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Isaac of Nineveh

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Isaac of Nineveh

Isaac of Nineveh
St. Isaac the Syrian (Orthodox icon)
Mar Isaac the Syrian
Born c. 613[1]
Beth Qatraye[1][2][3]
Died c. 700
Venerated in Eastern Orthodox Church
Church of the East
Oriental Orthodoxy
Eastern Catholic Churches
Major shrine monastery of Shabar, Iraq
Feast January 28
Attributes bishop and theologian
Patronage The Village of monastery of Shabar

Isaac of Nineveh (Arabic: إسحاق النينوي Ishak an-Naynuwī; Greek: Ἰσαὰκ Σύρος; c. 613 – c. 700) also remembered as Saint Isaac the Syrian,[4][5] Abba Isaac, Isaac Syrus and Isaac of Qatar[6] was a 7th-century Syriac Christian bishop and theologian best remembered for his written works on Christian asceticism. He is also regarded as a saint in the (non-Ephesine) Church of the East, the Orthodox Church, and among the (non-Chalcedonian) Oriental Churches, making him the last saint chronologically to be recognised by every apostolic Church of the Christian East. His feast day falls, together with 4th-century theologian and hymnographer St. Ephrem the Syrian, on January 28.


  • Life 1
  • Legacy 2
  • Writings 3
  • Universal reconciliation 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


He was born in the region of Nineveh far to the north.[7]

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.[8]

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 he has come to be venerated and appreciated among many different Christian traditions.

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

His melancholic style as well as his affinity towards the sick and dying exerted considerable influence on Orthodox Christianity and oriental Christians. His writings were continuously studied by monastery circles outside his church during the 8th and 9th century. Particularly the Egyptian Coptic church, even in modern times, praised his works. Moreover, Isaac's conviction that the notion of God punishing men endlessly through the mystery of Gehenna (the lake of fire, or hell) is not compatible with his all encompassing love can likely be seen as the central thematic conflict in his second treatise of mystical teachings.[9]

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.[10]


The instructions of Isaac the Syrian came to us in several books. The First book contains 82 chapters while the Second contains 41. There is also a Third book which has been translated into Italian and English but has yet to be published in English.[11] 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 is 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."

The mouth which is continuously giving thanks receives blessing from God. In the heart that always shows gratitude, grace abides (Brock, 1997).

The aim of prayer is that we should acquire from it love of God, for in prayer are to be found all sorts of reason for loving God (Brock, 1997).

Do not consider a long time spent before in worship before God to be wasted (Brock, 1997)

Undistracted prayer is prayer which produces the continual thought of God in the soul (Brock, 1997)

At the time of darkness, more than anything else kneeling is helpful (Brock, 1997).

The more a person enters the struggle for the sake of God, the closer will his heart come to freedom of converse in prayer (Brock, 1997).

  • 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."

Begin every action that is for God's sake joyfully (Brock,1997).

Make sure you see to small things, lest otherwise you may push aside important ones (Brock, 1997).

  • 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."[12]

Universal reconciliation

Wacław Hryniewicz (2007) argues that Brocks translation (1995) of the Second Part of Isaac's writings on Gehenna (discovered 1983) confirm claims of earlier Universalist historians such as J. W. Hanson (1899) that Isaac was an advocate of universal reconciliation.[13]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Markose, Biji (2004). Prayers and Fasts According to Bar Ebroyo (AD 1225/6-1286): A Study on the Prayers and Fasts of the Oriental Churches. LIT Verlag. p. 32.  
  2. ^ a b Kurian, George (2010). The Encyclopedia of Christian Literature, Volume 2. Scarecrow Press. p. 385.  
  3. ^ a b Johnston, William M. (2000). Encyclopedia of Monasticism: A-L. Taylor & Francis. p. 665.  
  4. ^ Great Synaxaristes: (Greek) Ὁ Ὅσιος Ἰσαὰκ ὁ Σύρος Ἐπίσκοπος Νινευΐ. 28 Ιανουαρίου. ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ.
  5. ^ St Isaac the Syrian the Bishop of Nineveh. OCA - Lives of the Saints.
  6. ^ Fromherz, Allen (2012). Qatar: A Modern History. I. B. Tauris. p. 43.  
  7. ^ Kozah, Mario; Abu-Husayn, Abdulrahim; Al-Murikhi, Saif Shaheen; Al-Thani, Haya (2014). The Syriac Writers of Qatar in the Seventh Century (print ed.). Gorgias Press LLC. p. 263.  
  8. ^ "Commentary on Song of Songs; Letter on the Soul; Letter on Ascesis and the Monastic Life".  
  9. ^ Brock, S., trans. (1997). The Wisdom of Saint Isaac the Syrian. pp. 5-9. Fairacres Oxford, England: SLG Press, Convent of the Incarnation. ISSN 030 7-1 405.
  10. ^ Hagman, Patrik: The Asceticism of Isaac of Nineveh (Oxford University Press 2010)
  11. ^ Brock, Sebastian P. (2006). The Wisdom of St. Isaac of Nineveh. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press. pp. vii–xix.  
  12. ^ Isaac the Syrian, Readings, Orthodox Photos.
  13. ^ Wacław Hryniewicz The challenge of our hope: Christian faith in dialogue 2007 The 7th-century mystic, Isaac the Syrian, known also as Isaac of Nineveh is, in the history of the Church, one of the most courageous supporters of the eschatological hope of universal salvation

External links

  • Works by or about Isaac of Nineveh in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • St Isaac of Nineveh Orthodox Icon and Synaxarion
  •, A collection of resources on St. Isaac
  •  "Isaac of Nineveh".  
  • Saint Isaac, the Syrian in
  • Onlive edition of the Ascetical Homilies
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