Category Archives: Patristics

Saint Isaac the Syrian Resources

It was mentioned by Kristian Heal on the Hugoye Syriac Studies list today that the fathers at Holy Transfiguration Monastery, just a hop, skip, and a jump from where I am writing this, have put together a website with a number of resources related to their two editions of the Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian.

Especially useful for those who have bought the new edition, or the HTM-sold photocopy of the homilies from the first edition, is that they have posted online the various appendices in the first edition that are not included in either of those. I mentioned the contents of the new edition in a fairly post below, which includes links to other posts on the writings of Saint Isaac.

And later on the Hugoye list was the extraordinary news shared by Marcel Pirard that he has published the first critical edition of the Greek text of the Ascetical Homilies of St Isaac. Here is the information:

Title: Abba Isaac the Syrian, Ascetic Homilies. Critical Edition of the Greek Version by Marcel Pirard.
ISBN: 978-960-87537-9-2
Editor: Monastery of Iviron, Mount-Athos
Distribution: Domos Books
Date of publication: 29 February 2012
Language: Greek + Syro-Hellenic footnotes
Pages : 888

Our Father among the Saints Isaac, pray for us!

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More Popular Patristics Series titles

In some earlier posts (part one, part two, part three) I provided a list of the volumes of the Popular Patristics Series published by Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, indicating the contents and the source of the texts translated for each volume. Several more volumes have since appeared, and are described here.

43. Works On the Spirit: Athanasius the Great and Didymus the Blind. Translated, with an Introduction and Annotations, by Mark DelCogliano, Andrew Radd-Gallwitz, and Lewis Ayres.
Texts: 1.) Athanasius’ Letters to Serapion: PG 26.529-638, with reference to: Dietmar Wyrwa and Kyriakos Savvidis, eds. Athanasius Werke / 1. Die dogmatischen Schriften. 4. Lieferung. Epistulae I-IV ad Serapionem. Walter de Gruyter, 2010. 2.) Louis Doutreleau, ed. and trans. Didyme L’Aveugle: Traité du Saint-Esprit. Sources Chrétiennes 386. Éditions du Cerf, 1992.

44A. Saint Athanasius the Great of Alexandria: On the Incarnation. Greek Original and English Translation. Introduction by C. S. Lewis. Translation and Introduction by John Behr.
Text: A working text based on: Charles Kannengiesser. Athanase d’Alexandrie: Sur l’Incarnation du Verbe. Sources Chrétiennes 199, rev. ed. Éditions du Cerf, 2000.
[44B is an edition that includes only the introductory material and the English translation, omitting the Greek text.]

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The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, Revised Second Edition

I have mentioned before the works of Saint Isaac the Syrian, with a special focus on those appearing in English, and in particular the first edition of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery publication of Dana Miller’s translation, The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian. The first edition was long out of print, with copies going for sometimes over a thousand US dollars on the used book circuit. Good news! Holy Transfiguraton Monastery has published a new edition of The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, available from the monastery’s online store or a visit in person to the monastery bookstore. I’d like to describe here the differences between the two editions.

First is the matter of size! The first edition was 10.5 inches high, 8.25 inches wide, and 2.5 inches thick. The cover was a beautfiful burgundy, gold-embossed leather over boards. The paper is Warren Old Style seventy pound paper, quite thick. The font is eleven point Century. My copy, which I obtained used, was, one might say, “well-loved.” Had the pages been of thinner stock, I expect many of them would have been torn or worn through. It was obviously much used, occasionally over breakfast, it would seem…. This first edition has the overall impression of something like a lectern Bible, a big, solid, large dictionary-sized tome, rather uncomfortably sized for easy personal reading.

The new edition is quite a bit smaller: 9.75 inches high, 6 1/8 inches wide, and only 1.75 inches thick. The cover is a green cloth, again gold-embossed. The paper is Mohawk Via Laid, a sixty pound paper. The font is Monotype Fournier, with the size unspecified, but slightly smaller than the eleven point Century of the first edition. The readability is not affected however. The paper is lighter than the first edition, and readability is actually thus slightly improved, despite the slightly smaller font. Importantly, the smaller font, thinner paper and the less generous margins make for a more manageable volume, more the size of a standard trade hardcover than an unwieldy dictionary.

Both editions, in their different ways, are exemplars of the consistently high quality of HTM publications, with fine paper, excellent binding, and two-color printing: rubrics throughout both volumes are actually in red.

Aside from the striking difference in size, more striking is the difference content. Here is an explanation of the contents of the present edition from the Translator’s Introduction (pages 104-105):

In the Introduction to the first edition, we wrote on page cii, ‘For many years we have desired to see and English translation of Saint Isaac’s Ascetical Homilies that might be employed by Orthodox monastics and laymenn.’ With this second edition we attempt to fulfill that desire.

In preparing the first edition we confronted a multitude of points — textual, historical, and theological — on which it was necessary to be satisfied, and we felt it to the reader’s benefit to document many of the answers that we found, either in footnotes, or in the Introduction, Appendices, or Epilogue. The result was a hefty tome well received in academic circles, to whom in format and approach it was geared more than to the monastic or layman seeking guidance in repentance, prayer, and the love of God. One pious friend told us that he trusts the monastery’s translations and felt no need for the constant distraction of footnotes discussing differences in the text; that they would be appropriate for someone studying Greek or Syriac, but not for a devotional book. And a devotional book is what we aim at now.

Thus, we have reduced the amount of footnotes by almost two-thirds. We tallied 1,231 footnotes to the homilies of the first edition. [note 121: Including the Introduction, Appendices, and Epilogue yields 1,628. Chialà’s 406-page work on St. Isaac, which is a straightforward scholarly study, has 1,598 footnotes. Compare with the 1,231 footnotes in our first edition, the three footnotes to the 97 pages of St. Isaac’s writings translated by Kadloubovsky and Palmer in Early Fathers from the Philokalia; for a book of 415 pages, they used 45 footnotes.] Of these, some 350 were simple scriptural references, leaving almost 900 footnotes of explanation. We have reduced the explanatory footnotes to under 300, and have placed the scriptural references in the margin. The great majority of footnotes eliminated were those that gave variant readings; footnotes that helped comprehension of the text were not only retained, but added to.

We have also elminated Appendices B and D [note 122: Appendix B contained A Selection from the Book of Grace by Symeon d-Taibutha and An Epistle to Abba Symeon of Caesarea; Appendix D, two homilies by Mar John the Solitary.] which contained texts not by Saint Isaac, and the Epilogue on the History of the Church of Persia; and we have added a Glossary, in Appendix C, of various terms used by Saint Isaac, in a special sense and requiring some explanation.

This edition differs from the first in two other points. First, we have translated from Bedjan’s Syriac printed text two short homilies not included in the first edition, which can be found in Appendix A as Homilies I and III. We have also added some passages that following the Greek were omitted, and expanded various passages that following the Greek were abbreviated, so that we are aware of no significant passage in the Syriac not represented here. Though this edition is shorter than the first overall, it contains more Abba Isaac.

Second, besides correcting a handful of outright mistranslations, we have revised the text here and there. Saint Isaac requires enough effort on the reader’s part as it is, and in places the translation itself made the going rougher than necessary. Wherever we found we could make the meaning easier to grasp without misrepresenting or simplifying the original, we did so. In some homilies onl a clause or two was changed; in others, stretches of text were reworked. In all cases we strove for greater clarity and stricter fidelity to the original. Usually the two went hand in hand, when bringing our translation closer to the original also made it easier to understand; in fact it was not infrequent that the Greek and Syriac agreed even in the details of syntax, and simply by following both more faithfully, the English became clearer. All the same, the hardy of heart who like a challenge will still find it here. Except in the case of obvious typographical errors, no revision or correction was made without consulting the originals.

From the above account, it will be seen that this is truly a new edition, one that is better tailored to the needs of devotional readers, while still maintaining an accuracy exemplary of scholarly integrity. A reader would benefit from both editions, of course, if such scholarly details as variant readings are needed. In such a case, however, I would myself expect a reader concerned with such detail to be working from the originals instead, rather than via translation.

This is a very welcome edition, well worth the wait. I know that it’s popular here amongst the students of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. Several of us have walked over to the monastery to pick up copies from the bookstore. We’re all thankful for their continued work at publishing such consistently excellent publications of such superior material quality. I hope other readers will obtain copies and come to appreciate and benefit from the writings of Saint Isaac as well!

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Wisdom from Saint Isaac the Syrian

Pursue the small consolation that is acquired in time from toil, that you may be accounted worthy of that great consolation which dispels the troubles of this life of sorrows for those who find it. Do not despise small things, lest you be deprived of great ones. Has no one ever seen an infant who, when he puts flesh in his mouth, sucks milk? By means of small things the door is opened to great ones. You dishonour God, O my brother, in that you desire Him to govern you without a definite order. For no man has been entrusted with great things without first having been tried in small ones.

From The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, Homily 25.

In context, Saint Isaac is discussing noetic prayer amongst monastics. There were those (like the heretical Messalians) who claimed to be able to enter a state of theoria at will, and that their prayer became such regularly, with no effort. Over the course of this and the previous two homilies, however, Saint Isaac destroys the foundations of such a supposition. Theoria is not something that is generated at will, a kind of “altered state of consciousness”, but is an uncreated grace of God, something on His terms, not ours.

But this brought to my mind how often people these days deceive themselves and one another that a life of prayer is an extremeley easy thing. How easy it is to read a few chapters of the Philokalia, do a couple laps around the prayer rope, and then be impatiently waiting for theoria! What is even worse are those who are completely outside the tradition, smorgasbording their way through ancient Christian texts and practices (Eastern ones in particular are now so en mode!) and who think that this or that ancient text or practice, ripped out of its context, is justificatioin for a personally concocted supremely smug “spirituality” that is so terrifically annoying, yet so abundantly common these days.

The Christian way is threefold: purification, illumination, and glorification. One leads to the other. Without purification, without turning one’s body and mind away from those things which separate us from God, one will not experience the illumination of the soul that comes from the Holy Spirit. And without illumination of the soul, one is not experiencing theosis, the eternal approach toward the perfection of God, which is our transformation and glorification. Purification > Illumination > Glorification. We cannot skip a step. Nor may we adjust any of these steps for a perceived need to appease the world’s perceptions and expectations. The truly Christian life is something that is anti-world. And without that first step, to resolutely turn our minds away from an earthly goal and toward a heavenly one, we are not on that path at all.

Saint Isaac is quite thought-provoking!

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Popular Patristics series texts

In two earlier posts (part one, and part two) I provided a list of the volumes of the Popular Patristics Series published by Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, indicating the contents and the source of the texts translated for each volume. Several more volumes have since appeared, and are described here.

39. Harp of Glory: Enzira Sebhat—An Alphabetical Hymn of Praise for the Ever-Blessed Virgin Mary from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church
Introduction and Translation: Fr John McGuckin
Text: Latin version of M. Van Oudenrijn OP. Corpus Scriptorum Christianiorum Orientalium, volume 40. Louvain, 1961.

40. Divine Eros: Hymns of Saint Symeon the New Theologian
Introduction and Translation: Daniel K. Griggs
Works: All fifty-eight hymns
Text: Sources Chrétiennes, volumes 156, 174, and 196

41. On the Two Ways—Life or Death, Light or Darkness: Foundational Texts in the Tradition
Introduction and Translation: Alistair Stewart(-Sykes); Translation of Life of Shenoute: Posy Clayton
Works [and Texts]: Qumran Community Rule 3.13-4.26 [Florentino Garcia Martinez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition. Brill, 1997]; Didache [SC 248]; Doctrina Apostolorum [SC 248]; Epistle of Barnabas [SC 172]; Epitome of the Apostolic Commands [Alistair Stewart-Sykes, The Apostolic Church Order. Sydney: St Paul’s, 2006]; Apostolic Church Order [Alistair Stewart-Sykes, The Apostolic Church Order. Sydney: St Paul’s, 2006]; Life of Shenoute [Ed. E. Amélineau, Monuments pour servir à l’histoire de l’Égypte chrétienne aux IVe at Ve siècles. Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1888]; Syntagma doctrinae [Ed. P. Battifol, in Syntagma doctrinae, Studia Patristica 2. Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1890]; Fides patrum [Ed. P. Battifol, Didascalia CCCXVIII patrum. Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1887]; Rule of Saint Benedict chapter 4 [ed. Montecassino, 1959]; Pseudo-Boniface, homily 15 [H. van de Sandt and D. Flusser, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity. Assen: Van Gorcum 2002]; The Second Catechesis of the Manner of Catechizing Converts: Concerning the ten commandments of the law [H. van de Sandt and D. Flusser, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity. Assen: Van Gorcum 2002]

42. St Basil the Great: On the Holy Spirit
Introduction and Translation: Stephen Hildebrand
Text: Bernard Sesboüé. Sur le Saint-Esprit (SC 17 bis)

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The Patristic Vision

Tradition is neither transmitted nor received mechanically, but requires from us an historical appropriation and hermeneutical Incarnation. The Tradition of the Fathers is a powerful guarantee against individualism in spirituality and unrestrained enthusiasm in theology. It guards against an exclusive focus on the present context and contemporary culture, and restores the emphasis on theology as an activity of the Church in and through all its ages, agents and areas. There is no justification for Patristic fundamentalism. All periods, all people, and all places stand within the Patristic Tradition. We are all its heirs, irrespective of our present condition, confession, or context. Beyond, therefore, the catholic imperative in the study of the Church Fathers, one may also refer to the ecumenical imperative that broaden’s one’s historical and theological outlook. This is not an argument for traditionalism, but an invitation to listen to and learn from the Patristic Tradition.

The catholic and ecumenical dimensions of the Patristic culture are in turn the very reason for its trans-historical and trans-cultural significance. Hermeneutics has done much to convince us that traditional conceptual systems are culturally limited and historically conditioned. Western Christianity has in the past often been more critical towards culture, while the Orthodox Church has regularly been uncritically identified with culture. However, there is a very real sense in which the Patristic methodology lays a claim to our attention because in it we recognize a reality that at the same time treasures and transcends both context and culture. Patristic methodology discloses a reality that is truth, and with this method one discovers the way towards this truth.

Much contemporary scholarship has abandoned the sources so carefully edited, translated and studied in the past―doctrinal treatises, biblical commentaries, lives of saints, homilies and documents―describing the rold and activity of the laity, liturgy, rituals, art and culture. The desire today is to correct the concentraion of earlier scholarship solely on orthodox institutional Christianity and on mainline groups within the church. There is an attempt to balance these with an emphasis on the popular levels and diverse expressions of Christianity.

However, this in no way undercuts the trans-historical or trans-cultural element of the Patristic way. Irrespective of the strata or structures within which one lives, one is always discovering or uncovering the same vision and the same vitality. In studying the various branches of the Byzantine civilization, it is almost impossible to single out a particular aspect that is unrelated to the Patristic vision. In medieval society, as we well know, this religious vision formed a necessary and accepted part of every intellectual, social and political concern. It is this vision that deserves our reverent attention and responsible study.

Fr John Chryssavgis, The Way of the Fathers: Exploring the Patristic Mind. First edition, pp 20-21.

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Prayer Before Reading Scripture

Father of Christ, all-seeing, hear our prayers;
Look kindly on your servant’s solemn song.
He turns his footsteps down a godly path,
Who knows, while living, the ingenerate God,
And Christ, the king who bans all mortal ills.
Once, out of pity for our hard-pressed race,
Freely conforming to the Father’s will,
He changed his form, taking our mortal frame
Though he was God immortal, freeing us all
From Tartarus’s bondage by his blood.
Come now, refresh this soul of yours with words—
Pure, godly sayings from this sacred book;
Gaze here upon the servants of your Truth
Proclaiming life in voices echoing heaven!

St Gregory the Theologian. Translation by Brian Daley (Gregory of Nazianzus, 168-169)

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