Biblical saints

The first and foremost category of 'shared saints' goes back to the biblical writings and related literature. Not only the canonical texts but also apocryphal works, such as the Acts of St Thomas, contributed highly to the development of hagiography in general and to Syriac hagiography in particular. Biblical and quasi-biblical figures have been direct models for Syrian Christians of all times, acting as prototypes for hagiographers in their interpretation of holy men or women, combining the past with the present as models for the future. So already Jacob of Sarug in the fifth or sixth century, a saint himself according to the Syrian Orthodox and Maronite traditions, linked St Shmuni and her children with the Edessan martyr Habib and his mother. Significantly, most of the biblical figures who are more famous in Syrian Christianity are models of the ascetic life and martyrdom. This is obvious from feasts and calendars, hymns and prayers, but is also reflected in all kinds of hagiographical writings such as lives, passions and homilies dedicated to post-biblical saints.

Besides the Maccabean mother and her children, the prophet Elias is most prominent from the Old Testament. From the New Testament John the Baptist, St Stephen, the innocent children of Bethlehem and some Apostles, such as Peter, Paul and Thomas, who is said to have taken the Gospel as far as India, are still celebrated today. From the Apocrypha, Addai and his disciple Mari, the Apostles of Edessa, as well as Edessa's first Christian king, Abgar, have to be added. The tradition of the 'first bishop' of Jerusalem is also alive among Syrians; Peter, Addai and Mari, James, the brother of the Lord are traditionally assigned an old anaphora (eucharistic formula), which is still in use. Among the women, Paul's female companion, the 'apostle-like protomartyr' and model of female ascetics, Thecla, was more important in former times, when her 'Acts' enjoyed considerable popularity. The traditional place connected with her was Merymelik, and today there is a prosperous cultic centre at Ma'alula near Damascus. The sanctuary is guarded by Orthodox Syrian nuns but visited by the faithful of all denominations, thus figuring as a good example for the ecumenical significance of Syrian saints and their cults. Finally we should not forget Mary, the Mother of Christ, who enjoys particular veneration in all Syrian Churches. She has various fixed feast days in all Syrian Churches including the Church of the East, although it does not generally use the title 'Theotokos' (Godbearer), which the Council of Ephesus in 431 confirmed, against the teaching of Nestorius.

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