Life of Mar Aba – chapter 34

The 6th century “Saint’s Life” of the East Syriac patriarch, Mar Aba, continues.  He has been loaded with chains, and is now being marched along on an expedition that the Sassanid Persian King of Kings is making up-country.  The Persian fire-priests at court are still trying to get him. 

After the Saint had been dragged along in these fetters in the wake of the king for about 400 parasangs, until the King of Kings went down to the (two) cities, he went down also and lived in fetters with his disciples in a house, where by the power of Christ he managed the patriarchate and all its obligations.  Then the King of Kings commanded, in his goodness, that he should be freed;  but the Magians persisted in their usual hostility and left the Saint in his fetters.  Once the King of Kings departed from the (two) cities, he was taken in chains in the wake of the court to a place named PS’I.  After they had tortured and tormented him in these hard fetters and the wonderful beauty of his patience in the fear of God had been revealed, then almighty God, the Lord of All, in his wonderful power, through his inexpressible works, gave an irresistible hint to the mind of the King of Kings, so that he sent and by a miracle loosed the athlete (ἀθλήτης) of Christ from all his fetters.  Then there was great joy in the whole people of God and they offered praise and worship.

How much of this is historical, and how much folk tale, as with all such literature is very hard to tell.  But the interest of this near contemporary account is that the Sassanid monarchy really did change its policy during this period, coming to see the Nestorian Christians as a possible useful counter-balance to the power of the Zoroastrian clergy. 

In this chapter again we see that the King of Kings had no interest in resolving the dispute, but was entirely happy to keep the patriarch dangling in front of the Magians, sometimes offering them some of what they wanted, other times not.  It kept the Magians occupied, rather than engaged in their time-honoured past-time of plotting against the throne.

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