Monday, December 31, 2012

Saint Melania the younger, from Rome, and her grandmother, Saint Melania the Elder

Saint Melania of Rome, also known as Melania “the Younger” (or “Minor”) is the holy woman, one of the first nuns, who is celebrated in the last day of the calendar. She is named “of Rome” because she was born in Rome c. 383, but died in Jerusalem, in 439).Her name as “younger” discerns between her, and her paternal grandmother, Melania the Great or the Elder, also a nun and a monastery founder.

Melania the Elder

But before speaking about Saint Melania the Younger, celebrated today, please allow me to introduce in a few sentences her grandmother, a very important saint for the whole Christian asceticism.
Saint Melania the Elder or the Great (“Maior”, 325–410) was a Desert Mother with a great influence among the most famous monks from the 4th century. She was born in Spain, in a wealthy family, being married at fourteen with a man named Valerius Maximus Basilius, with whom she lived near Rome. Shortly being widow and losing also two out of their three sons,when she was only 22 years old, Melania moved with her remaining son, Valerius Publicola (the father of the future Melania the Younger), to Rome. Here she lived a pious life in a house organized almost like a monastery, but after a while she decided to go to Alexandria, in order to meet the famous ascetics from the desert. Probably she met some other fathers from the Egyptian Desert, but surely she was familiar with Abba Macarius, with St. Augustin and, St. Paulinus of Nola (her cousin or cousin-in-law), who offers in his letter a description of her visit to Nola.
After the death of Bishop Athanasius in 373 it started a persecution against the monks and many of them were exiled to Palestine, Melania went with them to aid them, visiting them in prison by night disguised in a slave's hood.After this persecution, Melania arrived in Jerusalem, where she founded a monastery on the Mount of Olives, together with Tyrannius Rufinus. Here she lived a very hard ascetic life. Among other, here she met Saint Jerome, but also Evagrius Ponticus, a monk who left Constantinople after a forbidden love affair, and who later, at Melania’s insistence, went to Egypt and lived an ascetic life in the desert of Kellia. Because of her involvement as a pro-Origenist in the controversy over Origen in the 390s, Jerome was especially acid writing about her, mocking her name and calling her "black in name and black in nature”, because Melania means in Greek, “black”.
Once more Melania went to Rome to see her son remained here, and who had married Caeionia Albina, and who had a daughter, also named Melania (the Younger). After this moment, the old nun returned to Palestine in 404 and died in 410 in Jerusalem, being regarded as a saint and celebrated on June 8.
St. Melania the Younger
Melania the Younger

Valerius Publicola, the son of Melania the Elder remained in Rome, in the care of the wealthy relatives and married later Caeionia Albina. Together they had a daughter named Melania, after her grandmother. Melania the Younger was married ratherly by force at the insistence of their parents, as the only inheritor of their wealth. Her marriage, when she was only 13 years old, with her paternal cousin, Valerius Pinianus, aged 17, was a formal one. In spite of her wish to bear an ascetic life, they had two children, a daughter and a son, who died very soon. Her own life was in danger after the second birth, and in this moment Melania and her husband swore to live further only as brother and sister. They left Rome, gave their wealth to the poor and lived further in a village like ascetics. At this time they were 24, respectively 20 years old. Anyway at the time everything they still had it was taken by force by Severianus, brother of Valerius Pinianus, because after a law they were not allowed to waste their wealth without the consent of the relatives. The empress Verena heard about such an injustice and asked Melania to come to her at the palace. After a tradition, no woman was allowed to enter the palace of the empress having her head covered, but Melania did so, showing her ascetic life. The empress admired her and their ascetic life, and gave an order to let them to do what they want with their properties. So they sold further everything, giving to the poor not only in Rome, but sending in some eastern countries.
Melania and Pinianus left Rome in 408, living a monastic life near Messina (Sicily) for two years. In 410, they traveled further to Africa, where they befriended Augustine of Hippo and devoted themselves to a life of piety and charitable works. Together they founded a convent of which Melania became superior, and cloister of which Pinianus took charge.
In 417 Melania and her husband traveled to Palestine, where they visited among others the Holy Sepulchre from Jerusalem. After a while, hearing about the ascetic life of the Desert Fathers in Egypt, Melania went to Alexandria, in order to visit some of them and to learn more about a holy life. There is a story in the famous ascetic book comprising the sayings of the Fathers (Apophthegmata Patrum) in which Saint Arsenius the Roman is presented as being visited by a Roman wealthy woman, in my opinion no one else than Melania. Arsenius refused to accept her visit, but then she insisted by asking the authority of patriarch Theophilus. Finally, “when she had reached the old man's cell, by a dispensation of God, he was outside it. Seeing him, she threw herself at his feet. Outraged, he lifted her up again, and said, looking steadily at her, 'If you must see my face, here it is, look.' She was covered with shame and did not look at his face. Then the old man said to her, 'Have you not heard tell of my way of life? It ought to be respected. How dare you make such a journey? Do you not realise you are a woman and cannot go anywhere? Or is it so that on returning to Rome you can say to the other women: I have seen Arsenius? Then they will turn the sea into a thoroughfare with women coming to see me.' She said, 'May it please the Lord, I shall not let anyone come here, but pray for me and remember me always.' But he answered her, 'I pray to God to remove remembrance of you from my heart.' Overcome at hearing these words, she withdrew…” (Arsenius 28)

Melania visited also some other Fathers, but many of them refused her offerings. Anyway she came back with a curious gift from Abba Macarius the Great. After a story told independently by three different authors (Palladius, Timothy of Alexandria and the anonyme author of the Apophthegmata Patrum), Abba Macarius was once visited by a hyena who tried to convince him to come in her cave. Macarius went there, where he saw the blind offspring of the wild animal, which he cured through prayer. The second day, the hyena came to him with a wooly skin of a ram or a sheep. This skin was used as a fur in the cold winters by Melania until her death.
Melania went back to Palestine living in the hermitage of her grandmother, Melania the Elder, near the Mount of Olives. Here she was visited by her former husband and by her mother, also here, only once a week, because she decided to live as a secluded. After some time her mother, Albina, died, and soon also Pinianus (c. 420). Melania built then a cloister for men and a church, where she spent the remainder of her life.
In 436 she went to Constantinople, after receiving a letter from her uncle Volusian, who was ill and wanted to see her, and during this trip she convinced her uncle to baptize. She met here the emperess Eudokia, who later visited Jerusalem in 437 and, counseled by Melania, made some important donations for different churches in Palestine. The last years are dominated by her apostolic mission of counseling, but also curing miraculously different sick persons.
During the Feasts of the Nativity in 439, Melania knew that her death will occur soon. She participated to the Holy Liturgy of Christmas, met her close friends and gave them the last advices, dying soon, on December 31 the same year. On this day she is commemorated in both the Eastern and Western Churches. Her monastery resisted until 614, when it was destroyed by the Persians.
The Tomb of St. Melania in Jerusalem
The veneration of Saint Melania and her Relics

The life of Melania was written in Greek by a monk named Gerontius. There are some other (shorter) lives in Historia Lausiaca of Palladius and in the work of Peter the Iberian.
Today the tomb of Saint Melania is situated in the Monastery of Megale Panagia in Jerusalem. This sacred place is particular by the fact that the door to the monastery is very small. Her relics are to be found in the place where it is supposed to be her old stone cell, in fact a narrow cave. Together with the relics there are kept her chains that she wore under her cassock.

Troparion (hymn) of Saint Melania of Rome 

The image of God was truly preserved in you, O Mother,for you took up the Cross and followed Christ. By so doing, you taught us to disregard the flesh, for it passes away; but to care instead for the soul, since it is immortal. Therefore your spirit, O holy Mother Melania, rejoices with the angels!


Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Theology of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist

In order to be able to write an article about the theology of John the Evangelist, I should read at least a small part of the very huge theological literature written about this marvelous man, traditionally also known as the beloved apprentice, the theologian of love or, more popular, Saint John the Theologian. In the following I must confess I have not read so much about this saint. Except the fourth Gospel, the three epistles and the Apocalypse, I can count some introductions to these biblical books, some general commentaries to the New Testament, some encyclopedic articles and a few other articles on the topic. I may add here the Life of Saint John the Evangelist, as it appears in the collections of the lives of the saints, according to the Orthodox tradition. That means this article cannot pretend to be more than a simple essay.
There is a special thing to mention about the name of the saint. At least the Eastern Church has not so many saints bearing the title of “The theologian”. In fact, there are only three examples: John, traditionally the author of the biblical books already named above, St. Gregory of Nazianzus (329–390), retired archbishop of Constantinople during the second ecumenical Council (381) and author of the well-known “Five theological speeches” against the arianists, and Symeon “The New Theologian” (949–1022), a monk from Stoudion, the famous elite monastery in Constantinople. There is to be noted that the former one was first named as “new theologian” only in mockery for his style of writing and his mysticism, which was not quite well seen at his time.
Another Theologian: St. Gregory of Nazianzus

What is common to these three Theologians of the Church is their special connection to the Person and activity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. John wrote exceptionally about the God of love, Who has incarnated himself and came in the world in order to save his beloved human beings from death and corruption. Gregory came in Constantinople as a more symbolical bishop of the Nicaean community, which resumed at that time to a single-group meeting in the Chapel of the Anastasis, all the others Christians of the capital city (arianists) denying Jesus Christ as God and co-substantial with the Father. Traditionally, Gregory spoke about Jesus Christ in such a way, that at the end of his office (which lasted about only 3 years!) it remained in Constantinople only one arianist community, the others accepting the truth of the Orthodox faith, which prevailed after the second ecumenical Council. Symeon wrote some treatises about the divine light and, against the rationalist trend of his age, he promoted a Jesus of the hearts, instead of speaking in the philosophical way about the divine Word of Life.
the new Theologian, St. Symeon
Let’s remain focused on John, “one of the disciples, whom Jesus loved” (John 13,23). Today there are also a lot of doubts about the fact that this disciple is one and the same person with the author of the Gospel traditionally put onto his name. The fact that the original Greek manuscripts attested the gospel as “according to John”, but saying nothing about his quality (disciple, apostle, presbyter, etc…), made some modern commentators to doubt that this is John the Apostle, son of Zebedee. The number of the arguments for this doubt grows every year, but I don’t intend to make from that the theme of my essay. The doubts are even bigger in what concerns the epistles, but his paternity on the Apocalypse is almost generally denied in the Western Churches, mostly in the scholar circles. In this situation it would be hard to remain with something from the disciple who assisted, as the only one remaining, to the Crucifixion of his Master (John 19,26: he is once more named as “the disciple standing by, whom he loved”) and probably to the burial, also one of the first to known, together with Peter, about the empty Tomb (John 20, 2: here he is “the other disciple, whom Jesus loved”; John 20,8). But I don’t share this opinion, because of some reasons which may appear subjective.

The Gospel

The author of the fourth Gospel wrote the well-known Prologue, the one starting with the words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…All things were made by him; and without him was nothing made that was made.”, an incredible parallel to the Book of Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth…” (Gen. 1,1). Matter fact, the author of the Gospel rewrites the Genesis or, better said, he completes the text in the way the Jewish Rabbis used to write commentaries known as Midrashim and Targumim. The fourth Gospel intends to say, since the beginning, that Jesus Christ is not only the expected Messiah, but the Word of God, co-substantial with God and a-temporal, a-spatial as His Father, the Almighty. The Word of God is the One in whom there is “life”, and this life is “the light of men” (1, 4), which “shines in darkness”, impossible to be drowned into the darkness (1,5) and the one who “lighteth every man that came into the world” (1,9). This complex description of the divine Logos beyond the all created, but not stranger from them, reveals a profound theologian who knew deeply what meant for him and for the all humankind the knowledge of God, knowledge beyond reason. I wonder who could understand so good the deepness of God - who reveals himself in the world in the light inside every human being – if not the “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, whom Jesus might have shared such a mysterious teaching about a crazy God who decided to die for his humans? The author of the Gospel is one of the – probably not so many, at least at the beginning – ones who received him, and to whom the divine Word “gave them the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1,12-13).
According to the “hypothetical John the Evangelist” - whoever he might have been, but at least the author of this fantastic theological treatise also known as “the Prologue of John” -, the ones who believe in the mission of the divine Word who “was made flesh, and dwelt among us […] full of grace and truth” (John 1,14) – which God may dwell among his creature, if not the Love itself? –, these crazy believers in the Crucified God are not anymore born as natural, but as supernatural beings, destined to become sons of God.
The God of John the Evangelist offers his flesh to be eaten and his blood to be drunk, in fact even crazier, he says to the anyway conservative auditorium that “except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you” (John 6,53), speaking about the future Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the miraculous possibility in how even we today, 2000 years later, may share the divinity in such a deep way.
The God of John the Evangelist weeps when his human beings are dying, even if he knows the fact that the Resurrection will come soon. He knows what does it mean to hear about a friend who died (John11,35: “And Jesus wept”), image which is wonderfully completed with Jesus’ attitude in front of the death of a son (Luke 7,11-17) or a daughter (Matthew 9, 18–26, Mark 5,21–43 and Luke 8,40–56).
Jesus of John the Evangelist is the one who accepts - from love - the deep penitence of the sinful woman who anointed the feet of the Master (John 12,3), without even knowing (she) that she prophesized the sudden death of the Divine Logos.
John mentions once so many times about the Jesus as the incarnation of the divine Love. After the Resurrection, Jesus asks three times his disciple Peter if he loves him, to whom Peter answers positively.  After being urged to follow his master, Peter “turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper…” and asked him, what would be happen with this one. Jesus gave him an unclear answer: “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me!” (John 21,20-22). In the end, the author of the Gospel reveals himself as the very mysterious disciple: “This is the disciple who testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true…” (John 21,24)
The Epistles

The three Epistles of John are written in the same manner as the Gospel and have the same theme, namely to present Jesus Christ as God and the incarnated Love in the world, the one who remains among us, if we respect the commandment of loving each other. The Prologue of the first Epistle astonishes by its similarity with the one of the Gospel: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; for the life was manifested, and we have seen it…” (1 John 1,1-2). The same opposition between the light and the darkness as in the Gospel is presented here even stronger: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” and “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (verses 5 and 7). The importance of the Eucharistic communion is stated here as in the Gospel. Once more, as the Gospel shows that the World didn’t know him (John 1,10), the same idea is followed in the first epistle (1 John 3,1). There are some other similar ideas, such as the opposite to God as the sons of the devil and the followers of the antichrist (Gospel 8, 37-45 : 1st Epistle 2,16-18; 2nd Epistle 1,7; 3rd Epistle 1,11), the importance of love among the brothers (Gospel, 1st Epistle 3,14), after the Commandment of Love (Gospel 13, 34-35 and 15,12-13: 1st Epistle 3,16,23; 2nd Epistle 1,6), the urge to remain into the Lord, as the single way that Lord remains into us (Gospel 15,4: 1st Epistle 3,24). In spite of knowing God as Love and Light, who died for us and who remains in us, if we ask for that (Gospel 15,7 : 1st Epistle 4,10), John states that no one have seen God (Gospel 1,18: 1st Epistle 4,12).

The Apocalypse

In what it concerns the Apocalypse, the purpose of such a book is clearly different to the one in the Gospel and the Epistles. The difference of style, ideas and even lexica is quite normal. A prophetical book would use images and situations in quite a new manner, so if we may try to make a parallel to the Gospel, then we will see more differences than similarities. One of the important “signs” that John of the Apocalypse may be another John, is the fact that he calls himself not as “apostle”, “disciple”, “evangelist”, but “I, John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation….” (Apoc. 1,9). In contrast I would like to attest the - ideational if not lexical - parallel between the prologue of the first Epistle, cited above, and the one of the Apocalypse “…[John], who confessed the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw” (Apoc. 1,2).The Son of Man, allusion to the prophetic book of Daniel, is always encircled in such a light, almost impossible to be seen (Apoc. 1, 14 and 16), as in the Gospel and even more in the first Epostle. The whole book of Revelation is presented as a battle between the ones (not so many) who confess the Lord and fight on his side against the forces of evil, antichrist, the beast/dragon and the devil himself, thing which is also quite familiar in the Gospel but especially in the Epistles.
A modern German specialist in the New Testament Studies notes in his Einleitung in das Neue Testament (5th Ed., Vandehoek, Göttingen, 2005, 617 pp) that the author of the Apocalypse has two main sources, namely the books of the Old Testament (esp. the Prophets and the Psalms) and the Liturgy, because John makes a lot of allusions to Sunday, Altar, rituals, Eucharist, texts composed in antiphonic hymns,doxologies, treishagions, “axios”-acclamations, prayers of thanking. But even more important as the sources used by the author, is the fact that all is about the Kingdom of God about to come, a concept which is also present in John’s Gospel, twice in connection with the mission of John the Baptist (3,3; 3,5) and once in connection to the Passions of Jesus ( 18,36). The so often invoked image of the Lamb in the Apocalypse is present in the confession of the same Baptist about Jesus (1,36), with the special mention that the Gospel uses for this image the word “amnos”, a synonym of “arneion”, as it appears in the Apocalypse, used also as a sign of the different paternity of the two works. Anyway the Lamb as the one, who offers himself for the sake of the world, is a common image of the Gospel and the prophetic book. The idea of the brotherly love, omnipresent in the Gospel and in the Epistle, marks a parallel to the idea of the brotherly communion in the Church, in the Apocalypse (2,20; 7,3; 19,2.5; 22,3).
One more thing I would like to note about the Apocalypse. If the Gospel is intended to mark a parallel to the Genesis, the Revelation ends in the same manner, presenting the New Jerusalem as the new Paradise of the Lord, from which we cannot miss the special elements: the wonderful river (Apoc. 22,1 cf. Gen. 2,10), the trees (among them, the Tree of Life, Apoc. 21,23 and 22,2, cf. Gen. 2,9), the precious stones (Apoc. 21,13.19-21 cf. Gen 2,11), men as kings (Apoc. 21,24 cf. Gen. 2,8.19), the presence of God (Apoc. 21,24, cf. Gen 3,8), cherubs (21,12 cf. Gen. 3,24), peace and innocence (Apoc. 21,1-6, cf. Gen. 2,13) etc.
Da Vinci: The Last Supper

Theology of divine Love

The theological ideas in the book of Apocalypse would need another article. I would say, as the modern Western commentators, that there are so many differences between this book and the Gospel, but also similarities. It depends which position would take anyone of us. I would prefer the traditional one, according to which, the two books are johannine in the same manner. I would see positively the differences between them, as complimentary and caused by their different intention and type of communication. Without intending to say that I am right, I would better say that these books make an original and round image of John the Apostle, a man interested about what does it mean the divine love, how can we, the mortals, attend the divine love and that light which is usually situated beyond our power of knowledge. An apostle interested about how the World was created and how it would end, who had a round image of the kosmos being restored in the end in an even more glorious way as in the beginning. An apostle interested about how it was possible that the divine Word became flesh, suffered and died for us, but also resurrected and reigns in his Kingdom, waiting for us to follow him. The Apostle has observed this way of waiting as active: God shares himself in his flesh and blood, in order to make to us the spring of the living water accessible. The same God loves us and waits from us the same love not only directed to him, but to all the living creatures. Shortly, this man cannot be another than the Apostle of Love, John, the son of the Thunder.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saint Eleutherios bishop of Illyricum

(Eleutherius or Eleftherios)

Saint Eleutherius of Illyricum is one of the western martyrs of the first centuries who receive until today a special veneration in both the Eastern and the Western Church. The complexity of this vita in the fact that hei s confused, if not in his biographies, at least in the public veneration, with Saint Liberator and Pope Eleutherius in the West and with St. Eleutherios Koubikoularios in the East.
This article refers to Saint Eleutherius, traditionally known as bishop and Illyricum and Roman citizen. The life and the martyrdom of St. Eleutherius and of his mother Anthia (or Evanthia) differs after two types of sorces, the Greek ones (registered in Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca, I, pp. 173-74, nn. 568-71b), and the Latin ones (in Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina, I, p. 368, nn. 2450-52).

The Greek Martyrdom of Saint Eleutherius and of his mother, Anthia

According to the Greek source (about the 5th century, probably written in one of the Greek monasteries from Italy), which was „romanticized” by St. Symeon Metaphrastes in the 10th century (version available in Synaxarium Constantinopolitanum), St. Eleutherius was born in Rome in the latter years of the 1st century. His father Eugenius was a consul of the Roman Emperor, and his mother Anthia was a Christian, who used to know personally at a time St. Paul the Apostle, who might have converted her to the Christianity. Anthia gave to her child a proper education in the spirit of Our Lord’s teachings. Anthia became a widow at an early age. She then sent her son to Anicetus, the bishop (pope) of Rome (c. 150 – c. 167) for his care. The holy man recognized the special spiritual gifts of the young boy and ordained him a deacon at the age of 15, quite a young age especially for this period. Shortly he ordained him as priest when being only 18 and already as bishop of Illyricum at 20.

Saint Eleutherius. From the Menologion of Basil II, 11th century

During the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (117-138), Eleutherius already began to produce rumor at the imperial court because he was winning many converts to Christianity. Shortly he was considered to be an "enemy of the state", and a general („comes”) named Felix was sent to arrest and bring him to Rome for trial. Entering inside the church where Eleutherios was preaching during the Holy Liturgy, the heart of Felix was touched by the words of the young bishop and became a Christian. Anyway Eleutherios returned to Rome together with Felix, where he was arrested and tortured. The dialogue between St. Eleutherius and the emperor Hadrian follows the classical way to be seen in many vitae of the martyrs, as a play in which the saint does not feel any pain and the torturer becomes even worse in his madness.  Emperor Hadrian is presented rather in the comic form of mad tyrant, than as in the historical narratives and this image is even more emphasized by Symeon Metaphrastes.
 The tortures of St. Eleutherios consist in putting him on a hot copper bed, later on an iron grill, then in a huge pan filled with wax, tar and tallow and finally in a hot copper oven. All those tortures prove to be inefficient, because St. Eleutherius remains unharmed after his prayers and through the miraculous intervention of the Lord. During the late torture even the one that came with the idea of it, an „eparch” (ruler of a province) named Coremon suddenly converts to the Christianity and is punished to death by beheading. After all these tortures, Eleutherius is sent to prison and punished by hungering, but an angel sent by God nourishes him as Daniel in the lions’ den. Hadrian thinks to another torture and commands to bring some wild horses and to bind the saint to them, in order to be dragged by them over until death. Anyway the saint escapes and for a short period he lives in a cave in the mountains with the wild beasts which don’t harm him. Finally the saint is caught once more by some hunters and brought to the emperor who ordains his beheading, happened on December 15 (after the latin sources, on April 18) in the year 120 A.D., along with his new convert Felix. His blessed mother Anthia fearlessly comes to grieve over the body of her martyred son, and she too suffers the same fate. The faithful Christians from Illyricum (diocese) come and take their bodies, burying them with honor.

The Latin version

The Latin tradition already mentioned consist in two different redactions, one called „Reatica” due the mention of the burial of Eleutherius and Anthia in Reata (now Rieti), another „Aecana” (after Aikos or Aecana, now Troia, in Puglia, south Italy), which mentions this town instead.
These manuscripts are dated in the late 8th – early 9th century, from which the „Reatica” follows narrowly the Greek variant, except the story of the burial. In this edition, the bishop of Reata, Primus, takes the bodies of martyrs and buries them in the fields of Urbanian on the Salt Road (1 mile from Reata and 61 from Rome). In the „Aecana” version, which omits the historical details and tells nothing even about the birthplace of Eleutherius, the episcopacy of the saint is not associated with Illyricum, but with Aecana, and Felix is sent here to deliver the saint in Rome. Many residents of Aecana arrive after the death of the martyrs, and take their bodies, burying them in their town. According to these Latin variants, the death of the martyrs took place on April 18.
The „Aecana” edition is used in the drafts of the Carolingian Martyrologies of Florus from Lyon, Rabanus Maurus, Adonis of Vienna, Usuard and also in a poem of Flodoard of Reims known as „Christ's victory in Italy”.
The title of „bishop of Illyricum” comes in the Roman Martyrologies only through Baronius (1586), influenced by the Greek variant. In the later Roman Martyrologies, Eleutherius is called a martyr from Messana (now Messina) on the island of Sicily. This error goes back to Florus of Lyon’s redaction of the martyrology, replacing Aecana with  Messana in Puglia, a current place for the veneration of St. Eleutherius. This small error made St. Eleutherius very popular also Messina, Sicily, until today, even if the saint was never there.
St. Elefterie and his mother Anthia

The worship

Because of the error of Florus and other copyists of the Roman Martyrology,  Sicily became in the XVII century a local place of veneration of the saints, but references to the existence of the relics have been no recorded. The erroneous spelling “Aquileia” instead of “Apuglia” in the martyrology of Rabanus Maurus (cf. PL vol.111, col. 140) and Notker Zaika (cf. PL vol. 131,  col. 166) followed to a local veneration of St. Eleutherius in the Croatian town of Poreč (italian Parenzo), because the  seat of Aquileia was transferred here. So, Raban and Notker report that after the martyrdom, Eleutherius and his mother were moved in Aquileia, where he was a bishop (and not in Aecana), and there buried.
In this chaos created by the erroneous copies, also the memorial day traditions differ. According to the martyrology of St. Jerome and the two old latin version, the saints are celebrated on April 18. The same day was celebrated also according the “Calendario Marmoreo” of Naples and outside Italy, according to the Frankish and Mozarabic calendars from the XI-XII  centuries. Certain manuscripts also testify the dates of November 24, September 6 (instead of the Pope Eleutherius).
Many churches in Italy were built in honor of St. Eleutherius: in Rome, on via Labicana, in Nepi, Vasto, Parenzo d’Istria (these venerate the saint on April 18). In Chieti, Benevento, Salerno, and Sulmona the saint is venerated on May 21. Another days of celebrations are May 13 in Terracina, May 23 in Arce, and December 31 in Canne in Puglia, where he is considered to be a local bishop, son of Evanzia („Evanthia”, which may be understood as the latinization of the Greek „ev-Anthia”, that is „the good Anthia”). The monastery San Liberatore a Maiella (in the Abruzzi mountains) dedicated to St. Liberator celebrates St. Eleutherius on May 15, and this may demonstrate the identification of Eleutherius with the roman martyr Liberator (the Latin version of the Greek „eleutherios”, which means “one who is free”), bishop of Beneventum, celebrated in the Martyrology of Jerome on May 15.
In the Byzantine space, as already told, the Greek martyrologies state this celebration on December 15. But in order to make the things even more complicated, a relatively early veneration of Saint Eleutherius in the Eastern Church of Constantinople is stated by two old scripts, a byzantine canon of Joseph the hymnographer (IX cent.), which speaks of “currents of healing” coming from the shrine of Eleutherius. A second witness is given by the Synaxarium Constantinopolitanum about in the 10th century, mentioning the name of the saint associated with the in the quarter of Xirolophos (also known as “The Harbors of Eleutherios”), where existed a church of St. Eleutherius already built under Emperor Arcadius (395-408). However, both of these references do not exclude the possibility that they may be associated with the saint Martyr Eleutherius Coubicularios, injured in Bithynia (but the most likely buried in Constantinople), where, according to the hagiography, he was born, commemorated on December 15 and on August 4. With the expansion in the 9th -10th centuries, the Byzantine could mingle his cult with the one of the Roman martyr.
St. Elefterie Church in Bucharest


In the present time the relics of Eleutherius and Anthia seem to be located in Troia, south Italy, as the Aecana tradition states.  After the Rietica tradition, the saints were buried in Rieti (near Rome, the authenticity of the latter being officially recognized by the Roman Church) and later on their tombs it was elevated the church of Santa Sabina. An examination of the relics was made with the blessing of Pope Innocent III and of the local bishop Adenulf, in the presence of two cardinals in August 13, 1198, when they were transferred in the new built reatine cathedral of St. John the Apostle (San Giovanni della Pigna), together with the relics of Saint Genesius of Rome. The association with San Giovanni della Pigna may also be a result of confusion with St. Pope Eleuterius (also former deacon of Pope Anicetus and himself pope at the end of the 2nd century, celebrated on May 26), whose relics were also said to have been translated to San Giovanni della Pigna.

Church San Giovanni de la Pigna
Cathedral in Troia, Apuglia
There is to be mentioned that small pieces of the relics of Eleutherius and Anthia are to be found in other Italian cities (eg. in Terracina) and outside (eg. a finger in Antwerp, Belgium), but also in one of the two churches dedicated to the saint “Elefterie” in Bucharest and in Caldarusani monastery near the same city.
Relics at St. Elefterie Church in Bucharest

Relics of the saint, Caladarusani monastery, near Bucharest

Troparion (Hymn) of the Saint

Adorned with flowing priestly vesture and with dripping streams of blood you at once went to your Lord Christ, O blessed wise Eleutherios, annihilator of Satan. Wherefore, do not cease to intercede for those who honor your blessed struggles in faith!

Serramonacesca benedictine Church of  San Liberatore in

Relics of the Saint in St. Elefterie Church, Bucharest

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Saint John of Damascus

Saint John of Damascus (675-749), also known in the Orthodox Church as John the Damascene (ωάννης Δαμασκηνός) or Chrysorrhoas (Χρυσορρόας), “streaming with gold", or "the golden speaker", or in Arabic as Yuannā Al Demashqi, is one of the most important Christian writers of the first centuries, well known for his works in defending the cult of the icons and in ecclesiastical hymnography. In the East he is considered to be the last Father of the church. Consequently, the posterior ecclesiastical writers are known as „post-patristic” Fathers of the Church.
Saint John was born in an aristocratic family of Syria, but there isn’t clear if his parents were Arabs or Greeks. There is clear that he spoke fluently the both languages. His grandfather, Mansour, was an important person in Damascus, being responsible for the taxes of the region under the Emperor Heraclius. He had also the difficult mission to negotiate the capitulation of Damascus with the Arabs on September 4, 635. There are different positions of the contemporaries about his attitude concerning the Islamic conquest. There is sure that after this moment, Mansour kept his important position, being one of the counselors of the Islamic Caliphs Muawyya and Abd-el Maliq.
The counseling position at the Arab court was very important in order to defend the Christians in Syria. This position was inherited by Sergius (in Arabic, Sarjun Ibn Mansur), the father of St. John, and the son of Mansour, as the chronicles attest.
After a campaign in Sicily, the Arabs came back with some captured persons, among which it was also a scholar named Cosmas. Sergius redeemed him and made him the teacher of his son, John. In the next years John excelled in music, astronomy, arithmetic and geometry, but also in theology. Surely Cosmas, as a refugee from Italy, brought with him also the scholarly traditions of Western Christianity, with whom St. John is familiar, as there is to be seen in his dogmatic book „An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith”. In this time John studied together with an adoptive brother, also called Cosmas, who later became a bishop in Maiouma, a town in Syria (743).
There is not clear if St. John inherited later his father’s position. The biographies state that he did so, and after Caliph Omar II (717-720) started a harsh anti-Christian campaign, John decided to renounce his position. Consequently he sold his fortunes, gave them to the poor and retired into St. Sabbas (Mar Saba) Monastery in the Jordan Valley, not far away from Jerusalem. The retirement of John from this position should have let some traces in the official documents, which is not the case. They only mention that his father Sergius left the administration around around 706, when al-Walid I increased the islamicisation of the Caliphat's administration, but fail to name John at all. His own writings never refer to any experience in a Muslim court. Therefore there is possible that John never held this position.
As monk at St. Sabbas Lavra, John becomes shortly famous and Patriarch John V of Jerusalem ordains him as a priest (735), giving him the mission to preach in the Church of Anastasis in the Holy City. During this time the byzantine emperor Leo III started a strong campaign against the public veneration of the icons (since 726), which is known as the iconoclastic period. St. John, far away from the menace of the byzantine officials publishes manifests and books against the emperor and his non-orthodox politics. The earliest work on this topic is the "Apologetic Treatises against those Decrying the Holy Images", who gave him a special reputation among the defenders of the icons. For the first time he distinguishes between " worship” (latreia), which is proper only to God, and "reverence" or „veneration” (douleia), rendered the created things, including the saints, the icons and the holy relics. He attacks in this work the emperor, adopting a simplified style of writing that allows the controversy to be followed by the common people. A legend states that the byzantine emperor planned revenge, by conceiving a false letter which „accidentally” felt in the hands of the Islamic rulers. This later stated that St. John worked together with the resistance, planning a byzantine re-conquest of Syria. In this affair St. John would have been punished by cutting his right hand. According to the legend, later John asked the rulers to give his cutted hand back and miraculously the second day, after his prayers to the Mother of God, he appeared publicly with the healed hand. As a special thank, he added a silver hand (the third) to an icon of the Virgin in a church, this icon being called further on as Theotokos Trigheirousa (with three hands). This pious legend may be interpreted as a reason why St. John was so devoted to the cult of the icon.
His position referring the veneration of the icons and holy relics was later criticized at the iconoclastic synod held in Hiereia, near Constantinople (754), where he was together with Patriarch Germanos of Constantinople and George of Cyprus against the anathemized. The iconoclastic emperor Constantine V named him as Ioannis Mánzeros („bastard“, in Hebrew), a wordplay after the name of his grandfather, Mansur.
Anyway the later Synod held in Nicaea in 787, also known as the 7th ecumenical council, used very much of his argumentation. The council rehabilitated all the fighters for the icons and, of course, among them, St. John who held his popularity and, probably, his recognition as a saint of the Church.

The Works of St. John from Damascus

St. John wrote many theological writings in which he defended the Orthodoxy against the iconoclasti heresy but also against some earlier heresies as the monophisitism, nestorianism, jacobism (spread among the syrians), manichaeism and even against the sacred book of the Muslims.  His works are dogmatic, polemic, moral-ascetical, exegetical, oratorical and poetical. Besides these, St. John composed many theological hymns, perfecting the „canon”, a structured 9-ode hymn, used in Eastern Orthodox Church services until today. Among the exceptional canons, there are to be mentioned the ones for the Feasts of Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Transfiguration and Dormition of Our Lady (practically, the most important Feast in the Calendar). He is also the composer of the Octoechos (the Church's service book of eight tones) one of the very important liturgical books used by the choir during the all ritual services.
In defending the cult of the icons he wrote „Three Apologetic Treatises against those denying the Holy Images”. Another important work is the dogmatic „Fountain of Wisdom”, divided into three parts: 1. „the Philosophical Chapters” - mostly dealing with the logic), 2. „Concerning Heresy” (which refers in its last chapters to the „heresy of the Ismaelites”), and 3. „An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith” or simply „The Dogmatic Book” (in western, better known as „De fide Orthodoxa”), which is a concise a summary of the dogmatic writings of the Early Church Fathers. This latter writing was the first work of Scholasticism written in the Eastern Christianity and an important influence on later Scholastic works.
In a well/known homily on the Annunciation, he calls the Holy Virgin as the Mother of the theological virtue of the hope (spes, in Latin), the hope of the despaired, a formula taken in the Catholic church in the prayer of Mary, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, the Hope of the despaired, but sometimes this formula is attributed to St. Ephrem, another Syrian Father of the Church.
Another work, having a controversial paternity, is „The life of the Saints Barlaam and Joasaph from India”, which it may be a Christianization of Buddha’s biography.

After information from his biographer, Stephanos Taumaturgos („The Healer”), St. John passed away on December 4, 749, being buried at the Monastery of St. Sabbas, near the shrine with the relics of the founder of this old convent. His tomb and his cell became shortly pilgrim points.

Some pilgrims as the Russian monk Daniel (1104-1006) and the Byzantine John Phokas (1185) wrote about the tomb of St. John in the Monastery of St. Sabas. The relics might have been transferred to Constantinople during the reign of the Emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus (1282-1328). The absence of the relics from the St. Sabbas monastery may be stated by another Russian pilgrim, the archimandrite Agrephenij, who visited about in 1360/1370 the monastery and reports only about the cell of St. John, saying nothing about his relics. A third pilgrim from Russia, Zosimas, deacon at Holy Trinity Sergeyeva monastery indicates, during his rise (1419/1421), the presence of a part of the relics at the monastery of the Blessed Virgin Keharitomeni.
Some parts of the relics of St. John are to be found today in the St. Georgios Alamanos Monastery (near the village Pendakomo, Cyprus), in the monastery of St. John the Theologian in Patmos (Greece) and the church of San Giorgio dei Greci ( Venice ).
Saint John of Damascus holds a special veneration in the Eastern Church, which is quite old (maybe imediately after the 7th ecumenical council from 787). He is venerated in the day of his death, December 4 (or December 17, after the Gregorian calendar).  
 Pope Leo XIII declared St. John of Damascus as « doctor ecclesia » in 1890 and inserted his name in the General Roman Calendar, on March 27. This date was moved in 1969 to the day of the saint's death, so that he is now celebrated in the same day both in the East and West.
St. John of Damascus and St. Cosmas of Maiouma
The First Ode in the Canon of the Nativity, written by St.  John of Damascus

Christ is born, glorify him. Christ is from heaven, go to meet him. Christ is an earth, be ye lifted up. Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing out with gladness, all ye people, for he is glorified!

Troparion (Hymn) of the Saint

Champion of Orthodoxy, teacher of purity and of true worship, the enlightener of the universe and the adornment of hierarchs: all-wise father John, your teachings have gleamed with light upon all things. Intercede before Christ God to save our souls!

Monday, November 26, 2012


Iisus în celulă

Azi noapte Iisus mi-a intrat în celulă.
O, ce trist, ce înalt era Crist !
Luna venea după El în celulă,
Şi-L făcea mai înalt şi mai trist.

Mâinile Lui păreau crini pe morminte,
Ochii adânci ca nişte păduri.
Luna-L bătea cu argint pe veşminte,
Argintându-I pe mâini vechi spărturi.

Uimit am sărit de sub pătura sură:
- De unde vii, Doamne? Din ce veac?
Iisus a dus lin un deget pe gură
Şi mi-a făcut semn ca să tac.

S-a așezat lângă mine pe rogojină:
- Pune-Mi pe răni mâna ta!
Pe glezne-avea urme de cuie şi rugină,
Parcă purtase lanţuri, cândva...

Oftând, Şi-a întins truditele oase
Pe rogojina mea cu libărci.
Luna lumina, dar zăbrelele groase
Lungeau pe zăpada Lui vărgi.

Părea celula munte, părea Căpăţâna,
Şi mişunau păduchi şi guzgani.
Am simțit cum îmi cade tâmpla pe mână,
Şi-am adormit o mie de ani...

Când m-am deșteptat din afunda genună,
Miroseau paiele a trandafiri.
Eram în celulă şi era lună,
Numai Iisus nu era nicăiri...

Am întins brațele, nimeni, tăcere.
Am întrebat zidul: nici un răspuns!
Doar razele reci, ascuțite-n unghere,
Cu sulița lor m-au străpuns...

- Unde eşti, Doamne? am urlat la zăbrele.
Din lună venea fum de căţui…
M-am pipăit… şi pe mâinile mele
Am găsit urmele cuielor Lui.

                                                                                    Radu Gyr (1905-1975)   
  Poet creștin, luptător al credinței, deținut politic

O, brad frumos...

O, brad frumos...
(colindul martirilor din închisori)

O, brad frumos, ce sfânt păreai
În altă sărbătoare.
Mă văd copil cu păr bălai
Și ochii de cicoare.

Revăd un scump și drag cămin
Și chipul mamei sfinte,
Imagini de Crăciun senin
Mi-apar și azi în minte.

Un brad cu daruri și lumini
În amintiri s-arată.
În vis zâmbește ca un crin
Copilul de-altădata.

Întregul cer era deschis
Deasupra frunții mele.
Azi strâng doar pulbere de vis
Și numai scrum din stele.

Copil bălai, Crăciun și brad
S-au stins în alte zile.
Azi, numai lacrimi cad
Pe-ngălbenite file...

Azi nu mai vine Moș Crăciun
Cu barba-i jucăușă,
Ci doar tristețile mi-adun
Să-mi plângă lângă ușă...

În bezna temniței mă frâng
Sub grele lespezi mute,
Și-mpovărat de doruri plâng
Pe amintiri pierdute.

Omătul spulberat de vânt
Se cerne prin zăbrele
Și-mi pare temnița mormânt
Al tinereții mele...

Radu Gyr (1905-1975)
Poet creștin, luptător al credinței,
deținut politic