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Jacob of Serugh on the Feast day of The Resurrection of our Lord.

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  • Rev. Fr. Bijesh Philip
    Along with Aphrahat St. Ephrem , Narsai , Philoxenus of Mabhugh, Severus of Antioch , Mar Jacob of Serugh has also contributed a lot to enrich the early
    Message 1 of 256 , Apr 6, 2004
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      Along with Aphrahat St. Ephrem , Narsai , Philoxenus of Mabhugh,
      Severus of Antioch , Mar Jacob of Serugh has also contributed a
      lot to enrich the early Syriac Christian Tradition .He was brought
      up at Hawra , a Mesopotamian village quite near to Edessa, in the
      district of Serugh . He was born probably in CE 451. His father was
      a priest of the village. Mar Jacob studied at Edessa . This
      monastic priest was very much talented in preaching and spiritual
      guidance and was appointed as Chorepiscopa at Hawra. Later he was
      made bishop of Batnam , a city in the district of Serugh (modern
      Suruc).His death falls between 520/521. His feast is celebrated on
      29th November .

      Mar Jacob like St. Ephrem adopted mainly a symbolic mode and poetic
      style to communicate the unfathomable , inexplicable ,
      inaccessible , indivisible , inscrutable , ineffable nature of
      divine mysteries(Ep xiii 55, 21-26) . Being a faithful disciple of
      St. Ephrem , Mar Jacob also avoided sharp dogmatic precision and
      definitions characteristic of the Christological controversies of
      his time . As Thomas Kollamparambil,CMI says `in the orientation of
      Jacob the mystey of Christ can be better dealt with by means of
      symbolic reflection and mystical –silence that can provide real
      spiritual profit"

      Out of his pastoral concern , Mar Jacob has written a lot for the
      edification of the Christian faithful .In addition to his 760
      metrical homilies , there are a few prose homilies also .His
      homilies especially those on the occasions of the great feasts of
      the church are good examples of his spiritual interpretation ,
      typological exegesis and the method of symbolic theological
      reflection .For him Christ is the focus of both the Old testament
      and New testament .And Christ's saving acts are liturgically re-
      enacted during the liturgical feasts in the church . Mar Jacob has
      written homilies on all feasts regarding Christ . But here we limit
      our focus to his three impotant homilies on the resurrection of our
      Lord .( For a detailed study see the very useful English
      translation from syriac in Jacob of Serugh Selct Festal Homilies
      by Thomas Kollamparapil )

      The Sunday of the resurrection is a unique day without an equal . In
      the beginning of his prose homily he introduces this feast of feasts
      with these beautiful words: "A great joy , full of discernments ,
      stirs me today to repeat the word of the prophet `This is the day
      which the Lord has made ; come let us rejoice and be glad' . This
      is the day the like of which there was none before , and after there
      will never be another which resembles it . This is the joy which has
      been granted today to the Bride with the new proclamation of the
      resurrection of her Betrothed ." On this feast the women disciples
      became joyful , the apostolic group is exalted , the crucifiers were
      ashamed , the sheol was destroyed , the company of Annas put on
      mourning and consolation entered the beloved company of john .

      The fundamental reason for this amazing joy is Christ's victory over
      the power of death . This theme is depicted with beautiful images .
      Christ left behind the linen clothes in the empty tomb ( Jn 20:7)
      and resurrected . For Jacob this means Christ left behind the
      garments of death in the abode of sheol and clothed himself in the
      garments of glory in resurrection .The OT figure Samson is a type of
      our Lord who entered Sheol and annihilated it and came out
      victorious: " In sleep they bound Samson and he slept so that they
      might mock him , but when he woke up he shattered his bonds and
      destroyed them . When he was asleep and bound , again they supposed
      that his power was brought to an end . But when he woke up he
      achieved victory by destroying them." Another beautiful image is
      that of recovering the prey from a Lion :
      "On this day the Lion's whelp
      (Gen 49:9) couched over death
      and torn it into pieces in
      its den and brought out the prey gathered by it
      On this day Light has shown
      forth amidst darkness
      And the resurrection stood
      holding the beginning of the new world
      …………..
      Today is the first (of
      days) in which the First –Born rose up from among the dead
      So that the race of His
      mother might be raised up into the land of His Father .

      So the basic reason for rejoicing is nothing but the fact that the
      resurrection of the Lord opened a new world of hope. In short "He
      killed iniquity , bound sin and trod up on death ; and without
      corruption He ascended victorious from perdition"

      The resurrection was great victory for truth .It exposed fully the
      crucifiers' stand against truth . They rejected Christ and killed
      Him because they were not sincere to accept the truth. Though they
      came to know the truth of His resurrection , they made a vain
      attempt to conceal the truth which in fact made their love of
      falsity more clear . In a sarcastic way Mar Jacob asks :
      "O falsehood which is self –condemned , without (the need
      for ) any external witnesses ! `His disciples stole him away while
      we were asleep .'(Mt. 28:13). O hypocrites , was your sleep so
      clever as to know who the thieves were when you were not aware that
      you were being robbed?" . On another occasion he uncovers their
      futile attempt to suppress the Truth with the aid of poetic
      imagination characteristic of Him: The risen Lord consoles the
      crying Mary ;

      "O Blessed woman , who is able to steal away Light
      or conceal the great Ocean and not be uncovered ?
      Who was concealing the Sun in his lap and people do not see Him ,
      Or confines all the brilliance in the palm of his hands secretly ?
      Who was able to carry the Flame in his bosom ,
      and change it to a place in concealment and is not unmasked ?

      In spite of temporary setbacks the truth comes out . The world was
      reminded this universal truth through the gradual revelations of
      facts related to the unfortunate events in the world history like
      Babri Masjid demolition , the invasion of Iraq by US and UK ,
      Godhra incident and the subsequent massacre in Gujrat, etc and the
      hidden selfish agendas behind the vain attempts of the powerful to
      suppress the truth and real facts. Easter gives humanity once again
      a strong impetus to stick to truth in spite of the temporary
      sufferings involved in it. The saint also exhorts to listen to the
      apostles who are the authentic exponents of Truth so that we might
      not be deceived .

      There are a few convincing evidences to prove that the
      resurrection of Christ was not a myth or legend or an effect of
      the hallucination of His disciples .1. The risen Lord appeared to
      numerous people on various occasions . Including the apostles He
      appeared to more than 500 people (I Corintians 15:4-8) . How could
      the witness of these many people become false .2. Witness of women ;
      If the story of the resurrection had been a story fabricated by
      early Christians , they would have attributed the discovery of the
      empty tomb to male disciples rather than women because the witness
      of women was not a valid proof in their jewish Palestinian
      context. .3. The risen Lord's instructions came true . eg the
      descend of the Holy Spirit on the early Christian community , the
      huge quantity of fish the apostles got when they cast the net on
      the right side of the boat according to the word of Christ etc . If
      He was a ghost in their dream only this would not have taken
      place . 4. A living church as the effect of the vision of the Risen
      Lord; This vision influenced and convinced the disciples so deeply
      as to commit their life fully and sacrificially to the mission
      entrusted to them which helped the formation and development of the
      Church . So the existence of a church even today is the best proof
      of the resurrection of the Lord . 5. The guards' false testimony
      which we already discussed .6. Empty tomb and the witness of the
      angels . Among these what Mar Jacob focuses and describes
      elaborately is the last two(5&6) . The removal of the big stone from
      the face of the cave in which Jesus was buried was not to
      facilitate His resurrection . The risen Lord who could enter the
      locked room with his transfigured body could resurrect while the
      tomb was sealed . But as Mar Jacob argues convincingly , "the angel
      had to roll away the stone once the men and women disciples had
      started gathering , since they needed to see the inside of the
      tomb , the place of the corpse , and the burial clothes , so that
      they might be assured of the resurrection by all these (realities )"

      The association of peace in the church and the resurrection of
      Christ in the writings of this saint is significant . The risen Lord
      gathered the scattered disciples to a unity and greeted them with
      peace . It is noticeable that even today in the Orthodocx church the
      great lent begins with a reconciliation ministry called Subukono
      and ends with a reconciliation/ greeting peace to each other in the
      church by receiving the blessing of peace in Easter . The saint
      repeatedly prays that all divisions especially among the leaders may
      be dispelled and thus peace reign in the church .For eg, towards the
      end of his second verse homily on resurrection of our Lord he
      prays :

      " May the pastors and their chief pastors be reconciled in her ,
      ………
      May she (the Church) be secure from disputes of wicked laborers
      And work daily with the master –builders of the faith .
      May your feast be a day which removes all controversies ;
      And from this time onward may peace reign in your assemblies .
      Let the quarrel of the shepherds come to an end so that they may not
      be in turmoil ,
      and may all the rational sheep dwell in fertile meadows ."

      Peace and fellowship in the church serves as a sign and sacrament
      of the unity of mankind and the entire creation . `No peace with out
      justice' is a repeated slogan . I think it is essential to think by
      reversing the order also because an awareness of true unity and
      relationship motivate humans to work for justice and to liberate the
      fellow human beings from all dehumanizing forces . So we need to
      receive from Easter the encouragement for peace making in the
      church which prepare a ground for wider ecumenism and widest
      ecumenism.

      The word Easter reminds one of the renewal during the spring
      season . The Anglos Saxon priest Venerable Bede in the 8th century
      derived it from the Anglo Saxon spring goddess Eostre. This is a
      season when the church is supposed to rejuvenate and reaffirm her
      faith , hope and love and to rejoice in the Lord with no bounds .
      One of Mar Jacob's homilies ends with the words: "Blessed is your
      resurrection which has made the gloomy earth joyful". Kristu Jee
      utta! Suchmuch Vo Jee Utta ! Christ is Risen ! Indeed He is
      Risen !.
    • Thomas P
      Many of us think that there is no need for ordaining 7 bishops. This thinking is based on our present adimistrative model and our concept of how a bishop
      Message 256 of 256 , Apr 28, 2004
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        Many of us think that there is no need for ordaining 7 bishops. This
        thinking is based on our present adimistrative model and our concept
        of how a bishop should exist or maintained (which includes
        facilities).

        I think we can have many more bishops, say 12 for each diocese, with
        a bishop in each major city as part of the Diocese. They are just
        bishops working with the Metropolitan (or Archbishop) head of the
        Diocese. The Archbishop should have very good experience, thorough
        theological background and monastic experiece. The bishops can be
        ordinary celibate people with good educational background and
        monastic experience.

        The Diocese of America can have a Metropolitan and bishops for each
        city. For every 12 priests we can have a bishop subject to the
        metropolitan of the diocese. The Catholicose of the East is the
        Universal head of all St. Thomas Christians and their mission
        worldwide. He represents the unity of the Apostolic Church, while
        Metropolitans and bishops work in each Dioceses.

        These are the advantages:

        - improve Orthodox mission.
        - more care for each parish and needs of people, which includes the
        needs of poor within the Church.
        - uproot protestant influence in most areas.
        - encourage monasticism.
        - to discover youth with spiritual ambitions and direct them towards
        various ministry.

        If about 24 candiates showed interest in becoming bishops, church can
        honor their ambition and ordain them bishops confidently. It is up to
        them to prove their abilities after they are ordained and God will
        strengthen them if they aim to help the Orthodox Church.

        1 Timothy 3: 1 "The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office
        of bishop, he desires a noble task."

        Since it is a sure saying, all candidates meeting the basic canonical
        criteria can be ordained.

        -Thomas
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