August 5, 2017

Saint Euthymios I, Patriarch of Constantinople (+ 917)

St. Euthymios of Constantinople (Feast Day - August 5);
miniature from the Madrid Skylitzes depicts the Ordination of Euthymios as Patriarch of Constantinople.

Our Holy Father Euthymios was born in Seleucia of Isauria around 834, and became a monk at an early age. According to his funeral oration, composed by Arethas of Caesarea, he was a relative of the wonderworker Gregory of Dekapolis. Following stints at the monastic community of Mount Olympus and a monastery near Nicomedia, Euthymios came to the Roman capital, Constantinople, where he entered the Monastery of Saint Theodore, in the capital's outskirts. Euthymios had a relationship with the Patriarch Ignatios, whom he alludes to as his master, and it is probably during Ignatios' second tenure on the patriarchal throne (867–877) that he was appointed as the spiritual father of the prince Leo, the eldest son of Emperor Basil I the Macedonian (r. 867–886) and future emperor known as Leo VI the Wise (r. 886–912). It has been argued that Euthymios was possibly the spiritual father of all of Basil's sons. Euthymios supported Leo in his conflict with his father over his affair with Zoe Zaoutzaina. He helped Leo survive his imprisonment in 883–886, while the young prince constantly requested his advice, forcing him to stay in Constantinople rather than his monastery.

At the time of Basil's death in 886, Euthymios was a monk in the Monastery of the Life-Giving Spring. With Leo's accession to the throne, Euthymios was rewarded by being appointed as abbot of a newly built monastery in the Psamathia quarter in Constantinople, built on land confiscated from the exiled Leo Katakalon. He accepted only after the emperor agreed to recall Katakalon from exile. The monastery was inaugurated on 6 May 889 or 890 in the presence of Leo and his brother, Stephen, who since December 886 was Patriarch of Constantinople. At about the same time he was also named to the post of synkellos, succeeding Stephen, who had held the post in tandem with the patriarchate since 886. This was an important office in the ecclesiastical hierarchy of Byzantium, being the closest advisor of the patriarch, and several of its holders had subsequently advanced to the patriarchate.

Despite his closeness to the new emperor, Euthymios' relationship with Leo was "notoriously stormy", and perhaps explains why he did not succeed to the patriarchal throne until 907. The Life of Euthymios also assigns much of the blame for Euthymios's troubled relation with the emperor on the machinations Zoe Zaoutzaina's father, Stylianos Zaoutzes. Zaoutzes' rivalry with Euthymios is a major theme of his Life, where the former is represented as an all-powerful minister whose ambitions and machinations are responsible for all errors and calamities of the reign, and with whom Euthymios was engaged in a battle "for the prize of Leo's soul". How far Stylianos' reported dominance reflects reality is questioned by historians, who point out that Leo does not seem to have simply followed Stylianos' initiative, but to have retained control of affairs throughout his reign. Euthymios appears also as an advocate of the traditional aristocracy, and at odds with Leo's "foreign" (i.e. non-Roman and of non-aristocratic origin) advisers, such as the Armenian Zaoutzes, the Arab eunuch chamberlain Samonas, or the Italian Nicholas Mystikos, who preceded Euthymios on the patriarchal throne.

Patriarch Euthymios crowns young Constantine VII as co-emperor

Euthymios first incurred Leo's displeasure when he supported his first wife, Theophano, and dissuaded her from seeking a divorce due to the emperor's neglect and his continued cohabitation with his long-time mistress Zoe Zaoutzaina. After Theophano's death, Euthymios opposed Leo's second marriage to Zoe Zaoutzaina due to her ill repute, which earned him a two-year confinement in the Monastery of Saint Diomedes. He was not released until after Zoe's death two years later. Following Zoe's death after giving birth to a daughter, Anna, Leo pursued a — normally uncanonical — third marriage, to Eudokia Ba├»ana, in hopes of having a male heir. Indeed, a boy named Basil was born on Easter 901, but Eudokia died during childbirth and was soon followed by the baby. This was once more the occasion of a clash between the emperor and Euthymios. The Life asserts that following the death of Zoe and her father, as well as the discovery of a conspiracy by their relatives, Leo had repented of his treatment of Euthymios and asked for his forgiveness. The emperor repeatedly sought his counsel, going as far as visiting him incognito at the monastery in Psamathia. During one of the visits, Euthymios prophesied Eudokia's death, and later refused to attend her funeral, retiring with six followers from Constantinople to the suburb of Agathou, a property of his monastery.

Undeterred, the emperor took a mistress, Zoe Karbonopsina, and in September 905 he was finally able to celebrate the birth of the future Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos. The fact that the child's mother was the emperor's mistress caused trouble with leading Church officials, and Leo was forced to promise to separate from Zoe as a precondition for the infant's ceremonial baptism by Patriarch Nicholas Mystikos in Hagia Sophia. Euthymios too was persuaded to act as one of Constantine's godfathers in the ceremony, which took place in January 906. Despite his pledge to separate from Zoe, however, Leo now was determined to legitimize both her and their son by a fourth marriage, something utterly forbidden by canon law on pain of excommunication. Patriarch Nicholas initially supported the emperor in his efforts to secure a grant of economy, but the Church leadership was vehemently opposed, forcing Nicholas too to change sides. As the impasse continued, in February 907 Nicholas was dismissed by the emperor, and Euthymios was appointed in his stead. The Life explains Nicholas' stance and his final deposition by his implication in the abortive plot of general Andronikos Doukas, but other sources are silent as to the exact background of the affair.

Despite Euthymios' notorious stubbornness, which probably had discouraged Leo from raising him to the patriarchate sooner, he proved willing to grant the emperor economy, aided by the assent of the other patriarchates of the Pentarchy. Despite Zoe's repeated efforts, however, he steadfastly refused to officially recognize her marriage with the emperor as canonical and her status as empress. Leo was forced to do penance to atone for his marriage, and to pass a law excluding anyone from ever again marrying for a fourth time. As a result of the settlement, on 15 May 908 Euthymius crowned the infant Constantine VII as co-emperor. Even though the later Byzantine chroniclers tend to side with Nicholas Mystikos against Leo, they paint Euthymios in a favourable light. According to the Life, his tenure helped heal the rift in the Church and reconcile many leading churchmen with the emperor's fourth marriage. Bishop Gabriel of Ancyra is even said to have sent the omophorion of Saint Clements as a gift and a token of appreciation.

Emperor Alexander dismisses and exiles Patriarch Euthymios

Shortly before Leo's death in May 912, the emperor reconciled himself with Nicholas Mystikos, who now demanded his reinstatement as Patriarch. The sources are unclear, but shortly after Leo's death, or perhaps already before, Euthymios was deposed by Emperor Alexander and a synod convened at Magnaura in favor of Nicholas, who was recalled from exile. Euthymios was exiled to Agathou Monastery, where he died on 5 August 917.

The Life of Euthymios was apparently written within a decade or so of his death, and is considered one of the "richest sources for the period from the death of Basil I to the early years of Constantine VII" (A. Kazhdan). The single surviving manuscript was kept in Berlin and vanished during World War II, but the Life exists in several critical editions. Euthymios' own writings are few and relatively insignificant, comprising sermons on the conception of St. Anna and an homily on the Virgin Mary. His contemporary Arethas of Caesarea also wrote a panegyric in his honor, but according to A. Kazhdan "it is conventional and provides only limited data".