« AnteriorContinuar »
They have books of wise and moral sayings (Akuldaree, Shaper Doobaree), and books of philosophy (Peelâsoopa), but “ falsely so called;" and they have rare copies of ponderous Dictionaries (Lexicona) and Grammars (Grammatika).
The Nestorians have some very ancient manuscripts. There are copies of the New Testament written, some on parchment and some on paper, which date back about six hundred
years. Some of these are written in the Estrangelo, and others in the common Nestorian character. The very ancient copies of the Scriptures are regarded with much veneration, and preserved with great care. They are kept in envelopes, and when taken into the hands, are reverently kissed as very hallowed treasures. .
I find it interesting, in translating the Scriptures, to compare the printed Syriac version, as also our own, with these ancient manuscripts. Slight diversities sometimes occur, not such as at all to invalidate the authority of either as a standard version ; but, by the different location of a single dot, new light and vividness are often thrown upon a passage of Scripture. of this kind occurred a day or two ago. It was in Luke 24: 32, in relation to the conversation between Christ and the two disciples on their way to Emmaus. “ Did not our hearts burn within us?” In the printed version it is yakeed, burn, the same as in English. But my translator, a Nestorian priest, questioned the correctness of this reading ; and on referring to a manuscript copy of the New Testament about five hundred years old, instead of " yakeed," burn, we found "yakeer,” heavy, or dull; the difference being simply in the location of a point, which, in the one case, being placed below the final letter of the word made it Daled, and in the other case, placed above it, made it Raish. According to the ancient manuscript, the verse in question would read : “ And they said one to another, Were not our hearts heavy (or dull,-reproaching themselves for being slow of understanding), while he talked to us by the way, and while he opened to us the Scriptures ;” a reading which certainly loses nothing of beauty and force when compared with our own version.
Few as are the books of the Nestorians, their readers are scarcely more numerous. Not more than one in two hundred of the people-in general, only the clergy-could read when we commenced our labors. And such as read at all—their highest and most influential ecclesiastics even—are but very imperfectly educated. A majority of the priesthood can merely chant their devotions in the ancient Syriac, without knowing
same as our own.
the meaning. Some of the bishops even, among the mountains, , are in this predicament. We have now about four hundred children and youth in our seminary and schools, who possess as good native talents as an equal number in any country, and are successfully studying both their ancient and modern tongues; and we hope soon to have many more thus employed. We have freely circulated the printed Scriptures in the ancient Syriac, among such as can read, and have multiplied with the pen copies of those portions of the Bible which we have translated into the spoken dialect, and we need only the aid of a printer and press, to enable us to contribute far more rapidly and efficiently, to revive the dying embers of literature, as well as of gion, among this venerable people.
The Nestorians, like their Mohammedan masters and neighbors, are very fine-looking people. Their stature is nearly the
Their features are regular, manly, intelligent, and often handsome. And their complexion, were their habits cleanly, would be as light and fair as that common among Americans. In their character, they are bold, generous, kind, very artless for Asiatics, and extremely hospitable. Oppression from their Persian masters has never been able to reduce the Nestorians of Ooroomiah to the spiritless servility of the Armenian Christians. They are still brave, restless under oppression, and, so far as a subject people can be, remarkably independent in their feelings. On the other hand, the Nestorians of the mountains, with all their wildness, rudeness and bold independence, still possess the same kindness and hospitality of character, which are such prominent traits in the people of this province. There, the hungry man will divide his last piece of bread with a stranger or an enemy. In the district of Ooroomiah, where the Nestorians are so plentifully supplied with the means of living, they, as a matter of calculation, lay in liberal stores for their poor countrymen of Koordistan ; who, pinched with want among their own barren mountains, come down to the plain in large numbers, particularly in the winter, to seek a temporary subsistence on charity. The characteristic kindness and hospitality of the Nestorians, which they ever manifest to us to the utmost of their power, contribute much to render our residence among them agreeable and comfortable.
But attractive as are their native traits of character, it is as nominal Christians that the Nestorians are invested with yet deeper interest. The organization of the Nestorian church is strictly episcopal. Its ecclesiastical head is a Patriarch, with the title of Mar Shimon, i. e. Lord Simeon. The residence of this Patriarch is at Diss, about twenty miles from Julamerk, in the Hakkary district, one of the most inaccessible parts of the Koordish mountains. He formerly resided at Kochanes, still nearer to the town of Julamerk. He is clothed properly with only spiritual power, though his influence is in fact far more general. Among the mountaineers, his word is usually law in both temporal and spiritual matters. Among the Nestorians of Ooroomiah his control is much more limited. He never ventures down among them, probably from the apprehension that he might suffer embarrassment from their Persian rulers. And being thus beyond the reach of the full exercise of his authority, the people of this province have become rather lax in their regard even for his spiritual prerogatives. Still they look up to him with respect and veneration, and requite the visits of his brothers, which are usually annual, with liberal pecuniary contributions. Under the Patriarch are eighteen bishops; four of whom reside in the province of Oorcomiah.
The canons of the Nestorian church, require celibacy in its Patriarch and bishops. They also require, that from childhood they abstain entirely from the use of animal food, save fish, eggs and the productions of the dairy. Indeed, they go a step farther back in the latter requisition. The mother of the candidate for the episcopal office must also have observed the same abstinence, during the period of gestation. This requisition of abstinence from animal food is, however, like many other of their ceremonials, in some cases softened down. One of the bishops of Ooroomiah was never a candidate for episcopacy, until he was forty years old, having eaten animal as well as vegetable food until that period. He was then made a bishop, as a token of the Patriarch's favor, for important services rendered when a deacon, in opposing the influence of papal emissaries. Since becoming a bishop, he has practised the required abstinence. I have sometimes questioned the Nestorian bishops, in relation to the reasons for their practising celibacy and restriction to vegetable diet. They never attempt to found the requirements of their church on the precepts of Scripture; but reply, that in consideration of the sacredness of the episcopal office, these observances are enjoined as matter of propriety, on those intrusted with it,—they being set apart to their high and holy work, as a consecrated class of Nazarišes. Neither celibacy
nor abstinence from animal food are required of the inferior clergy; nor do convents exist among them.
The Nestorian clergy, like the laity, are usually poor; and with the exception of the Patriarch and the bishops, they are obliged to labor with their hands, or teach a few scholars to obtain a subsistence. The priests realize a small pittance, in the form of a trifling annual contribution from their flocks, and a scanty fee for marriages and some other occasional services. The bishops receive an annual tax of about two and a quarter cents on an individual, each from his respective diocese; and this, in their simple style of living and with no families to support, suffices for their subsistence. The Patriarch receives an annual contribution, collected for him by the bishops, which usually amounts to two hundred and fifty or three hundred dollars.
The Nestorians are very charitable towards other sects of nominal Christians, liberal in their feelings, and strongly desirous of improvement. The Patriarch has repeatedly written to us, expressing his joy and satisfaction at our being among his people, his gratitude for our efforts for their benefit, and his earnest prayers for our prosperity ; and such have been the language and apparently the feelings of all classes of his people. The four bishops of Ooroomiah and several of the most intelligent priests are in our employ as assistants in our missionary labors. They engage in the instruction and superintendence of schools and Sabbath schools, preach the gospel, aid
in translation, and render other efficient assistance. And the Patriarch and his brothers pledge to us the same co-operation, whenever we shall be enabled to extend our labors into the mountains.*
The religious belief and practices of the Nestorians are much more simple and scriptural than those of other Oriental Christians. They have the greatest abhorrence of all image worship,
* Two brothers of the Patriarch (one of them his designated successor) are now with us on a visit, and are desirous of entering our employ as assistant missionaries here at Ooroomiah.
† An exposition of the religious system of the Nestorians does not come within the limits or the object of this article. But as the charge of heresy, in relation to the character of Christ, has been so violently laid upon the Nestorian church, by Catholics and other Oriental Christians ever since the days auricular confession, the doctrine of purgatory, and many other of the corrupt dogmas and practices of the Papal, Greek and Armenian churches; while they cherish the highest reverence of Nestorius, the present opportunity of vindicating, to Protestants, their orthodoxy on that important subject, ought not to be omitted. This point cannot better be secured, in few words, than by presenting their religious creed, as it occurs in their Liturgy, and is always repeated by them at the close of their services, as often as they hold religious worship, which is at least twice every day. They recognise it as the Nicene creed ; and, as will be seen by inspection, it differs but little from that venerable document.
Below is a translation of this creed, with the caption prefixed, in the precise form in which it occurs in the Nestorian Liturgy in the ancient Syriac language. “ The creed which was composed by three hundred and eighteen
holy fathers at Nice, a city of Bythinia, in the time of king Constantine the pious. The occasion of their assembling was on account of Arius, the infidel accursed. “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, and Creator of all things which are visible and invisible ; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only begotten, the first-born of every creature; who was begotten of his Father before all worlds, and was not created; the true God of the true God, of the same substance with his Father, by whose hands the worlds were made and all things were created; who for us men, and for our salvation, descended from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost, and became man, and was conceived and born of the Virgin Mary, and suffered and was crucified in the days of Pontius Pilate, and died and was buried, and rose on the third day according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of his father, and is again to come to judge the living and the dead; and we believe in one Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth who proceedeth from the Father, the Spirit that giveth life ; and in one holy apostolic, catholic (universal) church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting."
This document, being regarded as a summary of their religious system, and so often repeated by the Nestorians, of course exercises a strong influence over their religious belief and feelings.