August 25, 2020

Is Patriarch Gennadios II Scholarios a Saint of the Church?

Fresco of Gennadios Scholarios at the Monastery of the Forerunner in Serres, Greece

By John Sanidopoulos

I have been asked about the sainthood of Patriarch Gennadios II Scholarios more than any other ecclesiastical figure. It seems obvious that the first Patriarch after the fall of Constantinople, who held an Orthodox position in matters of dogma, was a successor of St. Mark of Ephesus, a follower of the teachings of St. Gregory Palamas, and who reposed in a monastery in Serres would merit sainthood. However, despite all the reverence he gets for his contributions to the Church, the fact of the matter is, Patriarch Gennadios II Scholarios was never canonized.

But things aren't so simple. It seems that somehow in the late 20th century, maybe even the early 21st century, the Church of Greece acknowledged his sainthood, whether officially or unofficially I do not know, and assigned his feast to be celebrated with three other Patriarchs of Constantinople on August 25th. On top of this, I can trace at least two shrines on the Greek mainland, both monasteries of recent origin, dedicated to his name: the Monastery of Saint Gennadios Scholarios located in Livadi of Thessaloniki which has one abbot and one monk (see here and here); and the Metochion of Saint Gennadios Scholarios which is a dependency of Saint Katherine's Monastery of Mount Sinai founded in 2016 for nuns and is located in Upper Kotylio, a village in Gortyna, which is in southwest Arcadia, Greece (see here and here). These shrines even have new icons of Saint Gennadios, which did not exist before this time, though there is an old fresco depicting him at the Monastery of the Forerunner in Serres where he is buried, though he is without a halo (pictured above).

From this it seems that the consciousness of the Church of Greece has sealed his sainthood on the local level, making it possible to acknowledge him as such universally. But this doesn't answer the question as to why he was never canonized before our time. The answer could be as simple as the fact that he may have been overlooked. Many of our canonized Saints were overlooked for centuries until they were officially canonized, and many have yet to be officially canonized. Examples include Simon of Cyrene, Isaac the Syrian, Emperor Constantine Palaiologos and Kassiani the Hymnographer among many others. But this seems unlikely in the case of Patriarch Gennadios II. I believe there are possibly three reasons why Patriarch Gennadios was not officially canonized.

First, little was known about him for centuries except the fact that he was the first Patriarch after the fall of Constantinople. His heroic stance for Orthodoxy came after the Synod of Ferrara-Florence, but it was eclipsed by the towering figure of St. Mark of Ephesus, who had the reputation of standing alone as a pillar of Orthodoxy in not signing in favor of the union with the Latins. Plus, St. Mark of Ephesus was clear that the papacy had fallen into heresy, while Gennadios simply referred to them as having been "cut off" and "separated" from the Church and therefore "heterodox". We also don't know exactly when he died and what he did the last two years of his life, except die at the Monastery of the Forerunner in Serres, though now we do have some further clues. However, his name was included in the Synodikon of Orthodoxy shortly after his death as being Orthodox and worthy of honor. Also, in 1854, at the direction of Patriarch Anthimos VI, the relics of Gennadios were solemnly transferred to a new grave in the narthex of the katholikon of Monastery of the Forerunner. Both of these times would have been a perfect time to officially canonize him.

Grave of Gennadios Scholarios at the Monastery of the Forerunner in Serres, Greece

Second, it seems he was forced to resign from his position as Ecumenical Patriarch in 1456. No one knows exactly why he resigned, though health and old age were probably one factor, but another reason may be because he had come into controversy when he allowed by economia for people who had lost their spouses during the Ottoman invasion to remarry. In this matter he was opposed by Manuel Christonymos, who was the skeuophylax and a layman at the time, and who supported the stricter observance of not allowing a general principle of economia in this matter. Manuel Christonymos was chosen Ecumenical Patriarch in 1476 while still a layman, was renamed Maximos, and thus became Patriarch Maximos III. Patriarch Maximos III is recognized as a Saint in the Orthodox Church and is commemorated on November 17th. Perhaps Gennadios was not recognized as a Saint a decade or two after his death because Patriarch Maximos did not see him fit to be one in his time due to the controversy, and these two decades would have been a critical time for him to be recognized before he was forgotten and overlooked. And with Constantinople at that time newly under Ottoman occupation and a number of short-lasting and controversial successors after Gennadios, it is not surprising that canonizations at the time were not a priority, let alone the fact that it may not have looked good for the Ecumenical Patriarchate to its Ottoman overlords to canonize Patriarch Gennadios, who played a critical role in both Roman and Ottoman history.

Third, and perhaps most important, George-Gennadios Scholarios is an ecclesiastical figure that has been treated very harshly by modern researchers. Although his texts were only partially available to the public, such an approach is hardly justified, which was based almost exclusively on the work of the 15th century historian of the fall of Constantinople, Michael Doukas. Doukas was biased against Gennadios because Gennadios was against the union with the Latins while Doukas was in favor of it. Also, in the context of the effort to unify Greek history as attempted by Konstantinos Paparrigopoulos in the 19th century, the role of the Church is generally considered important. However, following Doukas, Paparrigopoulos believed that Gennadios with his attitude before the fall led to the despair of the inhabitants of Constantinople, and in some way he "betrayed" them. Sathas openly described him as a "great traitor" and "incomprehensible Greek-hater", but also "the first victim of the Greek nation" because of his expulsion by his friend, Mehmed II. According to Bonis, Gennadios had selfish intentions in the question of union, he was irritable, revolutionary and contradictory, and he betrayed the people with his passivity, but he calls him the "Psellos of the Fall" because, like Psellos, Gennadios was "very learned, a great politician, a braggart and vain." This approach began to change with the new edition of his works (1928-1936), which were studied in detail by the publishers, resulting in the praise of his scholarship, but also his role in the preservation of Orthodoxy after the fall. According to L. Petit, Gennadios "tried to become beloved while maintaining his integrity." According to Diamantopoulos, he was a prolific and well-educated man, the last Aristotelian philosopher of the Greek Middle Ages, but also selfish, vain or arrogant about his achievements. According to Tatakis, he was "a complete theologian and philosopher and at the same time the last representative of Byzantine wisdom." Turner, further analyzing his character, writes that "personal relationships were his weak point," because he was "introverted and anti-social, and thus often lonely," therefore "he did not become a good leader." According to Theodore Zisis, Gennadios was "the only personality that the people appreciated and admired and honored," "equal to" or "the last of the great teachers," "the first great prophet and ethnarch of the new Greek race." Blanchet recently attempted a new approach to explain his behavior, his perception of popular tradition, and his contradictory approach by modern researchers. According to her, the defeatism that distinguishes him does not mean betrayal, but lack of faith in the Byzantine state and institutions, since they did not protect the essence of Byzantine culture, that is, the Orthodox faith, but also lack of faith even in the emperor himself, who however he did not stop supporting until the last moment.

Even the Turkish government in 1953 issued a postal stamp of Mehmed II being friendly with Gennadios Scholarios and handing him his patriarchal authority, because they believe he betrayed the city and people of Constantinople and ordered monks to open the gates of the city to the Ottomans. He also called for the murder of the Greeks, according to the Ottomans, by drowning them in the depths of the sea. Information like this is based on false information from a 19th century Anglican text by John Mason Neale, titled Theodora Phranza; or, the Fall of Constantinople (J. Masters, London 1857), which is a fictional text by a fictional author. The text claims Theodora Phranza was the daughter of George Phranzis, the actual historian who witnessed the fall of Constantinople, but in reality she never existed and is a complete fabrication.

With this short summary, I think I have given enough of a glimpse into why the sainthood of Gennadios Scholarios is a confusing and complicated subject. Gennadios himself was perceived by many in confusing and complicated ways. It is not until relatively recently that he is looked upon with general favor and admiration, though with some exceptions in the past as well. It seems to me that the necessary action should take place and have Gennadios officially acknowledged as a Saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, following the lead of the Church of Greece. Till then, I don't see why he should not be acknowledged as a Saint by Orthodox Christians everywhere already, since the Church of Greece has begun to do so annually on August 25th.