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From the Book of Marganitha (The Pearl)
On the Truth of Christianity

Written by Mar Odisho, Metropolitan of N’siwin and Armenia, A.D. 1298







On the Number of the Church Sacraments


The Sacraments of the Church, according to the Divine Scriptures, are seven in number: 1. The Priesthood, which is the ministry of all the other Sacraments. 2. Holy Baptism. 3. The Oil of Unction. 4. The Oblation of the Body and Blood of CHRIST. 5. Absolution. 6. The Holy Leaven, namely, the king.[1] 7. The sign of the life giving Cross. These are necessary because of the wants of man in this carnal world. In order for a man to be, and to exist in the world, he must be born of a carnal mother through a carnal father, though the figure and perfection of man come from the FATHER of Lights. In a like manner, in order to belong to a world of immortality, it is requisite to be born of the spiritual womb of baptism, through the agency of the spiritual father which is the priest, notwithstanding that form and perfection are imparted by the Holy spirit and by the power of the Most High. Further, it is requisite for every one belonging to this world to sustain his temporal life by temporal food, and earthly drink. So, in like manner, spiritual nourish­ment and divine drink are a means to him who is baptized for sustaining his eternal life in God.

 Again, as every one who is in the body, through the changes of the times, and bad conditions, is subject to sickness and disease, and is in need of physicians who will restore him to his former health if he follows their injunctions; so the man of God, through the effects of sin, and immoral living, falls into the disorders of iniquity, and receives health from the priests of the Church, the spiritual physicians, if he orders himself after their directions.

 The Oil of Unction is used in the birth which is by baptism, and the Holy Leaven is used in the spiritual food of the Body of CHRIST. The sign of the life-giving Cross is that by which Christians[2] are ever kept, and by it all the other Sacraments are sealed and perfected. But some Christians who possess not the Leaven rockon Marriage, which is according to CHRIST’S ordinance, (whereby in the place of a mortal deceased another is raised up), the seventh Sacrament. Should any from without inquire what constitutes the holiness and sacramental nature of each of these Seven Sacraments, we reply that these three things sanctify them; First, a true priest, who has attained the priesthood rightly, according to the requirements of the Church. Secondly, the word and command of the Lord of Sacraments,[3]whereby He ordained each of them. Thirdly, right intention and confirmed faith on the part of those who partake of them, believing that the effect of the Sacraments takes place by a heavenly power. We shall now treat briefly of each of the Sacraments separately.



 On the Priesthood


 The Priesthood is the ministry of mediation[4] between GOD and man in those things which impart forgiveness of sins, convey blessings, and put away wrath.[5]It is divided into imperfect, as was that of the law; and perfect, as is that of the Church.

 The foundation of the Priesthood in the Church is laid on that declaration of the LORD of the Priesthood to St. Peter, in the region of Caesarea Philippi: “To thee I shall give the keys[6]of the kingdom of heaven; whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; And whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven”. Its superstructure comes from that other injuction: “Feed My lambs.[7]Feed My sheep. Feed My ewes Its completion and perfection from that He breathed[8] on them saying: “Receive ye the Holy Spirit; if ye forgive a man his sins, they are forgiven to him; and you withhold forgiveness of a man’s sins, they shall be held”.

 The old Priesthood was one of generation,[9] and not one that was based upon manner of life and will, but the new Priesthood by Apostolic succession, and imparted in the Church through the laying[10]on of hands, is given to those who are deemed worthy of it after examination of their manner of life and thought.—"Let these be first examined,[11]and then let them minister being found blameless.” Therefore the perfection of this and the imperfection of that Priesthood is evident, since we know that very many wicked children are begotten to righteous fathers, as Cain, Kham, and the children of Lot, of Moses, Eli, and others; and good children are begotten of wicked fathers, as Melchizedek, Abraham, and others. Moreover, the former Priesthood was conferred by material[12]oil; but this latter by the immaterial unction of the SPIRIT,[13]through the laying on of hands. As to the matter of the rules whereby he who desires the Priesthood is to be tried, whether he be worthy or not, let him who wishes to know this attend to the words of St. Paul, the tongue of the SPIRIT; this is a true saying: “If a man desire the priesthood he desireth a good work. He who becomes a priest must be blameless, the husband of one wife, alert mentally, modest, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt at teaching; not given to wine, not hasty to strike, but patient, not quarrelsome, not greedy of lucre. One who rules well his own house, having his children under submission to bring them up with all purity. For if a man know not how to rule his own household, how can he take care of the Church of God? He should not be a recent convert, lest he become proud and fall into the condemnation of satan. Moreover, he must have a good report from outsiders; lest he fall into reproach, and snares of satan. Likewise the deacons must be pure, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, and they should not love impure profits; holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these. “that is all the degrees of the Priesthood, be first proved, and only then should they minister, being found blameless.”[14]



On Baptism


 Baptism is the immersion in and the washing with water[15] and this is divided into five kinds:

First, the washing off the filth of the body, as is commonly done by all men. Second, the washings according to usages of the law,[16]whereby it was believed that purity towards God from all carnal uncleanness was attained. Thirdly, those of the traditions of the elders, such as “the washing of cups, and pots, brazen vessels, beds”, and as “when they come from the market, except they bathe, they eat[17]not.” Fourth, the baptism of John[18], whereby he preached only repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Fifth, the baptism of our Saviour[19], which is received, through the Holy Spirit, for the gift of adoption[20] of sons, for the resurrection from the dead,[21]and for everlasting life; which is “the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.”[22]For as the circumcision of the flesh was given for a sign denoting those who were of the family of Israel of old according to the flesh; so the baptism of Christ is a sign of spiritual relationship to the new Israel, viz., those who are the called, and the children of God. “But those who received Him, to them He gave power to become the sons of God.[23]

 The matter of Baptism is pure water. If a man is not born of water and the Spirit[24], he cannot enter into the kingdom of God”. The form, of baptism is:

“in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit[25].” according to the words of our Saviour. There is also a Sixth Baptism, that of blood, as our Lord has indicated: “I have a baptism to be baptized[26] with, and I am oppressed until it is fulfilled”. There is also a Seventh Baptism, that of tears, after the saying of the fathers. These two are allied to the fifth, which is an emblem of death and the resurrection.




On the Oil of Unction


 The Oil of Unction is an apostolical[27] tradition, originating from the oil consecrated by the Apostles themselves, and which by succession has been handed down in the Church of God to this day. The purpose of its use we learn from its own physical properties, and from the sacred Scriptures. The Divine book (Bible) instructs us that, according to the Law, such as were set apart for the symbolical priesthood[28], or for earthly sovereignty[29], were anointed with the oil of unction. And in like manner with us: such as are set apart for the kingdom of heaven and for the true priesthood, must be anointed with this same manifoldly symbolical unction; in order that they may be truly anointed ones and brethren[30]of Christ, who by oneness and His union with God is truly and supernaturally anointed. “Therefore hath the Lord Thy God anointed[31] Thee with the oil of glad­ness above Thy fellows.” He is the Anointer and the Anointed: the Anointer by His Godhead, and the Anointed by his humanity.

 As to the natural properties of oil, we know that the most eminent artists, after having completed a picture with all its rich colouring, anoint it with oil, in order that it may not easily be injured, or receive damage when brought into contact with other objects. In like manner, those who are drawn after the likeness of the Heavenly King are for the same reason anointed, lest they should receive damage from the chances of the world and from the opposition of the devil.

 The matter of the Oil of Unction is pure olive oil. The form the apostolical benediction.



 On the Oblation


 The oblation is a service offered up by those below to those above, through material elements, in hope of the forgiveness of sins and of an answer to prayer. The old oblations consisted of irrational animals[32] and of the blood of bodies, but with us the Only-begotten[33]of God, Who took upon Him the form of a servant[34], He offered His own body a sacrifice[35] to His Father for the life of the world, and hence He is called by John, “The Lamb of God[36] which taketh away the sins of the world.” And again it is said of Him, that “His blood[37]is the new testa­ment, shed for many for the remission of sin.” And again: “So God loved[38]the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son,” Who was offered up to His Father a living,[39] rational sacrifice for all the created, thereby reconciling[40]the world with His Greatness, and bringing salvation to angels and to men. Now, seeing that it was impossible that His sacrifice upon the cross for the salvation of all could identically be enacted, in every place, throughout all ages, and to all men, just as it was, without any alteration, He beheld with an eye of mercy, and devised in com­passion and with great wisdom; and in that night in which He was betrayed for the life of the world, He took bread into His holy, pure, and immaculate hands, blessed, broke, and gave it to His disciples and he said unto them, this is my body which is being broken for the sake of the life of the world unto remission of sins, likewise he blessed the cup and gave it to them saying “This is My Blood of the new testament, which will be shed for many for the remission of sins. Take therefore eat all of you of this bread, and drink of this cup, and do this, whenever ye shall meet together, in remembrance of Me.” Through this divine command the bread is changed[41] into His Holy Body, and the wine into His Precious Blood, and they impart, to all who receive them in faith and without doubting, the forgiveness of sins, purification, enlightenment, pardon, the great hope of the resurrection from the dead, the inheritance of heaven, and the new life, Whenever we approach these Sacraments we meet with CHRIST Himself and Him we bear upon our hands and kiss and in partaking thereof, we are being united with Him, His Holy Body mixing with our bodies, and His innocent Blood mingling[42] with our blood, and by faith we know Him that is in heaven and Him that is in the Church, to be but one Body.

 The matter of this Sacrament CHRIST ordained to be of wheat and wine, as being most fit to represent body and blood. The form He conveys through His life-giving word, and by the descent of the Holy Spirit.



 On the Holy Leaven


 The holy and blessed Apostles, Thomas and Bartholomew of the Twelve, and Adai[43] and Man of the Seventy, who discipled the East, committed to all the Churches in the East the Holy Leaven, to be kept for the perfecting of the administration of the Sacrament of our Lord’s Body until His coming again. And should any Christians dispute the fact of the above mentioned Apostles having committed to those of the East this sanctified Leaven, on the ground that Peter, the head of the Apostles, and his companions did not commit it to the Western,[44] and should object to us on this wise: “If what you say is true, then one of these two conseque­nces must result: either the Apostles did not agree in their mode of discipling, which is unseemly to think, or this tradition of yours is false”. Against these we reply: The Easterns from the day of their discipleship up to this day have kept their faith as a sacred trust, and have observed, without change,. the Apostolical Canons; and notwithstanding all the persecutions which they have suffered from many kings, and their subjection to the severe yoke of a foreign power, they have never altered their creed nor changed their canons. Such as are well versed in such matters know full well the labour and care required on the part of Christians to observe these canons, and more especially to preserve this Leaven, in a difficult country, where there is no Christian sovereign to support them, nor any commander to back them, and where they are continually persecuted, vexed, and troubled. Had this Leaven not been of Apostolical transmission they would not, most assuredly, have endured all these afflictions and trials to keep it together with orthodox faith. Then, as to their argument drawn from Peter and the great Apostles who discipled the West, we have this to oppose them, — that those Apostles did transmit the same to the Westerns but that with their alteration of the faith, the canons also were corrupted by their (Western) subjection to the will of heretical kings. And, in proof of this statement, we urge that if they all held the traditions of the Apostles, the Franks would not offer an unleavened, and the Romans (Greeks) a leavened oblation; since the Apostles did not transmit it in two different ways. Therefore, the Westerns have changed the faith and the canons, and not the Easterns.



 On the Remission of Sins and Repentance


 The human race is apt to err and easily inclined to sin, and it is hardly possible that all should not be tried with spiritual diseases; and on this account the healing priesthood was given to heal freely. “If you forgive[45] a man his sins, they shall be forgiven”.

“Those that are well need no physician;[46]but those who are seriously sick “. And, again: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners unto repentance”. Three parables I quote to this effect, that of the Prodigal Son,[47]of the Hundred Sheep,[48]and of the Two Debtors,[49]which were intended to increase the hope of sinners, and to open to them the gate of repentance which leads to heaven and imparts heavenly happiness. And in demonstration thereof, the case of Peter after his denial of CHRIST, and of Paul after his persecution, and the woman who was a sinner, the Publican, and the Thief upon the cross. Hence it is incumbent upon believers when, through the infirmity of their human nature, which all cannot keep upright, they are overcome of sin, to seek the Christian Dispensary, and to open their diseases to the spiritual Physicians, that by absolution and penance they may obtain the cure of their souls, and afterwards go and partake of the Lord’s Feast in purity, agreeably with the injunction of the eminent doctor, who writes thus: “Our Lord has committed the medicine of repentance to learned physicians, the priests of the Church. Whomsoever, therefore, Satan has cast into the disease of sin, let him come and show his wounds to the disciples of the Wise Physician who will heal him with spiritual medicine”[50]

 These things will most assuredly result if they are done in faith[51], and not after a worldly manner, for

‘‘whatsoever is not of faith is sin’’ just as some, people, for lucre’s sake, have made of this sacred thing a merchandize, and a source of temporal profit.




 On Matrimony and On Virginity


 Marriage after the ordinance of CHRIST, andentered into for the sake of the care and labour of a wife about the house, and for the bringing up of children in the fear of God, without indifference or grumbling, and in order that the eye may not wander towards that which belongs to others, the Scriptures call this a holy estate: “Marriage is honourable[52] in all and their bed is pure”. Paul makes it the mystery of things far above this world: “This is a great mystery,[53]but I speak concerning Christ and His Church”. Hence divorce is unlawful except for the cause of adultery, or that (reason) which pertains to the soul and which is devisible into three kinds: sorcery, denial of the faith,[54]and murder. Or to that of the body: “Whosoever divorces[55]his wife, except for fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is separated[56] com­mitteth adultery”. With regard to Virginity, the steward of God’s house saith: “I have no command­mentfFor the commandment of the Lord enjoins matrimony. But should any one desire to keep his virginity, and to follow, in this respect, the example of the Baptist, of the SAVIOUR, of Elijah, and of Paul, it is allowable for him so to do, agreeably with the permission, and not after the command of God. Not, moreover, because he counts marriage an unholy and contemptible thing, but on account of what it entails, such as being obliged to mix with the multitude, to have and to hold converse with them, and to reside in towns and villages, from which all offences arise, which makes the yoke of marriage heavy and increases one’s cares, and thus hinders the soul’s spiritual advancement by its manifold connection with the world. Notwith­standing this, however, he who makes a vow of virginity, and does not become like a spiritual angel in theory and in practice, is inferior to a lax layman; for “every man who battles in the contest frees his mind from everything else”.


[1] The holy leaven is usually referred to as Malka “the king”.

[2]  I. Cor. 1-18

[3] I. Cor. 10.15-17

[4] Numbers Ch. 16.17.26, v. 9.27.3. Jude, 11

[5] Numbers 16.46-end. Acts 5.1-16

[6] Matt. 16-19 and 18.18. John 20.23

[7] John 21.15-17

[8] John 20.22-23

[9] Numbers 16.40

[10] 1. Tim. 4.14, 5.22. Titus 1.5-end. Heb. 6.2. Acts 6.6

[11] I. Tim. 3.1-13. Acts 6.3

[12] Exodus 30.22-33, 29.7. Leviticus 8.12

[13] Acts 2.4 6.6, 8 .15-18

[14] I. Tim. 3.1-10.

[15] Matt. 3.6-16, Mark 1.5, John 3.22-23,

Compare Acts 16.13 and 16.15, Romans 6.4-5, Col. 2.12, Titus 3.5, 1. Peter 3.21, Heb. 10.22

[16] Deut. 23.11,      Lev. 15.5, 17.15-16

[17] Matt. 1.5.2-3,    Mark 7.3-5-8

[18] Matt. 3.5-12,     John 3.23, Acts 13.24, Acts 19.4

[19] Matt. 3.11, John 3.5, John 1.33

[20] II Cor. 6.18, Gal. 3.29, Gal. 4.4-7, Eph. 1-5,

[21] Rom. 6.3-5: 23, Cot. 2.12

[22] Cot. 2.11

[23] John 1.12

[24] John 3.5, Acts 8.36, Acts 10.47

[25] Matt. 28.29

[26] Luke 12.50

[27] James 5.14, Mark 6.13

[28] Exodus 30.22-30 and 29.7. Leviticus 8.12

[29] 1. Sam. 10.1, 16.13, I Kings 1.39, II. Kings 9.6, 11.12

[30] Heb. 2.17

[31] Psi. 45.7, Heb. 1.9.

[32] Lev. 4.4, etc.

[33] John 3.16

[34] Philipians 2.6-7

[35] Heb. 9.14

[36] John 1.29

[37] Mark 14.24 etc.

[38] John 3.16 and Heb. 12.24

[39] Heb. 12.24

[40] Rom. 5.10, Eph. 2.16, II Cor. 5.19

[41] The change which the author refers to, however, is not physical, but rather to the power inherent in this Holy Sacrament for the remission of sins of them that partake it in true faith.

[42] I Cor. 10.15-17

[43] Mar Addai, according to the general opinion is supposed to be the same as "Taddai" one of the twelve, but according to some others, he together with “Mar Man” is said to be of the seventy.

[44] The term ‘Western’ here denotes Christianity within Roman Empire.

[45] John 20.23

[46] Mati. 9.12-13

[47] Luke 15.11-32

[48] Luke 15.3-7

[49] Luke 7.41

[50] This is a quotation from Mar Narsay, renowned doctor of the Church of the East who lived in fifth century and wrote extensively. It is also quoted in the service appointed in the Khudra, to be read on the first day of the commemoration of the Fast of Ninevities.

[51] Romans 14.23

[52] Hebrews 13.4

[53] Eph. 5.32

[54] I. Cor. 7.10-18

[55] Matt. 5.32

[56] In Aramaic the words d’share and shwiqta as used by Christ denote different meaning, the former is ‘to divorce’, the latter ‘separated’, seperated but not divorced, likewise it applies to marrying the guilty party in a divorce.

[57] I Cor.9.25