In EnglishTruths we hold

“These Truths We Hold” (Part III)

5 Σεπτεμβρίου 2009
Fathers of the Orthodox Church. Fresco from the Holy Monastery of Vatopedi in Mount Athos (Holy Mountain)

Fathers of the Orthodox Church. Fresco from the Holy Monastery of Vatopedi in Mount Athos (Holy Mountain)

Continued from (Part II)

Notable Fathers of the Early Period.

St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage († 258).

St. Cyprian, commemorated on August 31, was Bishop of Carthage during the persecu-tions of the Emperor Decius (250). He died as a martyr in 258, and among his many writings concerning Church life, the most important is On the Unity of the Catholic Church, which sets forth the role of the Bishop in the ecclesiastical structure.

St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch († 107).

St. Ignatius was the second Bishop of Antioch and is commemorated on December 20 and January 29. Martyred in the Arena at Rome, while on his way to martyrdom, he wrote seven letters to Christian communities, as well as to St. Polycarp, which contain valuable information on the dogmas, organization and liturgy of the early Church.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons († 202).

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St. Irenaeus, who is commemorated on August 23, was a disciple of St. Polycarp, and, as a Westerner, he succeeded St. Photinus as Bishop of Lyons. His major doctrinal work is Against Heresies, which defends Orthodoxy against the Gnostics, borrowing heavily on both human rea-son and Holy Scripture and Tradition, serving as an important witness to Church traditions of his time.

St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna († 167).

St. Polycarp was a disciple of St. John the Theologian and is commemorated as a martyr on February 23. The account of his martyrdom, the earliest detailed account of a martyr, gives an excellent picture of his character and the steadfastness of his Christian faith.

Notable Fathers of the Early Byzantine Period.

St. Anthony the Great († 356).

St. Anthony, commemorated January 17, is considered to be the Father of monasticism, and The Life of St. Anthony, by St. Athanasius, presents him as a truly inspiring example of mo-nastic ascetical perfection. During the Arian controversies, he risked his life defending the Or-thodox teachings of St. Athanasius in Alexandria.

St. Athanasius the Great, Patriarch of Alexandria († 373).

St. Athanasius, commemorated January 18 and May 2, was a great defender of the Or-thodox faith during the Arian controversies and was exiled five times for his labors. Among his major writings are The Incarnation of Christ and The Life of St. Anthony, which serve as major inspirations for Orthodox theology and monastic spirituality.

St. Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia († 379).

St. Basil, commemorated January 1 and January 30, was a notable theologian and spiritual writer of the 4th Century and is noted for his many writings on numerous theological and spiritual subjects, as well as commentaries on Holy Scripture. During the Sundays of Great Lent, as well as on his Feast Day (Jan. 1), the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is served, although proba-bly only the prayers are actually of this Saint.

St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria († 444).

St. Cyril, commemorated on January 18 and June 9, was the leader in the defense of Or-thodoxy against the Nestorians, and was a firm defender of the veneration of the Virgin Mary as Theotokos. He was especially prominent in the deliberations of the Third Ecumenical Council.

St. Ephraim the Syrian († 373-9).

St. Ephraim, commemorated January 28, was a major spiritual writer and hymnographer of the 4th Century, and is especially noted in Orthodox liturgical life for, among other things, his inspiring work, The Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, which is said at all of the weekday services of Great Lent.

St. Gregory the Theologian, Archbishop of Constantinople († 389).

St. Gregory, commemorated January 25 and 30, was a fellow student and friend of St. Basil the Great and was a leading opponent of the Arians. He has been honored by the Church with the title “Theologian,” being one of only three, so honored (the others being St. John the Evangelist, and St. Simeon the New Theologian), primarily because of his Five Theological Ora-tions.

St. Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa (4th Cent.).

St. Gregory was the younger brother of St. Basil the Great and is commemorated on Jan-uary 10. He is especially known for his spiritual writings, as well as various dogmatic works, in-cluding his Great Catechism.

St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople († 407).

St. John Chrysostom (the Golden-mouth), commemorated January 27 and 30 and No-vember 13, was one of the greatest preachers of his time (late 4th Century) and was known for his zeal for Orthodoxy and his passionate defense of the poor, boldly exposing the vices of his age, for which reason he was eventually deposed and exiled. The bulk of his works are sermons on Holy Scripture, especially the Epistles of St. Paul, as well as other ascetical and pastoral works, including his On the Priesthood. To St. John is attributed the usual Divine Liturgy, al-though, as in the case of that of St. Basil the Great, probably only certain prayers are properly his.

Notable Fathers of the Later Byzantine Period.

St. Gregory the Dialogist, Pope of Rome († 604).

St. Gregory the Dialogist, commemorated March 12, was Pope of Rome in the 7th Cen-tury and was noted for his many literary works, including his Dialogues on the monastic Saints of Italy. To him is ascribed the writing-down of the beautiful Gregorian Chants as well as the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, during which he is specially commemorated.

St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica († ca. 1360).

St. Gregory, commemorated on November 14 and the Second Sunday of Great Lent, was a pious Monk of Mt. Athos, and later was elected to the See of Thessalonica as its Bishop. He is noted for his defense of the contemplative life of hesychasm (inner silence), teaching concerning the uncreated Light of Tabor and the Divine Energies of God, through which man can have true communion with God.

St. John of Damascus (Damascene († 776).

St. John, commemorated December 4, was noted for his Exact Exposition of the Ortho-dox Faith, a major dogmatic work, as well as his zealous defense of the Holy Icons, for which he suffered the severing of his hand (miraculously restored by the prayers of the Mother of God). He is also noted for his many sermons on Feast Days, as well as numerous hymns, extensively used in Orthodox liturgical services.

St. Mark, Archbishop of Ephesus (15th Cent.).

St. Mark, commemorated January 19, accompanied the Byzantine Emperor to the Council of Florence, and single-handedly defended the Orthodox faith against the Latins. His brilliant defense of Orthodoxy and his letters after the Council were largely responsible for the Orthodox rejection of this false Council.

St. Photius the Great, Patriarch of Constantinople († 891).

St. Photius, commemorated February 6, was a zealous defender of Orthodoxy against the Latin error of the Filioque, for which he suffered much. He wrote on the Procession of the Holy Spirit and was responsible for the commissioning of Sts. Cyril and Methodius for the conversion of the Slavs.

St. Simeon the New Theologian († 1021).

St. Simeon, commemorated March 12 and October 12, was noted as a brilliant spiritual writer, whose works hold a place of honor in the Phllokalia, a major monastic spiritual work. For this reason he endured persecution and also received the veneration of the Orthodox Church which honors him as the New Theologian.

The Conversion of the Slavs.

Of major importance in the history and development of Orthodoxy was the conversion of the Slavs and the shifting of the focus of the Church to the northern regions of Bulgaria, Serbia, Moravia, Romania, and then Russia. In the middle of the 9th Century, Patriarch Photius initiated large scale missionary labors in these regions by sending out the two brothers Constantine (in monasticism Cyril — 1869) and Methodius (885 — both are commemorated May 11), first to the Khazar State north of the Caucasus (this was largely unsuccessful) and then to Moravia (Cze-choslovakia) in 863.

The Prince of Moravia, Rostislav, desired that his people hear the Word of God in their own language and the two brothers were apt missionaries in this respect as they had developed an alphabet, adapted from the Greek, which later was called Cyrillic (after St. Cyril). Using a lo-cal Macedonian dialect which they had heard near their birthplace of Thessalonica, the brothers began translating the liturgical books, Holy Scripture, etc., into this dialect, using the new alpha-bet which they had developed. This new liturgical language — Church Slavonic — became of crucial importance in the extension of the Orthodox faith into the Balkans and ultimately to Rus-sia. This was so, since, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, which continued to insist on the use of Latin, the use of Church Slavonic allowed the new converts to hear the Gospel and the servic-es in a language they could understand.

The Mission to Moravia was ultimately doomed to failure because of the jealousy and persecution of German missionaries working in the same area. The brothers traveled to Rome (where St. Cyril died)”and placed themselves under the protection of the Pope, but this was not honored by the Germans in Moravia and after the death of St. Methodius in 885, his followers were expelled from the country.

The missionary labors of Cyril and Methodius were not in vain, however, for their dis-ciples were successful in Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria. Led by St. Clement of Ochrid (comme-morated November 25), the missionaries were successful and in 869, Tsar Boris of Bulgaria him-self was baptized. The Bulgarian Church grew rapidly and about 926, under Tsar Simeon, an in-dependent Patriarchate was established there, recognized by Constantinople in 927 (although lat-er suppressed), and the Bulgarian Church became the first national Slavic Church.

The missionaries were likewise successful in Serbia and with the baptism of Prince Mu-timir († 891), Serbia became officially Christian. After a period of vacillation between East and West, Serbia came under the sway of Constantinople. Under St. Sava († 1237 — commemorated January 12), the Serbian Church became partially independent with his consecration in 1219 as Archbishop of Serbia, and in 1346 a Serbian Patriarchate was established with the consecration of Bishop Ioannikios, recognized by Constantinople in 1375.

Missionaries from Bulgaria traveled to the Romanian lands and by the end of the 9th Century portions of the Romanian people had been Christianized, adopting the Slavonic Liturgy, but it was not really until the rise of the Wallachian — Moldavian principalities in the 14th Cen-tury that the Church actually began to thrive. In 1359 a Wallachian Metropolitan was appointed by Constantinople to the new See of Argesin the foothills of the Transylvanian Alps and in 1401, the Romanian Metropolitan of Suceava in Moldavia was recognized by Constantinople.

The missionaries had also penetrated into Croatia, Dalmatia, Illyria, Bosnia and Monte-negro, but these areas were, for the most part, under the influence and control of the Latin West during this period.

The Conversion of Russia The Russian Orthodox Church.

Missionaries penetrated into Russia during this period and the Russian Princess Olga was converted to Christianity in 955, although the effective Christianization of Russia actually re-ceived its greatest impetus with the conversion of Olga’s grandson, Vladimir, in 988. According to Russian tradition, Grand Prince Vladimir of Kiev decided that an official religion was neces-sary for his country and he was unsure which to choose: the Islam of the Volga Bulgars, the Ju-daism of the Khazars (on the lower Volga), the Latin Christianity of the Germans, or the Ortho-dox faith of the Greeks. Accordingly he sent envoys to the various regions to enquire of their faiths and to make a report to him.

The envoys fulfilled their appointed mission and then reported to Vladimir:

When we journeyed among the Bulgarians [of the Volga region], we beheld how they worship in their tem-ple, called a mosque, while they stand ungirt. The Bulgarian bows, sits down, looks hither and thither like one possessed, and their is no happiness among them, but instead only sorrow and a dreadful stench. Their religion is not good. Then we went among the Germans, and saw them performing many ceremonies in their temples; but we beheld no glory there. Then we went on to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edi-fices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations…. [From the Rus-sian Primary Chronicle].

After receiving the report of the envoys, Vladimir went to war with the Byzantine Empire and laid siege to the Greek city of Kherson. He promised to accept Christianity if he was successful in this campaign and after the capture of the city, he did, in fact, embrace Orthodoxy and was given in marriage Anna, the sister of the Byzantine Emperors Basil and Constantine. Returning to his capital of Kiev, Vladimir ordered that all pagan idols be destroyed. The people were exhorted to renounce paganism whereupon they embraced the Orthodox faith and received Baptism in 988. From this date Russia became officially Christian.

With the conversion of Vladimir (later canonized by the Russian Church — commemo-rated July 15), Orthodoxy spread rapidly and already, within fifty years, the Russian Church had her first canonized Saints, the martyred brothers Boris and Gleb († 1015 — commemorated to-gether on July 24). In 1051 the first Russian Monastery (The Monastery of the Caves) was founded in Kiev by St. Anthony († 1073 — commemorated July 10), later reorganized by St. Theodosius († 1074 — commemorated May 3 and August 14; he and St. Anthony are comme-morated together on September 2). In 1037, Theopemptos was consecrated Metropolitan of Kiev and all but two of the Metropolitans of this period were Greeks, appointed by Constantinople. (The first Russian Metropolitan was Hilarion in 1051, and the other Clement in 1147). To this day, the Russian Church still sings in Greek the greeting to a Bishop, Eis polla eti, Despota, in recognition of the debt owed by the Russian Church to Greek Byzantium.

Disaster befell the Kievan State in 1237 with the onslaught of the Mongols, who ruled until 1480, and during this period only the Church kept alive national consciousness, much as was later done by the Greek Church under the Turkish yoke. The primary See of the Russian Church was moved from Kiev to Moscow by St. Peter, Metropolitan of Kiev († 1326 — com-memorated December 21), and henceforth ceased to be the city of the chief Hierarch.

Three important Saints shone in this period: St. Alexander Nevsky, Prince of Novgorod († 1263 — commemorated August 30 and November 23), who preserved the political structure of his Principality (alone unharmed by the Mongols in their invasion) against the Swedes, Germans and Lithuanians; St. Sergius of Radonezh († 1392 — commemorated September 25 and July 5), founder of the famous Trinity — St. Sergius Monastery at Sergiev Posad (Zagorsk) near Moscow, (from which Monks spread out through all of Northern Russia), probably one of Rus-sia’s greatest national figures (as was St. Sava in Serbia); and St. Stephen, Bishop of Perm († 1396 — commemorated April 26) who, in a sense, was the first of the long line of missionaries who were eventually to come to Russian America.

After the Council of Florence in 1440, Constantinople had accepted union with the Ro-man Catholic Church and Russia could not accept a Metropolitan from there. Finally, in 1448, a council of Russian Bishops elected their own Metropolitan and from this date the Russian Church has reckoned her independence. In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Turks and from this date the Russian Church remained the sole free branch of Orthodoxy. Men began to see Moscow as the Third Rome, and the Grand Duke of Moscow assumed the titles of the Byzantine Empe-rors — Autocrat and Tsar — the earthly protector of Orthodoxy. Accordingly, with the rising power of Russia, in 1589, the head of the Russian Church was raised to the rank of Patriarch (the first being Patriarch Job), ranking fifth after Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.

The Russian Church was not without its own turmoils however. In 1503 came the begin-nings of a split in the monastic ranks between the Non-Possessors (followers of St. Nilus of Sora († 1508 — commemorated May 7)), who argued for monastic poverty, and the Possessors (fol-lowers of St. Joseph of Volokolamsk, † 1515, commemorated September 9), who defended mo-nastic landholding. The Non-Possessors were more lenient and gentle concerning the treatment of heretics, considering it to be solely a Church matter, while the Possessors, great supporters of the idea of the Third Rome, believed in a close association between Church and State in such matters (and many others as well). In this struggle the Possessors were victorious, but recognizing the sanctity of both leaders, the Church has enrolled both Joseph and Nilus in the Calendar of Saints.

In the mid-17th Century there occurred in the Russian Church a major split due to the li-turgical reforms of Patriarch Nikon (1605-1681) who attempted to correct certain corruptions in the liturgical books and liturgical practice. The result was the splitting off of the Old Believers, who resisted the changes (many of which were ill-founded), as well as their persecution, and this schism has endured to the present day. The leaders of the Old Believers, including the Archpriest Avakkum, were burned at the stake and Nikon himself suffered persecution, since the Council of

Moscow, which met in 1666-7, endorsed his reforms, but deposed him from his Patriarchal Of-fice because of his intemperance and arrogance.

A third major event which was to have a profound effect on the Russian Church, was the abolition of the Patriarchate by Tsar Peter I (the Great) in 1721. The Patriarch had died in 1700 and Peter, wishing no more Nikons, refused to allow the appointment of a successor. According-ly, in 1721 he issued his celebrated Spiritual Regulations, and the Russian Church was placed under an uncanonical Synodal System, whereby a Synod of twelve members, drawn from the Bishops, Abbots and secular Clergy appointed by the Government ruled the Church. However, all meetings were attended by a government functionary, the Chief Procurator, representing the Tsar, and all decisions had to be approved by the Sovereign. At the same time monasticism was severely restricted and later in the Century more than half the monasteries were closed by Em-press Catherine II (the Great — 1762-96) and their lands confiscated.

This Synodal Period, which lasted until 1917, was a period of spiritual low for the Church, although there were a few bright spots. Missionary activity, always a strong feature of the Russian Church, expanded throughout Siberia and Central Asia, eventually reaching Alaska. Certain monasteries were revitalized, including the famous center of Valaam, and the spiritual traditions of Mt. Athos, especially popularized by Paisius Velichkovsky and his Philokalia, reached Russia, through the efforts of Metropolitan Gabriel of Moscow and his disciple, Naza-rius, Abbot of Valaam. A special system of spiritual direction, eldership (or starchestvo) devel-oped, especially popularized at the Optino Hermitage under the Elders Leonid, Macarius, Am-vrosy and Joseph, and a few Saints shone during this time, especially St. Tikhon of Zadonsk († 1783 — commemorated August 13), a revitalizer of pastoral life, and St. Seraphim of Sarov († 1833 — commemorated January 2 and July 19).

Finally, in 1917, with the Fall of the Monarchy, the Patriarchate was re-established and Tikhon, Metropolitan of Moscow, was elected Patriarch by the All-Russian Council of that year. Sadly, however, the Church was soon engulfed in the fires of the Bolshevik Revolution of that year and the unprecedented persecutions which followed. The Russian Orthodox Church since 1917 has endured sufferings without parallel, contributing a new rank of Martyrs to the Church Triumphant, yet despite the severe decimation of her faithful, clergy, and institutions, she still remains a powerful spiritual and moral force in the Orthodox world, confirming that the Church of Christ is built upon a rock, for in the words of the Savior, the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).

To be continued…