the cross of a saint
On Tuesday 5th June the Syriac Orthodox Church celebrated the dukhrono
(commemorative feast) of St Jacob of Edessa (d708).
Born in a village in the province of Antioch, St Jacob became a monk as a young man, eventually being ordained a priest and, in 684, he was enthroned as Metropolitan of Edessa, in those days a splendid city, but today a backwater in south east Turkey called Urfa.
St Jacob placed his formidable intellect at the service of the Church and he is considered one of the greatest minds in Orthodoxy. Among other things he wrote the first systematic treatise on Syriac grammar, devising
a system of vowel signs for that language, revised the translation of the Old Testament, supplying extensive marginal notes and glosses, spent eleven years writing commentaries on the Greek versions of Holy Scripture, energetically promoted the study of Greek, thus becoming an important like in the chain of transmission that spread Greek learning among the Arabs, translated many works into Syriac, wrote and enforced strict rules for monks, and revised the Anaphora of St James.
However, St Jacob, like all of us, had a heavy cross to bear, namely an inflexible rectitude and a fiery temper, which made it impossible for him to be effective as a Church administrator. Not for him the quiet word in private, nor the judicious turning of a blind eye. On the contrary, he once publicly burnt a book of canon law because so many of the clergy infringed
Quite how St Jacob dealt with his cross is not recounted, but that his prodigious intellectual gifts should be offset by a very imperfectly formed temperament seems to have been God's way of forcing him to struggle with himself and counteract pride. certainly the fruit of St Jacob's labours show us that his tree was blessed by grace.
It would be interesting to know about other saints and their struggles with the negative sides of their nature, because this would give us a helping hand with our own inner fight.