10 February 2009

'That We May Be His Temples'—Ss Ignatius the God-bearer & Aphrahat of Persian

I apologise, dear readers, that it has taken me all day to get around to another post. First, I was attending a banquet for representatives of area churches organised by my mother-in-law, then my poor city was plagued by tornadoes all afternoon. The kids and I were holed up for some time at the stringed instruments shop where my wife works, watching a small black-and-white television and forbidden to turn on the computer for fear of a power surge. Finally, having only been home for an hour or so, the storms knocked out our power there for a few hours. The long and the short of it is, I'm not going to bother with the usual non-hagiological post today, though it will definitely return tomorrow, and how! But in addition, I'm only going to do a very short hagiological post for today, 29 January on the Church's calendar.

There are two Saints I will mention today—St Ignatius the God-bearer and the Venerable Aphrahat the Persian—though I should like to have the time to discuss Ss Sulpicius Severus, Gildas the Wise, and Andrei Rublev as well. Today is the feast of the translation of St Ignatius's relics, and not the primary feast of the Saint himself, so I don't mind as much giving him a very brief reference. First of all, aside from his zeal for martyrdom, the two most memorable things to me about his life concern the meaning of his epithet:

He was called God-bearer because in his childhood, according to tradition, he was taken into the hands of Jesus Christ Himself. But also because he became so used to feeding his heart with the memory of the sweet name of Jesus Christ, that this deep spiritual seal with sensitive images was stamped on this bodily organ and when, after his martyr's death, when his heart was cut asunder, the name of Jesus Christ was seen alphabetically represented in it. (Bulgakov, Menaion)

Second, St Ignatius is of course remembered today primarily for his writings. Here is a small excerpt from his 'Epistle to the Ephesians', 15 (The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed., trans. J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, ed. and rev. Michael W. Holmes [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996], p. 91):

15. It is better to be silent and be real, than to talk and not be real. It is good to teach, if one does what one says. Now there is one such teacher, who 'spoke and it happened'; indeed, even the things which he has done in silence are worthy of the Father. (2) The one who truly possesses the word of Jesus is also able to hear his silence, that he may be perfect, that he may act through what he says and be known through his silence. (3) Nothing is hidden from the Lord, even our secrets are close to him. Therefore let us do everything with the knowledge that he dwells in us, in order that we may be his temples, and he may be in us as our God—as, in fact, he really is, as will be made clear in our sight by the love which we justly have for him.

The second Saint I wish to mention is the Venerable Aphrahat of Persia, who, according to Sebastian Brock, is sometimes called 'the Persian Sage' (The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life, ed. and trans. Sebastian Brock [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1987], p. 2; apropos of the Ochlophobist's comment yesterday, I notice this book is dedicated to Militza Zernov, 'In Memory of Nicolas'). The typical account of St Aphrahat's life is easily copied and pasted:

The Monk Aphraates, by descent a Persian, having come to believe in Christ, disavowed his illustrious lineage and departed his pagan countrymen by going to Edessa, and then to Antioch, where by his holy life he attracted many and preached them the Word of God. He died in the year 370.
But again, St Aphrahat's writings are what led me to him. Here is a passage from his 'Demonstration IV, On Prayer':

Why, my beloved, did our Saviour teach us saying: 'Pray to your Father in secret, with the door shut'? I will show you, as far as I am capable. He said 'Pray to your Father with the door closed'. Our Lord's words thus tell us 'pray in secret in your heart, and shut the door'. What is the door He says we must shut, if not your mouth? For here is the temple in which Christ dwells, just as the Apostle said: You are the temple of the Lord for Him to enter into your inner person, into this house, to cleanse it from everything that is unclean, while the door—that is to say, your mouth—is closed. If this were not the case, how would you understand the passage? Suppose you happened to be in the desert where there was no house and no door, would you be able to pray in secret? Or if you happened to be on top of a mountain, would you not be able to pray? (Brock, p. 14)

Although I am sadly unable to read Georgian, I believe that the 3rd Father, besides St Ephraim and St Isaac in the '3 Syrian Fathers' icon above, is likely to be the Venerable Aphrahat (who was translated into Georgian, apparently [Brock, p. 4]). It was painted by Lasha Kintsurashvili.

Lastly, I ask you, dear readers, to forgive any mistakes I have made here, as I was falling asleep while trying to compose this post. Oh the sacrifices I make to bring you this blog!


The Ochlophobist said...

It seems the Zernovs knew everyone in the anglo Orthodox world back in the day. And they apparently had a very dramatic relationship themselves, very Russian. One can still find some of N. Zernov's books about - I always chuckle when people talk about the importance of Ware's introductory book. It was probably Zernov's The Orthodox Church that brought about the existence of an anglophile Orthodoxy - in part because of the book, in larger part because of the couple behind it.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Here's something folks might not be aware of. Jacob Neusner translated St Aphrahat's Demonstrations XI, XII, XIII, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII, XIX, and XXI in full, and excerpts of XXIII in his Aphrahat and Judaism: The Christian-Jewish Argument in Fourth-Century Iran (Brill, 1971). I'll let him describe it (Preface, p. xi):

[quote] Outside of the Babylonian Talmud, Aphrahat (fl. ca/ 300-350 A.D.), a Christian monk in Mesopotamia, provides the only substantial literary evidence on the state of Mesopotamian-Babylonian Judaism in Sasanian times. His Demonstrations furthermore were given final form by the end of the fourth century, if not earlier, and hence antedate the Babylonian Talmud by a hundred years or more. They moreover testify about Judaism and Jews who probably were little affected by rabbinical influence, as we shall see, and thus constitute especially rare and valuable data. In connection with my History of the Jews in Babylonia, it therefore seemed useful to prepare an English translation of Aphrahat's Demonstrations relevant to Judaism, together with studies of some pertinent issues. The result was to serve as an appendix to vol. V.... Since Aphrahat's Demonstrations and related studies proved too long for an appendix to the foregoing volume, I decided to allow them to stand separately. ...

My effort is to make use of Aphrahat as a source for the study of Judaism east of the Euphrates. To do so, I have had to discuss his place in the context of both rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity. My argument—for the study is intended as an argument—is that Aphrahat was not a "docile pupil of the Jews" but a Christian, standing in important ways within the conventional structure of the argument of the Church on the matter of Judaism, completely original, however, in his development and application of that conventional argument. He was a "docile pupil" of no one, but a powerful, independent mind. [unquote]

For the English reader, between the NPNF translations and Neusner's, only a handful of the Demonstrations remain untranslated. It'd be nice to have them all done in one edition. I think we can reasonably expect that in the near future.

aaronandbrighid said...

Kevin> Nice! Thank you for pointing that out. It would be neat to read a bit more of what Neusner has to say on the subject.