August 31, 2022

The Holy Zoni of the Mother of God in Medieval Constantinople

By Syngelis Em. Konstantinos, Philologist

On 31 August, the Church celebrates the Placement of the Honorable Zoni of our Most Holy Lady in the Church of the Theotokos in Chalkoprateia of Constantinople. This church was in a neighborhood close to a place called Milion, and it was here that the workshops were which belonged to the craftsmen who made and sold copperware, hence the name of the area.

There is no clear evidence concerning this feast of the Mother of God before the 7th century. In the 6th and 7th centuries, six new feasts were added to the liturgical life of the Church, all of them related to our Panagia: her Conception by Saint Anna, her Nativity, her Entry into the Temple, the Annunciation, Christ’s Reception in the Temple by Symeon, and her Dormition. It was the Empress Saint Pulcheria who established the practice of holding a vigil every Wednesday in the Church of the Theotokos in Chalkoprateia. The practice was formalized by the Emperor Saint Maurice (582-602).

Many traditions have been preserved regarding which emperor was responsible for bringing the Honorable Zoni of the Mother of God from Jerusalem to Constantinople and when. The one closest to the truth, however, attributes the initiative to the Emperor Arcadius (395-408). Arcadius was the son of Theodosius the Great and the father of the Emperor and Saint Theodosius II (408-450) and of Pulcheria (450-457). He not only took the Honorable Zoni to Constantinople, but also placed it in a beautiful reliquary, which he called the ‘holy coffin’. The Church of the Chalkoprateia, where the Honorable Zoni was placed, was built a few years later by the Empress Pulcheria.

Many miraculous events occurred in this church which confirmed the wonderworking power of the Holy Zoni. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Saint Germanos I (715-730), in a sermon he gave at the feast of the Placement of the Honorable Zoni in the Church of the Chalkoprateia, lyrically declared that the Zoni eternally retains the divine fragrance of the cures it has effected, bringing joy to those who approach it with faith and reverence.

In the canon which he dedicated to the Honorable Zoni of the Mother of God, Saint Joseph the Hymnographer (ca. 818-886), praises the holy relic which, by the grace of our Panagia sanctifies the faithful who approach with all due reverence in order to venerate it, which raises them out of corruption and delivers them from sickness and sorrow. The Honorable Zoni is like a sparkling spring, pouring out a torrent of healing.

A whole host of believers, irrespective of sex, age, occupation or social standing, flocked to the Church of the Chalkoprateia in order to venerate the Honorable Zoni of our Panagia and to ask of her who is full of grace to intercede for them with the Lord. "Who shall speak of your magnificence?" cried Saint Euthymios, later Patriarch of Constantinople (907-912).

A certain Elias, a priest and steward of the Church of Hagia Sophia, speaks, in a narrative dating from 843, about a miracle that involved a child in the Church of the Theotokos in Chalkoprateia. The miracle occurred in about 800, during the tenure of Saint Tarasios as Patriarch of Constantinople (784-806) and has survived in written form. At the time, Elias was a child and was present as an eye-witness at the miraculous event. When he was in church one day, he saw a child going through to the school of the Chalkoprateia, which had a shared entrance with the church. As he was walking, he looked at the icon of the Mother of God which had been destroyed at the time of iconoclasm by Emperor Constantine V, but had been repainted on the instructions of Patriarch Tarasios.

The little boy was dazzled by its brilliance and went on his way, but kept looking upwards. As a result, he fell into a well which was on the south side of the church. A concierge who happened to be there at the time in the Chapel of the Holy Coffin heard the noise and asked some old women who were sitting there what the splash was that he had heard. But they hadn’t heard anything. All they had seen was the boy walking through the church. The concierge, who’d thought that the noise had come from water being disturbed, realized what had happened. He went down into the well and found the boy floating on the surface. He brought him out of the well and everyone noticed something strange and wonderful. Not only had the boy not come to any harm, but he wasn’t even wet.

Obviously, the grace of the Mother of God had protected him. He explained to them that our Panagia had held him on one arm, with Christ on the other, and had told him not to worry because she was protecting him. As he related this, a divine light and radiance spread all around. Everyone believed the words of the boy because he was only little and was innocent. His soul was still so pure that he wouldn’t have told lies nor pretended about anything. When he looked at the icon, the boy shed tears of joy and glorified the Lord and His Mother, because he had been allowed to see the light of their glory at first hand.

The gratitude of the boy, as well as of his widowed mother, were beyond description. When Patriarch Tarasios was informed of the miraculous event, he celebrated a festal Divine Liturgy in the Church of the Theotokos in Chalkoprateia. He also dedicated the child to God, guaranteed the expenses for his education and paid for his care and that of his mother.

Note: the article is a fragment from an unpublished post-graduate dissertation by the author (1998).