Isaac The Syrian

He represents the missing link between dogmatic denominational exclusive orthodoxy vs. revelation of divine truth through worship, piety, and ascetic life.

For you who don't know, Isaac "the Syrian", also called "Isaac of Nineveh", lived and wrote during "the golden age of Syriac Christian literature" in the seventh century. Cut off by language and politics from the Churches of the Roman Empire (now the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches after their schism) and branded "Nestorian," the Church of the East produced in isolation a rich theological literature which is only now becoming known to outsiders. Yet over the centuries and in all parts of Christendom, Isaac's works have been read and recommended as "unquestionably orthodox".

He is well read by Eastern Orthodox and Coptic (and other "Oriental Orthodox") clergy, monks, and laity. I heard that he was one of the favorites of his HH Pope Cyril (Kyrollos) VI. 

Now, how to reconcile this with the partisans of "Noah's Ark" exclusive denominational salvation? I would be curious to see what the zealots have to say about this?

I bet some will come out and say blasphemous things like God speaks on devil's tongue. Perhaps, some will say he is inspired by God but "has no life" in him. He would belong to "another religion" per the stand of the Mount Athos guardians of orthodoxy or "Conservative Coptic Clergy" (don't want to name someone in particular). He has not formally accepted the "seven ecumenical councils" and he associated with the church of Nestorius who "divided the person of Christ".  


  • Are you coming here to pick a fight?

    If Isaac the Syrian stated Christ is a divided person, then he is a Nestorian. It is irrelevant whether he accepted the seven councils (none of us here did), nor does it matter if he is well liked among Copts, even Pope Cyril VI, nor does it matter how the Church of the East produced a rich theological corpus because of isolation. 

    If Isaac believed in heresy, he is a heretic. 

    What is the purpose of your inquiry? Are you trying to prove we Copts are all wrong because our soteriology is apparently different than what you want us to believe? Are you trying to prove that we are all zealots and because Isaac the Syrian doesn't fit the zealot narrative we must all be wrong?

  • Trust me this isn't about Copts. I am a "Copt" by the way. All get defensive when those hard questions are asked. Trust me also the Eastern Orthodox were equally disturbed by my inquiry so this isn't about Copts. It is about "zeal" no matter where it is coming from. 

    What I am more questioning is does it matter what a person believes or what is his "affiliation"? The insistence on exclusivity in Apostolic traditions has wounded many sincere Christians and has misrepresented Christ and Christianity to non-believers.

    I am well aware of the 7 councils (and this particular comment was meant for the EOs). 

    If it helps you understand where I am coming from, I personally don't know what to believe anymore so I can't impose on you "my beliefs" because I simply don't know what they are! 

  • It seems like I had inadvertently offended many brothers here which wasn't my intention. I sent a personal message to the admin to delete my messages and close my account. 

    Please forgive me a sinner!!
  • There is no need to delete your messages or close your account. We are all hear to learn. 

    It seems your question really has nothing to do with the veracity of Isaac of Nineveh but about ecclesiology and denominationalism. You should have clarified that.

    Denominationalism is a Protestant misrepresentation of Orthodox ecclesiology. Non-denominational protestants will attack the concept of ecclesial hierarchy by quoting Matthew 23:9-12. The fact is God created a hierarchical system since creation. He gave Adam dominion over all things. He made a hierarchical system of angels and spiritual beings. His essence, being Trinity, is hierarchical (not in honor or power but in the godhead). When Christ gave the great commission to make the baptize the nations, he made a hierarchical system. When the disciples preached, they practiced a hierarchical system in the Book of Acts. 

    The problem is not the existence of hierarchical systems, nor the existence of Apostolic traditions that are hierarchical in nature. The problem Non-denominationals have is the association of some sort of exclusivity in hierarchical systems. If you dig a little, it is not even exclusivity in a hierarchical system that bothers non-denominationals, it is their belief that wanting exclusivity is over-reaching the teaching of the gospel.

    Exclusivity is necessary in the order of the universe. Without exclusivity, nothing has identity. In order to identify with a specific group or a specific philosophy, one must exclude conflicting or differing groups and philosophies. One cannot include conflicting groups or philosophies and remain loyal to a specific identity. I cannot identify as a biological father of two specific children if refuse to exclude all other children in the world. I would not be true to my identity as the father of these two children. Or if I had no children, I have to exclude myself from the identity of father. 

    God himself tells us that exclusivity is necessary when we judge and identify good and evil. "A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit." Matthew 7:18. In the next verse, Christ tells us a bad tree must be cut down and thrown in the fire. Here is where Orthodox Christianity differs. We believe God, as loving father and merciful God, puts up with our wickedness and our bad fruit. In Isaiah he says, "What more can I do with my vineyard?" He has been waiting so long for good fruit yet He does not throw us into the fire. God did not randomly call us bad trees for no reason. We did not bring good fruit. We have to repent and ask for God to make us good trees. Even when the angels were ready to throw us into the fire, God says "Let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down." Luke 13:8-9. This is what God revealed about himself. There is no misrepresentation here.

    If many sincere Christians are wounded by exclusivity, then it should motivate them to return to the faith and be healed of their wounds. There is no misrepresentation of Christ and Christianity in Orthodoxy. 

    When Christ insisted that He was the bread that comes from heaven and that everyone must eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, he added the consequence: you will not have life. He excluded life from those who did not eat of his flesh and drink his blood and did not believe He is the bread of life. Even His own disciples could not accept His teaching and left them. They excluded themselves. 

    It all comes down to a simple fact. If there is truth, there cannot be lie in the same space. If there is light, there cannot be darkness in the same space. If there is the Shepherd, there cannot be a hired worker in the same space. If there is the Church, there cannot be non-hierarchical disunity in the same place. It is not about zeal and proving the other is wrong, condemning the other to damnation. It is about life with God. It is about the truth with God. We must exclude anything that does not conform to this and puts us at risk of losing God. 

    If you wish to discuss specific details, fine. But there has to be a foundation before we tackle the specifics. That foundation is 1 Cor 3:11. 
  • I agree with you on all of that but the schisms over Christendom has to do with politics rather than Theology. Who would have dominion over Christendom (Alexandria or Rome)? Who was on the side of this or that Roman Emperor? and so forth. 

    There are certain core "orthodox doctrines" that all "mainstream" Christians subscribe to. Can be pretty much summed up in the Nicene creed. 

    A Christian brother shared with me something I didn't know before: St. Severus of Antioch believed that while many bishops and priests were Chalcedonian "heretics", he also believed that the Eucharist and the sacraments they administer are not invalid.  He strongly believed that the sacraments were valid not on the virtues of the clergy, but by the grace of Christ.  He didn't think Chalcedon was an issue worth separating the Church, even though he wrote extensively against it.

    I agree wholeheartedly with you that there "there is truth, there cannot be lie in the same space. If there is light, there cannot be darkness in the same space" the question is what is the "truth" and what is the "lie"? I argue that the schisms were based on politics rather than faith (and Theology).

    Ancient Christianity has revealed a lot of "bad fruit" (I don't need to list examples of sectarian violence and there are plenty) that is a fact that we can't gloss over and "good fruits" were observed in all Christian sects including martyrdom in Christ's name. "Good fruit" is a produce of "spiritual regeneration" or "birth from above" through the Holy Spirit. 

    The foundation in 1 Cor 3:11 is Christ himself; his birth, atoning sacrifice, and resurrection. Pretty much summed up in the Nicene creed. 

    Now there is "fullness of the church" for sure in Orthodoxy - I am not questioning that! What I am questioning is the disregard of "good fruits" and exclusivity of salvation, intolerance to ecumenical dialogues, and trying to build bridges and I see that among many Christian denominations (not only Copts by any means). Many protestants actually are opposing any dialogues with Catholics based on historical atrocities!
  • Hello basemwilliam,
    Firstly, God gave His apostles authority when He made them Bishops upon the rock to build His church. The question is; that they all were proclaiming salvation by the gospel of Jesus Christ, but this salvation is a narrow path, then why have it broadened with each schism?
  • An answer lays in our fallen state. The four deaths of our fallen state are: Physical death; Spiritual death; Eternal death; and the death to man's dignity.
    It is the death to man's dignity that is full of conflict. There are two major problems with loss of dignity and they impact enviroment and who we are. Because Adams exile meant the loss of hamony with God divinity.
    Hamony with God's divinity is done by the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. We know there are two works of the Holy Spirit and those are inspiration and sanctification. Those two works were given to the apostles and the church Fathers. Our dignity comes from them. Which means our environment has been sanctified by the Holy Spirit in which we bear our fruits. A big problem also with the fall of dignity is that it requires justification. Our narrow path is defended by saints like Saint Athanasius who said in his darkest hour, "If the whole world is against me, then I am against the world." So we dignify ourselves with him and the faith given him by the Holy Spirit that we remain in hamony with the inspiration and sanctification of the Holy Spirit.
    Those who dignify themselves to create their own environment that have deviated from the inspiration and sanctification of the Holy Spirit do not have the fullness of God's salvation and are prone to the fall of dignity with sin that they cannot justify.
    We know that sin is separation from God and to live a spiritual life we look for its remission. Does the protestant faith have the fullness of God's salvation? No it doesn't because they only have two sacraments in which the Holy Spirit can sanctify. This is because they believe they have achieved eternal salvation by Christ dying on the cross. This is the dignity which they they protect and there will be no movement from this environment as long as they justify their faith. The Holy Spirit cannot sanctifiy to purify them from sin because they no longer have the sacrament of confession. So they retain sin because it hasn't been sanctified.
    Our church is one that tries to live as an example of Christ, that He is in us as we in Him, but it is through the sanctification and inspiration of the Holy Spirit they we can obtain the fullness of God's salvation.
  • I would argue that while there are a lot of political reasons for division, these political issues are not separate from the doctrinal.  So papal infallibility for instance while it may be traced for political reasons, it has not become an unquestionable doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church that we as Orthodox question, at the very least, we question its necessity in the general Orthodoxy of our beliefs.

    If St. Isaac the Syrian had Orthodox beliefs and deep spirituality, we praise him for that, even though he may not have been in communion with our Church.
  • edited March 2017
    I would argue that all denominations have produced rich spiritual heritage. The edified would have their "spiritual senses" awakened and they can "smell holiness" in others who would look humble and not appealing to non-edified senses. Fr Matta Almaskeen said something to that effect in one sermon. The edified "searches for friends upon whose garments he can detect the smell of myrrh and aloes and cassia out of the ivory palaces, and finding few or none he, like Mary of old, keeps these things in his heart" (in AW Tozer words). 

    Pope Kyrollos VI said something similar about that reading for Isaac the Syrian: his writing reflected some "experiential knowledge of God" as if wrote in a particular language that only a man of similar spiritual stature can understand. 

    Now just to clear, I am not preaching here for any "conversions". I actually find the term "conversion" within mainstream Christianity offensive. What I am arguing is that, within all Christian traditions, God is available through Christ in the Holy Spirit and we shouldn't discount a man's Christianity based on mere affiliations. 

    As far as papal infallibility, Pope Francis made a statement that infuriated Roman Catholic (RC) zealots that some that the Church condemned as heretics were actually saints ( Now, the RC zealots have no sympathy from me as they dig a hole so deep for themselves that they can't come out. If their pope is infallible and now he is questioning their supremacy, they have to throw him out but how can they if he is infallible? Ironic isn't how can God use men evil ways against them?

  • @basemwilliam

    "God is available through Christ in the Holy Spirit and we shouldn't discount a man's Christianity based on mere affiliations" 

    I agree... but just to get a better sense of where you're coming from, how do you feel about God revealing himself in traditions outside of Christianity? Are there Divine truths in Hinduism, Islam, etc.?  
  • I believe that Christ is the way and not one of many ways. He said "I am the way, the truth, the life. Nobody comes to the father except through Me". We know also that it is His good pleasure that all are saved. I believe the burden lies on us "people of The Way": if we are not living icons of Christ, how can the world know of the Gospel? He explicitly ordered before His ascension, "go and make disciples of all nations". I fear that if non-Christians are eternally damned, we "people of the kingdom" are at risk too because we failed to work our salvation "in fear and trembling". Now as far as deep spiritual experiences of non-Christians, I don't denounce that. All what I can say is that God does what he pleases and He sees all hearts. All mankind were born with some "hunger" it must be the "breath of life" that Adam was given. Some themes seem to be near universal in most faiths like humility and penance! Humans were born with a "moral code" in CS Lewis words. The revelation to Saul on his way to Damascus illustrates that not only Christ is the way but for those not willing to go His way, He will go their way to find them and bring them back to the fold of God The Father.
  • Didn't HH Pope Shenouda quote from St Issac the Syrians writings?
  • I feel like as orthodox Christians we do have to be a bit conservative in regards to the faith like not letting heretical ideas come into the church but at the same time I feel like some people can go a little far as to the way they go about it for example the chalcedonian who still refer to us as Monophysite heretics despite our explanations and showing proof like the prayer of the confession and the dialogues but they will still call is heretics because their fathers called is heretics I know this is a bit random but the subject just reminded me of it personally in all honesty I can't stand that they can't accept any proof that we are miaphysites and not monophysites
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