Isaac of Nineveh
also remembered as Isaac the Syrian
and Isaac Syrus
was a Seventh century bishop
A bishop is an ordained or consecrated member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox Churches, in the Assyrian Church of the East, in the Independent Catholic Churches, and in the...
and theologian best remembered for his written work. He is also regarded as a saint
A saint is a holy person. In various religions, saints are people who are believed to have exceptional holiness.In Christian usage, "saint" refers to any believer who is "in Christ", and in whom Christ dwells, whether in heaven or in earth...
in the Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...
. His feast day falls on January 28.
He was born in the region of Bahrain
Bahrain is a historical region in eastern Arabia that was known as the Province of Bahrain until the 16th Century. It stretched from the south of Basra along the Persian Gulf coast and included the regions of Kuwait, Al-Hasa, Qatif, Qatar, and the Awal Islands, now known as Bahrain. The name...
, When still quite young, he and his brother entered a monastery, where he gained considerable renown as a teacher and came to the attention of the Catholicos
Catholicos, plural Catholicoi, is a title used for the head of certain churches in some Eastern Christian traditions. The title implies autocephaly and in some cases is borne by the designated head of an autonomous church, in which case the holder might have other titles such as Patriarch...
George, who ordained him Bishop of Nineveh
Nineveh was an ancient Assyrian city on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, and capital of the Neo Assyrian Empire. Its ruins are across the river from the modern-day major city of Mosul, in the Ninawa Governorate of Iraq....
far to the north. The administrative duties did not suit his retiring and ascetic bent: he requested to abdicate after only five months, and went south to the wilderness of Mount Matout, a refuge for anchorite
Anchorite denotes someone who, for religious reasons, withdraws from secular society so as to be able to lead an intensely prayer-oriented, ascetic, and—circumstances permitting—Eucharist-focused life...
s. There he lived in solitude for many years, eating only three loaves a week with some uncooked vegetables, a detail that never failed to astonish his hagiographers
Hagiography is the study of saints.From the Greek and , it refers literally to writings on the subject of such holy people, and specifically to the biographies of saints and ecclesiastical leaders. The term hagiology, the study of hagiography, is also current in English, though less common...
. Eventually blindness and old age forced him to retire to the monastery of Shabar, where he died and was buried. At the time of his death he was nearly blind, a fact that some attribute to his devotion to study.
Isaac is remembered for his spiritual homilies on the inner life, which have a human breadth that transcends the Nestorian Christianity of the Church to which he belonged. They survive in Syriac
Syriac is a dialect of Middle Aramaic that was once spoken across much of the Fertile Crescent. Having first appeared as a script in the 1st century AD after being spoken as an unwritten language for five centuries, Classical Syriac became a major literary language throughout the Middle East from...
manuscripts and in Greek and Arabic translations. From Greek they were translated into Russian.
Isaac consciously avoided writing on topics that were disputed or discussed in the contemporary theological debates. This gives Isaac a certain ecumenical potential, and is probably the reason that he has come to be venerated and appreciated among many different Christian traditions.
Isaac stands in the tradition of the eastern mystical saints and placed a considerable emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit is a term introduced in English translations of the Hebrew Bible, but understood differently in the main Abrahamic religions.While the general concept of a "Spirit" that permeates the cosmos has been used in various religions Holy Spirit is a term introduced in English translations of...
Isaac's writings offer a rare example of a large corpus of ascetical texts written by an experienced hermit and is thus an important writer when it comes to understanding early Christian asceticism.
The instructions of Isaac the Syrian came to us in several books. The First book contains 82 chapters while the Second contains 41. There is also a Third book which has been translated into Italian and English but has yet to be published in English. Here are some examples:
- Faith, God’s providence, prayer
"To whatever extent a person draws close to God with his intentions, is to what extent God draws close to him with His gifts.
A handful of sand, thrown into the sea, is what sinning is, when compared to God’s Providence and mercy. Just like an abundant source of water is not impeded by a handful of dust, so is the Creator’s mercy not defeated by the sins of His creations.
The natural that precedes faith is the path toward faith and toward God. Being implanted by God into our nature, it alone convinces us for the need to believe in God, Who had brought everything into being.
Those, in whom the light of faith truly shines, never reach such unashamedness as to ask God: "Give us this," or — "Remove from us this." Because their spiritual eyes — with which they were blessed by that genuine Father, Who with His great love, countlessly transcends any fatherly love — continually view the Father’s Providence, they are not concerned in the slightest about themselves. God can do more than anyone else, and can assist us by a far greater measure than we could ever ask for, or even imagine."
"To select a good deed depends on the initiator; to realize the intention — that is God’s deed. Consequently, let us adhere to the rule, so that every good intention that comes to us is followed by frequent prayers, appealing to God to not only grant us help, but also if it is pleasing or not to Him. Because not every good intention comes from God, but only those that are beneficial.
Sometimes, a person wishes something good, but God doesn’t help him — maybe because the intention came from the devil and is not for our benefit; or maybe because it is beyond our strength as we have not attained the necessary spiritual level; or maybe because it doesn’t correspond to our calling; or maybe because the time is not right to initiate it; or maybe because we don’t have the necessary knowledge or strength to accomplish it; or maybe because circumstances will not contribute to its success. Besides this, the devil contrives in every way to paint it as something good so that having inclined us toward it, he could upset our spiritual tranquility or inflict harm on us. That’s why it is necessary for us to diligently examine all our good desires. Better still, do everything after seeking counsel."
- Love towards your neighbor, mercy, non-judgmentalness
"Do not demand love from your neighbor, because you will suffer if you don’t receive it; but better still, you indicate your love toward your neighbor and you will settle down. In this way, you will lead your neighbor toward love.
Don’t exchange your love toward your neighbor for some type of object, because in having love toward your neighbor, you acquire within yourself Him, Who is most precious in the whole world. Forsake the petty so as to acquire the great; spurn the excessive and everything meaningless so as to acquire the valuable.
Shelter the sinner if it brings you no harm. Through this you will encourage him toward repentance and reform — and attract the Lord’s mercy to yourself. With a kind word and all possible means, fortify the infirm and the sorrowful and that Right Arm that controls everything, will also support you. With prayers and sorrow of your heart, share your lot with the aggrieved and the source of God’s mercy will open to your entreaties.
When giving, give magnanimously with a look of kindness on your face, and give more than what is asked of you.
Do not distinguish the worthy from the unworthy. Let everyone be equal to you for good deeds, so that you may be able to also attract the unworthy toward goodness, because through outside acts, the soul quickly learns to be reverent before God.
He who shows kindness toward the poor has God as his guardian, and he who becomes poor for the sake of God will acquire abundant treasures. God is pleased when He sees people showing concern for others for His sake. When someone asks you for something, don’t think: "Just in case I might need it, I shall leave it for myself, and God — through other people — will give that person what he requires." These types of thoughts are peculiar to people that are iniquitous and do not know God. A just and generous person would not compromise the honor of helping and relinquish it to another person, and he would never pass up an opportunity to help. Every beggar and every needy person receives the necessary essentials, because God doesn’t neglect anyone. But you, having sent away the destitute with nothing, spurned the honor offered to you by God and thereby, distanced yourself from His grace.
Through God’s providence, he who respects every person for God’s sake, privately acquires help from every human being."
Wacław Hryniewicz (2007) argues that Brocks translation (1995) of the Second Part of Isaac's writings on Gehenna (discovered 1983) confirm claims of earlier Universalist historians such as J. W. Hanson (1899) that Isaac was an advocate of universal reconciliation
In Christian theology, universal reconciliation is the doctrine that all sinful and alienated human souls—because of divine love and mercy—will ultimately be reconciled to God.Universal salvation may be related to the perception of a problem of Hell, standing opposed to ideas...