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Library of St.Pachomius


  • St.Pachomius Library, English translations of Early Church writings (Orthodox Christianity)

    THE LETTERS OF OUR FATHER AMONG THE SAINTS DIONYSIUS, CALLED AREOPAGITE, BISHOP OF ATHENS AND DISCIPLE OF THE APOSTLES:

  • Letter One: To Gaius Therapeutes
    Translated by Rev. John Parker, 1897.

    Darkness becomes invisible by light, and specially by much light. Varied knowledge [ai gnoseis], and especially much varied knowledge, makes the Agnosia [Unknowing] to vanish. Take this in a superlative, but not in a defective sense, and reply with superlative truth, that the Agnosia, respecting God, escapes those who possess existing light, and knowledge of things being; and His pre-eminent darkness is both concealed by every light, and is hidden from every knowledge. And, if any one, having seen God, understood what he saw, he did not see Him, but some of His creatures that are existing and known. But He Himself, highly established above mind, and above essence, by the very fact of His being wholly unknown, and not being, both "is" super-essentially, and is known above mind. And the all-perfect Agnosia, in its superior sense, is a knowledge of Him, Who is above all known things.

    A HYMN AGAINST BAR-DAISAN,

    By St. Ephraim of Syria

    Translated by A. S. Duncan Jones, 1904
    (from India Office Ethiopian and Syrian Library No. 9)

    Again, a hymn of Mar Ephraim against Bar-Daisan.

    There is One Being, who knows Himself and sees Himself.
    He dwells in Himself,
    And from Himself sets forth.
    Glory to His Name.
    This is a Being who by His own will is in every place,
    Who is invisible and visible,
    Manifest and secret.
    He is above and below.

    Mingling and condescending by His grace among the lower;
    Loftier and more exalted, as befits His glory, than the higher.
    The swift cannot exceed His swiftness,
    Nor the slow outlast His patience.

    He is before all and after all,
    And in the midst of all.
    He is like the sea,
    In that all creation moves in Him.
    As the waters beset the fish in all their movements,
    The Creator is clad with everything which is made,
    Both great and small.
    And as the fish are hidden in the water,
    There is hidden in God height and depth,
    Far and near,
    And the inhabitants thereof.
    And as the water meets the fishes everywhere it goes,
    So God meets everyone who walks.
    And as the water touches the fish at every turn it makes,
    God accompanies and sees every man in all his deeds.

    Men cannot move the earth which is their chariot,
    Neither does anyone go far from the Just One who is his associate.
    The Good One is united to the body,
    And light to the eyes.
    A man is not able to flee from his soul,
    For it is with him.
    Nor is a man hid from the Good,
    For He besets him.
    As the water surrounds the fish and it feels it,
    So also do all natures feel God.

    He is diffused through the air,
    And with thy breath enters into thy midst.
    He is mingled with the light,
    And enters, when thou seest, into thy eyes.
    He is mingled with thy spirit,
    And examines thee from within, as to what thou art.
    In thy soul He dwells,
    And nothing which is in thy heart is hid from Him.
    As the mind precedes the body in every place,
    So He examines thy soul before thou dost examine it.
    And as the thought greatly precedes the deed,
    So His thought knows beforehand what thou wilt plan.

    Compared with His impalpability,
    Thy soul is body and thy spirit flesh.
    Soul of thy soul,
    Spirit of thy spirit,
    Is He who created thee,
    Far from all,
    And mingled with all,
    And manifest above all,
    A great wonder and a hidden marvel unfathomable.
    He is the Being concerning whose essence no man is able to explain.
    This is the Power whose depth is inexpressible.
    Among things seen and among things hidden
    There is none to be compared to Him.
    This is He who created and formed from nothing
    Everything which is.

    God said:
    Let there be light! --
    A created thing.
    He made darkness and it became night.
    Observe: a made thing.
    Fire in stones,
    Water in rocks:
    The Being created them.
    There is one Power who raised them from nothing.

    Behold,
    Even today, fire is not in a store-house in the earth.
    For lo! it is continually created
    By means of flints.
    It is the Being who ordains its existence
    By means of Him who holds it.
    When He wishes He lights it,
    When He wishes He quenches it
    By way of appeal against the obstinate.

    In a great grove by the rubbing of a stick fire is kindled.
    The flame devours,
    It grows strong,
    At last sinks down.

    If fire and water are Beings and not creatures,
    Then before the earth was,
    Where were their roots hid?

    Whoso would destroy his life,
    Opens his mouth to speak concerning everything.
    Whoso hateth himself,
    And would not circumscribe God,
    Holds it great impiety that one should think himself
    Over-wise.

    And if he thinks he has said the last thing
    He has reached heathenism,
    O Bar-Daisan,
    Son of the River Daisan,
    Whose mind is liquid like his name!

    NOTE: This hymn was written by St. Ephraim during his controversy with the Bardesene heretics. Bar-Daisan was an outstanding scientist, scholar, and poet (along with Ephraim himself, one of the greatest to write in Syriac); he was also an expert on the culture of India, about which he wrote a standard work, now lost. Like Origen whom he in many ways resembles, he sought to "baptize" his vast erudition, but instead created only an awkward synthesis of Christian and occult beliefs. Again like Origen, his errors were largely overlooked in his lifetime, and he might have been remembered as a great Father like Clement of Alexandria had not his followers chosen to emphasize the gnostic part of his teaching.

    I was struck by a comment in the original preface to this turn-of-the-century translation (J. Theol. Studies, Vol. 5, p. 546, 1904). The translator writes:

    >It is noticeable too that the author devotes much more
    >space to the exposition of the right belief than to the
    >examination of the errors of his opponent. This is quite
    >in Ephrem's manner; so the very fact that we learn so little
    >about Bardaisan is some evidence that the ascription of the
    >homily to Ephrem is not incorrect.

    --Dionysios Redington

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    The St. Pachomius Orthodox Library, 1994

    O Lord, remember Thy servants, Duncan the translator and Bill the scribe.

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    THE END, AND TO GOD BE THE GLORY!

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    Created 20/9/98