|St. Eustathios of Thessaloniki (Feast Day - September 20)|
Saint Eustathios was born in Constantinople about the year 1115. In his youth he entered the Monastery of Saint Euphemia where he began the studies that he completed with great distinction at the Patriarchal School as a pupil of Nicholas Kataphloros. Eustathios took on the last name of his teacher, though it is unknown if he did this because they were related or because he wanted to honor him.
Eustathios was ordained a Deacon in Hagia Sophia in 1150, then appointed to the offices of superintendent of petitions, keeper of the sacred vessels and professor of rhetoric by Emperor Manuel I Komnenos, the last of which means that he was the head of the Patriarchal School. He was distinguished as a public orator and for his deep learning, and taught the whole range of Greek classics. It was during this time that he wrote his Commentaries on Homer's Iliad and Odyssey among his other works on literature. Eustathios’ house in Constantinople was a sort of school for young students; it became a center around which the best minds of the capital and youths anxious to learn collected. Or as Michael Choniates said in his funeral oration: "All young students of literature sought his company, and his home was truly a shrine of the Muses, another Academy, Stoa, and Peripatos."
Highly regarded as one of the greatest scholars of his time and as man of complete integrity, he was consecrated Metropolitan of Myra in 1174, and the next year in 1175 was elevated to the Archiepiscopal Throne of Thessaloniki. As Archbishop the holy Eustathios lived as an ascetic, he gave whatever he had to the poor, and he opposed every form of social injustice.
When the Normans besieged Thessaloniki in 1185, he refused to flee and remained behind with his flock at the risk of his life. When the city fell, he gave himself up to the Norman leaders, and asked that they put an end to the killing and looting, as well as to respect the faith and customs of the Orthodox Christians. The Normans searched his house because of a rumor put out by his enemies that he had hidden treasure there, but they found nothing worth taking. Even so, they ill-treated the Saint and he was released shortly after when Emperor Alexios Komnenos recaptured the city in 1186. After this he wrote a contemporary account of the siege of the city by the Normans.
In Thessaloniki Archbishop Eustathios struggled to raise the standard of Christian behavior among the clergy, people and monastics, which had become lax at the time. From a cultural point of view his repeated appeals to the monks not to squander the treasures of the libraries are very interesting; he wrote: "Woe to me! Why will you, O dunces, liken a monastic library to your souls? As you do not possess any knowledge, you are willing to deprive the library also of its scientific means? Let it preserve its treasures. After you there will come either a man of learning or an admirer of science, and the first, by spending a certain time in the libraries, will grow more clever than he was before; the other, ashamed of his complete ignorance, will, by reading books, find that which he desires." Such criticisms brought much opposition and hatred against him that he left his see for two years and went to Philippopolis in 1191, where Emperor Isaakios Angelos dismissed the accusations brought against him and wrote a letter to the people of Thessaloniki to receive back their Shepherd, so he returned in September of 1193.
Philip Schaff, who often did not have much good to say of Orthodox saints, wrote highly of Archbishop Eustathios in his History of the Christian Church: "He early distinguished himself for learning, piety and eloquence... He was a model bishop, pious faithful, unselfish, unsparing in rebuke and wise in counsel, one of those pure characters so rarely met among the Greeks — a man who well knew the failings (superstition, mock-holiness and indecorous frivolity) of his nation and his times, which he was more exempt from than any of his contemporaries."
Saint Eustathios reposed at an advanced age some time between 1194 and 1197, though likely it was in 1195, honored by his flock. Funeral orations were delivered by Euthymios Malakis and Michael Choniates (of which manuscripts survive in the Bodleian Library in the University of Oxford), and these are primary sources of his life and work. Among the things Michael mentions is that his tomb had become a place where healings and miracles took place. In 1312 Vatopaidi Monastery depicted him in a fresco of the Katholikon as a Saint. Shortly after similar depictions were seen in monasteries of southern Serbia. He was officially canonized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate on June 10, 1988.
Niketas Choniates praised Eustathios as the most learned man of his age, a judgment which is difficult to dispute. He wrote commentaries on ancient Greek poets, theological treatises, addresses, letters, and an important account of the sack of Thessaloniki by William II of Sicily in 1185.
Of his works, his commentaries on Homer are the most widely referred to: they display an extensive knowledge of Greek literature from the earliest to the latest times. Other works exhibit impressive character, and oratorical power, which earned him the esteem of the Komnenoi emperors. Politically, Eustathios was a supporter of Emperor Manuel I. An original thinker, Eustathios sometimes praised such secular values as military prowess. He decried slavery, and believed in the concept of historical progress of civilization from a primitive to a more advanced state.
His most important works are the following:
- On the Capture of Thessaloniki, an eye-witness account of the siege of 1185 and subsequent sufferings of the people of Thessaloniki. In early sections of this memoir Eustathios describes also political events at Constantinople from the death of Emperor Manuel I through the short reign of Alexios II to the usurpation of Andronikos I, with sharp comments on the activities of all involved.
- Commentaries on Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, which address questions of grammar, etymology, mythology, history and geography. They are not so much original commentaries as extracts from earlier commentators - there are many correspondences with Homeric scholia. Drawing on numerous extensive works of Alexandrian grammarians and critics and later commentators, they are a very important contribution to Homeric scholarship, not least because some of the works from which Eustathios made extracts are lost.
- Commentary on Dionysius Periegetes
- Commentary on Pindar
- Few of his homilies still exist, though we have one on the beginning of the new year, four on Great Lent, and one on Psalm 48. He also wrote a work On Hypocrisy and one On Obedience.
- 74 letters of his exist addressed to various people, one of which was addressed to a certain stylite of Thessaloniki.
- He also wrote a famous treatise on the reforms of monastic life; an oration on the occasion of the death of the Emperor Manuel, and other writings.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Gifted with wisdom, brilliantly adorned, a most-inspired shepherd, of the Church of Christ, you were seen to be O Eustathios; wherefore Thessaloniki, your holy flock, blesses you with hymns and harmoniously cries out: Entreat Christ God on our behalf Venerable Father.