Mor Ya'qub Burd'ono
This weekend the Syriac Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast of Mor Ya'qub Burd'ono (Jacob Baradaeus) one of the greatest of saints. Because he is such a towering figure in the history of Syriac Christianity the Church itself is often called "the Jacobites", a term the Church does not use because, of course, the Syriac Church traces its origins to the missionary work of St Peter in Antioch around 37AD,and was not founded by Mor Ya'qub. But he is greatly revered as being God's instrument for the protection, survival and renewal of the Syriac Orthodox Church.
Because Syriac Christians rejected the doctrines of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 the Byzantine state launched a ferocious wave of persecutions against them, even resorting to massacres, and by the middle of the 6th century only three Syriac Orthodox bishops remained in office. However, at the very heart of the Byzantine state the opponents of Chalcedon had a great protector in the person of the Emperor's wife, Theodora. Quite contrary to the lies told about her in the "Secret Histories"
of Procopius (today he would be a journalist on the Sun or Daily Mail) the
Syriac Orthodox Church reveres her as "the believing Queen." At a time of acute danger she hid Syriac and Coptic clergy in the royal palace itself.
The daughter of a Syriac Orthodox priest, Theodora was instrumental in enabling the exiled Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, Theodosius, to ordain
Yaq'ub Burd'ono as Bishop of Edessa in 544.
Born in what is now south-eastern Turkey in the year 500, Ya'qub was a hermit monk renowned not only for his piety, scholarship, preaching and
theological understanding, but also for his miracles. From the moment of his ordination he began a life of tireless and ceaseless travels back and forth across Syria, Egypt, Asia Minor and Mesopotamia. His God-given mission was to strengthen the persecuted faithful and ensure the survival of the Church. Although a hunted man with a price on his head, by the time of his death (in suspicious circumstances) in 578, Ya'qub Bord'ono had ordained seventeen bishops and hundreds of priests and deacons, thus ensuring the Apostolic continuity of the Syriac Orthodox Church, against which the very gates of hell were unable to prevail.
The word "burd'ono" in Syriac means "saddle-cloth" and Yaq'ub was given this appelation because it matched his rough and ragged garments which were an outward sign of a man who was not a servant of the pomps of this world, but of the Lord of the world to come.
Let his stirring example remain in our hearts and may his prayers strengthen us.