Patron Saint of Quarantines: Mar Abba the Great

Pictured above is the Patron of our Chaldean Seminary here near San Diego: Mar Abba the Great. I humbly propose, to whomever it is that decides these things, that he should be knighted the Patron Saint of Quarantines.

Here’s a blurb I wrote on him for our diocesan liturgical calendar a while ago:

A convert from Zoroastrianism, the man who would later become the Patriarch of the Church of the East was the secretary of the governor of a Persian province when he met a Christian during one of his journeys. He was so impressed by the Christian’s simplicity and humility that he began to talk to him and eventually became a Christian himself. He soon became a monk and made a pilgrimage to visit much of the Western Christian world, including Jerusalem, Egypt, Greece and Constantinople, with his friend Toma, where they were received with great enthusiasm as holy men and fine scholars. He became Patriarch in 540, a time of great interior and exterior turmoil in the Church, but despite the disasters before him, he faced his Patriarchate with great brilliance and nobility. He visited every Diocese and dealt fairly with any divisions, he revived both monasticism and Christian scholarship, creating educational systems for the simple faithful as well as theological universities, and he returned the Church, through his policies and his personal example, to its original purity and simplicity, all in the course of a 12 year Patriarchate, during most of which he was either in prison or in exile for defying the Zoroastrian authorities! At his Synod in 544, Mar Abba solidified the internal reorganization of the Church of the East and reached out enthusiastically for unity with the Western Church. After his death in February 552, the faithful carried his casket from his simple home across the Tigris to the monastery of Mar Pithyon, where he was buried.

Let me repeat the pertinent line: all in the course of a 12 year Patriarchate, DURING MOST OF WHICH HE WAS EITHER IN PRISON OR IN EXILE for defying the Zoroastrian authorities. 7 out of his 12 years as Patriarch he was sitting in prison. Hence the shackles in which he is depicted in the icon above.

He also did some scholarship and writing. Among the works attributed to him are the giyyore of the Psalter (the antiphons printed in red in the Hudhra), the redaction of the “Second” and “Third” Anaphoras named after Theodore and Nestorius, and this lovely hymn:

Earth and heaven and all that they contain
        cannot make you known, who order all things!
Too small are they both to tell of your love,
        the heights of your grace, and your great mercies
that you sent to our most unworthy race.
        Kind and Gracious One, who took on our flesh,
who saved us from death and has ascended,
        who sits above all, as Lord and Ruler:
all the hosts of angels before you kneel,
        and together praise you unceasingly:
O Father, and Son, and their Holy Spirit;                
all glory to you, from age unto age!

As well as this one from the Easter liturgy:

* The head of the angels flew down from above,
     Vested in the glory of angelic kind,
* He rolled away the stone from the tomb, in awe,
     And awoke the guards in fear and trembling.
* To the women, he said, “Do not fear, for Our Lord
     has arisen from the tomb, as he promised,
* and is taken up in glory to the Most High:
     Come and see the place his noble body was,
* And lo, the linens are placed here, witnesses
     of his resurrection, to the nations.”
* He was seen to Magdalene as a gardener,
     and she answered him, according to her thought:
* “Gardener, come, show me the one that I seek,
     for the fire of his love kindles me, and I burn!”
* Our Lord answered and said to her at that time:
    “Mariam, Mariam, I am the Son of the Most High.”
* Blessed is the Lord, who was pleased in this deed,
     and completed the mystery of salvation.
* Blessed is he who rose from the dead in power,
     and granted victory to all Adam’s race.
* To him glory from every mouth and every tongue,
    And upon us, mercy and pity at all times.

I love the naming of the burial cloths as “witnesses” to the resurrection. The idea is that John, when he entered and saw and believed, understood that the fact that the face cloth was folded indicated that Christ himself had folded it after he had risen, as it would be a strange thing for someone to do who was hurriedly and secretly trying to steal a body.

For more information, there’s an entire chapter on Mar Abba in Moffett (chapter 11 – also fitting for the coronavirus quarantine).

Here’s the Aramaic to the hymns above:

2 thoughts on “Patron Saint of Quarantines: Mar Abba the Great

  1. Saint Joseph Catholic Mission of North Texas/DFW ارسالية مار يوسف الكاثوليكية في شمال تكساس /DFW

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