Friday, January 25, 2013

Saints Bretanion and Theotimus, Bishops of Tomis




The Christianity has been spread in Scythia Minor, as Eusebius of Caesarea noted in his Ecclesiastical Story (3,1), through the preaching of Andrew the Apostle. This tradition came from Origenes (Commentary on Genesis 24,9, PG 12, 92). In any case, there are early mentions about the Christian life in this province, so that there are known the Martyrical Acts of Epictetus and Astion (died 290) and together with their martyrium there is also known that 14 days after their death Evangelicus, the first bishop of Tomis, came in Halmyris in order to baptize the parents of saint Astion. There is no more information about this bishop. Anyway, an inscription discovered in 1974 in Constanta (the modern city built on the ruins of Tomis) confirms the existence of a bishop named Titus or Philus during the persecution of Licinius (308-324) who might have died martyrically and who is commemorated on Jaunary 3.  Another bishop named Gordian might have died also during the persecution of Licinius, around 324, together with Sts. Macrobius, Helias, Zoticus, Lucian and Valerian, being commemorated on September 13. In the Roman Martyrology, Gordian (named here as bishop) is commemorated together with Macrobius and Valerian on September 15.  There is also an anonymous Scythian bishop who participated at the first ecumenical synod from Nicaea (325), as Eusebius writes (Life of Constantine III, 7). More information there is known about the next bishops of Tomis, Bretanion and Theotimus.


Saint Bretanion

Saint Bretanion of Tomis, also known as Brettanio, Bretanio or Vetranion is the fourth known bishop of the city at the shore of the Black Sea  (the first being Evangelicus, 295-300), celebrated from the old times on January 25 (Acta Sanctorum Januarii, tom III, Paris 1873, p. 235). He was originally from Cappadocia, being born in a Christian family. There is unknown how he came to be bishop in Tomis, but he was already in his office in 369, when Valens (364-378) knew him personally during his way to Noviodunum, where the emperor closed an armistice with the Goths. Valens stopped in Tomis and visited the cathedral of the capital city of Scythia Minor, moment which he met the bishop and tried to impose to him the arian beliefs. The historian Sozomenos (Historia Ecclesiastica 6,21, Migne, PG 67, 1343-1345) tells about this episode:  “It is said that … the Scythians adhered with firmness to their faith. There are in this country a great number of cities, villages, and fortresses. The metropolis is called Tomi; it is a large and populous city, and lies on the sea-shore to the left of one sailing to the sea, called the Euxine. According to an ancient custom which still prevails, all the churches of the whole country are under the sway of one bishop. Vetranio ruled over these churches at the period that the emperor visited Tomi. Valens repaired to the church, and strove, according to his usual custom, to gain over the bishop to the heresy of Arius; but this latter manfully opposed his arguments, and after a courageous defense of the Nicene doctrines, quitted the emperor and proceeded to another church, whither he was followed by the people. Almost the entire city had crowded to see the emperor, for they expected that something extraordinary would result from this interview with the bishop. Valens was extremely offended at being left alone in the church with his attendants, and in resentment, condemned Vetranio to banishment. Not long after, however, he recalled him, because, I believe, he apprehended an insurrection; for the Scythians were offended at the absence of their bishop. He well knew that the Scythians were a courageous nation, and that their country, by the position of its places, possessed many natural advantages which rendered it necessary to the Roman Empire, for it served as a barrier to ward off the barbarians. Thus was the intention of the ruler openly frustrated by Vetranio. The Scythians themselves testify that he was good in all other respects and eminent for the virtue of his life.” Theodoret of Cyrus tells the same story in his Historia Ecclesiastica (IV,35).
The bishop might be the author of a letter knew as the martyrical act of Saint Sabbas (Sava) from Buzau, celebrated on April 372, who died as a martyr by the hand of the Goths in 372, in the region situated northern of Danube. Saint Basil of Caesarea asked Iunius Soranus, the dux of Scythia Minor, for the relics of the Saint, which probably remained for a while in Tomis in their way to Cappadocia. Anyway there are some voices denying the possible tomitan paternity of this text, because it was written “from the will of the presbytery”, that means a college, which could be only situated in the northern territories: in all Scythia was only one bishop, as cited below. There is one more hypothesis that Bretanion would be the receiver of St. Basil’s thanking letters no. 164 and 165 for the transportation of these Relics, but the evidence (the mention of Ascholius from Thessaloniki) stays against such an hypothesis.
Saint Bretanion probably died on January 25, when he was celebrated and had as his successor the Bishop Gerontius, also known as Terentius or Terennius, who participated at the second Ecumenical Council from Constantinople (381).

Worship of Saint Bretanion

The byzantine synaxaries don’t mention about this saint, but the Roman Martyrology does, commemorating him on January 25. Today he is celebrated in the Romanian Orthodox Church at this date and there is a monastery dedicated to him in the village “23 August” near Constanţa.


Saint Theotimus

Another bishop of Tomis commemorated as saint is Theotimus, who was in office in the second half of the 4th century and the beginning of the next one, being contemporary to some of the Great Fathers such as St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus. There are no information about his birth and the place where he acknowledged his theological formation but, as contemporary of the locals St. John Cassian and St. Germanus, he might have lived together with them in the cave monasteries of the Cassians. As bishop of Tomis he was elected around 380-395 years after the death of his predecessor, Gerontius, though this fact is also a hypothesis.
 There are some details about him in the works of some contemporary church writers. St.  Jerome is the first who mentions him in his „De viris illustribus”, chapter 131, as in 392 bearing the title "Scythiae Tomorum episcopus." He says that: „Theotimus, bishop of Tomis in Scythia, wrote small treatise in dialogue-form, in old-style eloquence; I hear that he writes other works also”
Among the Greek-speaking Writers, the historian Sozomenos called him „the Scythian Theotimus” which shows that he was a local. Later, Nicephorus Callistus, in the 14th century calls him as „man from Scythian nation and barbarian” (Hist. Eccl. XII, 45, Migne PG 146, col. 908).
Description: Church historian Sozomenos makes a portrait of a great moral sensibility and literary beauty, and also featuring the work of missionary held among barbarian Huns. Here's what he wrote: “The church of Tomi, and indeed all the churches of Scythia, were at this period under the government of Theotimus, a Scythian. He had been brought up in the practice of philosophy; and his virtues had so won the admiration of the barbarian Huns, who dwelt on the banks of the Ister, that they called him the god of the Romans, for they had experience of divine deeds wrought by him. It is said that one day, when traveling toward the country of the barbarians, he perceived some of them advancing towards Tomi. His attendants burst forth into lamentations, and gave themselves up at once for lost; but he merely descended from horseback, and prayed. The consequence was that the barbarians passed by without seeing him, his attendants, or the horses from which they had dismounted. As these tribes frequently devastated Scythia by their predatory incursions, he tried to subdue the ferocity of their disposition by presenting them with food and gifts. One of the barbarians hence concluded that he was a man of wealth, and, determining to take him prisoner, leaned upon his shield, as was his custom when parleying with his enemies; the man raised up his right hand in order to throw a rope, which he firmly grasped, over the bishop, for he intended to drag him away to his own country; but in the attempt, his hand remained extended in the air, and the barbarian was not released from his terrible bonds until his companions had implored Theotimus to intercede with God in his behalf.
It is said that Theotimus always retained the long hair (Kometes) which he wore when he first devoted himself to the practice of philosophy. He was very temperate, had no stated hours for his repasts, but ate and drank when compelled to do so by the calls of hunger and of thirst. I consider it to be the part of a philosopher to yield to the demands of these appetites from necessity, and not from the love of sensual gratification."(Sozomenos, Hist. Eccl. 7,26, in Migne, PG 67, 1497-1500).
This description makes us realize the missionary zeal and the gift of miracles that Theotimus had, but also the harsh circumstances of his mission at Tomis.
Saint Theotimus possessed and practiced the „monastic philosophy” and loved the „asceticism”, which in the Greek culture was associated with the philosophy. On the other hand, the term designating the long hair, „cometes” reminds about the „comati”, the title of which the noble Dacians (locals) were designated.
Another Christian writer, Socrates, said about Saint Theotimus that he was „a bishop celebrated for his piety and rectitude of life” (Socrates, Hist. Eccl. 6,12, Migne, PG 67,701)
During this period there are known some monasteries and hermitages in Scythia Minor, which were famous through their asceticism and who became in the 5th and 6th cnturies known throughout the empire because of the famous „Scythian monks” spread both in the regions situated between Danube and theCarpathians, and in Jerusalem, Constantinople, Rome and Africa. The ruins of their basilicas can be seen until today, being large and beautifully decorated with mosaics. This shows indirectly an impressive number of believers in the Scythian regions in these centuries.
Emperor Arcadius of the Eastern Roman Empire have heard about Theotimus, because of his friendship with St. John Chrysostom. The archbishop of Constantinople sent in 399 some missionary monks „for the nomadic Scythians of the Ister”, probably being asked by Theotimus (Theodoret of Cyrus, Hist. Eccl. 5, 31). These nomads may be in fact the huns and there is supposed that the mission was successfub, because Jerome mentioned that „the Huns learn the Psalter and the coldness of Scythia is warmed by the heat of the faith” (Jerome, Letter 107).
In 399 or 400, Theotimus took part in a local synod of Constantinople, convened by Saint John Chrysostomus against the bishop Antoninus of Ephesus who was condemned for heresy (Palladius of Helenopolis, Life of St. John Chrysostom, in Migne, PG 47, 179). He was very appreciated among other bishops, and this result from the fact that Theotimus is mentioned the first in the list of those who signed the documents of the council.

A few years later it arose a division among the theologians about the religious orthodoxy of the writings of Origenes, who died as a martyr about 150 years before (in 254). Renowned theologians and bishops as Theophilus of Alexandria and Epiphanius of Salamis claimed that Origen's work contains heretical teachings and as such, he must be condemned. Epiphanius came just in Constantinople, trying to convince John Chrysostomus to sign the condemnation of Origenes, but John refused. In the midst of these discussions, Theotimus came in Constantinople and participated at the Synod of the Oak, near Chalcedon, in 403, where he defenced the position of St. John Chrysostomus, blamed for supporting the Origenist monks. Sozomenos wrot that „Theotimus, bishop of Scythia, strongly opposed the proceedings of Epiphanius, and told him that it was not right to cast insult on the memory of one who had long been numbered with the dead; nor was it without blasphemy to assail the conclusion to which the ancients had arrived on the subject, and to set aside their decisions” (Sozomenos, Hist. Eccl. 8,14 in Migne, PG 67,334, cf. Socrates, Hist. Eccl. 6,12, Migne PG 67,701). From these words we can believe that Theotimus enjoyed a great prestige among the theologians, as Socrates reproduces only his opinion on the work of Origenes. Moreover, this history ends his account of Theotimus with the words: „a bishop celebrated for his piety and rectitude of life” cited above (Socrates, Hist. Eccl. 6,12, Migne, PG 67,701)
Jerome attested the written works of Theotimus, but there are not kept until today. Anyway there are some small sentences atributed to Theotimus in a writing of St. John from Damasus (+749) with the title „The saint parallels” (Ta hiera parallela/Sacra parallela): "the one who sins in thought, by the very fastness of the thought, he commits the sin completely, while the deeds of the body can be broken through many barriers” (John of Damascus, Holy parallels, 2,9 in Migne, PG 96, 241 A);”The bad thing is not to suffer harshly, but to suffer according to the righteousness” (ibid, 520B); „Remembering truly about God is to remember the life, and forgetting Him is to die” (ibid, 520B)
The saint died probably in the first years of the 5th century, after the Synod at the Oak held in July 403, where his friend, St. John Chrysostomus was condemned and deposed from his seat.

Worship of  Saint Theotimus 

According to Acta Sanctorum (tom II/Xi, p. 753, Paris, 1866), St. Theotimus is commemorated on April 20 for „his holiness and his miracles”.  Probably the date of the commemoration is the day he might have died. There is a monastery dedicated to St. Theotimus in Murfatlar, near Constanta.
In the both cases of Sts. Bretanion and Theotimus there are no relics known to be held anywhere.
Monastery of St. Theotimus in Constanta
The troparion (hymn) of the both saints is the usual troparion to a hierarch: 

“The truth of things revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith, a model of meekness and a teacher of abstinence wherefore thou hast attained the heights through humility and riches through poverty. O hierarch Bretanion (*Theotimus) our father, entreat Christ God that our souls be saved!”



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