July 4, 2015

Saint Michael Choniates, Metropolitan of Athens (+ 1222)

St. Michael Choniates of Athens (Feast Day - July 4)

Saint Michael was the last Metropolitan of Athens (1182 - 1204) before the Frankish occupation. Little is known of his early life. Michael was born about the year 1140 in Chonae (ancient Colossae) in Asia Minor. Niketas Choniates, the scholar and bishop, was his younger brother. At a young age he studied under Eustathios of Thessalonica in Constantinople.

About the year 1182, he was appointed Metropolitan of Athens. During these decades, Metropolitan Michael worked for the education of his clergy and their spiritual development as well as to reverse the material and moral deterioration of the tax-laden city. His brother Niketas also, who was a lover of the glorious past of Athens, was the one who defended him not only from his enemies and the sieges, but also from the impunity of state officials. Michael's letters are a rich source of information about Attica of the late 12th to early 13th century. In the letters, one distinguishes an aggressive mood concerning Athens, however, upon closer examination, one will easily find a meaningful and deep love, both for the city and its people.

In 1203 Metropolitan Michael led the defense of Athens against the attacks by the tyrannical landowner of the Peloponnese Leon Sgouros, until the defenders of Athens were provided relief by Boniface of Montferrat of the Fourth Crusade in 1205 and to whom he surrendered the city. With the conquest of the Franks, Metropolitan Michael was exiled to Kea for not submitting to the papacy, ceasing not even from there to defend and protect his flock. He lived in Kea till 1217. Then he retired to the Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner in Boudonitza near Thermopylae, where he reposed around the year 1222.

Saint Michael was a man of letters and his works became an invaluable source describing the state of the times. He was a versatile writer, and composed homilies, speeches, and poems, which, with his correspondence, throw considerable light upon the dismal condition of Attica and Athens. Of note is his memorial to emperor Alexios III Angelos concerning the abuses of Byzantine administration as well as his poetical lament over the degeneracy of Athens and on his brother Niketas and Eustathius of Thessalonica. He is also known to classical scholars as the last possessor of complete versions of Callimachus, Hecale, and Aetia.

A Service was composed to honor his memory by the Great Hymnographer of the Church of Alexandria, Mr. Haralambos Bousias. There is also a common service to him with Saint Andrew of Crete, who is also celebrated on July 4th, in the Vatopaidi Codex.

Apolytikion in Plagal of the First
Most learned hierarch of Athens distributing sympathy to the struggles of the people, we sing hymns also for his struggles, Michael the Choniates, the river of wisdom and well-spring of scholarship, whose bold entreaties to the Savior are received.

Kontakion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Let us hymn the hierarch of Athens the most learned, philanthropic and teacher, assuager of our needs and zealous ascetic of the caves; as a pedastal of faith, Michael the Choniates, it is fitting to chant unto you: Rejoice, father most divine.

The professor of the wisdom of God, divine Choniates, most glorious Michael, the guardian and patron of Mesogaia, let is sing his praises together with the angels.