Patristic Testimony Concerning the Fast
The fast of the holy Apostles is very ancient, dating back to the first centuries of Christianity. We have the testimony of St. Athanasius the Great, St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Leo the Great and Theodoret of Cyrrhus regarding it. The oldest testimony regarding the Apostles Fast is given to us by St. Athanasius the Great (†373). In his letter to Emperor Constance, in speaking of the persecution by the Arians, he writes: "During the week following Pentecost, the people who observed the fast went out to the cemetery to pray." "The Lord so ordained it," says St. Ambrose (†397), "that as we have participated in his sufferings during the Forty Days, so we should also rejoice in his Resurrection during the season of Pentecost. We do not fast during the season of Pentecost, since our Lord Himself was present amongst us during those days … Christ’s presence was like nourishing food for the Christians. So too, during Pentecost, we feed on the Lord who is present among us. On the days following his ascension into heaven, however, we again fast" (Sermon 61). St. Ambrose basis this practice on the words of Jesus concerning his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew 9:14, 15: "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridgeroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
St. Leo the Great (†461) says: "After the long feast of Pentecost, fasting is especially necessary to purify our thoughts and render us worthy to receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit ... Therefore, the salutary custom was established of fasting after the joyful days during which we celebrated the resurrection and ascension of our Lord, and the coming of the Holy Spirit.''
The pilgrim Egeria in her Diary (fourth century) records that on the day following the feast of Pentecost, a period of fasting began. The Apostolic Constitutions, a work no later than the fourth century, prescribes: "After the feast of Pentecost, celebrate one week, then observe a fast, for justice demands rejoicing after the reception of the gifts of God and lasting after the body has been refreshed."
From the testimonies of the fourth century we ascertain that in Alexandria, Jerusalem and Antioch the fast of the holy Apostles was connected with Pentecost and not with the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul on June 29. In the first centuries, after Pentecost there was one week of rejoicing, that is Privileged Days, followed by about one week of fasting.
The canons of Nicephoros, Patriarch of Constantinople (806-816), mention the Apostle's Fast. The Typicon of St. Theodore the Studite for the Monastery of Studios in Constantinople speaks of the Forty Days Fast of the holy Apostles. St. Symeon of Thessalonica (†1429) explains the purpose of this fast in this manner: "The Fast of the Apostles is justly established in their honor, for through them we have received numerous benefits and for us they are exemplars and teachers of the fast ... For one week after the descent of the Holy Spirit, in accordance with the Apostolic Constitution composed by Clement, we celebrate, and then during the following week, we fast in honor of the Apostles."
Duration of the Fast
The Fast of the Apostles came into practice in the Church through custom rather than law. For this reason there was no uniformity for a long time, either in its observance or its duration. Some fasted twelve days, others six, still others four, and others only one day. Theodore Balsamon, Patriarch of Antioch (†1204), regarding the Apostle's Fast, said: "All the faithful, that is the laity and the monks, are obliged to fast seven days and more, and whoever refuses to do so, let him be excommunicated from the Christian community."
From the work On Three Forty Days Fasts, which is credited to a monk of the monastic community of St. Anastasios the Sinaite (6th or 7th century), we learn that the Fast of the holy Apostles lasted from the first Sunday after Pentecost to the feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God on August 15. Later, however, the Fast of the Dormition was separated from it and the month of July was excluded from the Fast of the Apostles. St. Symeon of Thessalonica speaks of the Apostle's Fast as of one week's duration.
In the Orthodox Church the Fast of the holy Apostles lasts from the day after the Sunday of All Saints to the 29th of June, the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul. This fast may be of longer or shorter duration depending upon which day Pascha is celebrated. According to the Old Calendar it could last from as little as 8 days to as many as 42 days depending on the date of Pascha, but this is shortened by the New Calendar which sometimes obliterates the Fast altogether. If the feast of Pascha occurs sooner, then the Apostle's Fast is longer; if Pascha comes later, then the Apostle's Fast is shorter.
Prescription For the Fast
The Fast of the Apostles is somewhat more lenient than the Great Fast before Holy Week and Pascha. The Kievan Metropolitan George (1069-1072) approved the Rule for the Kiev Caves Monastery which does not allow meat or dairy products to be eaten during the Apostle's Fast. On Wednesday and Friday, they prescribed dry food, that is, bread and water or dry fruits. On Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday they permited fish, wine and oil. In addition to this, they directed that one hundred prostrations (profound bows to the ground) be made daily, excepting Saturdays, Sundays and holy days (the Feast of the Birth of John the Baptist falls on June 23rd and fish, oil and wine is permitted no matter the day). This rule was transferred to Russia via the Kiev Caves Monastery who based their rule on that of the Monastery of Studios in Constantinople. We can thus assume this was the rule for the Fast practiced by both the Roman Empire and the Russian Empire. This is the rule still practiced today with possible minor variations among jurisdictions.
Monday, May 31, 2010
Patristic Testimony Concerning the Fast
The attributes of the Church are innumerable because her attributes are actually the attributes of the Lord Christ, the God-man, and, through Him, those of the Triune Godhead. However, the holy and divinely wise fathers of the Second Ecumenical Council, guided and instructed by the Holy Spirit, reduced them in the ninth article of the Symbol of Faith to four — I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. These attributes of the Church — unity, holiness, catholicity (sobornost), and apostolicity — are derived from the very nature of the Church and of her purpose. They clearly and accurately define the character of the Orthodox Church of Christ whereby, as a theanthropic institution and community, she is distinguishable from any institution or community of the human sort.
I. The Unity and Uniqueness of the Church
Just as the Person of Christ the God-man is one and unique, so is the Church founded by Him, in Him, and upon Him. The unity of the Church follows necessarily from the unity of the Person of the Lord Christ, the God-man. Being an organically integral and theanthropic organism unique in all the worlds, the Church, according to all the laws of Heaven and earth, is indivisible. Any division would signify her death. Immersed in the God-man, she is first and foremost a theanthropic organism, and only then a theanthropic organization. In her, everything is theanthropic: nature, faith, love, baptism, the Eucharist, all the holy mysteries and all the holy virtues, her teaching, her entire life, her immortality, her eternity, and her structure. Yes, yes, yes; in her, everything is theanthropically integral and indivisible Christification, sanctification, deification, Trinitarianism, salvation. In her everything is fused organically and by grace into a single theanthropic body, under a single Head — the God-man, the Lord Christ. All her members, though as persons always whole and inviolate, yet united by the same grace of the Holy Spirit through the holy mysteries and the holy virtues into an organic unity, comprise one body and confess the one faith, which unites them to each other and to the Lord Christ.
The Christ-bearing apostles are divinely inspired as they announce the unity and the uniqueness of the Church, based upon the unity and uniqueness of her Founder — the God-man, the Lord Christ, and His theanthropic personality: "For another foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (I Cor. 3:11).
Like the holy apostles, the holy fathers and the teachers of the Church confess the unity and uniqueness of the Orthodox Church with the divine wisdom of the cherubim and the zeal of the seraphim. Understandable, therefore, is the fiery zeal which animated the holy fathers of the Church in all cases of division and falling away and the stern attitude toward heresies and schisms. In that regard, the holy ecumenical and holy local councils are preeminently important. According to their spirit and attitude, wise in those things pertaining to Christ, the Church is not only one but also unique. Just as the Lord Christ cannot have several bodies, so He cannot have several Churches. According to her theanthropic nature, the Church is one and unique, just as Christ the God-man is one and unique.
Hence, a division, a splitting up of the Church is ontologically and essentially impossible. A division within the Church has never occurred, nor indeed can one take place, while apostasy from the Church has and will continue to occur after the manner of those voluntarily fruitless branches which, having withered, fall away from the eternally living theanthropic Vine — the Lord Christ (Jn. 15:1-6). From time to time, heretics and schismatics have cut themselves off and have fallen away from the one and indivisible Church of Christ, whereby they ceased to be members of the Church and parts of her theanthropic body. The first to fall away thus were the gnostics, then the Arians, then the Macedonians, then the Monophysites, then the Iconoclasts, then the Roman Catholics, then the Protestants, then the Uniates, and so on—all the other members of the legion of heretics and schismatics.
II. The Holiness of the Church
By her theanthropic nature, the Church is undoubtedly a unique organization in the world. All her holiness resides in her nature. Actually, she is the theanthropic workshop of human sanctification and, through men, of the sanctification of the rest of creation. She is holy as the theanthropic Body of Christ, whose eternal head is the Lord Christ Himself; and whose immortal soul is the Holy Spirit. Wherefore everything in her is holy: her teaching, her grace, her mysteries, her virtues, all her powers, and all her instruments have been deposited in her for the sanctification of men and of all created things. Having become the Church by His incarnation out of an unparalleled love for man, our God and Lord Jesus Christ sanctified the Church by His sufferings, Resurrection, Ascension, teaching, wonder-working, prayer, fasting, mysteries, and virtues; in a word, by His entire theanthropic life. Wherefore the divinely inspired pronouncement has been rendered: ". . . Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27).
The flow of history confirms the reality of the Gospel: the Church is filled to overflowing with sinners. Does their presence in the Church reduce, violate, or destroy her sanctity? Not in the least! For her Head — the Lord Christ, and her Soul — the Holy Spirit, and her divine teaching, her mysteries, and her virtues, are indissolubly and immutably holy. The Church tolerates sinners, shelters them, and instructs them, that they may be awakened and roused to repentance and spiritual recovery and transfiguration; but they do not hinder the Church from being holy. Only unrepentant sinners, persistent in evil and godless malice, are cut off from the Church either by the visible action of the theanthropic authority of the Church or by the invisible action of divine judgment, so that thus also the holiness of the Church may be preserved. "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person" (I Cor. 5:13).
In their writings and at the Councils, the holy fathers confessed the holiness of the church as her essential and immutable quality. The fathers of the Second Ecumenical Council defined it dogmatically in the ninth article of the Symbol of Faith. And the succeeding ecumenical councils confirmed it by the seal of their assent.
III. The Catholicity (Sobornost) of the Church
The theanthropic nature of the Church is inherently and all-encompassingly universal and catholic: it is theanthropically universal and theanthropically catholic. The Lord Christ, the God-man, has by Himself and in Himself most perfectly and integrally united God and Man and, through man, all the worlds and all created things to God. The fate of creation is essentially linked to that of man (cf. Romans 8:19-24). In her theanthropic organism, the Church encompasses: "all things created, that are in Heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers" (Col. 1:16). Everything is in the God-man; He is the Head of the Body of the Church (Col. 1:17-18).
In the theanthropic organism of the Church everyone lives in the fullness of his personality as a living, godlike cell. The law of theanthropic catholicity encompasses all and acts through all. All the while, the theanthropic equilibrium between the divine and the human is always duly preserved. Being members of her body, we in the Church experience the fullness of our being in all its godlike dimensions. Furthermore: in the Church of the God-man, man experiences his own being as all-encompassing, as theanthropically all-encompassing; he experiences himself not only as complete, but also as the totality of creation. In a word: he experiences himself as a god-man by grace.
The theanthropic catholicity of the Church is actually an unceasing christification of many by grace and virtue: all is gathered in Christ the God-man, and everything is experienced through Him as one's own, as a single indivisible theanthropic organism. For life in the Church is a theanthropic catholicization, the struggle of acquiring by grace and virtue the likeness of the God-man, christification, theosis, life in the Trinity, sanctification, transfiguration, salvation, immortality, and churchliness. Theanthropic catholicity in the Church is reflected in and achieved by the eternally living Person of Christ, the God-man Who in the most perfect way has united God to man and to all creation, which has been cleansed of sin, evil, and death by the Savior's precious Blood (cf. Col. 1:19-22). The theanthropic Person of the Lord Christ is the very soul of the Church's catholicity. It is the God-man Who always preserves the theanthropic balance between the divine and the human in the catholic life of the Church. The Church is filled to overflowing with the Lord Christ, for she is "the fullness of Him that filleth all in all" (Eph. 1:23). Wherefore, she is universal in every person that is found within her, in each of her tiny cells. That universality, that catholicity resounds like thunder particularly through the holy apostles, through the holy fathers, through the holy ecumenical and local councils.
IV. The Apostolicity of the Church
The holy apostles were the first god-men by grace. Like the Apostle Paul each of them, by his integral life, could have said of himself: "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" (Gal. 2:20). Each of them is a Christ repeated; or, to be more exact, a continuation of Christ. Everything in them is theanthropic because everything was recieved from the God-man. Apostolicity is nothing other than the God-manhood of the Lord Christ, freely assimilated through the holy struggles of the holy virtues: faith, love, hope, prayer, fasting, etc. This means that everything that is of man lives in them freely through the God-man, thinks through the God-man, feels through the God-man, acts through the God-man and wills through the God-man. For them, the historical God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the supreme value and the supreme criterion. Everything in them is of the God-man, for the sake of the God-man, and in the God-man. And it is always and everywhere thus. That for them is immortality in the time and space of this world. Thereby are they even on this earth partakers of the theanthropic eternity of Christ.
This theanthropic apostolicity is integrally continued in the earthly successors of the Christ-bearing apostles: in the holy fathers. Among them, in essence, there is no difference: the same God-man Christ lives, acts, enlivens and makes them all eternal in equal measure, He Who is the same yesterday, and today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). Through the holy fathers, the holy apostles live on with all their theanthropic riches, theanthropic worlds, theanthropic holy things, theanthropic mysteries, and theanthropic virtues. The holy fathers in fact are continuously apostolizing, whether as distinct godlike personalities, or as bishops of the local churches, or as members of the holy ecumenical and holy local councils. For all of them there is but one Truth, one Transcendent Truth: the God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ. Behold, the holy ecumenical councils, from the first to the last, confess, defend, believe, announce, and vigilantly preserve but a single supreme value: the God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The principal Tradition, the transcendent Tradition, of the Orthodox Church is the living God-man Christ, entire in the theanthropic Body of the Church of which He is the immortal, eternal Head. This is not merely the message, but the transcendent message of the holy apostles and the holy fathers. They know Christ crucified, Christ resurrected, Christ ascended. They all, by their integral lives and teachings, with a single soul and a single voice, confess that Christ the God-man is wholly in His Church, as in His Body. Each of the holy fathers could rightly repeat with St. Maximus the Confessor: "In no wise am I expounding my own opinion, but that which I have been taught by the fathers, without changing aught in their teaching."
And from the immortal proclamation of St. John of Damascus there resounds the universal confession of all the holy fathers who were glorified by God: "Whatever has been transmitted to us through the Law, and the prophets, and the apostles, and the evangelists, we receive and know and esteem highly, and beyond that we ask nothing more. . . Let us be fully satisfied with it, and rest therein, removing not the ancient landmarks (Prov. 22:28), nor violating the divine Tradition." And then, the touching, fatherly admonition of the holy Damascene, directed to all Orthodox Christians: "Wherefore, brethren, let us plant ourselves upon the rock of faith and the Tradition of the Church, removing not the landmarks set by our holy fathers, nor giving room to those who are anxious to introduce novelties and to undermine the structure of God's holy ecumenical and apostolic Church. For if everyone were allowed a free hand, little by little the entire Body of the Church would be destroyed."
The holy Tradition is wholly of the God-man, wholly of the holy apostles, wholly of the holy fathers, wholly of the Church, in the Church, and by the Church. The holy fathers are nothing other than the "guardians of the apostolic tradition. " All of them, like the holy apostles themselves, are but "witnesses" of a single and unique Truth: the transcendent Truth of Christ, the God-man. They preach and confess it without rest, they, the "golden mouths of the Word." The God-man, the Lord Christ is one, unique, and indivisible. So also is the Church unique and indivisible, for she is the incarnation of the Theanthropos Christ, continuing through the ages and through all eternity. Being such by her nature and in her earthly history, the Church may not be divided. It is only possible to fall away from her. That unity and uniqueness of the Church is theanthropic from the very beginning and through all the ages and all eternity.
Apostolic succession, the apostolic heritage, is theanthropic from first to last. What is it that the holy apostles are transmitting to their successors as their heritage? The Lord Christ, the God-man Himself, with all the imperishable riches of His wondrous theanthropic Personality, Christ—the Head of the Church, her sole Head. If it does not transmit that, apostolic succession ceases to be apostolic, and the apostolic Tradition is lost, for there is no longer an apostolic hierarchy and an apostolic Church.
The holy Tradition is the Gospel of the Lord Christ, and the Lord Christ Himself, Whom the Holy Spirit instills in each and every believing soul, in the entire Church. Whatever is Christ's, by the power of the Holy Spirit becomes ours, human; but only within the body of the Church. The Holy Spirit—the soul of the Church, incorporates each believer, as a tiny cell, into the body of the Church and makes him a "co-heir" of the God-man (Eph. 3:6). In reality the Holy Spirit makes every believer into a God-man by grace. For what is life in the Church? Nothing other than the transfiguration of each believer into a God-man by grace through his personal, evangelical virtues; it is his growth in Christ, the putting on of Christ by growing in the Church and being a member of the Church. A Christian's life is a ceaseless, Christ-centered theophany: the Holy Spirit, through the holy mysteries and the holy virtues, transmits Christ the Savior to each believer, renders him a living tradition, a living life: "Christ who is our life" (Col. 3:4). Everything Christ's thereby becomes ours, ours for all eternity: His truth, His righteousness, His love, His life, and His entire divine Hypostasis.
Holy Tradition? It is the Lord Jesus Christ, the God-man Himself, with all the riches of his divine Hypostasis and, through Him and for His sake, those of the Holy Trinity. That is most fully given and articulated in the Holy Eucharist, wherein, for our sake and for our salvation, the Savior's entire theanthropic economy of salvation is performed and repeated. Therein wholly resides the God-man with all His wondrous and miraculous gifts; He is there, and in the Church's life of prayer and liturgy. Through all this, the Savior's philanthropic proclamation ceaselessly resounds: "And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Mt. 28 20). He is with the apostles and, through the apostles, with all the faithful, world without end. This is the whole of the holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church of the apostles: life in Christ = life in the Holy Trinity; growth in Christ = growth in the Trinity (cf. Mt. 28: 19-20).
Of extraordinary importance is the following: in Christ's Orthodox Church, the Holy Tradition, ever living and life-giving, comprises: the holy liturgy, all the divine services, all the holy mysteries, all the holy virtues, the totality of eternal truth and eternal righteousness, all love, all eternal life, the whole of the God-man, the Lord Christ, the entire Holy Trinity, and the entire theanthropic life of the Church in its theanthropic fullness, with the All-holy Theotokos and all the saints.
The personality of the Lord Christ the God-man, transfigured within the Church, immersed in the prayerful, liturgical, and boundless sea of grace, wholly contained in the Eucharist, and wholly in the Church—this is holy Tradition. This authentic good news is confessed by the holy fathers and the holy ecumenical councils. By prayer and piety holy Tradition is preserved from all human demonism and devilish humanism, and in it is preserved the entire Lord Christ, He Who is the eternal Tradition of the Church. "Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh" (I Tim. 3 16): He was manifest as a man, as a God-man, as the Church, and by His philanthropic act of salvation and deification of humanity He magnified and exalted man above the holy cherubim and the most holy seraphim.
Originally published in Orthodox Life, vol. 31, no. 1 (Jan.-Feb., 1981), pp. 28-33. Translated by Stephen Karganovic from The Orthodox Church & Ecumenism (in Serbian) by Archimandrite Justin (Popovich) (Thessalonica: Chilandar Monastery, 1974), pp. 64-74.
By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
"...and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them" (Mark 6:13).
The holy apostles did this and it is commanded that we do the same. The Apostle James writes to us: "Is there any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he has committed sins, they shall be forgiven him" (James 5:14-15). You should not call anyone except the priests, the elders of the church; you should not anoint him in any other name except the Name of the Lord, so that it will not appear as witchcraft. No one will be able to raise him except the Lord Himself nor can any other forgive his sins except the One Lord.
Why oil and not something else? Because it is commanded and so that we may show obedience and faith. Why is it commanded that we baptize with water and anoint [chrismate] with oil [myron] and communicate with bread and wine? That is God's choice and God's prudence and ours is to believe and to obey. Various elements are used in the different Mysteries [Sacraments], but the Grace of God is one as our Lord is one and everything is from the Lord.
Why does our Lord need some materials in order to pour out His Grace upon us? The Lord does not need the material but we do as long as we are material, we need material. Condescending to our weakness, the Lord uses matter. To the incorporeal angels, He gives Grace in an incorporeal manner.
Oil alone is helpless of itself as every other material is helpless of itself, but the Grace of God is All-powerful. Through oil, the Lord gives the Grace of His Holy Spirit and that Grace heals the sick, raises the infirm and restores sanity to the insane.
O my brethren, how inexpressible is God's goodness! What did not God do for us? And what more could we possibly desire? He knew all of our needs beforehand and, for all of them, He foresaw the cures in advance. He only seeks from us that we believe in Him and fulfill His prescriptions. Is it not insolent and shameful that we more often conscientiously follow the instructions of physicians, mortal men such as we are, and neglect the prescriptions of the Immortal God?
O All-good Lord, melt our stony hearts by the power of Your Grace so that before the hour of our death, we may show indebted thanksgiving toward You: toward You O our All-good and our All-wise God! To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
"And when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them" (Acts of the Apostles 6:6).
By laying their hands on the chosen faithful, the apostles consecrated bishops, priests and deacons. It is apparent from this that the Christian Faith is not only a teaching, but also a power. It is not only necessary to know but also to have power. It is not only necessary to be chosen by men but you should be confirmed by God. If power were not necessary for the priestly vocation, neither would the laying on of hands be necessary, but only the teaching from mouth to ear. The laying on of hands, therefore, signifies the transferring of authority and bringing down power on the chosen one. The power is in the Grace of God Who strengthens man, sanctifies and illumines him. Truly, the Grace of God is that which teaches, leads, shepherds and through the Mysteries [Sacraments] strengthens the flock of Christ. A priest is the vessel of this inexpressible, awesome and all sufficient power of Grace. Blessed is that priest who understands what kind of precious treasury he has become! Blessed is he if the fear of God does not leave him day and night until his last breathe! There is no greater honor on earth, no greater responsibility than the calling of the priestly service. By the laying on of hands by the bishop, the priest has come into contact with the heavenly and eternal source of Grace and with the authority of the apostles. By that, the priest has become a companion in Grace and co-celebrant with all the Orthodox priests from apostolic times until today with the great hierarchs, with the countless number of saints, confessors, miracle-workers, ascetics and martyrs. He is gently adorned by their dignity but he is burdened by their merits, their examples and their reproaches.
O my brethren, great and most great is the shepherd over Christ's spiritual flock. He is responsible to pray to God for all and all the faithful are required to pray to God for him.
O Lord, Supreme Hierarch, sustain the Orthodox priests in strength, in wisdom, in purity, in zeal, in meekness and in every apostolic virtue by the Grace of Your Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, May 30, 2010
by Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi
You see what a great thing is faith? This is precisely what God asks of humanity. And we continuously hear that beautiful hymn of the Apostle Paul. For it is not simply an epistle, or a letter, which was written by an illumined man. This is a God-revealed hymn: "[All the Saints] through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the mouth of the sword, were made powerful out of infirmities, became strong in battle. Women received by a rising again their dead, and others were tortured, not accepting the redemption, that a better rising again they might receive, and others of mockings and scourgings did receive trial, and yet of bonds and imprisonment; they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were tried; in the killing of the sword they died; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins -- being destitute, afflicted, injuriously treated..."(Heb. 11:33-37). And as you know, the splendid hymn continues.
All these prizes, all these triumphs which renew and complete the relationship of the human race with God, were born from faith. This is what saves us. Faith is what extends to each of us, the choir of the faithful, and is what justifies everything.
We now come to a deeper mystery. All these Forefathers were those who were inclined towards revelation and hence to these people it was granted to be given the blessing; for God pre-ordained them and called them and dwelled among them, that He may boast of being their God. These also received the immediate promises and spoke face to face with God. And still all of these despite the certainty of the promises which were effectively revealed from above, won their divine reverence, their piety, and in general their turning to God, with a comprehensive cross, that is to say, with sadness, with grief, with persecution, with discomfort, and nearly expired from this world without seeing anything of all that which was promised by God, except for symbols and periods of various experiences. Do you see the mystery? In this valley of lamentations, the divine promises are partly seen, partly known, and partly revealed. This is precisely where we apply the following: "Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the mercy of the Lord" (Ps. 106:43 LXX).
This is the way by which we the chosen through faith abide in and keep our relationship with God and His promises. Again, interpreting through faith, in the midst of immense long-suffering, patience and endurance, in the midst of the trials of temptations, we will be perfected like all the saints.
Beginning in the autumn of 1911, Florovsky undertook intensive studies at the University of Odessa. In addition to his studies in philosophy, beginning with Plato and Aristotle and ending with Schopenhauer and Mill, Florovsky also studied extensively ancient, medieval, and modern history. After completing successfully the final examinations of the university, Florovsky was awarded the university diploma with first class honors, a degree which qualified him to teach in any school in the empire below university level. During the next three years he undertook a variety of teaching assignments in the schools of Odessa, while at the same time preparing for the master’s degree examinations. Florovsky’s success with the qualifying examinations made him eligible to compete also for the licensia docendi, a certificate required by the Imperial educational system for teaching at the university level. This he did by delivering successfully two required public lectures without notes before a plenary session of the university faculty. By the time Florovsky began teaching philosophy at the University of Odessa in October 1919, the winds of social and political revolution were blowing fiercely throughout the vast country, prompting four members of the Florovsky family, in January 1920, to leave their homeland under dramatic circumstances.
The devastation of the civil war and the revolution must have been a traumatic shock to Florovsky who was a reflective, studious, philosophically inclined, and religious young man. From the start Georges Florovsky knew somehow that there would be no place for him in the Soviet regime. He also knew that no philosophy or history would ever be accepted that was not taught from the Marxist point of view. Years later, reflecting back on this dramatic change in his life, Florovsky said: “My conviction was that I would never never return. It was only a feeling, of course, because at the beginning of 1920 nobody knew what would happen, not even the Bolsheviks. But I had a conviction that I was leaving forever, and I was quite sure that I would find something to do in this other world.”4
Exodus to the West
The first stop on his European journey was at Sofia, Bulgaria, where Florovsky spent his two year stay tutoring the young children of the Russian diplomatic representative in Sofia, editing and proof-reading for the Russian-Bulgarian Publishing House, participating in the activities of the Russian Religious-Philosophical Society, and engaging in an elite discussion circle, which later gave birth to the so-called “Eurasian Movement.” It was in Sofia that Florovsky completed his dissertation on Alexander Herzen, and met briefly Xenia Ivanovna Simonov, who was en route to Prague, and who would later become his wife.
While it was the Eurasian Movement that became the vehicle by which Florovsky first came to public notice as a powerful and original thinker; stationed at the front ranks of the younger members of the Russian émigré intelligentsia, he soon broke ranks with them. The Eurasians held that the war in Europe and the revolution in Russia were not simply political catastrophes but signs of the breakdown of European culture. Because of the cataclysmic changes that were taking place at that time, they began to believe that the West was dying and that a new age would emerge from the East. Even before this political tendency appeared among the Eurasians, Florovsky’s link with them was tenuous, and broke completely, as he himself recounts: “My break with the Evraziitsy came . . . in Berlin, in August 1923 . . . I was rejected, and . . . I rejected them. . . . My rejection was absolute, for I said: 'There is an intolerant spirit here; you want to be involved in political intrigue and that is not for me.”’5 Later, in an essay entitled “The Eurasian Allurement,” Florovsky argued that the historical problem raised and illuminated by the Russian Revolution could never be solved by the political and Slavophile concerns of the Eurasians. Seeing the impasse of all ideologies and philosophies of culture, Florovsky argued, not for another alternative rational ideology, but for the revitalization of culture, for a spiritual reconstruction, without the deviations and perversions of previous generations. Florovsky recoiled from any political or even social program to fight revolution with its own violence or ideological utopianism. He wanted to lift the struggle onto another spiritual and religious plane through the renewal of Orthodox Christian faith and life. He began to understand that Russian intellectual history had gone wrong, ending in cataclysmic revolution, and he wanted to ask the right questions and to find better alternatives to the paths actually taken. The articulation of this challenge, which became a basic theme in his thought, also led Florovsky to a lifelong effort to respond and to meet this challenge through his philosophical and theological work.
Thanks to a bold and constructive program set in motion by President Thomas G. Masaryk of Czechoslovakia to assist the thousands of Russians who had been displaced by war and revolution, Florovsky was offered a scholarship to pursue his scholarly work in Prague. During the decade of the 1920s no other European city had as high a concentration of the Russian intelligentsia as did Prague. Here, in April 1922, one year after they met in Sofia, Georges Florovsky married Xenia Ivanovna Simonov, a highly educated and talented painter, a translator, and a devout member of the Orthodox Church, who became not only his life long beloved companion but also his most exacting critic. During this period in Prague, Florovsky had begun anew his teaching career. On June 3, 1923, amidst all the traditional dignity and solemnity of Russian academic life, he also defended his revised thesis on “The Historical Philosophy of Alexander Herzen.” While traditional, the defense of his thesis was somewhat unusual because of the sharp clash of opinions it provoked. Florovky’s critics apparently found fault with his staunch identification with the Orthodox Church and his commitment to religious faith as the authentic starting point for all human endeavors, including philosophical enquiry. Florovsky had carried out his sharp criticism of Alexander Herzen, who was then considered to be the holiest of the “holy fathers” of the Russian cultural and religious revolutionary tradition, on the basis of the Orthodox theological tradition.
With his thesis behind him and his advanced degree in hand, Florovsky could now devote his full energies to teaching and writing through the Russian University Center in Czechoslovakia. During these years Florovsky struggled with the philosophical problems as posed by Western philosophy and produced some of his most significant essays on philosophy.6 Florovsky wanted to defend the principle of freedom in every area of existence, particularly of the human person in history. He opposed vehemently the deterministic elements in Western philosophy and denied every form of determinism, natural or historical.
It was through his early study of the Greek Fathers of the Church that Florovsky found complete confirmation of the principle of freedom, not only for history and cosmology, but also for every attempt to understand and to interpret reality and truth. By criticizing Western rationalism and determinism, Florovsky articulated his belief that through a resolute use of freedom, man could avoid all types of impersonal utopias and idealisms—Roman Catholic, Calvinist, Communist, or even Capitalist. The most significant confirmation of personal freedom was seen by Florovsky in the possibility of a person to resist and to overcome nature itself, that is, those elements in nature which, in Christian thought, are considered to be fallen, sinful, and, therefore, in need of restoration and transcendence. This idea of an ascetic achievement through spiritual growth and transformation is pervasive in the thought of Florovsky, and is not reserved only for the ascetics of Church history, but is seen as a way and a style of life for all Christians in all ages. He believed that the will of man can be healed only through freedom and an ascetical and creative effort, starting with a sacrificial commitment of the self to Christ and the Gospel that begins with Baptism and matures through a lifelong participation in the liturgical life of the Church. It is in the fellowship of the Church that a person is not only set free from the negative elements of the self and of society, but also attains to the maturity and stature of Christ. And it is this discipline of Christian Truth, as revealed and embodied in the life of the Church, that Georges Florovsky readily admitted to from an early stage in his life and thought.
The Feast of All Saints, originally dedicated to the martyrs, achieved great prominence in the ninth century, in the reign of the Roman Emperor Leo VI the Wise (886-911). His wife, the Holy Empress Theophano (commemorated on December 16) lived in the world, but was not attached to worldly things. She was a great benefactor to the poor, and was generous to the monasteries. She was a true mother to her subjects, caring for widows and orphans, and consoling the sorrowful. Theophano devoted most of her days to prayers, psalms and hymns to God. She was reportedly the builder or patron of the Monastery of Saint Anastasia the Protector from Potions (Hagia Anastasia Pharmakolytria) in Halki island, the second largest of the Princes' Islands in the Sea of Marmara, near Constantinople.
Even before the death of St. Theophano in 893 or 894, her husband started to build a church, intending to dedicate it to Theophano, but she forbade him to do so. It was this emperor who decreed that the Sunday after Pentecost be dedicated to All Saints. Believing that his wife was one of the righteous, he knew that she would also be honored whenever the Feast of All Saints was celebrated.
According to tradition, it was Leo who expanded the feast from a commemoration of All Martyrs to a general commemoration of All Saints, whether martyrs or not.
by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
"This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church" (Ephesians 5:32).
Great is the mystery when a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife. The apostle himself, who was raised to the third heaven and who saw many mysteries of heaven, calls the physical union of men and women in marriage on earth "a great mystery." That is, the mystery of love and life and only the mystery of Christ's bond with His Church is greater.
Christ is called the Bridegroom and the Church, the Bride. Christ loves His Church so much that, because of Her, He left His heavenly Father - remaining with Him, of course, in unity of substance and divinity - and descended to earth and attached Himself to His Church and suffered for Her so that, by His Blood cleanse Her from every sin and spot and make Her worthy to be called His Bride. With His love He warms the Church, with His Blood He feeds the Church, and by His Holy Spirit He causes the Church to live, and sanctifies and adorns Her.
What a husband is to a wife, so Christ is to the Church. Man is the head of a woman and Christ is the Head of the Church. A husband loves his wife as his own body. A woman listens to her husband and the Church listens to Christ. A husband loves his wife as he loves his own body and Christ loves the Church as His own Body. A husband loves his wife as he loves himself and a wife reveres her husband, and Christ loves the Church as He loves Himself and the Church reveres Christ. Since no one hates his own flesh but rather warms and nourishes it so also Christ warms and feeds the Church as His own Body. And every individual human soul is the bride of Christ the Bridegroom and the assembly of all the faithful is the bride of Christ the Bridegroom. The kind of relationship of a believing man toward Christ also is the relationship of the entire Church toward Christ. Christ is the Head of that great Body which is called the Church, and which is in part visible and in part invisible.
O my brethren, this is a great mystery! It is revealed to us according to the measure of our love toward Christ and of our fear of Christ's judgment.
O Lord, Gentle Savior, cleanse us, save us and adorn our souls that we may be worthy of the immortal and indescribable unity with You in time and in eternity.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
29 May 2010
"Not a step back!" shouts the poster's caption, echoing the famous wartime cry of Joseph Stalin. But the image alongside the text in block capitals is not a patriotic depiction of the Soviet war effort, instead it's a downtrodden prisoner struggling under the weight of a statue of Stalin.
The poster is one of many anti-Stalin artworks that make up an exhibition that opened in Moscow this week aimed at commemorating the dictator's purges, and hitting back at what the organisers say is a rehabilitation of the despot in Russian society.
The exhibition is part of a campaign organised by Snob, a magazine and internet site aimed at Russia's business and cultural elite, to raise awareness among Russians about Stalin's crimes. It abandons the ambivalent language of much official Russian discourse surrounding the Stalin period, and paints the dictator as an unequivocal villain. At the launch of the exhibition, 75 years to the day since a decree was signed establishing the "troikas" that were one of the key elements in Stalin's purges, people who lost relatives in the repression wore white ribbons bearing the names of the dead.
The troikas were three-man tribunals with powers to sentence those accused of crimes to lengthy imprisonments, or more often death by shooting. The use of the troika peaked in 1937, the most ruthless year of Stalin's purges, when it is estimated that well over half a million people were killed, most of them with a bullet to the head.
The exhibition was prompted by a renewed pride in Stalin among Russians, which many say has been fostered by Russian authorities. Two years ago, the dictator came third in a television poll to name the greatest Russian of all time, and this year the Moscow mayoralty planned to display portraits of Stalin across the city as part of a celebration of the Soviet victory in the Second World War. The decision was rescinded only at the last minute.
"Five years ago, we thought this was all in the past," said Marat Guelman, who runs the gallery where the exhibition took place. "People who loved Stalin were just a few weirdos who hung out on the internet – like paedophiles, or cult members. But over the past five years there has been a strange mutation in society, and suddenly Stalin has become a symbol." He said it was important that Russians who know the truth about Stalin don't remain quiet, and begin to educate the masses.
Others praised the sentiment but doubted that it would help significantly. "I'm not sure how much of a difference this will make," said Andrei Bilzho, a well-known Russian satirist and cartoonist, who had a series of Stalin-themed cartoons on display as part of the exhibition. Both of his grandfathers were killed during the Stalinist repressions. "In many ways, this is by people and for people who already understand everything about Stalin. It won't make much of a difference to those who still respect him. What we need is for the political leaders to come out and say with 100 per cent certainty that Stalin was evil. That would help people change their minds."
Part of the problem is that Russia has never come to terms with the dark chapters in its past in the same way Germany has. There have never been proper trials of those accused of crimes, nor has there been any serious attempt at reconciliation.
Even the organisers of the exhibition doubt that Russia could set up a tribunal to attribute blame for those behind the crimes of the Stalin era – after all, the boundaries are blurred, and the purges were so vicious that many of those responsible for repression were later accused and shot themselves. But there is a sense among the Russian intelligentsia that a more unequivocal stance needs to be taken by the country's political leaders in regard to the personality of Stalin.
Vladimir Putin, previously the President and currently Prime Minister, has never directly endorsed Stalin as a positive figure in Russian history. But on several occasions he has displayed an ambivalent attitude to the dictator, saying that nobody should make Russians feel guilty for their history. While he was President, an infamous school textbook referring to Stalin as an "effective manager" was released. Mr Putin has made the Soviet effort in the Second World War one of the key building blocks of a new national pride. Victory Day on 9 May has become one of Russia's most important national holidays. "We won the Great Patriotic War," said Mr Putin last year. "Even if we look back at the casualties, you know that no one can throw a stone at those who organised and led that victory, because if we had lost that war, the aftermath would have been much more catastrophic."
Many descendants of those who died in the purges came to the exhibition as a mark of respect to their lost relatives. "My mother became an orphan at the age of three and a half," said Alexey Nikolov, the deputy editor-in-chief of Russia Today, the Kremlin-backed television channel. "My grandfather was one of the top cultural officials in Leningrad and was accused of sabotage in 1937. I requested the files from the archives – it was awful. He denied all the charges, and then in later questioning, obviously after being tortured, he admitted he was guilty. The signature on the confession is written in a trembling hand."
Mr Putin's successor, Dmitry Medvedev, has been far more forthright about Stalin's crimes. In an interview he condemned the period, but said it was natural that some people still respected the leader and that "everyone has the right to their own opinion" about Stalin.
"When people say they love Stalin, they don't really mean it," said Mr Guelman. "What they mean is that they are unhappy now. They don't like capitalism. They don't like the fact that there are a few rich people in Russia while they are poor. And hankering for Stalin is a convenient way to voice this."
By Stephen Prothero
I am a big fan of the Dalai Lama. I love his trademark smile and I hate the fact that I missed his talks this week in New York City. But I cannot say either "Amen" or "Om" to the shopworn clichés that he trots out in the New York Times in “Many Faiths, One Truth.”
Recalling the Apostle Paul—“When I was a child, I spoke like a child”—the Dalai Lama begins by copping to youthful naivete. “When I was a boy in Tibet, I felt that my own Buddhist religion must be the best,” he writes, “and that other faiths were somehow inferior.” However, just as Paul, upon becoming a man, “put away childish things,” the Dalai Lama now sees his youthful exclusivism as both naïve and dangerous. There is “one truth” behind the “many faiths,” and that core truth, he argues, is compassion.
Like the Dalai Lama, who writes of how he was influenced by Thomas Merton, I believe we can learn greatly from other religions. I too hope for tolerance and harmony in our interreligious interactions. I am convinced, however, that true tolerance and lasting harmony must be built on reality, not fantasy. Religious exclusivism is dangerous and naïve. But so too is pretend pluralism. The cause of religious harmony is not advanced in the least by the shibboleth that all religions are different paths up the same mountain.
If you ask religious universalists what lies at the top of the mountain, the answers they will give you are not one but many. Gandhi and philosopher of religion Huston Smith say that at the top there is the same universal God. But when others describe this religious mountaintop they invariably give voice to their own particular beliefs and biases.
Followers of the Dalai Lama revere him as a reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. So it should not be surprising that he sees compassion at the heart of all religions. But this is a parochial perspective, not a universal one. And like any form of pretend pluralism it threatens to blind us both to the particular dangers of individual religious traditions and to their unique beauties.
To be sure, all religions preach compassion. But it is false to claim that compassion is the reason for being of the great religions. Jesus did not die on a cross in order to teach us to help old ladies across the street. The Jewish milieu in which he was raised already knew that. And as the Dalai Lama points out, so did the rest of the world’s religions. Jesus came, according to most Christian thinkers, to stamp out sin and pave the path to salvation. Similarly, the Buddha did not sit down under a Bo tree in India in order to teach us not to kill our brothers. The Hindu milieu in which he was raised already knew that too. He came, according to most Buddhist thinkers, to stamp out suffering and pave the path to nirvana.
As I argue in my new book, "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter," religion is an immensely powerful force both personally and politically. So if we want to understand the world we must understand the world's religions. This includes reckoning with both similarities and differences, and with the capacity of each of the great religions to do both good and evil.
I know that when it comes to the Dalai Lama we are all supposed to bow and scrape. So I am happy to applaud his project to find “common ground” across the world’s religions. But I also know that the Buddha said to worship no man. And I cannot agree with the Dalai Lama’s claim that “the essential message of all religions is very much the same.”
The Dalai Lama was doubtless naïve when, as a boy, and before learning about other religions, he arrived at the conclusion that only his religion was true. But it is no advance out of innocence to make the equally fantastic claim that all the religions are at heart vehicles for compassion. If we are to build a world of interreligious harmony, or even a world of interreligious détente, it will have to be constructed on a foundation of adult experience rather than youthful naivete.
Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
May 26, 2010
Introduction: Creation and the Virtue of Silence
In the Philokalia, St. Anthony of Egypt describes nature as a book that reveals the beauty of God’s creation: “Creation [he says] declares in a loud voice its Maker and master.” Or, as St. Maximus the Confessor claims in the 7th century, the whole world is a “cosmic liturgy.” What, then, is the Orthodox theological and spiritual vision of the world?
As a young child, accompanying the priest of our local village to remote chapels on our native island of Imvros in Turkey, the connection of the beautiful mountainside to the splendor of God was evident. The environment provides a panoramic vision of the world, like the wide-angle lens of a camera, which prevents us from exploiting its natural resources in a selfish way. The recent ecological disaster off the Gulf Coast in Louisiana reveals the consequences of ignoring this cosmic worldview.
However, to reach this point of maturity toward the natural environment, we must take the time to listen to the voice of creation. If we are silent, we shall experience what the Liturgy of St. James affirms:
The heavens declare the glory of heaven; the earth proclaims the sovereignty of God; the sea heralds the authority of the Lord; and every creature preaches the magnificence of God.
It is unfortunate that we lead our life without noticing the environmental concert that is playing out before our eyes and ears. In this orchestra, each minute detail plays a critical role. Nothing can be removed without the entire symphony being affected. No tree, animal or fish can be removed without the entire picture being distorted, if not destroyed.
Orthodox Theology and the Environment
In its foremost symbol, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the Orthodox Church confesses “one God, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” From this fundamental principle and declaration of faith, the Orthodox Church articulates the concept of cosmic transfiguration, especially through its hymnography. The Feast of Christ’s Transfiguration on August 6th highlights the integral connection between metamorphosis and theophany, extending the divine light and transformative power to all creation:
Today, on Mt. Tabor, in the manifestation of your light, O Lord, You were unaltered from the light of the unbegotten Father. We have seen the Father as light, and the Spirit as light, guiding with light the entire creation.
And the Feast of our Lord’s Baptism on January 6th proclaims:
The nature of waters is sanctified, the earth is blessed, and the heavens are enlightened … so that by the elements of creation, and by angels, and by human beings, by things both visible and invisible, God’s most holy name may be glorified.
The breadth and depth of the Orthodox cosmic vision implies that humanity is a part of a “theophany,” which is always greater than any single individual. As St. Maximus states: “Human beings are not isolated from the rest of creation. They are bound by their very nature to the whole of creation.” Thus, in The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky urges:
Love all God’s creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things.
Eucharistic and Ascetic Spirituality
In order to achieve this sacramental vision of creation, human beings are called to practice a spirituality of thanksgiving and self-discipline. In theological terms, we are called to be “eucharistic” and “ascetic” beings. In this way, the Orthodox Church reminds us that creation is not simply our possession or property, but rather a gift from God the Creator, a gift of wonder and beauty. From the moment of creation, this world was offered by God as a gift to be returned in gratitude and love.
This is precisely how the Orthodox spiritual way avoids the problem of the world’s domination by humanity. For if this world is a sacred mystery, then this in itself precludes any attempt at mastery by human beings. Indeed, the mastery or exploitative control of the world’s resources is identified more with Adam’s “original sin” than with God’s wonderful gift. It is the result of selfishness and greed, which arise from alienation from God and an abandonment of the sacramental worldview. Sin separated the sacred from the secular, dismissing the latter to the domain of evil and surrendering it as prey to exploitation.
Beyond a “eucharistic” spirituality, we are also called to practice an “ascetic ethos,” namely self-restraint and self-control, so that we no longer willfully consume every fruit, but instead manifest a sense of frugality from some things for the sake of valuing all things. Then, we shall learn to care for plants and animals, for trees and rivers, for mountains and seas, for all human beings and the world. Then, we shall be instruments of peace and life, not tools of violence and death. Then, everything will assume its divine purpose, as God originally intended the world.
Creation and the Virtue of Compassion
On the sixth day of creation, God created man and woman in His divine image and likeness. Yet, what most people overlook is that the sixth day is not dedicated to the formation of Adam alone. That sixth day was shared with “living creatures of every kind; cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth.” (Gen. 1.24) This close connection between humanity and the rest of creation is a powerful reminder of our intimate relationship with the environment. While there is undoubtedly something unique about our creation in God’s image, there is more that unites us than separates us, not only as human beings but also with creation. It is a lesson we have learned the hard way in recent decades.
The saints of our Church understood this well. They knew that a person with a pure heart was able to sense the connection with the rest of creation, including the animal world. The connection is not merely emotional; it is profoundly spiritual, providing a sense of continuity and community as well as an expression of identity and compassion with all of creation. One may recall St. Seraphim of Sarov feeding the bear in the forests of the north. As Abba Isaac of Nineveh observed:
A merciful heart burns with love for all creation: for human beings, birds, beasts, even demons – for all God’s creatures. When it recalls these creatures, it is filled with tears. An overwhelming compassion makes the heart grow small and weak, and it cannot endure to hear or see any suffering, even the slightest pain, inflicted upon any creature.
Interpreting the Concept of Sin
If the earth is sacred, then our relationship with the natural environment is sacramental. The “sin of Adam” is precisely his refusal to receive the world as a gift of communion with God and with the rest of creation. St. Paul clearly emphasizes the consequences of the Fall, claiming that “from the beginning till now, the entire creation, which as we know has been groaning in pain” (Rom. 8.22), also “awaits with eager longing this revelation by the children of God.” (Rom. 8.19)
However, far too long have we focused – as churches and as theologians – on the notion of sin as a rupture in individual relations with each other or with God. The environmental crisis reminds us of the cosmic consequences of sin, which are more than merely social or narrowly spiritual. Every act of pollution is an offence against God as creator. Repentance implies a radical change of ways and worldview. Some fifteen years ago, at a conference in Santa Barbara, we declared:
To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin. To cause species to become extinct and destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing climate change; to strip the earth of its natural forests or destroy its wetlands; to contaminate the earth’s waters – all of these are sins.
Social, Political, and Economic Implications
Orthodox theology recognizes the natural creation as inseparable from the identity and destiny of humanity; every human action leaves a lasting imprint on the body of the earth. Human attitudes and behavior toward creation directly reflect human attitudes and behavior toward other people. Ecology is inevitably related to economy; our global economy is simply outgrowing the capacity of our planet to support it. At stake is not just our ability to sustain the world, but to survive. Indeed, scientists estimate that those most hurt by global warming will be those who can least afford it. Therefore, the ecological problem of pollution is connected to the social problem of poverty; for all ecological activity is measured by its impact upon other people, especially the poor.
Concern, then, for ecological issues is directly related to concern for issues of social justice. A Church that neglects to pray for the polluted environment is a Church that refuses to offer food and drink to a suffering humanity. A society that refuses to care for human beings is a society that ultimately mistreats all of God’s creation. The terms “ecology” and “economy” share the same etymological root (from the Greek oikos), which signifies “home.” It is unfortunate and selfish that we have restricted the application of this word to ourselves, as if we were the sole inhabitants of this world. This planet is the home of everyone, of every animal creature, as well as of every form of life.
Conclusion: A New Worldview
We have repeatedly stated that the crisis that we are facing in our world is not primarily ecological. It is a crisis concerning the way we perceive the world. We are treating our planet in a selfish, godless manner precisely because we fail to see it as a gift inherited from above; it is our obligation to receive, respect and return this gift to future generations. Therefore, before we can effectively deal with problems of our environment, we must change the way we regard the world. Otherwise, we are simply dealing with symptoms, not with their causes. We require “a new heavenly” worldview if we are to desire “a new earth.” (Rev. 21.1)
This is the source of our optimism. The natural environment – the forest, water and land – belongs to all generations. Your generation is entitled to a better, brighter world; a world free from degradation, violence and bloodshed; a world of generosity and love. It is the selfless love for our children that will show us the path to the future. And it is your generation that will initiate the changes in lifestyle to secure this future.
May God bless you in this sacred struggle.
O how great was the fearlessness of the holy men and holy women! When we read about their lives, both shame and pride is awakened in us unwillingly - shame that we have lagged so far behind them and pride that they are of our Christian race. Neither sickness, nor prison, nor exile, nor suffering, nor humiliation, nor the sword, nor the abyss, nor fire, nor the gallows were able to shake the exalted peace of their souls, firmly attached to Christ, the Helmsman of the universe and human history.
When Emperor Julian apostasized from the Faith and began to make waste of Christianity throughout the entire empire, St. Athanasius the Great quietly spoke of him to the faithful: "The cloud will pass!". And indeed, that dark cloud quickly passed and Christianity lowered its roots even deeper and spread its branches all the more throughout the world. The weakened wickedness of Julian against Christ was ended after several passing years with Julian's cry: "O Nazarene, You have conquered!" O sons of God, why then should we be afraid of anything from which God our Father is not afraid?
- St. Nikolai Velimirovich
by Fr Georges Florovsky
CHRIST HAS CONQUERED THE WORLD. This victory is further unveiled and fulfilled in the fact that He built His Church. In Christ and through Christ the unity of mankind was brought about truly for the first time, for those who believed in His Name become the Body of Christ. And through uniting with Christ they unite likewise with each other in a most sincere concord of love. In this great unity all empirical distinctions and barriers are done away with: differences of birth in the flesh are effaced within the unity of a spiritual birth. The Church is a new people filled with grace, which does not coincide with any physical boundaries or any earthly nation-neither Greeks nor Jews, and a struggle of faith, through the "Mystery of water," through a union with Christ in the "Mysterious font," through the "grace of becoming sons" ; i.e. "sons of God" for Whom were all things created that are in heaven and that are in earth." In Holy Christening the one to be enlightened leaves "this world" and forsakes its vanity, as if freeing himself and stepping out of the natural order of things; from the order of "flesh and blood" one enters an order of grace. All inherited ties and all ties of blood are severed. But man is not left solitary or alone. For according to the expression of the Apostle "by one Spirit are we all baptized," neither Scythians nor Barbarians-and this nation does not spring through a relationship of blood but through freedom into one Body. The whole meaning of Holy Christening consists in the fact that it is a mysterious acceptance into the Church, into the City of God, into the Kingdom of Grace. Through Christening the believer becomes a member of the Church, enters the "one Church of angels and men," becomes a "co-citizen of the saints and ever with God," according to the mysterious and solemn words of St. Paul-one comes "to mount Zion, and to the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect." And in this great throng he is united unto Christ. For, "unus Christianus-nullus Christianus" ["one Christian-no Christian"].
The essence of the Church is in its unity, for the Church is the Mansion of the One Spirit. This is not an external and empirical unity or catholicity. The Ecumenical character of the Church is not something external, quantitative, spacial, not even any geographical quality, and does not at all depend on the universal dispersal of believers. The visible unity of the Church is merely a result but not a foundation for the catholicity of the Church. Geographical "universality" is a derivative and not an essential necessity. The catholicity of the Church was not diminished in the first ages of Christianity when communities of the faithful were scattered like small islands, almost lost in the immense world of unbelief and resistance. It is likewise not diminished now when the majority of mankind is not with Christ. "Though a town or even a province fall away from the Ecumenical Church," says Metropolitan Philaret, "the Ecumenical Church will always remain a complete and incorruptible body." Likewise the Church will remain Ecumenical in the "last days" when it will be compressed into the "little flock," when the mystery of "retreat" will be revealed and when faith will hardly be found on earth. For the Church is Catholic according to its nature.
If one seeks for external definitions, then perhaps the Ecumenical nature of the Church is best expressed by the feature of its "all-timeness" (of its running through all times). For believers of all ages and all generations, who are alive now, who lived, and who will be born, belong to it in the same way. They all form one body, and through the same prayer are united into one before the one throne of the Lord of Glory. The experience of this unity through all times is revealed and sealed in the whole cycle of Divine worship. In the Church time is mysteriously overcome. The outpouring of grace seems to stop time, to stop the run of minutes and seasons, to overcome even the general order of consecutiveness and the disconnectedness of those things which took place at different times. In a unity with Christ through grace, in the gift of communion with the One different epochs and generations become our Spirit, men of living contemporaries. Christ reigns equally in the Church among the departed and among the living, for God is not God of the dead but of the living.
The Church is a Kingdom not of this world but an eternal Kingdom, for it has an eternal King-Christ. The Church is a kind of mysterious image of eternity and a foretaste of the Resurrection of all. For Christ the Head of the Body is "the life and the resurrection" of His servants and brothers. The measure of births has not yet been filled and the stream of time still flows. The Church is still in its historical wanderings but even now time has no power and no strength in it. It is as if the Apocalyptic moment is forestalled-when there shall be no more time and all time shall cease. Earthly death, the separation of the soul from the body, does not sever the tie between those who have faith, does not part and does not separate co-members in Christ, does not exclude the deceased from the limits and composition of the Church. In the prayer for the departed and in the order for burial we pray Christ "our immortal King and God" to send the souls of the departed to the habitations of the holy, "to the abodes of the righteous," "to the bosom of Abraham," where all the righteous are at rest. And with special expressiveness in these parting prayers we remember and call on the hosts of the righteous, and on the Mother of God, and on the powers of heaven, and on the holy martyrs and on all the saints as on our heavenly co-citizens in the Church. With powerful emphasis the all-timely and catholic consciousness of the Church is disclosed in the order of burial. The faithful who attain to a genuine union with Christ Himself in their struggle and in the saving "mysteries" cannot be parted from Him even by death. "Blessed are they who die in the Lord-their souls shall abide with the blessed." And the prayers for the departed are a witness and measure of the catholic consciousness of the Church.
Reverently the Church watches for any signs of grace which witness and confirm the earthly struggle of the departed. By an inner sight the Church recognizes both the righteous living and departed, and the feeling of the Church is sealed by the witness of the priesthood of the Church. In this recognition of its brothers and members who have "attained to perfection" consists the mystical essence of that which in the Christian West is termed the "canonization of saints," and which is understood by the Orthodox East as their glorification, magnification and blessedness. And firstly it is a glorification of God "Wonderous is the Lord in His saints." "God's saints," said St. John of Damascus, "reigned over and mastered their passions and kept uninjured the likeness unto the image of God, according to which they were created; they of their own free will united themselves with God and received Him into the habitation of their heart, and having thus received Him in communion, through grace, they became in their very nature like unto Him." In them God rests-they became " the treasures and the pure habitations of God." In this the mystery was accomplished. For as the ancient fathers said-the Son of God became man so that men could be deified, so that sons of men should become sons of God. And in the righteous who attain to love this measure of growth and "likening" unto Christ is fulfilled. "The Saints in their lifetime already were filled with the Holy Spirit," continues St. John of Damascus, "and when they died the grace of the Holy Spirit was still present with their souls and with their bodies in the graves, and with their images and with their holy ikons not because of their nature but because of grace and its activity... the saints are alive and with daring they stand before the Lord; they are not dead ... the death of saints is more like falling asleep than death," for they "abide in the hand of God"; that is, in life and in light... and 11 after He Who is Life itself and the source of life was ranked among the dead, we consider no more as dead those who depart with a hope of resurrection and with faith in Him." And it is not only to get help and intercession that the Holy Spirit teaches every believer to pray to the glorified saints but also because this calling on them, through communion in prayer, deepens the consciousness of the catholic unity of the Church. In our invocation of the saints our measure of Christian love is exhibited, a living feeling of unanimity and of the power of Church unity is expressed; and, conversely, doubt or inability to feel the intercession of grace and the intervention of saints on our behalf before God witnesses not only to a weakening of love and of the brotherly and Church ties and relationships but also to a decrease in the fulness of faith in the Ecumenical value and power of the Incarnation and Resurrection.
One of the most mysterious anticipations of the Orthodox Church is the contemplation of the "Protecting Veil of the Mother of God," of Her constant standing in prayer for the world, surrounded by all the saints, before the throne of 'God. "Today the Virgin stands in the Church and with hosts of saints invisibly prays to God for us all; angels and high priests worship; apostles and prophets embrace each other-it is for us that the Mother of God prays unto the Eternal God!" Thus the Church remembers the vision which was once seen by St. Andrew, the fool for Christ's sake. And that which was then visibly revealed remains now and will stand for all ages. The "Contemplation of the Protecting Veil" of the Mother of God is a vision of the celestial Church, a vision of the unbreakable and ever-existent unity of the heavenly and the earthly Church. Arid it is also a foreseeing that all existence beyond the grave, of the righteous and the saints, is one untiring prayer, one ceaseless intercession and mediation. For love is the "union of all perfection." And the blessedness of the righteous is an abiding in love. The Great Eastern saint St. Isaac the Syrian, with incomparable daring, bore witness to the all-embracing power which crowns a Christian's struggles. According to his words this struggle for God acquires fulness and completeness and attains its aim in purity-and purity is "a heart which is merciful to every created being." And what is a heart that has its mercy? asks the saint, and answers: "A burning of the heart for all creation for men, birds, beasts, demons and all creatures. And from remembrance of them and contemplation of them such a man's eyes shed tears: because of a great and strong compassion which possesses his heart and its great constancy, he is overwhelmed with tender pity and he cannot bear, or hear of, or see any harm or any even small sorrow which creatures suffer. And therefore he prays hourly with tears for the dumb animals, and for the enemies of Truth and for those who harm him that they should be guarded and that they should be shown mercy; and also for all the reptiles he prays, from this great compassion which is constantly aroused in his heart in likeness to God." And if even on earth so fiery is the prayer of saints, even with a more fiery flame it burns "there" in the "embrace of the Father" on the bosom of Divine Love, close to God, Whose Name is Love, Whose care about the World is Love. And in the Church Triumphant prayers for the whole Catholic Church do not cease. As St. Cyprian said-Christian prayer is for all the world; everyone prays not only for himself but for all people, for all form one, and so we pray not with a particular individual prayer but with one common to all, with one soul in all. The whole deed of prayer must be determined by an ecumenical consciousness and unanimous love, which includes likewise those whose names are known to God alone. It is not characteristic of a Christian to feel himself alone and separated from all, for he is saved only in the unity of the Church. And the crown of all prayer is that flaming love which was expressed in the prayer of Moses: "Forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written... " The center of Church worship is Eucharistic worship. Here the whole Church is united also. Here a sacrifice is made and prayers are offered "for all and for all things," here the whole Church is remembered the militant and the triumphant. In the mystery-action of the Liturgy "the powers of heaven invisibly celebrate with us," they are present and celebrate with the celebrating priest. And unto great saints it was granted sometimes by God's grace to contemplate in visible form that which is hidden from the sight of the sinful-the co-celebration of the angels. Thus it is known that St. Seraphim of Sarov on one occasion was granted to see the triumphant entrance of the Lord of Glory surrounded by hosts of angels. Such an entrance of the Lord of Glory is often represented in ikon form on the walls of the holy Altar, and not only as a symbol but likewise as an indication that invisibly all this actually takes place. And all the ikon decoration of the Church generally speaks of the mysterious unity, of the actual presence of the saints with us. "We picture Christ, the King and the Lord, without separating Him from His army, for, the Army of the Lord are the saints"-said St. John of Damascus. Holy ikons are not only images of remembrance, "images of the past and of righteousness," not only pictures, but are actually sacred things with which, as the fathers explained, the Lord is "present" and by grace is "in communion 11 with them. There exists some mysterious objective tic between the "image" and the "Prototype," between the likeness and the one who is represented, which is specially marked in miracle-working ikons which show God's power. "A venerating worship" of holy ikons clearly expresses the idea of the Church's conception of the past: it is not only a remembrance directed to something gone, but a vision by grace of something fixed in eternity, a vision of something mysterious, a presence by grace of those who are dead and parted from us, "a joyful vision of a unity of all creation."
All creation has a Head in Christ. And through His Incarnation the Son of God, according to the wonderful expression of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, "again commenced a long row of human beings." The Church is the spiritual posterity of the Second Adam and in its history His redemptive work is fulfilled and completed, while His love blossoms and flames in it. The Church is a fulfillment of Christ and His Body. According to the bold words of St. John Chrysostom, "only then is the Fulfiller the Head when a perfect body shall be formed." There is some mysterious movement-which started from the awe-filled day of Pentecost, when in the face of the first chosen few it was as if all creation received a fiery christening by the Spirit towards that last aim, when in all its glory the New Jerusalem shall appear and the Bridal Feast of the Lamb shall begin. In the stretch of ages the guests and the chosen are being collected. The people of the eternal Kingdom are being assembled. The Kingdom is being selected and set aside beyond the limits of time. The fulfillment shall be accomplished in the last resurrection-then the complete fulness and glory and the whole meaning of Church catholicity shall be revealed.
From Creation and Redemption, Vol. III of the Collected Works of Georges Florovsky (Belmont, MA: Nordland Publishing Co.), 1976, pp. 201.208.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Papa Lefteris Noufrakis officiated at this complete Divine Liturgy in Hagia Sophia in 1919, 466 years after the previous Divine Liturgy of May 29, 1453.
The article in Greek is here and the translation is forthcoming.
The above video is from a speech delivered by the renowned Greek preacher Fr. Savva Achilleos in 1996. (Note: NWO references and quotes are additions in the translation.)
To read more on this subject, see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
Help was limited. Indeed, under the command of the brave Giovanni Giustiniani Longo about 700 well armed men sailed, on two Genoese vessels, for the Byzantine capital. The ships arrived in the city on January 29, 1453, Giustiniani was promptly appointed by the Emperor head of the defence. Of the men, 400 were recruited in Genoa and 300 on the Genoese held island of Chios. Giustiniani's men composed the largest Western contingent. Also, Venice allowed the Emperor to recruit a contingent of Cretan soldiers and sailors, who acted heroically during the siege. The former Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia Isidore, a Cardinal of the Roman Church, who came to Constantinople as Papal Legate, recruited at Naples, at the Pope's expense, 200 soldiers. A number of brave men joined the Emperor in his final stand: Maurizio Cattaneo, the Bocchiardo brothers, Paolo, Antonio and Troilo, the Castilian nobleman Don Francisco de Toledo, the German engineer Johannes Grant, and also the Ottoman prince Orhan, who lived at Constantinople.
Without hinterland and completely cut off from its maritime routes, Constantinople was doomed. Despite sporadic and desperate Byzantine attempts to prevent its building, Rumeli Hisar was completed in August 1452. The population of the blockaded city interpreted its completion as an unmistakable sign that the final struggle was about to begin. Realizing that all contacts with the Ottoman side were broken Emperor Constantine XI Palaeologus (1449-1453) ordered the closing of the city's gates.
The last Byzantine Emperor, born in 1404, was a son of Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus (1391-1425) and of Helen Dragash, a Serbian Princess. His brother John VIII (1425-1448) hoped that by accepting the union of the Churches, and the expected Western military assistance, he could stave off the collapse of the state. Leading a Greek delegation, which included the greatest secular and religious minds of fifteenth century Hellenism, he travelled to Florence. There, after long and heated discussions, on July 6, 1439, Cardinal Giuliano Cesarini and Archbishop Bessarion of Nicaea read in Latin and Greek the Act of the Union. Despite the official document and the Emperor's willingness to implement it, the end could not be avoided. The agreement was seen by the people, back home, as submission to the Papacy and betrayal of the Orthodox faith. The promised crusade, to save Constantinople, collapsed on the battlefield of Varna, in Bulgaria, on the 10 of November 1444. Four years later, on October 31 1448, John VIII, depressed and disillusioned, passed away. As he had no children the imperial crown passed on to his brother Constantine, who was, at the time, ruler of the Peloponnese. Crowned in the Cathedral at Mystra, his capital, on January 6, 1449, the new and last Christian Roman Emperor entered, two months later, on March 12, the isolated Imperial capital.
Militarily insignificant, economically depending on the Italian maritime Republics, hoping for Western assistance and a new crusade, the Byzantine Empire, or rather its capital, a head without body, waited for the inevitable. Thanks to the strong, dignified and proud personality of its last ruler, who in other times might have been a fine Emperor, the political end of the Medieval Greek state and the physical end of its leader acquired the dimensions of an apotheosis.
Behind the ancient walls of Constantinople the new Emperor followed his late brother's policies: he could not do much else. Thus, amid hostile reactions by most of the city's population, he attempted to revive the Union by proclaiming it in the Cathedral of Saint Sophia on December 12, 1452. No practical results came out of the enforced proclamation. Despite Constantine's final appeals to the Pope and to his Western allies, no crusade and no substantial help ever materialized. Promises and expressions of sympathy were all that was sent to him, and in any case he did not live long enough to receive them. As a matter of fact, in the middle of May of 1453 the Venetian Senate was still deliberating about sending a fleet to Constantinople. Even the Genoese colony of Pera, facing the capital, attempted to stay neutral. It did, but neutrality did not help it when the Sultan succeeded the Roman Emperors. To the people of the capital, the only thing that mattered now, at the end of political freedom and at the beginning of the long darkness of foreign occupation, was holding on to the ancestral faith.
When the siege began the population of the capital amounted, including the refugees from the surrounding area, to about 50.000 people. Behind the enormous walls were inhabited areas separated from each other by fields, orchards, gardens, or even by deserted neighborhoods. Most inhabitants lived near the port area, along the Golden Horn, in view of the Genoese colony of Pera. The city's garrison included 5.000 Greeks and about 2.000 foreigners, mostly Genoese and Venetian. Giustiniani's men were well armed and trained, the rest included small units of well trained soldiers, armed civilians, sailors, volunteers from the foreign communities and also monks. What the defenders lacked in training and armament they possessed in fighting spirit. Indeed, most were killed fighting. A few small caliber artillery pieces, used by the garrison proved ineffective. Despite disagreements over religious policies, and what was seen as capitulation to the Pope, the civilian population supported the Emperor overwhelmingly. The alternative was disastrous. The people, men and women, participated in the repairs of the walls and in the deepening of the foss, volunteers manned observation posts, food provisions were collected, gold and silver objects held in the churches were melted to make coins in order to pay the foreign soldiers, the city's harbor, the Golden Horn, was shut by a huge chain. With the exception of about 700 Italian residents of the city who fled on board seven ships, on the night of February 26, no one else imitated them. The rest of the population, Greek and foreigner, fought until the bitter end.
At the beginning of 1453 the Sultan's army began massing on the plain of Adrianople. Troops came from every region of the Empire. Possibly well over 150.000 men, including thousands of irregulars, from many nationalities, who were attracted by the prospect of looting, were ready to assault the city. The regular troops were well equipped and well trained. The elite corps of the Janissaries composed of abducted Christian children, forcibly converted to Islam, and subsequently trained as professional soldiers, constituted the spear-head of the Ottoman army. The besieging army included a number of artillery pieces, of which one, facing the Military Gate of St Romanus, was particularly huge and was expected to cause heavy damage to the walls in that area. The army, accompanied by crowds of fanatic Dervishes, started moving slowly towards Constantinople. A few small towns, still in Greek hands, near the capital were soon occupied by the Sultan's army. Of those towns Selymvria resisted longer.
During the first week of April the Ottoman troops began taking their assigned positions in front of the city walls. The Sultan had his tent installed north of the civil Gate of St Romanus, near the river Lycus, facing the 5th Military Gate, also known as Military Gate of St Romanus. He ordered the big canon to be installed in the same area. To protect the troops, a protective trench was opened in front of the Ottoman units, the earth from it was accumulated on the city side and on top of it was erected a palissade. On the 12th arrived from Gallipoli the Ottoman fleet. Composed of approximately 200 ships of various sizes and displacements, it sealed the Byzantine capital from the sea. Mehmed's admiral was the Bulgarian renegade Suleiman Baltoghlu. On his side the Emperor distributed his troops as best as he could. It was impossible, with the available garrison, to cover the entire walled circumference of the capital, about fourteen miles long. However, it was clear to all that the main attack would be delivered by the enemy along the land-walls, about four miles long. With the exception of the Blachernae section of the walls, at the north-eastern end of the land side, the city was protected, on the land side, by a triple wall, with a deep foss in front of it. On the sea side, including the Golden Horn port area, the city was protected by a single wall.
Given the availability of troops and the critical sections of the walls, Giustiniani, with most of his men, as well as the Emperor and his best troops, took position in the Military St Romanus's Gate sector, where heavy damage was expected to be inflicted by the canon and the main Ottoman assault to be launched. The Venetian Bailo (the Head of the Venetian Community at Constantinople) Girolamo Minotto and his countrymen were charged with the defence of the region of Blachernae, where the Imperial Palace was located. Minotto and his men faced the European troops of Karadja Pasha. Across the Golden Horn, to the left of Pera, ready to intervene, stood the troops of Zaganos Pasha. Along the southern section of the land-walls the defenders faced the Anatolian troops under the command of Ishak Pasha. The Grand Duke Luke Notaras, with a reserve unit took position near the walls, at the Petra neighborhood, in the north-eastern section of the city. Another reserve unit was stationed near the church of the Holy Apostles, near the center of the city. Most units were positioned on and behind the land-walls. The sea-walls were thinly manned. To protect the entrance to the port the Venetian commander of the small fleet of the defenders, Alviso Diedo, ordered ten ships to take position behind the chain.
According to Islamic tradition the Sultan, before the beginning of hostilities, demanded the surrender of the city, promising to spare the lives of its inhabitants and respect their property. In a proud and dignified reply the Emperor rejected Mehmed's demand. Almost immediately the Ottoman guns began firing. The continuous bombardment soon brought down a section of the walls near the Gate of Charisius, north of the Emperor's position. When night fell, everyone, who was available, rushed to repair the damage. Meanwhile Ottoman troops were trying to fill the foss, particularly in areas in front of the weak sections of the walls which were now constantly bombarded. Other units began attempts to mine weak sections of the wall. On the port area a first attempt by the Ottoman fleet to test the defenders' reaction failed.
Until the end of the siege the Ottoman guns did not stop pounding the walls. Heavy damage was inflicted. The defenders did their best to limit it. They hanged bales of wool, sheets of leather. Nothing could help. The section of the walls in the Lycus valley, near the Emperor's position, was heavily damaged. The foss in front of it was almost filled by the besiegers. Behind it, the defenders erected a stockade, Night after night men and women came from the city to repair the damaged sections.
The first assault was launched during the night of April 18. Thousands of men attacked the stockade and attempted to burn it down. Giustiniani, his men, and their Greek comrades fought valiantly. Well armed, protected by armor, fighting in a restricted area, they succeeded after four hours of bloody struggle to repulse the enemy.
On Friday, 20 April, in the morning, appeared in the sea of Marmora, near Constantinople, four large vessels loaded with provisions for the city. Three were Genoese and one, a big transport, was Greek. The Greek captain's name was Flantanellas. Baltoghlu dispatched immediately his fleet to attack and capture the ships. The operation seemed easy and soon the ships were surrounded by the smaller Ottoman vessels. Everyone in the city, who was not busy with the defence, rushed to the sea-walls to watch the spectacle. The Sultan on horseback, his officers and a multitude of soldiers, rushed to the shore to watch the battle. Excited and unable to restrain himself, screaming orders at Baltoghlu, the young Sultan rode into the shallow water. Fighting, the big ships continued pushing the smaller ones, and helped by the wind they were now close to the south-eastern corner of the city. Then the wind dropped and the current began pushing them towards the coast on which stood the Sultan and his troops. Fighting continued, with the Christian sailors hurling on the enemy crews stones, javelins and all sorts of projectiles, including Greek Fire. Eventually the four vessels came so close to each other that they became bound together, forming a floating castle. Around sunset the wind rose and the big ships, pushing their way through the mass, and the wrecks, of the enemy vessels, hailed by thousands of people who were standing on the walls, entered the Golden Horn. Next morning Baltoghlu was dismissed by the Sultan, who was so furious that he ordered the beheading of his admiral. The unlucky admiral was replaced by a favorite of Mehmed, Hamza Bey.
This event convinced the Sultan and his commanders that the city had to be more tightly besieged and that the naval arm of the besieged had to be neutralized. Mehmed's ingenious plan, formulated before the events of April 20, consisted in bringing part of his fleet into the Golden Horn. Indeed, thousands of laborers had been building, for some time, a road overland from the Bosphorus, alongside the walls of Pera, to a place called Valley of the Springs, on the shore of the Golden Horn, above Pera. On April 22 to the horror of the besieged a long procession of ships, sitting on wooden platforms were pulled by teams of oxen and men, over the road, into the port area. About seventy boats entered the Golden Horn. The leaders of the defence held immediately an emergency meeting. Various plans were discussed and it was finally decided to attempt to burn the enemy boats, which were in the Golden Horn. After a succession of postponments the attempt was carried out during the night of April 28. Betrayed by someone from Pera, it failed miserably. Hit by Ottoman guns the Christian ships suffered heavy damage. About forty sailors captured by the enemy were executed.
Despite this failure the situation in the Golden Horn became, more or less, stable. Superior naval training, and better naval construction, eventually prevented Hamza's ships from inflicting serious damage on the allied units. However, the Sultan's idea was a military success. Indeed, in 1204 the Crusaders had assaulted the city from the sea-walls and the Greeks had not forgotten it. They feared a repetition of that assault.
On the land side the bombardment continued, more walls collapsed, and when night fell everyone rushed to close the gap, reinforce the stockades, build here and there. Moreover, food was wanting and the authorities did their best to distribute it equally. Worse, help was not coming. Everyone was watching and waiting for the sails of the Western ships to appear coming out of the Dardanelles. In early May a fast boat was sent out, to seek the allied fleet in the Aegean and tell its commanders to hurry.
During the night of May 7 a new assault was launched against the damaged section, where Giustiniani stood. It failed again and then in the night of May 12 another came and failed. It was launched at the junction of the Blachernae wall and of the old Theodosian one. During that time mining and countermining continued. Sometimes fighting went on underground. Sometimes the tunnels collapsed and suffocated the miners.
On May 23 the boat that had been sent out to locate the Christian fleet returned to the city. Its crew brought bad news. Nothing was in sight. The defenders were alone, no help was coming. The men of the crew, obeying their duty, decided to return to the doomed city. Realizing that everything was lost Constantine's chief advisors begged him to leave the city. He could still get out and seek help. His father Manuel II had done the same in 1399, at the time of the blockade of the city by Sultan Bayazid. The Emperor refused to discuss the issue. He had already decided to stay in his capital, fight for it and perish.
Meanwhile, rumors were circulating in the Ottoman camp about the Venetians finally mobilizing their fleet, or about the Hungarians preparing to cross the Danube. The siege was going on without end in sight. The Sultan's Vizier Halil Chandarli, had strong reservations about the siege from the beginning. He was worried about western intervention and he looked upon the whole operation with anxiety. During a meeting of the Sultan's advisors, held on May 25, the Vizir told Mehmed to raise the siege. Pursuing it might bring unknown consequences to Ottoman interests. The Sultan, also depressed because of the prolongation of the operation, finally decided to launch a grand scale final assault on the city. He was supported by younger commanders like Zaganos Pasha, a Christian converted to Islam. Halil was overruled and all present decided to continue the siege.
While the artillery continued pounding the walls without interruption, preparations for the big assault, which was to take place on Tuesday 29 May, were accelerated. Material was thrown into the foss which faced the collapsed ramparts, scaling-ladders were distributed. The Magistrates of Pera were warned not to give any assistance to the besieged. The Sultan swore to distribute fairly the treasures found in the city. According to tradition the troops were free to loot and sack the city for three days. He assured his troops that success was imminent, the defenders were exhausted, some sections of the walls had collapsed. It would be a general assault, throughout the line of the land-walls, as well as in the port area. Then the troops were ordered to rest and recover their strength.
In the city everyone realized that the great moment had come. During Monday, May 28, some last repairs were done on the walls and the stockades, in the collapsed sections, were reinforced. In the city, while the bells of the churches rang mournfully, citizens and soldiers joined a long procession behind the holy relics brought out of the churches. Singing hymns in Greek, Italian or Catalan, Orthodox and Catholic, men, women, children, soldiers, civilians, clergy, monks and nuns, knowing that they were going to die shortly, made peace with themselves, with God and with eternity.
When the procession ended the Emperor met with his commanders and the notables of the city. In a philosophical speech he told his subjects that the end of their time had come. In essence he told them that Man had to be ready to face death when he had to fight for his faith, for his country, for his family or for his sovereign. All four reasons were now present. Furthermore, his subjects, who were the descendants of Greeks and Romans, had to emulate their great ancestors. They had to fight and sacrifice themselves without fear. They had lived in a great city and they were now going to die defending it. As for himself, he was going to die fighting for his faith, for his city and for his people. He also thanked the Italian soldiers, who had not abandoned the great city in its final moments. He still believed that the garrison could repulse the enemy. They all had to be brave, proud warriors and do their duty. He thanked all present for their contribution to the defence of the city and asked them to forgive him, if he had ever treated them without kindness. Meanwhile the great church of Saint Sophia was crowded. Thousands of people were moving towards the church. Inside, Orthodox and Catholic priests were holding mass. People were singing hymns, others were openly crying, others were asking each other for forgiveness. Those who were not serving on the ramparts also went to the church, among them was seen, for a brief moment, the Emperor. People confessed and took communion. Then those who were going to fight rode or walked back to the ramparts.
From the great church the Emperor rode to the Palace at Blachernae. There he asked his household to forgive him. He bade the emotionally shattered men and women farewell, left his Palace and rode away, into the night, for a last inspection of the defence positions. Then he took his battle position.
The assault began after midnight, into the 29th of May 1453. Wave after wave the attackers charged. Battle cries, accompanied by the sound of drums, trumpets and fifes, filled the air. The bells of the city churches began ringing frantically. Orders, screams and the sound of trumpets shattered the night. First came the irregulars, an unreliable, multinational crowd of Christians and Moslems, who were attracted by the opportunity of enriching themselves by looting the great city, the last capital of the Roman Empire. They attacked throughout the line of fortifications and they were massacred by the tough professionals, who were fighting under the orders of Giustiniani. The battle lasted two hours and the irregulars withdrew in disorder, leaving behind an unknown number of dead and wounded.
Next came the Anatolian troops of Ishak Pasha. They tried to storm the stockades. They fought tenaciously, even desperately trying to break through the compact ranks of the defenders. The narrow area in which fighting went on helped the defenders. The could hack left and right with their maces and swords and shoot missiles onto the mass of attackers without having to aim. A group of attackers crashed through a gap and for a moment it seemed that they could enter the city. The were assaulted by the Emperor and his men and were soon slain. This second attack also failed.
But now came the Janissaries, disciplined, professional, ruthless warriors, superbly trained, ready to die for their master, the Sultan. They assaulted the now exhausted defenders, they were pushing their way over bodies of dead and dying Moslem and Christian soldiers. With tremendous effort the Greek and Italian fighters were hitting back and continued repulsing the enemy. Then a group of enemy soldiers unexpectedly entered the city from a small sally-port called Kerkoporta, on the wall of Blachernae, where this wall joined the triple wall. Fighting broke near the small gate with the defenders trying to eliminate the intruders.
It was almost day now, the first light, before sunrise, when a shot fired from a calverin hit Giustiniani. The shot pierced his breastplate and he fell on the ground. Shaken by his wound and physically exhausted, his fighting spirit collapsed. Despite the pleas of the Emperor, who was fighting nearby, not to leave his post, the Genoese commander ordered his men to take him out of the battle-field. A Gate in the inner wall was opened for the group of Genoese soldiers, who were carrying their wounded commander, to come into the city. The soldiers who were fighting near the area saw the Gate open, their comrades carrying their leader crossing into the city, and they though that the defence line had been broken. They all rushed through the Gate leaving the Emperor and the Greek fighters alone between the two walls. This sudden movement did not escape the attention of the Ottoman commanders. Frantic orders were issued to the troops to concentrate their attack on the weakened position. Thousands rushed to the area. The stockade was broken. The Greeks were now squeezed by crowds of Janissaries between the stockade and the wall. More Janissaries came in and many reached the inner wall.
Meanwhile more were pouring in through the Kerkoporta, where the defenders had not been able to eliminate the first intruders. Soon the first enemy flags were seen on the walls. The Emperor and his commanders were trying frantically to rally their troops and push back the enemy. It was too late. Waves of Janissaries, followed by other regular units of the Ottoman army, were crashing throught the open Gates, mixed with fleeing and slaughtered Christian soldiers. Then the Emperor, realizing that everything was lost, removed his Imperial insignia, and followed by his cousin Theophilus Palaeologus, the Castilian Don Francisco of Toledo, and John Dalmatus, all four holding their swords, charged into the sea of the enemy soldiers, hitting left and right in a final act of defiance. They were never seen again.
Now thousands of Ottoman soldiers were pouring into the city. One after the other the city Gates were opened. The Ottoman flags began appearing on the walls, on the towers, on the Palace at Blachernae. Civilians in panic were rushing to the churches. Others locked themselves in their homes, some continued fighting in the streets, crowds of Greeks and foreigners were rushing towards the port area. The allied ships were still there and began collecting refugees. The Cretan soldiers and sailors, manning three towers near the entrance of the Golden Horn, were still fighting and had no intention of surrendering. At the end, the Ottoman commanders had to agree to a truce and let them sail away, carrying their arms.
The excesses which followed, druing the early hours of the Ottoman victory, are described in detail by eyewitnesses. They were, and unfortunately still are, a common practice, almost a ritual, among all armies capturing enemy strongholds and territory after a prolonged and violent struggle. Thus, bands of soldiers began now looting. Doors were broken, private homes were looted, their tenants were massacred. Shops in the city markets were looted. Monasteries and Convents were broken in. Their tenants were killed, nuns were raped, many, to avoid dishonor, killed themselves. Killing, raping, looting, burning, enslaving, went on and on according to tradition. The troops had to satisfy themselves. The great doors of Saint Sophia were forced open, and crowds of angry soldiers came in and fell upon the unfortunate worshippers. Pillaging and killing in the holy place went on for hours. Similar was the fate of worshippers in most churches in the city. Everything that could be taken from the splendid buildings was taken by the new masters of the Imperial capital. Icons were destroyed, precious manuscripts were lost forever. Thousands of civilians were enslaved, soldiers fought over young boys and young women. Death and enslavement did not distinguish among social classes. Nobles and peasants were treated with equal ruthlessness.
In some distant neighborhoods, especially near the sea walls in the sea of Marmora, such as Psamathia, but also in the Golden Horn at Phanar and Petrion, where local fishermen opened the Gates, while the enemy soldiers were pouring into the city from the land Gates, local magistrates negotiated successfully their surrender to Hamza Bey's officers. Their act saved the lives of their fellow citizens. Furthermore their churches were not= desecrated. Meanwhile, the crews of the Ottoman fleet abandoned their ships to rush into the city. They were worried that the land army was going to take everything. The collapse of discipline gave the Christian ships time to sail out of the Golden Horn. Venetian, Genoese and Greek ships, loaded with refugees, some of them having reached the ships swimming from the city, sailed away to freedom. On one of the Genoese vessels was Giustiniani. He was taken from the boat at Chios where he died, from his wound, a few days later.
The Sultan, with his top commanders and his guard of Janissaries, entered the city in the afternoon of the first day of occupation. Constantinople was finally his and he intended to make it the capital of his mighty Empire. He toured the ruined city. He visited Saint Sophia which he ordered to be turned into a mosque. He also ordered an end to the killing. What he saw was desolation, destruction, death in the streets, ruins, desecrated churches. It was too much. It is said that, as he rode through the streets of the former capital of the Christian Roman Empire, the city of Constantine, moved to tears he murmured: "What a city we have given over to plunder and destruction".
Selected Bibliography: The present narrative describing the siege and fall of Constantinople, in 1453, is based entirely on accounts written by eyewitnesses (people who were in the city during the events) as well as on modern international scholarship. In particular see:
(1)Nicolo Barbaro, "Diary of the Siege of Constantinople, 1453", translated from the Italian by J.R. Jones, an Exposition-University Book, Exposition Press, New York, 1969. The Venetian surgeon Nicolo Barbaro was present in the city throughout the siege and witnessed the events described by him in his diary.
(2) Among recent studies, the basic reference on the subject is Sir Steven Runciman's, "The Fall Constantinople, 1453", Cambridge University Press, 1969. This work, by the British Historian, a Byzantine studies scholar, is based on an exhaustive study and analysis of existing sourse material.
(1) Babinger, F., "Mahomet II le Conquerant et son Temps, 1432-1481", translated from the German by H.E. del Medico, Paris, 1954.
(2) Pears ,E., "The Destruction of the Greek Empire and the story of the Capture of Constantinople by the Turks", London, 1903.
(3) Schlumberger, G., "Le siege, la prise et la sac de Constantionple en 1453", Paris, 1926.
(4) Walter, G., "La ruine de Byzance", Paris, 1958.
Dionysios Hatzopoulos is Professor of Classical and Byzantine Studies, and Chairman of Hellenic Studies Center at Dawson College, Montreal, and Lecturer at the Department of History at Universite de Montreal, Quebec, Canada.