Sunday, January 07, 2018

“If I am Jonah, cast me into the sea!” ~ Saint Germanus of Constantinople is deposed by Emperor Leo III

Painting of Saint Germanus, borrowed from the Mystagogy
Resource Center's Synaxarion of St. Germanos
Today is the anniversary of an act of great bravery and saintly virtue. On January 7 in the year AD 730, an important bishop resigned his office rather than sign on to the heretical demands of the secular authority. In this case, we are talking about Saint Germanus I, archbishop of Constantinople who stood up to the emperor Leo III when the latter forbade the veneration of holy icons. This was the beginning of the so-called “Iconoclast” period of Byzantine history which was to last over a hundred years until the middle of the 9th century AD.

Here is an excerpt from the near-contemporary Chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor recording the event:
In the same year, the lawbreaking Emperor Leo raged against the true faith. He brought in the blessed Germanos and began to entice him with coaxing words. The blessed chief prelate told him, “We have heard there will be a condemnation of the holy and revered icons, but not during your reign.” When the Emperor forced him to say during whose reign he said, “During the reign of Konon.”

The Emperor said, “In fact, my baptismal name is Konon.”

The patriarch said, “Heaven forbid, my lord, that this evil should come to pass through your rule. For he who does it is the forerunner of the Antichrist and the overthrower of the incarnate and divine dispensation.”

Because of this, the tyrant became angry. He put heavy pressure on the blessed man, just as Herod once had on John the Baptist. But the patriarch reminded him of his agreements before he became Emperor: he had given Germanos a pledge secured by God that he would in no way disturb God’s church from its apostolic laws, which God had handed down. But the wretch was not ashamed at this. He watched Germanos and contended with him, and put forth statements to the effect that if he found Germanos opposing his rule, he would condemn the holder of the [patriarchal] throne like a conspirator and not like a confessor.” 
Later, in the same chapter, Theophanes describes how Leo III’s decrees were received in Rome, and the final confrontation between Leo and Germanus:
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“In Byzantium, the champion of pious doctrines—the holy and marvelous priest Germanos—was in his prime, fighting against the wild beast who bore the name Leo and against his henchmen. In the elder Rome, Gregory, a holy and apostolic man who held the same throne as had the prince Peter, caused Rome, Italy, and all the west to secede from both political and ecclesiastical obedience to Leo and his Empire...

But since Germanos was under his control, Leo expelled him from his throne. Through letters, Gregory openly accused Leo of what was known to many...

On January 7, of the thirteenth indiction—a Saturday—the impious Leo convened a silentium against the holy and revered icons at the tribunal of the nineteen Akkubita [a meeting hall in the imperial palace]. But in no way would the noble servant of Christ obey Leo’s abominable, wicked doctrine. He rightly taught the true doctrine, but bade farewell to his position as chief prelate. He gave up his surplice and, after many instructive words said, “ If I am Jonah, cast me into the sea. For, Emperor, I cannot make innovations in the faith without an ecumenical conference.”

He went off to the Platanaion and went into seclusion at his ancestral home, having been patriarch for fourteen years, five months, and seven days.”
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The above passages are taken from Turtledove’s translation of Theophanes which may be purchased here. This book should be on the shelf of anyone with an interest in Late Antiquity.

Leo III appointed the much more malleable Anastasius as the new patriarch. Things did not end well for him, however. After Leo’s son Constantine V was deposed by Artabasdos, Anastasius changed his opinion on icons and now opposed iconoclasm, declaring Constantine a heretic. However, once Constantine’s forces defeated the usurper and restored him to the throne, Anastasius was deposed as patriarch and severely punished, being blinded and paraded on an ass through the Hippodrome. Later, he changed his position again to favor iconoclasm, begged Constantine’s pardon, and was restored as patriarch.

Now, as we reflect upon these events from nearly 1,300 years ago, it is well to consider whether our modern Catholic leaders more resemble Saint Germanus or the weaselly Anastasius in their dealings with secular authorities.

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