The Year of St. Jacob of Serugh (♰AD 521)

A Year-round Series of Online Lectures on the Writings and Theology of the St. Jacob of Serugh, celebrating the 1500th Anniversary of His Death.

Urho, The Way is pleased to announce that we will be a hosting partner of this illuminating online series organized by and the Eparchy of Los Angeles. On the third Wednesday of each month in 2021, at 10:00 am ET, world-renowned scholars on St. Jacob of Serugh will be presenting a live lecture that can be viewed through Urho, The Way Facebook page

We are truly grateful to the Eparchy of Los Angeles for the opportunity to be a hosting partner so we can share this series of lectures with the audience of Urho, The Way.

Stay tuned to this webpage and our Facebook for further updates –

Our Distinguished Lecturers

The world’s leading scholars on St. Jacob of Serugh will be presenting through this series. Stay tuned to this webpage and our Facebook for further updates.

  • January 20, 2021
    Why Should We Be Celebrating Jacob of Serugh? by Malphono Rabo Dr. Sebastian Brock, Emeritus Reader in Syriac Studies, Oxford University, and Emeritus Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford.

    In this talk, Dr. Brock talks about St. Jacob of Serugh –
    • As an ecumenical figure
    • His place in the Syriac literary tradition, with specific reference to Ephrem and Narsai
    • As a possible source for Romanos
    • His skill in retelling biblical episodes
    • His treatment of biblical women
    • His wider reception in the Christian Orient
    • and the enjoyability of reading him

  • February 17, 2021
    A Mediator between Exegetical Traditions – Jacob of Serugh and His Letters on Biblical Interpretation by Philip Forness, Principal Investigator, Cultural Exchange from Syria to Ethiopia, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

    Abstract: The epistolary corpus of Jacob of Serugh displays a prominent member of the ecclesiastical hierarchy exercising his authority in the Roman Near East and beyond. In his letters, he replies to monastics seeking advice, offers his opinion on the theological controversies of his day, and consoles Christian communities undergoing persecution. The earliest known collection of his letters seems to have grouped together three letters (22–24) because of their focus on biblical interpretation. In Letter 23, Jacob responds to six questions posed to him by the Greek-speaking lector Maron of Anazarbe. This extensive letter shows Jacob negotiating between the Greek and Syriac biblical traditions, his indebtedness and fidelity to the foregoing Syriac tradition, and the relationship between the exegesis in his letters and his homilies. Through this study, an image will emerge of an exegete seeking to mediate between the various interpretive traditions with which he is familiar and from which his own perspective emerged.

  • March 17, 2021
    The Living Saints in Jacob’s Memre by Jeffrey Wickes, Associate Professor, Theological Studies, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri.

    Abstract: Jacob of Serugh left an expansive corpus of memre, around thirty of which treat the lives of the saints (both biblical and non-biblical) in the context of the church’s feasts. These understudied hagiographical memre, interesting for their content alone, also occupy a unique place in sixth-century reflections on post-mortem activity of saints. The early Syriac theologian Ephrem seems to have believed that saints could not be active on behalf of others until the final jugement, when their souls were rejoined with their bodies. This position would become dominant in the Church of the East. Yet, Jacob’s often gushing prayers to the saints suggest his belief in their on-going, present activity on behalf of the living. Against this backdrop, this paper has two primary aims. First, it offers a general overview of the corpus of Jacob’s hagiographical memre. Second, it situates this corpus in developing Syriac theologies of the saints and their cult.

  • April 21, 2021
    Jacob of Serugh in His Time: A Preacher in Late Antique Mesopotamia by Muriel Debié, Professor, L’École Pratique des Hautes Études, Sciences Religieuses, Paris, France

    Abstract: As the Narrative of the period of distress which occurred in Edessa, Amid, and all Mesopotamia reminds us, at the time of the Persian invasion of north Mesopotamia (502/3), “the respected Jacob, the periodeutes, who composed many mimre on Scriptural passages, and sugyoto and zmiroto … wrote letters of encouragement to different cities.” As a periodeutes, an ecclesiastical visitor, before he became a bishop, Jacob shared the lives of the lay and religious communities he visited and to whom he addressed his mimre, or metrical homilies. Hundreds of these survived until today, of which 60 were recently edited for the first time.

    This talk aims at trying to understand  what it means to be a preacher in Northern Mesopotamia at the beginning of the 6th century, at a time of war, famine and plague as well as religious unrest, when the Christological controversies caused restlessness.  What can we say about Jacob’s role and about the way he composed and delivered his speeches if we look at them not just from the perspective of patristic studies, as pieces written by a Church Father, but as late Antique contributions anchored in the living conditions of the contemporary communities?

  • June 16, 2021
    Well-Versed in Pain: Biblical Narratives of Healing in Jacob of Serugh’s Poetry by Erin Galgay Walsh, Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School, Chicago, Illinois

    Abstract: Jacob of Serugh composed narrative poems (memre) on a variety of biblical stories featuring miraculous healings. He also wove the imagery of disease, disability, and medicine throughout his writings. This lecture turns our attention to the potency of such imagery and the prominence of Jesus as healer in Jacob’s poetry. Inhabiting the voice of the poetic narrator, Jacob frequently underscored the symbolic value of the bodily conditions of biblical characters, interpreting their stories to address the universal condition of human sinfulness. At the same time, Jacob’s artfully staged protagonists resist the erasure of their physical bodies, often giving voice to their emotional and physical distress as well as the social consequences of illness. I will highlight memre on New Testament narratives such as the woman with a bent spine (Lk 13:10-17), the hemorrhaging woman (Mk 5:25-34, Mt 9:20-22, and Lk 8:43-48), and the leper (Mk 1:40-45, Mt 8:1-4, and Lk 5:12-16)to examine how Jacob’s poetry brought their encounters with Jesus to life within the liturgy.

  • July 21, 2021
    Merciless Apostles and Prophets: Criticism of the Righteous in Jacob of Serugh’s Homily on Admonition by His Eminence Dr. Mor Severus Roger, Archbishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Patriarchal Vicar for Syriac Studies

    Abstract: Jacob of Serugh is known for his serenity and love of peace. Less well known, perhaps, are his harsh critics and their scope. Reprimands, accusations, and denunciations are not only addressed to Jews or hypothetical heretics, but also to corrupt Church leaders and theologians, lovers of disputes. If this can be reasonably expected, what is surprising, however, is when Jacob of Serugh, speaking on behalf of the Lord, criticizes the apostles John and Paul, and the prophets Moses, Elijah, Jonas and others. The cause of the charge is their mercilessness towards sinners. The presentation will address these critics most particularly in Jacob of Serugh’s Homily 122 (edited in 160 unpublished homilies of Jacob of Serugh, 2017), in parallel with his other writings, especially his Letter 22.

  • July 21, 2021
    ‘The Friend of Jesus’: Jacob of Serugh’s Version of the Abgar Legend by Kelli Bryant Gibson, Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University, Abilene, Texas

    Abstract: The legends of King Abgar of Edessa’s epistolary exchange with Jesus and the apostle Addai’s conversion of the city of Edessa have fascinated historians from Eusebius of Caesarea to the present. This paper highlights one episode in the reception history of the Edessan church’s foundation myth: Jacob of Serugh’s cycle of homilies on Abgar, Addai, and Edessa. After a brief orientation to the mimre, the paper assesses Jacob’s engagement with earlier versions of the legend and explores the major themes of Jacob’s retelling. Through careful analysis of what he repeats and omits of the tradition, as well as how he adapts and reimagines the story, one may discern aspects of Jacob’s own agenda.

Who was St. Jacob of Serugh?

Malphono Mor Yac’ub d-Serugh (ܡܪܝ ܝܥܩܘܒ ܕܣܪܘܓ ܡܠܦܢܐ) was born the son of a priest in Serugh at the village of Kurtam near Edessa. A beautiful story of his childhood is recounted as follows: At the age of three, baby Yac’ub got out of his mother’s hands and went up to the Altar during Epiclesis’s time (during the invocation of the Holy Spirit at the Holy Qurbono). Inside the Altar, the child was given a drink by an angel, and he then returned to his mother joyfully. 

As a student at the famous school of Edessa. Yac’ub completed his education at  of 22 and was ordained as a priest. He served the village Hawra near Urhoy as the priest and later Cor-Episcopos. He composed most of his poetry (memre) while he was serving as the Cor-Episcopos. Bar Ebroyo recorded that Yac’ub employed seventy amanuenses (copying secretaries) in writing his homiletic poems. 760 of these homiletic poems were restored and exists today. He was a voluminous writer. His writings include those about the Old Testament’s great men, about angels, the mysteries of the Son of God, two anaphoras, an order of Baptism and homilies – on Nativity, Epiphany, Lent, Palm Sunday, The Passion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension.

After the infamous Synod of Chalcedon, the faithful Orthodox believers had to suffer a lot. However, Mor Jacob of Serugh joined hands with Mor Severius, Patriarch of Antioch (AD 460-538) and Mor Philexinos of Mabbug (AD 450-523) to protect the true faith. Jacob was ordained Bishop of Batnae in AD 519 at the age of 67 years. His writings to the faithful always demonstrated attachment to the Miaphysite doctrine, which he held steadfastly even in the face of adversity. On November 29th, 521, Mor Jacob departed for the heavenly abode while writing a poem on the Virgin Mary and Golgotha. Mor Yac’ub of Serugh is commemorated every Sunday in the Thubden d-Qadishe (5th Thubden/Dypthic) of the Syriac Orthodox Church Holy Qurbono. ♰

Biography courtesy of, ‘Martyrs, Saints, and Prelates of the Syriac Orthodox Church’ 

Tomb of St. Jacob of Serugh

St. Jacob of Serugh’s mortal remains is interred in the ancient St. Mary’s Syriac Orthodox Church in Diyarbakır (Amid) in the Archdiocese of Mardin. The plaque on the tomb reads: “The Syrian Mor Jacob of Serugh, the Consolidator of the true faith.”

Why study St. Jacob?

Mor Yac’ub was one of the foremost Syriac poet-theologians among the Syriacs and, at the same time, one of the most readable authors of his class. In the wealth of words & ease of expression, he ranks next to St. Ephrem, the Syrian. Where his predecessor Ephrem is known as the ‘Harp of the Spirit’, Jacob is known as the ‘Flute of the Spirit.’

St. Ephrem the Syrian (Mor Aphrem Suryoyo), St. Mary and St. Jacob of Serug (Mor Yac’ub of Serugh)

Christology of St. Jacob of Serugh

St. Jacob generally took an irenic approach, especially during the peak of the Christological controversies of the late 5th and early 6th centuries. Following the line of his predecessor St. Ephrem the Syrian, Mor Yac’ub tended to avoid delving into the deep mysteries of the union; in one poem, he writes, “The discerning soul should abandon the Christological debate and be filled instead with the wonder of Christ. Let it be filled with the wonder Who is Christ!” However, he was staunchly Miaphysite, and this is reflected throughout his various works. In his letter to the monks at the Monastery of Mor Bossus, St. Jacob proclaims his theology as follows: “As for those who divide that one indivisible Christ into two, who reckon to Him numbers and names, who proclaim God the Word and add human who was assumed, the Church anathematizes them.”

Below, you can read the Patriarchal Encyclical issued by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, declaring 2021 the Jubilee Year of St. Jacob of Serugh.

Below, you can read the Patriarchal Encyclical issued by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II for Great Lent 2021, where he points us to St. Jacob of Serugh’s Mimro 133 on Lent

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