Mar Michael the Great (d. 1199) – BIOGRAPHIES OF SYRIAN SCHOLARS AND WRITERS – Mor Ignatius Aphram Barsoum – Translated : By Dr. Matti Moosa

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Mar Michael the Great
(d. 1199)

A great Father of the church and the choicest of the patriarchs of Antioch and a famous historian, Michael was born at Melitene in 1126. His father the priest Iliyya (Elijah) was from the Qindasi family. Michael’s uncle is Athanasius Zakka (Zacheas), metropolitan of Ayn Zarba (d. 1166). He became a monk at the Monastery of Mar Barsoum where he also was educated. He was ordained a priest and became the abbot of the monastery. The Holy Synod unanimously elected him a patriarch for the Apostolic throne, but he did not accept his election until the bishops promised to adhere to the canons of the Church. He was consecrated on October 18, 1166, and fulfilled his office competently for thirty-three years and twenty days. He died on November 7, 1199. He was good looking, energetic and had beautiful handwriting. He spent his day in looking after Church matters and in transcribing significant manuscripts; he devoted the night to the writing of letters. He transcribed a Gospel on vellum in the Estrangelo script, gilded its pages and bound it with a silver cover.325 He compiled all the hymns of St. Ephraim and Jacob of Saruj in several copies, which he transcribed personally. Also he marked the service books of ordinations, principal festivals and prayers with diacritical points with great care, and preserved them in one huge volume.326

Following are his writings:

1. A well-known universal history containing both world and ecclesiastical events from the creation until 1193. He wrote it in Syriac in several volumes, each page containing three columns: one for the ecclesiastical history, one for world history and the third for strange events and natural phenomena. His sources were many histories – some of which were known, but the majority are lost. Some of these are the histories of Julius Africanus, Andronecus, Eusebius of Cesarea, Valianus the

Alexandrine monk (middle of the fourth century), Socrates, Sozomen, Zachariah of Mitylene, Qura of Batnan, John of Asia, Jacob of Edessa, John of Atharib, Dionysius of Tal Mahre, Ignatius of Melitene, Iliyya of Kaysum and Bar Salibi. He also used Arabic sources. This history consists of eight hundred large-size pages, written in fine handwriting. It is a very important history. A single copy of it was found at the library in al-Ruha (Edessa) in the handwriting of the metropolitan Michael of Urbish, which he completed while still a monk in 1598. Only nineteen pages of it are missing. It was translated into French and published by Chabot in five volumes in 1899-1918. It was also translated into colloquial Arabic by John Shuqayr of Sadad, metropolitan of Damascus, in 1759. There are five copies of this translation.327 In 1245 the priest Yeshu Haskafi resident of Qalat al-Rum, translated an abridgement of it into Armenian. This translation was revised by the monk Vartan and published in Jerusalem in 1870-1871. The same was translated into French and published by Laglois.328 The greatest benefit of this history is that it contains the lists of the names of the patriarchs of the four major Sees, particularly the See of Antioch, together with the dioceses of Takrit, Jerusalem, Edessa, Melitene and Amid as well as the list of the bishops of the Syrian church from 793 to 1199, numbering 950 with information about their monasteries. There is another copy of these lists which have enriched ecclesiastical history transcribed at the beginning of the sixteenth century329 at Cambridge.
2. A confession of faith he wrote at Antioch and addressed to the emperor Manuel I in 1169.
3. A treatise or an ode in which he described the traits and writings of Dionysius bar Salibi.330
4. A recommendation for Bar Wahbun when he sent him to meet with the Byzantine delegate to discuss the unity of the churches in 1172.331
5. Twenty-nine canons which he enacted at the Monastery of Mar Hananya, followed by twelve more canons he enacted in 1174.332
6. A treatise he wrote in 1178, refuting the Albingensians, whose heresy had appeared in France.333
7. A liturgy in sixteen pages arranged according to the letters of the alphabet. It begins thus: “Almighty God and Lord of all, make us worthy to draw near to this great divine mystery.”334
8. Homilies for feasts and Sundays. The Edessene Chronicler stated, “He transcribed in his own handwriting a huge volume containing homilies for the whole year and added unto it his own homilies for festivals and Sundays, which were not included in it.”335
9. Two husoyos, one of them for Mar Barsoum; both have entered the church rite.
10. He revised the life story of Mar Abhai the Ascetic bishop, in 1185. This life story and other narratives which he had abridged and recorded in his history were written by John Rufus. They contain unsubstantiated information.
11. A heptasyllabic ode he composed in 1159 on the innocent young woman from Talafar already mentioned in the biography of Bar Salibi.336 Two more dodecasyllabic odes, one of them in praise of the achievements of John, metropolitan of Mardin (d. 1165), which he composed in 1167;337 the other in praise of Mar Barsoum. We came upon a copy of the latter of which six pages were missing and twenty-eight pages extant.338
12. A treatise against the falsifications of Mark, son of Qunbar the Copt, which he mentioned in his history.339 He might have written it in Arabic. Assemani has erroneously attributed to him an Arabic book on receiving Holy Communion and Confession which, in fact, belongs to some Coptic writer. Michael’s style is smooth but his verse is mediocre and lacks creativeness.