The New Evangelization - Asia




























































SAINT JOHN DAMASCENE

Doctor - AD c.749 (December 4)


Born at Damascus, about 676; died some time between 754 and 787. The only
extant life of the saint is that by John, Patriarch of Jerusalem, which dates from
the tenth century (P.G. XCIV, 429-90). This life is the single source from which
have been drawn the materials of all his biographical notices. It is extremely
unsatisfactory from the standpoint of historical criticism. An exasperating lack of
detail, a pronounced legendary tendency, and a turgid style are its chief
characteristics. Mansur was probably the name of John's father. What little is
known of him indicates that he was a sterling Christian whose infidel environment
made no impression on his religious fervour. Apparently his adhesion to Christian
truth constituted no offence in the eyes of his Saracen countrymen, for he seems
to have enjoyed their esteem in an eminent degree, and discharged the duties of
chief financial officer for the caliph, Abdul Malek. The author of the life records the
names of but two of his children, John and his half-brother Cosmas. When the
future apologist had reached the age of twenty-three his father cast about for a
Christian tutor capable of giving his sons the best education the age afforded. In
this he was singularly fortunate. Standing one day in the market-place he
discovered among the captives taken in a recent raid on the shores of Italy a
Sicilian monk named Cosmas. Investigation proved him to be a man of deep and
broad erudition. Through the influence of the caliph, Mansur secured the captive's
liberty and appointed him tutor to his sons. Under the tutelage of Cosmas, John
made such rapid progress that, in the enthusiastic language of his biographer, he
soon equalled Diophantus in algebra and Euclid in geometry. Equal progress was
made in music, astronomy, and theology. 

On the death of his father, John Damascene was made protosymbulus, or chief
councillor, of Damascus. It was during his incumbency of this office that the
Church in the East began to be agitated by the first mutterings of the Iconoclast
heresy. In 726, despite the protests of Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople,
Leo the Isaurian issued his first edict against the veneration of images. From his
secure refuge in the caliph's court, John Damascene immediately entered the
lists against him, in defence of this ancient usage of the Christians. Not only did
he himself oppose the Byzantine monarch, but he also stirred the people to
resistance. In 730 the Isaurian issued a second edict, in which he not only
forbade the veneration of images, but even inhibited their exhibition in public
places. To this royal decree the Damascene replied with even greater vigour than
before, and by the adoption of a simpler style brought the Christian side of the
controversy within the grasp of the common people. A third letter emphasized
what he had already said and warned the emperor to beware of the
consequences of this unlawful action. Naturally, these powerful apologies
aroused the anger of the Byzantine emperor. Unable to reach the writer with
physical force, he sought to encompass his destruction by strategy. Having
secured an autograph letter written by John Damascene, he forged a letter,
exactly similar in chirography, purporting to have been written by John to the
Isaurian, and offering to betray into his hands the city of Damascus. The letter he
sent to the caliph. Notwithstanding his councillor's earnest avowal of innocence,
the latter accepted it as genuine and ordered that the hand that wrote it be
severed at the wrist. The sentence was executed, but, according to his
biographer, through the intervention of the Blessed Virgin, the amputated hand
was miraculously restored. 

The caliph, now convinced of John's innocence, would fain have reinstated him in
his former office, but the Damascene had heard a call to a higher life, and with
his foster-brother entered the monastery of St. Sabas, some eighteen miles
south-east of Jerusalem. After the usual probation, John V, Patriarch of
Jerusalem, conferred on him the office of the priesthood. In 754 the
pseudo-Synod of Constantinople, convened at the command of Constantine
Copronymus, the successor of Leo, confirmed the principles of the Iconoclasts
and anathematized by name those who had conspicuously opposed them. But
the largest measure of the council's spleen was reserved for John of Damascus.
He was called a "cursed favourer of Saracens", a "traitorous worshipper of
images", a "wronger of Jesus Christ", a "teacher of impiety", and a "bad
interpreter of the Scriptures". At the emperor's command his name was written
"Manzer" (Manzeros, a bastard). But the Seventh General Council of Nicea (787)
made ample amends for the insults of his enemies, and Theophanes, writing in
813, tells us that he was surnamed Chrysorrhoas (golden stream) by his friends
on account of his oratorical gifts. In the pontificate of Leo XIII he was enrolled
among the doctors of the Church.


SAINT MARON (Maro, Maroun)
Abbot – AD 433 (February 14)

ST. MARON made choice of a solitary abode on a mountain in the diocese of Syria and near that city, where, out of a spirit of mortification, he lived for the most part in the open air. He had indeed a little hut, covered with goat skins, to shelter him from the inclemencies of the weather; but he very seldom made use of it for that purpose, even on the most urgent occasions. Finding here a heathen temple, he dedicated it to the true God, and made it his house of prayer. Being renowned for sanctity, he was raised, in 405 to the dignity of priesthood. St. Chrysostom, who had a singular regard for him, wrote to him from Caucasus, the place of his banishment, and recommended himself-to his prayers, and begged to hear from him by every opportunity.

St. Zebinus, our saint's master, surpassed all the solitaries of his time with regard to assiduity in prayer. He devoted to this exercise whole days and nights, without being sensible of any weariness or fatigue; nay, his ardor for it seemed rather to increase than slacken by its continuance. He generally prayed in an erect posture; but in his old age was forced to support his body by leaning on a staff. He gave advice in very few words to those that came to see him, to gain the more time for heavenly contemplation. St. Maron imitated his constancy in prayer; yet he not only received all visitants with great tenderness, but encouraged their stay with him; though few were willing to pass the whole night in prayer standing. God recompensed his labors with most abundant graces, and the gift of curing all distempers, both of body and mind. He prescribed admirable remedies against all vices. This drew great multitudes to him, and he erected many monasteries in Syria, and trained up holy solitaries. Theodoret, bishop of Cyr, says that the great number of monks who peopled his diocese were the fruit of his instructions. The chief among his disciples was St. James of Cyr, who gloried that he had received from the hands of St. Maron his first hair-cloth.

God called St. Maron to his glory after a short illness, which showed says Theodoret, the great weakness to which his body was reduced. A pious contest ensued among the neighboring provinces about his burial. The inhabitants of a large and populous place carried off the treasure, and built to his honor a spacious church over his tomb, to which a monastery was adjoined, which seems to have been the monastery of St. Maron in the diocese of Apamea.


MARTYRS OF JAPAN
A.D. 1597 (February 5)

The empire of Japan, so called from one of the islands of which it is composed, was discovered by certain Portuguese merchants, about the year 1541. It is generally divided into several little kingdoms, all which obey one sovereign emperor. The capital cities are Meaco and Jedo. The manners of this people are the reverse of ours in many things. Their characteristic is pride, and an extravagant love of honor. They adore idols of grotesque shapes, by which they represent certain famous wicked ancestors: the chiefest are Amida and Xacha. Their priests are called Bonzas, and all obey the Jaco, or high-priest. St. Francis Xavier arrived in Japan in 1549, baptized great numbers, and whole provinces received the faith. The great kings of Arima, Bungo, and Omura, sent a solemn embassy of obedience to pope Gregory XIII in 1582, and in 1587 there were in Japan above two hundred thousand Christians, among these several kings, princes, and bonzas; but in 1588, Cambacundono, the haughty emperor, having usurped the honors of a deity, commanded all the Jesuits to leave his dominions within six months. However, many remained there disguised. In 1593, the persecution was renewed, and several Japanese converts received the crown of martyrdom. The emperor Tagcosama, one of the proudest and most vicious of men, was worked up into rage and jealousy by a suspicion suggested by certain European merchants desirous of the monopoly of this trade, that the view of the missionaries in preaching the Christian faith was to facilitate the conquest of their country by the Portuguese or Spaniards. Three Jesuits and six Franciscans were crucified on a hill near Nagasaki in 1597. The latter were partly Spaniards and partly Indians, and had at their head F. Peter Baptist, commissary his Order, a native of Avila, in Spain. As to the Jesuits, one was Paul Miki, a noble Japanese and an eminent preacher, at that time thirty-three years old. The other two, John Goto and James Kisai, were admitted into the Society in prison a little before they suffered. Several Japanese converts suffered with them. The martyrs were twenty-six in number, and among them were three boys who used to serve the friars at mass; two of them were fifteen years of age, and the third only twelve, yet each showed great joy and constancy in their sufferings. Of these martyrs, twenty-four had been brought to Meaco, where only a part of their left ears was cut off, by a mitigation of the sentence which had commanded the amputation of their noses and both ears. They were conducted through many towns and public places, their cheeks stained with blood, for a terror to others. When the twenty-six soldiers of Christ were arrived at the place of execution near Nagasaki, they were allowed to make their confession to two Jesuits of the convent, in that town, and being fastened to crosses by cords and chains, about their arms and legs, and an iron collar about their necks, were raised into the air, the foot of each cross falling into a hole prepared for it in the ground. The crosses were planted in a row, about four feet asunder, and each martyr had an executioner near him with a spear ready to pierce his side, for such is the Japanese manner of crucifixion. As soon as all the crosses were planted, the executioners lifted up their lances, and at a signal given, all pierced the martyrs almost in the same instant; upon which they expired and went to receive the reward of their sufferings. Their blood and garments were procured by Christians, and miracles were wrought by them. Urban VIII. ranked them among the martyrs, and they are honored on the 5th of February, the day of their triumph. The rest of the missionaries were put on board a vessel, and carried out of the dominions, except twenty-eight priests, who stayed behind in disguise. Tagcosama dying, ordered his body should not be burned, as was the custom in Japan, but preserved enshrined in his palace of Fuximi, that he might be worshipped among the gods under the title of the new god of war. The most stately temple in the empire was built to him, and his body deposited in it. The Jesuits returned soon after, and though the missionaries were only a hundred in number, they converted, in 1599, forty thousand, and in 1600, above thirty thousand, and built fifty churches; for the people were highly scandalized to see him worshipped as a god, whom they had remembered a most covetous, proud, and vicious tyrant. But in 1602, Cubosama renewed the bloody persecution, and many Japanese converts were beheaded, crucified, or burned. In 1614, new cruelties were exercised to overcome their constancy, as by bruising their feet between certain pieces of wood, cutting off or squeezing their limbs one after another, applying red-hot irons or slow fires, flaying off the skin of the fingers, putting burning coals to their hands tearing off the flesh with pincers, or thrusting reeds into all parts of their bodies, and turning them about to tear their flesh, till they should say they would forsake their faith--all which, innumerable persons, even children bore with invincible constancy till death. In 1616, Xogun succeeding his father Cubosama in the empire, surpassed him in cruelty. The most illustrious of these religious heroes was F. Charles Spinola. He was of a noble Genoese family, and entered the Society at Hole, while his uncle cardinal Spinola was bishop of that city. Out of zeal and a desire of martyrdom, he begged to be sent on the Japanese mission. He arrived there in 1602, labored many years in that mission, gained many to Christ, by his mildness and lived in great austerity, for his usual food was only a little rice and herbs. He suffered four years a most cruel imprisonment, during which, in burning fevers, he was not able to obtain of his keepers a drop of cold water out of meals; yet he wrote from his dungeon "Father, how sweet and delightful is it to suffer for Jesus Christ! I have learned this better by experience than I am able to express, especially since we are in these dungeons where we fast continually. The strength of my body fails me, but my joy increases as I see death draw nearer. O what a happiness for me, if next Easter I shall sing the heavenly Alleluia in the company of the blessed!" In a long letter to his cousin Maximilian Spinola, he said: "O if you had tasted the delights with which God fills the souls of those who serve him, and suffer for him, how would you condemn all that the world can promise! I now begin to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, since for his love I am in prison, where I suffer much. But I assure you, that when I am fainting with hunger, God hath fortified me by his sweet consolations, so that I have looked upon myself as well recompensed for his service. And though I were yet to pass many years in prison, the time would appear short, through the extreme desire which I feel of suffering for him, who even here so well repays our labors. Besides other sickness, I have been afflicted with a continual fever a hundred days without any remedies or proper nourishment. All this time my heart was so full of joy, that it seemed to me too narrow to contain it. I have never felt any equal to it, and I thought myself at the gates of paradise." His joy was excessive at the news that he was condemned to be burnt alive, and he never ceased to thank God for so great a mercy, of which he owned himself unworthy. He was conducted from his last prison at Omura to Nagasaki, where fifty martyrs suffered together on a hill within sight of that city-nine Jesuits, four Franciscans, and six Dominicans, the rest seculars; twenty-five were burned, the rest beheaded. The twenty-five stakes were fixed all in a row, and the martyrs tied to them Fire was set to the end of the pile of wood twenty-five feet from the martyrs, and gradually approached them, two hours before it reached them. F. Spinola stood unmoved, with his eyes lifted up towards heaven, till the cords which tied him being burnt, he fell into the flames, and was consumed, on the 2d of September, in 1622, being fifty-eight years old. Many others, especially Jesuits, suffered variously, being either burnt at slow fires, crucified, beheaded, or thrown into a burning mountain, or hung with their heads downward in pits, which cruel torment usually put an end to their lives in three or four days. In 1639, the Portuguese and all other Europeans, except the Dutch, were forbidden to enter Japan, even for trade; the very ambassadors which the Portuguese sent thither were beheaded. In 1642, five Jesuits landed secretly in Japan, but were soon discovered, and after cruel tortures were hung in pits till they expired. Thus hath Japan encouraged the church militant, and filled the church triumphant with glorious martyrs.


SAINT MAXIMUS the CONFESSOR
Abbot – AD 662 (August 13)

Known as the Theologian and as Maximus Confessor, born at Constantinople
about 580; died in exile 13 August, 662. He is one of the chief names in the
Monothelite controversy one of the chief doctors of the theology of the Incarnation
and of ascetic mysticism, and remarkable as a witness to the respect for the
papacy held by the Greek Church in his day. This great man was of a noble
family of Constantinople. He became first secretary to the Emperor Heraclius,
who prized him much, but he quitted the world and gave himself up to
contemplation in a monastery at Chrysopolis, opposite Constantinople. He
became abbot there but seems to have left this retreat on account of its
insecurity from hostile attacks. He speaks of the Palestinian ascetic St.
Sophronius afterwards Patriarch of Jerusalem, as his master, father, and teacher
(Ep. 13), so that he probably passed some time with him, and he was with him in
Africa with other monks during the preparations which issued in the "watery
union" by which Cyrus the Patriarch reconciled a number of Monophysites to the
Church by rejecting the doctrine of "two operations" in Christ . The first action of St. Maximus that we know of in this affair is a letter sent by him to Pyrrhus, then an abbot at Chrysopolis, a friend and supporter of Sergius, Patriarch of Constantinople, the patron of the Monothelite expression "two operations" . As the letter is said to have entailed a long voyage on the monks who carried it St. Maximus was perhaps already in Africa when he wrote it. Pyrrhus had published a work on the Incarnation, for which St. Maximus gives him rather fulsome praise, as an introduction to the question (which he puts with much diffidence and many excuses) what Pyrrhus means by one energeia
or energema. Maximus is clearly anxious to get him to withdraw or explain the
mistaken expression, without exasperating him by contradiction. 

The Ecthesis of Heraclius was published in 638, and Sergius and Pope Honorius
both died in that year. A letter of Maximus tells us on the authority of his friends
at Constantinople, that the Roman apocrisiarii who had come thither to obtain the
emperor's confirmation for the newly elected Pope Severinus, were met by the
clergy of Constantinople with the demand that they should promise to obtain the
pope's signature to the Ecthesis, otherwise they should receive no assistance in
the matter for which they had made so long a voyage: 

Having discovered the tenor of the document, since by refusing
they would have caused the first and Mother of Churches, and the
city, to remain so long a time in widowhood, they replied quietly:
We cannot act with authority in this matter, for we have received a
commission to execute, not an order to make a profession of faith.
But we assure you that we will relate all that you have put forward,
and we will show the document itself to him who is to be
consecrated, and if he should judge it to be correct, we will ask
him to append his signature to it. But do not therefore place any
obstacle in our way now, or do violence to us by delaying us and
keeping us here. For none has a right to use violence especially
when faith is in question. For herein even the weakest waxes
mighty and the meek becomes a warrior, and by comforting his
soul with the Divine Word, is hardened against the greatest attack.
How much more in the case of the clergy and Church of the
Romans, which from of old until now, as the elder of all the
Churches under the sun, presides over all? Having surely received
this canonically, as well from councils and the Apostles, as from
the princes of the latter, and being numbered in their company, she
is subject to no writings or issues of synodical documents, on
account of the eminence of her pontificate, even as in all these
things all are equally subject to her according to sacerdotal law.
And so when without fear but with all holy and becoming
confidence, those ministers of the truly firm and immovable rock,
that is, of the most great and Apostolic Church at Rome, had so
replied to the clergy of the royal city, they were seen to have
conciliated them and to have acted prudently, that the others might
be humble and modest, while they made known the orthodoxy and
purity of their own faith from the beginning. But those of
Constantinople, admiring their piety, thought that such a deed
ought to be recompensed; and ceasing from urging the document
on them, they promised by their diligence to procure the issue of
the emperor's order with regard to the episcopal election . . Of the
aforesaid document a copy has been sent to me also. They have
explained in it the cause for being silent about the natural
operations in Christ our God, that is, in His natures, of which and in
which He is believed to be, and how in future neither one nor two
are to be mentioned. It is only to be allowed to confess that the
divine and human (works) proceeded from the same Word of God
incarnate, and are to be attributed to one and the same (person)." 

This passage does not call the prohibition of "two operations" yet by the name of
heresy and does not mention the "one Will" confessed in the Ecthesis. But it
gives very clearly St. Maximus's view that the smallest point of faith is to be held
at the risk of one's life, and it demonstrates the ample admission made at
Constantinople, before the struggles began, of the prerogatives of Rome. 

When in 641 John IV wrote his defence of Pope Honorius, it was re-echoed by
St. Maximus in a letter to Marinus, a priest of Cyprus. He declares that
Honorius, when he confessed one will of our Lord, only meant to deny that Christ
had a will of the flesh, of concupiscence, since he was conceived and born
without stain of sin. Maximus appeals to the witness of Abbot John Symponus,
who wrote the letter for Honorius. Pyrrhus was now Sergius's successor, but on
the accession of the Emperor Constans in 642 he was exiled. Maximus then
sent a letter to the patrician Peter, apparently the Governor of Syria and
Palestine who had written to him concerning Pyrrhus, whom ha now calls simply
abbot. Pyrrhus was in Palestine and Peter had restrained him from putting
forward his heretical views. Pyrrhus had declared that he was ready to satisfy
Maximus as to his orthodoxy. The latter says he would have written to Peter
before, 


but I was afraid of being thought to transgress the holy laws, if I
were to do this without knowing the will of the most holy see of
Apostolic men, who lead aright the whole plenitude of the Catholic
Church, and rule it with order according to the divine law. 


The new Ecthesis is worse than the old heresies—Pyrrhus and his predecessor
have accused Sophronius of error—they persuaded Heraclius to give his name to
the Ecthesis: 


they have not conformed to the sense of the Apostolic see, and
what is laughable, or rather lamentable, as proving their ignorance,
they have not hesitated to lie against the Apostolic see itself . . .
but have claimed the great Honorius on their side. . . . What did the
divine Honorius do, and after him the aged Severinus, and John
who followed him? Yet further, what supplication has the blessed
pope, who now sits, not made? Have not the whole East and West
brought their tears, laments, obsecrations, deprecations, both
before God in prayer and before men in their letters? If the Roman
see recognizes Pyrrhus to be not only a reprobate but a heretic, it
is certainly plain that everyone who anathematizes those who have
rejected Pyrrhus, anathematizes the see of Rome that is, he
anathematizes the Catholic Church. I need hardly add that he
excommunicates himself also, if indeed he be in communion with
the Roman see and the Church of God.... It is not right that one
who has been condemned and cast out by the Apostolic see of the
city of Rome for his wrong opinions should be named with any kind
of honour, until he be received by her, having returned to her—nay,
to our Lord—by a pious confession and orthodox faith, by which he
can receive holiness and the title of holy.... Let him hasten before
all things to satisfy the Roman see, for if it is satisfied all will agree
in calling him pious and orthodox. For he only speaks in vain who
thinks he ought to persuade or entrap persons like myself, and
does not satisfy and implore the blessed pope of the most holy
Church of the Romans, that is, the Apostolic see, which from the
incarnate Son of God Himself, and also by all holy synods,
according to the holy canons and definitions, has received universal
and supreme dominion, authority and power of binding and loosing
over all the holy Churches of God which are in the whole world, for
with it the Word who is above the celestial powers binds and
looses in heaven also. For if he thinks he must satisfy others, and
fails to implore the most blessed Roman pope, he is acting like a
man who, when accused of murder or some other crime, does not
hasten to prove his innocence to the judge appointed by the law,
but only uselessly and without profit does his best to demonstrate
his innocence to private individuals, who have no power to acquit
him. 


Pyrrhus thought he might regain his see by the help of the pope. He came to
Africa, and in July, 645, a public disputation took place between him and
Maximus, in the presence of the Governor Gregory (called George in the MSS. of
St. Maximus), who was a friend and correspondent of the saint. The minutes are
interesting. Pyrrhus argues that two wills must imply two Persons willing.
Maximus replies that in that case there must be three wills in the Holy Trinity. He
shows that the will belongs to the Nature, and distinguishes between will as a
faculty and will as the act of the faculty. Pyrrhus then admits two wills, on
account of the two natures, but adds that we should also confess one will on
account of the perfect union. Maximus replies that this would lead us to confess
one nature on account of the perfect union. He then cites many passages of
Scripture for two wills and two operations. Pyrrhus puts forward Honorius and
Vigilius. Maximus defends the former from the charge of teaching two wills, and
denies that the latter ever received the letter of Mennas, the authenticity of which
is assumed. He complains of the changeableness of Sergius. Lastly the famous
"new theandric operation" of the Pseudo-Dionysius is discussed, and i8
explained and defended by St. Maximus. Then Pyrrhus gives in, and consents to
go to Rome, where in fact he condemned his former teaching, and was
reconciled to the Church by the pope. But the revolt of aregory, who made
himself emperor in Africa, but was defeated in 647, brought Maximus into
disfavour at court, and destroyed the hope of restoring Pyrrhus a8 orthodox
patriarch. After the Ecthesis had been withdrawn, and the Type, Typos,
substituted by the Emperor Constans, St. Maximus was present at the great
Lateran council held by St. Martin at his instance in 649. He wrote from Rome
(where he stayed some years): 


The extremities of the earth, and all in every part of it who purely
and rightly confess the Lord look directly towards the most holy
Roman Church and its confession and faith, as it were to a sun of
unfailing light, awaiting from it the bright radiance of the sacred
dogmas of our Fathers according to what the six inspired and holy
councils have purely and piously decreed, declaring most
expressly the symbol of faith. For from the coming down of the
incarnate Word amongst us, all the Churches in every part of the
world have held that greatest Church alone as their base and
foundation, seeing that according to the promise of Christ our
Saviour, the gates of hell do never prevail against it, that it has the
keys of a right confession and faith in Him, that it opens the true
and only religion to such as approach with piety, and shuts up and
locks every heretical mouth that speaks injustice against the Most
High. 


Pope Martin was dragged from Rome in 653, and died of ill treatment at Inkerman
in March, 655. It was probably later in that year that an official named Gregory
came to Rome to get Pope Eugene to receive the Type. He came to the cell of
St. Maximus, who argued with him and denounced the Type. As the saint was
recognized as t,he leader of the orthodox Easterns, he was sent to
Constantinople at the end of 655 (not, as is commonly stated, at the same time
as St. Martin). He was now seventy-five years old. The acts of his trials have
been preserved by Anastasius Bibliothecarius. He was accused of conspiring
with the usurper Gregory, together with Pope Theodore, and it was said that he
had caused the loss to the empire of Egypt, Alexandria, Pentapolis, and Africa.
He refused to communicate with the See of Constantinople, 


because they have cast out the four holy councils by the
propositions made at Alexandria, by the Ecthesis and by the Type
. . . and because the dogmas which they asserted in the
propositions they damned in the Ecthesis, and what they
proclaimed in the Ecthesis they annulled in the Type, and on each
occasion they deposed themselves. What mysteries I ask, do they
celebrate, who have condemned themselves and have been
condemned by the Romans and by the (Lateran) synod, and
stripped of their sacerdotal dignity? 


He disbelieved the statement made to him that the envoys of the pope had
accepted the confession of "two wills on account of the diversity and one will on
account of the union," and pointed out that the union not being a substance
could have no will. He wrote on this account to his disciple the Abbot
Anastasius, who was able to send a letter to warn "the men of elder Rome firm
as a rock" of the deceitful confession which the Patriarch Peter was dispatching
to the pope. On the day of the first trial a council of clergy was held, and the
emperor was persuaded to send Maximus to Byzia in Thrace, and his disciples,
Abbot Anastasius and Anastasius the papal apocrisiarius, to Perberis and
Mesembria. 

They suffered greatly from cold and hunger. On 24 September, 656, Theodosius,
Bishop of Caesarea in Bithynia, visited Maximus by the emperor's command,
accompanied by the consuls, Theodosius and Paul. The saint confounded his
visitors with the authority of the Fathers, and declared that he would never accept
the Type. The bishop then replied: "We declare to you in response that if you will
communicate, our master the emperor will annul the Type." Maximus answered
that the Ecthesis, though taken down, had not been disowned and that the
canons of the Lateran Council must be formally accepted before he would
communicate. The Byzantine bishop unblushingly urged: "The synod is invalid,
since it was held without the Ernperor's orders." Maximus retorts: "If it is not
pious faith but the order of the emperor that validates synods, let them accept
the synods that were held against the Homoousion at Tyre, at Antioch, at
Seleucia, and the Robber council of Ephesus." 

The bishop is ready to consent to two wills and two operations: but St. Maximus
says he is himself but a monk and cannot receive his declaration- the bishop,
and also the emperor, and the patriarch and his synod, must send a supplication
to the pope. Then all arose with joy and tears, and knelt down and prayed, and
kissed the Gospels and the crucifix and the image of the Mother of God, and all
embraced. But the consul doubted: 

"Do you think," he said, "that the emperor will make a supplication to Rome?" 

"Yes," said the abbot, "if he will humble himself as God has humbled Himself." 

The bishop gave him money and a tunic, but the tunic was seized by the Bishop
of Byzia. On 8 September, the abbot was honourably sent to Rhegium, and next
day two patricians arrived in state with Bishop Theodosius and offered the saint
great honour if he would accept the Type and communicate with the emperor.
Maximus solemnly turned to the bishop and reminded him of the day of
judgment. 

"What could I do if the emperor took another view?" whispered the miserable
man. The abbot was struck and spat upon. The patrician Epiphanius declared
that all now accepted two wills and two operations, and that the Type was only a
compromise. Maximus reiterated the Roman view that to forbid the use of an
expression was to deny it. Next morning, 19 September, the saint was stripped
of his money and even of his poor stock of clothes, and was conveyed to
Salembria, and thence to Perberis (Perbera). 

Six years later, in 662, Maximus and the two Anastasii were brought to trial at
Constantinople. They were anathematized, and with them St. Martin and St.
Sophronius. The prefect was ordered to beat them, to cut out their tongues and
lop off their right hands, to exhibit them thus mutilated in every quarter of the city,
and to send them to perpetual exile and imprisonment. A long letter of the
Roman Anastasius tells us of their sufferings on the journey to Colchis where
they were imprisoned in different forts. He tells us that St. Maxirmus foresaw in a
vision the day of his death, and that miraculous lights appeared nightly at his
tomb. The monk Anastasius had died in the preceding month; the Roman lived
on until 666. 

Thus St. Maximus died for orthodoxy and obedience to Rome. He has always
been considered one of the chief theological writers of the Greek Church, and
has obtained the honourable title of the Theologian. He may be said to complete
and close the series of patristic writings on the Incarnation, as they are summed
up by St. John of Damascus. His style is unfortunately very obscure, but he is
accurate in his thought and deeply learned in the Fathers .... He was essentially a monk,
a contemplative, a mystic, thoroughly at home in the Platonism of Dionysius. But
he was also a keen dialectician, a scholastic theologian, a controversialist. His
influence in both lines has been very great. His main teaching may be summed
up under two heads, the union of God with humanity by the Incarnation, and the
union of man with God by the practice of perfection and contemplation.

JOHN CHAPMAN 
Transcribed by Joe Buehler 

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X
Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company
Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight



SAINT NICHOLAS of MYRA
Bishop, Confessor - c. AD 342 (December 6)

The veneration with which this saint has been honored in both East and West, the number of altars and churches erected in his memory, and the countless stories associated with his name all bear witness to something extraordinary about him. Yet the one fact concerning the life of Nicholas of which we can be absolutely certain is that he was bishop of Myra in the fourth century. According to tradition, he was born at Patara, Lycia, a province of southern Asia Minor where St. Paul had planted the faith. Myra, the capital, was the seat of a bishopric founded by St. Nicander. The accounts of Nicholas given us by the Greek Church all say that he was imprisoned in the reign of Diocletian, whose persecutions, while they lasted, were waged with great severity. Some twenty years after this he appeared at the Council of Nicaea,[1] to join in the condemnation of Arianism. We are also informed that he died at Myra and was buried in his cathedral. Such a wealth of literature has accumulated around Nicholas that we are justified in giving a brief account of some of the popular traditions, which in the main date from medieval times. St. Methodius, patriarch of Constantinople towards the middle of the ninth century, wrote a life of the saint in which he declares that "up to the present the life of the distinguished shepherd has been unknown to the majority of the faithful." Nearly five hundred years had passed since the death of the good St. Nicholas, and Methodius' account, therefore, had to be based more on legend than actual fact.

He was very well brought up, we are told, by pious and virtuous parents, who set him to studying the sacred books at the age of five. His parents died while he was still young, leaving him with a comfortable fortune, which he resolved to use for works of charity. Soon an opportunity came. A citizen of Patara had lost all his money and his three daughters could not find husbands because of their poverty. In despair their wretched father was about to commit them to a life of shame. When Nicholas heard of this, he took a bag of gold and at night tossed it through an open window of the man's house. Here was a dowry for the eldest girl, and she was quickly married. Nicholas did the same for the second and then for the third daughter. On the last occasion the father was watching by the window, and overwhelmed his young benefactor with gratitude.

It happened that Nicholas was in the city of Myra when the clergy and people were meeting together to elect a new bishop, and God directed them to choose him. This was at the time of Diocletian's persecutions at the beginning of the fourth century. The Greek writers go on to say that now, as leader, "the divine Nicholas was seized by the magistrates, tortured, then chained and thrown into prison with other Christians. But when the great and religious Constantine, chosen by God, assumed the imperial diadem of the Romans, the prisoners were released from their bonds and with them the illustrious Nicholas." St. Methodius adds that "thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas, the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as a death-dealing poison." He does not speak of Nicholas' presence at the Council of Nicaea, but according to other traditions he was not only there but went so far in his indignation as to slap the arch-heretic Arius in the face! At this, they say, he was deprived of his episcopal insignia and imprisoned, but Our Lord and His Mother appeared and restored to him both his liberty and his office. Nicholas also took strong measures against paganism. He tore down many temples, among them one to the Greek goddess Artemis, which was the chief pagan shrine of the district.

Nicholas was also the guardian of his people in temporal affairs. The governor had been bribed to condemn three innocent men to death. On the day fixed for their execution Nicholas stayed the hand of the executioner and released them. Then he turned to the governor and reproved him so sternly that he repented. There happened to be present that day three imperial officers, Nepotian, Ursus, and Herpylion, on their way to duty in Phrygia. Later, after their return, they were imprisoned on false charges of treason by the prefect and an order was procured from the Emperor Constantine for their death. In their extremity they remembered the bishop of Myra's passion for justice and prayed to God for his intercession. That night Nicholas appeared to Constantine in a dream, ordering him to release the three innocent officers. The prefect had the same dream, and in the morning the two men compared their dreams, then questioned the accused officers. On learning that they had prayed for the intervention of Nicholas, Constantine freed them and sent them to the bishop with a letter asking him to pray for the peace of the world. In the West the story took on more and more fantastic forms; in one version the three officers eventually became three boys murdered by an innkeeper and put into a brine tub from which Nicholas rescued them and restored them to life.

The traditions all agree that Nicholas was buried in his episcopal city of Myra. By the time of Justinian, some two centuries later, his feast was celebrated and there was a church built over his tomb. The ruins of this domed basilica, which stood in the plain where the city was built, were excavated in the nineteenth century. The tremendous popularity of the saint is indicated by an anonymous writer of the tenth century who declares: "The West as well as the East acclaims and glorifies him. Wherever there are people, in the country and the town, in the villages, in the isles, in the farthest parts of the earth, his name is revered and churches are erected in his honor." In 1034 Myra was taken by the Saracens. Several Italian cities made plans to get possession of the relics of the famous Nicholas. The citizens of Bari finally in 1087 carried them off from the lawful Greek custodians and their Moslem masters. A new church was quickly built at Bari and Pope Urban II was present at the enshrining of the relics. Devotion to St. Nicholas now increased and many miracles were attributed to his intercession.

The image of St. Nicholas appeared often on Byzantine seals. Artists painted him usually with the three boys in a tub or else tossing a bag of gold through a window. In the West he has often been invoked by prisoners, and in the East by sailors. One legend has it that during his life-time he appeared off the coast of Lycia to some storm-tossed mariners who invoked his aid, and he brought them safely to port. Sailors in the Aegean and Ionian seas had their "star of St. Nicholas" and wished one another safe voyages with the words, "May St. Nicholas hold the tiller."

From the legend of the three boys may have come the tradition of his love for children, celebrated in both secular and religious observances. In many places there was once a year a ceremonious installation of a "boy bishop." In Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands gifts were bestowed on children at Christmas time in St. Nicholas' name. The Dutch Protestant settlers of New Amsterdam made the custom popular on this side of the Atlantic. The Eastern saint was converted into a Nordic magician (Saint Nicholas- Sint Klaes-Santa Claus). His popularity was greatest of all in Russia, where he and St. Andrew were joint national patrons. There was not a church that did not have some sort of shrine in honor of St. Nicholas and the Russian Orthodox Church observes even the feast of the translation of his relics. So many Russian pilgrims came to Bari in Czarist times that the Russian government maintained a church, a hospital, and a hospice there. St. Nicholas is also patron of Greece, Apulia, Sicily, and Lorraine, of many cities and dioceses. At Rome the basilica of St. Nicholas was founded as early as the end of the sixth or the beginning of the seventh century. In the later Middle Ages four hundred churches were dedicated to him in England alone. St. Nicholas' emblems are children, a mitre, a vessel.

1. Nicaea was a city in Bithynia, now northwestern Turkey, a short distance south of Constantinople. The Council of Nicaea, in 325, was the first ecumenical church council, and was called by the Emperor Constantine to bring about agreement on matters of creed.



SAINT SABAS
Abbot - AD 532 (December 5)


ST. SABAS, one of the most renowned patriarchs of the monks of Palestine, was born at Mutalasca, in Cappadocia, not far from Caesarea, the capital, in 439. The name of his father was John, that of his mother, Sophia: both were pious, and of illustrious families. The father was an officer in the army, and being obliged to go to Alexandria in Egypt, took his wife with him, and recommended his son Sabas, with the care of his estate, to Hermias, the brother of his wife. This uncle's wife used the child so harshly that, three years after, he went to an uncle called Gregory, brother to his father, hoping there to live in peace. Gregory having the care of the child, demanded also the administration of his estate, whence great lawsuits and animosities arose between the two uncles. Sabas, who was of a mild disposition, took great offense at these discords about so contemptible a thing as earthly riches, and, the grace of God working powerfully in his heart, he resolved to renounce forever what was a source of so great evils among men. He retired to a monastery called Flavinia, three miles from Mutalasca, and the abbot received him with open arms, and took great care to see him instructed in the science of the saints, and in the rules of a monastic profession. His uncles, blinded by avarice and mutual animosity were some years without opening their eyes; but at last, ashamed of their conduct towards a nephew, they agreed together to take him out of his monastery, restore him his estate, and persuade him to marry. In vain they employed all means to gain their point. Sabas had tasted the bitterness of the world, and the sweetness of the yoke of Christ, and his heart was so united to God, that nothing could draw him from his good purpose. He applied himself with great fervor to the practice of all virtues, especially humility, mortification, and prayer, as the means to attain all others. One day, while he was at work in the garden, he saw a tree loaded with. fair and beautiful apples, and gathered one with an intention to eat it. But reflecting that this was a temptation of the devil, he threw the apple on the ground, and trod upon it. Moreover, to punish himself, and more perfectly to overcome the enemy, he made a vow never to eat any apples as long as he lived. By this victory over himself he made great progress in all other virtues, exercising himself by day in labor, accompanied with prayer, and by night in watching in devotions, always flying idleness as the root of all evils, sleeping only as much as was absolutely necessary to support nature, and never interrupting his labors but to lift up his hands to God. Though he was the youngest in the house, he soon surpassed all the rest in fervor and virtue. So tender was his charity and compassion, that once when he was serving the baker, who had put his wet clothes into the oven to dry, and, forgetting them, had put in fire, seeing him much troubled for his clothes, he went into the oven and fetched them out through the flames without hurt. When Sabas had been ten years in this monastery, being eighteen years old, with the leave of his abbot, he went to Jerusalem to visit the holy places, and to edify himself by the examples of the eminent solitaries of that country. He passed the winter in the monastery of Passarion, governed at that time by the holy abbot Elpidius. All the brethren were charmed with his virtue, and desired earnestly that he would fix his abode among them: but his great love of silence and retirement made him prefer the manner of life practiced by St. Euthymius. He cast himself at the feet of that holy abbot, conjuring him with many tears to receive him among his disciples. St. Euthymius judged him too young to continue in his laura with the anchorets; so extreme a solitude being only proper for the most perfect; for a laura consisted of a cluster of separate cells or hermitages in a desert. Euthymius, therefore, recommended him to the monastery below the hill, which was under the conduct of Theoctistus, and a kind of noviceship to the laura, from which it lay about three miles distant, the laura itself being twelve miles from Jerusalem.

Sabas consecrated himself to God with new fervor, working all day, and watching in prayer a good part of the night. As he was very lusty and strong, he assisted all his brethren in their offices, and prepared himself the wood and water for the house with extraordinary care and cheerfulness. He served the sick with singular diligence and affection; and was always the first and the last at the divine office, and in every regular duty. A temptation put his virtue to the trial. He was sent by his abbot as companion to another monk on certain affairs to Alexandria. There his parents knew him and desired to engage him to accept his father's post and estate in the world but he gave them to understand that would be to apostatise from the service of God which he had chosen. They pressed him at least to accept a large sum of money for his necessaries; but he would only take three pieces gold, and those he gave all to his abbot on his return. When he was thirty years of age he obtained leave of St. Euthymius to spend five days a week in a remote cave, which time he passed, without eating any thing, in prayer and manual labor. He left his monastery on Sunday evening, carrying with him palm-twigs, and came back on Saturday morning with fifty baskets which he had made, imposing upon himself task of ten a day. Thus he had lived five years, till St. Euthymius chose him and one Domitian for his companions in his great yearly retreat in the deserts of Rouban, in which Christ is said to have performed his forty days fast. They entered this solitude together on the 14th of January, and returned to their monastery on Palm Sunday. In the first retreat Sabas fell down in the wilderness, almost dead with thirst. St. Euthymius, moved with compassion, addressed a prayer to Christ, that he would take pity on his young fervent soldier, and, striking his staff into the earth, a spring gushed forth: of which Sabas drinking a little, recovered his strength so as to be enabled to bear the fatigues of his retreat.

After the death of St. Euthymius a relaxation of discipline crept into the monastery: on which account Sabas, sensible that a religious house in such a condition is like a general shipwreck, in which every one must save himself as he can, retired into a desert towards the East, in which St. Gerasimus lived. The devil here endeavored to affright him by appearing in divers shapes of serpents and beasts: but the servant of God, armed with prayer and faith, surmounted ail his assaults. Four years the saint had spent in his wilderness in a total separation from all commerce with men, when, directed by an admonition of heaven, he chose his dwelling in a cave on the top of a high mountain, at the bottom of which ran the brook Cedron. The water of that torrent not being there drinkable, he fetched what he used from a spring five miles off, through a very rough and steep way. He was obliged to hang a cord down the descent to hold himself by in mounting up it. Wild herbs which grew on the rocks were his food, till certain countrymen, who found him by his cord, out of respect brought him on certain days a little bread, cheese, dates, and other little things which he might want.

After he had lived here five years, several resorted to him, desiring to serve God under his direction. He was at first unwilling to consent; but charity overcoming the resistance which his humility raised, he founded a new laura, which at first consisted of seventy persons, all desirous to devote themselves to praise and serve God without interruption. He marked to each the place to build their cell; and, having prayed to God that they might find water, caused a pit to be dug at the foot of the mountain, where a spring was discovered which subsisted in succeeding ages. He built also a little chapel with an altar. The number of his disciples was shortly increased to one hundred and fifty; which obliged him to extend his laura on the other side of the torrent. He watched over all, and provided for heir necessities with an incredible attention. He taught them to overcome their passions, to discover and defeat the artifices of the devil, and to pray with fruit and holy perseverance. To cut off all necessities and pretexts of ever leaving their solitude, by the help of certain charitable persons, he supplied them with all things in a manner suitable to persons dead to the world. He had no priest in his community, and he thought no religious man could aspire to that dignity without presumption. He grieved, how ever, to depend upon the opportunity of some strange priest for the cerebration of the divine mysteries. Certain factious spirits in the community formed a schism against their holy abbot, and accused him to Sallust, then lately made bishop of Jerusalem. The prelate found their invectives groundless, except that the want of a priest was a real defect in the community. He therefore compelled Sabas to receive that sacred character at his hands. The abbot was then fifty three years old. The reputation of his sanctity drew persons from very remote countries to his [aura. Our sent assigned a particular chapel for the Armenian monks, where they performed the first part of the divine office, which consists of prayers and instructions in their own tongue: but met in the great church to finish it, and to make the oblation and receive the communion with the rest. After the death of the saint's father, his mother came to him, and served God under his direction. With the money which she brought he built two hospitals one for strangers, and another for the sick; also an hospital at Jericho, and a monastery on a neighboring hill, called Castel; and another small one a mile distant, for the young, where they learned the psalter and religious exercises. When they were perfect in these, and ripe in years, he translated them to the house of Castel; and drew out of this nursery those that were most perfect into his laura. Sallust, patriarch of Jerusalem, established St. Sabas exarch or superior-general over all the monks of Palestine, who lived in several cells, and St. Theodosius over all who lived in community, or the Cenobites. St. Sabas, after the example of St. Euthymius, left his disciples every year after the octave of the Epiphany, and passed the whole Lent without being seen by any one, eating nothing all that time, except that he received the holy Eucharist every Saturday and Sunday, which he always took with him for that purpose. If any of his disciples accompanied him, he caused them to carry with them some dried bread for their subsistence. In one of these retreats, he found a holy hermit who had lived ml wild herbs, without seeing any man, thirty-eight years. He had with him very edifying discourses; but the next year found him dead, and buried him. The patriarch Sallust dying in 493, the rebellious monks above-mentioned went to his successor Elias, hoping that he would hear their complaints. Sabas was informed of their cabals, and, not to be an occasion of others' malice, withdrew himself privately, saying, that we must resist the devils, but yield to men, for the sake of peace.

He went into the desert of Scythopolis, near the river Gadara, where he went into a great cave to pray. It happened to be the den of a huge lion. At midnight the beast came in, and finding this guest, dared not touch him but taking him gently by his garments, plucked him as if it had been to draw him out. The saint was no ways affrighted or troubled, but began leisurely and with much devotion to recite aloud the midnight psalms. The lion went out, and when the holy man had finished matins, came in again and pulled him by the skirts of his clothes as he had done before. The saint spoke to the beast and said, the place was big enough to hold them both. The lion at those words departed, and returned thither no more. Certain thieves found St. Sabas in his cave, and were so moved by his example and discourses, that they all embraced a penitential life. Many persons here, again put themselves under his conduct; but, finding himself distracted by their direction, and by a number of visitants who resorted thither, he abandoned his cell to them; and this place grew into a monastery. He enjoyed the sweetness of perfect solitude some time, when, moved with tender charity and compassion, he went to visit his former rebellious monks, who continued hardened in their iniquity, and were joined by twenty others. The saint was pierced with grief to see them thus give death to their own souls, and draw others into the same perdition. It seemed to him that he felt his own limbs torn from his body while he saw a monks separated from him. In order to soften their hatred and malice he gave them every token of the greatest sweetness, tenderness, and goodness, but they were not yet to be gained. He left them a second time, to ask their conversion with greater fervor of the Father of mercies. He retired near Nicopolis, living some time under the boughs of a shady tree, the fruit of which furnished him with food till the master of the field built him a cell and afforded him his scanty diet. Elias, the patriarch, ordered Sabas to appoint a superior for the disciples whom he had gathered at Nicopolis and to return to his great laura, to which he sent his orders to receive him The factious monks, in a rage, threw down a building which he had raised and, after many disorders, left that place, and settled in certain old ruinous cells near the brook Theon. The great laura was freed from their scandals and Sabas soon renewed in it the spirit of fervor and charity. His zeal and compassion for the seditious apostates made him still to weep for them. He even procured and sent them seventy pieces of gold to build them a church and furnish them with necessaries. This excess of goodness made them to enter into themselves confess their crime, and submit themselves to their abbot. St. Sabas nominated a superior to govern them; and, under his direction, this became a new very regular monastery. The saint founded several others after the same model.

The eastern churches were then in great confusion. The emperor Anastasius supported the Eutychian heresy, and banished many Catholic bishops. The patriarch Elias sent to him as deputies St. Sabas, with other famous abbots, to endeavor to stop the fury of this persecution. Sabas was seventy years old when he undertook this journey to Constantinople. As he was dressed like some poor beggar, the officers at the gate of the imperial palace admitted the rest, but stopped him. Sabas made no reply, but withdrew into a corner to employ his time in prayer. When the emperor had read the letter of the patriarch, in which great commendations were bestowed on Sabas, he asked where he was. The saint was sought and at length found in a corner reciting the psalms. Anastasius gave the abbots liberty to ask what they wanted or desired for themselves; the rest presented their petitions, but Sabas had no request to make in his own name. Being pressed by the emperor to ask some favor, he only begged that his majesty would restore peace to the church, and not disturb the clergy. The emperor gave him a thousand pieces of gold to employ in charities. Sabas stayed all the winter in Constantinople, and often visited the emperor to gain his point. The prince had caused an heretical council at Sidon to condemn the general council of Chalcedon, and required the bishops to subscribe this decree, banishing many who refused to do it However, he spared Elias, patriarch of Jerusalem, at the repeated entreaties of Sabas, and dismissed the holy abbot with honor, giving him a thousand pieces of gold more to he distributed among the poor in his country. The saint returned to his solitude, and the emperor dying, according to what our holy abbot had foretold, Justin, his successor, favored the true faith. St. Sabas, laying hold of that opportunity, went to Caesarea, Scythopolis, and other places, preaching the Catholic faith, and bringing back many monks and seculars into its fold. A drought which had continued five years, produced a famine in Palestine. The prayers of the saint obtained supplies for his seven monasteries in their extreme necessity, and at last rain, to the universal joy of the whose country.

In the ninety-first year of his age, at the request of Peter, patriarch of Jerusalem, he undertook a second journey to Constantinople, in favor of the Christians of Palestine, who had been calumniated at court. Justinian, who then occupied the imperial throne, received him with great honor, granted him all his requests, and offered to settle annual revenues for the maintenance of all his monasteries. The holy abbot thanked his majesty, but said they stood not in need of such revenues, as long as the monks should serve God. However, he begged a remission of all taxes in favor of the people of Palestine for a certain term, in consideration of what they had suffered by the plunders of the Samaritans: that his majesty would build an hospital at Jerusalem for the pilgrims, and a fortress for the protection of the hermits and monks against the inroads of barbarians: that he would bestow some ornaments on the church of our Lady, which was lately built, and would afford his protection to the Catholics. All which things were granted. It happened one day that the emperor being busy in council in dispatching certain affairs of the saint, who was himself present, when it was the hour of fierce, the abbot went out to recite his prayers. His companion, called Jeremy, said it was not well done to leave the emperor on such an occasion. "My son," replied Sabas, "the emperor does his duty, and we must do ours"; so exact was he in all the rules of his state. St. Sabas returned into Palestine with the imperial orders, which he delivered to the magistrates of Jerusalem, Scythopolis, and Caesarea, and saw everywhere put in execution. Soon after his return to his laura he fell sick: the patriarch persuaded him to suffer himself to be conveyed to a neighboring church, where he served him with his own hands. The pains of the saint were very sharp, but God supported him under them in perfect sentiments of patience and resignation. Finding his last hour approach, he begged the patriarch that he might be carried back to his laura. He appointed Melitas of Berytus his successor, gave him excellent instructions, and then lay four days in silence, without seeing any one, that he might entertain himself with God alone. On the 5th of December, in the evening, having received the truly communion, he departed to our Lord, in 532, (not 531, as Jos Assemani demonstrates against Baronius, &c.,) being ninety-four years old He is commemorated on this day both in the Greek and Latin Calendars.

St. Sabas met with persecutors among the monks, to whom his virtue seemed too scrupulous a severity; and these men were long insensible to his mild remonstrances, and holy instructions, animated by the example of his admirable sanctity. How easily do men blind themselves in their passions, and excuse to themselves, nay canonize, their more subtle vices! And how difficult is it for such sinners to be reclaimed! It is much easier to convert a notorious sinner, than one who is falsely just. The one feels his miseries, the other crowns himself with his own hands, and, like the proud Pharisee, makes his own panegyric or apology. This dreadful blindness is a frequent case: men every day study by a false conscience to palliate crimes, and allow themselves many unjustifiable liberties under false presences. As St. Austin complains, what our passions strongly incline us to, we often call holy. Not to perish by such illusions, we must banish out of our hearts all self-conceit, learn perfectly to die to ourselves, especially in regard to our darling or ruling passions, and never take our passions for our counselors or guides, as we shall be sure to do if we rely too much on ourselves. We must often suspect and narrowly examine our own hearts, which are frequently the greatest cheats with which we have to deal. We are often imposed upon by other men: but a thousand times oftener by ourselves.

SAINT VLADIMIR THE GREAT
Apostle of Russia - AD 1015 (July 15)

Grand Duke of Kieff and All Russia, grandson of St. Olga, and the first Russian ruler to embrace Christianity, b. 956; d. at Berestova, 15 July, 1015. St. Olga could not convert her son and successor, Sviatoslav, for he lived and died a pagan and brought up his son Vladimir as a pagan chieftain. Sviatoslav had two legitimate sons, Yaropolk and Oleg, and a third son, Vladimir, borne him by his court favourite Olga Malusha. Shortly before his death (972) he bestowed the Grand Duchy of Kieff on Yaropolk and gave the land of the Drevlani (now Galicia) to Oleg. The ancient Russian capital of Novgorod threatened rebellion and, as both the princes refused to go thither, Sviatoslav bestowed its sovereignty upon the young Vladimir. Meanwhile war broke out between Yaropolk and Oleg, and the former conquered the Drevlanian territory and dethroned Oleg. When this news reached Vladimir he feared a like fate and fled to the Varangians (Variags) of Scandinavia for help, while Yaropolk conquered Novgorod and united all Russia under his sceptre. A few years later Vladimir returned with a large force and retook Novgorod. Becoming bolder he waged war against his brother towards the south, took the city of Polotzk, slew its prince, Ragvald, and married his daughter Ragnilda, the affianced bride of Yaropolk. Then he pressed on and besieged Kieff. Yaropolk fled to Rodno, but could not hold out there, and was finally slain upon his surrender to the victorious Vladimir; the latter thereupon made himself ruler of Kieff and all Russia in 980. As a heathen prince Vladimir had four wives besides Ragnilda, and by them had ten sons and two daughters. Since the days of St. Olga, Christianity, which was originally established among the eastern Slavs by Sts. Cyril and Methodius, had been making secret progress throughout the land of Russ (now eastern Austria and Russia) and had begun to considerably alter the heathen ideas. It was a period similar to the era of the conversion of Constantine.

Notwithstanding this undercurrent of Christian ideas, Vladimir erected in Kieff many statues and shrines (trebishcha) to the Slavic heathen gods, Perun, Dazhdbog, Simorgl, Mokosh, Stribog, and others. In 981 he subdued the Chervensk cities (now Galicia), in 983 he overcame the wild Yatviags on the shores of the Baltic Sea, in 985 he fought with the Bulgarians on the lower Volga, and in 987 he planned a campaign against the Greco-Roman Empire, in the course of which he became interested in Christianity. The Chronicle of Nestor relates that he sent envoys to the neighbouring countries for information concerning their religions. The envoys reported adversely regarding the Bulgarians who followed (Mohammed), the Jews of Khazar, and the Germans with their plain missionary Latin churches, but they were delighted with the solemn Greek ritual of the Great Church (St. Sophia) of Constantinople, and reminded Vladimir that his grandmother Olga had embraced that Faith. The next year (988) he besieged Kherson in the Crimea, a city within the borders of the eastern Roman Empire, and finally took it by cutting off its water supply. He then sent envoys to Emperor Basil II at Constantinople to ask for his sister Anna in marriage, adding a threat to march on Constantinople in case of refusal. The emperor replied that a Christian might not marry a heathen, but if Vladimir were a Christian prince he would sanction the alliance. To this Vladimir replied that he had already examined the doctrines of the Christians, was inclined towards them, and was ready to be baptized. Basil II sent this sister with a retinue of officials and clergy to Kherson, and there Vladimir was baptized, in the same year, by the Metropolitan Michael and took also the baptismal name of Basil. A current legend relates that Vladimir had been stricken with blindness before the arrival of Anna and her retinue and had recovered his sight upon being baptized. He then married Princess Anna, and thereafter put away his pagan wives. He surrendered the city of Kherson to the Greeks and returned to Kieff in state with his bride. The Russian historian Karamsin (Vol. I, p. 215) suggests that Vladimir could have been baptized long before at Kieff, since Christians and their priests were already there; but such an act would have humbled the proud chieftain in the eyes of his people, for he would have accepted in a lowly manner an inconspicuous rite at the hands of a secret and despised sect. Hence he preferred to have it come from the envoys of the Roman Emperor of Constantinople, as a means of impressing his people.

When Vladimir returned to Kieff he took upon himself the conversion of his subjects. He ordered the statues of the gods to be thrown down, chopped to pieces, and some of them burned; the chief god, Perun, was dragged through the mud and thrown into the River Dnieper. These acts impressed the people with the helplessness of their gods, and when they were told that they should follow Vladimir's example and become Christians they were willingly baptized, even wading into the river that they might the sooner be reached by the priest for baptism. Zubrycki thinks this readiness shows that the doctrines of Christianity had already been secretly spread in Kieff and that the people only waited for an opportunity to publicly acknowledge them. Vladimir urged all his subjects to become Christians, established churches and monasteries not only at Kieff, but at Pereyaslav, Chernigoff, Bielegorod, Vladimir in Volhynia, and many other cities. In 989 he erected the large Church of St. Mary ever Virgin (usually called Desiatinny Sobor, the Cathedral of the Tithes), and in 996 the Church of the Transfiguration, both in the city of Kieff. He gave up his warlike career and devoted himself principally to the government of his people; he established schools, introduced ecclesiastical courts, and became known for his mildness and for his zeal in spreading the Christian faith. His wife died in 1011, having borne him two sons, Boris and Glib (also known a Sts. Roman and David, from their baptismal names). After this his life became troubled by the conduct of his elder children. Following the custom of his ancestors, he had parcelled out his kingdom amongst his children, giving the city of Novgorod in fief to his eldest son Yaroslav; the latter rebelled against him and refused to render either service or tribute. In 1014 Vladimir prepared to march north to Novgorod and take it away from his disobedient son, while Yaroslav invoked the help of the Varangians against his father. Vladimir fell ill and died on the way. His feast in celebrated on 15 July in the Russian Orthodox and Ruthenian Greek Catholic calendars, and he has received the name of Ravnoapostol (equal to the Apostles) in the title of the feast and the troparion of the liturgy. The Russians have added in their service books words referring his conversion and intercession to the present Russian Empire (rossiiskaya zemlya), but the Ruthenians have never permitted these interpolations.


Sources include the Catholic Encyclopedia, Butler's Lives of the Saints, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Church and L'Osservatore Romano.

Back