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St Isaac the Syriac

posted 16 Jan 2012, 11:20 by Greek Orthodox Church

11 October

One of the most important figures in the history of the Eastern Christian Church is St. Isaac of Nineveh, (also known as St. Isaac the Syriac), who came from this area. He became known for his written work greatly admired and read, even more than the work of other holy fathers. He is one of the biggest and deepest teachers of the orthodox spiritual life. Therefore, his written work was spread all over the orthodox world and translated into many languages.

It is very awkward that he has been mentioned in the Slavic Synaksarion (a book of the lives of the saints) and he has not appeared in the Greek Synaksarion for an unknown reason, although his impact in the orthodox spiritual heritage is indelible. The original version of the Greek Synaksarion has most probably been lost and the Slavic translation survived. Therefore, we have basic information about his life from the translation. He lived in the second half of the 7th century and is one of the greatest spiritual writers of the Eastern Christian Church. St. Isaac was born in (Bet Qatraye) a wider area than the modern State of Qatar, in the Persian or Arabic Gulf. He became a monk at an early age with his brother whose name is not known. They went to the monastery of St. Martyr Mathew. Later, he left his brother who became Superior of the monastery and went deeper in the desert rejecting every thing material. By doing so, he grew up spiritually to the stage of having visions. He became an angel in a body and spiritual teacher there. From his writings we understand that all his words are a result of his experience. Qatar’s ecclesiastical history in the pre-Islamic and early Islamic period was an important part of the Eastern Christianity. Its church gave a number of prominent clerks. Generations of monks lived on the merits of the Eastern Christian monks. St. Isaac was eventually taken by the Patriarch George I (who visited Bet Qatraye in 676) to be consecrated bishop of Nineveh (Mosul) in the country between the two rivers. St. Isaac resigned from the position of a bishop after five months. According to one source there were two men in his diocese, a debtor and a creditor. The creditor requested from St. Isaac to solve their problem. When St. Isaac suggested a solution based on the Bible and asked creditor to be patient with his brother. However, the creditor replied: Put aside the Bible, I want my money! St. Isaac said to himself: If my people reject the Bible as a basis for problem solution and misunderstandings, what is my mission here? So, he went to the Catholicos Patriarch George I and sought to be released from the Episcopal sea of Nineveh.


He became a milestone at first, and perhaps later moved to the mountains of Khuzistan near the other monks and eventually to the monastery of Rabban Shapur. He devoted the later part of his life to the writing of ascetical works. He left 86 articles and 4 epistles. Scholars thought that he left to the monks five volumes of his written work from his older age, based on his long ascetic experience, perhaps in the last decade of the seventh century. This means that more of them were lost. His articles were located and collected after his death, and copied by some monks in order to spread these messages. Those manuscripts were translated from Syriac into Greek language by monks Avramios and Patrikios, from the Monastery of St. Saba in Palestine. They left their manuscripts in the library of the mentioned Monastery. For many centuries it was unknown. In 1770 a virtuous brother of the monastery named Efrem, (afterworlds Patriarch of Jerusalem) discovered them. Then, Nikiforos Theotokis published them for the first time. From this edition they have been translated into many languages.

Nobody knows when he died. One of the sources mentioned that he went blind at his older age.