The Doctor Mar Jacob of Saruj (d. 521) / Dr. Matti Moosa

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The Doctor Mar Jacob of Saruj
(d. 521)

Jacob of Saruj is a profieient and a natural poet of great genius who is unrivaled and unequaled. An unrestrained writer and one of the princes of language, Jacob wrote with eloquence and creativeness. He is more of a poet than a writer. His poems attained wide popularity and spread everywhere. His poetry finds its way directly to the heart and amuses those who listen to it. One never reads one of his poems without becoming infatuated by it. Jacob’s poetry contains masterpieces and beauties which astound the mind and arrest the heart. It is also characterized by immaculate style and expression, exquisite themes, masterful expression, and firm and clear style. Jacob is a prolific poet who composed lengthy poems, some of which contain two thousand, three thousand or more lines of poetry. Besides his composing introductory verses and magnificent endings, he is at home with poetry. the more he penetrates his poetical theme, the more he enriches it with eloquence and beauty, and the more he creates new terms, delicate expressions, and brilliant techniques, which drive away boredom and alert the reader that he is opposite a mighty ocean full of literary pearls and uncommon objects.

Read his maymars on exhortation and renunciation of world pleasures and repentance; you will find that before you have finished reading that your heart has renounced earthly things and that it has become filled with the love of piety and devotion. No matter how far you are from righteousness, his maymars will incline your heart to knock at God’s door and to adhere to God. How excellent he is in fathoming the diseases of the soul and in their proper treatment and how smooth is his style if it met attentive hearts and meek souls. Thus, his tongue was a spring of wisdom, and he himself was one of the chosen of God and the most famous of the saints of his time, the age of faith, heroism and Orthodox religious principles. May God bless an age which produced distinguished men like Philoxenus of Mabug, Paul of Qallinicus, John of Talla, Zacharaiah of Mitylene, John bar Aphtunia, Severus of Antioch and their like – unequaled authorities who are seldom found in any age. Therefore, the Church has done an excellent thing by naming him the “Doctor” par excellence as well as the “Cithara of the Holy Spirit,” the “Harp of the Orthodox Church,” and the “Crown of the Doctors, their ornament and their pride.”
Mar Jacob was born at the village of Qawartum on the Euphrates, but is also said to have been born at Hawrah in the district of the city of Saruj in 551. He graduated from the school of Edessa, where he had acquired a great share of the sciences of philology, philosophy and theology. He became a monk and an ascetic. When he was twenty years old he extemporized his famous ode, The Chariot of Ezekiel, in the presence of five bishops who had suggested it to him while at the church of Batnan Saruj (according to another weak source, at the church of Nisibin).62 The bishops admired his poetical talent and licensed him, trusting that God has distinguished him with His favor.
He was ordained a presbyter and then granted the rank of a Periodeutes for the city of Hawrah, after which he journeyed through the lands of the Euphrates and inner Syria, carrying out his task properly. He was well received, loved and trusted by hundreds, nay, thousands of monks for his piety, honesty and knowledge. At the end of his life he was made a bishop of the diocese of Batnan Saruj in 519, and administered his diocese most appropriately for one year and eleven months. He died on November 29, 521, being seventy years of age. He is commemorated by the Church. A long time later, some of his remains were removed to a private shrine in the city of Diyarbakr.
Certain men studied under Doctor Jacob and benefited from him. Of these is his secretary Habib of Edessa and an ascetic named Daniel. According to Bar Hebraeus seventy copyists were assigned to write down his poems, which had been collected and totaled seven hundred seventy poems, first of which was The Chariot of Ezekiel and the last, Golgotha, left unfinished because of his death. All of these poems are composed in the dodecasyllabic meter which he invented and which came to be known in his name as the Sarujite meter. These maymars (poems) covered commentaries on the most important subjects of the Old and New Testaments. They also treated subjects such as faith, virtue, penance, resurrection, graces for meals, the dead, and praise of the Virgin, the Prophets, the Apostles and the martyrs. He made specific mention of the saints Peter, Paul, Thomas, Thaddeus, John the Babtist, Guriyya, Shamuna and Habib, Sergius and Pacchus, the People of the Cave, George, the martyrs of Sebaste, Ephraim, Simon the Stylite. In the mornings and evenings, the Syrian church chants a group of his choice maymars in praise of the Lord of the Universe, thus perpetuating the memory of their author.

Our libraries at the Zafaran, Jerusalem (St. Mark), at Mardin as well as the libraries of the Vatican and London, British Museum, contain more than four hundred of these maymars most of which are written on parchment.63 And if you realize that the monk Paul Bedjan published two hundred maymars in five thick volumes, you would estimate that their total number comprises nineteen volumes. Seventy-seven of these maymars had been selected and added to the collection of the homilies for the whole year in a manuscript which I found at Basibrina, which is different from familiar collections. We have also read madrashes by him in the meter “God who asscended on Mount Sinai,” (of which the first is on the Saints) and two sughiths on penitence.64 Some copies65 ascribed to him a philosophical, alphabetically arranged sughith of twenty-two lines in the melody of “Lord make me drink from thy spring,” which, according to Mingana, belonged to Jacob of Edessa.66 He also composed songs on the pestilences of locusts which befell the countrie in the spring of 500 A.D.67
As to his prose writings they consist of letters of the utmost beauty and elegance. They are written in a masterful, and exquisite style. A selected collection in 316 pages containing forty-three of these letters has survived. they were published in 1937 after three British Museum MSS. of which the oldest and the largest was finished in 603.68 These letters are:

1. A letter to Stephen bar Sudayli the heretic (before adopting heresy) refuting his delusions and advising him to improve his conduct by resorting to piety. (This letter followed an earlier one which he wrote to him guiding and calling him to the right path; later, he excommunicated him in a synod which comprised some bishops);69 2) a letter on faith; 3) a letter to the priest Thomas on faith; 4) a letter to Antonius, bishop of Aleppo; 5) a letter to the priest John; 6) a letter to the monks at Arzun, the citadel of the Persians; 7) a letter to the monks of Mount Sinai; 8) to Mar Habib, a letter of peace on the resurrection; 9) a letter to Julian the Archdeacon; 10) a letter to Stephen the Notary on the salvation works of Christ; 11) a letter to the Ascetic Paul; 12) an (imperfect) letter; 13) a letter to the monks of the convent of Mar Basus on the works of Christ; 14) an entreating letter to the monks of the Monastery of Mar Basus; 15) a letter from the monks of Mar Basus to him; 16) his reply to them; 17) a third letter to them which is unique as well as decisive evidence of his adherence to the Orthodox faith;70 18) a letter to the Himyarite confessors in Najran; 19) a letter on faith to Samuel, abbot of the monastery of St. Isaac at Gabula; 20) a letter to the citizens of Edessa, reminding them of the promise of Christ to King Abgar; 21) a letter to the abbots Antiochus, Samuel, John, Sergius and Ignatius on the Nativity of the Lord; 22) a letter to Jacob the abbot of the Monastery of Nawawis; 23) a thirty-six page letter to Marun in reply to six Biblical problems which Marun submitted to him in a language other than Syriac; 24) a letter on the saying of Our Lord “And whosoever speaketh a word agains the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him, but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven him,”71 25) a letter to some of his friends; 26) a consolatory letter to Mara, bishop of Amid; 27) a letter to the ascetic Daniel concerning his unwillingness to serve as a priest; 28) a letter on the contrition of the Soul; 29-30) a letter to some of his friends; 31) a letter to a friend on the Great Saturday; 32) a letter to Paul, bishop of Edessa, on the verse: “Love thine enemies;”72 33) a letter to Eutychianus, bishop of Dara, on faith; 34) a letter to Simi consoling him for the death of his son; 35) a letter to Basaconte (prince) of Edessa; 36) a letter to the Comes (prince) Cyrus, the chief physician, on the interpretation of the true Faith; 37) a letter to the two harlots Leontia and Maria who repented and became recluses; 38) a letter to a solitary who used to see specters and visions of demons openly; 39) a letter to Daniel the Solitary; 40) a letter to some ascetics; 41) a letter to his friend Simon; 42) a letter on virtuous life to a poor man seeking the salvation of his soul; 43) a letter to one of his friends. We have also read a letter by him, not mentioned in his anthology, to some of his friends beginning thus: “Had not the disturbances of this wicked world troubled thee.” We also read some discourses by him.73
The author of the chronicle ascribed to Joshua the Stylite related on page 280 that “During the panic which seized the people as a result of the Persian-Byzantine War in 503 A.D., the inhabitants of the countries lying to the east of the Euphrates began a mass migration.” Jacob wrote, advising them to remain in their homeland, and encouraging them with the hope that they would find safety by Providence. No one of these letters survived except the twentieth letter, which he delivered to the people of Edessa.
We have also found eleven festal homilies written by him for the Nativity of Our Lord, the Epiphany, the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, Lent, for the Thursday preceding Palm Sunday, for Palm Sunday, for Good Friday, for the Sunday of Unleavened Bread, for Easter Sunday and for Low Sunday. The latter begins thus: “An intense joy full of understanding urges me today.” Another discourse on repentance begins thus: “We should not grieve because the thread of our life has reached its end and that from day to day it is about to be cut off.”74 Also he wrote consolatory discourses and two liturgies: the first in 519, beginning thus: “O God creator of everything visible and invisible,” in 24 pages,75 and the second beginning thus: “O blessed and compassionate God, whose name is from time of old.”76 A twenty-one page copy is in our library, beginning thus: “O God the Father, thou art the peace which has no limit.” He also composed the prayer of peace which is recited during the celebration of the Eucharist on Christmas festival, and some prose hymns (Shubahe)77 for receiving the Holy Eucharist, an order for Baptism78 and the biographies of the two ascetics Daniel of Galsh and Hananina.79 Bar Hebraeus stated that, “He also has commentaries, letters, madrashes and Sughiths,80 and that he wrote a commentary on the six centuries of Evagrius, at the request of his disciple, Mar George, bishop of the Arabs.” As this George died in 725 A.D., the commentary, therefore, either belongs to Jacob of Edessa, or the statement of Bar Hebraeus was added by some scribe. However, this book has been lost. In 1095, the most learned man of his time, Said bar Sabuni, metropolitan of Melitene, composed a unique ode in praise of the qualities and writings of this eminent Doctor.81

38- The Doctor Mar Jacob of Saruj (d. 521)