By Armando Elkhoury
This study deals with the life story of Jacob of Sarug (A.D. 451-521) and the various typologies of the Church scattered in his copious mimre. Jacob of Sarug is one of the most prolific, distinguished, and influential Syriac authors, yet a systematic examination of his symbolic language referring to the Church remains a desideratum. The following research satisfies this want which stems from the fact that the Church is next to Jesus Christ in importance, as her subject is prominent in Jacob’s poetic works. The work presented herein complements and contributes to the scholarly works already published in the theological field of Syriac Ecclesiology. Moreover, it is a foundational study for further researchers and theologians wishing to investigate Jacob’s comprehension of the Church.
This study shows that the question about the person of Jacob of Sarug shall remain unsatisfactorily answered, for his life stories discovered in extant manuscripts are hagiographical. Next, it reveals the Church as a building on Golgotha based on the actions of Melchizedek, Abraham, Jacob, and Moses. Then, it explains Jacob’s depiction of the Church as a fisherman and life-giving fishnet. Next, it deals with the topic of the Church as the Garden of Eden on Earth in whose midst is the Tree of Life. Lastly, this study explicates the notion of the Church as the Virgin Bride of Christ.
The Church as such emerges as a permanent reality solidly founded on the cross, a sacramental and missionary Church, and sacrifice is central to her understanding. The Mysteries and the proclamation of the Good News are essential to the continuation of her Lord’s mission. Moreover, she is a return to the Garden of Eden which anticipates God’s promise of salvation in the afterlife.
Finally, Christ will always be united to her no matter what, for she is in effect his created body. Therefore, she remains with him wherever he is, and her actions mimic his deeds. She follows him to Sheol, breaks down its gates, frees Adam, resurrects with her Lord, is victorious over sin and death, and nothing overcomes her.
|Syriac Melody: ܒܳܥܘܽܬܳܐ ܕܡܳܪܝ ܝܰܥܩܘܽܒ|
|Just Father, behold Your Son, a sacrifice [sc. the Eucharist] [that is] pleasing to You. Receive this [sacrifice], [him] who died for me, that I might be pardoned by it.||
ܐܰܒܳܐ ܕܩܘܽܫܬܳܐ ܗܳܐ ܒܪܳܟ ܕܶܒܚܳܐ ܕܰܡܪܰܥܶܐ ܠܳܟ . ܠܗܳܢܳܐ ܩܰܒܶܠ ܕܰܚܠܳܦܰܝ ܡܺܝܬ ܘܶܐܬܚܰܣܶܐ ܒܶܗ.
|Behold the offering! Receive [it] from my hands, be pleased with me, and do not remember the sins I have committed before Your Majesty.||
ܗܳܐ ܩܘܽܪܒܳܢܳܐ ܣܰܒ ܡܶܢ ܐܺܝ̈ܕܰܝ ܘܶܐܬܪܰܥܳܐ ܠܺܝ . ܘܠܳܐ ܬܶܬܕܟܰܪ ܠܺܝ ܚ̈ܛܳܗܶܐ ܕܣܶܥܪܶܬ ܩܕܳܡ ܪܰܒܘܽܬܳܟ .
|Behold His blood shed on Golgotha for my salvation, and it is praying for my sake! Accept my offering for its sake.||
ܗܳܐ ܕܡܶܗ ܐܰܫܺܝܕ ܥܰܠ ܓܳܓܘܽܠܬܳܐ ܡܶܛܽܠ ܦܘܽܪܩܳܢܝ . ܘܒܳܥܶܐ ܚܠܳܦܰܝ ܩܰܒܶܠ ܩܘܽܪܒܳܢܝ ܡܶܛܽܠܳܬܶܗ .
|How numerous are my sins! How great is Your love! If you weighed Your compassion, it would outweigh the mountains which are carrying You!||
ܟܡܳܐ ܠܺܝ ܚܰܘ̈ܒܶܐ ܟܡܳܐ ܠܳܟ ܪ̈ܰܚܡܶܐ ܐܶܢ ܬܳܩܶܠ ܐܰܢ̱ܬ . ܚܢܳܢܳܟ ܢܳܬܰܥ ܛܳܒ ܡܶܢ ܛܘܽܪ̈ܶܐ ܕܰܬܩܺܝܠܺܝܢ ܠܳܟ .
|Consider my sins, and consider the oblation [offered] on their account: the oblation and sacrifice [sc. of Your Son] are exceedingly greater than [my] faults.||
ܚܘܽܪ ܒܰܚ̈ܛܳܗܶܐ ܘܚܘܽܪ ܒܰܥܠܳܬܳܐ ܕܰܚܠܳܦܰܝܗܘܽܢ . ܕܣܰܓܺܝ ܪܰܒܳܐ ܥܠܳܬܳܐ ܘܕܶܒܚܳܐ ܡܶܢ ܚܰܘ̈ܒܳܬܳܐ .
|Since I have sinned, Your loved One [sc. Jesus Christ] bore the nails and spear [on the cross], and His sufferings are enough to appease You.||
ܡܶܛܽܠ ܕܰܚܛܺܝܬ ܨ̈ܶܨܶܐ ܘܪܘܽܡܚܳܐ ܣܒܰܠ ܚܰܒܺܝܒܳܟ . ܘܣܳܦܩܺܝܢ ܚܰܫ̈ܰܘܗ̱ܝ ܕܰܢܪܰܥܘܽܢܳܟ ܘܰܒܗܘܽܢ ܐܺܚܶܐ .
|Glory [be] to the Father who sent His Son for our sake, and adoration [is due] to the Son who freed all by His crucifixion.||
ܫܘܽܒܚܳܐ ܠܰܐܒܳܐ ܕܠܰܒܪܶܗ ܫܰܕܰܪ ܡܶܛܽܠܳܬܰܢ . ܘܣܶܓܕܬܳܐ ܠܰܒܪܳܐ ܕܒܰܙܩܺܝܦܘܽܬܶܗ ܚܰܪܰܪ ܟܽܘܠܳܐ .
|Thanksgiving [be] to the Spirit through whom the mystery of our Savior is accomplished. Blessed is the One who gave us life. Glory be to Him!||
ܬܰܘܕܺܝ ܠܪܘܽܚܳܐ ܕܒܶܗ ܐܶܫܬܰܡܠܺܝ ܪܳܐܙ ܦܘܽܪܩܳܢܰܢ . ܒܪܺܝܟ ܕܰܒܚܘܽܒܶܗ ܐܰܚܺܝ ܠܟܽܠܰܢ ܠܶܗ ܬܶܫܒܘܽܚܬܳܐ .
Enjoy this hymn sung in Syriac.
This talk was given at the 13th Colloquium of Syriac Patrimony under the title The Syriac Exegetes at the Maronite Patriarchal Seminary, Ghazir, Lebanon, in February 2015. It was published in English and Arabic by Centre d’Études et de Recherches Orientales (CERO) in its Patrimoine Syriaque: Les Exégètes Syriaques – Actes du Colloque XIII (2015). We thank CERO for granting us permission to republish the English version on the hiddenpearl.org. This links displays/downloads an Arabic Translation of this article in pdf.
The Treasury of Prophecy, i.e., the Old Testament, reveals the Son of God according to Jacob of Sarug. God the Father chose prophets to reveal this truth. Their prophecies disclose the only-begotten Son, his coming, crucifixion, and resurrection in numerous types and symbols. These prophets gaze upon the Son through the exalted or luminous Eye of Prophecy (ܥܰܝܢܳܐ ܕܰܢܒܺܝܘܽܬܳܐ). For example, with the luminous Eye of Prophecy, David saw the Son, who heals the earth by his blood. Moses perceived with the exalted Eye of Prophecy the creation of the world ex nihilo. With the same Eye, he saw the Son of God united to his Church in the waters of the Jordan. The objective of this presentation is to elucidate Jacob’s understanding of the Eye of Prophecy and its relationship to Jesus Christ.
|Syriac Hymn: ܒܳܥܘܽܬܳܐ ܕܡܳܪܝ ܝܰܥܩܘܽܒ|
|On account of love, He created the Creation while He was creating. And due to it, He also gave His Only-Begotten while He was saving.||ܒܶܗ ܗ̱ܘܽ ܒܚܘܽܒܳܐ ܒܪܳܐ ܒܶܪ̈ܝܳܬܳܐ ܟܰܕ ܒܳܪܶܐ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ ܃ ܘܒܶܗ ܬܘܽܒ ܐܰܫܠܶܡ ܠܺܝܚܺܝܕܳܝܶܗ ܟܰܕ ܦܳܪܶܩ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ ܀|
|In which king was there power to love thus: to give up his son for captives that they should return to their land?||ܒܰܐܝܢܳܐ ܡܰܠܟܳܐ ܐܺܝܬ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ ܚܰܝܠܳܐ ܕܢܰܚܶܒ ܗܳܟܰܢ ܃ ܕܢܰܫܠܶܡ ܠܰܒܪܶܗ ܚܠܳܦ ܓܳܠܘܽܬܳܐ ܕܬܶܦܢܶܐ ܠܰܐܬܪܳܗ݀ ܀|
|For which rich person was it easy to lavish his entire wealth on beggars that his love enrich them?||ܠܡܰܢ ܥܰܬܺܝܪܳܐ ܦܫܺܝܩ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ ܕܢܶܕܪܶܐ ܟܽܠܶܗ ܥܘܽܬܪܶܗ ܃ ܥܰܠ ܚܳܕܘܽܪ̈ܶܐ ܡܶܛܽܠ ܚܘܽܒܶܗ ܕܢܰܥܬܰܪ ܐܶܢܘܽܢ ܀|
|Who has surrendered his son to death as a sacrifice for the sake of slaves who fled from him to bring them back?||ܡܰܢ ܝܳܗܶܒ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ ܠܰܒܪܶܗ ܠܡܰܘܬܳܐ ܕܢܶܗܘܶܐ ܕܶܒܚܳܐ ܃ ܡܶܛܽܠ ܥܰܒ̈ܕܶܐ ܕܰܥܪܰܩܘ ܡܶܢܶܗ ܕܢܺܐܬܶܐ ܐܶܢܘܽܢ ܀|
|Who is the good person who is not afraid of laying down his life and tasting death for the sake of evil people to give them life?||ܡܰܢܘܽ ܛܳܒܳܐ ܕܠܳܐ ܕܳܚܶܠ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ ܕܢܰܪܡܶܐ ܢܰܦܫܶܗ ܃ ܘܰܚܠܳܦ ܒܺܝ̈ܫܶܐ ܡܰܘܬܳܐ ܢܶܛܥܰܡ ܕܢܰܚܶܐ ܐܶܢܘܢ ܀|
|Which living person has the power to touch the bottom of Sheol, release [its] prisoners, and imprison himself in the house of darkness?||ܐܰܝܢܳܐ ܚܰܝܳܐ ܡܨܶܐ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ ܕܢܶܓܘܽܫ ܥܘܽܡܩܳܐ ܕܰܫܝܘܽܠ ܃ ܘܢܶܫܪܶܐ ܚܒܺܝ̈ܫܶܐ ܘܢܶܐܣܘܽܪ ܢܰܦܫܶܗ ܒܶܝܬ ܚܶܫ̈ܘܽܟܶܐ ܀|
|Which heavenly being made a grave his habitation, and brought up the dead to the exalted heavenly habitation?||ܡܰܢ ܥܶܠܳܝܳܐ ܥܳܒܶܕ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ ܠܶܗ ܥܘܽܡܪܳܐ ܩܰܒܪܳܐ ܀ ܘܡܰܣܶܩ ܡܺܝ̈ܬܶܐ ܠܥܘܽܡܪܳܐ ܪܳܡܳܐ ܕܰܫ̈ܡܰܝܳܢܶܐ ܀|
|Love subjected the Son of God to this ordeal that He taste death in favor of human beings and give them life!||ܗܳܢܳܐ ܥܒܳܕܳܐ ܚܘܽܒܳܐ ܥܒܰܕ ܠܶܗ ܠܒܰܪ ܐܰܠܳܗܳܐ ܃ ܕܰܚܠܳܦ ܐ̱ܢܳܫܳܐ ܡܰܘܬܳܐ ܢܶܛܥܰܡ ܘܢܰܚܶܐ ܐܶܢܘܽܢ ܀|
The thief crucified on the right of Jesus said to him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Lk 23:33-43) Jesus replied to him:
|Syriac Melody:||ܒܳܥܘܽܬܳܐ ܕܡܳܪܝ ܝܰܥܩܘܽܒ|
|Amen, Amen, I say to you, be assured that today you will rejoice with me in [my] Kingdom.||ܐܰܡܺܝܢ ܐܰܡܺܝܢ ܐܳܡܰܪ ܐ̱ܢܳܐ ܠܳܟ ܐܰܫܰܪ ܓܰܒܪܳܐ ܃ ܕܝܰܘܡܳܢܳܐ ܠܰܡ ܥܰܡܝ ܚܳܕܶܐ ܐܰܢ̱ܬ ܒܶܝܬ ܡܰܠܟܘܽܬܳܐ ܀|
|Since your tongue sang a hymn of praise among the faithless, you shall take delight in the banquet of life with Abraham.||ܕܒܶܝܬ ܛܳܠ̈ـܘܽܡܶܐ ܩܳܠ ܬܰܘܕܺܝܬܳܐ ܙܡܰܪ ܠܶܫܳܢܳܟ ܃ ܒܦܳܬܘܽܪ ܚܰܝ̈ܶܐ ܡܶܬܒܰܣܰܡ ܐܰܢ̱ܬ ܥܰܡ ܐܰܒܪܳܗܳܡ ܀|
|Since your lamp glared out of the thick darkness, you shall shine brightly in the bridal chamber of life with the heavenly beings.||ܕܰܒܥܰܪ̈ܦܶܠܳܐ ܚܶܫ̈ܘܽܟܳܬܳܐ ܕܠܰܩ ܠܰܡܦܺܝܕܳܟ ܃ ܒܰܓܢܘܽܢ ܚܰܝ̈ܶܐ ܒܢܘܽܗܪܳܐ ܬܰܦܪܶܓ ܥܰܡ ܥܶܠܳܝ̈ܶܐ ܀|
|Since your ears have heard the troubling voices of scoffers, I shall comfort you with the shout of joy of the children of light (the angels).||ܕܰܫܡܰܥ ܐܶܕܢ̈ܰܝܟ ܩ̈ܳـܠܶܐ ܫܓܺܝ̈ܫܶܐ ܕܰܡ̈ܒܰܙܚܳܢܶܐ ܃ ܒܗܰܘ ܝܘܽܒܳܒܳܐ ܕܰܒ̈ܢܰܝ ܢܘܽܗܪܳܐ ܡܒܰܝܰܐ ܐ̱ܢܳܐ ܠܳܟ ܀|
|Since you rejected the company of Caiaphas’ people, the defiled priests, I shall put on you the stole of light in the exalted wedding chamber.||ܕܰܐܣܠܺܝܬ ܓܘܽܕܳܐ ܕܒܶܝܬ ܩܰܝܳܦܳܐ ܟܳܗ̈ܢܶܐ ܛܰܡ̈ܶܐܐ ܃ ܐܶܣܛܰܠ ܢܘܽܗܪܳܐ ܒܰܓܢܘܽܢ ܪܰܘܡܳܐ ܡܰܠܒܶܫ ܐ̱ܢܳܐ ܠܳܟ ܀|
|Take the key of light, reach the Garden of delights, and prepare the way for the King of light, whom the Nation rejected.||ܩܠܺܝܕܳܐ ܕܢܘܽܗܪܳܐ ܣܰܒ ܠܳܟ ܘܰܡܛܺܝ ܠـܓܰܢܰܬ ܛܘܽܒ̈ܶܐ ܃ ܘܰܐܬܩܶܢ ܐܘܽܪܚܳܐ ܠܡܰܠܟܳܐ ܕܢܘܽܗܪܳܐ ܕܰܐܣܠܺܝ ܥܰܡܳܐ ܀|
|Ride on fire, travel on the blazing road, step on the abyss filled with fire, and do not be terrified.||ܪܟܰܕ ܥܰܠ ܢܘܽܪܳܐ ܘܰܪܕܺܝ ܒܐܘܽܪܚܳܐ ܕܫܰܠܗܶܒܺܝܬܳܐ ܃ ܕܘܽܫ ܥܰܠ ܦܰܚܬܳܐ ܕܡܰܠܝܳܐ ܢܘܽܪܳܐ ܘܠܳܐ ܬܶܣܬܰܪܰܕ ܀|
|Proceed without delay, reach the orders of the heavenly beings, make level the paths, and greet the angels with the peace that came to pass.||ܦܣܰܥ ܩܰܠܺܝܠܳܐ ܡܛܺܝ ܠܬܶܓܡ̈ܰܝܽܗܘܢ ܕܰܫ̈ܡܰܝܳܢܶܐ ܃ ܘܫܰܘܳܐ ܫܒܺܝ̈ܠܶܐ ܘܚܰܕܳܐ ܠܥܺܝܪ̈ܶܐ ܒܫܰܝܢܳܐ ܕܰܗܘܳܐ ܀|
|Pour into Eden the peace of your beautiful words, and say to those who perished that it (Eden) has been returned to the heir, Adam.||ܙܠܘܽܥ ܒܳܗ݀ ܒܰܥܕܶܢ ܫܰܝܢܳܐ ܒܡ̈ܶܠܰܝܟ ܫܰܦܺܝܪ̈ܳܬܳܐ ܃ ܐ̱ܡܰܪ ܠܰܐܒܺܝ̈ـܕܶܐ ܕܶܐܬܦܰܢܺܝ ܠܶܗ ܝܳܪܬܳܐ ܐܳܕܳܡ ܀|
|If the fiery ranks come upon you, do not be terrified, for they will rejoice in your imperial rescript, and receive you on their wings.||ܘܶܐܢ ܦܳܓܥܺܝܢ ܒܳܟ ܣܶܕܪ̈ܰܝ ܢܘܽܪܳܐ ܠܳܐ ܬܶܣܬܰܪܰܕ ܃ ܒܣܰܩܪܳܟ ܚܳܕܶܝܢ ܘܰܡܩܰܒܠܺܝܢ ܠܳܟ ܥܰܠ ܓܶܦ̈ܰܝܗܘܽܢ ܀|
Icon written by Betsy Porter. To see and support her work, please visit: http://www.betsyporter.com
|Syriac Melody:||ܒܳܥܘܽܬܳܐ ܕܡܳܪܝ ܝܰܥܩܘܽܒ|
|Behold the body of the Son of God is placed on the [altar] table, and spiritual hosts surround it.||ܥܰܠ ܦܳܬܘܽܪܳܐ ܗܳܐ ܣܺܝܡ ܦܰܓܪܶܗ ܕܒܰܪ ܐܰܠܳܗܳܐ ܃ ܘܰܟܪܺܝܟܺܝܢ ܠܶܗ ܚܰܝ̈ܠܰܘܳܬܳܐ ܪ̈ܘܽܚܳܢܳܝ̈ܶܐ ܀|
|Splendiferously, they stand, trembling, and serve it with those below lest it not be honored.||ܘܰܒܙܰܗܝܘܽܬܳܐ ܩܳܝܡܺܝܢ ܟܽܠܗܘܽܢ ܟܰܕ ܪܰܬܺܝܬܺܝܢ ܃ ܘܰܡܫܰܡܫܺܝܢ ܠܶܗ ܥܰܡ ܬܰܚ̈ܬܳܝܶܐ ܕܠܳܐ ܢܶܨܛܰܥܰܪ ܀|
|The altar is set up instead of the heavenly chariot, and on it (the altar) is exalted the One, with whose glory heaven is filled.||ܘܡܰܬܩܶܢ ܡܰܕܒܚܳܐ ܚܠܳܦ ܡܰܪܟܰܒܬܳܐ ܕܰܫ̈ܡܰܝܳܢܶܐ ܃ ܘܡܶܙܕܰܝܰܚ ܒܶܗ ܗܰܘ ܕܰܫܡܰܝܳܐ ܡܠܶܝܢ ܬܶܫܒܘܽܚܬܶܗ ܀|
|These burning coals in the core of the chariot are divided on the [altar] table for the whole world.||ܘܗܳܠܶܝܢ ܓܘܽܡܪ̈ܶܐ ܕܺܐܝܬ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ ܒܥܘܽܒܶܗ ܕܗܳܝ ܡܰܪܟܰܒܬܳܐ ܃ ܗܳܐ ܡܶܬܦܰܠ̈ـܓܳܢ ܥܰܠ ܦܳܬܘܽܪܳܐ ܠܥܳܠܡܳܐ ܟܽܠܶܗ ܀|
|The priest stands instead of the man wearing linen, comes out, and scatters Pearls on the needy.||ܘܰܚܠܳܦ ܓܰܒܪܳܐ ܕܰܠܒܺܝܫ ܒܘܽܨܳܐ ܟܳܗܢܳܐ ܩܳܐܶܡ ܃ ܢܦܘܽܩ ܢܶܕܪܶܐ ܡܰܪ̈ܓܳܢܝܳܬܳܐ ܥܰܠ ܚܰܣܺܝܪ̈ܶܐ ܀|
|One of the heads of the hosts stands by him, and extends, through the Holy Spirit, bread for the priest to break.||ܘܚܰܕ ܡܶܢ ܪ̈ܺܫܶܐ ܕܚܰܝ̈ܠܰܘܳܬܳܐ ܩܳܐܶܡ ܨܶܐܕܰܘܗ̱ܝ ܃ ܘܰܒܪܘܽܚܩܘܽܕܫܳܐ ܡܰܘܫܶܛ ܠܰܚܡܳܐ ܠܟܳܗܢܳܐ ܢܶܩܨܶܐ ܀|
|He brings out from the house of the Father incomprehensible riches that the whole world, which was needy and destitute, be enriched.||ܘܡܰܦܶܩ ܥܘܽܬܪ̈ܶܐ ܕܠܳܐ ܡܶܬܕܰܪܟܺܝܢ ܡܶܢ ܒܶܝܬ ܐܰܒܳܐ ܃ ܕܟܽܠܶܗ ܥܳܠܡܳܐ ܣܢܺܝܩܳܐ ܢܶܥܬܰܪ ܕܰܡܓܰܙܰܝ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ ܀|
|Rivers of living waters pour forth on earth from the fountainhead which the spear opened on Golgotha.||ܘܫܳܦܥܺܝܢ ܒܰܐܪܥܳܐ ܢܰܗܪ̈ܰܘܳܬܳܐ ܕܡܰܝ̈ܶܐ ܚܰܝ̈ܶܐ ܃ ܡܶܢ ܡܰܒܘܽܥܳܐ ܕܬܶܪܥܰܬ ܪܘܽܡܚܳܐ ܥܰܠ ܓܳܓܘܽܠܬܳܐ ܀|
By Armando Elkhoury
Known as the Flute of the Holy Spirit and the Harp of the Church, Jacob of Sarug (ca. A.D. 451 – 521) was among the Syriac Church Fathers such as Aphrahat (ca. A.D. 270 – ca. 345) and Ephrem (ca. A.D. 306 – 373) who interpreted and explained the Holy Scriptures using symbols and types. This prolific writer certainly possessed a great talent in searching them out throughout the Old Testament and in employing them in his mimre (verse homilies) to share the abounding riches he discovered in Scriptures, to propound his faith in Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of the living God, and to call others to this faith.
The entire Scriptures are, for Jacob, an abundant source of immeasurable spiritual riches, treasures, and valuable pearls. He found the Old Testament to be the typological path of the Son of God and the path already paved leading to Him for each page and each line announces the coming of Christ. The mysteries of the Son inundate it and shine brighter than any luminary traversing the skies. The Holy Scriptures and the Son of God are so intertwined, that Jacob likens the Scriptures to body parts whose soul is the Son Himself. For this reason, the Church cherishes and venerates them. Types and symbols are the best vehicle that could have been exploited to bequeath uninterruptedly the promise of the coming of Christ, and each of them represents in a specific way the Christ. According to Jacob,
The whole Testament is veiled after the fashion of Moses:
in him all prophetic books are depicted;
within the veil which lies over the Scriptures
there sits resplendent Christ as judge. (trans. Brock, Sebastian)
These types and symbols, which Jacob tirelessly fished out of the Old Testament based on people, events and prophecies, foretell not only the coming of Jesus Christ but would also prefigure His Church, which is inseparable from Him. In fact, the symbols of the Son do not proceed without the Church. Along the glowing beauty of the Son of God, the definition of all that is beautiful shone also forth the beauty and brilliance of His Church in the book of the Father. Moses, the great prophet and the spring of prophecy, who spoke with God and buried in his book all treasures, riches, fortunes and valuable pearls, beheld, with the exalted Eye of Prophecy, Christ, and His Bride, the Church. Jacob of Sarug did not just rely on his knowledge of scriptures to speak of the Church but petitioned God to infuse into him her mysteries as well.
Scouring the available literature on the subject of the theology of the Church as expressed by Jacob of Sarug leaves the researcher wanting. Since western scholars took notice of him, they have studied and published on his writings. However, the notions of the Church as explicated in his œuvres have been left virtually unexamined. Tanios Bou Mansour published a two-volume book that dealt overarchingly with Jacob’s theology. He systematized Jacob’s theological comprehension of creation, anthropology, ecclesiology, and sacraments (volume I), schematized his insights into Christology, Trinity and eschatology and, lastly, he provided Jacob’s exegetical and theological methods (volume II). The one chapter that Bou Mansour dedicated on the subject of the Church is the most extensive study currently available on the topic. Apart from Bou Mansour’s treatment of the subject at hand, the seeker can also avail themselves to the few scholarly publications like Susan Ashbrook Harvey’s paper on biblical women as images of Church in Jacob of Sarug. Nevertheless, she expounds one aspect of his rich ecclesiological imageries.
Other scholars have written on the Syriac Fathers’ views on the Church and her nature, albeit in the wider realm of the Syriac world. They amassed Syriac works belonging to different authors to extract and summarize a global Syriac worldview on the notions of the Church. As valid as this method may be, it does not allow for a deep access to an individual Syriac author’s thoughts. Both Hieronymus Endberding and François Graffin explored the theme of the Church as Bride in Syriac Liturgies and writings. While the former concentrated his efforts on that which could be found in the liturgy of the Church of the East, the latter had recourse to the Chaldean and Syriac breviaries and the homilies of Jacob of Sarug. Graffin, like Harvey, dealt with one ecclesiological theme found in Jacob’s mimre, i.e., Church as Bride. Robert Murray employed the same approach as Hieronymus and Graffin in his book, Symbols of Church and Kingdom – a reference book for those interested in Syriac symbols and types. Jacob of Sarug, however, does not fall within the time span of the Syriac literature that Murray surveyed. He did not, therefore, avail himself to Jacob’s writings. Wilhelm De Vries also disregarded largely Jacob’s works, albeit for reasons other than Murray’s. His research interest lied in the time span that witnessed the divisions of the Church, mainly, after the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) and, specifically, in Syriac authors who rejected it. Although Jacob of Sarug belongs to this time period, De Vries rarely quoted him for he did not count him as one of the non-Chalcedonian Syriac theologians since De Vries accepted Paul Peeter’s strong arguments which placed Jacob in the Chalcedonian camp.
Therefore, the objective of this doctoral dissertation (Director: Prof. Dr. Peter Bruns at the Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt in Eichstätt, Bavaria, Germany), aptly entitled Types and Symbols of the Church According to Jacob of Sarug, is to elucidate the typological approach that Jacob employed in his many mimre to explain his theological understanding of the Church.
Jacob the poet and biblical interpreter was no systematic theologian. Although his writings follow a certain order that fulfilled the purpose for which he tirelessly composed them, he did not arrange them following specific dogmatic themes, e.g., Christology, ecclesiology. Consequently, the student of Jacob has to ferret out the rich nuggets scattered throughout his impressive corpus and be satisfied with that which they could find knowing in advance that finding all of them could be a lifelong pursuit. Accordingly, the findings presented herein are in no way exhaustive but should provide the reader an ample overview of Jacob’s typological concepts of the Church.
|An Extract from Jacob of Sarug’s Hymn on the Priesthood and Altar|
|[The Lord] established on earth the Holy Church instead of Paradise and appointed priests to His service without [animal] sacrifices.||ܘܰܐܬܩܶܢ ܒܰܐܪܥܳܐ ܥܺܕܰܬ ܩܘܽܕܫܳܐ ܚܠܳܦ ܦܰܪܕܰܝܣܳܐ܃ ܘܰܕܠܳܐ ܕܶܒ̈ܚܶܐ ܐܰܩܺܝܡ ܟܳܗ̈ܢܶܐ ܥܰܠ ܬܶܫܡܶܫܬܶܗ܀|
|He revealed Himself to be the Tree of Life Who was hidden and let His fruits drop on those who are near and those who are far.||ܘܰܓܠܳܐ ܢܰܦܫܶܗ ܐܺܝܠܳܢ ܚܰܝ̈ܶܐ ܗܰܘ ܕܰܟܣܳܐ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ܃ ܘܰܐܬܰܪ ܦܺܐܪ̈ܰܘܗ̱ܝ ܥܰܠ ܪ̈ܰܚܺܝܩܶܐ ܘܥܰܠ ܩܰܪ̈ܺܝܒܶܐ܀|
|Behold! The priests surround Him [the Tree of Life], pick fruits from Him, and give life to human beings from Him daily…||ܘܗܳܐ ܟܪܺܝܟܺܝܢ ܠܶܗ ܟܳܗ̈ܢܶܐ ܘܩܳܛܦܺܝܢ ܦܺܐܪ̈ܶܐ ܡܶܢܶܗ܃ ܘܝܳܗܒܺܝܢ ܡܶܢܶܗ ܠܰܒ̈ܢܰܝܢܳܫܳܐ ܚܰܝ̈ܶܐ ܟܽܠܝܘܽܡ܀|
|Christ, the benevolent Heir, Who is altogether light, came and restored that which was corrupted from the beginning.||ܘܶܐܬܳܐ ܡܫܺܝܚܳܐ ܝܳܪܬܳܐ ܛܳܒܳܐ ܕܟܽܠܶܗ ܢܘܽܗܪܰܐ ܗ̱ܘ܃ ܘܰܐܬܩܶܢ ܗܳܠܶܝܢ ܕܶܐܬܚܰܒܰܠ ܗ̱ܘܽ ܡܶܢ ܫܘܽܪܳܝܳܐ܀|
|He granted the priesthood to His Twelve with the laying of His hands and appointed priests to the service of the Tree of Life.||ܘܝܰܗ̱ܒ ܟܳܗܢܘܽܬܳܐ ܠܰܬܪ̈ܶܥܣܰܪܬܶܗ ܒܰܣܝܳܡ ܐܺܝܕܶܗ܃ ܘܰܐܩܺܝܡ ܟܳܗ̈ܢܶܐ ܥܰܠ ܬܶܫܡܶܫܬܶܗ ܕܐܺܝܠܳܢ ܚܰܝ̈ܶܐ܀|
|In splendor, with the gentle waving of the hands, and in holiness, behold, they [the priests] surround the Tree of Life at the Holy Altar.||ܘܰܒܙܰܗܝܘܽܬܳܐ ܘܰܒܪܘܽܚܳܦܳܐ ܘܩܰܕܺܝܫܘܽܬܳܐ܃ ܗܳܐ ܟܪܺܝܟܺܝܢ ܠܶܗ ܠܺܐܝܠܳܢ ܚܰܝ̈ܶܐ ܒܡܰܕܒܰܚ ܩܘܽܕܫܳܐ܀|
|Priests were appointed to the office of the spiritual Seraphim, to which it had been proper to appoint Adam…||ܘܰܒܬܶܫܡܶܫܬܳܐ ܗܺܝ ܕܰܣܪ̈ܳܦܶܐ ܪ̈ܘܽܚܳܢܳܝܶܐ܃ ܩܳܝܡܺܝܢ ܟܳܗ̈ܢܶܐ ܕܒܳܗ݀ ܙܳܕܶܩ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ ܕܰܢܩܘܽܡ ܐܳܕܳܡ܀|
|They glorify Him in the Church, God’s Eden, and give the fruits of the Tree of Life to the entire world.||ܘܰܡܫܰܒܚܺܝܢ ܠܶܗ ܒܥܺܕ̱ܬܳܐ ܕܺܐܝܬܶܝܗ݀ ܥܕܶܝܢ ܕܰܐܠܳܗܳܐ܃ ܘܝܳܗܒܺܝܢ ܦܺܐܪ̈ܰܘܗ̱ܝ ܕܺܐܝܠܳܢ ܚܰܝ̈ܶܐ ܠܥܳܠܡܳܐ ܟܽܠܶܗ܀|
|The priests stand at the blessed fountain of Eden and irrigate from it the entire creation that thirsts for Him.||ܘܩܳܝܡܺܝܢ ܟܳܗ̈ܢܶܐ ܥܰܠ ܡܳܒܘܽܥܳܐ ܒܪܺܝܟܳܐ ܕܰܥܕܶܢ܃ ܘܡܰܫܩܶܝܢ ܡܶܢܶܗ ܠܟܽܠܳܗ݀ ܒܪܺܝܬܳܐ ܕܝܰܐܝܺܒܳܐ ܠܶܗ܀|
|They hold the keys which the Head of the disciples received and open the doors of life that the entire world might enter.||ܩܠܺܝ̈ـܕܶܐ ܛܥܺܝܢܺܝܢ ܗܳܠܶܝܢ ܕܰܫܩܰܠ ܪܺܝܫ ܬܰܠܡܺܝ̈ܕܶܐ܃ ܘܦܳܬܚܺܝܢ ܬܰܪ̈ܥܶܐ ܕܚܰܝ̈ܶܐ ܕܢܶܥܘܽܠ ܥܳܠܡܳܐ ܟܽܠܶܗ܀|
|They take up common bread to the Altar while reciting [prayers] and bring down from it an Immolated Body that the Church might eat from it.||ܠܰܚܡܳܐ ܫܚܺܝܡܳܐ ܡܰܣܩܺܝܢ ܣܳܕܪܺܝܢ ܥܰܠ ܦܳܬܘܽܪܳܐ܃ ܘܦܰܓܪܳܐ ܩܛܺܝܠܳܐ ܡܰܚܬܺܝܢ ܡܶܢܶܗ ܠܥܺܕ̱ܬܳܐ ܬܶܟܘܽܠ܀|
|They pour wine of vines in chalices in the Holy of Holies, and it becomes blood that the entire world might be pardoned with it.||ܚܰܡܪܳܐ ܕܓܘܽܦ̈ܢܶܐ ܒܟܳܣ̈ܶܐ (|
|Behold! Our Lord is the Tree of Life bearing fruit. Come, let us pluck from Him and eat from Him the choice harvest.||ܗܳܐ ܐܺܝܠܳܢܳܐ ܕܚܰܝ̈ܶܐ ܡܳܪܰܢ ܘܰܛܥܺܝܢ ܦܺܐܪ̈ܶܐ܃ ܬܰܘ ܢܶܩܛܘܽܦ ܠܰܢ ܘܢܶܐܟܘܽܠ ܡܶܢܶܗ ܐܶܒܳܐ ܓܰܒܝܳܐ܀|
|We have sufficiently eaten from the tree of knowledge! The Tree of Life came to us that we might eat from it.||ܟܰܕܘܽ ܐ̱ܟܰܠܢܰܢ ܡܶܢ ܐܺܝܠܳܢܳܐ ܗܰܘ ܕܺܝܕܰܥܬܳܐ܃ ܐܶܬܳܐ ܠܘܳܬܰܢ ܐܺܝܠܳܢ ܚܰܝ̈ܶܐ ܢܶܐܟܘܽܠ ܡܶܢܶܗ܀|
|Behold! The Church is the Divine Paradise, and the Holy Altar is that Tree full of Life.||ܗܳܐ ܦܰܪܕܰܝܣܳܐ ܐܰܠܳܗܳܝܳܐ ܥܺܕ̱ܬܳܐ ܐܺܝܬܶܝܗ݀ ܃ ܘܗܰܘ ܐܺܝܠܳܢܳܐ ܕܰܡܠܶܐ ܚܰܝ̈ܶܐ ܡܰܕܒܰܚ ܩܘܽܕܫܳܐ܀|
|Our Lord was crucified, bore the debts of the entire world, and fastened sin [on the cross] with nails that it might never reign again.||ܙܩܺܝܦ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ ܡܳܪܰܢ ܘܰܛܥܺܝܢ ܚܰܘ̈ܒܶܐ ܕܟܽܠܳܗ ܬܺܒܶܝܠ܃ ܘܰܩܒܺܝܥܳܐ ܠܶܗ ܚܛܺܝܬܳܐ ܒܨܶܨ̈ܶܐ ܕܬܘܽܒ ܠܳܐ ܬܰܡܠܶܟ܀|
|While crucifying Him on Golgotha, they crucified [also sin] with Him that [sin] might never again slay another generation henceforth.||ܟܰܕ ܙܳܩܦܺܝܢ ܠܶܗ ܙܰܩܦܳܗ݀ ܥܰܡܶܗ ܥܰܠ ܓܳܓܘܽܠܬܳܐ܃ ܕܠܳܐ ܬܘܽܒ ܬܶܩܛܽܘܠ ܕܳܪ̈ܶܐ ܐ̱ܚܪ̈ܳܢܶܐ ܡܶܢܶܗ ܘܰܠܟܳܐ܀|
|He led sin from the tribunal to [the place of the] crucifixion, lifted up with Him the daughter of perdition, and slew her on the cross.||ܕܒܰܪ ܠܰܚܛܺܝܬܳܐ ܡܶܢ ܒܶܝܬ ܕܺܝܢܳܐ ܠܰܙܩܺܝܦܘܬܳܐ܃ ܘܰܐܣܩܳܗ݀ ܥܰܡܶܗ ܘܰܩܛܠܳܗ݀ ܒܩܰܝܣܳܐ ܠܒܰܪ̱ܬ ܐܰܒܕܳܢܳܐ܀|
|Sin slew Adam with a tree from the beginning.|
For this reason did the Son of God slay [sin] on a tree.
|ܚܛܺܝܬܳܐ ܒܩܰܝܣܳܐ ܩܶܛܠܰܬ ܠܳܐܕܳܡ ܡܶܢ ܫܘܽܪܳܝܳܐ܃ ܘܡܶܛܽܠܗܳܢܳܐ ܒܩܰܝܣܳܐ ܩܰܛܠܳܗ݀ ܒܰܪ ܐܰܠܳܗܳܐ܀|
|Our Lord died indeed on account of sin. For this reason did He die and slay [sin] by His crucifixion.||ܠܰܚܛܺܝܬܳܐ ܓܶܝܪ ܡܺܝܬ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ ܡܳܪܰܢ ܟܰܕ ܡܳܐܶܬ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ܃ ܘܡܶܛܽܠܗܳܢܳܐ ܡܺܝܬ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ ܘܩܰܛܠܳܗ݀ ܒܰܙܩܺܝܦܘܽܬܶܗ܀|
|The Tree of Life destroyed the tree of knowledge, shook down Its fruit on the dead and resurrected them.||ܐܺܝܠܳܢ ܚܰܝ̈ܶܐ ܫܪܳܝܗ̱ܝ ܠܺܐܝܠܳـܢܳܐ ܗܰܘ ܕܺܝܕܰܥܬܳܐ܃ ܕܰܐܬܰܪ ܦܺܐܪܰܘܗ̱ܝ ܥܰܠ ܡܳܝ̈ܘܽܬܶܐ ܘܢܰـܚܶܡ ܐܶܢܘܽܢ܀|
|Our Redeemer uprooted the tree of death by His death that the tree that slew Adam might never again be fruitful.||ܠܗܰܘ ܐܺܝܠܳܢܳܐ ܕܡܘܰܬܳܐ ܒܡܘܰܬܶܗ ܥܩܰܪ ܦܳܪܘܽܩܰܢ܃ ܕܬܘܽܒ ܠܳܐ ܢܶܬܶܠ ܦܺܐܪ̈ܶܐ ܩܰܝܣܳܐ ܕܩܰܛܠܶܗ ܠܳܐܕܳܡ܀|
|He cut down the bitter tree of knowledge with the Tree of Life which He chose to sprout from Golgotha.||ܚܪܰܒ ܐܺܝܠܳܢܳܐ ܗܰܘ ܕܺܝܕܰܥܬܳܐ ܕܡܰܪܺܝܪܳܐ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ܃ ܒܺܐܝܠܳܢ ܚܰܝ̈ܶܐ ܕܰܨܒܳܐ ܕܢܺܐܥܶܐ ܡܶܢ ܓܳܓܘܽܠܬܳܐ܀|
|He stretched out His arms like branches at the crucifixion, His fruit fell off on the ground of the dead, and it bore life [immediately].||ܦܫܰܛ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ ܕܪ̈ܳܥܰܘܗ̱ܝ ܒܰܙܩܺܝܦܘܽܬܳܐ ܐܰܝܟ ܣܰܘ̈ܟܳܬܳܐ܃ ܘܰܢܬܰܪܘ ܦܺܐܪ̈ܰܘܗ̱ܝ ܒܰܐܪܥܳܐ ܕܡܺܝ̈ܬܶܐ ܘܚܰܝ̈ܶܐ ܛܶܥܢܰܬ܀|
|He lured the formidable Serpent to Golgotha, attacked it, and crushed it with the suffering of His crucifixion.||ܐܰܛܥܺܝ ܐܰܣܩܶܗ ܠܚܶܘܝܳܐ ܪܰܒܳܐ ܨܶܝܕ ܓܳܓܘܽܠܬܳܐ܃ ܘܰܗܦܰܟ ܥܠܰܘܗ̱ܝ ܘܪܰܨܶܗ ܒܚܰܫܳܐ ܕܰܙܩܺܝܦܘܽܬܶܗ܀|
|By the nails of His hands He pierced the venom of the Snake that it might never again fill the earth devastation by its hateful deceit.||ܒܨܶܨ̈ܶܐ ܕܐܺܝ̈ـܕܰܘܗ̱ܝ ܒܰܙܥܳܗ݀ ܠܡܶܪܬܶܗ ܕܗܰܘ ܚܰܪܡܳܢܳܐ܃ ܕܠܳܐ ܬܘܽܒ ܢܶܡܠܶܝܗ݀ ܠܰܐܪܥܳܐ ܚܪ̈ܺܝܒܶܐ ܒܢܶܟܠܶܗ ܣܰܢܝܳܐ܀|
|To accomplish this, He brought Himself to the crucifixion, stretched out His hands and received the nails from the insolent ones.||ܕܢܶܣܥܘܽܪ ܗܳܠܶܝܢ ܐܰܝܬܝ ܝܳܬܶܗ ܠܰܙܩܺܝܩܘܽܬܳܐ܃ ܘܰܦܫܰܛ ܐܺܝ̈ـܕܰܘܗ̱ܝ ܩܰܒܶܠ ܨܶܨ̈ܶܐ ܡܶܢ ܡܰܪ̈ܳܚܶܐ܀|
The Book of Accompaniment is the oldest extant Maronite document which preserves the funeral rites celebrated by the Maronite Church.1,2 Then Msgr. Hector Y. Doueihi, now Emeritus Bishop of the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, explains in the introduction,
“[The title and the concept it contains] indicate that the dead, who have ended their journey in this life, are starting another journey in the life beyond. According to the ancient spiritual vision of the early Syriac Churches, the passage to eternal life is hampered by obstacles and dangers. The departed need special support and guidance on their journey. Thus, the funeral rites are a complex of psalms, hymns, Scripture readings and prayers that ‘accompany’ them on this ‘other’ journey. The texts implore the ‘company’ of the Lord and his mysteries for them, and pray for protection and safety on their journey. The funeral rites, are, therefore, rites of ‘accompaniment’ which are celebrated on the road as one begins the journey to new life.”3
Not only do the departed need special support and guidance on their journey, but the living, who mourn the death of their loved ones and are traveling on the same road of faith, seek a message of hope and consolation as well.4 Jacob of Sarug (ca. 451 – 521), a prolific Syriac Church Father and known as the Flute of the Holy Spirit, provides his readers with such a message. He teaches that it is none other than Jesus Christ who accompanies the deceased and the living on this road traveled by all grudgingly and with fear. The objective of this brief column5 is to share with the reader this powerful insight which Jacob draws from his main source of pastoral, theological, spiritual and poetical insight, i.e., the Bible. Furthermore, this column’s other goal is to encourage the interpretation of the three stations of the Maronite funeral rites, or better yet the three stations of the accompaniment rites, in light of Jacob’s explanation.