Isaac of Nineveh (d. c. 700) also remembered as Isaac the Syrian and Isaac Cyrus was a Seventh century bishop and theologian best remembered for his written work. He is also regarded as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church, which the feast day of January 28.
He was born in the region of Qatar, on the western shore of the Persian Gulf. When still quite young, he and his brother entered a monastery, where he gained considerable renown as a teacher and came to the attention of the catholicos George, who ordained him Bishop of Nineveh far to the north. The administrative duties did not suit his retiring and ascetic bent: he requested to abdicate after only five months, and went south to the wilderness of Mount Matout, a refuge for anchorites. There he lived in solitude for many years, eating only three loaves a week with some vegetables, uncooked, a detail that never failed to astonish his hagiographers. Eventually blindness and old age forced him to retire to the monastery of Shabar, where he died and was buried. At the time of his death he was nearly blind, a fact that some attribute to his devotion to study.
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Isaac is remembered for his spiritual homilies on the inner life, which lend themselves to excerpting and have a human breadth that transcends his perhaps Nestorian Christianity. They survive in early Syriac and Arabic manuscripts and in Greek translations. From Greek they were translated into Russian.
Isaac consciously avoided writing on topics that were disputed or discussed in the contemporary theological debates. This gives Isaac a certain ecumenical potential, and is probably the reason that although he was faithful to his own tradition he has come to be venerated and appreciated far outside his own "Nestorian" church.
Isaac stands in the tradition of the eastern mystical saints and placed a considerable emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit.
The instructions of Isaac the Syrian came to us in the form of 91 homilies. Here are some examples:
- Faith, God’s providence, prayer
"To whatever extent a person draws close to God with his intentions, is to what extent God draws close to him with His gifts.
A handful of sand, thrown into the sea, is what sinning is, when compared to God’s Providence and mercy. Just like an abundant source of water is not impeded by a handful of dust, so does the Creator’s mercy not defeated by the sins of His creations.
The natural that precedes faith is the path toward faith and toward God. Being implanted by God into our nature, it alone convinces us for the need to believe in God, Who had brought everything into being.
Those, in whom the light of faith truly shines, never reach such unashamedness as to ask God: "Give us this," or — "Remove from us this." Because their spiritual eyes — with which they were blessed by that genuine Father, Who with His great love, countlessly transcends any fatherly love — continually view the Father’s Providence, they are not concerned in the slightest about themselves. God can do more than anyone else, and can assist us by a far greater measure than we could ever ask for, or even imagine."
- Obeying God
"To select a good deed depends on the initiator; to realize the intention — that is God’s deed. Consequently, let us adhere to the rule, so that every good intention that comes to us is followed by frequent prayers, appealing to God to not only grant us help, but also if it is pleasing or not to Him. Because not every good intention comes from God, but only those that are beneficial.
Sometimes, a person wishes something good, but God doesn’t help him — maybe because the intention came from the devil and is not for our benefit; or maybe because it is beyond our strength as we have not attained the necessary spiritual level; or maybe because it doesn’t correspond to our calling; or maybe because the time is not right to initiate it; or maybe because we don’t have the necessary knowledge or strength to accomplish it; or maybe because circumstances will not contribute to its success. Besides this, the devil contrives in every way to paint it as something good so that having inclined us toward it, he could upset our spiritual tranquility or inflict harm on us. That’s why it is necessary for us to diligently examine all our good desires. Better still, do everything after seeking counsel."
- Love towards your neighbor, mercy, non-judgmentalness
"Do not demand love from your neighbor, because you will suffer if you don’t receive it; but better still, you indicate your love toward your neighbor and you will settle down. In this way, you will lead your neighbor toward love.
Don’t exchange your love toward your neighbor for some type of object, because in having love toward your neighbor, you acquire within yourself Him, Who is most precious in the whole world. Forsake the petty so as to acquire the great; spurn the excessive and everything meaningless so as to acquire the valuable.
Shelter the sinner if it brings you no harm. Through this you will encourage him toward repentance and reform — and attract the Lord’s mercy to yourself. With a kind word and all possible means, fortify the infirm and the sorrowful and that Right Arm that controls everything, will also support you. With prayers and sorrow of your heart, share your lot with the aggrieved and the source of God’s mercy will open to your entreaties.
When giving, give magnanimously with a look of kindness on your face, and give more than what is asked of you.
Do not distinguish the worthy from the unworthy. Let everyone be equal to you for good deeds, so that you may be able to also attract the unworthy toward goodness, because through outside acts, the soul quickly learns to be reverent before God.
He who shows kindness toward the poor has God as his guardian, and he who becomes poor for the sake of God will acquire abundant treasures. God is pleased when He sees people showing concern for others for His sake. When someone asks you for something, don’t think: "Just in case I might need it, I shall leave it for myself, and God — through other people — will give that person what he requires." These types of thoughts are peculiar to people that are iniquitous and do not know God. A just and generous person would not compromise the honor of helping and relinquish it to another person, and he would never pass up an opportunity to help. Every beggar and every needy person receives the necessary essentials, because God doesn’t neglect anyone. But you, having sent away the destitute with nothing, spurned the honor offered to you by God and thereby, distanced yourself from His grace.
Through God’s providence, he who respects every person for God’s sake, privately acquires help from every human being."
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Isaac of Nineveh|
- St Isaac of Nineveh Orthodox Icon and Synaxarion
- isaacthesyrian.com: A collection of resources on St. Isaac
- Catholic Encyclopedia: "Isaac of Nineveh"
- Saint Isaac, the Syrian in Othodoxwikiar:إسحق السريانيru:Исаак Сирин