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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Saturday, 9 November 2013

THE ASSYRIAN CHURCH AND ONE OF ITS GREATEST SONS, SAINT ISAAC THE SYRIAN

Nestorian priests in a procession on Palm Sunday, in a 7th- or 8th-century wall painting from a Nestorian church in China, Tang Dynasty

THE HISTORY OF THE ASSYRIAN CHURCH OF THE EAST
my source: The History of the Nestorian Church

 The Assyrian Church of the East was established in Edessa in the first century of the Christian era. It is from Edessa that the message of the Gospels spread. Edessa was a small kingdom, a buffer state between Roman and Parthean Empires. Mar Mary was sent to Persia by his fellow workers in Edessa. In the second century this church began to be organized. The church in Edessa had four Gospels in Aramaic. The teaching was spread to the Persian Empire. In the third century, the church in the Persian Empire had to take refugees from the Roman Empire where Christians were not welcomed. Streams of refugees turned toward Persia to escape persecution in the Eastern Roman Empire. A great multitude of Christians in all Roman provinces were put off by various punishments, torture professed to renounce Christianity.

From about 280 A.D. Mar Papa organized this church, thus Metropolitan seat of Seleucia became the headquarters. Now the city is in ruins, known as SalmanPark, 30 miles from Baghdad.

Mar Aprim the Assyrian, the representative of the Church in the first ecumenical council at Nicea in 325A.D., played a great role in the literary and religious life of all Christians until today. That is the reason he is recognized by the Roman Catholic Church which declared Saint Aprim as the doctor of the Universal Church

In the fifth century, the Nestorian controversy concerning the unity of the divine and human nature in Christ had far reaching consequences. At this time, the Church of the East was not involved in this controversy. It was a theological dispute within the Roman Empire.

John Nestorius was not an Assyrian nor did he know Syriac language. He was a native of Antioch and Patriarch of Constantinople from 428 to 431 A.D. His rival Cyril was Patriarch of Alexandria. Therefore, the members of the Church say that they do not have anything to do with the Nestorian controversy. It was several years later and even after the death of Nestorius in 451 A.D. that the Christians of the Persian Empire heard about the controversy. They decreed that the stand taken by Nestorius was in agreement with the view always maintained by the Church of the East.

As a result of the persecution of the followers of Nestorius, many Christians had to flee from the now Christian Roman Empire and found refuge among the followers of this Church.

The headquarters of the Church, Selucia-Ctesphon, was at a strategic place on both banks of the River Tigris, the center of travel between Europe and Asia. By the middle of the sixth century, the Church had spread into Egypt, Syria, Arabia, Mesopotamia, Persia, India, Ceylon, China, and Mongolia.

Professor P.Y. Saeki stated that the leaven of Nestorianism has penetrated the whole of Chinese literature. This church had great missionaries. They expanded rapidly. Asia was widely covered by the missionaries. They had no fund to support their mission stations financially; there were no mission boards to direct their activities like Western missionaries of those days who followed the colonial Empires. It is time to hear from our long-forgotten past the thrilling story of our missionary enterprise during the early centuries of the Christian era. These Christians did not have great material means nor were they able to engage in planning great missionary strategies, computerized and perfected in world conferences, to win the world in our time. Yet they carried the torch of the Gospel all across the vast Asian continent, at the cost of great personal suffering and often martyrdom, for untold numbers of laymen and clergy alike were led by the Holy Spirit to push the frontiers of the Kingdom of God far and wide.

Wherever they went, it was to preach, to teach and cure. At the end of the eleventh century, this church was the single largest Christian denomination at that time. John Stewart writes:

Whole peoples with their rulers had become Christians and it seems certain that there were few places in the whole Asia that were not reached at some time or other as the outcome of the marvelous activity of that wonderful church which extended from China to Jerusalem and Cyprus, and in the eleventh century is said to have outnumbered the Greek and Roman churches combined

From the Pacific Ocean in the East to the Mediterranean in the West; from the Black Sea and Siberia to the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, Assyrian missions were working. Asia Minor, Cyprus, Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Arabia, Persia, Afghanistan, India, China, Japan, Mongolia, Manchuria, and Turkistan—all hand missions where the gospel was taught by zealous workers of the Assyrian Church of the East.   The Assyrian Church of the East is the apostolic church of Mesopotamia, Persia, India and the Far East, and is one of the modern versions of the older Church of the East, which was divided from the other apostolic churches by the Nestorian Schism during the 5th century. 


THE CHURCH OF THE EAST TODAY

In comparison with its past glories, the ancient Assyrian Church of the East is merely a "holy remnant", with churches established since apostolic times in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Kerala in South India.  Today the Assyrian Church of the East has about a half a million adherents which are scattered mostly over Iraq, India, and the United States.  Since the Iraq War many have gone to Canada, Europe and Australia as refugees.

The Common Christological Declaration between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East was signed on November 11, 1994, by Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Dinkha IV. In this document the Assyrian and Catholic churches confessed the same doctrine concerning Christology (the divinity and humanity of Christ):

The Word of God, second Person of the Holy Trinity, became incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit in assuming from the holy Virgin Mary a body animated by a rational soul, with which he was indissolubly united from the moment of his conception. Therefore our Lord Jesus Christ is true God and true man, perfect in his divinity and perfect in his humanity, consubstantial with the Father and consubstantial with us in all things but sin. His divinity and his humanity are united in one person, without confusion or change, without division or separation. In him has been preserved the difference of the natures of divinity and humanity, with all their properties, faculties and operations. But far from constituting "one and another", the divinity and humanity are united in the person of the same and unique Son of God and Lord Jesus Christ, who is the object of a single adoration. Christ therefore is not an "ordinary man" whom God adopted in order to reside in him and inspire him, as in the righteous ones and the prophets. But the same God the Word, begotten of his Father before all worlds without beginning according to his divinity, was born of a mother without a father in the last times according to his humanity.

This common declaration between Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Dinkha IV brings to an end a thousand years of misunderstanding.

The Catholic Church recognises the Assyrian Church of the East as a true particular Church, built upon orthodox faith and apostolic succession.(Guidelines - document of the Council for Promoting Christian Unity)

The Chaldean Catholic Church (ܥܕܬܐ ܟܠܕܝܬܐ ܩܬܘܠܝܩܝܬܐ‎; ʿītha kaldetha qāthuliqetha), is an Eastern Syriac particular church of the Catholic Church, maintaining full communion with the Bishop of Rome and the rest of the Catholic Church. The Chaldean Catholic Church presently comprises an estimated 500,000 who are ethnic Assyrian.

The two Iraq wars had the effect of bringing these two halves, Assyrian and Chaldean, of the same tradition together.   Each side preferred to attend Mass in  a church of the other side than go to another tradition or cease to go to Mass altogther.   The Pontifical Council for Christian Unity put it this way:
Given the great distress of many Chaldean and Assyrian faithful, in their motherland and in the diaspora, impeding for many of them a normal sacramental life according to their own tradition, and in the ecumenical context of the bilateral dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East, the request has been made to provide for admission to the Eucharist between the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East. This request has first been studied by the Joint Committee for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East. The present guidelines subsequently have been elaborated by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in agreement with the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.
1. Pastoral necessity
The request for admission to the Eucharist between the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East is connected with the particular geographical and social situation in which their faithful are actually living. Due to various and sometimes dramatic circumstances, many Assyrian and Chaldean faithful left their motherlands and moved to the Middle East, Scandinavia, Western Europe, Australia and Northern America. As there cannot be a priest for every local community in such a widespread diaspora, numerous Chaldean and Assyrian faithful are confronted with a situation of pastoral necessity with regard to the administration of sacraments. Official documents of the Catholic Church provide special regulations for such situations, namely the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, can. 671, §2-§3 and the Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms of Ecumenism, n. 123.
2. Ecumenical rapprochement
The request is also connected with the ongoing process of ecumenical rapprochement between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East.
 Catholic and Assyrian bishops welcoming the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch to Australia
Thus, the Assyrian Church of the East is not in communion with Rome but is in de facto communion with the Chaldean Catholic Church.  This is not without precedent.   The Russian Orthodox Church was in communion with both Constantinople and Rome for centruries after ties between Constantinople and Rome had been broken.   As the Assyrian Church is in communion with other Oriental Orthodox churches, a friend of mine, a Benedictine, took part, quite legally, in an Assyrian Mass, together with Chaldean and Coptic priests.

We are now ready to  become acquainted with Saint Isaac the Syrian.   He was neither Orthodox nor Catholic; but, like J.S. Bach and Handel in music, like C.S. Lewis in his writing and Taize as a community, his profound treatment of the basics of the Faith lift him above the schisms that separate us and is appreciated more and more by Orthodox and Catholics alike. 



 





SAINT ISAAC THE SYRIAN

"Saint Isaac was and still is commonly called 'Nestorian Bishop of Nineveh' and the Church of Persia of his day, 'Nestorian'. The [first edition] Epilogue endeavored to demonstrate that the teachings of Nestorius did not inform the theology of the Church of Persia; that the writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia known to her were partial and imperfect translations, and that the controversy his writings caused in the Greek-speaking world were mostly unknown to the Church of Persia, cut off by linguistic differences and political boundaries; that in some cases it was extremism on the part of the Monophysites that led the Church of Persia to take a stance that might seem to lend itself to a Nestorian interpretation, such as the cautious avoidance of the term Theotokos to avoid Monophysite Theopaschism, though she professed the Virgin's Son to be perfect God and perfect man; that the fraternal relations with Byzantium remained open: no general and hardened opposition to the Fourth [Ecumenical] Council created a final division between the Church of Persia of Saint Isaac's day and the 'Chalcedonian' Church, as it did with the Monophysites, for whom the rejection of the Council of Chalcedon became a defining element of their identity. Its aim, in a word, was to show that the Church of Persia to which Saint Isaac belonged was neither heretical in theology nor schismatic in confession." (pages 74-75, "Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian", Revised Second Edition, translated and published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline, MA, 2011)


He was born in the region of Bahrain.[1] 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 uncooked vegetables, 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.

Isaac is remembered for his spiritual homilies on the inner life, which have a human breadth and theological depth that transcends the Nestorian Christianity of the Church to which he belonged. They survive in Syriac manuscripts and in Greek and Arabic translations. From Greek they were translated into Russian.

Isaac stands in the tradition of the eastern mystical saints and placed a considerable emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit.

Isaac's writings offer a rare example of a large corpus of ascetical texts written by an experienced hermit and is thus an important writer when it comes to understanding early Christian asceticism.

QUOTATIONS


St. Isaac stretches love and mercy to it’s farthest limits, occasionally beyond the bounds of canonical understanding. He remains a saint of the Church and his words are very important to hear.

Let yourself be persecuted, but do not persecute others.

Be crucified, but do not crucify others.

Be slandered, but do not slander others.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep: such is the sign of purity.

Suffer with the sick.

Be afflicted with sinners.

Exult with those who repent.

Be the friend of all, but in your spirit remain alone.

Be a partaker of the sufferings of all, but keep your body distant from all.

Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly.

Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them.

And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place, do not destroy their character.

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

The person who is genuinely charitable not only gives charity out of his own possessions, but gladly tolerates injustice from others and forgives them. Whoever lays down his soul for his brother acts generously, rather than the person who demonstrates his generosity by his gifts.

God is not One who requites evil, but who sets evil right.

Paradise is the love of God, wherein is the enjoyment of all blessedness.

The person who lives in love reaps the fruit of life from God, and while yet in this world, even now breathes the air of the resurrection.

In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised.

Question: When is a person sure of having arrived at purity?

Answer: When that person considers all human beings are good, and no created thing appears impure or defiled. Then a person is truly pure in heart.

Love is sweeter than life.

Sweeter still, sweeter than honey and the honeycomb is the awareness of God whence love is born.

Love is not loath to accept the hardest of deaths for those it loves.

Love is the child of knowledge.

Lord, fill my heart with eternal life.

As for me I say that those who are tormented in hell are tormented by the invasion of love. What is there more bitter and violent than the pains of love? Those who feel they have sinned against love bear in themselves a damnation much heavier than the most dreaded punishments. The suffering with which sinning against love afflicts the heart is more keenly felt than any other torment. It is absurd to assume that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is offered impartially. But by its very power it acts in two ways. It torments sinners, as happens here on earth when we are tormented by the presence of a friend to whom we have been unfaithful. And it gives joy to those who have been faithful.

That is what the torment of hell is in my opinion: remorse. But love inebriates the souls of the sons and daughters of heaven by its delectability.

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?

Sin is the fruit of free will. There was a time when sin did not exist, and there will be a time when it will not exist.

God’s recompense to sinners is that, instead of a just recompense, God rewards them with resurrection.

O wonder! The Creator clothed in a human being enters the house of tax collectors and prostitutes. Thus the entire universe, through the beauty of the sight of him, was drawn by his love to the single confession of God, the Lord of all.

“Will God, if I ask, forgive me these things by which I am pained and by whose memory I am tormented, things by which, though I abhor them, I go on backsliding? Yet after they have taken place the pain they give me is even greater than that of a scorpion’s sting. Though I abhor them, I am still in the middle of them, and when I repent of them with suffering I wretchedly return to them again.”

This is how many God-fearing people think, people who foster virtue and are pricked with the suffering of compunction, who mourn over their sin; They live between sin and repentance all the time. Let us not be in doubt, O fellow humanity, concerning the hope of our salvation, seeing that the One who bore sufferings for our sakes is very concerned about our salvation; God’s mercifulness is far more extensive than we can conceive, God’s grace is greater than what we ask for.

When we find love, we partake of heavenly bread and are made strong without labor and toil. The heavenly bread is Christ, who came down from heaven and gave life to the world. This is the nourishment of angels. The person who has found love eats and drinks Christ every day and every hour and is thereby made immortal. …When we hear Jesus say, “Ye shall eat and drink at the table of my kingdom,” what do we suppose we shall eat, if not love? Love, rather than food and drink, is sufficient to nourish a person. This is the wine “which maketh glad the heart.” Blessed is the one who partakes of this wine! Licentious people have drunk this wine and become chaste; sinners have drunk it and have forgotten the pathways of stumbling; drunkards have drunk this wine and become fasters; the rich have drunk it and desired poverty, the poor have drunk it and been enriched with hope; the sick have drunk it and become strong; the unlearned have taken it and become wise.

Repentance is given us as grace after grace, for repentance is a second regeneration by God. That of which we have received an earnest by baptism, we receive as a gift by means of repentance. Repentance is the door of mercy, opened to those who seek it. By this door we enter into the mercy of God, and apart from this entrance we shall not find mercy.

Blessed is God who uses corporeal objects continually to draw us close in a symbolic way to a knowledge of God’s invisible nature. O name of Jesus, key to all gifts, open up for me the great door to your treasure-house, that I may enter and praise you with the praise that comes from the heart.

O my Hope, pour into my heart the inebriation that consists in the hope of you. O Jesus Christ, the resurrection and light of all worlds, place upon my soul’s head the crown of knowledge of you; open before me all of a sudden the door of mercies, cause the rays of your grace to shine out in my heart.

O Christ, who are covered with light as though with a garment, who for my sake stood naked in front of Pilate, clothe me with that might which you caused to overshadow the saints, whereby they conquered this world of struggle. May your Divinity, Lord, take pleasure in me, and lead me above the world to be with you.

I give praise to your holy Nature, Lord, for you have made my nature a sanctuary for your hiddenness and a tabernacle for your holy mysteries, a place where you can dwell, and a holy temple for your Divinity.

Adapted from Bp. Hilarion Alfeyev’s The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian (Cistercian Studies 175), Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 2000.



What the bodily eyes are to sensory objects,the same is faith to the eyes of the understanding that gaze at hidden treasures.Even as we have two bodily eyes,we possess two eyes of the soul,as the Fathers say;yet both have not the same operation with respect to divine vision.With one we see the hidden Glory of God which is concealed in the natures of things;that is to say,we behold His power,His wisdom, and His eternal providence for us,which we understand from the magnitude of His governance on our behalf.With this same eye we also behold the heavenly orders of our fellow servants.With the other,we behold the glory of His Holy nature.When God is pleased to admit us to spiritual mysteries,He opens wide the sea of faith in our minds.

Fear is the paternal rod that guides our way until we reach the spiritual paradise of good things;and when we have attained thereto,it leaves us and turns back.
Paradise is the love of God,wherein is the enjoyment of all blessedness,and there the blessed Paul partook of supernatural nourishment.When he tasted there of the tree of life,he cried out, saying,'eye that hath not seen,nor ear heard,neither have entered into the heart of man,the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him'. Adam was barred from this tree through the devil's counsel.

The tree of life is the love of God from which Adam fell away,and thereafter he saw joy no longer,and he toiled and labored in the land of thorns.Even though they make their way in righteousness,those who are bereft of the love of God eat in their work the bread of sweat,which the first-created man was commanded to eat after his
fall.Until we find love,our labor is in the land of thorns,and in the midst of thorns we both sow and reap,even if our seed is the seed of righteousness, and in every hour we are pricked by the thorns,and
however much we render ourselves righteous,we live by the sweat of our brow.
But when we find love,we partake of heavenly bread and are made strong without labor and toil.The heavenly bread is Christ, Who came down from Heaven and gave life to the world.This is the
nourishment of the angels.The man who has found love eats and drinks Christ every day and hour and hereby is made immortal.;He that eateth of this bread,;He says,;which i will give him,shall not see death unto eternity.'Blessed is he who eats the bread of love,which is Jesus!He who eats of love eats Christ,the God over all,as John bears witness, saying,'God is love.'

Wherefore,the man who lives in love reaps life from God,and while yet in this world,he even now breathes the air of the resurrection;in this air the righteous will delight in the resurrection.Love is
the kingdom,whereof the Lord mystically promised His disciples to eat in his Kingdom.For when we hear Him say,'Ye shall eat and drink at the table of My Kingdom,;what do we suppose we shall eat,if not love?Love is sufficient to nourish a man instead of food and drink.
This is the wine that 'maketh glad the heart of man.'Blessed is he who drinks of this wine! Profligates have drunk this wine and felt shame; sinners have drunk it and have forgotten the pathways of stumbling;drunkards have drunk this wine and become fasters,the rich have drunk it and desired poverty;the poor have drunk it and been made rich with hope;the sick have drunk it and become strong;the unlearned have taken it and been made wise.

As it is not possible to cross over the great ocean without a ship,so no one can attain to love without fear.This fetid sea,which lies between us and the noetic paradise,we can cross with the boat of
repentance, whose oarsmen are those of fear.But if the oarsmen of fear do not pilot this barque of repentance wherewith we cross over the sea of this world to God,we shall be drowned in the fetid sea.Repentance is the ship,and fear is the pilot; love is the divine haven.
Thus fear sets us in the ship of repentance, transports us over the foul sea of this life(that is,of the world),and guides us to the divine port, which is love.Hither proceed all that labor and are afflicted and heavy laden in repentance.When we attain love,we attain to God.
Our way is ended and we have passed unto the isle that lies beyond the world,where is the Father,and the Son,and the Holy Spirit,to Whom be glory and dominion,and may He make us worthy of His
glory and His love through the fear of Him.

Amen.

 Mar Isaac of Nineveh and his Devotion to the empty cross.

Isaac of Nineveh (died c. 700) also remembered as Isaac the Syrian was a Seventh century bishop and theologian of church of the east best remembered for his written work. He was born in the region of Qatar or Bahrain, 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 uncooked vegetables, 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.

Mar Isaac stands in the tradition of the eastern mystical saints and placed a considerable emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer before the Cross by Mar Isaac . (600~700 AD)


In many places Isaac mentions prayer and prostrations before the Cross, kissing the Cross, and other signs of special reverence which must be shown by a Christian to the Cross.These frequent references to the Cross in Isaac’s writings are connected with the exceptional place that the Holy Cross occupies in East Syriac Christianity. The East Syrian Church has never had its own tradition of icon-painting.





At the same time , since very early on, the East Syrian Church has surrounded the Holy Cross with devotional and liturgical veneration, as a symbol of human salvation and of God’s invisible presence. In this respect Isaac’s teaching on prayer before the Cross is of special interest as it allows us to come into contact with the ancient tradition of theSyrian Orient and to see what the importance was of the Cross in the spiritual life of Isaac’s compatriots and contemporaries.In Chapter XI of Part II Isaac expounds the teaching on the Holy Cross as a symbol of divine dispensation and an object of religious veneration. He presents a very elaborated theology of the Cross, which is based on the idea of the power of God being constantly present in the Cross.According to Isaac, this power is nothing else but the invisible Shekina (Presence) of God, which dwelt in the Ark of Covenant. This power was venerated by Moses and the people of Israel, who lay prostrate before the Ark because of divine revelations and wonders manifested in it. The very same Shekina is now residing in the Holy Cross.

it has departed from the Old Testament Ark and entered the New Testament Cross. This is why the miracles of the Apostles, which are described in the New Testament, were more powerful than those performed in Old Testament antiquity.In fact, the whole of the Old Testament cult, with all its signs and wonders, was primarily a symbol pointing forward to the New Testament realities: this cult was unable to eradicate sin, whereas the Cross destroyed the power of sin and death.

Speaking of the Old Testament images, Isaac asks why was it that before the wooden construction of the Ark, which was built by the hands of craftsmen, adoration filled with awe was offered up continuously, in spite of the prohibition of the Law to worship the work of human hands or any image or likeness.Because in the Ark, he answers, unlike in the pagan idols, the power of God was manifested openly and the name of God was set upon it. Isaac therefore sweeps aside the accusation of idolatry, the very same accusation that was brought up against the Iconodules in Byzantium in the seventh and eighth centuries.Though the context of Byzantine polemic with Iconoclasm was different, and the main argument for the veneration of icons was the Incarnation of God the Word, which made possible the depiction of God in material colours (a theme not touched upon by Isaac), in more general terms Isaac’s idea of the presence of the Godhead in material objects has much in common with what Byzantine polemicists of his time wrote on the presence of God in icons. In particular, Isaac says that if the Cross was made not in the name of that Man in whom the Divinity dwells, that is, the Incarnate God the Word, the accusation of idolatry would have been just.

He also alludes to the interpretation of the church Fathers, according to which the metal leaf, which was placed on the Ark,was a type of the human nature of Christ. Old Testament symbols, according to Isaac, were only a type and shadow of New Testament realities: he emphasizes the superiority of the Cross over Old Testament symbols.The material Cross, whose type was the Ark of the Covenant, is, in turn, the type of the eschatological Kingdom of Christ. The Cross, as it were, links the Old Testament with the New, and the New Testament, with the age to come, where all material symbols and types will be abolished.

The whole economy of Christ, which began in Old Testament times and continues until the end of the world, is encompassed in the symbol of the Cross: For the Cross is Christ’s garment just as the humanity of Christ is the garment of the Divinity.Thus the Cross today serves as a type, awaiting the time when the true prototype will be revealed: then those things will not be required any longer. For the Divinity dwells inseparably in the humanity... For this reason we look on the Cross as the place belonging to the Shekina of the Most High, the Lord’s sanctuary, the ocean of the symbols of God’s economy. This form of the Cross manifests to us, by means of the eye of faith, the symbol belonging to the two estaments... Moreover, it is the final seal of the economy of our Saviour. Whenever we gaze on the Cross.., the recollection of our Lord’s entire economy gathers together and stands before our interior eyes.We see that in the Syriac tradition in general and in St Isaac in particular, the Cross is in fact the main and the only sacred picture which becomes an object of liturgical veneration.

In the Syriac tradition prayer is, as it were, focused on one point, and this point is the Cross of Christ..

Isaac describes different forms of prayer before the Cross.

1)One of them is lying prostrate before the Cross for a long time in silence. Thus, lying down before the Cross is, according to Isaac, higher than all other forms of prayer as it encompasses them in itself, being an experience of extreme concentration and collectedness, which is accompanied by an intensive feeling of God’s presence.



2)Another form of prayer before the Cross is the prayer with the raising of the eyes and continual gazing upon the Cross: this prayer can be accomplished while standing or sitting, as well as kneeling with the hands stretched out. In one passage Isaac speaks of insight into the Crucified One during prayer before the Cross.
The question here is not of the Crucifixion, the Cross with the image of the crucified Christ, but of the simple Cross without any image, which is a symbol of the invisible presence of the Crucified One.The images of the crucified Christ, which were so popular in Byzantine East and Latin West, did not spread to the Syrian tradition Isaac also speaks of prostrations before the Cross and kissing it many times.






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