|7:00pm||- Deacon's Mass/Silent Prayer|
Those of us who love history often wish for the “good old days.” Orthodox lovers of history often wish for the golden age of a Christian empire when Church and State formed a perfect partnership. But if we honestly look at the facts of history without the rose-colored glasses, we see that more often than not, the relationship between Church and State has been very checkered and many of the saints of God have had to serve our Lord amidst conflict and persecution. Even after Christianity became the favored religion under the Emperor St. Constantine, the devil continued to plague those who followed Christ.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem was born in or near the Holy City in the year 315. There are no records of his early life, but we know of his ordination to the priesthood in the year 346. He was given responsibility for preaching to the faithful in Jerusalem and preparing catechumens for Baptism. Only four years later, Cyril became Patriarch of Jerusalem on the death of Patriarch Maximus.
A miracle occurred in Jerusalem during this time about which we have well-documented testimony. St. Cyril wrote to the Emperor about it and there were many eye-witnesses. On May 7, at about 9:00 in the morning, the form of a cross appeared in the sky over Jerusalem. It was positioned over Golgotha and reached to the Mount of Olives. This vision lasted for several hours and appeared to be brighter than the sun. Those who witnessed this phenomenon ran to the Church in Jerusalem, praising Jesus Christ as Lord of all.
In a manner which is usually associated with political rivals, Acacius, Archbishop of Caesarea, (who eventually became an outspoken Arian) began complaints against Cyril to his friend the Emperor Constantius. His jurisdiction over Jerusalem, his theology, and even his use of the funds of the Jerusalem church were used by Acacius to discredit him. Patriarch Cyril was exiled from Jerusalem and was given hospitality by Sylvanus, the Bishop of Tarsus. Here he spent his time in writing. Sylvanus later became a “Semi-Arian”, and St. Cyril’s reputation is sometimes clouded by his time spent with him, although Cyril never wavered from Orthodox belief.
Julian the “Apostate” became Emperor next and, contrary to what any would have thought, he recalled bishops who had been exiled by his predecessor, so Cyril returned to Jerusalem. Perhaps Julian intended to stir up more trouble among Christians as the Arian heresy was spreading rapidly.
Julian also proposed a project which was rife with controversy. He suggested to the Jewish population that they rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Christian leaders such as Patriarch Cyril reminded the public that Christ had predicted the fall of the Temple and that his sacrifice had replaced all the animal sacrifices which the Jews had made in the Temple. When the Jews began the work of rebuilding, several earthquakes destroyed the work that had been done and put an end to the project. We have accounts of this event, which occurred in 363, written by St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. John Chrysostom, among others.
Patriarch Cyril endured another exile under the Arian Emperor Valens, beginning in 367, but was restored on the accession of Gratian in 378. The Patriarch attended the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 381, where he participated in the formulation of the Nicene Creed. In the year 386, at the age of 71, St. Cyril fell asleep in the Lord. He had been faithful to Orthodox Christian teaching through the turmoil of false accusations and exile due to an unholy mixture of politics and religion.
One of the most important gifts which St. Cyril gave to those of us who follow him are his lectures to catechumens. There are eighteen lessons to be given in Lent to those preparing for baptism and five “mystagogical” instructions given during Pascha to those who have just been baptized. These writings include references to liturgical practices and geographical information about Jerusalem and provide a wonderful picture of the Church in the fourth century.
For those of us who live in a time when the relationship between Church and State is often ambiguous and is becoming more hostile, may we seek the prayers of St. Cyril of Jerusalem to aid us in our struggles. Holy Cyril, pray for us.
Sources: Alban Butler, Lives of the Saints and Martyrs; Catholic Encyclopedia online; George Poulos, Orthodox Saints, Vol. I; St. Nikolai Velimirovic, Prologue From Ochrid.
Has there ever been another saint so enmeshed in folklore, popular tradition, and ethnic pride as St. Patrick? And is it possible to peel away the layers of shamrocks, snake-herding and green beer to get a glimpse of the truly remarkable missionary to the people of Ireland?
Let us look at the writings of Patrick himself. In his Confessio, Patrick reveals that he was the son (probably born around 390) of the deacon Calpornius, the grandson of the priest Potitus, and that his family were landowners in Roman Britain.
When he was almost 16 years old, Patricius (as he was called by his family) was captured by slavers who carried him away to Ireland, beyond the boundaries of Roman civilization. There, in an area (probably in County Mayo) that he called the ‘Forest of Foclut”, the young slave was made to tend sheep and pigs for his master. He suffered from working long hours all alone in harsh weather, but during the six lonely years of his enslavement, Patrick became a man – spiritually as well as physically. He confesses that, as a child, he had not paid much attention to the Christian faith of his family. But now – with long hours to contemplate the great questions of life,
My faith grew and my spirit was stirred, and as a result I would say up to one hundred prayers in one day and almost as many by night…and I would wake to pray before dawn in all weather, snow, frost and rain; and I felt no harm… as I now realize, it was because the Spirit was fervent within me. [from the Confessio, as quoted in Peter Brown’s The Rise of Western Christendom]
At age 22, Patrick found the will and a way to escape his captors. He managed to sail on a ship to Gaul where he spent some time before making his way back to Britain to rejoin his family. Although they begged him to stay close to home and never again risk being taken from them, the young man had a dramatic dream which changed the course of his life again.
In the dream, a man named Victoricus came to him with many letters in his hands. These, he said, represented the “voice of the Irish”, who called upon the “holy boy” to come and walk among them again. Patrick accepted this dream as a call from God.
After some years of preparation (probably in Gaul) and consecration as a missionary bishop, Patrick once again sailed for Ireland – this time as a free man intent on converting the Irish people to Christianity.
There is historical evidence of the existence of some Christian communities in Ireland before St. Patrick’s mission. Prosper of Aquitaine wrote in 431 that Pope Celestine had consecrated Palladius to be sent as the first bishop for “the Irish believers in Christ.” Certainly, the Irish had established trade relations with Gaul and Britain and beyond. And it is even possible that the Christians whom Palladius was sent to serve included slaves like Patrick had been. But there is no record of Bishop Palladius and St. Patrick meeting or that their work coincided in any way and there is no further record of Palladius’ ministry.
Patrick established himself around Armagh, near the High King and the story of his lighting the Paschal fire in defiance of King Laoghaire (which led to the conversion of the Druid Ercc), while legendary, may very well be historically accurate. Many thousands of conversions followed through the years of Patrick’s missionary efforts.
As a former slave, St. Patrick was careful to teach and preach to all levels of society. He wrote a letter to the British warlord, Coroticus, protesting his practice of capturing Irish slaves and demanding the return of the Christians. (Patrick’s protest went unheeded).
Bishop Patrick made practical decisions to help draw clear boundaries between Christianity and the Irish pagan religion. At his first Synod, some of the canons which were enacted included forbidding the clergy to wear the immodest kilt or to wear their hair long and flowing like Irish chieftains, and forbidding Christians to swear an oath before a Druid.
As is evident in his Confessio, St. Patrick was motivated in his mission by the Holy Spirit. He was truly an apostle for Christ.
Patrick’s originality was that no one within western Christianity had thought such thoughts as these before, had ever previously been possessed by such convictions. As far as our evidence goes, he was the first person in Christian history to take the scriptural injunctions literally; to grasp that teaching all nations meant teaching even barbarians who lived beyond the frontiers of the Roman empire. [pg 86, Richard Fletcher’s The Barbarian Conversion]
It is no wonder that the Irish are proud of their inheritance from St. Patrick, the tireless missionary who brought their pagan nation into the fold of Christianity. All Christians can look to St. Patrick for his evangelistic example and we ask for his prayers in our efforts to bring Christianity to our increasingly pagan nation.
[Sources: Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints; Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity; Kenneth Hylson-Smith, Christianity in England from Roman Times to the Reformation; Edward Sellner, Wisdom of the Celtic Saints]
As Christians, we are called to proclaim, with St. Peter, that there is no other name than Jesus by which we may be saved [Acts 4:12]; with the Holy Apostles, we are commissioned to go and make disciples of all the nations [Matthew 28:19]; we are to take to heart our Lord’s admonition to let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. [Matthew 5:16] But what do Christians do when acting on these beliefs results in their deaths?
In every age and place where Christians have been persecuted, this question has been asked and answered in different ways. The first Christian martyrs, such as our father in God St. Ignatius (d. 107) boldly went to their deaths and by the examples of their steadfast faith, the Church increased in the early centuries. But sometimes, protecting Christians from being killed meant preventing the extinction of Christianity in that time and place. These two attitudes were both being expressed in Spain when St. Eulogius lived and gave his life for the faith. We have an eye-witness account of his story, written by his close friend, Paul Alvar.
Eulogius was born early in the 9th century in Cordova, a member of a prominent Christian family. His education was entrusted to the clergy of the Monastery of St. Zoilus, named for a martyr in the Diocletian persecutions. Eulogius excelled in the study of the Scriptures and of Science, but maintained an attitude of great humility despite his superior intellect. He was ordained priest and made the director of a famous ecclesiastical school in Cordova.
By the year 800, most of Spain had been conquered by Muslim Arabs, and Cordova was made the capital of the Moorish kingdom. The Muslim authorities had to some degree honored Mohammed’s rule that other “people of the Book” could be left to practice their own religion. Christians and Jews were given some freedom of worship and could hold governmental positions, but they were made to pay a tax, to wear a distinctive belt indicating that they were non-Muslims, and they could not build new churches or synagogues or attempt to convert Muslims. Churches could not ring bells or sing loud chants and no one could say anything against Islam.
But by the middle of the 9th century, the atmosphere had changed. Some Christians had apostatized in order to lead an easier life and this was of concern to those who remained faithful. There are records of many mixed marriages (although this was technically illegal) which caused confusion and discord among the children in such a family. Whatever the underlying causes, many Spanish Christians became more outspoken in defense of their faith and Muslims became more insistent on the full penalty of the law against rejecting Islam: death.
A period of persecution and martyrdom ensued and because of St. Eulogius we have a clear record of these events and circumstances. His work, Memoriale Sanctorum, recounted the trials and executions of many of these martyrs, which encouraged more Christians to be courageous but also incensed the Muslim authorities.
One martyr’s story, as relayed by St. Eulogius, gives us a picture of what life was like for many Christians in 9th century Spain: A young woman named Flora was the child of a Muslim father and a Christian mother. Her father died when she was young and her mother raised her as a Christian. But an older son of the family was a rigorist Muslim and made life difficult for his mother and sister. According to Flora, the day-to-day practice of Christianity, such as fasting in Lent, had to be done secretly in order to keep peace in the household. Eventually, Flora escaped from home and fled to a monastery, but her brother tracked her down and turned her in to the authorities. When she refused to renounce Christianity, she was beheaded. There are numerous other accounts of Christians practicing their religion in secret and of others who simply turned themselves in to the authorities to avoid prolonging this difficult life.
The Muslim government soon became alarmed at the number of Christians who appeared to be “voluntary martyrs”. They feared an uprising that would undermine their power, so Caliph Abd-er-Rahman II called the Christian bishops to a conference and forbade them to allow their people to openly declare their religion. The bishops, wishing to “keep the peace”, condemned those who came forward and spoke out against Eulogius’ writings. But Eulogius and many of his fellow Christians were not willing to hide their faith. There were also Muslims who longed for the freedom to be Christian and it was one of these who brought about Eulogius’ martyrdom. The daughter of a prominent Moorish government official, Leocritia had been told about Christianity by a relative and secretly baptized. She sought help from the priest Eulogius, who was able to aid her escape from her family, hiding her for a while with friends. But this act was soon discovered and Eulogius was taken before the court.
When he saw that he was to interrogate a respected Christian scholar, the judge took Eulogius aside and, in an attempt to reason with him, said that ignorant people would simply blurt out their religious beliefs without thinking but that an intelligent man like Eulogius should be able to couch his statement in ambiguous enough terms that he needn’t be condemned. Then he would be free to practice his religion any way he wanted to. But the priest made it clear to the judge that such subterfuge was not only dishonest but a sin against our Savior, Jesus Christ. So St. Eulogius was sentenced to death and was beheaded on March 11, 859. Ironically, he had just been elected Archbishop of Toledo, but martyrdom precluded his being consecrated.
In our day, there are many parts of the world where circumstances similar to those experienced by St. Eulogius exist. Christians are still persecuted in many parts of the world – in some places by execution and some in more subtle ways. Christians who live in Islamic or Communist countries face the question of how to react to this persecution every day. Even in our country, where the constitution guarantees the right to practice our religion freely, this is often interpreted as freedom from any outward and visible display of religion. How do we show forth the light of Christ or preach Christ crucified in these circumstances?
May holy Eulogius and all the saints pray for all Christians and show us the way to have courage in the face of persecution.
[Sources: The Lives of the Fathers, Martyres, and Other Principal Saints, Rev. Alban Butler; The Catholic Encyclopedia online; Moorish Spain, Richard Fletcher; The Barbarian Conversion from Paganism to Christianity, Richard Fletcher.]