August 2, 2019

Saint Justinian II Rhinotmetos, the Pious Emperor of the Romans (+ 711)

St. Justinian II the Pious Emperor (Feast Day - August 2)


Your scepter was not seen as a hindrance O master,
For you dwell in the kingdom above.

Justinian II was the eldest son of Emperor Constantine IV and Anastasia. His father raised him to the throne as joint emperor in 681 on the fall of his uncles Heraclius and Tiberius. In 685, at the age of sixteen, Justinian II succeeded his father as sole emperor. Though at times undermined by his own despotic tendencies, Justinian was a talented and perceptive ruler who succeeded in improving the standing of the Roman Empire.

A pious ruler, Justinian was the first emperor to include the image of Christ on coinage issued in his name and attempted to outlaw various pagan festivals and practices that persisted in the Empire. He may have self-consciously modeled himself on his namesake, Justinian I, as seen in his enthusiasm for large-scale construction projects and the renaming of his Khazar wife with the name of Theodora. Among the building projects he undertook was the creation of the triklinos, an extension to the imperial palace, a decorative cascade fountain located at the Augusteum, and a new Church of the Theotokos at Petrion.

Meanwhile, the Emperor's bloody persecution of the Manichaeans and suppression of popular traditions of non-Chalcedonian origin caused dissension within the Church. In 692 Justinian convened the so-called Penthekte (Quinisext) Synod at Constantinople to put his religious policies into effect. The Synod expanded and clarified the rulings of the Fifth and Sixth Ecumenical Synods, but by highlighting differences between the Eastern and Western observances (such as the marriage of priests and the practice of fasting on Saturdays) the synod compromised relations between the Church of Constantinople with the Church of Rome.

He is known as "Rhinotmetos" ("the slit-nosed") because in 695 the common population rose up against him for his tax policies and mania for erecting costly buildings, among other things. Justinian was deposed and his nose was cut off (later replaced by a solid gold replica of his original) to prevent his again seeking the throne: such mutilation was common in Roman culture. He was exiled to Cherson in the Crimea. Leontios, after a reign of three years, was in turn dethroned and imprisoned by Tiberius Apsimarus, who next assumed the throne. While in exile, Justinian began to plot and gather supporters for an attempt to retake the throne.

Mutilation of Emperor Justinian II

Justinian once more ascended the throne in 705, breaking the tradition preventing the mutilated from Imperial rule. After tracking down his predecessors, he had his rivals Leontios and Tiberius brought before him in chains in the Hippodrome. There, before a jeering populace, Justinian, now wearing a golden nasal prosthesis, placed his feet on the necks of Tiberius and Leontios in a symbolic gesture of subjugation before ordering their execution by beheading, followed by many of their partisans, as well as deposing, blinding and exiling Patriarch Kallinikos I of Constantinople (Aug. 23) to Rome, who had plotted against the emperor to have him exiled.

He ordered Pope John VII to recognize the decisions of the Penthekte Synod and simultaneously fitted out a punitive expedition against Ravenna in 709 under the command of the Patrician Theodore. The expedition was led to reinstate the Western Church's authority over Ravenna, which was taken as a sign of disobedience to the emperor, and revolutionary sentiment. The repression succeeded, and the new Pope Constantine visited Constantinople in 710. After receiving Holy Communion at the hands of the Pope, he renewed all the privileges of the Church of Rome. Exactly what passed between them on the subject of the Penthekte Synod is not known. It would appear, however, that Constantine approved most of the canons. This would be the last time a Pope visited Constantinople until the visit of Pope Paul VI to Istanbul in 1967.

Justinian's rule provoked another uprising against him. Cherson revolted, and under the leadership of the exiled general Bardanes the city held out against a counter-attack. Soon, the forces sent to suppress the rebellion joined it. The rebels then seized the capital and proclaimed Bardanes as Emperor Philippikos; Justinian had been on his way to Armenia, and was unable to return to Constantinople in time to defend it. He was arrested and executed outside the city in December 711, his head being sent to Bardanes as a trophy.

On hearing the news of his death, Justinian's mother took his six-year-old son and co-emperor, Tiberius, to the sanctuary at the Church of the Theotokos in Blachernae, but was pursued by Philippikos' henchmen, who dragged the child from the altar and, once outside the church, murdered him, thus eradicating the line of Heraclius.

Emperor Philippikos murders the child-emperor Tiberius

According to Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, Emperor Justinian II was a bad man who lived a bad life, and he could not imagine that he would be commemorated as a Saint, since in the Synaxarion of Saint Kallinikos of Constantinople on August 23rd it does not say he died in repentance. For this reason, it may be that the Emperor Justinian celebrated today could be Emperor Justinian I, who is also commemorated with Empress Theodora on November 15th. However, if it is Justinian II who is commemorated today, it is because the Penthekte Synod is held in high esteem by the Church with Ecumenical status, and the emperor at least outwardly did appear as a pious man who honored Christ and the Church. The Synaxarion says he was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles.