Sunday, September 08, 2013

Syriac Christianity

Thomas Allom (1804-1872)
The House of the British Consul, Damascus
Watercolour over pencil heightened with bodycolour, on paper
30.30 cm x 25.70 cm
Government Art Collection, London

Richard Carline (1896-1980)
Damascus and the Lebanon Mountains from 10,000 Feet
Oil on canvas
143.5 x 105.4 cm
 IWM (Imperial War Museums), London

The recent tensions over Syria has shown me my ignorance of Syria and its large Christian population and its ancient history

The Syrian Catholic Church under the Patriarch of Antioch is in full communion with Rome

St Peter founded the See of Antioch. It was visited by Saints Paul and Barnabas

Antioch was where "Christians" were first called "Christians"

Bab Tuma, a suburb of Damascus, was home to Saints Thomas, Paul and Ananias as well as Popes John V and  Gregory III.

Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Syriac Catholic and Syriac Orthodox churches and monasteries have been built in the city of Saidnaya (only 17 miles north of Damascus) throughout history. 

It is a town dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

It was an important centre of Christianity well before it was adopted as the official religion of the Roman empire.

Its episcopate was present  at the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325 

Pope Benedict XVI referred to this ignorance in one of his catecheses:
"Common opinion today supposes Christianity to be a European religion which subsequently exported the culture of this Continent to other countries.  
But the reality is far more complex since the roots of the Christian religion are found in the Old Testament, hence, in Jerusalem and the Semitic world.  
Christianity is still nourished by these Old Testament roots.  
Furthermore, its expansion in the first centuries was both towards the West - towards the Greco-Latin world, where it later inspired European culture - and in the direction of the East, as far as Persia and India.  
It thus contributed to creating a specific culture in Semitic languages with an identity of its own."
He spoke of St Ephrem the Syrian, who was born into a Christian family in Nisibis in about AD 306 A.D, Romanus the Melodist who was born in about 490 in Emesa (today Homs), in Syria, Saint John Chrysostom born in about the year 349 A.D. in Antioch, Syria (today Antakya in Southern Turkey) and many others

Jack Tannous, Scott Johnson, Dr. Sebastian Brock and others at the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C. have produced Resources  for Syriac Studies 

Included is a Hagiography about the Saints and Martyrs in the Syriac language

The Bibliographical Handouts by Dr. Sebastian Brock are fascinating.

Here is Brock`s translation of Ephrem the Syrian`s The Pearl (Hymn No 81)
"Hymns on Faith, no 81, on the Pearl. 
1.       One day, my brethren, I took a pearl
into my hands; in it I saw symbols
which belong to the Kingdom, images and figures
of God's majesty. It became a fountain
from which I drank the symbols of the Son. 
Refrain: Blessed is he who likened the Kingdom on high to a pearl! 
2.       I placed it, my brethren, in the palm of my hand
in order to contemplate it. I turned to look at it
from one side, but it had facets
on every side. So it is with enquiry into the Son:
it is something unattainable, for He is entirely light. 
3.       In the luminosity of the pearl I saw the Luminous One
who cannot be perturbed. In its purity
is a wonderful symbol - the Body of our Lord,
utterly unsullied. In the undivided nature of the pearl
I beheld Truth, which is not divided. 
4.       I saw there Mary, with her pure conception;
there was the Church,
with the Son within her. Like a cloud
is she who carried Him, and like the heaven
is she from whom flashed the wonderful Ray. 
5.       I beheld in it the trophies of His victories
and his triumphs; I saw his succour,
with all its benefits, both hidden
and manifest. To me it was greater
than the Ark, absorbed as I was with it. 
6.       I beheld within it hidden chambers that had no shadows,
for it is the daughter of the luminary. In it types are eloquent,
though they have no tongue; symbols are utter4ed
without the help of lips. The silent lyre,
though it has no sound, gives forth its songs. 
7.       The trumpet murmurs, the thunder whispers:
'Do not make bold - leave alone the hidden things,
take only what is manifest`. I have seen in the clear sky
the latter rain: the stream-bed of my ears
is full with explanations, as after the rain clouds. 
8.       Like the manna which of its own sufficed
to fill the People, in place of other foods,
with its tasty things; so too has the pearl
filled me, replacing books,
with the reading and commenting of them. 
9.       In order that I might ask if there were
any further symbols, it had no mouth available
to give me answer, nor ears to hear
my question. O Pearl that has no sensation,
it is from you that I have acquired new senses. 
10.       The Pearl replied and said to me: 'I am
the daughter of the immeasurable sea, and the treasures of symbols
that I carry in my bosom are greater than those of the sea
whence I have come up. You may examine the sea,
but do not examine the Lord of the sea! 
11.       'I beheld the divers who went down in search of me
return panting from the sea
to the dry land: they could not endure
for even a short time. Who then can examine for long