Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Treasure-House of Mysteries (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press)

Poetry can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. It all depends on the reader and the depth, he or she wishes to dive into when reading the poem. To further complicate poems, one has to consider context the poem was written in, references which may no longer be relevant, and meanings which can be lost when translating from one language to another. Today, I will be reviewing the book Treasure-House of Mysteries, which is Volume 45 in the Popular Patristics Series available at St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. Without further ado, here is my review.

When I think of Syriac Christianity, I think of St. Ephrem. When I think of translators of Syriac texts, I trust Sebastian Brock. Treasure-House of Mysteries is both of these and more! In addition to St. Ephrem, there are a number of poems by Jacob of Serugh (also known as Mar Jacob) and even more from anonymous sources. There are five sections in this book. The first one is an introduction to both Syriac Christianity and to recurring themes in this book, like clothing and bridal imagery. The second section addresses Ephrem's reading of the Bible and the way he interpreted Scripture, both factual and spiritual. This section has also contain numerous excerpts from Ephrem's hymns, which discuss Scripture and the self-revelation of God. The remaining three sections are where the poetry is found and there is a section on the Old Testament, New Testament, and Bible to Liturgy.

The book is well-organized, in that the poems start with Genesis and end with Revelation. You can choose to read them in the order they are presented or you can look for a subject that fancies you and hop around, which is what I chose to do. The first two poems I read were "The Two Thieves" and "The Cherub and the Thief." Both of them address the Good Thief, whom I chose as my Confirmation saint. In "The Two Thieves," which I enjoyed immensely we read a dialogue back and forth between the Good Thief and the Bad Thief. The Good Thief tries his hardest to get the Bad Thief to reconsider his position on Christ and accept the gift of salvation that Jesus gave the Good Thief, but he was too blind and stubborn to see that Jesus was the Messiah. In "The Cherub and the Thief," which I didn't enjoy as much was a conversation between the Good Thief and the angel defending the Garden of Eden. In it, the Good Thief explained to the angel that with the death of Jesus, Paradise has been re-opened, and it takes a good deal of convincing for the angel to believe. It was beautifully written, I just had a hard time making myself believe that the angel guarding Eden would not have known what happened until the Good Thief told him so.

Other interesting poems were "The Angel and Zechariah," and "The Angel and Mary." These two poems provide a nice contrast of the annunciation of John the Baptist and the annunciation of Jesus. You can really see the doubt of Zechariah and why he was punished, which is in start contrast to Mary's innocent questioning and trying to understand what was about to change not only her life, but the life of the world. Overall, this was a very rich book. It was both thought-provoking and spiritually edifying. What I really appreciated was the introduction before each poem, as it helped provide context, set the tone, and provide Scriptural passages for the poem. If you are interested in poetry or Syriac Christianity, this is a must-read for you! You will also want to check out Hymns on Paradise by St. Ephrem the Syrian.

This book was provided to me for free by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!