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The Mysticism of John Saba of Dalyatha


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#1 Ken McRae

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 05:01 PM

Greetings in Christ to All!

How does the Orthodox Church view the Syrian monk and mystic John Saba?

PART 1:- The Mystical Discourses of John Saba (of Dalyatha)
PART 2:- John Saba and the Legacy of Syrian Christian Mysticism
PART 3:- John Saba's Discourses on Mysticism

#2 Ken McRae

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Posted 15 October 2017 - 10:01 PM

Greetings in Christ to All!
How does the Orthodox Church view the Syrian monk and mystic John Saba?

PART 1:- The Mystical Discourses of John Saba (of Dalyatha)
PART 2:- John Saba and the Legacy of Syrian Christian Mysticism
PART 3:- John Saba's Discourses on Mysticism


THE above links, by the way, are PDF files of a pre-computer, type-written manuscript of a book entitled: 'The Mysticism of John Saba', by Dr. B.E. Colless, authored in the early 1960's.

The term 'Saba' means 'old man', or elder; and so he is frequently referred to as 'John the Elder' (of Dalyatha). His 22 discourses are located in Part 3, just in case you're wondering which part (if any) to download.

According to the HTM Press, John Saba is the true or proper author of Homilies 15, 16, 17 and 31 in The Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian. They base that opinion on the authority of Dr. Colless, the author of this book on, 'The Mysticism of John Saba'.

According to Dr. Colless, John Saba is also the real/true author of the 24th and final discourse in that collection of discourses attributed to St. Dorotheos of Gaza.

His surviving letters are currently in print, and can be purchased here: The Letters of John of Dalyatha || Gorgias Press. Two passages from one of these letters are quoted in this work: The Book of Mystical Chapters

Sebastian Brock states, in The Syriac Fathers on Prayer, that he was "condemned by the authorities of the Church of the East at a synod in 786/7 on the grounds that they showed Messalian tendencies (a totally misguided accusation)." Hence my original question.

Seeing that a few of his works have been attributed, in the past, to Orthodox authors, such as Dorotheos and Isaac, does the Orthodox Church today tend to view John Saba as Orthodox? Or Nestorian?

#3 Ken McRae

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Posted 16 October 2017 - 12:10 AM

... a book entitled: 'The Mysticism of John Saba', by Dr. B.E. Colless, authored in the early 1960's.


Correction: A 1969 Ph.D. thesis, correctly speaking. At any rate, Sebastian Brock states, in 'The Syriac Fathers on Prayer', (published in '87,) that Dr. Colless was preparing an English translation of John Saba's Homilies. I suspect the Homilies in question are these same Discourses, upon which he based his Ph.D. thesis.

#4 Kosta

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Posted 20 October 2017 - 06:54 AM

Unfortunately my computer can't download your links. From what I can find is he is a saint in the OO but not in the EO. That he was condemned by a counvillage under a Timothy I but was exhonerated by a later council. I was able to find a translation of Letter 51 translated by a Mary Hansbury. I could see where accusations of messalianism could arise.

#5 Ken McRae

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Posted 22 October 2017 - 11:14 PM

Unfortunately my computer can't download your links.


Sorry about that. Maybe it was a problem with the links. Try these new modified links:- Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 Let me know if they work for you, this time, please. If you have a PDF file reader on your computer, they should work.

From what I can find is he is a saint in the OO but not in the EO. That he was condemned by a counvillage under a Timothy I but was exhonerated by a later council. I was able to find a translation of Letter 51 translated by a Mary Hansbury. I could see where accusations of messalianism could arise.


Thanks for that info. It's appreciated. If you have a web-link for Letter 51, please post it later, when you have the time. I don't own his published Letters yet, but will get them very soon, God willing.

#6 Ken McRae

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Posted 23 October 2017 - 02:00 AM

I suspect the Homilies (in question) are these same Discourses...


I say that for two reasons: First, because of a statement by Dr. Colless on page 116 of Part 2, which appears to imply some kind of distinction, or difference between them:

"This last feature," he says, "is also represented in the prayers attached to the various Discourses of John Saba, while an interest in Christ's childhood, and in Mary and Joseph, is found in the unpublished Sermo 19, the main theme of which is the mystical cintemplation of the Glory of Christ."

I ask you all: Does it appear from the above context that the term "Sermo" is being used as a synonym for "Discourse"? Or does it denote or imply a different literary genre or style of composition?

(N.B. The term "Sermo" is spelled correctly, incidentally. It's not a typo. That's how it consistently appears throughout the monograph.)

However, the manuscript history of John Saba's preserved writings is discussed in the first chapter of Part 1; and the variant orders of arrangement are covered as well, in reasonable detail.

He then proposes a "new" and improved arrangement, (on pages 13-14,) under four distinct categories or general headings: 1. The Discourses, 2. Monastic Letters, 3. The Sentences, or 'Chapters of Knowledge' (in Six Groups; reminiscent of Evagrius' Six Centuries), and lastly, 4. Miscellaneous Fragments, like the Prayers, for example.

So the Prayers (of John Saba), that were appended to various Discourses in the past, would now be separated in the new arrangement; and grouped together under the fourth and final category, denoted as the 'Miscellanies'.

Now, of the four categories, or classes, the Homilies would clearly fall under the first: The Discourses. However, is it possible the Homilies are merely a sub-group? And that there might be other Discourses that aren't Homilies, properly speaking? So, you see why, now, I said earlier that I only "suspect" the Homilies are the Discourses. It isn't as perfectly clear as it could be; or should be.

Then there is the manuscript history to consider as well. After reading that, it's difficult (at best) to rule out the possible discovery of new homilies, prior to 1987, (the year Dr. Brock published his work about 'The Syrian Fathers on Prayer',) that were previously unknown to Dr. Colless back in 1969.

I've seen a book, both quoted and documented online, in a few places, entitled 'Homilies of the Spiritual Elder, John of Dalyatha', but so far I've been unable to obtain an ISBN number for it, so that I might acquire a copy; and online keyword searches for a possible distributor have failed, so far, to lead anywhere.

Matthew the Poor quotes from it in this book of his:- The Orthodox Prayer Life. See its Bibliography, page 292, under Manuscripts and Unpublished Works. One of the homilies from that book is quoted on this website:- On Drawing Closer to Christ.

#7 Ken McRae

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Posted 23 October 2017 - 05:21 AM

Matthew the Poor quotes from it in this book of his:- The Orthodox Prayer Life


The Letters of John of Dalyatha || Gorgias Press. Two passages from one of these letters are quoted in this work:- The Book of Mystical Chapters


For those who haven't realized it yet, the above two book links, for the 'Orthodox Prayer Life' and 'Book of Mystical Chapters', are for free PDF e-book downloads.

Personally, I feel all Orthodox Christians should download those two books onto their Smart-phones, as well as these two others, for convenient reading/reference while on the go:-

Orthodox Daily Prayers || By Fr John Winfrey
A Spiritual Psalter || By Sts. Ephraim the Syrian & Theophan the Recluse

#8 Ken McRae

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Posted 23 October 2017 - 05:50 AM

According to the HTM Press, John Saba is the true (or proper) author of Homilies 15, 16, 17 and 31 in The Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian. They base that opinion on the authority of Dr. Colless....


More by Dr. Colless, on the subject of Syrian Mysticism:-

An Introduction to Syriac Mysticism || By Brian E. Colless
The Wisdom of the Pearlers: An Anthology of Syriac Christian Mysticism; translated, with an intro, by Brian E. Colless




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