 2005 - 10:35 PM

According to Orthodox tradition, there is no question of non-Orthodoxy about St Isaac of Nineveh (who is also known as St Isaac the Syrian)


Exactly. The mistery is not that he is a saint, but how he is a saint if he belonged to Nestorian Cyriac Church (if he did).

#6 Patrick Walsh

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Posted 28 July 2005 - 05:58 PM

This is what my spiritual father forwarded me on the writing of the Holy St. Isaac of Nineveh.

"The Synaxarion says, 'The book of Saint Isaac is, with the Ladder of Saint John Climacus, the indispensible guide for every Orthdox soul to journey safely toward God. Hence, not many years ago, a holy spiritual father, Jerome of Aegina (d. 1966), recommended begging, if necessary, in order to be able to purchase a copy.'"

Patrick


#7 Guest_nurese-aid

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Posted 27 July 2005 - 10:45 PM

saint IS beyng particular church...he is a chapel himself. How then St.John of Shanhi was able interseed for none Orthodox peole and they was healed...They must be belive strongly in his intersession...in order to be healed...so by their belive they become well...how about opposit...

How then St.Nectarious was not allowed to serve or even not Metropalitan anymore...IF HE REALLY BECOME NOT PRIEST becuse of the peole in Orthodox Church oficially desided it!

#8 Scott Pierson

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Posted 12 July 2006 - 11:33 AM

I've seen books make the claim that he was a Nestorian then another author claim he was a Monophysite (the exact opposite of a Nestorian) and then others claim he was Orthodox. Personally I trust the tradition of the Church over any secular historian or scholar. Especially when the issue isnt even agreed upon by the "experts"!

Does anyone know where I can find an Akathist to St Isaac online?

-Scott Pierson

#9 John Charmley

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 05:42 PM

I've seen books make the claim that he was a Nestorian then another author claim he was a Monophysite (the exact opposite of a Nestorian) and then others claim he was Orthodox. Personally I trust the tradition of the Church over any secular historian or scholar. Especially when the issue isnt even agreed upon by the "experts"!

Does anyone know where I can find an Akathist to St Isaac online?

-Scott Pierson


Dear Scott,

Migrating here from the St. Isaac part of our dialogue on the EO/OO theme, I find nothing to suggest that he was EO. Leandros' post simply directs one to a site that says he is 'ours'.

Fr. Raphael's explanation I shall come back to on the EO/OO thread, as I am very mindful of Matthew's wish to stop that thread from spreading out, but here I will simply say ask a few questions.

How likely is it that someone who lived where Isaac lived would have been Chalcedonian? The Church of the East has always claimed him as one of their own, and there is no ground I know of for questioning this. This does not mean that his teaching cannot be accepted as Orthodox - but to claim that he, himself, was Chalcedonian Orthodox is simply to state what was not so. That is why I have a problem with this uncomplicated version of tradition - simply stating that such and such has been held for a long time is not, by itself, proof of anything beyond itself. To then say, when proof exists that that one prefers to believe error because it has been around a long time, is not, one suspects, a position likely to enhance the reputation of Christians for being able to engage in rational dialogue.

In Christ,

John

#10 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 29 October 2006 - 11:16 PM

Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ,

In my last post (a reply on the EO-OO thread) I suggested moving separate discussions to other more suitable threads and also controlling the focus of our discussion.

Then I spoke as a fellow poster but now as a co-moderator.

Looking at this thread I'm sure we can see what happens when we bring in the topic of EO-OO relations. It becomes difficult to discuss other topics as issues in their own right. Also it makes it very difficult for others to participate except the same few who keep replicating the same discussion throughout the group. Matthew previously already brought this point up. (And please see note at the top of this thread)

Please then if we could keep the themes of the threads on track.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#11 John Charmley

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Posted 30 October 2006 - 06:28 PM

Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ,


Please then if we could keep the themes of the threads on track.

In Christ- Fr Raphael



Dear Father Raphael,

Of course. So, persevering with the quest for enlightenment, can anyone here throw some light on how and when the teachings of a Nestorian bishop came to be recognised by the EO as Orthodox?

I can see that most of his teachings have always been Orthodox (although I understand that there may still be some material in syriac which would not be EO teaching), but there must have been some point or points at which this became recognised and accepted. Can anyone help here?

In Christ,

John

#12 Peter Farrington

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Posted 30 October 2006 - 07:27 PM

+Hilarion says:

By the eleventh century, due to the Greek translation of his writings, Isaac became widely known in the Greek-speaking East: in the famous anthology of ascetical texts, the Evergetinon, the passages from ‘abba Isaac the Syrian’ stand on the same footing as those from the classics of early Byzantine spirituality. This is how a modest ‘Nestorian’ Bishop from a remote province of Persia became a Holy Father of the Orthodox Church of Chalcedonian orientation - a rather exceptional phenomenon in the history of Eastern Christianity.

St Isaac has exerted a considerable influence on Russian spirituality. His ascetical homilies, translated into Slavonic in the XIVth century, made a deep impression on St Nil of Sora, one of the most important monastic writers of the XVIth century. In the XIXth century major theologians, such as Philaret of Moscow and Theophane the Recluse, as well as famous secular writers, such as I.Kireyevsky and F.Dostoyevsky, were among his admirers. Dostoyevsky was deeply influenced by Isaac’s homilies and used some of them as a source material for ‘the writings of Elder Zosima’ in ‘The Brothers Karamazoff’.


So I would imagine that he came to be considered a saint by the EO because he was only known by a selection of writings and not in his context as an Assyrian bishop.

This surely says something about the nature of Orthodoxy within and without particular communions, as +Hilarion himself and Hieromonk Alexander Golitzin, in a review of +Hilarion's book, both elaborate on.

Best wishes

Peter

#13 John Charmley

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Posted 30 October 2006 - 10:06 PM

So I would imagine that he came to be considered a saint by the EO because he was only known by a selection of writings and not in his context as an Assyrian bishop.

This surely says something about the nature of Orthodoxy within and without particular communions, as +Hilarion himself and Hieromonk Alexander Golitzin, in a review of +Hilarion's book, both elaborate on.

Best wishes

Peter


Dear Peter,

Most interesting. I haven't seen the review by Golitzin, have you a reference for it? Perhaps you might expand on its relevance here?

In Christ,

John

#14 Peter Farrington

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Posted 30 October 2006 - 10:19 PM

Hi John

Here is a link to a review by Hieromonk Alexander.

I will not post the contents here but he raises some interesting points based on the fact that St Isaac is outside the communion of EOxy, and indeed OOxy as he mentions, but is still reputed a saint.

http://www.orthodoxe...age/11/3/2.aspx

Peter

#15 John Charmley

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Posted 30 October 2006 - 10:25 PM

Hi John

Here is a link to a review by Hieromonk Alexander.

I will not post the contents here but he raises some interesting points based on the fact that St Isaac is outside the communion of EOxy, and indeed OOxy as he mentions, but is still reputed a saint.

http://www.orthodoxe...age/11/3/2.aspx

Peter


Dear Peter,

What a thought-provoking review! By far the most interesting one I have seen, and what a host of important questions he raises - although the most important ones are not for here!

In Christ

John

#16 Peter Farrington

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Posted 31 October 2006 - 03:44 PM

Do the Antiochians use Syriac at all, or do they use Greek and Arabic?

When I was in Sweden it was good to see the Syriac youth making efforts to retain their use of Syriac, but from my contact with Antiochian friends in the UK I can only recall mention of Arabic?

Peter

#17 Kris

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Posted 31 October 2006 - 03:59 PM

Do the Antiochians use Syriac at all, or do they use Greek and Arabic?

When I was in Sweden it was good to see the Syriac youth making efforts to retain their use of Syriac, but from my contact with Antiochian friends in the UK I can only recall mention of Arabic?
Peter


From what I know, the Antiochian Church tends to use only Arabic and not Syriac (although English is the norm in the UK and USA).

#18 Peter Farrington

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Posted 31 October 2006 - 04:04 PM

I wonder when they ceased to use their native Syriac then?

Was it in response to a Hellenisation of their church culture? Did this happen at the time they stopped using their own liturgies also?

Peter

#19 Kris

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Posted 31 October 2006 - 04:14 PM

Was it in response to a Hellenisation of their church culture? Did this happen at the time they stopped using their own liturgies also?


I would assume the introcuction of Arabic was a response to Hellinisation (which was probably the cause of the loss of Syriac), although I read somewhere that the Byzantine liturgical tradition was derived from Antioch, so I suppose it is still "their own" liturgies.

I've also heard that the rite used by the Syriac Church (correct me if I'm wrong) represents that of Western Syria.

I wonder whether there was a greater concentration of Chalcedonians in Eastern Syria, and whether Arabization was greater in these areas, since there are still villages where even the Muslims have retained this old dialect of Aramaic.

#20 Peter Farrington

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Posted 31 October 2006 - 04:25 PM

Hi Kris

Is East Syria not where the Assyrians were based?

West Syria is Antioch and is the region of the Antiochean and Syrian Orthodox.

The Syrian Orthodox still speak a variety of Aramaic, but I was interested that the Antiocheans seemed to not.

I know that local liturgies were banned in the medieaval period in the Byzantine Empire, and that the Greek Alexandrians also used Greek rather than their native language so I guessed that there was a process of Greekification and centralisation, analagous to that which happened in the West, and which led to the loss of local languages and liturgies.

The Syrian Orthodox use their own variant of the Liturgy of St James, but you Byzantines only use Greek St James occasionally (it is the usual BOC liturgy). Certainly all liturgies can be traced to Syrian origins but the imperial Liturgy of St John Chrysostom did replace all local rites, as the Roman one did all local Western rites, more or less.

So much of the material I use in my own studies is in Syriac (and French) that I am learning Syriac, rather than Coptic. I guess for all manner of reasons the Greek Antiocheans chose to use Greek and then Arabic?

Best wishes

Peter




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