Maphryono Mar Gregorious Youhanon Bar Ebroyo
Rev. Joseph Tarzi, Ph.D., Mhadyono vol. 1, no. 9-11.
This is an adapted version of an article by Rev. Joseph Tarzi, Ph.D. in Mhadhyono, vol. 1, no. 9-11 (Aug-Oct 1993).
The most erudite Mar GREGORIOUS Youhanon Bar Ebroyo (Bar Hebraeus) is the Doctor of the Syrian Church for all times, ages and generations. He is her greatest and the boldest knight that could never be challenged or matched in all branches of learning—theological and otherwise.
His father was Ahroun (Aaron), son of Touma of Malatiyah (Melitene) known as "Tajuddin" (the Crown of Faith). He was a competent physician and one of the most learned and pious men of the time. He was raised in Melitene, the birth place of many of our great Syrian scholars, philosophers and historians. He had to leave Melitene because of Tatar's raids against the city in l243 AD, settling in the great city of Antioch where he lived for three years. At that time Antioch was one of the greatest cities of Syria, and one of the greatest capitals of the world, situated in an area that had a special beauty, clean fresh air and abundance of water.
Christians escaping persecution took refuge in the city. Its population exceeded one hundred thousand consisting of Syrians, Greek, Europeans, Armenians and Jews. The Syrians had a big church there, a large patriarchate house and three other churches in the names of the Mother of God, (Yoldath Aloho), St. George and St. Barsaumo.
Antioch was afflicted with destruction at the hands of Tatars. Its Christian population fled to the nearby mountains and among them was Ahroun the physician. In the same year, his son Youhanna, had become the Bishop of Gubus (1240 AD). Ahroun the physician stayed in Antioch until 1252 AD when he moved to Aleppo. His son Mar Gregorious had already been transferred to the archbishophoric of that city.
Ahroun the physician was from a noble Christian Syrian family. Some Western scholars and some prejudiced Chalcedonians claim that he was a converted Jew. They base their claim on his "Jewish" name "Ahroun" and his son's name Bar Ebroyo, "Hebraeus". Their claim, however, is groundless. The name "Ahroun" (Aaron) was frequently used by Christians, being a Biblical name. Some Syrian bishops were named Ahroun, for example, Patriarch Bar Ma'adani. The other name, "Bar Ebroyo," "The son of Ebra", has no relationship whatsoever with Judaism. He was named so because of his or one of his ancestors birth while crossing the river Euphrates, or because of the fact that one of his ancestors was from the village of "Ebra" located on the bank of river Euphrates. But the strongest evidence nullifying the false claims comes from a meemro (poem) Mar Gregorious wrote about himself (see the published collection of his poems) where he says:
If the Lord called Himself Samaritan, do not be ashamed if they call you Bar Ebroyo. For this name's origin is of the river Euphrates and not of a disgraceful faith or a language.
Bar Ebroyo was born in the city of Melitene (Malatiyah) in 1226 AD, and was christened as Youhanna. His father noticed his brilliancy and the intelligence he was endowed with, and henceforth he started to teach him early in his childhood the principles of languages and the different fields of knowledge. He then mastered the Syriac language and became well versed in exegesis and church liturgy. He learned Medicine from his father. He tells us about himself: "since my childhood I have been extremely fond of learning. I mastered the Holy Books and their interpretation, and acquired the secrets in the writings of the righteous and skillful teachers. When I reached 20 years of age, the Patriarch forced me to accept the position of the High Priest. This situation compelled me to face the leaders of other religions and faiths, Christians and otherwise, in arguments. So, I spent a lot of time in learning about these other faiths until I was well versed in them. Then I decided to study the wisdom of the Greeks, thus I studied Natural sciences, Theology, Mathematics, Geometry, Astrology, Physiognomy, etc.". In 1244 AD, he went with his father to Antioch where he isolated himself in a monastery near the city. In his seclusion that lasted one year, he received divine inspiration. During that period, he received a visit from Patriarch Ignatius Saba.
His ambitious soul was not satisfied with the immense amount of knowledge he had already acquired. So, he left his cell and went to Tripoli, Syria, accompanied by a friend of his, Saliba. There he completed his studies in Medicine, Rhetoric, and Logic under the instruction of a Nestorian rhetorician named Yacoub. He had already mastered Syriac, Arabic, Persian and Armenian languages. In all these language he wrote eloquently. He was described as the sea of wisdom, the light of the East and West, king of the learned, the greatest of the wise men, the holy father, the father versed in theology, the adornment of composers, the crown of Maphrians, the crown of chiefs, etc.
Modern scholars are so impressed by his genius that they call him "The Encyclopedia of the 13th century".
In 1246 AD, Patriarch Ignatius Da'weed ordained him to the Bishopric of Gubus. After one year, he was transferred to Laqbeen. There he served for 5 years. In 1252, he was transferred to the Archbishopric of Aleppo. Aleppo was lucky to have this great Archbishop; he recorded tremendous achievements during the 12 years he served as an exemplary shepherd.
In 1258, Holako, the King of Tatar, besieged the city of Aleppo. Its young Archbishop went out to solicit compassion for his city from the king. But, his soldiers had already stormed into the city massacring a great number of its inhabitants. It is said that the number of people killed in Aleppo by the Tatar soldiers exceeded that at Baghdad.
Bar Ebroyo was greatly honored by the King of the Tartars because of his wide knowledge of Medicine. He enjoyed great respect in the royal court.
His reputation was so wide spread in the whole Christian and Syrian world that, Patriarch Bar Ma'dani chose him to become the Maphryono (Catholicos) of the East. His consecration ceremony was one of the greatest in the history of the Syrian Church. It was attended by King Haytoum, his brothers and sons, Armenian high priests and dignitaries from all nations and faiths, in addition to a huge crowd of the Syrian Orthodox people and bishops. The ceremony took place on January 19, 1264 in the city of Sis in Cilicia. At the end of the ceremony, he gave a precious sermon on the position of the High Priest, launching it by the verse "You have created me and laid your hand on me" (Psalm 138:10). The first thing he did after his consecration was to consolidate the authority of his Patriarch by securing royal support. He accompanied his Patriarch in his visit to Holako (Patriarch Ignatius Yeshue), who received him well and honored him. Then he took a trip to the East and helped to strengthen the ties between the Syrian Nestorians and our Church with his conciliatory and wise attitudes and policies. He then visited the Monastery of Mar Matay (Matthew) in Iraq to have the legitimacy his office as the Maphrian of the East confirmed. He, then, focused his attention on building churches, founding new dioceses. He took several trips visiting his large Maphrianate (10 large Archdioceses). His long trip included a visit to Baghdad where he was received with an unsurpassed welcome by all religious and civilian leaders of both Christians and Moslems. Another trip was made to the west (Syria). This was followed by his trip to Maragha, the west once again, Baghdad and Takrit.
In 1286, his sixtieth birth year, he sensed that death was near. He had always thought of this year as bad luck. In one of his poems, he wrote:
"O' net of the world, in 1226 your trap caught me, and I think in 1286 I will not be in you".
In that particular year misfortune occurred frequently in the East. Theft and highway robberies were widespread in cities and villages. His brother Barsaumo had fears that the Maphrian might be robbed and thus his prophecy about the year 1286 might be fulfilled. So, he urged him to travel to Adhorbijan. The Maphrian resisted first but then gave in to the pressure and set for Tabriz first. There he was approached by Moslem Scholars and was asked to translate his book entitled "The Political History of the World" from Syriac into Arabic language. He answered their request and completed the work in a mere 30 days in his eloquent Arabic language.
This trip was at the concluding part of his life. In the night of Saturday, July 28, 1286, he was stricken by fever that grew higher towards morning. In the morning, many physicians came to see him and asked him to take medicine, but he refused. "The disease has defied all medicine, the dreadful moment has arrived", he said. Before sun set, he asked for a pen to write his last will, but his holy fingers that wrote numerous books on philosophy, wisdom and spirituality were unable to write even a word. The people around him, including his brother Safi, felt that catastrophe was imminent. They all started weeping bitterly. The Maphrian was checking his own pulse intermittently and saying "My strength has diminished. You have been unfair to me, my dear brother, for you did not let me sleep in peace among my bishops, monks, priests and deacons whom I lead for twenty two years. I have fled death, but that has not helped. Come on, do not lose courage my dear brother, do not cry or grieve too much, for death is nothing new in this world". But, his last will had to be written. "Come my dear deacon, the good Sateed, and write," he ordered, and the grief stricken student started writing, "As for man his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field " (Psalm 103:15).
He then completed confession of his faith and looked at his disciples and said to them "I command that you love one another, for love, my children, is the bond of peace. I am departing to the House of Eternity, and I shall be honored to see the Lord and I shall ask on your behalf". He gave up his spirit the night of Tuesday July 30, 1286.
In Maragha, people from all races, religions and nationalities wept bitterly. Huge crowds from all sects and religions, particularly the Syrian Orthodox, Nestorians, and Armenians came to see him and take blessing from his body. Among them was the Nestorian Catholicos "Yab Alaha". His funeral service was one of the greatest in the history of the Syrian Orthodox Church. He was buried under the altar of the church in Maragha where he prayed and said the Holy Mass every time he visited that city. His holy remains were transferred to the Monastery of Mar Matay (St. Matthew) in Iraq on the Mountain of "Ulouf" to the East of Mosul.
l. Patriarch Ignatius Ephraim 1 (1949). "Al lulu Al-Manthour".
2. Patriarch Ignatius Zakka 1 (1986). The Patriarchal Circular.
3. Archbishop Gregorius Paulos Behnam (na). "Bar Ebroyo the Poet".
4. Bar Ebroyo. Published collection of poems.
5. Bar Ebroyo. Makhtbanooth Zabney (The Chronography of Bar Ebroyo).
6. Bar Ebroyo. "Al Mukhtasar Fid-Dual".
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