Saint Isaac the Syrian


Isaac of Nineveh (Greek:ἸσαὰκΣύρος; c. 613 – c. 700) also remembered as Saint Isaac the Syrian, Abba Isaac, Isaac Syrus and Isaac of Qatarwas 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.

He was born in the region of Beth Qatraye in Eastern Arabia. When still quite young, he entered a monastery where he devoted his energies towards the practice of asceticism. After many years of studying at the library attached to the monastery, he emerged as an authoritative figure in theology. Shortly after, he dedicated his life to monasticism and became involved in religious education throughout the Beth Qatraye region. When the Catholicos Georges (680–659) visited Beth Qatraye in the middle of the seventh century to attend a synod, he ordained Isaac bishop of Nineveh far to the north.

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.