The Patriarchal Encyclical on the occasion
of the Jubilee of the 1500 Years of Mor Jacob of Serugh:
No. EN 135/21
ܒܫܡ ܐܝܬܝܐ ܡܬܘܡܝܐ ܐܠܨܝ ܐܝܬܘܬܐ ܕܟܠ ܐܚܝܕ
ܐܝܓܢܛܝܘܣ ܦܛܪܝܪܟܐ ܕܟܘܪܣܝܐ ܫܠܝܚܝܐ ܕܐܢܛܝܘܟܝܐ ܘܕܟܠܗ̇ ܡܕܢܚܐ
ܘܪܝܫܐ ܓܘܢܝܐ ܕܥܕܬܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܬܐ ܐܪܬܕܘܟܣܝܬܐ ܕܒܟܠܗ̇ ܬܒܝܠ
ܕܗܘ ܐܦܪܝܡ ܬܪܝܢܐ ܡ̄
We extend our apostolic benediction, benevolent prayers and greetings to our brethren, His Beatitude Mor Baselius Thomas I, Catholicos of India, and their Eminences the Metropolitans; our spiritual children: Very Reverend Corepiscopoi, Reverend priests, monks, nuns and deacons and the entire blessed Syriac Orthodox people throughout the world. May the divine providence embrace them through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and St. Peter, Chief of the Apostles, St. Jacob of Serugh, and the rest of the Martyrs and Saints. Amen.
Dearly beloved in Christ,
In times like ours, when wars threatened people’s lives and many heresies attempted to invade the orthodox teaching of the holy church, the divine grace sent to our Syriac Church of Antioch a great teacher: Mor Jacob of Serugh, the harp of the Holy Spirit. He was a theological poet who attracted the faithful with his pure thinking and eloquent style. He composed beautiful poems about diverse spiritual topics explaining the Holy Gospel and the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. His audience grew attached to him and to his distinguished and unique character. They referred to his writings whenever they needed a proof or a strong argument to support their convictions or refute misleading doctrines.
Today, one thousand and five hundred years after his death, we are pleased to declare 2021 as the Jubilee year of Mor Jacob of Serugh. Following the instruction of the Apostle St. Paul in his epistle to the Hebrews to “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13: 7), we issue this fatherly encyclical to encourage you all to contemplate the biography of Mor Jacob of Serugh, and to take him as an example to follow and learn from, in upholding to the Orthodox faith and the correct apostolic teachings.
Mor Jacob of Serugh was born in the village of Kurtam near Serugh in Mesopotamia in 451. He learned at the School of Urhoy (Edessa) where he mastered the Syriac language and studied theology. There, he nourished the gift of the Holy Spirit which he miraculously received at a very young age. His fame grew and many sought to listen to his mimre (poems) and sermons which quench a spirit thirsty for spirituality and nourish a soul longing for divine knowledge. He spent most of his life composing theological poems and giving sermons that taught the believers how to remain steadfast in their faith and proved the orthodox doctrines to help them grow towards the spiritual perfection that every faithful seeks to reach. Nevertheless, he continuously urged his audience to avoid theological disputes that generate doubt; rather, he encouraged them to accept faith with love and simplicity, without uncertainty or hesitation. In this regard, we read the opening of one of his mimre on Faith:
ܐܰܚ̈ܰܝ ܢܶܥܪܽܘܩ ܡܶܢ ܟܰܣܝ̈ܳܬܐ ܕܠܐ ܡܶܬܒܰܨܝ̈ܳܢ܆ ܘܢܶܬܶܠ ܫܽܘܒܚܐ ܥܰܠ ܓܰܠܝ̈ܳܬܐ ܕܠܐ ܡܶܬܕܰܪ̈ܟܳܢ.
ܣܰܡܐ ܕܡܰܘܬܐ ܐܺܝܬ ܒܰܒܨܳܬܐ ܠܰܕܩܳܪܶܒ ܠܳܗ̇܆ ܘܢܽܘܗܪܐ ܘܚܰܝ̈ܶܐ ܒܗܰܝܡܳܢܽܘܬܐ ܠܰܕܪܳܚܶܡ ܠܳܗ̇܀
ܡܶܢ ܥܽܘܩܳܒܐ ܢܳܒܥܺܝܢ ܬܽܘ̈ܟܶܐ ܠܰܕܗܳܪܶܓ ܒܶܗ܆ ܡܶܢ ܚܽܘܒܐ ܕܶܝܢ ܟܽܠ ܝܽܘܬܪܳܢܐ ܠܰܕܩܳܪܶܒ ܠܶܗ.
ܒܨܳܬܐ ܒܢܰܦܫܐ ܐܰܝܟ ܒܶܠܛܺܝܬܐ ܒܩܰܝܣܐ ܪܰܡܝܐ܆ ܘܰܡܚܰܒܠܐ ܠܳܗ̇ ܬܰܘܒܶܕ ܫܽܘܦܪ̈ܶܝܗ̇ ܪ̈ܽܘܚܳܢܳܝܶܐ܀ (ܡܐܡܪܐ ܨܕ)
Which is translated as: “Brethren, let us avoid the hidden matters which cannot be examined, and let us give praise over the revealed things that cannot be grasped. Investigation has a deadly poison to the one who approaches it whereas faith gives light and life to the one who loves it. Damage comes to the one who unceasingly probes, while love generates benefit to the one who seeks it. Investigation is to the soul like mite that rottens wood; it corrupts it and causes it to loose its spiritual beauty.”
Mor Jacob of Serugh was ordained priest in 503 and appointed as a Visitator. He started teaching monks in the monasteries. His disciples (among whom we name Habib of Urhoy and Daniel the Hermit) started writing down his poems which exceed 760; He used a special poetic metric which came to be known by the “Serughian metric” after him. He was rigorously articulating theological doctrines for monks to fight heresies. He employed poetry to formulate a pure and clear theological teaching using biblical evidence. Divine Grace abundantly enriched him until he became a great source of wisdom, leading others to walk in the fear of God.
In 519, at an advanced age, he was consecrated bishop of Batnan in Serugh, which was one of the bishoprics under the Archdiocese of Urhoy (Edessa). He administered this office for a short period of time, lasting only for one year and eleven months. He passed away on November 29, 521. The holy church celebrates his feast on this date. Part of his relics were transferred and installed in a special shrine adjacent to St. Mary Church in Amid (Diyarbakir).
Many historians described his era, especially the war that existed between the Persians and the Romans in 503 which spread fear among the people of the East and forced them to leave their homeland. Mor Jacob of Serugh wrote many letters encouraging people to stay in their homeland. He urged them to have confidence that the Divine Providence will not forsake them, nor abandon them amidst their pain and suffering. Today, we need to contemplate the depth of Mor Jacob’s insight in order to learn to remain in our homeland and to embrace national values that help us look beyond the tribulations which we are going through and endure the persecutions without compromising our faith and convictions.
Indeed, Mor Jacob of Serugh was a great theologian and a brilliant interpreter of the Holy Bible. The Syriac Orthodox Church is forever indebted to him for enriching its heritage with his mimre which continue to be sung in the church and from which the splendor of its faith and the depth of its theology are derived. His love for the Holy Bible was great as he expressed in the opening of one of his mimre:
ܟܬܳܒ̈ܶܐ ܛܥܺܝܢܺܝܢ ܥܽܘܬܪ̈ܰܝܟ ܡܳܪܰܢ ܠܰܡܦܰܠܳܓܽܘ܆ ܗܰܒܠܺܝ ܐܶܣܰܒ ܡܶܢ ܓܰܙܰܝ̈ܗܽܘܢ ܟܽܠ ܣܺܝ̈ܡܳܬܐ.
ܒܰܝܢܳܬ ܣܶܦܪ̈ܶܐ ܕܰܢܒܺܝܽܘܬܐ ܛܡܺܝܪ ܝܽܘܠܦܳܢܐ܆ ܘܰܐܝܟ ܣܺܝ̈ܡܳܬܐ ܒܰܐܪܥܐ ܡܛܰܫܰܝ ܡܶܢ ܙܰܠܺܝ̈ܠܶܐ܀ (ܡܐܡܪܐ ܦܒ)
Which is translated as: “Our Lord, the books carry Your riches to be distributed; grant me to take all treasures from their coffers. As knowledge is buried in the books of prophecy, likewise it is hidden from the profane like treasures in the earth”.
On the occasion of this jubilee, the Patriarchate will publish books that contain this great saint’s biography and talk about his orthodox faith. Articles he authored shall also be made available for interested researchers. We encourage all our Archdioceses throughout the world to organize academic conferences and cultural events which revolve around his life and his works in order to highlight his great contribution to the enrichment of the Syriac spiritual patrimony and the ancient Christian heritage in general, reflecting its importance for our times.
We thank the Lord Who watches over His Church and grants her good shepherds like Mor Jacob of Serugh, to pastor her flock and give them spiritual food at the proper time. These are the holy fathers of the church who truly lived worthy of the Gospel of Christ, enduring tribulations to preserve the faith. May the Lord make this commemoration of the Jubilee a blessing for all who celebrate it, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Mor Jacob of Serugh, and all the martyrs and saints. ܘܐܒܘܢ ܕܒܫܡܝܐ ܘܫܪܟܐ
Issued at our Patriarchate in Damascus, Syria
On the Fourth of February 2021,
Which is the Seventh Year of our Patriarchate