Wednesday February 3, 2021 / January 21, 2021
35th Week after Pentecost. Tone one.
Fast. Fish AllowedVenerable Maximus the Confessor (662). Martyr Neophytus of Nicaea (305). Martyrs Eugene, Candidus, Valerian, and Aquila at Trebizond (303). Venerable Maximus the Greek of Russia (1556). New Hieromartyr Elias priest (1938). Virgin-martyr Agnes of Rome (304). Martyr Anastasius, disciple of St. Maximus the Confessor (662). Wonderworking Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos of Paramythia (Vatopedi, Mt. Athos
St. Maximus the Confessor
The Monk Maximos the Confessor was born in Constantinople in about the year 580 and raised in a pious Christian family. In his youth he received a very diverse education: he studied philosophy, grammatics, rhetoric, he was well-read in the authors of antiquity and he mastered to perfection theological dialectics. When Saint Maximos entered into government service, the scope of his learning and his conscientiousness enabled him to become first secretary to the emperor Heraclius (611-641). But court life vexed him, and he withdrew to the Chrysopoleia monastery (on the opposite shore of the Bosphorus – now Skutari), where he accepted monastic tonsure. By the humility of his wisdom he soon won the love of the brethren and was chosen hegumen of the monastery, but even in this dignity, in his own words, he “remained a simple monk”. But in 633 at the request of a theologian, the future Jerusalem Patriarch Saint Sophronios (Comm. 11 March), the Monk Maximos left the monastery and set off to Alexandria.
Saint Sophronios was known in these times as an implacable antagonist against the Monothelite heresy. The Fourth OEcumenical Council (year 451) had condemned the Monophysite heresy, which confessed in the Lord Jesus Christ only one nature (the Divine, but not the Human nature, of Christ). Influenced by this erroneous tendency of thought, the Monothelite heretics introduced the concept that in Christ there was only “one Divine will” (“thelema”) and only “one Divine effectuation or energy” (“energia”), – which sought to lead back by another path to the repudiated Monophysite heresy. Monotheletism found numerous adherents in Armenia, Syria, Egypt. The heresy, fanned also by nationalist animosities, became a serious threat to church unity in the East. The struggle of Orthodoxy with the heresies was particularly complicated by the fact, that in the year 630 three of the Patriarchal thrones in the Orthodox East were occupied by Monothelites: at Constantinople – by Sergios, at Antioch – by Athanasias, and at Alexandria – by Cyrus.
The path of the Monk Maximos from Constantinople to Alexandria led through Crete, where indeed he began his preaching activity. He clashed there with a bishop, who adhered to the heretical opinions of Severus and Nestorius. At Alexandria and its surroundings the monk spent about 6 years. In 638 the emperor Heraclius, together with the patriarch Sergios, attempted to downplay the discrepancies in the confession of faith, and the issued an edict: the so-called “Ecthesis” (“Ekthesis tes pisteos” – “Exposition of Faith), – which ultimately decreed that there be confessed the teaching about “one will” (“mono-thelema”) operative under the two natures of the Saviour. In defending Orthodoxy against this “Ecthesis”, the Monk Maximos recoursed to people of various vocations and positions, and these conversations had success. “Not only the clergy and all the bishops, but also the people, and all the secular officials felt within themselves some sort of invisible attraction to him, – testifies his Vita.
Towards the end of 638 the patriarch Sergios died, and in 641 – the emperor Heraclius also died. The imperial throne came to be occupied by the cruel and coarse Constans II (642-668), an open adherent of the Monothelites. The assaults of the heretics against Orthodoxy intensified. The Monk Maximos went off to Carthage and he preached there and in its surroundings for about 5 years. When the successor of patriarch Sergios, patriarch Pyrrhos, arrived there in forsaking Constantinople because of court intrigues, and being by persuasion a Monothelite, – there occurred between him and the Monk Maximos an open disputation in June 645. The result of this was that Pyrrhos publicly acknowledged his error and even wanted to put into writing to Pope Theodore the repudiation of his error. The Monk Maximos together with Pyrrhos set off to Rome, where Pope Theodore accepted the repentance of the former patriarch and restored him to his dignity.
In the year 647 the Monk Maximos returned to Africa. And there, at a council of bishops Monotheletism was condemned as an heresy. In the year 648, in place of the “Ecthesis”, there was issued a new edict, commissioned by Constans and compiled by the Constantinople patriarch Paul, the “Typus” (“Tupos tes pisteos” – “Pattern of the Faith”), which overall forbade any further deliberations, whether if be about “one will” or about “two wills”, as regarding the acknowledged “two natures” of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Monk Maximos thereupon turned to the successor of the Roman Pope Theodore, Pope Martin I (649-654), with a request to examine the question of Monotheletism at a conciliar consideration by all the Church. In October of 649 there was convened the Lateran Council, at which were present 150 Western bishops and 37 representatives of the Orthodox East, amongst which was also the Monk Maximos the Confessor. The Council condemned Monotheletism, and its defenders – the Constantinople patriarchs Sergios, Paul and Pyrrhos, were consigned to anathema.
When Constans II received the determinations of the Council, he gave orders to arrest both Pope Martin and the Monk Maximos. This summons took 5 years to fulfill, in the year 654. They accused the Monk Maximos of treason to the realm and locked him up in prison. In 656 he was sent off to Thrace, and again later brought back to a Constantinople prison. The monk, together with two of his students, was subjected to the cruellest torments: for each they cut out the tongue and cut off the right hand. Then they were sent off to Colchis. But here the Lord worked an inexplicable miracle: all three of them found the ability to speak and to write. The Monk Maximos indeed foretold his own end (+ 13 August 662). On the Greek Saints-Prologue (Calendar), 13 August indicates the Transfer of the Relics of Saint Maximos to Constantinople, but possibly it might apply to the death of the saint. Or otherwise, the establishing of his memory under 21 January may be connected with this – that 13 August celebrates the Leavetaking of the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Over the grave of the Monk Maximos shone three miraculously-appearing lights, and there occurred many an healing.
The Monk Maximos has left to the Church a large theological legacy. His exegetical works contain explanations of difficult places within the Holy Scripture, also Commentary on the Prayer of the Lord and on the 59th Psalm, various “scholia” (“marginalia” or text-margin commentaries) on treatises of the PriestMartyr Dionysios the Areopagite (+ 96, Comm. 3 October) and Sainted Gregory the Theologian (+ 389, Comm. 25 January). To the exegetical works of Saint Maximos belongs likewise his explication of Divine-services, entitled “Mystagogia” (“Introduction concerning the Mystery”).
To the dogmatic works of the Monk Maximos belong: the Exposition on his dispute with Pyrrhos, and several tracts and letters to various people. In them are contained expositions of the Orthodox teaching of the Divine Essence and about Hypostatic-Persons of the Holy Trinity, about the Incarnation of God, and about the “theosis” (“deification”, “obozhenie”) of human nature.
“Nothing in theosis is the product of human nature, – the Monk Maximos writes in a letter to his friend Thalassios, – since nature cannot comprehend God. It is only but the mercy of God that has the capacity to endow theosis unto the existing… In theosis man (the image of God) becomes likened to God, he rejoices in all the plenitude that does belong to him by nature, since the grace of the Spirit doth triumph within him and because God doth act within him” (Letter 22).
To the Monk Maximos belong also works concerning the anthropologic (i.e. concerning man). He deliberates on the nature of the soul and its consciously-personal existence after the death of a man. Among his moral compositions, especially important is his “Chapters on Love”. The Monk Maximos the Confessor wrote likewise three hymns in the finest traditions of church hymnography, following the lead of Saint Gregory the Theologian.
The theology of the Monk Maximos the Confessor, based on the spiritual experience of the knowledge of the great Desert-Fathers, and utilising the skilled art of dialectics worked out by pre-Christian philosophy, was continued and developed upon in the works of the Monk Simeon the New Theologian (+ 1021, Comm. 12 March), and Sainted Gregory Palamas (+ c. 1360, Comm. 14 November).
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.
HYMN OF PRAISE
The spacious sea breaks out on all sides.
The earth is the trunk of the celestial garden,
But like a black trunk with golden fruit.
Thus is the black earth with the starry firmament.
The earth silently extends its invisible branches,
And on the branches are stars–golden apples.
Oh, what wonderful fruit from commonplace mud,
That the mercy of God gave to the black earth!
And man is earth; his body is of earth.
In the firmament are his stars–those are his good deeds.
His thoughts are rainbows, and they go to the end of the world–
Invisible branches, with stars at their tips!
Fruit! The Lord seeks fruit from created man.
Only by fruit does He judge man’s life.
When death shakes the tree, may the golden apples
Of your life fall into God’s hands.
Then you will be able to say: “My life was not in vain–
For the sake of a beautiful reality, I dreamed an ugly dream!”
The Christian Faith is the only Faith in the world that has one determined and never-changing standard of values. St. John Chrysostom speaks clearly about how it measures and classifies its values. He says: “Things are divided into three categories: The first are good and cannot be evil–for example, wisdom, charity and the like. The second are evil and can never be good–for example, perversion, inhumanity and cruelty. The third, at times, become one or, at times, become the other, according to the disposition of those who make use of them.” This divine teacher explains that riches and poverty, freedom and slavery, power, disease, and even death itself fall into the third category. They are neither good nor evil by themselves, but become either one or the other, according to the disposition of men and the use that men make of them. For example, if riches were good and poverty evil, then all rich men would be good and all the poor would be evil. However, we are daily convinced that, as there are good and evil rich men, so also are there good and evil poor men. The same can be applied to the healthy and the sick, the free and the enslaved, the satiated and the hungry, and those in authority and those under subjugation. Even death is not evil, for “the martyrs, through death, became more fortunate than all others.”
Contemplate the Lord Jesus as a city that is set on a hill (Matthew 5:14):
1. As a city on the hill of the Heavenly Zion, that is, above the created world in the Kingdom of eternity;
2. As a city on the hill of human history;
3. As a city on the hill of my own life, that is, at the peak of my ideals, at the zenith of my thoughts and yearnings.
on understanding through doing
“If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of Myself” (John 7:17).
It benefits little to prove by human logic and words that the teaching of Christ is the teaching from God. The fastest and most reliable way to know that this is truth is to do the will of God in the same way that Christ proclaimed it and testified to it. Whoever does this will know that the teaching of Christ is the teaching from God.
If you weep for the sake of God, you will know what a comfort He is. If you are merciful, you will know the mercy of God. If you build peace, you will know how it becomes you to be called a son of God. If you forgive men, you will know that God forgives you.
No one can ever know that the teaching of Christ is the teaching from God, except he who does the will of God. Doing the will of God and fulfilling His commandments is the only key for unlocking Paradise, in which God is seen. That is the key for understanding Holy Scripture and all the mysteries of revelation.
St. Basil writes: “In order to understand that which is hidden in Sacred Scripture, purity of life is needed.”
What else does the Lord want from us, when He teaches us that through doing His will we arrive at the understanding of the divinity of His teaching? He simply wishes that we, by [the fruit of] our deeds, become convinced of the divinity of His teaching. He does not desire that we be convinced of this in an easy manner, but rather in a more difficult manner–not only by listening, but by doing, because whoever is convinced in an easy manner will easily waver and change his mind; and as for him who is convinced in a difficult manner, it would be difficult for him to change his mind. Brethren, that is why we must endeavor to fulfill the will of God, in order that we may know God and save our souls.
O Lord, all-wise, help us by the power of Thy Holy Spirit to do Thy will.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.