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E06262: The Homily (memrā) on the Church of *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030) is written in Syriac during the early 6th c. by Jacob of Serugh (c. 451-521). It laments the despoliation of the church dedicated to Stephen in Amida (northern Mesopotamia) and its conversion into a fire temple by the Persians, after the take-over of the city by the troops of Kavadh I in the year 503.

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posted on 2018-08-29, 00:00 authored by sminov
Jacob of Serugh, Homily on the Church of Stephen


The full title of the memrā is: ܕܝܠܗ ܕܡܠܦܢܐ ܡܪܝ ܝܥܩܘܒ ܡܐܡܪܐ ܕܥܠ ܒܝܬ ܡܪܝ ܣܛܐܦܢܘܤ ܣܗܕܐ ܕܥܒܕܘܗܝ ܦܖ̈ܣܝܐ ܒܝܬ ܢܘܪܐ ܟܕ ܥܠܘ ܠܗ̇ ܠܐܡܝܕ, 'Memrā of the teacher Mār Yaq'ub, on the house of the martyr Mār Stephanos, which the Persians made into a house of fire when they entered into Amida'. The primary focus of the Homily is lamentation over the desecrated church of the Martyr Stephen in Amida, converted by the Persians into a Zoroastrian fire temple after their capture of the city. The author approaches this subject from different angles, placing his main emphasis on such theological themes as God's justice and the chastisement of the Christians of Amida by the hand of the pagan conquerors. As in his other homilies, Jacob makes a heavy use of biblical typology to make his point, comparing the Sasanians to the biblical Assyrians and evoking the story of the capture of the Ark of the Covenant by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4-6). He concludes the Homily by expressing a hope that God will vindicate his people by punishing the Persians and restoring the church to the Christians.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Stephen, the First Martyr : S00030

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Liturgical texts - Hymns Literary - Sermons/Homilies


  • Syriac

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region


Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Serugh Edessa Edessa Ἔδεσσα Edessa

Major author/Major anonymous work

Jacob of Serugh

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Chant and religious singing

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Destruction/desecration of saint's shrine

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Pagans Foreigners (including Barbarians)


The Homily on the Church of Stephen is a poetic work, composed in the aftermath of the conquest of the Roman city of Amida in northern Mesopotamia by the Persian army of Kavadh I, and the conversion of the church dedicated to Stephen into a Zoroastrian fire temple. An original Syriac composition, it was almost certainly produced by the West-Syrian poet Jacob of Serugh (c. 451-521). The Homily belongs to the literary genre of memrā, a narrative poem that employs couplets all in the same syllabic meter. Such poems, which appear to have been recited rather than sung, were presumably used in the liturgy, though there is no evidence from Late Antiquity of exactly how this happened. A critical edition of the Homily was published by R.-Y. Akhrass and I. Syryany on the basis of two manuscripts, Damascus Patr. 12/15 (12th c.), and Mardin, Church of the Forty Martyrs 134 (18th c.). Syriac text: Akhrass & Syryany 1917, vol. 1, 44-51; French translation: Debié 2018, 60-89. For a discussion of the literary structure and historical context of the Homily, see Debié 2018, 29-59. For general information on Jacob and his oeuvre, see Brock 2011; Lange 2004; Alwan 1986.


The despoliation and conversion of the church dedicated to Stephen into a fire temple, lamented by the Homily, took place after the capture of the city of Amida by the Persian army of Kavadh I (r. 488-531) during the so-called Anastasian War, the military conflict between the Roman and Sasanian empires during the years 502-506 (for more information on this, see Greatrex 1998, 73-138; on the capture of Amida, see also Debié 2003; Lenski 2007; Greatrex 2010). According to M. Debié, the Homily was pronounced during the Easter feast after the conquest of Amida, i.e. during April of 503 (Debié 2018, 40-41). While Jacob of Serugh seems to be the only author to mention the conversion of Stephen's church into a fire temple, there is no serious reason to doubt his testimony. The importance of Jacob's Homily lies in the fact that it is our only testimony for the existence of a church dedicated to Stephen in Amida. Unfortunately, Jacob provides no information on when this shrine was built, where it was located, or how it looked and functioned. Another important aspect of this work is that it bears witness to the religious policy of the Sasanians on conquered Roman territory, which in this case involved the conversion of a Christian cultic building into a Zoroastrian shrine (the only instance known so far of such a conversion).


Main editions and translations: Akhrass, R.-Y., and Syryany, I., 160 Unpublished Homilies of Jacob of Serugh. 2 vols (Damascus: Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate, 2017). Debié, M., “Guerres et religions en Mésopotamie du Nord dans l’Antiquité tardive: un mimro inédit de Jacques de Saroug sur l’église Saint-Étienne que les Perses ont transformée en temple du feu à Amid (Diyarbakιr) en 503 è.c.,” Syriac Orthodox Patriarchal Journal 56 (2018), 29-89. Further reading: Alwan, K., “Bibliographie générale raisonnée de Jacques de Saroug († 521),” Parole de l’Orient 13 (1986), 313-384. Brock, S.P., “Ya‘qub of Serugh,” in: S.P. Brock, A.M. Butts, G.A. Kiraz and L. van Rompay (eds.), Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2011), 433-435. Debié, M., “Du grec en syriaque: la transmission du récit de la prise d’Amid (502) dans l’historiographie byzantine,” Byzantinische Zeitschrift 96:2 (2003), 601-622. Greatrex, G., Rome and Persia at War, 502–532 (Leeds: Francis Cairns, 1998). Greatrex, G., “Procopius and Pseudo-Zachariah on the Siege of Amida and its Aftermath (502–6),” in: H. Börm and J. Wiesehoefer (eds.), Commutatio et Contentio: Studies in the Late Roman, Sasanian, and Early Islamic Near East in Memory of Zeev Rubin (Reihe Geschichte 3; Düsseldorf: Wellem Verlag, 2010), 227-251. Lange, C., “Jakob von Sarug, † 521,” in: W. Klein (ed.), Syrische Kirchenväter (Urban-Taschenbücher 587; Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 2004), 217-227. Lenski, N., “Two Sieges of Amida (AD 359 and 502-503) and the Experience of Combat in the Late Roman Near East,” in: A.S. Lewin and P. Pellegrini (eds.), The Late Roman Army in the Near East from Diocletian to the Arab Conquest: Proceedings of a Colloquium held at Potenza, Acerenza and Matera, Italy (May 2005) (BAR International Series 1717; Oxford: Archaeopress, 2007), 219-236.

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