Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Isaac of Nineveh

For Lent I will be posting little excerpts from Saint Isaac of Nineveh, so I thought I would say something about him first.

Isaac of Nineveh, or Isaac the Syrian, is a seventh-century saint with an interesting distinction: he is the latest saint, historically speaking, to be commemorated on the liturgical calendars of the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Oriental Orthodox Churches. (The Church of the East did not accept the Council of Ephesus and the Oriental Churches did not accept the Council of Chalcedon.) That is to say, he is recognized canonically as a saint by every apostolic church accepting the Nicene Creed, and this despite the fact that the Church of the East and Oriental Orthodox split off from the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox two hundred years before he was born. His feast day is January 28.

Relatively little is known of his life. He was born in Beth Qatraye, somewhere around modern-day Qatar, in the early seventh century. In the year 676, he was ordained Bishop of the important See of Nineveh, which was in modern-day Iraq. (Nineveh, in fact, is on the outskirts of modern-day Mosul, which was one of the oldest bastions of Christianity in Mesopotamia until last June, when ISIS took hold of it and turned the last of its dwindling Christian population into fleeing refugees.) Isaac does not seem to have found himself suitable for the task, although we do not know why. After a few months, he withdrew from the episcopacy and lived the solitary life on Mount Matout, and later, in his old age, a monk at a monastery at Shabar. He wrote in Syriac, but his writings were quickly translated after his death into Greek and thence into Latin, Amharic, and Slavonic, and thus he became widely read throughout the Christian world.

The primary source of texts I will be using for Mar Isaac is The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, trs., Holy Transfiguration Monastery (Boston, MA: 2011).


During Lent I will also be going through the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, for those who are interested. I see that D. G. D. Davidson will also be doing the Meditations for his Lenten Read-a-thon this year, so all the cool kids are doing it.


  1. MrsDarwin5:21 PM

    Looking forward to these. Your Lent postings always seem to he very spiritually timely for me. Do you pick out the quotes each day, or schedule out a block of them?

  2. branemrys6:28 PM

    It has varied considerably -- I usually do a mix, although perhaps usually I schedule things out a day or three in advance. This Lent, though, I'll be busy and have an ever-shifting schedule, so far reliability I'll be trying for week-long blocks.

  3. Enbrethiliel3:06 AM


    I'm looking forward to this series, too! I got a lot out of the quotations from St. Peter Chrysologus last year. =)

  4. branemrys7:08 PM

    Chrysologus was definitely very good. Isaac is a more indirect mind, so he'll be fairly different. But I think there's a lot to be learned from him, as well.


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