Julian Saba, ‘Father of the Monks’ of Syria / Sidney Griffith

Posted by on Mar 28, 2016 in Library | Comments Off on Julian Saba, ‘Father of the Monks’ of Syria / Sidney Griffith

Julian Saba (d. 367) is the earliest person in the Syriac-speaking community whose name we know, who dedicated himself to the eremitical life. His story has been preserved for us in Theodoret’s History of the Monks of Syria, in a collection of Syriac poems attributed to Ephraem (306-373), and in a Syriac memra attributed to Jacob of Serug (ca. 450-ca. 520). Based on these sources, the present article gives an account of Julian’s fame in Syria, and explores the significance of his accomplishments for the history of monasticism in the Syriac-speaking regions of the Early Christian world.

The name and fame of Julian Saba (d. 367) are well known to students of the religious history of Syria in the early Christian era, thanks in large part to the account of his life and exploits which Theodoret of Cyrrhus included in his History of the Monks of Syria,1 and to the twenty-four Syriac hymns in his honor which have survived from the sixth century attributed to Ephraem the Syrian.2 There is also a long commemorative mêmrâ in Syriac, “On Julian Saba,” preserved among the works attributed to Jacob of Serug (c. 451-521) in several manuscript collections.3 While this work has not yet been published, it is available for consultation in a number of [End Page 185] manuscript libraries.4 The story of Julian Saba is important not only for its own sake, as a model of the Syrian holy man of late antiquity, but also for the insights it can afford us into the changing forms of public Christian asceticism in the middle third of the fourth century in Syria. For Julian Saba stands at the end of the period of the florescence of the style of ascetic life to which Aphrahat and Ephraem gave expression, and which Jacob of Nisibis and other early bishops exemplified.5Julian was the first of those whose name we know, who in the Syriac-speaking milieu adopted a form of the eremitical, anchoretic, or monastic style of ascetic life, of the sort which Athanasius’ Life of Antony celebrated in Egypt.6 Indeed, major events in Julian’s career parallel some of those in Antony’s.

As far as one can now judge from the surviving records there is nothing in the story of Julian Saba to suggest that his inauguration of the eremitical life in Syria owed anything in particular to the Egyptian monastic experience. Only later in Syria, from the early sixth century onwards, was there a concerted effort in some circles to link the development of Syrian monasticism with its supposed origins in Egypt.7 Rather, in the indigenous sources[End Page 186] in Syriac, it is Julian Saba who is seen as the “father of the monks” of Syria, as one menologion puts it.8

In what follows the purpose is first to review the life of Julian Saba as it may be reconstructed from the principal sources. Secondly, the purpose is to examine the Syriac hymns which celebrate his memory, with a view to highlighting how Syriac-speaking Christians of the fourth and fifth centuries integrated into their devotional repertoire the celebration of the new ascetical development in ecclesiastical life which Julian Saba represented.

I. The Life Of Julian Saba

The principal sources for all we know of the life of Julian Saba are in fact the Vitaincluded in Theodoret’s History of the Monks of Syria,9 the twenty-four hymns attributed to Ephraem, and the mêmrâ in memory of the saint attributed to Jacob of Serug. There is no evidence that Theodoret knew of the hymns, or was influenced by them in the composition of the Vita. Rather, on his own testimony, Theodoret’s source of information about Julian Saba was Acacius, the bishop of Beroea who had been a disciple of Asterius, Julian’s pupil who founded the monastic community at Gindaros, where Acacius had become a monk as a young man.10 Nevertheless, the outline of Julian’s life as one disengages it from the sources is remarkably congruent in all of them. Hitherto, Stephan Schiwietz is the modern scholar who has the most usefully and succinctly put forward a synthesis of the biographical data from Theodoret and the hymns attributed to Ephraem, together with references to information in other documents, to sketch the portrait of Julian Saba.11 The mêmrâ attributed to Jacob of Serug was unavailable to him. [End Page 187]

The Chronicle of Edessa reports that “in the year 678, Mar Juliana Saba departed from this world;”12 to which the so-called Chronicon Miscellaneum ad Annum Domini 724 adds the further information that it was on the fifteenth day of the month of Shebat,13 or the 15th of February, of the year 367 by our reckoning.14 Taking the year 367 then as the one fixed chronological point in the information now available, one turns to Theodoret’s Vita and to the hymns attributed to Ephraem, to learn that Julian Saba’s vigil in the desert lasted for fifty years,15 and that several years before his death, while on a journey to Antioch, he saw a woman face to face for the first time in forty years.16 This puts the beginning of his withdrawal into the desert sometime between the years 317 and 325.

Of Julian Saba’s origins one knows nothing beyond the fact that according to the hymns attributed to Ephraem he was ‘self-taught’ (

),17 suggesting not only that he lacked a formal education, but that he was of a [End Page 188] humble social origin.18 The first we hear of him in the historical sources is in connection with his taking up residence in a cave in the territory of Osrhoene, to the northeast of Edessa, at a site which modern scholars have determined to be on the river Gullâb, not far off the road from Edessa to Nisibis and Amida, about twenty-three kilometres from Edessa.19 There he undertook the ascetical life-style which made him famous throughout Mesopotamia, and which attracted disciples to him, first to the number of ten, and eventually to one hundred.20

Theodoret mentions no warrant for what he calls Julian Saba’s “high philosophy,”21 other than the quotation of some select passages from the Psalter. Indeed the recitation of the Psalms was Julian’s one preoccupation, and Theodoret says,

For this was why the great David too sang them, to
teach that he could make many his partners as
fellow-lovers of God; and he was not cheated of
his hope, but wounded with divine love, both this
inspired man and innumerable others.22

So it is no surprise to learn that the recitation of the Psalter, in Julian’s cave by night, and out in the desert by day, was the principal occupation of his community. The author of themêmrâ attributed to Jacob of Serug said of Saba:

With the one hundred and fifty [Psalms]
he was delighted,
and he was content to ruminate.
He would begin and end, and
go back again. [End Page 189]
He was very greedy for them,
and he was never satisfied.23

One notices too that there is no mention either by Theodoret or by the author(s) of the hymns to Julian usually attributed to Ephraem, of any other religious authority than the Psalter for the inception of Julian’s style of ascetic life. Specifically, there is no mention of the example of Antony of Egypt, or of the influence of Egyptian anchoritism or coenobitism on the behaviour of Osrhoene’s first notable hermit whose name we know. This independence is in notable contrast to the claims of the later legends of St. Eugene (Awgîn), which had a wide circulation in the Syriac-speaking milieux of later times.24

What we know of Julian Saba is not so much the course of his life as the style of his asceticism. He lived in a cave in the desert. He fasted, prayed, and endured long vigils, often while he was on foot in the open desert for days at a time. He ate only once a week, and then only dry vegetables and salt, and later in his career some figs. He drank only water, and that from a near-by river. In appearance he was only skin and bones, as the saying goes. He prayed Psalms by night in a cave with his disciples; by day he and they went two by two into the desert to pray, utilizing a ritual according to which one stood and one knelt for the space of fifteen Psalms, and then they changed places. In due course the disciples persuaded their master to allow them to build a hut outside of the caves they normally inhabited, in order to provide themselves with a dry place to store their provisions, away from the destructive dampness of a cave.

The only events in Julian Saba’s life which Theodoret or the author(s) of the hymns, or the author of the mêmrâ, record are several which may be thought to enhance his stature as a holy man. These include some miraculous phenomena which occurred either when the saint was on a foray in the desert with a disciple, who was usually required to stay at a distance far enough removed to make conversation impossible, or in the course of his travels outside the desert milieu.25 But miraculous phenomena are relatively [End Page 190] few in the narrative. The most important events are two: the trek to Sinai with a band of disciples; and a pastoral visit to Antioch at the behest of the beleaguered pro-Nicene party there who had been disenfranchised by the Emperor Valens’ (364-378) religious policies.

It was probably in the year 362 that Julian Saba underook the journey to Sinai. Theodoret, the author(s) of the hymns attributed to Ephraem, and the mêmrâ attributed to Jacob of Serug all speak of it. The small monastic party reportedly travelled quickly; they avoided towns and villages, and carried their own food and devices to retrieve water from deep wells and cisterns they found on the way. They stayed a long time at Sinai, appreciating the silence and isolation, and there they built a church and an altar which Theodoret says was still there in his day.26 The poet thought of the church Saba built in typological terms, and viewed it as a sign of the New Testament’s fulfillment of the Old Testament’s promise. He wrote,

The encouragement was of God, milord,
that you built the church on Mt. Sinai.
For all the mysteries of the Tent of Meeting,
have come to fulfillment in the church of Christ.27

Similarly, the mêmrâ attributed to Jacob of Serug celebrated Saba’s visit to Sinai and the altar he built there. The memorialist says,

So then,
look upon Saba
as upon Moses. . . .
The humility
of the great Moses
Saba possessed. . . .
Saba too
was raised up
to Mt. Sinai. . . .
He anointed and designed
a holy church
in that splendid place.28 [End Page 191]

It is in connection with the poet’s words about the liturgy celebrated in the church which Saba built that the idea emerges that Saba was a priest. It is clear in the following verses:

Moses set up the altar of sacrifices,
and he sprinkled the blood of animals on it.
Saba set up the altar of holiness
and broke on it there the living body.

The cloud spread over the glory
of the Tent of Meeting which Moses made.
The Holy Spirit came down there
onto the medicine of life which Saba broke.29

The Eucharist, and Julian Saba’s role in its liturgical celebration seems clear in these stanzas. It emerges again in another hymn, with no particular reference to the church at Sinai. The poet says,

You were the husbandman of the living bread;
you were also the cultivator of the new wine.
For the living bread you used to break,
and the cup of salvation too you used to offer.30

As Dom Edmund Beck remarked, these lines can scarcely be interpreted to mean anything else, other than that in the hymnographer’s view Julian Saba was a priest.31 It is an idea which scholars have been reluctant to credit, wanting generally to maintain a distinction between the early holy men and the hierarchical orders in the church. So Stephan Schiwietz interprets the passages just cited to mean that Julian Saba had a lively Eucharistie devotion, not to suggest that he was himself an ordained priest.32 But the mêmrâ attributed to Jacob of Serug puts the matter beyond doubt. The writer says explicitly,

The deficiency
of the great Moses
Saba fulfilled
at the altar he set up
on Mt. Sinai
when he served as priest.33 [End Page 192]

Theodoret is the principal source of information for Julian Saba’s pastoral visit to Antioch.34 According to the story, Arians in the city had put it about that the renowned holy man was of their opinion regarding the divinity of Christ. So Acacius, the bishop of Beroea who was a disciple of Asterius, one of Julian Saba’s most prominent followers, enlisted his master’s aid in summoning the holy man to Antioch to set matters aright. The visit is supposed to have taken place in the year 365.35 In the account of it there are no specifics beyond the remark that the intention was for the saint “to quench the flame of Arius with the dew of his coming.”36 Rather, it is in this part of the narrative that one reads of the numerous miracles of healing which were mentioned above. Doubts about the historicity of Julian’s visit to Antioch, given the fact that there is no clear allusion to it in the hymns ascribed to Ephraem, have been allayed for many scholars by St. John Chrysostom’s mention of it in one of his sermons on the epistle to the Ephesians. In sermon XXI, delivered within thirty years at most of the visit, John said,

I speak of that admirable man Julian. He was a rustic, a humble man born in a humble place, in no way one indued with learning from the outside, but he was full of unaffected philosophy. When he came into the cities (something which rarely happened) so great a crowd would gather as never for orators, sophists or any other celebrity arrival. What can I say? Is not his name even now more radiantly sung than that of any of the kings?37

While no one of the Syriac hymns attributed to Ephraem clearly mentions any such visits to cities, there are some verses which celebrate Saba’s skill in dealing with theological disputants, in the context of such healing miracles, or miraculous signs, as Theodoret’s account of the visit to Antioch mentions. The poet says,

Signs became for you a mouth that would not fail,
and the truth that was in them a tongue to conquer all.
With them you preached the faith without scrutiny. [End Page 193]
Before your signs, the disputants succumbed;
and before your healings, the scrutinizers.
Who is the logician who would dispute with you?
Indisputably, the signs of faith
are possessed of a force with which no man can
dispute. Your own simplicity, milord,
is like that of the apostles; wise men
succumbed before the untutored.38

The mêmrâ attributed to Jacob of Serug devotes a considerable amount of space to the celebration of Julian Saba’s visit to Antioch, and the miracles associated with his visit. The writer clearly specifies the situation which was the occasion of Saba’s visit. He says,

In the error
of the house of Arius
contentions entered in. . . .
the mother of cities,
the capital of the country,
in her there were schisms,
and into two sides
she was divided.
The faith
of the Orthodox one (i.e., Meletius)
was rejected
because the king inclined
to the error
of the house of Arius.
Rage prevailed
and he expelled the bishop,
the illustrious Meletius.39

Meletius (d. 381) was an embattled figure in Antioch; shortly after he became bishop of the city in the year 360 he was exiled by the emperor, Constantius. In the reign of Valens, who, like Constantius, favored the anti-Nicene theological faction in the church, Meletius was exiled twice, in 365-366 and in 371-378.40 Given the testimony of the Chronicle of[End Page 194] Edessa that Julian Saba died in the year 367,41 and the mention of Meletius’ exile in the mêmrâ attributed to Jacob of Serug, it seems reasonable to suppose that Saba’s visit to Antioch, which took place toward the end of his life according to all the sources, occurred in the year 365. Perhaps it was precipitated by the consecration of Paulinus in 362 as rival, Nicene bishop in Antioch.42 For all the sources also agree that Saba went to Antioch because two groups were claiming his authority for their views. It makes little sense to think that the Arians were one of them, since Saba’s Nicene conviction was well known. Therefore, it makes sense to suppose that the rivals who claimed his name were the supporters of Meletius and of Paulinus respectively. As the mêmrâ clearly says, Saba favored Meletius.

Julian Saba died in the desert where he had lived out his particular style of the ascetical life, on the fifteenth day of February in the year 367 according to the Edessan documents quoted above.43 Members of the community which had gathered around him carried his body to the grave in Edessa. The event was memorialized in the Hymns. The poet wrote,

The humility of your feet, O Saba,
the saints triumphantly bore on their shoulders.

For thirty miles within the desert
their shoulders bore the humble one triumphantly.
And on the day when they buried the blessed one,
they bore him triumphantly in their own hands.44

The Hymns make it clear that Saba’s grave was in Edessa, for they sing of his cult which grew up there in association with that of the Edessan martyrs. One stanza puts it this way:

Rise up O country of ours, fulfill your vows on your feasts.
Within you their feasts resound like trumpets,
of Guria, Habib and Shmona.
And now the fair Saba is added to you,
the voice of whose trumpet a new assembly sings for you.45 [End Page 195]

Theodoret celebrated Julian Saba’s sanctity in the fame of those who were influenced by him, and who were destined to have prominent roles in the life of the church of Syria, men like Asterius and Acacius whom we have already mentioned, as well as Jacob the Persian, and Agrippa, disciples who later became heads of the monastic communities which grew up among the saint’s followers after his death.46 Similarly, St. Jerome, who had spent some time among the Syrian ascetics, in a letter to the priest Paulinus, listed Julian among those whom he called “the princes of our profession: Paul, Antony, Julian, Hilarion, Macarios.”47By now, of course, these men were becoming the fathers of monasticism, the names of record from the early stages of the movement, and it is instructive to find Julian Saba’s name on the list. Even Palladius included him in the Lausiac History as a most ascetic man of Edessa, “who mortified his flesh excessively and was reduced to skin and bones.”48 And Palladius too recorded the memory that Saba worked miracles, presumably the healings he effected in the course of his pastoral visit to Antioch. For Palladius says, “At the close of his life he was deemed worthy of the honor of the gift of healing.”49 Finally, when in hisEcclesiastical History Sozomen came to record the memory of a number of the fathers of monasticism, he too included a notice of Julian Saba, who, he said, “philosophized in the environs of Edessa.”50 Like Theodoret and Palladius, Sozomen was struck by the severity of Saba’s ascetic regimen, so that “he seemed to subsist in bone and skin, devoid of flesh.”51And Sozomen too took notice of the healing miracles attributed to the saint, which, Sozomen says, he effected “not with medicines, but with prayer.”52

Sozomen alone of the early commentators on the ascetical movements in the fourth century mentions Ephraem’s name in connection with Julian Saba. He says that the latter’s severe asceticism “gave Ephraem, the Syrian [End Page 196] writer, an excuse for providing a disquisition according to his life.”53 Scholars have sometimes interpreted this phrase to mean that Ephraem wrote a biography of Julian Saba and that it is simply to be identified with the short treatise, De Juliano Asceta which has survived among the Greek works attributed to Ephraem.54 But there is nothing in this work to match what we know of Julian Saba. On the contrary, the Julian of this narrative was robust of body, and he lived in a cell in an unnamed town. He advised his petitioners against taking up the eremitical life.55So while it is not impossible that this Greek work attributed to Ephraem was the one known to Sozomen, it seems more likely that he had in mind the Syriac hymns to Julian Saba. For they do focus on what they often call the dubārê, the ascetical practices of the saint, a Syriac expression which may easily be seen to lie behind the agôgê kai politeia which Sozomen says it was Ephraem’s purpose to explain “according to his life,” suggesting a biographical pattern, which, as we have seen, is in fact present in the hymns.

The commemorative mêmrâ on Julian Saba attributed to Jacob of Serug comes from the turn of the sixth century at the earliest. It perpetuates the memory of him as it is enshrined in the cycle of Syriac hymns which have come down to us under Ephraem’s name. That is to say, the mêmrâ preserves the story of Julian Saba as it circulated in the Syriac-speaking milieu, where he was celebrated, as the mêmrâ says, simply as “the mourner (abîlâ) of our country.”56 The term ‘mourner’ in this context, and as Ephraem used it too, bespeaks a penitent ascetic with a penchant for living alone for a time in the desert.57 It was Julian Saba’s claim to fame in Syria to have developed this way of life into an anchoretic institution. When the Greek writers celebrated his fame they associated it with that of the monastic pioneers elsewhere. But the hymns by Ephraem and the others, echoed in themêmrâ attributed to Jacob of Serug, preserve the memory of Julian Saba as an indigenous holy man of Syria who inaugurated a new turn in the traditional forms of local asceticism.[End Page 197]

II. The Syriac Hymns To Julian Saba

The twenty-four hymns to Julian Saba are transmitted in the Syriac manuscript tradition together with fifteen hymns to another ascetic saint of the Edessa area in the fourth century, Abraham Qidunaya.58 The two collections are both ascribed to Ephraem, and in an early manuscript they are included together with a larger body of hymns on the confessors of the faith, on the sons of Shamuni, on the martyrs, and on the forty martyrs of Sebaste—all of them attributed in the manuscript to Ephraem.59 The one manuscript which contains all these pieces is British Museum Add. MS 14, 592, which on paleographical grounds is dated to the sixth or seventh centuries.60 In addition to the hymns ascribed to Ephraem, the manuscript, which in its present state is now incomplete, contains compositions by Isaac of Antioch and other writers on similar themes of hagiography and asceticism, thereby revealing the compiler’s interest in these subjects. The compiler’s testimony therefore shows the conviction of people in his day that the hymns with which we are concerned, those to Julian Saba, along with the others attributed to Ephraem, are authentically his. Earlier Philoxenus of Mabbug (d.c. 523) had signalled his acceptance of the authenticity of the hymns to Julian Saba by quoting Hymn XIX. 15 and attributing it to Ephraem.61

A. The Authorship of the Hymns

Dom Edmund Beck is so far the one modern scholar to discuss at length the question of the authenticity of the hymns to Julian Saba (as of those to [End Page 198] Abraham Qidunaya). It may quickly be said that he doubts Ephraem’s authorship of the majority of them. For the fact of the matter is that over the course of the fifth and sixth centuries, and well into the seventh, many compositions were attributed to Ephraem, or composed on the model of his writings, as the most notable of the fathers of the church in Syria. Not least among these almost certainly inauthentic works attributed to him are the hymns on the confessors and martyrs, together with which the hymns to Abraham Qidunaya and Julian Saba were transmitted. At first, in his enterprise to publish critical editions of the Syriac texts of all of Ephraem’s genuine works, Beck passed over all of these hymns, considering them inauthentic. In the end, niggling doubts persisted about some of the hymns to Abraham and Julian, and so in 1972 he published the texts of the hymns to these two saints, with the statement, “the doubts as to their authenticity remain.”62

Beck was struck by an overwhelming presence of Ephraemian themes and vocabulary in these hymns, together with features which tell strongly in his opinion against Ephraem’s authorship of most of them. On the one hand, the author’s choice of words and turns of phrase are so like Ephraem’s that for line after line, as is abundantly clear in Beck’s notes to the text, he can cite parallels for them in the surely genuine works. On the other hand, there are jarring inconsistencies in thought, and references to himself on the author’s part, which in Beck’s view preclude Ephraem’s being the author of these hymns. In the end, speaking of the hymns to Julian Saba, Beck says:

I am more inclined to ascribe all the hymns to Ephraem’s students, or better said, to the writers of the first and second generation after Ephraem, who stood under the ruling influence of his writing. Narrowing it to the first and second generation, i.e., to the first half of the fifth century, is desirable, because of the quotation in Philoxenus.63

Beck’s objections to Ephraem’s authorship of the hymns to Julian Saba can the most conveniently be summarized under two headings: the author’s point of view, or position in regard to the saint; and the idea of the intercessory power of a departed saint’s prayer which appears in a number of the hymns. To facilitate his presentation of these objections, Beck presents them in the context of his division of the surviving twenty-four hymns into three groups, on the grounds of prosodic considerations and the structural features the hymns manifest. Accordingly, there are three [End Page 199] groups of Julian hymns, distinguished by the peculiarities of their textual exposition: I-IV, V-XVII, and XVII-XXIII. Hymn XXIV is preserved only in part, and so is insignificant for the present purposes. The first group (I-IV) is composed of hymns with stanzas of five lines each, with a regularly recurring pattern of syllabification in each stanza, and with successive stanzas beginning with successive letters of the alphabet, uniting the four hymns under a single metre-melody line, which appears at the head of Hymn I. The hymns in the first group are, formally speaking, therefore, a consistently tightly knit unit.

The thirteen hymns in the second group (V-XVII) share the same metre-melody line, which appears at the head of Hymn V in the base manuscript of Beck’s edition. But the syllable patterns in the two-line stanzas which make up the hymns of this group vary considerably from stanza to stanza, suggesting problems in the transmission of the text, according to Dom Edmund Beck. Moreover, while alphabetical acrostics appear in the first two hymns, they are inconsistent and lacking altogether in hymns VII-XV They reappear from Hymn XVI.10 to XVII.20, the end of the group, beginning with Pe, in the last third of the alphabet. This inconsistency, again on purely formal grounds, suggests problems in the transmission of the text, and leaves open the easy possibility for additions to the collection of stanzas. As Beck observes, the present condition of the text, “certainly does not correspond to its original state.”64

The six hymns in the third group (XVII-XXIII) similarly manifest inconsistencies, both in metrics and acrostics, once again eliciting Beck’s judgment that “the hymns of this third group do not lie before us in their original form.”65 Even Hymn XXIV, which is only partially preserved, shows signs of a disturbed acrostic pattern in the composition of the stanzas. The point is that, apart from the four hymns of the first group, the textual presentation of the remaining twenty hymns, with the considerable metric and acrostic irregularities which they exhibit, suggests that this collection of hymns to Julian Saba is a compilation of disparate pieces, somewhat haphazardly put together. Its purpose is not, therefore, to present the work of a single author, systematically arranged. Rather, the haphazard character, subsumed as it is into the extrinsic unity of the compilation, suggests that the collection was a practical one, meant to furnish hymns for the liturgical, or quasi-liturgical commemoration of the saint. It is within the context of these observations that Dom Edmund Beck raises doubts about the authenticity of most of these hymns as works of[End Page 200] Ephraem, as the manuscripts claim. He uses internal criteria to make his case, noting the tendency of later Syriac writers to model their works on those of Ephraem, and the tendency on the part of the compilers to claim the patristic authority of Ephraem for any number of manifestly later and now anonymous compositions.

Dom Edmund Beck’s study of both the manuscript transmission of the hymns to Julian Saba and of the eschatology of their ideas of intercessory prayer, together with what he called “the depreciation of the Ephremian imagery”66 in many of them led him to a negative view of their authenticity. He only grudgingly admitted the possibility that the first four hymns might in fact have come from Ephraem’s pen. Yet Beck’s own researches furnish the best evidence for more confidence in the authenticity of at least the first group of hymns. Not only are they formally and prosodically consistent in their technical presentation, but their contents are consistent with those of Ephraem’s undoubtedly genuine compositions, as Beck’s numerous cross references show. Most importantly, the theological ideas expressed in these hymns are identical with those espoused by Ephraem. On this reading it is reasonable, therefore, to assume that authentic hymns from Ephraem’s hand, Hymns I-IV, form the nucleus and starting point for the collection of the Hymns to Julian Saba.

Ephraem would have become aware of the fame of Julian Saba when he emigrated from Nisibis to Edessa after the political events of the year 363, if not before. He came into the service of the bishop of Edessa some four years before Julian Saba’s death, and he survived the saint by six years or so. It is not difficult to believe that as the cult of the ascetic Julian Saba came to be associated with that of Edessa’s premier martyrs, Ephraem, the bishop’s most notable melodist, would have been called upon to memorialize the saint’s memory in song. Indeed, given the fact that it is a stanza of Ephraem’s which explicitly mentions the connection of Julian Saba’s feast with the festivities in honor of Habib, Shmuna and Guria,67it was probably Ephraem who most effectively associated the cult of the first native anchorite with the cult of the native martyrs in Edessa, thereby bringing the new current of Christian enthusiasm for the ascetic monk well within the sphere of hierarchical influence quite early on in its appearance in Syria.

Pride of place is also a theme in the hymns which makes its first appearance in Ephraem’s stanzas. For the saint’s tomb, with its relics and their cult is a treasure for the city which attracts pilgrims and traders alike, to [End Page 201] the benefit of all. Ephraem is quite unabashed in celebrating this mundane benefit of the saint’s fame, which redounds to the glory of the whole country. He says,

There is a rich fragrance from his pure censer;
its scent exhales and blows to all corners.
How much does our country give thanks that she is worthy
that a deposit of such incense is deposited within her!
For her scent attracts people to come to her.
He is the occasion of benefits on all sides,
who enriches us not only with his treasure,
but the place of his grave has become
a great harbor. There are invited
all the merchants to come to our country with their treasures.68

The same poem celebrates the environs of Edessa as the homeland of Abraham, Jacob, Levi and Judah, and Joseph, the patriarchs of old. Ephraem claims an advantage for her even over the Holy Land. He says,

The name of our country is even greater than that of her consort.
For in her was born Levi, the chief of the priests,
and Judah, the chief of royalty,
and Joseph, the child who went forth and became
the lord of Egypt. In the light from her
the world is enlightened.

For the new sun which appeared in creation
was of Judah, who was born in our country.
And within our country,
his light appeared and was brought to shine
from Bethlehem. As from you there sprang
the beginning, so in you he enriches the end.69

The last line means that Christ, the descendant of Judah, has now enriched Edessa with Julian Saba’s tomb, both spiritually and materially. A later poet in the collection picks up the same theme when he sees Julian Saba and the monastic communities he founded as a compensation to the country for the loss of the patriarch Jacob at his emigration. The poet sings to Saba:

Our country wept that Jacob left her
and led his flock to the land of promise. [End Page 202]
You have consoled our country with your monasteries;
you and your flock have become ours.70

Clearly the later poet is celebrating a whole monastic development, beyond the simple fame of the holy man Julian Saba with which Ephraem was concerned. This fact calls one’s attention to the sixth or seventh century compiler’s purpose to put together a collection of such verses comemorating Julian’s and Edessa’s fame, from Ephraem’s repertoire and from the hands of other writers, now unknown, who followed his lead. That the others came from just after Ephraem’s time is likely, given the fact that by the early sixth century, to judge by Philoxenus’ quotation, the whole collection seems confidently to have been attributed to Ephraem. But the other writers have different concerns. The principal difference consists in the fact that whereas Ephraem was celebrating the memory of a hero of the faith from Edessa who merited to rank with the martyrs in glory, the other writers were remembering a monastic father. Ephraem was well aware that with the likes of Julian Saba a new style of ascetical life was coming into the church of Edessa. But with the other writers one gets the sense that they are celebrating an indigenous Syrian hero of the monastic movement, who together with other Syrian saints, serves to sketch a profile of the sanctity of the church in Syria which need not suffer by comparison to the accomplishments of Christian communities in other language communities in the patristic period.

B. The Principal Themes of the Hymns

One of the main interests of the student of the hymns to Julian Saba is to observe how the authors speak of the saintly accomplishments of this harbinger of a new style of ascetical life in Syrian Christian circles in the mid- to later fourth century. One will not be surprised to find Ephraem using the traditional vocabulary of the ‘singles’ (

) in God’s service, who had their own distinctive style of life as bnay qyāmâ within the traditional, Syriac-speaking communities. Nor will it be startling to notice that the later writers speak more readily of ‘monasteries’ (dayrê) and their ‘communities’, and of their father Saba as a founder and guide of dayrāyê, monks in the modern sense of the world, the new element in the ecclesiastical society of the day.

1. ‘Singles’ in God’s Service. The traditional word in Syriac for the person who emulates Christ, and who, like Christ is ‘single’, is

. As [End Page 203] Aphrahat and Ephraem used the word, it is principally a title of Christ, “our Lord,” who is the single Son of the Father, now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. But on earth, one who puts on the heavenly

in his lifestyle and lives single in this world in imitation of his Lord, is also an

.71 It is with this word that Ephraem describes Julian Saba. He says of him,

Jesus was at all times depicted in his lifestyle,
and because he saw the glory of the Single One (

he too became a single one (

He showed contempt for this dwelling
which is passing away,
and he scorned the beauty which is fading.
He manifested the type (

) for the
sons of his own people in humility.72

While the other authors did not use the term

to describe Saba, they nevertheless highlighted its essential sense, the fact that the holy man’s life was modelled on Christ. At the same time, evident in their verses is the new point of reference, the burgeoning monastic community. For example, one writer, in an entreaty to Saba, says,

The day of your demise cut off the way;
your wing no longer hovered over our monasteries.
Jesus, who in you used to visit us,
may his strength now walk with our monasteries.73

Other passages speak of Saba as adorned in Jesus. For example, the melodist prays,

Your company much enhanced us;
who will now enhance our paltriness?
May Jesus adorn our poverty,
He in whom you, our father, were adorned.74

Finally, as Saba images Jesus, so too do his monastic brethren, and the writer invites his audience to “put them on as a suit of clothes,” echoing one of the most common metaphors in the Syriac repertoire,75 one which [End Page 204] serves for Ephraem and others as the preferred language for the expression of the doctrine of the Incarnation, as well as to express the assumption of Christ’s image and that of his saints in one’s own moral life. In a hymn to Saba the poet says,

I have seen you scattered;
I have seen you recollected.
Both you and your brothers
are depicted (

) in our Lord.
Blessed is the one who puts you on.76

One also finds in these hymns other terms from the traditional vocabulary used in the works of Aphrahat and Ephraem to describe the ‘singles’ in God’s service. In one stanza in the third hymn to Julian Saba, Ephraem manages to include all of the most significant words and concepts he customarily employs in such a context. He says,

Saba is the champion, the virgin, the holy-one,
who preserved chastity, virginity, without injury;
mournfulness without outrage;
humility without pride;
and leadership without the troublesomeness of boasting.77

Easily recognizable in this stanza are the traditional terms btûlâ, qadîshâ, and abîlâ, or their abstract expressions, in which Ephraem customarily characterized one of the

, the ‘singles’ in God’s service.78 There is even a reference to the holy man’s sackcloth garment, which Ephraem says “the Evil One saw and shrank back in trembling.79

Julian Saba’s principal difference with the traditional Syrian ‘singles’ consists in his role as the founding father of a community of anchorites whose style of life required a permanent withdrawal in a body from town and village society. It is interesting to note that this novel feature of Julian Saba’s life finds no clear reference in the first four hymns, those which most likely have come from the pen of Ephraem. Rather, for Ephraem, Julian [End Page 205] was a hero or champion (

) whose ascetic accomplishments permitted him to be honored like the martyrs of Edessa, and who brought honor to the Aramaean home country of the patriarchs of old. The later poets were the ones who used the traditional terms now to refer to a new mode, or at least to a new venue for the traditional Christian asceticism, i.e., in communities in the desert.

In the later hymns, the monks who bore Saba’s body from the desert to Edessa are called ‘holy-ones’ (qadîshê),80 and the saint himself is still described in the traditional terms of chastity, holiness, and mournfuness. For example, the following stanza praises his modesty in just these terms. But already the tones of a later monastic profile are evident. The poet says,

Your look was chaste, testifying
that your heart within was chaste and pure.
Your gaze outwardly was grave,
and your thinking inwardly was holy.81

Terms referring to ‘monasteries’ (dayrê) and ‘communities’ (kenshê) of Saba’s followers occur with regularity in the hymns composing the second and third groups defined by Beck. They are almost as much the subject in these compositions as Julian himself. The poet says to the saint,

In you our country has become fair because you adorned her;
even the desert is fair because of your monasteries.
Youths have abandoned lust in contempt,
and are learning chastity in the monasteries.82

Similarly, another verse says to Julian,

You have given comfort to our country with your monasteries;
you and your flock have become ours.83

In the voice of Saba’s followers, the monasteries became “our monasteries,” and the poets say that at the saint’s death “your wing no longer hovers over our monasteries.”84 But, “Your prayer will open the mouth of your sons, so that they might make [your] instruction abound in our monasteries.”85 And the poet goes on to pray, [End Page 206]

O father, our monastery is very gloomy
deprived as it is of the sound of your voice.
May our Lord bring calm to the monastery of your sons,
and may the melodies of your songs abound.86

The Syriac word which in these verses is translated ‘monastery’ is dayrâ, literally ‘shepherd’s camp’ or ‘sheepfold,’87 itself a traditional term which Ephraem had already used to designate the housefold of the ascetic bishop Abraham of Nisibis (361-363), as well as the shepherd-bishop’s “fold of herdsmen” (dayrâ d’allânê),88 who were the bishop’s assistants in ministry, a group to which Ephraem himself had presumably belonged.89 In the present context of the hymns to Julian Saba, therefore, one may see the traditional term used in a way which would become its standard sense as the Syriac word for ‘monastery’, the place where the ‘monk’ (dayrāyâ) properly so-called had his home. And in this sense the word dayrâ is used in Beck’s second and third groups of hymns to Julian Saba in close connection with the words kenshâ, or kenûshtâ, ‘congregation’ or ‘community’. So in the following stanza the poet says to Saba,

In you has our community been adorned;
to what rendezvous shall we come to see you?
May your prayer increase our great community
and may our community give praise to your memory.90

It is this community which in these hymns deems itself to have a special claim on Saba’s intercession. In hymn XVIII, which is a community lament for the departed saint, the poet says,

Triumphant is the faith
which is a vesture of simplicity.
When our community put on armor,
your intercession became the shield for all of us.91 [End Page 207]

And it is this community of disciples within which these hymns speak of Julian as “the head-man (rîshâ) who has departed from his disciples.”92 He is “the sailor of the ship of our monastery,”93 “our captain,”94 and “our guardian” (

).95 As the poet says to Saba,

Everyday you used to teach us this:
to preserve the truth within our members,
so that our whole community might be preserved in it;
it is the power which preserves one who preserves it.96

It is no wonder then that it is also in these community hymns that we find Julian Saba often more respectfully addressed as “the blessed one” (

) or even as “milord” (māry), usages which bespeak the reverence the disciple owes his master. In this context he is the monastic master, the father (abûn) of the first communities of anchorites in the Syriac-speaking milieu whose praises the poets of Edessa sang.

In connection with the titles of respect accorded to Julian Saba one might finally take note of the name by which he is invariably called in these hymns, Sābâ. It too is a title of respect which seems to have in effect usurped the place of the saint’s proper name. In fact, in the Syriac hymns addressed to him, the author(s) use the sobriquet exclusively; the name Julian’ never appears. The same is the case in the mêmrâ attributed to Jacob of Serug. And even in Theodoret’s life of the saint, he is most often called ‘the elder’ (ho presbytēs), the name ‘Julian’ appearing only irregularly. Theodoret explains the matter in his first sentence; he speaks of “Julian, to whom his countrymen have given the nickname Saba out of honor—in the Greek language the name means ‘the elder’.”97 Similarly, in Syriac the word sābâ means ‘old man’ or ‘elder’, and, as in Greek, it is a title of honor, often accorded to a holy man or a ‘monk’. For example, in the same collection of hymns attributed to Ephraem in which the hymns to Julian Saba are included, there is a collection of hymns to Abraham Qidunaya in which this Syrian holy man, like Julian, is addressed simply as Sābâ.98 It is a title which not only suggests respect, but it bespeaks the holy [End Page 208] man’s authority. For he chastizes and corrects his followers almost in the parental mode. As the poet says to Julian Saba,

You have disciplined us in love, without the rod;
and without anger you have admonished and taught us.99

2. The Works of Asceticism. Prayer, fasting and vigilance were the principal works of the singles in God’s service already in Aphrahat’s sometimes so-called rule for ‘the covenanters’ (bnay qyāmâ), included at the end of his Demonstration VI, which is one of the earliest sources of information about this distinctive mode of life in the Syrian church.100 Not surprisingly, these same works figure largely in the life of Julian Saba and his disciples as the poet(s) of the hymns celebrate it. Ephraem puts the point succinctly in a single stanza ofHymn II. He says of Saba,

It is marvelous that he was splendidly equal to all these:
to lengthy vigil and to much fasting,
to prayer the whole day long,
to mournfulness his whole life long,
and to crucifixion the whole length of the time
he endured and overcame.101

The later poets laid a special emphasis on Saba’s prayer and watchfulness. They noted that he prayed all day long. One verse says,

Frightening mountainous caves;
from morning to night he used to pray in them.102

In fact, his prayer was continuous, as the poet testifies in the following verses:

By day that was long and night that was short
his harp was all the time awake.
For when we were buried in sleep,
in it he watched as one alive, and prayed.
Even on the road his mouth was praying,
so that while on journeys he did not leave his way. [End Page 209]
For him prayer was continuous,
like the constant breath that enlivens us.103

Ephraem commented on the quality of the prayer that was by everyone’s testimony such a constant feature of Saba’s life. In one particularly expressive stanza Ephraem wrote of Saba:

Every time he used to separate himself and go out to pray,
he would observe with the secret eye the Secret One whom he loved,
who is very beautiful to his worshippers.
Whoever cleans the eye of his heart,
and sees His glory, cannot get enough of praising Him.104

One of the conditions for prayer is vigilance, and according to the poet, “Saba never got enough of vigilance (shahrâ).”105 It consisted simply in keeping oneself awake. The poet put the point graphically. He said of Saba’s practice,

The sleep with which the eyes are besmeared,
he used to wash away with floods of vigilance.106

The saint’s vigilance posed a constant challenge for his disciples. After his death, one of them spoke of it in a verse addressed to Saba. He said,

A moment of your vigilance was a burden for us, milord;
your wakefulness was well beyond us.
May your prayer awaken the heart of your sons,
lest after your death we let ourselves fall asleep.107

Saba’s gift of wakefulness (‘îrûtâ) was also celebrated in a number of verses. It was, as the poet said, “the wakefulness of the angels (‘îrê, i.e., ‘the awakened ones’).”108 And it was empowered by Christ, who was himself [End Page 210] an ‘awakened one’, as the response to verses addressed to Saba makes clear when it says, “Blessed is the Awakened One who empowered your wakefulness.”109

Finally, in these hymns Saba’s practice of the works of asceticism is seen as his participation in Christ’s crucifixion. The writer makes the connection by the skillful deployment of the roots z-q-p (to lift up, to hang, ‘to crucify’) and

(to crucify), as in the following verse in which he says,

Go out and see him lifted up in intercession;
come in and see him crucified in wakefulness.110

For, as the poet explains about Saba’s practice,

He went out bearing his crucified (zqîp) Lord,
the tree of life, the treasury of all fruits.
Saba fastened the crucified one (zqîpâ) in his body;
his will became the cross (

) for him.111

In the desert monasteries of the followers of Julian Saba, it was their participation in the carrying of the cross by means of their ascetical practices that brought the monks true peace. One of them expressed this thought in the following stanza addressed to the departed St. Saba:

In a waste land, who can bear it
that the sound of civilization (shaynâ) is gone?
May your prayer amplify in the desert for your sons,
the civilization of the cross, which preserves all.112

The sign of the cross which the ascetic saint traced on his person was the sign which gave focus to all his efforts. The poet spoke of it as the “cross of light” (

) in the following verse in which he describes Saba’s practice:

His right hand traced out the cross of light;
between his eyes he fixed the gleaming crucifix.113

And in another verse the writer says that it is with this cross that Saba adorned his monasteries. He says, [End Page 211]

You adorned the monasteries with the crucifix,
with the cross of light you amplified your teachings.114

The expression “cross of light” occurs a number of times in the hymns of Ephraem, where we learn that it abides in heaven and that at the end of time it will shine on those who signed themselves with the sign of the cross during their lifetimes. In a passage from theCarmina Nisibena Ephraem says of heaven,

The cross of light which is there
will shine its splendor on those who here below used to trace
its great sign (râzeh) on themselves.115

In the Hymns on Virginity the “cross of light” figures evocatively in a stanza which celebrates the virgin as a high-flying eagle among Christian ascetics. Ephraem says,

Blessed are you O heavenly bird,
whose nest is on the cross of light.
You did not want to build your nest on earth,
so that the serpent might not enter to consume your brood.
Blessed are your wings, which are capable of flying;
and you can come in among the holy eagles
who set off to fly away from the earth below,
to the bridal chamber of joy.116

Finally, as a passage from the Hymns on Faith shows, in Ephraem’s thought, “the cross of light” is a beautiful mystic sign in reference to which the standard of the cross subjects the earth here below.117 In the Hymns to Julian Saba it becomes clear that the subjection takes place by way of the ascetic works of the holy ones, whose prayer, fasting and vigilance in their participation in the life of the cross here below, answers to the beckoning of the “cross of light” in paradise above. So the mêmrâ attributed to Jacob of Serug says of Saba, [End Page 212]

He took up his cross
and after the bride-groom
he went out when he called him.118

3. The Cult of the Ascetic Saint. It seems clear, both from the manuscript context in which the Hymns to Julian Saba were preserved, and from their contents as well, that they were intended for use in memorial services for the saint, from the days of Ephraem himself, up to the time of their collection into the compilation in which they have become available to modern editors. As Ephraem put it, the hope was that in his tomb, Julian Saba, like Edessa’s martyrs, “would in his bones become for us a protective wall in the likeness of Joseph.”119And Ephraem thought of the tomb itself as a “sweet treasure, whose fragrance would attract people to come to it.”120 In this way, he said, Saba’s “departure would be the cause for crowds; his falling asleep the cause for the vigil to sing halleluias!”121

As later poets put it, the purpose of celebrating Saba’s memory was, as one of them said to him, so that the weary here below “might imitate you.”122 “Your style of ascetical life,” the poet said, “is like a mirror for whoever looks to you.”123 And the poet mused that it is customary for people to bring forward verbal types, symbols and likenesses for their departed ones. Accordingly, he sings to Saba, “From the treasury of your companions, let us bring forward types for you, for your athleticism.”124

It remains only to notice that in the hymns which celebrate Julian Saba, and which must have had their Sitz im Leben in the cult which memorialized him, there are two recurrent circuits of imagery which draw attention to themselves by reason of their frequency. They are images drawn from the world of commerce and the merchant’s trade, and imagery which reflects military exploits and athletic contexts. The latter are particularly evident in the verses in which Saba is characterized as a hero (

) who has won the victory in the contest, and who, as the poet says, “has little by little stolen the struggle.”125 The language reminds one of the terms in which earlier Christians had celebrated the exploits of the martyrs.126 [End Page 213] And in Edessa it was precisely the cult of the martyrs, as we have seen, in reference to which Saba’s memorial was celebrated. Ephraem put the point eloquently in the following stanza in which he said of Julian Saba,

His neck accepted the single yoke
and it was fitting that two be harnessed in the yoke;
the weary ox seeks his companion,
who is allied to him; the martyr who was burned
for our Lord’s sake, and Saba, who excelled for Jesus’ sake.127

In the last line Ephraem expressly links Saba’s asceticism with the Edessan martyr Habib’s death by fire, making very concrete the conjunction of the two cults, that of the martyr and that of the confessor, as he would expressly mention it in the very next stanza, which is quoted above in full.128

As for the commercial imagery, it too is to be met with throughout the hymns to Julian Saba. He is described as a merchant “whose treasures are in heaven.”129 His treasures are in fact his prayers, according to Ephraem. And one suspects that Saba’s intercessory prayers for the Edessans are meant. In a later stanza Ephraem claims that Saba’s grave “has become a great harbor; all merchants are invited to come to our country with their treasures.”130 That is because there they can trade with Saba, whose merchandise is from heaven, as another poet says:

The servant is enriched by his master’s treasure;
he has brought his merchandise to the harbor.131

In another place the poet says to Saba, “because of your merchandise, we have all been made to prosper.”132 While this commercial imagery is a natural one in the idiom of a people for whom trade and its ways are staples of everyday life, one should not overlook the fact that the cult of the saints, both confessors and martyrs, was not without its economic benefits, even in the fourth century. While Edessans were proud of the indigenous saints and holy men of the Syriac-speaking milieu, there were doubtless reasons other than purely spiritual ones for wanting to celebrate publicly the cults of “our country,” as these poems are wont to say. The [End Page 214] commercial imagery so noticeable in the hymns to Julian Saba also calls these other motives readily to mind.

III. Conclusion

The career of Julian Saba as it is reflected in the Syriac hymns which celebrate his memorial, afford the researcher an insight into the development of Syrian asceticism in the fourth century. Well before mid-century the anchoretic way of life made its appearance in Osrohoene in the career of Julian Saba. In the surviving documentation there is no hint that the inspiration to undertake such a style of life came from outside Syria. But Julian Saba’s visit to Sinai certainly suggests that Syriac-speaking Christians were au courant with developments elsewhere in the Christian world. And it is not impossible that the post-persecution popularity of anchoretism and monasticism in Egypt, Sinai, and the Holy Land, exercised a provocative influence upon Syriac-speaking Christians, as it did on their Greek-speaking contemporaries. Be that as it may, Julian Saba became Edessa’s popular anchorite, as the appearance of his name in the city’s chronicle shows—alongside the names of other holy men of whom the city would later boast, such as Ephraem and Abraham Kidunaya. Ephraem, in his turn, once he became a member of the church of Edessa, celebrated the memory of Julian and Abraham together—the one the harbinger of a new style of ascetical life; the other a traditional holy man, more or less in the style of Jacob of Nisibis, whose memory Ephraem had himself already celebrated in his Carmina Nisibena.

One must not oversimplify the history of Syrian asceticism in the fourth century. Nevertheless, recent studies have shown that in Syria, as in Egypt, a community-based form of ascetical life prevailed prior to the introduction of eremitical monasticism in the first quarter of the fourth century. Elsewhere the present writer, and others, have argued against the view espoused by Arthur Vööbus, notably in his landmark book, History of Asceticism in the Syrian Orient, according to which anchoretic monasticism is said to have been part and parcel of asceticism in Syria from the earliest Christian times.133 This view is based on a mistaken dating of [End Page 215] some key texts, wrongly attributed to Ephraem, in praise of mountain hermits and desert wanderers. One now sees that these texts come from well after the time of Ephraem, and they celebrate the anchorite’s way of life which became increasingly popular in Syria in the wake of Julian Saba’s pioneering efforts.134

The story of Julian Saba, which Theodoret preserved in Greek in the context of his history of Syrian holy men composed on the model of Palladius’ Lausiac History, was celebrated by the Syriac speakers themselves in memorial verses composed for his feast day. The hymns Ephraem wrote were of this genre, as were those of the poets who composed most of the pieces in the Hymns to Julian Saba. The mêmrâ attributed to Jacob of Serug continued this indigenous Syrian tradition. For these writers Julian Saba was the country’s first anchorite of record. The significance of his role as the first Syrian anchorite was eclipsed in his native milieu only in later times, when for reasons one has explored elsewhere, writers in the Greco-Syrian milieu from the sixth century onward adopted the legendary view that the monastic life in Syria could be traced directly to the fathers of the Egyptian desert.135 In reality, Julian Saba was the ‘father of the monks’ of Syria, and his accomplishment opened the way to a rich and variegated monastic history which would soon develop its own distinctive styles, as just the mention of the name of Simon Stylites signifies. But his is a story explored elsewhere.136 [End Page 216]

Sidney H. Griffith

Sidney H. Griffith is a member of the Institute of Christian Oriental Research, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.


1. Pierre Canivet & Alice Leroy-Molinghen (eds.), Theodoret de Cyr, histoire des moines de Syrie, ‘Histoire Philothée’ I-XII, SC 234/1 (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1977), 194-245.

2. Edmund Beck, Des heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Hymnen auf Abraham Kidunaya und Julianos Saba, CSCO 322 & 323 (Louvain: Peeters, 1972). References to Beck’s edition and translation of these two collections of hymns are hereinafter cited respectively as Beck, Hymnen auf Abraham Kidunaya and Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba.

3. The mêmrâ survives in some ten manuscripts, containing the larger collections of Jacob of Serug’s works, but it remains unpublished. See A. Vööbus, Handschriftliche Überlieferung der Memre-Dichtung des Ja’qob von Serug, vols. I, II, & IV, CSCO 344, 345 & 422 (Louvain: Peeters, 1973 & 1980), A. Vööbus, Handschriftliche Überlieferung der Memre-Dichtung des Ja’qob von SerugII.57, 75, 109, 125, 135, 149, 179; IV.45, 51, 61, 99.

4. Thanks to the kindness of His Holiness Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, and the photographic industry of Mar Eustathius Matta Rouhm, Archbishop of the Jazira and the Euphrates, I have access to the mêmrâ as it appears in MSS 14/12 and 15/12 of the patriarchal library of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Damascus, Syria. For more information on these manuscripts see Vööbus, Handschriftliche Überlieferung, CSCO 344.141-147. References to these MSS in this study will be under the rubric: Damascus MSS 14/12 and 15/12. Page numbers are not available, so references to the pages of the text including the mêmrâ in each manuscript, under the title “On Julian Saba,” will be by the consecutive letters A-F, followed by a Roman numeral from I-III for one of the three columns of writing on each page.

5. See S. H. Griffith, “Singles in God’s Service; Thoughts on the from the Works of Aphrahat and Ephraem the Syrian,” The Harp 4 (1991): 145-159; Vincent Desprez, “L’ascétisme mésopotamien au ive siècle,” Lettre de Ligugé 258 (1991): 3-34; 259 (1992): 5-15. Both of these studies include numerous bibliographical references to the rich literature on this topic.

6. There was a Syriac translation of the Life of Antony by the sixth century. See R. Draguet, La vie primitive de s. Antoine conservée; discussion et traduction, CSCO 417 & 418 (Louvain: Peeters, 1980), 418.27*. Only the first of the seven letters attributed to Antony was ever translated into Syriac. See Samuel Rubenson, The Letters of St. Antony; Origenist Theology, Monastic Tradition and the Making of a Saint, Bibliotheca historico-ecclesiastica Lundensis 24 (Lund: University of Lund Press, 1990), 16-17.

7. See Sidney H. Griffith, “Antony of Egypt and the Classics of Egyptian Monasticism in Syriac; Reflections on a Tradition in Translation,” a forthcoming study of how theological interests at the turn of the fifth and sixth centuries caused Syriac writers increasingly to mask the growth of Syrian monasticism behind the burgeoning Byzantine icon of the Egyptian monastic holy man.

8. The epithet, “father of monks,” is actually applied to Julian Saba in a Syriac menologion copied in the sixteenth century. See F. Nau, Un martyrologe et douze ménologues syriaques, PO 10 (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1915), 84.

9. There is a Syriac version of Theodoret’s Vita, wrongly attributed to Ephraem the Syrian, which in the judgment of some scholars is the product of the fifth or sixth centuries. See A. Vööbus, History of Asceticism in the Syrian Orient, 3 vols., CSCO 184, 197, 500 (Louvain: Peeters, 1958, 1960, 1988), II.44n. 18. The text is published in P. Bedjan, Acta Martyrum et Sanctorum Syriace, 7 vols. (Paris & Leipzig: Harrassowitz, 1896; reprinted, Hildesheim: Olms, 1968), VI.380-404.

10. Pierre Canivet, Le Monachisme syrien sélon Theodoret de Cyr, Théodoret historique, 42 (Paris: Beauchesne, 1977), 113-115. Theodoret lauds Acacius in the Vita of Julian Saba, and names him as his informant. See Canivet & Leroy-Molinghen, Theodoret, histoire des moines, 216, 245.

11. See S. Schiwietz, Das morgenländische Mönchtum, 3 vols. (Mainz: Kirchheim, 1904; Modling bei Wien: Missionsdruckerei St. Gabriel, 1938), III.56-69. See also A. Vööbus, History of Asceticism, II.42-51, where the discussion seems to owe an unacknowledged debt to Schiwietz. Not to be neglected as an important biographical essay is the material assembled on Julian Saba in ASS Octobris, VIII.346-358. See also the account of Julian Saba’s life given in Shafiq Abou Zayd, ; a Study of the Life of Singleness in the Syrian Orient, from Ignatius of Antioch to Chalcedon 451 A.D. (Oxford: ARM Society for Syro-Mesopotamian Studies, 1993), 324-326. Note that on pp. 227 & 287, Abou Zayd mistakenly says that Julian Saba was a bishop.

12. I. Guidi, Chronica Minora, CSCO 1 & 2 (Paris: Harrassowitz, 1903), I; II.5.

13. E. W. Brooks & I.-B. Chabot, Chronica Minora, CSCO 3 & 4 (Paris: Harrassowitz, 1904), IV.112.

14. For doubts about the accuracy of the year 367 as the year of Julian Saba’s death, see ASS Octobris, VIII.352. Presumably relying on the points raised in the ASS article, a number of modern authorities assign a later date to Julian Saba’s death. For example, it is said to have been c. 370 in Socii Bollandiani (eds.), Bibliotheca Hagiographica Orientalis, Subsidia Hagiographica 10 (Bruxelles: apud Editores, 1910), 123; the year 377 in R. Janin, “Giuliano Saba,” Bibliotheca Sanctorum, 6 (Rome, 1965): 1226; and around the year 380 in A.M. Zimmermann, “Julianos Saba,” LTK 5 (1960): 1199. The problem is that as some scholars read Theodoret’s Vita of the saint, Julian Saba’s pastoral visit to Antioch, which we will discuss below, took place in association with Bishop Meletius’ third exile from Antioch, from 371 to the death of Valens in 378. See Canivet & Leroy-Molinghen, Theodoret de Cyr, histoire des moines, 228 n. 2; Canivet, Le Monachisme syrien, 118. However, Theodoret’s text does not require this reading, and it ignores the specific date of death preserved in the Syriac chronicles. It makes better sense to put Saba’s visit in association with Meletius’ second exile, in 365, as will be discussed below.

15. Beck, Hymnen auf julianos Saba, 322.54, IX.4. In his note to the translation of this passage, Beck wrongly quotes Theodoret’s Vita as crediting Julian Saba with fifty-eight years in the desert. See Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 323.59 n. 4. According to Theodoret, the fifty-eight years are those during which Acacius, the bishop of Beroea, guarded his flock and persevered in the ascetic life. See Canivet & Leroy-Molinghen, Theodoret de Cyr, histoire des moines, 216.

16. Canivet & Leroy-Molinghen, Theodoret de Cyr, histoire des moines, 234.

17. Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 322.62, XV.1

18. Canivet reports it on Ephraem’s authority that before his conversion, Julian Saba was in the service of a pagan master at Heliopolis. See Canivet, Le Monachisme syrien, 249, & Canivet & Leroy-Molinghen, Theodoret de Cyr, histoire des moines, 235 n. 3. In fact, this information comes from the treatise Dejuliano Asceta, which is certainly not by Ephraem, nor can it be about Julian Saba. See J. Assemani & P. Benedictus, Sancti Patris Nostri Ephraem Syri Opera Omnia Quae Exstant Graece, Latine, Syriace, in sex tomos distributa, 6 vols. (Romae: Typographia Pontificia Vaticana, 1737-1746), III.254 Syr., and Schiwietz, Das morgenländische Mönchtum, III.58.

19. See Schiwietz, Das morgenländische Mönchtum, III.67.

20. Canivet & Leroy-Molinghen, Theodoret de Cyr, histoire des moines, 200.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid., 198. The English translation is that of R. M. Price (trans.), A History of the Monks of Syria by Theodoret of Cyrrhus, CSS 88 (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1985), 24.

23. Damascus MSS 14/12, B, I; 15/12, A, III.

24. For an initial orientation to these problems see Simon Jargy, “Les Origines du monachisme en Syrie et en Mésopotamie,” & “Les Premiers Instituts monastiques et les principaux representants du monachisme syrien au IVe siècle,” POC 2 (1952): 110-124, and Simon Jargy, “Les Origines du monachisme en Syrie et en Mésopotamie,” & “Les Premiers Instituts monastiques et les principaux representants du monachisme syrien au IVe siècle,” POC4 (1954): 106-117. See also J. M. Fiey, “Aonès, Awun et Awgin (Eugène) aux origines du monachisme mésopotamien,” AB 80 (1962): 52-81; idem, “Coptes et syriaques; contacts et échanges,” Studia Orientalia Christiana. Collectanea 15 (1972-1973):306ff.

25. One thinks in this connection of the slaying of the dragon in the desert, the uncovering of a hitherto unknown spring, the saint’s humanly unaccountable awareness of the death of Julian the Apostate in Persia, the rescue of an infant who had fallen into a well, and a number of cures of the sick. See Canivet & Leroy-Molinghen, Theodoret de Cyr, histoire des moines, 208, 214-215, 226, 236. There is no mention of such phenomena in the hymns attributed to Ephraem, but they are celebrated at some length in the mêmrâ attributed to Jacob of Serug.

26. See Canivet & Leroy-Molinghen, Theodoret de Cyr, histoire des moines, 224.

27. Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 322.73, XIX.15.

28. Damascus MSS 14/12, C, III-D, I; 15/12, C, III-D, I.

29. Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 322.74, XX.3-4.

30. Ibid., 322.79, XXI.20.

31. Ibid., 323.81 n. 9.

32. Schiwietz, Das morgenländische Mönchtum, III.62-63.

33. Damascus MSS 14/12, D, I; 15/12, D, II.

34. See Canivet & Leroy-Molinghen, Theodoret de Cyr, histoire des moines, 230-240; Leon Parmentier (ed.),Theodoret Kirchengeschichte, GCS 44/19 (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1954), 202-203, esp. 267.

35. See Canivet & Leroy-Molinghen, Theodoret de Cyr, histoire des moines, 231 n. 4. And for the historical context see the discussion in Canivet, Le Monachisme syrien, 159-160.

36. Canivet & Leroy-Molinghen, Theodoret de Cyr, histoire des moines, 230; Price, A History of the Monks, 31.

37. J. P. Migne (ed.), Sancti Patris nostri Johannis Chrysostomi Opera Omnia, 13 vols, in 6 (Paris: apud Migne, 1862), XI.153.

38. Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 322.37, I.8-9.

39. Damascus MSS 14/12, D, III; 15/12, E, II.

40. On the ecclesiastical situation in Antioch during this period see F. Cavallera, Le Schisme d’Antioch (IVe-Ve siècle) (Paris: A. Picard, 1905); W. Eltester, “Die Kirchen Antiochias im IV. Jahrhundert,” ZNW 36 (1937): 251-286; H. C. Brennecke, Studien zur Geschichte der Homöer; der Osten bis zum Ende der homöischen Reichskirche, Beiträge zur historischen Theologie, 73 (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1988), esp. 66-81; 232-236; Timothy D. Barnes,Athanasius and Constantius; Theology and Politics in the Constantinian Empire (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993), esp. 155-159.

41. See nn. 12 & 13 above.

42. See Barnes, Athanasius and Constantius, 155-159.

43. See above, nn. 12 & 13.

44. Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 322.59, XII.8-10.

45. Ibid., 322.46, IV.7. On the cult of these martyrs in Edessa, see F. C. Burkitt, Euphemia and the Goth, with the Acts of Martyrdom of the Confessors of Edessa, Shmona, Guria and Habib (London & Oxford: Williams & Norgate for Text and Translation Society, 1913); J. B. Segal, Edessa, ‘the Blessed City’ (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), 83-86; S. A. Harvey, “The Edessan Martyrs and Ascetic Tradition,” in R. Lavenant (ed.), Symposium Syriacum 1988, OCA, 286 (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Orientalium Studiorum 1990), 195-206.

46. See Canivet & Leroy-Molinghen, Theodore de Cyr, histoire des moines, 206-210; Canivet, Le Monachisme syrien, 166-168; Schiwietz, Das morgenländische Mönchtum, III.66-67.

47. Jerome Labourt (ed.), Saint Jerome, Lettres, 8 vols., Collection des Universités de France (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1949-1953), III.79.

48. Cuthbert Butler, The Lausiac History of Palladius, 2 vols. (Cambridge: The University Press, 1898), II.129. The English translation is that of Robert T. Meyer, Palladius; the Lausiac History, ACW 34 (Westminster, Md.: Newman Press, 1965), 119.

49. Butler, The Lausiac History, II.129; Meyer, Palladius, 119.

50. PG, LXVII.1077, III.14.

51. PG, LXVII.1077.

52. Ibid..

53. Ibid..

54. See n. 18 above. See also F. Halkin, BHG, 3d ed. (1957), 48, where it is assumed that the Julian of the text is Julian Saba. In connection with Sozomen’s report, one recalls that the text of the Syriac version of Theodoret’sVita of Julian Saba is there also wrongly attributed to Ephraem. See n. 7 above.

55. See Assemani, Ephraem Opera Omnia, III.256, 258 Syr.

56. Damascus MSS 14/12, D, I; 15/12, D, II.

57. See S. H. Griffith, “Asceticism in the Church of Syria; the Hermeneutics of Early Syrian Monasticism,” forthcoming in the proceedings of the international conference: “The Ascetic Dimension in Religious Life and Culture,” Union Theological Seminary, New York, 25-29 April 1993.

58. The hymns to Abraham Qidunaya are also published in Beck’s Hymnen auf Abraham Kidunaya und Julianos Saba. For the life of this saint in the Syriac tradition see T. J. Lamy, “Acta Beati Abrahae Kidunaiae,” AB 10 (1891): 5-49; P. Bedjan, Acta Martyrum et Sanctorum Syriace, VI.465-499. See also Schiwietz, Das morgenländische Mönchtum, III.166-179; Vööbus, History of Asceticism, II.51-60.

59. All of these hymns are published with Latin versions in T. J. Lamy, Sancti Ephraem Syri Hymni et Sermones, 4 vols. (Mechliniae: H. Dessain, 1882-1902), III.641-958. The hymns on the confessors are edited, with a German translation, in Edmund Beck, Nachträge zu Ephraem Syrus, CSCO 363 & 364 (Louvain: Peeters, 1975).

60. See the description in W. Wright, Catalogue of Syriac Manuscripts in the British Museum, 3 vols. (London: Printed by order of the Trustees, 1870-1872), II.684-690.

61. See Lamy, Sancti Ephraem Syri Hymni et Sermones, III.909 n. 1. The quotation appears in the patristicflorilegium appended to Philoxenus’ De uno e sancta Trinitate incorporato et passo. See F. Graffin, Sancti Philoxeni Dissertationes de uno e sancta Trinitate (Memre contre Habib), PO 41 (fasc. 1, no. 186) (Turnhout: Brepols, 1982), 112. On quotations from the works of Ephraem in this florilegium see F. Graffin, “Le Florilège patristique de Philoxène de Mabboug,” in Symposium Syriacum 1972, OCA 197 (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Orientalium Studiorum, 1974), 267-290.

62. Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 322.v.

63. Ibid., 323.xv.

64. Ibid., 322.x.

65. Ibid., 322.xi.

66. Ibid., 323.xv.

67. See Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 322.46, IV.7.

68. Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 322.45-46, IV.4-5.

69. Ibid., 322.46, IV.9-10.

70. Ibid., 322.61-62, XIV.8-9.

71. See S. H. Griffith, “‘Singles’ in God’s Service; Thoughts on the .”

72. Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 322.41, II.13.

73. Ibid., 322.68, XVIII.8.

74. Ibid., 322.81, XXII.14.

75. See S. P. Brock, “Clothing Metaphors as a Means of Theological Expression in Syriac Tradition,” in M. Schmidt (ed.), Typus, Symbol, Allegorie bei den östlichen Vatern und ihren Parallelen im Mittelalter, Eichstatter Beiträge IV (Regensburg: F. Pustet, 1982), 11-38, reprinted in S. Brock, Studies in Syriac Christianity; History, Literature and Theology, Collected Studies Series CS 357 (Hampshire, England: Variorum, 1992), no. XI.

76. Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 322.87, XXIV.8.

77. Ibid., 322.42-43, III.2.

78. On these terms see E. Beck, “Ein Beitrag zur Terminologie des ältesten syrischen Mönchtums,” in B. Steidle (ed.), Antonius Magnus Eremita, 356-1956; Studia ad Antiquum Monachismum Spectantia, Studia Anselmiana, 38 (Rome: Herder, 1956). See also Griffith, “Singles in God’s Service.”

79. Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 322.43, III.3.

80. See Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 322.59, XII.8.

81. Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 322.83, XXIII.4.

82. Ibid., 322.50, VI.21 & 23.

83. Ibid., 322.62, XIV.9.

84. Ibid., 322.68, XVIII.8.

85. Ibid., 322.80, XXII.6.

86. Ibid., 322.82, XXII.16.

87. See R. Payne Smith, Thesaurus Syriacus, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879-1901), I.852-853.

88. See Edmund Beck, Des heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Carmina Nisibena, erster Teil CSCO 218 & 219 (Louvain: Secrétariat du Corpus SCO, 1961), 218.57, XXI.12, & 218.46, XVII.3.

89. See S. H. Griffith, “Images of Ephraem: the Syrian Holy Man and his Church,” Traditio 45 (1989-1990): esp. 20-26.

90. Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 322.81, XXII.11.

91. Ibid., 322.68, XVIII.7.

92. Ibid., 322.69, XVIII.20.

93. Ibid., 322.82, XXIII.1.

94. Ibid., 322.84, XXIII.12.

95. Ibid., 322.82, XXII.1.

96. Ibid., 322.68, XVIII.10.

97. Canivet & Leroy-Molinghen, Theodoret de Cyr, histoire des moines, 194. Canivet has also linked the Syriac term sābâ, ‘old man’ or ‘elder’ with the Greek term gérôn, which, as he notes, often means simply ‘monk’, without any reference to age, particularly in the writings of Palladius. See Canivet, Le Monachisme syrien, 238 n. 14.

98. See Beck, Hymnen auf Abraham Kidunaya, 322.9, IV.1. It is interesting to note in this connection that Jacob of Sarug, in his homily on “Abraham and his Types,” regularly calls the patriarch Sābâ. See P. Bedjan, Homiliae Selectae Mar-Jacobi Sarugensis, 5 vols. (Paris: Harrassowitz, 1908-1910), IV.61-103.

99. Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 322.50, VI.18.

100. I. Parisot, Aphraatis Sapientis Persae Demonstrationes, Patrologia Syriaca Pars Prima (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1884), 276.

101. Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 322.39, II.2.

102. Ibid., 322.65, XVII.2.

103. Ibid., 322.64, XVI.8-11.

104. Ibid., 322.41, II.14.

105. Ibid., 322.54, IX.2.

106. Ibid., 322.64, XVI.3.

107. Ibid., 322.80, XXII.4.

108. 322.54, IX.3. See W. Cramer, Die Engelvorstellungen bei Ephräm dem Syrer, OCA 173 (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Orientalium Studiorum, 1965), 65-72 regarding Ephraem’s use of the word ‘îrâ for angel. For a recent study of early Syriac angel terminology see Robert Murray, “Some Themes and Problems of Early Syriac Angelology,” in R. Lavenant (ed.), V Symposium Syriacum 1988, Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven, 29-31 août 1988, OCA 236 (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Orientalium Studiorum, 1990), 143-153.

109. Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 322.64, XVI. .

110. Ibid., 322.64, XVI.12.

111. Ibid., 322.51 & 52, VII. 12 & 14.

112. Ibid., 322.81, XXII.13.

113. Ibid., 322.53, VIII.9. The last phrase, “gleaming crucifix,” reflects an uncertainty in reading the line. The text has lazlîqâ, which should probably be corrected to lazqîpâ. The translation reflects both options. See Beck, 323.58 n. 3.

114. Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 322.61, XIV.6.

115. Edmund Beck, Des heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Carmina Nisibena (zweiter Teil), CSCO 240 & 241 (Louvain: Secrétariat du Corpus SCO, 1963), 240.112, LXIX.21.

116. Beck, Hymnen de Virginitate, 223.85, XXIV.3.

117. See Edmund Beck, Des heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Hymnen de Fide, CSCO 154 & 155 (Louvain: Imprimerie Orientaliste L. Durbecq, 1955), 154.71, XVIII.11.

118. Damascus MSS, 14/12, E, I; 15/12, E, IV.

119. Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 322.42, II.17.

120. Ibid., 322.45, IV.2.

121. Ibid., 322.45, IV.4.

122. Ibid., 322.49, VI.4.

123. Ibid., 322.61,XIV.1.

124. Ibid., 322.71, XIX.6.

125. Ibid., 322.60, XIII.5.

126. See Zeph Stewart, “Greek Crowns and Christian Martyrs,” in E. Lucchesi & H. D. Saffrey (eds.), Mémorial André-Jean Festugière; antiquité païenne et chrétienne, Cahiers de l’Orientalisme 10 (Genève: P. Cramer, 1984), 119-124.

127. Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 322.46, IV.6. See also 323. 51 n. 3.

128. See text cited at n. 45 above.

129. Beck, Hymnen auf Julianos Saba, 322.38, I.12.

130. Ibid., 322.45, IV.3.

131. Ibid., 322.52, VII.16.

132. Ibid., 322.80, XXII.3.

133. See Arthur Vööbus, “Beiträge zur kritischen Sichtung der asketischen Schriften, die unter dem Namen Ephraem des Syrers überliefert sind,” OC 39 (1955): 48-55. In spite of Beck’s objections, Vööbus continuted to affirm the authenticity of the disputed texts. See Vööbus, History of Asceticism, II.1-11. See also A. Vööbus,Literary Critical and Historical Studies in Ephraem the Syrian (Stockholm: ETSE, 1958), 59-65, 69-86. For more on the disputed texts see now, Edward G. Mathews, “Isaac of Antioch: a Homily on Solitaries, Hermits, and Mourners” (M.A. Thesis, The Catholic University of America; Washington, D.C, 1987); idem, “‘On Solitaries’: Ephraem or Isaac?” Le Muséon 103 (1990): 91-110.

134. See the discussion, with full bibliographical references, in S. H. Griffith, “Asceticism in the Church of Syria: the Hermeneutics of Early Syrian Monasticism,” forthcoming in the proceedings of the international conference: “The Ascetic Dimension in Religious Life and Culture,” Union Theological Seminary, New York, 25-29 April 1993.

135. See S. H. Griffith, “Antony of Egypt and the Classics of Egyptian Monasticism in Syriac; Reflections on a Tradition in Translation,” forthcoming.

136. See now the important study and translation by Robert Doran, The Lives of Simeon Stylites, Cistercian Studies Series 112 (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1992).

Julian Saba, ‘Father of the Monks’ of Syria


Sidney Griffith