A Shining Page of the History of the Diocese of Diyarbakr (Amid) / Ignatius Aphram Barsoum I, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East / Translated by Dr. Matti Moosa

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A Shining Page of the History of the Diocese of Diyarbakr (Amid)

By virtue of its history and antiquities, Amid (not Omid), which is Diyarbakr, is one of the most ancient major and famous cities of Beth Nahrin (Mesopotamia). The Turks called it Qara Amid (Black Amid) because of its black stones. It is often mentioned in both Syriac and Arabic historical accounts as the City of Glory. [ See Syriac handwritten antiquities in Diyarbakr.] Yaqut al-Hamawi said, “Amid is a fortified town, built mostly with black stones. Its elevation is like a crescent, encircled by the Tigris river.”  According to the life-story of Mar (St.) Theodota, Amid became Christianized by the Apostle Addai (Thaddeus) and his disciple Aggai. Emperor Constantius II (337-361) renovated it in 349 A.D. [357, according to the Chronicle of the Anonymous Edessan, 1: 155]. Dionysius mentioned that Emperor Heraclius (610-641) built its great cathedral, named after the Virgin Mary. It was a great and large cathedral connected with the nearby city wall. It was renovated by Abai I, metropolitan of Amid, around 765. In later times, services were confined to a small part of it which was renovated by the Maphryono Ishaq ‘Azar of Mosul in 1693, by order of Patriarch Ignatius Jirjis II of Mosul. To it was added the nave of Saint Jacob of Sarug. Among its churches was the Church of John the Baptist.
More than once, Amid was the seat of the Patriarchs of Antioch. We have a roster of its bishops from the beginning of the fourth century up to this day, the first of whom was Shim’un (Simon), who attended the Council of Nicaea (325). We spent much time and effort gathering information about this roster from over a hundred authentic sources.
The Syrian inhabitants of Amid were numerous and strong until later times. In 1746, there were twenty priests in its church. In its vicinity were many monasteries, from which sprang notable and saintly ascetics. They were so numerous that Amid was called the City of Saints. Of these saints we may mention the well known ascetic, Mar Matta, who built in the Mountain of al-Faf his famous monastery (north of Mosul) in the second half of the fourth century [ Al-Faf is a Syriac terms meaning thousands. The mountain in which the monastery was built came to be known as that of al-Faf, i.e, the Monastery of the thousands. Tr.] Among these monasteries, whose history was preserved by time, were the Monastery of Mar Yuhanna Ortoyo, the account of whose history was recorded by Mar Yuhanna of Asia (John of Ephesus); the Monastery of Zuqnin; the Monastery of Mar Z’ura, which was still inhabited in 1358; and the Monastery of Mar Iliyya (Elijah) in the village of Qanqart, known today as Qara Kilisa (Black Church). To this monastery belonged the Malphono (learned man) Ishaq of Amid, who journeyed to Rome and Constantinople in the time of Emperor Arcadius in 410, and Dodo, the monk of Amid from the village of Samqe, whom the notables of Amid delegated to inform the emperor concerning the captivity and starvation which afflicted the land. Both of these men wrote commentaries on the Holy Scriptures. Furthermore, Dodo composed spiritual madrashe (metrical hymns). [The Chronicle of Zachariah Rhetor of Mytilene, 1: 103. ], [  See The Syriac Chronicle Known as That of Zachariah of Mitylene, trans. F. J. Hamilton and E. W. Brooks (London: Methuen & Company, 1899), 17. Tr.]  Also noteworthy were Mara III, the confessor, metropolitan of Amid (534 ), the learned and famous historian Mar Yuhanna (John) of Asia or Ephesus (585), Ibrahim of Amid, who translated the anaphora (liturgy) of Mar Severus of Samosata from the Greek into Syriac (598) , Janurin the  rhetorician of Amid (665), and Atanos of Amid, a physician and compiler of a scrapbook of medicine. Those in later times were Dionysius Yusuf Gharib, metropolitan of Amid, who drew up some husoyos (1358), Metropolitan Athanasius Aslan (d. 1741) and ‘Abd al-Nur, a monk of Amid (1755), both of whom translated some books into Arabic in everyday language, and the Chorepiscopus Yaqub the Amidian of Qutrubul, author of Zahrat al-Ma’arif fi Usul al-Lugha al-Suryaniyya (The Flower of Knowledge Regarding the Principles of the Syriac Lnaguage, 1781).
Many church leaders came from Amid. They include the Patriarchs Athanasius VII, known as Abu al-Faraj (d. 1129); Ibrahim II, bar Gharib (1412), Yeshu’ II, bar Qamsha (1662), and the notable Nonus, metropolitan of Amid (504); Saint Theodota (698), Iyawannis, metropolitan of Herat in Afghanistan, Butrus (Peter), metropolitan of Arzen in the tenth century, Iyawannis Yusuf, metropolitan of Homs (1198), and four metropolitans of Jerusalem, who were Timothy II (around 1080), Abd al-Azal (1640), Gregorius ‘Abd al-Ahad (1731), and Dionysius Yaqub (1798); Gregorius Ayyub (Job), metropolitan of Gargar (1740), Gregorius Tuma, metropolitan of Damascus (1752), Iyawannis Yalda, metropolitan of Bushairiyya (1824), and Gregorius Gurgis, bishop of Amid (1866), and others. [Counting the bishops of Jerusalem mentioned by the author, there should be eight bishops, not four.]
Muslim learned men associated with Amid were Abu al-Qasim al-Hasan ibn Bishr of Amid (d. 370 A.H./ 980 A.D.), the author of al-Mu’allaf wa al-Mukhtalaf fi Asma’ al-Shu’ara’ (Agreement and Disagreement Regarding the Names of Poets and Writers) and Kitab al-Muwazana bayn Abu Tammam wa al-Buhturi (The Book of Comparison between Abu Tammam and al-Buhturi); Abu al-Makarim Muhammad ibn al-Husayn of Amid, the Baghdadian poet (d. 552 A.H./1157 A. D.); the jurist and poet Abu al-Fada’il Ali ibn al-Muzaffar ibn Ja’far al-Shafi’i (d. 608 A.H./1211 A. D.), and Sayf al-Din Abu al-Hasan Ali the Taghlibite (d. 631 A.H./1233 A. D.) well known as The Amidi, a learned man and well versed in rationalistic knowledge. He authored the book of Abkar al-Afkar wa Rumuz al-Kunuz wa Daqa’iq al-Haqa’iq wa Muntaha al-Su’l fi al-Usul (Virginal Thoughts, Treasure Symbols, Particulars of Realities and Utmost Quest of Fundamentals.).
Under the authority of the Greek emperors, Amid was exposed to the raids of the Persian kings, who captured it more than once.  Emperor Justinian built its marvelous wall. The Arab Iyad ibn Ghunm conquered it in 20 A.H./640 A.D. In the ‘Abbasid period Arab princes ruled it, among them the Hamdanis, the Marwanids, and the Artukids. Later it was governed by the Mongols, and then the states of Qara Quyunlu (Black Sheep) and Aq Quyunlu (White Sheep), and the Safawi Shah Isma’il. Finally, it was conquered by the Ottoman Sultan Selim I.
We wish to provide the readers with the histories of famous Syrian bishops who flourished in this city, because the revival of the memories of worthy ancestors will quicken dormant zeal. We preferred to crown this subject with the luminous traits of the Saint and Metropolitan Theodota, which we gathered from the following sources: (1) his life-story, which we consider a unique gem so far unpublished. We found two magnificent copies of it written in the Istrangelo Syriac script, at the Libraries of the Za’faran Monastery and the church of Diyarbakr. They were transcribed by the priest and church chanter, Shim’un of Samosata, who interpolated numerous anecdotes of Theodota related by his disciple the monk-priest Yusuf, considered a fair source of Theodota’s traits; and (2) the history ascribed to Patriarch Dionysius Tell Mahre (d. 845) which most likely belongs to a monk from the Monastery of Zuqnin.
Men of Faith and Action
– St. Theodota (Theodotus), metropolitan of Amid (698 A. D).
Theodota was a distinguished father of the church known for his piety, holiness and service to wretched mankind. He was a native of the village of ‘Anath in the Agal Mountain (Beth Igaloye) in the province of Amid. He came from the Beth Quryono family. At an early age, he became devoted to the study of the Holy Scriptures, prayer, and fasting. He endeavored to reconcile people who harbored malice and hatred. He extended help to the sick and the poor. Because he had a penchant for asceticism, he visited the monasteries of the region of Amid, among which was the Monastery of Zuqnin), where he found a pious monk named Sawera (Severus). He asked him whether he would become his companion, and Sawera agreed. Sawera took Theodota back to his own Monastery of Qinneshrin (Eagle’s Nest) where he trained him in monastic life and had him wear the monastic habit. Theodota followed in the footsteps of his master. He shunned the world and its pleasures and devoted himself to worship, in which he attained a high degree. He was extremely abstemious, going for a whole week with one meal. He always endeavored to reconcile people with each other. Whenever two men were in conflict with each other, he asked them to make peace, even if it required him to humble himself by prostrating before them. He collected clothes to cover the naked, and served the sick and the strangers who came to the monastery. Many a night he went out to the caves near the Euphrates River to seek solitude and pray.
It happened that the Patriarch of Antioch, Theodore, was then at the Monastery of Qinneshrin. When he learned about Theodota, he joined him in his retreat. After vespers, the patriarch entered the monastery to pray with the monks. Theodota, however, preferred not to enter the monastery until nightfall because he was busy caring for the sick, the needy and the widows and offering them help. Meanwhile, he resisted the wiles of Satan ferociously and triumphed over them. Quite often he would spend three days and nights fasting and praying. At the end, he received the sacraments from the blessed patriarch. Following the communion, he breakfasted on one loaf of bread. His main purpose was to ascend the ladder of virtue and devotion with humility and earnestness. When the monks discovered his spiritual qualities, they said, “A great prophet has risen amongst us.” Furthermore, God offered Theodota the gift of healing. He healed many people, including a paralytic girl and a man possessed by demons. As his healing fame spread far and wide, many notables brought him their children with them, hoping only to be blessed by his intercession.
Three days after the death of the Patriarch Mar Theodore in 667, Theodota, carrying only a copy of the Gospels, left the monastery of Qinneshrin for Jerusalem. He was intercepted by a rich man who had committed a bad act, for which he was afflicted by God with a painful disease. Saint Theodota rebuked him for his misconduct. He repented, offered his possessions to the poor, and shunned the world. God accepted his repentance, and he became a monk and attained perfection.
Theodota visited Mount Sinai Monastery and the holy sites in Jerusalem, where he restored a paralytic to health. Also, he healed the sick by putting dust he had gathered from the Sepulcher of the Savior on their wounds. He boarded a ship whose crewmen were Jews bound for Egypt. The sea raged and the passengers were stricken with fear. Theodota prayed and the billows calmed down. Because of this, the Jewish owners of the ships professed Christ. He visited the monks of the Scete (in Egypt) and remained with them for five years, performing many miracles which God had blessed him with. When his spiritual fame spread far and wide, the bishops of Egypt wanted to make him their bishop, but he declined and returned to the Monastery of Qarqafta (The Skull) in the Mountain of Mardin to continue his ascetic pursuit. As the crowd of sick people disturbed his solitude, he left for the Monastery of Zuqnin, whose monks received him with alacrity.  He roamed the country taking care of the poor and the sick and distributed alms to them. Moreover, he communicated with the lords of the Greek fortresses adjacent to the Muslim lands to ransom both Arab and Greek captives.
Upon the death of St. Tuma (Thomas), metropolitan of Amid, the patriarch and the bishops desired to install Theodota as bishop over Amid. They sent four clerics, with a message of invitation, to the Monastery of Mar Gurgis, known as the Monastery of Harbaz, where he was staying. He went with them, but on the way to the Monastery of Qinneshrin, he fled to the Arqnin Mountain and then to Claudia, where he stayed for five years. Meanwhile, Felixine, metropolitan of Samosata, sought to ordain him a priest, but failed. The governor of Samosata dispatched to those countries an unjust and uncouth man to collect taxes. Sarjis oppressed the lay people and monks and made fun of the intercession of Saint Theodota. But through Theodota’s intercession, God afflicted him with an evil spirit. He came back to his senses and desisted from oppressing the people. He restored to the poor and the monks what he had exacted from them and obediently submitted to Saint Theodota.
Theodota, may God be pleased with him, had an intuitive knowledge of the secrets of the hearts of sinners. He would confront them with their sins and have them repent and return to the right path. He and his disciple Yusuf sought to explore the problems of the native Syrians of the villages of Bilo and Philene (sic) in the country of fortresses ruled by a Greek tyrant who intended to replace the belief of these Syrians  with that of the Greeks. On the way, the tyrant was intercepted by highway robbers who mocked him. Through Theodota’s supplication, one of them became afflicted with an evil spirit.  He implored the saint to heal him, which he did. He rebuked the man for his behavior, and the man repented and converted to Christianity. Theodota then journeyed to Miyafarqin and the Sophnites’ country, to the Monastery of Mar Abai near Qellith, and to the Monastery of Qartmin, in the time of Iliyya its bishop He returned to the Monastery of Mar Abai, where he built a cell on its upper section.
At that time Athanasius, the metropolitan of Amid, reconvened a synod to elect Theodota a bishop for Amid. Accordingly, Patriarch Julian II (687-708) summoned Theodota to him. Theodota dispatched his disciple Yusuf to the patriarch, apologizing because he could not come. But the patriarch, who was in Amid at this time, sent to Theodota bishops, notables, and the periodeutes Shim’un. Theodota complied. As he drew near the city of Amid, the patriarch sent two bishops and his secretary Theodore to inform him why he had been summoned. When Theodota learned the reason, he at first declined, but the patriarch’s secretary convinced him to obey, and he did.
Meanwhile, the governor of Amid accused Theodota of spying for the Greeks (Byzantines), used harsh language with him, and even had him beaten.  But God afflicted the governor with blindness. He appealed to the saint for forgiveness. Theodota prayed for him, but on the next day the governor was removed from office.  As he departed the city, he fell off his horse on the way and died. This incident enhanced Theodota’s position among the natives so much that the majority of Christians, Muslims and heathens rushed to receive his blessing. Patriarch Julian II ordained him a bishop for Amid on Whitsunday, much to the joy of the whole city. On the next day they came to hear his sermon. He climbed the pulpit and delivered a sermon on love. When he finished, he bowed his head before them with tears, asking their forgiveness. The people wept with him and asked him to bless them, which he did. They departed with joy.
It is said that when Theodota held the staff of bishopric he would not let it touch the ground, saying that it was the Apostles’ staff, which he was unworthy to carry. He was more intent on piety and devotion. He allowed visitors to see him only once a day to dispense of their affairs. He welcomed all people, be they Syrian Orthodox, Armenians or Muslims. He received them with joy and open arms. At nightfall, he and his disciple visited the sick and the poor, who came from faraway places to see him. He instructed his disciple to give them whatever alms they have collected. Actually, all that he and his disciple possessed was a water mill and an orchard, which were the church’s endowment.
Theodota was compassionate and benevolent toward the poor and strangers. Because of his tenderness of heart, he greatly grieved for those who were taken captive.  From the pulpit he pleaded for compassion toward the captives. He asked the Christians and Muslims to donate money to ransom them and restore them to their lands. He told the archdeacon of the church to instruct the priests to celebrate the Holy Eucharist on Wednesday in churches which bore the name of the Virgin, on Friday in commemoration of the prophets, martyrs, apostles and the saintly fathers, on Saturday in commemoration of the ascetic and the deceased, and on Sunday in commemoration of the Resurrection of the Savior. He ordered the congregations to attend church and forbade the clergy from assuming worldly positions or agencies. As his fame resounded throughout and he became reputed to speak only the truth and fear no one, the governor of the East charged him with interfering in the affairs of the Christians in Amid and its suburbs. The wise and great men obeyed his rule and the city was protected from evil. Many criminals, sinners and people lost in error flocked to him from all parts, confessing their sins and asking him for guidance. Through him they repented and returned to God. When he grew old and feeble, he returned to his monastery for solace. On Easter Sunday he preached a powerful sermon about the miraculous resurrection of the Lord. He enchanted his audience with his eloquence and profound knowledge. The clergy rushed to exalt him while he descended from the Bema (bishopric seat). He invited them to a banquet and then went out to visit the parishioners. He wrote to the clergy that he was leaving for his monastery and they would probably not see him again. He instructed them to keep the Lord’s commandments. The whole city was shaken by this news.
When Theodota drew near the Monastery of Qinneshrin, the monks and the people in the vicinity received him with great joy, especially because he had been away for forty years. They rallied around him like a pole of the celestial sphere. Because of his old age and infirmity, however, he resigned his position as a bishop of Amid in the presence of Patriarch Julian II and the metropolitans. The fathers did not accept his resignation, but he would not change his mind. The clergy and notables of the city implored him with tears to stay with them. But he apologized, saying that old age prevented him from shouldering the great responsibility of his position. The monks asked him to stay in the citadel (Monastery) of Mar Tuma, and he agreed. While he stayed in the citadel, the sick kept flocking to him and disturbing his solitude. He was forced to leave the monastery, much against the insistence of the people to whom he was their shining star. He passed through Edessa and Sarug, where he was received with pomp by the bishops and notables, and even by the Greeks (Byzantines).  He blessed them and continued his journey to the Monastery of Mar Daniel Dagloi (of Jalash) at the town of Dairkeh. Then he came to the Monastery of Mar Abai, where the notables of Mardin, Dara, Tur ‘Abdin and Hisn Kifa came out to receive him. He built a monastery with the help of the governor of Dara and its congregation and deposited in it the relics of saints which he had carried along with him. He built a church in the name of the Virgin (Mary), who had appeared to him in a dream and asked him to build it. Because of old age, one side of his body ceased to function [ Most likely he had a stroke. Tr. ] He sent a message to Saint Tuma, the stylite monk at the town of Tall Mawzalt, asking him to pray for him. Tuma replied praising Theodota’a spiritual strife. [ Mar Tuma died in 1010 of the Greeks/699 A.D. In his time the cathedral of Harran was built. See The Compendium of Syriac History we published in Paris, 1918, p. 13.]      In his testament, written in his own hand, Theodota bequeathed his monastery to his disciple  the monk-priest Yusuf, instructing him either to stay at the monastery or to leave at will. In case he decided to leave, he was to bequeath it to anyone of his choice, with the condition that women should not reside in it. Theodota mentioned that he and his disciple owned no earthly possessions except for five books. He ended with his benediction. He gathered the brethren and, stretching his hands, blessed them while they shed sorrowful tears for his departure of this life. He asked them to carry him to the holy altar to bid it farewell. He handed his disciple the urn which contained the relics of the saints, for whom he appointed a day of commemoration on September 20.  He instructed him to continue in the fear of God, repentance, and repairing to the saints for refuge. He received the Holy Communion, signed the cross, and departed to his Lord on August 15, 1009 of the Greeks /698 A. D. He was buried at his monastery, of which only ruins remain today. This took place in the time of Patriarch Julian II, Gabriel, bishop of Dara, Matta, metropolitan of Amid, Sarjis, bishop of Mardin, Ahi, metropolitan of Tur Abdin, and Iliyya, bishop of Miyafarqin. These fathers and their congregations lauded him and fixed August 15 as a day for his commemoration  [ According to the Calendar of Ibn Khayrun]. His name was listed in the Book of Life together with the saints of the seventh century. [See The Book of Life in the village of Zaz, in Tur ‘Abdin. ]
According to the history ascribed to Patriarch Dionysius Tell Mahre (Pseudo-Tell Mahre), Mar Theodota succeeded Saint Tuma, metropolitan of Amid, in 1024 of the Greeks/713 A. D., died after the year 1040 of the Greeks/ 729 A. D., and was succeeded by Mar Quzma (Cosmas) More correctly, Mar Theodota succeeded Athanasius, the metropolitan of Amid, and died in 698, as mentioned above. After his resignation, according to his life-story, he was succeeded by Metropolitan Matta. Further evidence is that Mar Tuma the stylite, mentioned above, died after Theodota in the following year (699), and that Patriarch Julian passed away in 708. May God benefit us and the sons of the holy church through his supplication.