23 February 2020

Venerables John, Antiochos, Antōninos, Moses, Zebinas, Polychronios and Damianos, Ascetics of the Syrian Desert near Kyrrhos


The Syrian desert

Today, the twenty-third of February and the Sunday of the Last Judgement, is the collective feast-day in the Orthodox Church for all the Syrian desert ascetics who were disciples of Saints Marûn the Hermit and Limnaios at their open-air mountain hermitage. Among these are named: Saint John the Ascetic, disciple of Thalassios and Limnaios; Saint Antiochos and Saint Antōninos, disciples of John the Ascetic; Saint Zebinas the Elder; Saint Polychronios the disciple of Saint Zebinas; Saint Moses the disciple of Polychronios; and Saint Damianos the Ascetic of Ieros.

Saint John the Ascetic [Gk. Ιωάννης, Ar. Yûhannâ يوحنا] was a disciple of Saint Limnaios. Here is what the Orthodox Church in America has to say about him:
Saint John, disciple of Saint Limnaeus (February 22), lived in Syria in the fifth century, and chose for himself the ascetic struggle of “a shelterless life.” He settled on a hill, sheltered from the wind on all sides, and lived there for twenty-five years. He ate only bread and salt, and he exhausted his body under heavy chains. When one of the nearby ascetics planted an almond tree on the hill so that Saint John could enjoy its shade and get out of the vicious heat, the saint told him to cut it down. This he did in order to deny his body any respite.
Speaking of him, Theodoret writes: ‘John too has keenly embraced this mode of life, a man conspicuous, in addition to other virtues, for gentleness and kindness’ as his spiritual father was. So advanced did he become in the ascetic struggles that Theodoret says: ‘He was so raised above all human things that he reaps no comfort from them.’ Further, he says of John along with his spiritual predecessors Saints Thalassios and Limnaios:
They have the same dress, food, standing posture, prayer, labors all night and all day; neither length of time nor old age nor physical weakness overcome their endurance, but they preserve in themselves love of labor in full bloom. God, the Umpire of virtue, has very many other contestants in our mountains and plains; it would not be easy merely to number them, let alone record the life of each one.
Saints Antiochos [Gk. Ἀντίοχος, Ar. ‘Antyûkhûs أنطيوخوس] and Antōninos [Gk. Αντωνίνος, Ar. ‘Antûnyûs أنطونيوس], as the OCA says, ‘also lived in asceticism with Saint John. They continued their ascetical struggles until they reached an advanced age, offering an example of spiritual strength, and overcoming every obstacle.

Saint Zebinas [Gk. Ζεβινάς] was the spiritual father of Saints Polychronios and Moses. Here is what the Orthodox Church in America has to say about him:
Saint Zebinas lived in Syria during the fifth century. He lived an ascetical life on the same mountain as Saint Moses. He never sat down during his Rule of prayer, but sometimes he leaned on his staff. The neighboring inhabitants venerated Saint Zebinas, and they received great help in their sorrows and needs through his prayers.

He reached a great old age, then departed to the Lord.
Saint Polychronios [Gk. Πολυχρόνιος] was the spiritual son of Saint Zebinas and lived in the same place. Here is what the OCA says about Saint Polychronios:
Saint Polychronius lived in Syria in the fifth century. He was the disciple of Saint Zebinas, and imitated the life of his Elder, spending both day and night in fasting and vigil. Saint Polychronius had no chains, but he dug up a heavy oaken root from the earth and carried it on his shoulders when he prayed. Saint Polychronius asked God to send rain during a drought, and he filled up a stone vessel with oil for the needy.
Saint Moses [Gk. Μωυσής] also lived in the same place as Saints Zebinas and Polychronios, and learned from them. Here is what the OCA says about Saint Moses:
Saint Moses lived in Syria in the fifth century. Imitating Saint John, he settled on a high mountain near the village of Rama. He was a disciple of Saint Polychronius, and lived with him. Emulating his Elder in everything, Saint Moses was the very model of an austere ascetical life.

Saint Moses died in Syria in the fifth century.
Saint Damianos [Gk. Δαμιανός] lived in Ieros and was a disciple of Saint John the Ascetic. Here is what the OCA says about Saint Damianos:
Saint Damian lived in Syria in the fifth century. He withdrew to a monastery named Ieros and lived there in asceticism. In his cell he had only a small box of lentils from which he ate.
Holy and wonderful ascetics of the Syrian desert, pray unto Christ our God for our salvation!
Kontakion of the Sunday of the Last Judgement, Tone 7:

When You, O God, shall come to earth with glory,
All things shall tremble
And the river of fire shall flow before Your judgment seat;
The books shall be opened and the hidden things disclosed!
Then deliver me from the unquenchable fire,
And make me worthy to stand at Your right hand, Most Righteous Judge!

22 February 2020

The Throne of Saint Peter at Antioch


Saint Peter

Today is, oddly enough, not only the feast-day of three great Syrian Orthodox ascetics in the Holy Orthodox Church, but also the Roman Catholic feast-day of the Throne of Saint Peter… at Antioch. Hmmm. This deserves to be, if it isn’t one already, an Orthodox feast day as well. Antioch is, after all, indeed one of the five ancient Patriarchal sees, the first at which the disciples were called Christians (Acts 11:26), and one of two founded by the Holy Apostle Peter. Old Rome isn’t quite as unique in that respect as she sometimes pretends to be in her apologetics materials.

I have a particular love for the Church of Antioch, for the simple reason that attending Divine Liturgy at Saint Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church in Pawtucket, Rhode Island in 2009 was one of several fragmentary formative experiences that led me into the Orthodox Church. Witnessing, and receiving, the blessing of Fr Isaac (Crow) and the warm, ebullient hospitality of the multinational layfolk there – Syrian, Lebanese, Armenian, Palestinian, Ethiopian, American convert – was the single factor that turned my cerebral embrace of Nikolai Berdyaev’s religious philosophy into something real, something lived. As a somewhat peregrinating soul, it is true that I may be in an OCA parish now, and it is true that I was received into the Moscow Patriarchate by chrismation. But whenever I go ‘home’ to Rhode Island, my ‘home church’ is Saint Mary’s.

Antioch was an important hub of Christianity in the late Classical world, in part because it was the place where many Christians who came to believe in Christ at Jerusalem fled after the stoning of Saint Stephen the Protomartyr. Because Antioch was also a critical strategic post for the Roman Empire’s military in its perennial wars against Persia, this city also became a site of repeated persecutions of Christians.

The Episcopal See of Antioch was founded by Holy Apostle Peter in 34 AD, and is a solid claimant for being the oldest continuing existing Christian Church in the world. Indeed, the Cave Church of Saint Peter still exists in Antakya. Origen and Eusebios both agree with Saint Luke that Saint Peter was the founder of the Church in Antioch. Peter was promptly cast into prison by the Roman governor shortly after his arrival there, on a charge of corrupting the people. Peter was joined by Holy Apostle Paul, as well as Apostle Barnabas of the Seventy, and they began to preach to the people in Antioch, who were a mixture of Greeks, Hellenised Syrians and Jews.

The first ecclesiological dispute emerged at Antioch over whether or not Gentiles should accept the entirety of Jewish law – particularly circumcision – before being baptised; and also whether Gentiles and Jews should eat separately. Apparently Saint Peter was originally of the opinion that the entirety of the Jewish law ought to be upheld, including circumcision and laws on food cleanliness and table fellowship. Saint Paul, on the other hand, held that the Gentiles who were baptised ought to be held to certain core aspects of the Law, but that the Resurrection of Christ had made a strict adherence to the Jewish Law superfluous. Saint Paul apparently confronted Saint Peter at Antioch and the two of them discussed the matter. Guided by Peter, Paul and James the brother of Jesus – each of whom fell on one side of that debate at first – the Church forged a middle path between the extremes of Judaïsation and Hellenisation. But it was this middle path blazed at Antioch, described in Acts 15, which preserved the true radicalism of the message of Christ: it was neither to Jew nor Greek exclusively proclaimed; and it was a message as much for the poor as for the wealthy; and as much for women as for men.

According to Church traditions both East and West, Saint Peter ruled as bishop in Antioch for seven years before he sojourned to Rome and established the Church there in 43 AD. He had left his family in Antioch, and to this day there are still Syrian families with the surname Sem‘ân which claim blood descent from Saint Peter. When the Jews were expelled from Rome under Emperor Claudius in 49 AD, Saint Peter and the small Christian community in Rome shared in their fate. He returned to Antioch in 49 and ruled there temporarily until after Claudius’s death in 54, when he left Antioch in the care of Apostle Euōdias of the Seventy, the second Patriarch of Antioch.

We can see from Peter’s tenure in Antioch several distinct aspects of Antiochian Christianity that will crop up later in the city’s history. I personally have witnessed the multinational character of the Antiochian Church, which is not only Syrian and Lebanese Arabs but also half a dozen other nationalities. So indeed was the city of Antioch when Peter first came there home to many nations. We also see the determination of the Antiochian Church to persevere even under severe persecution. The Christians of the Syrian Arab Republic have indeed persevered under a persecution aided and abetted by the governments of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and (sadly) the United States. We can see also from Saint Peter’s and Saint Paul’s time, the understanding of Christ as human and a particular instance of humanity, which would come to colour the Antiochian school of exegesis in the fourth to sixth centuries. The question of how Christ Himself would have ministered to the Gentiles as opposed to the Jews was at the forefront of the dispute between Saint Peter and Saint Paul; and the entirety of the Church is the richer for their wrangling about and ultimately coming to an understanding on that question. We can therefore behold in the early Christianity of Antioch a very distinctly localist sensibility, which is at the same time supranational and even cosmopolitan for its insistence on that same locality.

So let us Orthodox Christians, too, spare a request to Saint Peter for his intercessory prayers for us on this day, when the Latins are remembering his stay among the people of Antioch. Holy Apostle Peter, who preached in the place where the disciples were first called Christians, pray unto Christ our God that we may be saved!

Ambassador Chas Freeman, Jr on the legitimacy crisis


Charles W Freeman, Jr

China expert, Sinica Podcast co-host and former heavy metal guitarist of Tang Dynasty Kaiser Kuo posted the transcript of this speech to his social media page, and I think it’s well enough worth reading that I’m writing up a reflection on it here on my own blog. Retired US Ambassador Charles W Freeman, Jr spoke recently to the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, and what he had to say did not particularly spare any sensibilities.

I’ll preface this by saying that I have disagreements with Ambassador Freeman on several issues – monetary policy most notably. And unfortunately, monetary policy takes up a lot of Freeman’s intellectual bandwidth. Strangely enough, here I tend to out-realist the realist. Money’s primary significance is symbolic, and to a certain extent it doesn’t matter whether money is digital or physical as long as it can handle the four necessary attributes of monetary exchange (of which Freeman acknowledges three). Freeman – like many of our élites, to be fair – overestimates severely both the uses of ‘dollar diplomacy’ and ‘dollar sanctions’, and thus also overestimates the impact de-dollarisation will have on both the American œconomy and foreign ones. Much more important and worrisome, to my way of thinking, is the ‘hollowing-out’ of America’s industrial capacity and productive potential. This difference in our monetary-œconomic views does colour our different approaches some issues downstream, mostly with regard to trade and foreign alliances, but not so many that I fail to appreciate what he gets right.

And Freeman gets a lot right here. The first and most important thing he points out is the arrogant belligerence of the Blob, which has turned its back wholesale on diplomacy and now relies exclusively on ‘taunts, threats, unilateral sanctions, ultimatums, cyberwarfare, drone and missile attacks, assassinations, proxy warfare, military invasions and pacification campaigns’. He points out the exorbitant costs of this machinery for perpetual warfare and the organisation of our œconomy on a permanent war footing. He points out how the Bush-era ‘Global War on Terror’ has not only metastasised into a pretext for overriding any other nation’s sovereignty we choose, to the detriment of our veterans and into the creation of something like a self-fulfilling prophecy, with an almost guaranteed generational blowback from American imperial violence in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere. Also, without any set conditions for victory or disengagement – yet another Bush-era precedent – we have set all of these military adventures up to fail in the long run.

He points out that we are in a self-engineered crisis of legitimacy among nations which have been our partners in foreign policy for decades. Having forsaken many of our obligations abroad, we are forcing other nations to set up alternative or parallel foreign-policy structures and arrangements in which we have no say. Europeans and East Asians both have grown fed up with American intransigence on Iran, our perfidy and heel-dragging on climate change agreements, and our hypocritical and self-serving policies on arms control.

Very importantly, Ambassador Freeman points out that American foreign policy élites have, going back at least to Clinton and possibly back to Reagan, systematically mistaken private interests and rent-seeking behaviours for the public and national interest. In particular, he’s saying that private military contractors and defence industry concerns are racking up massive profits at the expense of both the American state and – increasingly – foreign states, and that this is putting an intolerable pressure on America’s ability to keep up or even revise its commitments abroad. This is something I have been harping on for years, and it’s a gratifying thing to see an American official spell it out in such stark and plain terms.

Alarmingly, Ambassador Freeman points out that ‘there is now no policy process in Washington capable of considering how to shape the American and global futures’. Congress has irresponsibly, and unconstitutionally, outsourced its authority on foreign policy to various agencies acting under the executive branch – which in turn have become unaccountable and ineffective, on account of their being mere vehicles for career advancement by toeing a certain established political line. I think he might be getting some part of his analysis backwards here, but Freeman describes convincingly how the Blob is functioning. All the while, both the media œcology and our political processes have been fundamentally warped and compromised by plutocracy. In short, Freeman says: American cupidity – in terms of finance, in terms of political capital and in terms of moral consistency – have engineered a global scenario, in which the horizons for future action toward the greater good are prohibitively constrained.

Freeman is also completely unsparing with regard to where the responsibility lies.
The causes and catalysts of the many nasty possibilities before us are, for the most part, decisions made in Washington, not abroad. The rise of China and India and the resurgence of Russia are not irrelevant but hardly central to what is happening. When one creates a strategic vacuum, it’s easier to blame the powers that are sucked into it than oneself.
This is, of course, precisely what is happening now. Russiagate has reared its ugly head again. We are now in the throes of a new ‘Yellow Peril’ panic. And the single candidate on either side of the party line who appears to be receptive to realism is characterised as a Hindu nationalist. All of these incidences – with the American élite class pointing the finger to blame in turn Bernie, Tulsi, Russia, China – are precisely indicative of Freeman’s assertion that there is no real analytical or prescriptive work being done within the ambit of American statecraft and strategy. The fact that a diplomat and statesman of Chas Freeman’s calibre and experience is sidelined in the current political moment, itself has some rather disturbing implications. Our imperial ship of state is on autopilot, and no one is within reach of turning it off. And that should be quite scary.

As to Ambassador Freeman’s conclusion: can American academia summon the fortitude, perspicacity, self-awareness and moral clarity fit to take on the task of speaking actual truth to actual power? I hope so. I really do. But first, it strikes me that academia has to collectively stand up to the political abuses to which it is subject – both on environmental issues and on foreign policy ones. And for American academia to be able to collectively do anything or act with any sort of moral authority, it first has to put a decisive end to the methodologically-individualist and alienating trends of performative wokeness and gender-ideological nonsense that it is currently glutted with, and which are currently detracting from its ability to put forward any kind of consistent moral voice on the issues which really are killing our nation and killing our planet.

Even so, God bless Ambassador Freeman for the work he is doing and for the direction he is trying frantically to point from his perch in the political wilderness. A true patriot, whether his patria acknowledges him or not!

Venerables Thalassios, Limnaios and Baradatos, Hermits of Kyrrhos in Syria


Caves in the Syrian desert

This Soul Saturday, the twenty-second of February, in the Orthodox Church is also the feast-day of three Syrian ascetics, Saints Thalassios, Limnaios and Baradatos. All three men were known personally to Blessed Theodoret of Kyrrhos, who wrote about them in his Religious History. Full disclosure: a lot of my post here will be borrowing from my friend, comrade and fellow-metalhead Fr Deacon Aaron’s blog. He writes at length about Thalassios and Limnaios, and a third hermit John, with particular reliance on Theodoret’s History.

Saint Thalassios [Gk. Θαλάσσιος, ‘of the sea’] was the eldest of these three, and probably a good generation older than Theodoret. Theodoret describes Saint Thalassios as ‘a man adorned with many good qualities, but surpassing the men of his time in simplicity of character, gentleness and modesty of spirit’. Saint Thalassios made his hermit’s cell in a cave in the side of a hill south of the as-yet-unidentified village of Tillima near Kyrrhos in Syria, where Blessed Theodoret visited him. Tillima had once unfortunately been a centre of the hæretical teachings of Marcion, but the presence of holy men such as Thalassios in its midst seems to have had a salutary effect on its spiritual health and cultivation.

He was joined in this cell by a disciple, Saint Limnaios [Gk. Λιμναῖος, ‘of the lake’]. Saint Limnaios was many years younger than his spiritual father Thalassios. ‘At a very young age he entered this wrestling-school and received a fine education in this consummate philosophy,’ writes Blessed Theodoret, where Limnaios ‘received sufficiently the teaching of the godly old man and made himself an impress of his virtue.’ Theodoret describes Limnaios as having imposed upon himself a discipline of total silence, and supposes this was a penance for his having been somewhat overly free with his tongue in his earlier life. Saint Limnaios spent some years with Saint Thalassios but then went off on his own to learn from Saint Marûn.

Similarly to Saint Makedonios Krithophagos and Saint Eusebios of Asikhan, Saint Limnaios when he went out by himself took up residence in a rough stone enclosure with no roof, as Theodoret says he lived in ‘neither house, nor tent, nor cabin’, and had lived this way constantly for thirty-eight years by the time Theodoret wrote his History. He bore illness and infirmity gladly and eased his pains through prayer. He gained a significant reputation as a healer, and was able to heal by faith through the sign of the Cross and through the invocation of the divine Name.

As such, he gained a significant following, and crowds would come to discourse with him and to be healed by him, gathering at the one crack in his stone wall through which he could bless them. Saint Limnaios had a special love for the blind, and he built two huts near his own enclosure for a group of blind beggars who came to him, and he instructed them in singing from the Psalter. Saint Limnaios took care of the blind beggars himself by dividing with them what he had from the generosity of his worldly visitors.

The third Syrian ascetic we commemorate today is much younger than the other two, and apparently has little connexion with them other than his places of origin and struggle. Saint Baradatos [Gk. Βαραδάτος, apparently a Semitic name deriving from the toponym Nahr Baradâ نهر بردى‎, the main river running through Damascus] was a native of Antioch, who as a young man struggled terribly with ‘strong passions’ and ‘fiery, indomitable lusts’. Upon undertaking the life of a hermit, he had to tame these lusts with some ascetical disciplines that might strike us moderns as extreme. He confined himself within a wooden cell that was deliberately constructed to be too small for his tall frame, such that when he stood he had to stoop down and such that he could not lie down straight but had to curl up his legs and back when he rested. His cell had no windows, instead being put together so loosely that the wind and sun could flood through the cracks between the timbers. It also had only one door which at all times Saint Baradatos kept obstructed.

Baradatos spent many years within this flimsy box, until Bishop Theodoret himself managed to convince him to emerge from it, for the health of his frail body. After this, Saint Baradatos began to undertake his ascetic disciplines standing up. He covered himself in a garment cobbled together from animal skins, which covered his entire body except two small slits for his nose and mouth to allow breathing. He could not see through this leather garment and could not walk on his own, having to be led by the hand. Instead he stood stationary at the gate to the town, and kept his hands raised to heaven, praising God always. He reposed around the year 460, his body having been exhausted from his ascetic exertions.

Saint Baradatos’s ascetic extremes can and should demand some scepticism – particularly since the bishop who recorded his life in the History personally found some of them to be unhealthily strict. However, these ascetic feats were far from crazed; they had a true and proper purpose. And Saint Baradatos himself, under the influence of his discipline, had attained an excellent scholarly mind as well as a calm, reasonable and dispassionate personality. He gave clear and thoughtful answers to the theological questions which were put to him, and his advice both spiritual and practical, given even to non-monastics and non-ascetics, was temperate, reasonable and salutary. Saint Baradatos was one of three men – the other two being Saint Simeon Stylites and Saint James the Solitary – that Emperor Theodosios II trusted, to help effect a reconciliation between the Patriarchs John I of Antioch and Cyril of Alexandria. Holy hermits Thalassios, Limnaios and Baradatos, sea and lake and river of spiritual wisdom inexhaustible, pray unto Christ our God that our souls may be saved!
Apolytikion for Soul Saturday, Tone 8:

Only Creator, with wisdom profound, You mercifully order all things,
And give that which is needed to all men:
Give rest, O Lord, to the souls of Your servants who have fallen asleep,
For they have placed their trust in You, our Maker and Fashioner, and our God.

21 February 2020

Our father among the saints Eustathios, Archbishop of Antioch


Saint Eustathios of Antioch
القديس إفستاثيوس أسقف أنطاكيّة

Today in the Holy Orthodox Church we venerate and revere our most treasured and wise Holy Father Eustathios. Called ‘foremost’ among the Fathers of the First Œcumenical Council at Nicæa, a combatant of the spirit against the hæresy of Arius, he was a bold and worthy confessor of the Orthodox faith in Antioch. For this he was deposed and exiled from his native city.

Saint Eustathios [Gk. Ευστάθιος, Ar. ’Ifstâthyûs إفستاثيوس] was – according to Saint Jerome – an Ionian Greek, born around the year 270 in the town of Side in Pamphylia, on the south-central coast of Asia Minor. It is presumed he became a monk early in his life. Eustathios was elected bishop of Berœa – modern-day Aleppo – around the year 320, and he was invited to participate by Emperor Saint Constantine the Great in the First Œcumenical Council at Nicæa in 325.

Saint Eustathios distinguished himself at the Council with his spirited defence of what would become Orthodox Christology – that the Son was begotten of the Father and consubstantial and coëternal with Him. He was among the most strident, including Saint Athanasios and Saint Nicholas, among the Council’s critics and denouncers of Arianism. When the Council found in favour of the position that would become the Nicene Christology, Saint Eustathios was recognised for his contributions by being elevated to the archbishopric of Antioch.

Saint Eustathios’s six-year archpastoral rule in Antioch, from 325 to 331, was mostly spent in polemics and quarrels with the Arian party, which was wealthy and influential in Eastern Rome at the time. As a bishop firmly devoted to the doctrines of orthodoxy as laid down in Nicæa, he steadfastly maintained the Christological truths that were laid down in that council. And, as a public man concerned with the welfare of the common people, Saint Eustathios would not be bought or tempted by lucre, though Arian priests occasionally attempted to buy their way into his good graces.

In addition, Saint Eustathios – though not a native of Antioch himself – became in his own right a chief proponent of the literary socio-historical Antiochian school of Scriptural exegesis. This was at the very height of the rivalry – sometimes friendly, sometimes bitter – between the socio-historical Antiochian school of exegesis and the philosophical-allegorical Alexandrian school. Insofar as these two very broad tendencies in early Christian thought may be safely categorised, the Antiochians tended to place more emphasis on the humanity and particularity of Christ Incarnate; while the Alexandrians tended to place more emphasis on Christ’s omniscient Godhead.

The one complete text we still have to the name of Saint Eustathios, De Engastrimytho contra Origenes, is an exegetical commentary on 1 Samuel which takes issue with the allegorical interpretation put forward by Origen Adamantius, and indeed with Origen’s exegetical method overall. It stands as a fine, if rather fierce-spirited, exemplar of the Antiochian school of exegesis. The point of the tale of the witch of Endor in 1 Samuel, Eustathios insists, was that she was goading and deceiving Saul with illusions of his kingdom’s fall – not that her words carried some sort of deeper significance or profounder symbolic meaning. Eustathios takes issue with Origen seeming to allegorise everything in the Hebrew Scriptures from the digging of wells to the wearing of earrings, such that he misses the prosaic significance of these events and images which would be readily apparent to a Jew reading these stories as literary works rather than as philosophical tracts.

In this way the formidable Eustathios managed to garner enmities both among the hæretical Arians such as Eusebios of Nicomedia, and among the partizans of the Alexandrian school of exegesis such as Church historian Eusebios Pamphílou of Cæsarea (who is venerated as a saint among the Copts). These two parties together managed to force a council, really more of a kangaroo trial, to be held at Antioch. Saint Eustathios himself appeared and his enemies – primarily those among the Arian party – aired vicious slanders against him. At this council Saint Eustathios was ludicrously accused of holding to opinions of Patripassianism, the hæretical doctrine of Sabellius. To give an idea of the frivolous and vicious nature of this council, the Arians also wantonly and baselessly accused Eustathios of grave personal sins and vices, including insulting the mother of the Emperor in Jerusalem and sleeping with a certain Antiochian courtesan, who was had been paid to bear witness that Saint Eustathios had fathered her child. This poor courtesan, herself a victim of the Arians’ artifice and spite, later repented and publicly confessed her false witness. The council, which was primarily composed of Arian or Arian-sympathetic bishops, condemned Saint Eustathios, deposed him from his see and had him exiled to Illyria.

The townspeople of Antioch were, quite understandably, incensed at this treatment of their patriarch and made plans to rise up in armed rebellion against the Arian party. However, before he left Antioch, Eustathios took pains to calm the fury of his supporters and turn them away from violence. He urged them instead to abide in patience and to hold true to the doctrines of Nicæa. Eustathios then left Antioch accompanied by a great number of Nicene clergy who were loyal to him; however there were those among his followers who remained behind to guide the Antiochian faithful, such as the then-deacons Diodoros and Saint Flavian. Eustathios himself ended up, not in Illyria, but instead in the town of Traïanoupolē in Thrace. He reposed either there, or in the town of Philippoi, in the year 337.

The next Orthodox Patriarch in Antioch would be Saint Meletios in the year 360, who was supported by the majority of Saint Eustathios’s followers in Antioch – including the two aforementioned deacons, Diodoros and Flavian, he had left to guide the faithful. However, a small remnant of the ‘Eustathian’ party of Orthodox Christians embraced a zealotry that refused to acknowledge Meletios on account of a chequered past that included support for Arian bishops. Instead these ‘Eustathian’ zealots appealed to Rome for, and were granted a replacement bishop, Paulinus. There thus existed a schism in Antioch between the Orthodox under Saint Meletios and the zealous ‘Eustathians’ under Paulinus, which lasted over fifty years, from 360 to 415.

Saint Eustathios was posthumously exonerated of the false and wicked charges made against him, and the Orthodox Symbol of Faith which he had fought so hard for as Patriarch of Antioch was vindicated at the Second Œcumenical Council at which Saint Meletios presided before his own passing. He came to be regarded as a saint in Philippoi, and his relics were interred with the care and veneration due to a holy man. In the year 482, the relics of Saint Eustathios were exhumed and translated reverently to Antioch, where he was greeted with celebrations and festivities by the grateful Antiochians – their beloved patriarch having returned home at last. Holy father Eustathios, well-spoken champion of Orthodoxy in Antioch, pray unto Christ our God for the salvation of us sinners!

Saint Eustathios is venerated in the Orthodox Church together with an eighth-century Italian monk, Saint Timothy of Symboli, who led a life of desert solitude in Asia Minor before settling on Mount Olympus in Greece, where he submitted himself to the discipline of Abbot Theosterikos at the Symboli Monastery. Apart from sharing the same feast-day, the two saints share a common love for Christ; a common concern for upholding the Orthodox doctrines; and a common concern for common people.

Saint Timothy dwelt in the desert for many years in strict asceticism, praying and fasting and struggling against the passions. He became able to work wonders through the purity of his devotion to Christ, and used his abilities in particular to help the poor and needy. However he fled from the company of men during his time in the desert, he nevertheless loved his neighbours and gave of himself for them. Although he did not dare to look upon a woman’s face for fear of harming his peace of mind, he nonetheless was a firm financial and moral support for women – particularly widows who were without any other means of social support. He also gave shelter and food to orphans and gave clothes to the naked.

Saint Timothy lived at a time when Iconoclasm was wracking the Church. He was, like many other monks of Eastern Rome, a firm defender of the proper veneration of icons. He publicly proclaimed himself to be an iconodule, and publicly defended the use of icons. A canon composed in his honour intimates that he was beaten with flails by the iconoclastic authorities. Nonetheless, he reposed in a venerable old age in the year 795 on Olympus, and his reliquary was said to be a fount of many wondrous healings. Holy monk Timothy, vessel of the Holy Spirit and friend to the friendless, pray unto Christ God that our souls may be saved!
O God of our Fathers,
Always act with kindness towards us;
Take not Thy mercy from us,
But guide our lives in peace
Through the prayers of Saints Timothy and Eustathios.

Saints Timothy and Eustathios

19 February 2020

Holy Confessors Eugenios and Makarios of Antioch


Saints Eugenios and Makarios of Antioch

The nineteenth of February in the Orthodox Church is the feast-day of the holy Antiochian confessors Eugenios and Makarios of Antioch. Saints Eugenios and Makarios were Christian priests who were tortured and exiled for their faith under the reign of Emperor Julian the Apostate of Rome.

By the year 361, Julian had begun using a threefold strategy to persecute Christians: legal disenfranchisement of Christians; active institutional support and structuring of the old Græco-Roman religion; and the promulgation of anti-Christian apologetics. This was after a brief period of religious liberalism that actually had the effect of fomenting and inflaming doctrinal conflicts within Christendom. Also, as mentioned before, during his wars with Persia Julian used Antioch and its environs as something of a ‘proving ground’ for his anti-Christian politics.

Saints Eugenios [Gk. Ευγένιος, Ar. ’Îjîn إيجين] and Makarios [Gk. Μακάριος, Ar. Maqâr مقار] were among the first victims of these policies. As Christian priests, they were arrested and brought before Julian in 361, and they were instructed to sacrifice incense to the idols of the Græco-Roman gods. However, Eugenios and Makarios steadfastly refused to renounce Christ or to acknowledge the old gods, and they further reprimanded the Emperor for his having abandoned the Christian faith of his youth in order to worship lifeless idols. Julian, incensed, gave the order for the two confessors of Christ to be tortured.

Eugenios and Makarios were bound fast with thin leather straps and hung upside down over a burning heap of dung. After having been subjected to this torture for many hours, they were taken down and made to lie naked on a red-hot cast-iron grate. Eugenios and Makarios did not flinch from these tortures, but keeping their gaze on Heaven were strengthened in soul. They did not complain or beg for mercy, but continued to rebuke the Roman Emperor for his betrayal of the Christians.

At this point Julian did not make martyrs of the two confessors, but instead pronounced upon them the doom of banishment and exile under guard, to the province of Mauretania Tingitana – in what is now Morocco. The two confessors of Christ rejoiced at having been found worthy to be exiled for Christ, and went on their way singing from the Psalter: ‘Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD’. When they came into Mauretania, they began at once to preach to the Berbers who lived in that area.

The Berbers who lived in the mountains warned Saints Eugenios and Makarios that a horrible dragon lived in a cave nearby, which destroyed with fire and consumed the wealth of the people that lived in the region. Eugenios and Makarios asked their informants where they might find this cave, and they were told. They went thither with their priestly garments and their rags underneath as their armour, and with prayer as their weapon. They knelt on their knees at the mouth of the dragon’s cave and began to pray, when of a sudden the dragon swooped out of his cave into the air. A bolt of lightning from heaven drawn by their prayers struck the dragon, which fell out of the sky and burnt to foul-smelling ashes. As is common in hagiographies with such draconic appearances, the tale is a type indicating the saints’ victory over pagan gods and cult centres, and it is so here as well, for the hagiographer informs us that the pagans began to trust in Christ after the word of the saints’ triumph over the dragon spread.

Eugenios and Makarios went into the dragon’s cave to live as hermits, struggling against the passions with prayer and fasting. For thirty days they took no food and drank no drink, not even water, and for all that time they prayed continuously. At the end of their thirty days of total fasting, they heard a voice issue from heaven, bidding the servants of the true God and Lord Jesus Christ to go to the rock nearest them. As they faced the rock and touched it, a light began to pour forth from it, and the rock split in two. From the rock there gushed a holy spring of purest water, from which they drank and were sated in body and in spirit. They spent eight days further in the cave before they reposed together, and the Lord received their souls into the kingdom. Holy confessors, priests Eugenios and Makarios, who did spiritual battle with the idols both west and east, pray unto Christ our God that our souls may be saved!

17 February 2020

湖北加油!武汉加油!


My father-in-law, currently in Luoyang (which has been under lockdown for the past three weeks), tells me that the coronavirus which has been impacting central China so badly is starting to show signs of abating. Today Chinese hospitals discharged a record number of patients, who no longer show any signs of infection. Also, long-distance bus transit from Luoyang to other nearby cities is starting to run again. I’m not sure I entirely believe the coronavirus is completely contained and in remission; I’m not sure he entirely believes it either. But it’s a hopeful sign, a sign of improvement, and I pray things continue to improve.

This is not a detached or unemotional issue for me. I am a Chinese son-in-law. More than that, I am a son-in-law of the Chinese interior. One of my wife’s first cousins and her husband live and work in Wuhan, and they were among the people who were stranded from going back there when they came home to Luoyang over the Spring Festival. They’ve been under quarantine since the public response to the coronavirus outbreak began. Thank God, neither of them has shown any symptoms or has suffered in any other way apart from the frustrations of quarantine.

There are, as there have always been, two possible responses to the coronavirus impacting China. The healthy and helpful response is to support the doctors, nurses, medics and other health workers and volunteers who are fighting it in whatever ways are feasible and possible, to cheer those who are fighting it and to offer them moral support, and – again – to hope that the situation there improves. To the people staying up late and giving of their time and energy, blood, sweat and tears, risking infection themselves to fight the virus and cure as many people as possible, particularly those in Hubei Province, God bless you all. And to the people worldwide who are supporting the health workers putting themselves at risk this way, thanks and salutes to you as well!

But then there is the far less helpful response. As I’ve noted before, the less healthy response does not merely consist of the abuse, taunts and threats that mainland Chinese people living abroad – or even in places like Hong Kong or among the diaspora – receive. It also consists in wild speculations about the coronavirus’s origin. It also consists in using the coronavirus as an excuse to criticise Chinese culinary habits, hygiene or environmental record. It also consists in intimations that the government is somehow responsible for the spread of the virus. All of these things – whether they are meant to or not – feed into the schadenfreude and racially-coded collective victim-blaming mentality that gives rise to the abuse in the first place.

In keeping with this – I will continue praying for the virus’s victims and their peace, health, safety and length of days. I will continue praying for the skill and labour of the doctors, nurses and paramedics as they treat the sick. And I will ask readers of my blog to join me in donating to the Global Giving Coronavirus Relief Fund, or to the Hubei Charitable Foundation, which is one of the biggest and most active distributors of needed aid and hygienic products (including face masks), to keep fighting the good fight against the outbreak.