(From Makarios of Simonos Petra, The Synaxarion, (Ormylia, Chalcidice, 2003), IV, 91–96)
Today the Church commemorates our Father among the Saints, Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem. This entry is related to my previous blog posts for St Maximus Confessor (21 January) and St Agatho of Rome (20 February). Sophronius was born in Damascus c. A.D. 550, educated as a rhetorician but was attracted to the ascetic life.
On a pilgrimage to the holy places, he placed himself under the spiritual direction of a monk of the Monastery of St Theodosius the Great, John Moschus. They went to Egypt to learn from the ascetics there and Sophronius decided definitively to abandon the world and don the monastic habit. John Moschus and Sophronius visited many monasteries in Egypt and Palestine, including the Monastery of St Catherine on Mount Sinai, where St John Climacus was abbot, seeking to deepen their understanding of hesychasm—stillness and unceasing prayer. At the beginning of the 7th century, they went to Alexandria to assist with their theological learning and eloquence the patriarchs Eulogius and St John the Merciful in the struggle against monophysitism. Here Sophronius was cured miraculously of an eye disease by the Holy Unmercenary Healers, SS. Cyrus and John. In gratitude, he compiled a collection of their miracles.
In 614, the Persians occupied Jerusalem and threatened Alexandria. Sophronius and John Moschus fled for refuge to Rome, where John died in 619. Sophronius returned to Palestine but had to flee again in the face of Arab incursions, going to North Africa, where he met St Maximus Confessor, himself in flight from Constantinople. St Maximus became St Sophronius’s disciple, calling him ‘my blessed lord, my father and master.’ Previously, St Maximus had been concerned to refute the errors of Origen but, in dialogue with Sophronius, he realised that the most pressing question facing the church was the relationship of the two natures of Christ in the one person, and that the immediate threat to doctrine was the monophysite heresy in its most recent form—monotheletism.
St Sophronius returned to Egypt in 633 to continue the struggle against monotheletism but, finding the new patriarch of Alexandria, Cyrus, obdurate in heresy, he went to Constantinople to beg Patriarch Sergius to return to the doctrine of the Council of Chalcedon. The doctrine of one action or operation (energeia) in two natures, which Sergius had devised at the insistence of the Emperor Heraclius in an effort to reconcile the monophysites, had merely led the latter to claim, ‘It is not we who are in communion with Chalcedon, but Chalcedon with us.’ Sergius made the gesture of forbidding any mention of one or two operations in the two natures of Christ but this did not prove an adequate resolution of the controversy.
It was in response to this visit that Patriarch Sergius wrote a perhaps too clever letter to Pope Honorius I of Rome, saying that the Emperor Heraclius had used the expression ‘one operation of the Incarnate Word.’ He was, he said, himself uncertain of the orthodoxy of this expression but it had been used by his predecessor Mennas in a letter to Pope Vigilius. (In fact the letter was a monophysite forgery, but Sergius was not necessarily aware of this.) He asked for the pope’s opinion on his compromise, forbidding any discussion of the question. Pope Honorius replied in equally vague terms. ‘Following the lead of Sergius, who had said that ‘two operations’ might lead people to think two contrary wills were admitted in Christ, Honorius (after explaining the communicatio idiomatum, by which it can be said that God was crucified, and that the Man came down from heaven) adds: ‘Wherefore we acknowledge one Will of our Lord Jesus Christ, for evidently it was our nature and not the sin in it which was assumed by the Godhead, that is to say, the nature which was created before sin, not the nature which was vitiated by sin’.’ (Quoting from the Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent website.) Sergius then made use of this ambiguous response to assure the other patriarchs that his compromise had papal support—what would lead in due course to the unfortunate Honorius’s anathematisation by the Sixth Œcumenical Council and to 19th-century debates about papal infallibility. (This mosaic portrait of Pope Honorius is a rare example of a contemporary portrait of a churchman. It is in the apse of the Church of St Agnes Outside the Walls, a church rebuilt by Honorius to replace a 4th century basilica.)
St Sophronius then in 634 returned to Jerusalem, where the patriarch, St Modestus, had just died. The clergy and monks constrained the elderly St Sophronius unanimously to ascend the patriarchal throne. As soon as he was elected, he wrote a confession of his faith to the Patriarchs of Rome and Constantinople, confessing one single Christ in two natures, divine and human, who implements the function of each nature according to their respective properties, the same Christ who, without confusion or admixture (as the monophysites claimed) and without division (as the Nestorians implied) works miracles as God and suffers as Man, thus offering to human beings the possibility of being united through him with God by grace.
St Sophronius was Patriarch when the Arab invasion swept over Jerusalem in 638. He prevailed upon the Caliph Omar to enter the city as a pilgrim rather than as a conqueror and to guarantee the safety of the Christian sanctuaries. Not long after, he gave up his soul to God, going to the Jerusalem that is above.
(From Makarios of Simonos Petra, The Synaxarion, (Ormylia, Chalcidice, 2003), IV, 91–96)
In my blog entry on ‘Nicaea the Movie’ (25 January 2014) I commented that I have seen little on the Web about Eighth Day Books’ symposium, ‘Constantine, Christendom and Cultural Renewal’ (16–18 January 2014), which contrasted the views on St Constantine the Great of the eminent Mennonite theologian and pacifist, John Howard Yoder (1927–97) and the Reformed minister and theologian Peter Leithart.
I recently came across an article by Tim Huber on the Mennonite World Review website, 3 February 2014, reporting the presentation to the symposium of Alan Kreider, retired professor of church history and mission at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana. Prof. Kreider published an essay in the collection edited by John D. Roth, Constantine Revisited: Leithart, Yoder and the Constantinian Debate, (Wipf and Stock, 2013), published in response to Peter Leithart’s Defending Constantine.
Prof. Kreider remains unshaken in the Anabaptist conviction that ‘Constantine may have considered himself a pious ruler, but the early Christian church [by which he evidently means the pre-Constantinian church] would have found him an impious follower of Christ.’ He added that the Emperor’s baptism, which he put off until just before his death, shows that he and the church understood that state power was not compatible with the life of a Christian.
And yet it is common knowledge among church historians that Christians at that time put baptism off to the last possible moment. It was life in this world that was considered hazardous to our salvation, not just participation in state power.
The suggestion that state power is not compatible with the life of a Christian raises problems. The early Church required Christians to submit to state power. Note St Paul’s words: ‘I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.’ (1 Tim. 2: 1-2) And, famously—or notoriously— ‘… rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil … for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain … Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.’ (Rom. 13: 3-7)
The Christian, although enjoined to obedience, could not take full part in the public life of a pagan state, since it required pagan ritual sacrifice. But what would happen when most of the people considered themselves to be Christian—and when pagan sacrifice was no longer a condition of public office? Christians recognised that the state was necessary but how was it to be carried on in the changed circumstances? This was the question that needed to be answered at the time of Constantine.
Prof. Kreider is quoted as saying, ‘The more I study the early Christians, and I study them a lot, the more convinced I am they were nonviolent.’ This elicits comments on the website from two Orthodox priests, both of them scholars and historians.
First, Fr John W. Morris, Pastor of St George’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and teacher of history at a number of universities, expresses disagreement with Yoder’s view (that ‘the obligation [of Christians] to participate in war … [is a tradition] which has prevailed in the churches since Constantine …’ The Politics of Jesus, 1994, p. 210): ‘The Eastern Orthodox Church … never accepted the ‘just war theory’ of Augustine … To this day, an Eastern Orthodox soldier who kills in battle is barred from Communion until after they have been to Confession and have served a penance. In Eastern Orthodox theology all war is evil. However, there are times when war is a lesser evil than allowing a foreign country to invade your country and oppress your people.’
This arouses Fr Alexander F.W. Webster, Pastor of St Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church (ROCOR) in Stafford, Virginia and retired professor of history and National Guard chaplain: ‘I must dissent from my esteemed Orthodox colleague Fr. John W. Morris’s mischaracterization of Eastern Orthodox moral tradition on the issues of war and peace … the ‘lesser evil’ approach to moral issues is decidedly not—and never has been—Orthodox.’
It would be difficult to find two Orthodox theologians who agree completely as to what is the Church’s doctrine concerning war and military service but there seems general agreement that the Church in the East is not explicitly pacifist but neither has it formulated anything as explicit as the Western just-war tradition—at least as far as the jus ad bellum goes; there is less agreement as to the jus in bello. Fr Alexander, however, spurred on by outrage at certain remarks made by the Orthodox Peace Fellowship (which is unusual among the Orthodox in espousing frank pacifism), co-authored with the Protestant Darrell Cole, professor of religion at Drew University, The Virtue of War: Reclaiming the Classic Christian Traditions East & West (2004). They argue (convincingly, to my mind) that in fact the fundamental position of the Church East and West is and has always been the same—the position of which the Western just-war tradition is one expression. More specifically, Fr Alexander holds that the Orthodox Church holds in tension, in this as in other cases, two apparently contradictory notions: absolute pacifism and justifiable war. An unjustifiable war is evil; a justifiable war is not a lesser evil but a necessary work of charity.
Further to Fr John’s comment on the requirement of penance for a soldier, it is a fearful thing to kill another human being, even accidentally, and the Church has always required confession and penance. But St Basil the Great in his Canon 13 said, ‘Our Fathers did not consider homicides in war among homicides, it seems to me giving pardon to those who defend temperance and piety. But perhaps it is more advisable, as the hands are not clean, to abstain from Communion for three years only.’ The penance prescribed for a soldier who caused a death in battle is thus just a third of the penance prescribed for someone who has caused the death of another by pure accident.
Today the Church remembers a ‘physician of souls, captain of the army of Christ and pilot of the ark of the Church buffeted by the storm of heresies’ in the troubled decades following the Council of Nicæa in A.D. 325. St Meletius, a humble and pious man, was elected Archbishop of Antioch, metropolitan see of the East, in 360 when the Arian Eudoxius was deposed.
The see had been racked by a schism ever since the earlier deposition of the orthodox St Eustathius in 330 but both the supporters of Nicæa and the Arians welcomed him, the former sure that his virtues could only be the reflection of purity of faith, the latter misled by his meekness to believe he would tolerate their heresy.
His enthronement took place before the Emperor Constantius, who favoured the Arians. The emperor proposed slyly that the bishops present expound the passage, ‘The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old’ (Proverbs 8: 22), the classic proof text of Arianism. George of Cappadocia, who had been placed on the patriarchal throne of Alexandria on the banishment of St Athanasius, and Acacius of Cæsarea (described by St Gregory the Theologian as the ‘hand’ and ‘tongue’ of the Arians), first gave the Arian interpretation of the passage, by which the Logos was a creature, although before Creation. St Meletius then gave the orthodox interpretation, as declared by St Athanasius, that in this passage ‘created’ could not be taken to mean ‘he was made’ but rather ‘he was begotten.’ An Arian archdeacon attempted to silence the archbishop by putting his hand over his mouth but St Meletius extended his own hand to the people with three fingers together and the thumb and little finger folded over, a gesture that said that the three Persons of the Trinity are equal in nature and one only God.
St Meletius was exiled to Melitene by Constantius but was able to return to his see at the emperor’s death in November 361. However, the orthodox faithful of Antioch had become divided in the year he was absent between those who supported him and those who viewed his election as invalid because of the participation of Arians in it. The latter had elected Paulinus as archbishop, creating a schism that would last eighty-five years, long after the death of both men—the notorious Meletian Schism that weakened the Church in its struggle against Arianism while it lasted.
He was responsible for turning from secular learning to sacred studies one John, born in Antioch in 349, who would earn the epithet Chrysostom and be canonized a saint. He baptized him and later ordained him deacon.
St Meletius was exiled once again by the Arian emperor Valens (reigned 364–378). He went to Cappadocia, where he had the opportunity to meet St Basil the Great, one of the ‘Three Cappadocians’ who clarified the doctrine of the Trinity, the other two being St Gregory of Nyssa, Basil’s brother, and St Gregory the Theologian, Basil’s friend.
The pious Emperor Theodosius the Great (reigned 379–395), just before his accession, had a vision in which St Meletius vested him with the purple and placed the diadem on his head. He determined to put an end to the Arian conflict, summoning the 2nd Œcumenical Council to meet at Constantinople in May 381, with St Meletius presiding. St Meletius gave up his soul to God not long after the council convened. St Gregory of Nyssa preached his funeral sermon, from which comes the quotation opening this entry. He was succeeded as president of the Council by St Gregory the Theologian, who had been made Patriarch of Constantinople by Theodosius shortly before.
Today we remember one of the greatest theologians among the Fathers, St Maximus (A.D. 580–662), who not only interpreted the faith, clarifying the Church’s christological doctrine and completing the doctrinal work of the first five œcumenical councils, but professed it and suffered grievously for it. His most important contribution to Orthodoxy was the refutation of the heresy of monotheletism.
(The icon of the saint is an 11th-c. mosaic in Nea Moni, Chios, from Wikimedia Commons.)
People today find almost incomprehensible the vehemence and sometimes violence with which Church and State debated the ‘persons’ and ‘natures’ of Christ for two hundred and thirty years between the Councils of Chalcedon in 451 and III Constantinople in 680–81. But the debate is closely tied to the Orthodox understanding of Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation. To save mankind, it is necessary that the Logos be both perfect God and perfect Man, therefore able to bridge the gap between the divine and the human that Adam’s sin had opened up in the Garden of Eden. In the words of Chalcedon, it is necessary that there be ‘one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being.’
But some Christians, especially in Egypt and Syria, rejected the doctrine of Chalcedon, influenced by a misunderstanding of St Cyril of Alexandria’s formula ‘one nature [physis in Greek] incarnate of God the Word’ against the Nestorian heresy that Christ was two persons, and so insisted that Christ must be professed as having one nature (hence they were called ‘monophysites’ as opposed to the orthodox ‘dyophysites,’ ‘two natures’). The orthodox view was that St Cyril intended merely to emphasise that Christ was one person, using ‘nature’ to mean ‘subsistent nature.’
What made the debate difficult for persons at the time was an inconsistent use of the terms ‘person,’ ‘nature’ and ‘substance.’ People today find it even more confusing, since we no longer use these words in the way they were used before the modern period. In ancient and mediæval theology, their technical sense was that worked out by Aristotle in the 4th century B.C. ‘Nature’ is what makes a thing what it is, whether the thing actually exists or not. ‘Substance’ is what makes a ‘nature’ an actually existing thing, a ‘person.’ But people then as now were not always exact in their use of them.
The monophysite heresy divided the Church but it was not until the beginning of the 7th century that the division became a pressing political issue. The Persians invaded the Empire, capturing Jerusalem in 613 and Egypt in 618, and the Arabs were threatening invasion. The Persian success was due in part to the disaffection of the Empire’s monophysite subjects. The Emperor Heraclius wanted a compromise that would reconcile the monophysites and restore them to their allegiance. Sergius, Patriarch of Constantinople (610–638) devised a formula for the purpose that would preserve the wording of the decree of Chalcedon while emptying it of meaning. He professed the two natures in Christ, human and divine, but asserted that Christ possessed only one divine active principle.
As a political dodge, this assertion took two successive forms. Until 638, it was that Christ possessed a single divine ‘energia,’ to use the Greek term, after that, that he possessed a single divine will (hence the term ‘monotheletism’ from the Greek monos, one, and thelô, I wish). These terms also must be understood in the Aristotelian sense they were given at the time: ‘will’ is what results in action; ‘energia’ (sometimes, and misleadingly, translated ‘energy’) is the action. The change was made for political reasons, because too much controversy had arisen around the claim of a single divine energia, but the effect was the same—to deny that Christ was fully human.
By 630, Patriarch Sergius had convinced the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch (the Patriarch of Jerusalem was in Persian captivity for most of this time) to accept the compromise, which they interpreted correctly as the abandonment of Chalcedonian dyophisitism. However, in 634, a monk from Damascus, Sophronius, a defender of the doctrine of Chalcedon, was elected to the patriarchal throne of Jerusalem and denounced the compromise. The Emperor Heraclius attempted to suppress the debate by issuing a decree, the Ecthesis (638), ordering all the subjects of the Empire to confess one will in Christ. It also forbade any further reference to the doctrine of one energia in Christ, attempting thus to end the controversy roused by that term.
Meanwhile, St Maximus, who had been a monk of the Monastery of St George in Cyzicus on the Sea of Marmara and had been driven out with the other monks by the Persian invasion and sent wandering across the empire, was in Carthage in North Africa, where he met Sophronius, who was also in flight. He rejected the Ecthesis and led the resistance to monotheletism, clarifying the theological issues definitively. He argued that our salvation depends on Christ being true Man and true God, two natures in one Person, as Chalcedon had decreed. How could he be said to be truly Man if his human nature was switched off, so to speak, by being deprived of will and action?
The Emperor Constans II, who succeeded his father Heraclius in 641, had no interest in the doctrinal issue but wanted to end the debate finally. In any case, the Arab conquest of Syria in 634 and of Egypt in 641 had rendered moot the need to reconcile the monophysites. He issued a decree known as the Typos in 648, making it illegal to discuss in any manner the topic of Christ possessing either one or two actions, or one or two wills: ‘the scheme which existed before the strife arose shall be maintained, as it would have been if no such disputation had arisen.’
Most of the patriarchs were prepared to go along with the Typos for the sake of a quiet life, but St Maximus would not accept that true doctrine could not be professed and rejected the Typos. Arrested, brought back to Constantinople and put on trial for sedition, he was asked, ‘What Church do you belong to, then? To Constantinople? To Rome? To Antioch? To Alexandria? To Jerusalem? For you see that all are united with us.’ He replied, ‘To the Catholic Church, which is the right and salutary confession of faith in the God of the universe.’
He was condemned, his right hand was cut off and his tongue cut out, and he was paraded through the streets of Constantinople covered in blood. He died not long after, on 13 August 662, but his teaching was vindicated twenty years later at the Sixth Œcumenical Council, III Constantinople.
In February A.D. 313, the emperors Constantine and Licinius, both claiming to be Augustus in the West, while Maximinus Daia was Augustus in the East, met in Milan to forge an alliance, reinforcing it by the marriage of Constantine’s sister Constantia to Licinius.
In the course of this meeting they agreed to issue a joint decree ending the great persecution of Galerius that had begun in 303, restoring the property seized from Christians and guaranteeing freedom of worship to everyone in the empire. In the eastern part of the empire, meanwhile, Maximinus Daia continued the persecution.
The meeting was cut short after the edict was issued by news that Maximinus Daia had invaded the Balkans. Licinius went to meet him and defeated him at the Battle of Tzirallum near Heraclea in what is now Bulgaria. Licinius then became Augustus in the East, leaving Constantine with undisputed title to the West.
The Edict of Milan, March, A.D. 313
When I, Constantine Augustus, as well as I, Licinius Augustus, fortunately met near Milan and were considering everything that pertained to the public welfare and security, we thought, among other things which we saw would be for the good of many, those regulations pertaining to the reverence of the Divinity ought certainly to be made first, so that we might grant to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each preferred; whence any Divinity whatsoever in the seat of the heavens may be propitious and kindly disposed to us and all who are placed under our rule. And thus by this wholesome counsel and most upright provision we thought to arrange that no one whatsoever should be denied the opportunity to give his heart to the observance of the Christian religion, of that religion which he should think best for himself, so that the Supreme Deity (to whose worship we freely yield our hearts) may show in all things His usual favour and benevolence. Therefore, your Worship should know that it has pleased us to remove all conditions whatsoever, which were in the rescripts formerly given to you officially, concerning the Christians and now any one of these who wishes to observe the Christian religion may do so freely and openly, without molestation. We thought it fit to commend these things most fully to your care that you may know that we have given to those Christians free and unrestricted opportunity of religious worship. When you see that this has been granted to them by us, your Worship will know that we have also conceded to other religions the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases; this regulation is made we that we may not seem to detract from any dignity or any religion.
Theodosius the Great (347–395; recognised as a saint by the Orthodox) was born in Spain, the son of an army officer of high rank. He himself rose to high rank in the Roman army.
Up to the year 378, Gratian was Augustus in the West, with his minor brother Valentinian II as junior emperor. Their uncle Valens was Augustus in the East.
On 9 August 378, Valens was killed in battle against the Goths at Adrianople and Gratian thus became emperor of the whole empire. He appointed Thedosius commander of the army in Illyria. Since Valens had no successor, this made Theodosius de facto ruler in the East, and Gratian raised him formally to the imperial dignity as Augustus on 19 January 379.
The West was devoted to Nicene orthodoxy while the Arian heresy, promoted by Valens, was rife in the East. To establish orthodoxy throughout the empire and to suppress the Arian heresy, Gratian and Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica on 27 February 380:
It is our desire that all the various nations which are subject to our Clemency and Moderation should continue to profess that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter as it has been preserved by faithful tradition and which is now professed by the Pontiff Damasus [Bishop of Rome] and by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness. According to the apostolic teaching and the doctrine of the Gospel, let us believe in the one deity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity. We authorise the followers of this law to assume the title of Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since in our judgement they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics and shall not presume to give to their conventicles the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of the divine condemnation and in the second the punishment of our authority that in accordance with the will of Heaven we shall decide to inflict.
The edict was directed, not against non-Christians, but against Arian Christians. Theodosius summoned a council to meet at Constantinople in May 381, which was to be the 2nd Œcumenical Council. It reaffirmed the Nicene Creed and clarified the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Arian bishops throughout the East were replaced by orthodox bishops and Arians were expelled from Constantinople.
It is often said that the Edict of Thessalonica made Christianity the ‘official religion’ of the Roman Empire but this is misleading. It reflects a modern understanding of the world that had no meaning for people at the time. It is important to remember that, in all traditional societies, religion and government were inextricably intertwined—indeed, it is fair to say that government was a religious function. By the end of the fourth century the religion intertwined with the Empire was Christianity. This situation had developed over the course of a century. It was never ‘officially’ declared and did not need to be—it was simply an obvious fact.
Paganism was suppressed because it was the religion that had been traditionally intertwined with Roman government and it was necessary, now that it had become moribund, to disentangle it. As one example, the Olympic Games, which had always been a state function, were last celebrated in 393. Other faiths were not affected. A decree of 29 September 393 in the Codex Theodosianus declared, ‘The Jewish sect is protected by law. No synagogues shall be despoiled, and no regulation may be passed to ban Judaism, even in the name of Christianity.’
Today is the feast of St Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium.
He was born around A.D. 340 in Cæsarea (modern Kayseri, Turkey) in the province of Cappadocia in Asia Minor. He studied rhetoric at Antioch under Libanius, the famous pagan sophist who was also the teacher of St John Chrysostom, and became a barrister in Constantinople. He abandoned the practice of law in the capital, however, and returned to Cappadocia to care for his aged father.
His aunt (his father’s sister) was St Nonna, the mother of St Gregory the Theologian. Back in Cappadocia, he came to know the friends of his theologian cousin: St Basil the Great and St Basil’s younger brother, St Gregory of Nyssa, who, together with his cousin, would be known to future generations as the Three Cappadocians, the inspired theologians who gave definitive shape to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
He became the disciple of St Basil, who dedicated his treatise, ‘On the Holy Spirit,’ to him.
When in 373 St Basil was asked by the citizens of Iconium (modern Konya, Turkey) in Lycaonia, the province just to the west of Cappadocia, to find them a bishop, he proposed Amphilochius, who accepted with humility. In his pastoral office, he relied on the advice of St Basil until the latter’s death in 379.
The Emperor Theodosius the Great, who had become Augustus in the East in 379, summoned a council to meet in Constantinople in 381 to restore orthodoxy in the Church against the heresies of Eunomius, bishop of Cyzicus, and Macedonius, who had been Patriarch of Constantinople several decades earlier and who had died in 364. This came to be known as the 2nd Œcumenical Council.
Eunomius led the extreme Arian party, holding that the Son was unlike (anomœos) the Father in every way. Macedonius was a semi-Arian whose followers had formed a sect, referred to as the Pneumatomachi, which denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
In company with SS. Gregory the Theologian and Gregory of Nyssa, St Amphilochius attended the council. Together with the other God-bearing fathers present, they reaffirmed the Nicene declaration that the Son is consubstantial (homoousios) with the Father. They also affirmed the full divinity of the Holy Spirit, joining in the declaration of it as consubstantial with the Father and the Son.
At the council, St Amphilochius met St Jerome, who commented, ‘[he] recently read to me a book [St Basil’s?] On the Holy Spirit, arguing that He is God, that He is to be worshipped, and that He is omnipotent.’ (De viris illustribus, cap. 133)
He fell asleep in the Lord around the end of the 4th century in his episcopal see.
St Paul the Confessor was born in Thessalonica c. A.D. 300. He was ordained deacon and priest by St Alexander, Archbishop of Constantinople, and was consecrated his successor as archbishop of the city in 340. Like St Alexander, he was a defender of the creed proclaimed by the 1st Œcumenical Council and earned the title of confessor by suffering for his faith at the hands of the authorities.
The Emperor Constantius (second son of St Constantine the Great, who reigned 337–361, first as Augustus in the East, then as sole ruler) was a supporter of Arianism and deposed Paul from his see immediately. St Paul took refuge in Rome, where St Athanasius of Alexandria was also in exile. With the support of the pope, Julius I, and the Augustus of the West, Constans, St Constantine the Great’s third son, both saints were restored to their archdioceses, although not for long.
With the death in 350 of Constans, who had been a defender of Nicene orthodoxy, Constantius once again unleashed his wrath on St Paul, banishing him to Lesser Armenia. There at some time between 351 and 357 he was killed by an Arian mob as he celebrated the Liturgy, thus adding the title Martyr to that of Confessor.
Joannicus was born in Bithynia in A.D. 754 and died on this day in 846. He was a soldier until he was forty years old but then left the army and devoted his life to asceticism and penitence, at first as a hermit and later as abbot, healer and spiritual guide. He was the founder of many monasteries and became one of the most influential monastics of the 9th century, earning the epithet ‘the Great.’ He was also a fervent defender of the veneration of icons in the midst of the iconoclast persecution of the monks that followed the 7th Œcumenical Council.
The Emperor Theophilus, who reigned from 829 to 842, the most fanatical of the iconoclast emperors, beginning to doubt his heresy in the last year of his life, asked St Joannicus’s counsel. The saint replied, ‘Whoever refuses due honour to the images of Christ, of the Mother of God and of the Saints will not be received into the kingdom of heaven, even if he has lived an otherwise blameless life. As those who treat images of the Emperor with disrespect are severely punished, so those who dishonour the image of Christ will be cast into everlasting fire.’
With the restoration of the veneration of icons by the Empress Theodora in 843, St Methodius, Patriarch of Constantinople, spent the next years restoring order in the Church, disciplining those of the clergy who had fallen into the iconoclast heresy but showing leniency to those ready to repent. This policy of moderation was unacceptable to some of the more rigid iconophiles, including the monks of the Studium Monastery in Constantinople. St Joannicus, who was a friend of St Methodius’s, therefore came to Constantinople and lent his great influence to the policy of lenience.
Today is the 1700th anniversary of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, which took place on Tuesday, 28 October 312. On the eve of the battle, the Emperor Constantine had a vision of the symbol of Christ, and a voice said, ‘In this sign you will conquer.’ He adopted the sign, the Chi-Rho, the intertwined Greek letters signifying ‘Christ,’ as his battle ensign and conquered.
This battle, so significant for Constantine and for Christianity, was a part of the complex and confusing history of the Tetrarchy, the system of Roman government at the time. There were four emperors, two Augusti and two Caesars, an Augustus and Caesar acting in the western half of the empire, with its capital at Milan, and an Augustus and Caesar acting in the eastern half of the empire, with its capital at Nicomedia in Bythinia, although all were responsible for the empire as a whole. The Caesars were a sort of junior emperor. The main job of an emperor at the time was to defend the frontiers of the empire against barbarian incursions—and there was more than enough work for four of them.
At the beginning of A.D. 305, the Augustus of the West was Maximian and of the East, Diocletian (who had unleashed the great persecution of the Church in 303, still continuing). The Caesar of the West was Constantius, the father of Constantine. The Caesar of the East was Galerius. On 1 May, Maximian and Diocletian retired and Constantius and Galerius were promoted to Augusti. Constantine was disappointed in his hope of becoming Caesar. Instead, Diocletian and Maximian made Severus and Maximinus Daia Caesars of the West and East respectively. Scarcely a year later, on 25 July 306, Constantius died. He was in Britain at the time. On the following day, the army acclaimed Constantine as imperator at York. Severus was promoted to Augustus and Constantine agreed to be Caesar.
In 307, the army in Italy acclaimed Maxentius, the son of Maximian, as imperator. Severus was killed and Maxentius assumed the mantle of Augustus but was regarded as a usurper by the other emperors. Constantine now claimed to be Augustus but Galerius attempted to impose his friend Licinius as Augustus of the West. He offered the caesarship to Constantine but Constantine refused it. Constantine and Licinius maintained an uneasy truce, Constantine ruling in Gaul, on the Rhine and in Britain and Licinius ruling on the Danube and in the Balkans. The usurper Maxentius controlled Italy, Spain and North Africa from Rome.
In 310, Galerius died and Maximinus Daia succeeded him as August in the East. There would be no more Caesars—the tetrarchy was reduced to a dyarchy.
In 312, Maximinus Daia concluded an alliance with Maxentius in an effort to extend his rule to the West. Constantine responded by crossing the Alps and invading Italy in the spring with an army scarcely a quarter the size of Maxentius’s. A successful campaign brought him to Rome by October, and to the battle fought to gain control of the bridge leading across the Tiber about a mile and half north of the city’s Flaminian Gate.
Photograph of the Milvian Bridge, taken 29 October 2005 by Anthony Majanlahti, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence. From Wikimedia Commons.
‘Giving thanks to God for this victory that inaugurated a new era of human history, Constantine made a triumphal entry into Rome, which greeted him as its liberator, saviour and benefactor. He immediately had the Sign of the Cross placed high on the principal buildings in the city, and a statue of the Emperor was erected, with him holding the Cross in his hand as a sign of victory and an emblem of the authority he had received from Christ. From that time, Constantine began to receive instruction in the Christian faith and applied himself assiduously to the reading of the Holy Books.’ (Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra, The Synaxarion (Ormylia, 1998), V, p. 229.)
It was the first day of Christendom.
Occasional comments by a convert to Orthodoxy.