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April 20, 2019

Saints Anastasios I and Anastasios II, Patriarchs of Antioch

St. Anastasios of Antioch (Feast Day - April 20)


What shall I write on your behalf Anastasios,
You who hastened to die by the sword on behalf of Christ?

There is some confusion concerning which Saint Anastasios we commemorate today. Though the Synaxaria and the Menaia tell us that on April 20 we are to commemorate an Anastasios who was Patriarch of Antioch and died by being martyred with a sword, we are not given any other details. However, the only two Patriarchs of Antioch with the name Anastasios were Anastasios I, who served twice as Patriarch from 559-570 and 593-599, and he was succeeded by Anastasios II who served from 599-609. Neither of these Patriarchs are recorded as having been martyred with a sword.

There are a few possible explanations to clear up this confusion. First, the Anastasios we commemorate today may have been a Bishop in Antioch or its surrounding region, and not the actual Patriarch of Antioch. Second, he was not martyred by a sword and was one of the two Anastasios' we know of who were Patriarchs of Antioch. The third and most probable explanation is that there was a confusion that Anastasios I and Anastasios II were the same person, and one was indeed said to have died a martyr, though perhaps not by the sword. The latter seems to be substantiated by Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos in his Ecclesiastical History (28, 44) where he declares that these two are one and the same person. For this reason it has become common to commemorate on this day both Anastasios I and Anastasios II, since it is more commonly accepted now they were indeed two different people.

Saint Anastasios I the Sinaite,
Patriarch of Antioch (559-570; 593-599)

Regarding this Anastasios (who is said to have been from Palestine and become a monk at Mount Sinai, then was sent to Antioch as a representative of the Patriarch of Alexandria and chosen to become Patriarch of Antioch), Evagrius Scholasticus writes in his Ecclesiastical History (4, 40):

Anastasios was a man most accomplished in divine learning, and so strict in his manners and mode of life, as to insist upon very minute matters, and on no occasion to deviate from a staid and settled frame, much less in things of moment and having relation to the Deity himself. So well tempered was his character, that neither, by being accessible and affable, was he exposed to the intrusion of things unsuitable; nor by being austere and unindulgent, did he become difficult of approach for proper purposes. Accordingly, in serious concerns he was ready in ear and fluent in tongue, promptly resolving the questions proposed to him; but in trifling matters, his ears were altogether closed, and a bridle restrained his tongue, so that speech was enthralled by thought, and silence resulted, more valuable than speech. Justinian assaults him, like some impregnable tower, with every kind of device, considering that if he could only succeed in shaking this bulwark, all difficulty would be removed in capturing the city, enslaving the right doctrine, and taking captive the sheep of Christ. In such a manner was Anastasios raised above the assailing force by heavenly greatness of mind, for he stood upon the immovable rock of faith, that he unreservedly contradicted Justinian by a formal declaration, in which he showed very clearly and forcibly that the body of the Lord was corruptible in respect of the natural and blameless passions, and that the divine apostles and the inspired fathers both held and delivered this opinion. In the same terms he replied to a question of the monastic body of Syria Prima and Secunda, confirming the minds of all, preparing them for the struggle, and daily reading in the Church those words of the chosen vessel: "If any one is preaching to you a gospel different from that which you have received, even though it be an angel from heaven, let him be accursed." To this all, with few exceptions, paid a steady regard and zealous adherence. He also addressed to the Antiochenes a valedictory discourse, on hearing that Justinian intended to banish him; a discourse deserving admiration for its elegance, its flow of thought, the abundance of sacred texts, and the appropriateness of its historical matters.

Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite explains the above as follows:

"Evagrius says that the first Anastasios was well versed in divine matters, refined in etiquette, and kept a careful diet. He was always cautious, and strove not to make errors, either in sublime matters or in minor things that pertain to God. He never chose the easy way and never took the wide road. He had a great gift for comforting the afflicted. Whenever people discussed temporal affairs in his presence, he seemed to lack ears to hear or a tongue to answer.

And regarding his first deposition in 570, Evagrius (Eccl. Hist. 5, 5) explains:

Justin also ejected Anastasios from the episcopate of Theopolis [Antioch], on the charge of a profuse and improper expenditure of the funds of the see, and also for scandalous language against himself; inasmuch as Anastasios, on being asked why he was so lavishly squandering the property of the see, frankly replied, that it was done to prevent its being carried off by that universal pest, Justin. He is also said to have entertained a grudge against Anastasios, because he had refused to pay a sum of money, when demanded of him in consideration of his appointment to the bishopric. Other charges were also brought against him by persons, who, as I suppose, wished to second the emperor's bent.

Meletios in his Ecclesiastical History (Vol. 2, p. 110) tells us that Emperor Justin II (565-578), nephew and successor of Emperor Justinian I, had Anastasios deposed and exiled in 570 because he opposed Docetism, which had the support of both emperors. Justinian and Justin, who specifically supported Aphthartodocetism, did so primarily as a means to promote unity in the empire. Anastasios opposed them both denouncing their leanings towards heresy. However, Anastasios was recalled to Antioch twenty-three years later by Emperor Maurice (582-602), at the insistence of his friend and correspondent Pope Gregory I the Dialogist (590-604), and was reinstated on his throne in 593. Pope Gregory tried to get Anastasios I to denounce the title of the Patriarch of Constantinople as "Ecumenical Patriarch", but Anastasios did not see the matter as worth making a disturbance about.

Regarding the death of Anastasios, some sources say he was martyred while others say he reposed in peace. Most likely the sources that say he was martyred confuse him with his successor Anastasios II.

Holy Hieromartyr Anastasios II,
Patriarch of Antioch (599-609)

Concerning the second Anastasios, he succeeded the first Anastasios in 599 and served as Patriarch of Antioch for ten years until 609. In 609 the Syrian Jews broke out into riots, because they believed they were being forced to convert to Christianity by Emperor Phokas (602-610). It was during this riot that Anastasios II was forcibly taken by the Jewish mob and, after cutting off his private parts and putting them in his mouth, according to Meletios, and dragging him through the streets of Antioch, they burnt him to death in the marketplace. Other Christians were also burnt to death with him. This caused the Emperor Phokas to send in the military commander Vonosos to calm down the uprising, but when he failed to do so, a persecution of the Jews in Antioch began, when many were put to death or exiled.