26 December 2018

Our father among the saints, Righteous Constantine of Synnada

Venerable Constantine of Synnada

Today, Boxing Day and the day after the Feast of the Nativity on the Orthodox New Calendar, we remember a monastic saint of the Church of Jewish descent, Constantine. Constantine was born in the Phrygian village of Synnada, now Şuhut in Turkey, where there was an active and healthy Christian community. In his youth, when he was following his mother, Constantine saw one of the local Christians making the sign of the Cross after stifling a yawn. Always thereafter he would make the sign of the Cross in imitation of that Christian. He would observe the Christians of Synnada and their works, and he began to be intrigued by the faith, and deepen his imitation of the Christian ways. The Greek hagiography of the saint says that his face began to shine with the Divine light. Though his parents were learned and his schooling was in the Jewish faith, he used his erudition to study the dogmas of the Christian Church.

At one point while he was undertaking a days-long fast, similarly to the later monastic Saint Moses ‘Ugrin’ of Kiev, a woman of his own folk approached him in a lascivious way. After he made the sign of the Cross upon himself, the woman fell down dead; and he raised her to life again, by the power of Christ, with the same sign.

The young Jew was led eventually to seek out the cloister; and he was shown by the sign of a cloud (like the one that led the Hebrews in their desert wanderings) the way to an Orthodox monastery called Fouvoution, in which were to be found many ascetics of shining virtue. He went before the holy abbot of the monastery, and was asked to bring the Cross before him and venerate it. He embraced the lower half of the Cross and touched it to his forehead; in a wondrous way, the whole of the image of the Cross was visibly impressed upon his forehead, where it remained for the rest of his life. Being baptised and then taking the tonsure, the Jewish youth was given the name of Constantine. After his baptism, Constantine trod with his wet bare foot upon a stone that sat below the font; his footprint was thereafter indelibly impressed into the rock, in the same manner that the Palestinian Great-Martyr Barbara could cut stone with her bare fingers.

Thereafter he undertook a monastic discipline of great rigour and asceticism, and surpassed his brother-monks. As the Apostle Paul did before him, he worked at stretching and curing sheep-skins for use as tents – and although the working of leather is smelly work, nonetheless when he prayed at his work, the air would fill instead with a sweet fragrance. His prayer could also open the doors of the Church of their own accord; and he was given the ability to ‘see’ in a spirit of love the thoughts and worries of his brother-monks.

His monastic discipline took him to Mount Olympus, and from there to Myra, to Cyprus and to Attaleia, where he forded on foot a river that was so deep that others would have to hire a boat. He travelled to many other places, but returned always to Mount Olympus, where he took to a narrow cell in which he was buried to his waist; he fasted and prayed there for forty days, and was prevailed upon by his brother-monks, against his own will, to take the priesthood. He was sent to the town of Atroa in Bithynia (now Yenişehir in Turkey), and continued always in the same spiritual struggles. He was given a vision of his own repose eight years in advance, but continued to live the same ascetic discipline before he met his dormition in peace, as it had been given to him to foresee.

This far goes the hagiography of this unique monastic saint. On a personal note: my own attachment to this Saint Constantine, rather than his namesake the more-famous Emperor and Equal-to-the-Apostles, stems in part from his struggles with lust, but also and more from his Jewish ancestry, which I share, and also from the piecemeal and fragmented way in which he approached and received the Christian faith. Though more is made in his Greek hagiography of the ascetical struggles of his maturity and the attainments of his monastic career, my mind is drawn rather to his childhood and the ways in which he attempted to live a Christian life, by imitation and by observation of habits that were foreign to him. For me, still a child in the faith, this part of his hagiography strikes quite a bit closer to home. There is hope, it seems from the example of Righteous Constantine, even for those of us who make our stumbling and faltering steps toward Christ from the ‘outside’. Holy Father Constantine, venerable monastic, pray to Christ our God for us sinners!
With the rivers of your tears,
You have made the barren desert fertile.
Through sighs of sorrow from deep within you,
Your labours have borne fruit a hundred-fold.
By your miracles you have become a light, shining upon the world.
O Constantine, our Holy Father, pray to Christ our God, to save our souls!

1 comment:

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