January 20, 2017

Saint Leo the Great, also called "Makellis" and "the Thracian", Emperor of the Romans (+ 474)

St. Leo I Makellis the Thracian (Feast Day - January 20)


The faithful lord Leo the great,
Christ Lord the heavenly-ruler crowned.

Ruling the Roman Empire for seventeen years, Leo proved to be a capable ruler. He oversaw many ambitious political and military plans, aimed mostly for the aid of the faltering Western Roman Empire and recovering its former territories. He is notable for being the first Roman Emperor to legislate in Greek rather than Latin.

Leo was a native of Dacia Aureliana near historic Thrace, and born with the name Marcellus in the year 401. He served in the Roman army, rising to the rank of comes. Leo was the last of a series of emperors placed on the throne by Aspar, the Alan serving as commander-in-chief of the army, who thought Leo would be an easy puppet ruler. Instead, Leo became more and more independent from Aspar, causing tension that would culminate in the assassination of the latter.

Leo's coronation as emperor on 7 February 457, was the first known to involve the Patriarch of Constantinople. Leo I made an alliance with the Isaurians and was thus able to eliminate Aspar. The price of the alliance was the marriage of Leo's daughter to Tarasicodissa, leader of the Isaurians who, as Zeno, became emperor in 474. In 469, Aspar attempted to assassinate Zeno and very nearly succeeded. Finally, in 471, Aspar's son Ardabur was implicated in a plot against Leo and Ardabur was killed by palace eunuchs acting on Leo's orders. After this, Leo acquired the nickname "Makellis", derived from the Latin word for "butcher" and resembling his original name "Marcellus".

Leo overestimated his capacities and he made some errors that menaced the internal order of the Empire. The Balkans were ravaged by the Ostrogoths, after a disagreement between the Emperor and the young chief Theodoric the Great who had been raised at Leo's court in Constantinople, where he was steeped in Roman government and military tactics. There were also some raids by the Huns. However, these attackers were unable to take Constantinople thanks to the walls, which had been rebuilt and reinforced in the reign of Theodosius II and against which they possessed no suitable siege engines.

The Roman Empire in 460 A.D.

Leo's reign was also noteworthy for his influence in the Western Roman Empire, marked by his appointment of Anthemius as Western Roman Emperor in 467. He attempted to build on this political achievement with an expedition against the Vandals in 468, which was defeated due to the arrogance of Leo's brother-in-law Basiliscus. This disaster drained the Empire of men and money. The expedition, which cost 130,000 pounds of gold and 700 pounds of silver, consisted of 1,113 ships carrying 100,000 men, but in the end lost 600 ships. After this defeat, Vandals raided Greek coasts until a costly peace agreement was signed between Leo and Genseric.

Leo was a defender of Chalcedonian Orthodoxy against the heretics, and helped restore the Patriarchate of Antioch to Orthodoxy by exiling the Monophysite Patriarch Peter the Fuller. On March 31, 465 he issued an imperial decree that only Orthodox Christians could work in state and judicial services. Despite all the difficulties, the pious measures of the emperor aimed at the defense of Orthodoxy and the unity of the empire. Also, working and trading on Sundays were forbidden by law during his reign. Due to these measures, the Church of Christ fared well during his reign.

It should be noted that according to tradition he built the Church of Zoodochos Pege. Nikephoros Kallistos says that the Emperor Leo I, when still a simple soldier, met at the Golden Gate a blind man who asked him for a drink of water. As he looked around for water, a voice directed him to the spring and enjoined him to build a church on the site when he would become emperor. Thus it is believed that the Mother of God predicted his reign, and he also fulfilled her will by building the church. And later in his reign, after receiving helpful advice from Saint Daniel the Stylite, Emperor Leo also built a series of pillars and a platform for him in Constantinople, and had him ordained a Priest through Patriarch Gennadios. Also, there were natural disasters that befell Constantinople during his reign that are commemorated in the Orthodox Church.

Leo died of dysentery at the age of 73 on 18 January 474. Emperor Leo and Empress Verina had three children, and his grandson Leo II succeeded him on the throne for ten months until his death, and he was succeeded by Zeno.