Thursday, February 10, 2022

The Holy Empress Theodora

The Holy Empress Theodora's life parallels that of the Empress Irene's in the Church's struggle for orthodoxy over the heresy of iconoclasm. Like Irene of Athens, Theodora was brought before the Emperor as part of a bride show. The Emperor Theophilos, like the Emperor Leo IV, was an iconoclast and Theodora was an iconophile. She had been raised an iconophile by her mother Theoktiste and her mother taught her daughters, in secret, the proper veneration of icons. The Emperor Theophilos, who would severely punish, banish, and even branded two monks with iconoclastic texts on their foreheads. Both the Emperor's stepmother who had arranged the bride show, and the Empress's mother, were iconophiles and they recognized the risks, but the orthodoxy had to prevail somehow. The Emperor's stepmother, Euphrosyne, was herself, a descendant of the Holy Empress Irene, a daughter of the Emperor Constantine VI, who was killed for his treacheries against his mother and his heresies of iconoclasm.

The Empress Theodora bore five daughters and two sons to the Emperor Theophilos. One son died in infancy and one daughter died at a young age as well. She would see five children live into adulthood. Michael III would succeed his father on the throne. The marriage was carried out some time around the year 830. Theophilos would discover his wife and their daughters venerating the icons at some point and she fiercely denied that they were icons but insisted instead that they were "dolls". The Emperor is furious about this iconodulist incident occurring in his courts and he orders that the practice cease. Theodora continued the practice of continuing to see her mother and her mother-in-law in private with her children, continuing to raise her children in the orthodoxy of the Second Council of Nicaea. Theophilos would be infected with dysyntery around the age of 29. Much like the Emperor Leo IV was covered in tumors and perished from disease, so God brings disease to call men to repentance. Unlike Leo IV, Theophilos would repent of his sins. Theodora recorded his repentance and presented it to the church seeking a pardon for his iconoclasm. Indeed, as the Patriarch Methodios recorded the names of the iconoclasts and presented them on the altar of Hagia Sophia, the Emperor Theophilos's name would disappear from the list. In Theophilos's case, his dysyntery would bring his mortal body to an end but it called his soul to repentance that it may soon be filled with eternal life.

Theodora ordered a council held which re-established the faith of the Second Council of Nicaea. This council was held on the First Sunday of the Great Lent that year. Because of this, Greek Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians always celebrate the Feast of the Holy Sunday of Orthodoxy to mark the beginning of Lent. This is not the only imperially established Feast Day on the Church's calendar either. As part of this celebration, the Empress Theodora removed the remains of the iconoclast Emperor Constantine V, the father-in-law of Empress Irene, and had the remains burned. In turn, the remains of the Empress Irene were brought back from Prinkipio and restored to the imperial burial place (Women in Purple, 213). This act further showed the triumph of the iconophiles as the Empress Irene was the one who convened the Second Council of Nicaea, keeping her iconodulist faith hidden from her husband during his briefly lived reign, much as Theodora had to keep her iconodulist faith hidden from her husband as she taught her children to venerate icons.

The Empress was also strong in her leadership.
"She also stood up to the caliphs, according to one historian Bar Hebraeus, who reports that the Arabs thought they could take advantage of a widowed Empress and her young son. 'Seeing that it was a woman who ruled the country, the Arabs regarded Roman homage with contempt and broke the peace. Then Theodora the Queen sent an army against Cicilia in AD 861 and enslaved all the country of the Anazarbos.' There follows the account of an Arab ambassador, a eunuch named Nashif, when the queen offered to make peace but demanded 20,000 Christian prisoners of war in exchange for the 20,000 captured Arabs. When Nashif tried to take them anyway, 'Theodora killed them.'" (235-236)
She also did not hesitate to prosecute the Paulician heresy that was running rampant in the Eastern Empire, persecuting approximately 10,000 of the adherents of this heresy.

Sadly, she did not spend too much time in dedication to her son's education and he was known as "Michael the Drunkard" during his reign. Much like Irene, whose son Constantine VI was a poorly educated and stupid soul, so too was Michael III. Unlike Constantine VI, Michael III would not embrace the iconoclast heresy. But due to his poor ruling, he would ultimately be assassinated by Basil I. Theodora would witness the beginning of the reign of her son's assassination. Having lost the regal authority of being the Dowager Empress, she would not be buried with her husband. Instead, she makes indication to her daughters to be buried beside her mother in Gastria, where her mother lived as a monastic (234). The life of this saint is one of elevation from nothingness to preservation of the faith, to the loftiest of worldly elevations, and then a return back to her own lowly position. But worldly elevations are meaningless for a saint. The glory of an imperial burial might not have been for her but she had in the stead a saintly and holy burial, reaching the end of her life February 11, 867. Though some sources are conflicted and state that her death was in 856 (Thornton, Pious Kings and Right-Believing Queens). This is perhaps why Otto of Freising is also confused as to when to date the assassination of Michael III. It is presumable that the latter date seems most accurate. St. Theodora, Empress Regent and Dowager Empress of the Roman Empire who restored the veneration of icons to Christendom, pray for us!

See also:
Dictionary of Saintly Women, Agnes B.C. Dunbar
Women in Purple: Rulers of Medieval Byzantium, Judith Herrin

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

St. Synkletike

St. Synkletike was one of the many Desert Fathers who taught on varying ascetical disciplines. Her teachings were recorded by one who wrote under the name "Athanasius". Synkletike's name means "assembly". She was born to prominent parents and had a sister and two brothers were of like mind in both virtue and faith with her. Synkletike, known for her beauty, was visited by many suitors who desired to marry her. But she desired not these suitors nor the vain praise of these men. She fled from them and ended up in a women's monastery. Pseudo-Athanasius compares her to St. Thecla for both were betrothed to Christ and both had the same St. Paul as their bridal escort.

She shunned the vanity of expensive clothes and lived to the fullness of her own ascetical teachings, never engaging in hypocrisy. She also practiced the discipline of fasting with faith and diligence. She practiced it so well that fasting became a source of her own physical health. When she ceased from fasting, she would wither and grow gaunt.

Having fled the secular life and from marriage, she would become very influential in the monastic life among her fellow sisters teaching on various sorts of ascetical disciplines. She would teach on fasting, controlling the mind in its combat against sinful passions, and on voluntary poverty. She taught regularity in fasting was important and that the mind should be guarded from even the worst and most sinful of thoughts for sin begins first and foremost in the mind. Poverty was an evil unless it was pursued voluntarily and riches were given up voluntarily. The Church's teaching is thus opposed to socialistic doctrines which seeks to center the government as a coercive force to commit itself to an illusion of caring for the poor.

During the end of her life, this most beautiful soul was attacked by Satan. According to Pseudo-Athanasius's description of the events, the Devil started to attack her for he envied her beauty. Having failed to lure her away from her virginity, she was then subjected to what was likely a malignant mouth cancer. Her face began disfiguring and she began to stink so much that the foul stench drove the nuns away from her own cell. She would deteriorate like this until her repose. For her sufferings and her teachings, she is commemorated among the Desert Fathers and Mothers. She is venerated on January 5 in the Greek Church. St. Synkletike, pray for me!

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Christ in the Book of the Holy Prophet Daniel

The Christian looks at the Old Testament with the constant anticipation of Christ that was experienced by the Jewish world as they awaited their Messiah. As we approach the Nativity on our Festal Calendar season, we also take a moment to remember the Holy Prophet Daniel and more specifically the Three Children. On December 11, we commemorated St. Daniel the Stylite who not only was named after the Holy Prophet Daniel, he was also buried on top of the remains of the Three Children, Radshach, Meshach, and Abednego. The Book of the Prophet Daniel is filled with foreshadowings of the Messiah's impending coming. Not just His second coming which is often times considered when looking at the apocalyptic narratives, but also the first coming too. Scripture is a multi-layered cake and different parts of Scriptures often times have multiple meanings. We can see the multitude of meanings in the apocalyptic literature of the Holy Prophet Daniel especially.

We start in Daniel 2. Many people see this as a foreshadowing of the world empires before the second coming of Christ. While this is certainly one way of reading it and also one of the more traditional ways of reading it, we must remember the multitude of meaning that Scriptures have and remember there might be another meaning. In Daniel 2, there is a statue with a gold head, silver chest, bronze waist, iron legs, and iron and clay feet. A stone is thrown at the statue's feet shattering it to pieces. Nebuchadnezzar is troubled by the statue's image in his dream and seeks out to find someone who can interpret the dream. None of the astrologers of the Emperor can give an adequate interpretation until the Holy Prophet Daniel, with discernment given to him by the Only Wise God, is able to decipher the dream's meaning. The statue shows the successive Empires that shall dominate the world, one after the other. Tradition understands them as Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. The rock that is thrown at the statue will bring an abrupt end to the current era, dismantling the present kingdoms, establishing an everlasting kingdom. Most see Rome as the end of history and so look for some kind of antichrist from this passage. While the apocalyptic narrative definitely foretells the antichrist, this is a narrative of the Messiah. It was in a period in which Rome was being divided up into a Triumvirate, the Republic was dissolving after the Julius Caesar's dictatorship and his son Octavius Augustus was reigning upon the newly erected throne of the Roman Empire when an infant was born. Octavius was proclaiming himself to be the son of a god but the one that was born was the Son of God. Octavius proclaimed the Pax Romana but the Son of God proclaimed the Pax Christi. Indeed, a new kingdom, the Church, was established from the rubble of the Roman civil wars which savaged the world. The clay and iron couldn't withhold and Christ came down and established His own kingdom. It was a kingdom not of this world. It was a rock thrown from Heaven.

In the very next chapter of the Holy Prophet Daniel, we see the Three Children refuse to bow down before the false idol of the Emperor's. As a punishment, the Three Children are thrown into a fiery furnace with flames so hot that the men who threw them into the fire all died the moment the flames came near to them. Assuredly, Nebuchadnezzar had presumed the Three Children would be incinerated but he was in for a surprise. When Nebuchadnezzar looked into the furnace, he saw a fourth man in the furnace. The Hebrew text does not possess a definitive article so it is very possible he presumed it to be one of his own gods, but he recognized in the fourth figure and proclaimed that it was "one like a son of god!" Christians understand that this divine being who appeared in the furnace was Christ Himself. The Angel of God in the Old Testament is commonly held to be a Christophany or an appearance of Christ. And this is identified later in the text as an Angel of the God of the Three Children. While Nebuchadnezzar may not have understood who the being was, later generations have given new meaning to his words which shows that the Three Children very clearly understood that this being was not only a son of god but the Son of God who had come to save them from the fires of the furnace.

Once more, we see in Daniel 7 another prophecy of the things to come and the end of the world. There are four successive beasts. The beasts are identified in tradition as Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. From the Roman beast, there stem ten kings and from there, a little horn comes out with great blasphemies, speaking these until fire is reigned down upon the beast from Heaven and the eternal kingdom of the saints is established. One like the Son of Man is then seen ascending upward to the Ancient of Days. While this is typically interpreted in the Cosmic Battle between Christ and Antichrist, there is an additional foreshadowing of this battle which is found in the incarnation of Christ. Christ comes into a divided Roman world that is wrested in its factionalism. From the chaos of the civil wars comes the Roman monarchy and the claims that the Emperor is the son of a god. But Christ comes in a very unique and unexpected way. He ushers in the true Peace while Rome claims a time of peace for itself. He is the Son of God but Rome can only claim such. While this is indeed is a very prophetic text about the coming antichrist, it is also a text which prophecies the initial conquering of Christ on the Cross and His establishment of His earthly Kingdom, not of this world.

Daniel 11:36-45 has baffled many scholars and eschatologists for years because there is failure to understand the often times dual fulfillment of prophecy. While there is grounds that this is a prophecy for the coming antichrist, it is also a Messianic prophecy of the first coming of Christ too. This is missed when people get fixated on the futuristic interpretations of Scriptures and fail to see that the Lord's Day has been here for quite some time. This is why He invites us into His Church now. Because the Church is the Kingdom of God. It is very easy to see how Herod fulfills the description of the one described in Daniel 11:36-39. He was thought of as a Jew being an Idumean but proclaimed the gods of the Romans and the Greeks. He thought of himself above all the priests and above all in the land of Judea. He sought the blood of all the infants throughout the land of Judea going against the natural maternal inclinations of women. He spoke great blasphemies against the Most High God and sought the death of the One Who was God in the flesh. Herod then supported Mark Antony in his war against Octavius as the King of the South attacked the King of the North and the news of the Messiah's coming brought great trouble to Herod. This was brought to him by the three kings of Orient. Herod would eventually succumb to madness, killing his own son and then dying of an illness. In Daniel 12:1, we finally see Michael the Archangel taking the stand for the Israelites, just as was done in Revelation 12. Revelation 12 is also given a double-meaning in its reference not only to battle of Christ and Antichrist but also the Virgin Mary's fleeing to the wilderness to give birth to the Messiah.

All throughout the writing of the Holy Prophet Daniel we see the presence of the Coming of Christ foreshadowed in not only the first but also in the second coming. It is revealed for Christians that there is a cosmic battle between Christ and Antichrist and the enemies of Christianity and the followers of the Kingdom that is established not of human hands. But we are given the hope that our side is victorious. We see in the coming of Christ in His incarnation that He has already proclaimed victory. He set up and established a Kingdom already. The prophecies of Daniel are fulfilled in the Nativity which is why the Holy Prophet Daniel's celebration falls just before the Nativity and not afterward. It is a poetic way to end the narrative of the Holy Scriptures that point to and foreshadow Christ. Christ is all throughout Scriptures and Christians are given this revelation because they have been entered into the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, the Church. The Church is the eschatological fulfillment of these pages and the Church is what the infant Christ established. The Church is what was brought to life when Christ stormed the gates of Hades. The Church is what proclaims the victory of Christ! Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit! Unto ages and ages, Amen!

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Adelaide, Empress by Divine Grace

St. Adelaide's story is one of true romance and damsels in distress. She was the daughter of Rudolph II of Burgundy who had been involved in a conflict with Hugh of Provence for the throne of Italy. In a peace treaty between the two, it was concurred that Rudolph II's daughter would be pledged in marriage to Hugh's son Lothar II. Adelaide was a young girl at this point so the marriage would not occur until much later. In the meantime, Adelaide's father died and her mother Bertha married Hugh. Adelaide was soon married to Lothar as had been promised but at this time, an Italian nobleman from Ivrea, Berengar, forced her father-in-law into abdication. Berengar wasn't satisfied with that. After Lothar succeeded his father, Berengar had Lothar poisoned and, wishing to strengthen his position, sought to marry his son to Adelaide. Adelaide insisted that "if she ever married again it should be should be a man who could avenge her husband's death" (Dunbar, Dictionary of Saintly Women). Adelaide refused, wanting nothing to do with her husband's murderer, and was imprisoned in the Castle of Garda but was led to the woods by a priest named Martin who fed her fish. Not much is known about this Martin and it is possible it was none other than St. Martin of Tours.

Adelaide sent aid for Otto who was well-regarded for the expansion of Christendom and whose many battles liberated many Christians from Muhammadan rule. He was also quelling many rebellions throughout the Holy Roman Empire and had been declared successor to the imperial throne by his father Henry I. He was preparing to take Italy also. The Bishop Otto of Freising writes of this,
"At this time Italy was being oppressed in many different ways by the tyrant Berengar, by whom also Adelaide the widow of the emperor Lothar (Otto's predecessor) was then held in captivity. Therefore the king entered Italy and, having freed the queen from captivity, took her to wife." (The Two Cities, Bk. 6.19)
The wedding between the two was blessed by John XII in the year of 951. Adelaide was given Pavia as a dowry in her wedding to Lothar which was taken away by Berengar. After Otto had rescued her, she was restored Pavia as her rightful dowry. Through Adelaide and Otto, missionaries were sent to convert the people of what is now the regions of Prussia and Poland, a people known as the Sclavonians. They had the Pope set up bishops in that area.

Adelaide always returned good for every act of evil she received and when the wife of Berengar was sent to her in chains, she remonstrated on the crimes that were committed. The wife of Berengar said that the only crime she committed was that she did not kill the saint when she had her in her power. Upon this, the Empress had the woman unbounded and sent back to her husband in safety. When Adalbert, the son of Berengar, was forced to have his property confiscated, Adelaide adopted his two daughters. Otto and Adelaide were final coronated as Emperor and Empress respectively on February 2, 962. John XII was an incredibly debauched Pope and Otto would have him deposed of and replaced with his own personal secretary, a layman with no clerical experience, who would be known as Leo VIII. Otto died in 973 and was buried next to his first wife Edith. His son Otto II would reign in his place and Theophano, the wife of Otto II, would quarrel with her mother-in-law. Upon the advice of the Empress consort, Adelaide was banished back to her homeland. But the Empire didn't prosper without Adelaide and the people wanted Adelaide back in the royal courts.

In 983, her son died leaving her daughter-in-law Theophano as regent for her grandson. Though the two quarreled, mostly on part of Theophano, one thing they both agreed was that Otto III was to have the best quality education. He was educated by Gerbert d'Aurillac who would eventually become an Archbishop and later Pope Sylvester II. Theophano threatened her mother-in-law that if she herself lived another year, Adelaide would have nothing left in her possessions. Adelaide, in spite of the opposition from her daughter-in-law, retained in the royal courts out of love for her grandson. Theophano would die in 991, within a month after making this foolish declaration to her mother-in-law. Adelaide was known as the "Mother of the Kings" as her grandsons Otto III and Louis V ruled the Holy Roman Empire and France respectively as the sovereign monarchs.

When her grandson came of age, she retired to a cloistered life but was called out one last time to assist her nephew Rudolph III in making peace with his subjects. She reposed on her way there. Blessed are the peacemakers, St. Adelaide returned to Heavenly Glory on December 16, 999. She lived to the ripe age of 69 and had outlived many of her children including the Blessed Matilda of Quedlinburg. Her daughter Emma, by Lothar, had also died sometime in the mid to late 980s. She saw the death of her son Otto II. She saw the death of her grandson Louis V. In all her life and hardships, she refused to return evil for evil, but chose the rugged path of forgiveness of one's enemies and repaid evil with good, leading all to virtue. She sent a gift to the tomb of St. Martin of Tours, recalling that priest who led her safety, of a mantle worn by her son, Otto II. A letter sent with it read:
"Bishop of God, receive these humble presents of Adelaide, servant of the servants of God, sinner by nature, Empress by Divine Grace. Receive also the cloak of Otto, her only son. And pray for him, thou who hadst the glory of covering with thine own cloak Our Lord, in the person of a beggar." (in Thornton, Pious Kings and Right-Believing Queens, 15)
See also:
Thornton: Pious Kings and Right-Believing Queens
Dunbar: Dictionary of Saintly Women

St. Theophano Martinakia

St. Theophano was the first wife of the Emperor Leo VI, called "the Wise" as people suspected that he was engaged in astrology. Leo VI was also a contributor of much laws and legal theory in the Eastern Roman Empire. His deep devotion to his wife Theophano was a contributing factor in the establishment of the Eastern Feast Day for All Saints. In the West, this Feast Day falls on November 1, but for the East, this Feast Day falls the First Sunday after Pentecost. The Emperor Leo would also build a church for her after her death.

Theophano was born of eminent parents, Constantine and Anna. Much like Anna, the Mother of Samuel, and Anna, the Mother of Mary, Constantine and Anna were devoid of offspring. So they prayed to the Theotokos to bless them with a child and they were given a daughter, Theophano. She held a Christian spirit from childhood and surpassed all of her companions in virtue. She would enter into marriage with Leo, the son of the Emperor Basil, and endured many hardships with her husband. Leo had been falsely accused of carrying a knife around with him in order to kill his father Basil with and the Emperor locked both Leo and Theophano in prison.

But on the Feast Day of the Prophet Elias, a parrot squawked, "Alas, alas, my Lord Leo!" Frightened, the imperial noblemen begged the Emperor to release his son and daughter-in-law from prison. After Basil's death, Leo ascended to the throne. But Theophano did not consider her imperial status anything of gain and she would distribute to the poor and to the Church. She cared only about her soul and she fasted and prayed, and restored many churches and monasteries by her almsgivings. Leo always considered her a saint during her lifetime. The two had one child together, Eudokia, who died in infancy.

After Theophano's death, the Emperor Leo VI desired to have a church built in her name. But the patriarch forbade him for the veneration of Theophano had not been formally approved. So he built a church to All Saints in the belief that should Theophano's canonical status as a saint ever be approved, she would be reckoned as one among the saints. This is why he also instituted the Feast of All Saints, in the belief that should All Saints be venerated, Theophano would certainly be venerated among them. Theophano is now venerated on December 16.

See also:
Prologue of Ochrid

Saturday, December 11, 2021

The Righteous Ruth and Her Mother-in-law Naomi

The book of Ruth was probably the most frequently analyzed book in my undergraduate years studying Biblical Hebrew and Ancient Hebrew literature. It is also a moving story of a woman who places her ultimate trust in an unknown God and clings to her kinswoman in a most tragic and difficult circumstance, finally being rooted and ingrained into the everlasting kingdom of saints as an ancestor of the Heavenly Messiah. The story starts with famine, destitution, and death. It starts with a fleeing from God. But then it ends with a return to God. This return is spurned on by a former Pagan woman who desires the God of her mother-in-law, the God who her mother-in-law at first left behind.

Naomi and her husband Elimelech lived during the time of the Judges of Israel. As Israelites, they were children of the Promise. They were the Chosen race of God and their sacred duty was to place trust in God and shine the light for the world. There was more than just a famine of food in Israel. There was a famine of Holiness. Naomi fled Israel with her husband Elimelech as a reminder to her that her king was God. The name Elimelech, translated from Hebrew, means "my King is God". Names have meaning. For secularists, this is nothing more than a literary device. But for Christians, this is Divine Providence. Fleeing from Israel with the constant reminder that her God was her king, Naomi, her husband, and her two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, would end up in Moab. Moab was an enemy of Israel and once again, her sons names give an ominous foreshadowing as to what is to come. Mahlon mean "sickness" and Chilion means "wasting". Fleeing from Israel, the Church as it was in the Old Testament, Naomi sees her family wasting away even if they may now have food. For her venture into Moab, Naomi sees her husband Elimelech die. Signifying also her soon attachment to the Moabite tradition. Her sons marry two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Ruth is wed to Mahlon and Orpah is wed to Chilion. It is not long after her sons cling to Moabite Pagan women that they also perish.

It is in this that Naomi renames herself "Mara" meaning "bitterness" as she acknowledges the bitter hand that God has sent her. Widowed and with no children, she sadly sends her daughters-in-law to depart from her and find new men to marry. Naomi cannot bear them sons of her own to marry for even if she could still give birth, her daughters-in-law would have to wait for them to grow old enough to marry. Orpah leaves. In the New Testament, St. Paul spends time talking about the care of widows and what qualifies a widow. He permits widows to remarry but refuses to have younger widows put on the list of widows to be honored "for when their sensual desires alienate them from Christ, they want to marry" (1 Tim. 5:11). He would rather "have younger widows marry, bear children, and manage their households, so as to give the adversary no occasion to revile us" (1 Tim. 5:14) and any believing woman is to care for a relative of hers who is truly a widow (1 Tim. 5:16). We see in Orpah the first category of younger widow. One who is given over to her sensual desires, who runs off from her widowed mother-in-law refusing to care for her. In Naomi, we see a widow who is truly a widow. One who is to be honored for she has no sons to care for her and has reached an older age. In Ruth, we see the second class of younger widow who is managing her house, caring for her mother-in-law. For when Naomi sends her daughters-in-law away, Ruth clings to her and exclaims, "Thy people shall be my people and thy God shall be my God!" (Ruth 1:16-17) Ruth is exemplary of a younger widow, which is not to say all younger widows are required to marry, but they are required to manage their households and give the adversary no occasion to revile Christians.

Naomi, a name in Hebrew which translates to "pleasant" or "beautiful" is now left "Mara" or "bitter" after witnessing both the death of her husband and the death of her sons. When famine began in Israel, she fled with her husband Elimelech, "my God is King", to the land of Moab. Clinging to the Pagan falsities from Moab, Elimelech dies, which signifies Naomi's apostasy. Mahlon and Chilion signify God's further chastisements, for God chastises His faithful in order to bring them back into the flock. Seeing their deaths, she accepts the chastisements from God, and although bitter, returns once again to Israel, the Church. She is joined by her daughter-in-law Ruth who exhorts Naomi in her penitence. Naomi's story is one of repentance while Ruth's story is one of conversion. Orpah's story is of one who prefers the darkness to the light. Ruth, desiring the light, having observed Naomi's repentance, now desires also the God of Naomi.

When Ruth and Naomi return to Israel, Ruth seeks to glean in the fields. She does not realize it at the time, but she ends up by Divine Providence, gleaning in the field of Boaz who is a kinsman of Elimelech. By Israelite law, the next nearest kinsman would be required to provide his deceased kinsman an heir through his kinsman's widow. Boaz sees Ruth gleaning in the field and inquires about her. Understanding that she is gleaning on behalf of her mother-in-law to provide care for her, Boaz extols her. "All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before." (Ruth 2:11) Ruth is the archetype of what a believing woman is to do for any relative of hers who is truly a widow. By bringing back the grain she has gleaned for her mother-in-law, Ruth is showing that she is also managing her own household. Ruth earns the favor of Boaz and is invited to drink wine (Ruth 2:14). She is provided with superabundant care by Boaz. When she reports back to Naomi it is revealed to Ruth that Boaz is a kinsman of her mother-in-law. Naomi instructs her daughter-in-law to go out with Boaz's women in his field and to stay close to Boaz (Ruth 2:22). Honoring her mother-in-law and committing herself to her household duties, she obeys the instruction given to her.

Naomi instructs Ruth to put on her best clothes, find Boaz on the threshing floor, and to wait for him to lie down after which, she is to uncover his feet and wait for his instruction (Ruth 3:3-4). Ruth does what her mother-in-law says. It is easy for someone to make the mistake in assuming that Naomi has a higher authority than Ruth, however, Ruth's subjection to her mother-in-law and her willingness to do as her mother-in-law says is an entire act of voluntary faith on the part of Ruth. Ruth was given the option to go her own way early on but chose to remain with her mother-in-law. Ruth is willing to do what her mother-in-law says because she recognizes the dire need of her mother-in-law. Ruth is a provider for her mother-in-law. She is the youthful one who will be able to carry on the familial line and Ruth is doing her duty in managing her own household and taking care of her widowed mother-in-law. She does exactly as her mother-in-law has told her to do and Boaz blesses her for not pursuing a younger man. He then informs her of a relative closer to her and that it is not to be found that Ruth entered upon the threshing floor for there might be a scandal should an adulterous relationship be found suspected (Ruth 3:13-14). Boaz, understanding that Ruth is a provider for her mother-in-law, gives her six measures of barley to take back to Naomi (Ruth 3:16-17).

Boaz presented Elimelech's land to the next-of-kin, but on hearing that he would inherit Ruth, the widow of Mahlon, the next-of-kin refused the land and gave it to Boaz (Ruth 4:1-6). This also meant that Boaz would acquire Ruth, the Moabitess (Ruth 4:10). The people gathered and blessed Boaz that this woman be like Rachel and Leah and that his house may be like "the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah" (Ruth 4:12). The comparison to Tamar is interesting as Tamar was under a similar circumstance as Ruth. Tamar had married Judah's son Er. But Er was found wicked in the Lord's sight and was struck dead. Judah sent his son Onan to provide the heir for his brother, but upon realizing the children would not be his, Onan spilled his semen before he had relations with Tamar. The Lord found this wicked and struck him down with that. Judah refused his third son Shelah to Tamar, telling her to remain a widow until he grew up. Tamar, hoping to claim what was hers properly, removed her widow's garments and set about as an harlot, seducing her father-in-law. Through her father-in-law, she bore the twins Perez and Zarah. Zarah had stuck his hand out of the womb first and a cord was tied around his hand to distinguish him as the firstborn but then he withdrew it and Perez was born to Tamar first (Gen. 38).

Ruth conceived as soon as she came together with Boaz and the women prophecy to Naomi. Then the women said to Naomi,
“Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” (Ruth 4:14-15)
Thus, Ruth is to Naomi more than seven sons. Not just a maidservant as one could reasonably assume from the text, but rather the caretaker of her mother-in-law. She is not a subject of her mother-in-law but has presumed a role greater than Naomi. Through Ruth comes Naomi's redemption. For Ruth is to give birth to Obed, the father of Jesse who is the father of King David. In the genealogy of Matthew 1, Ruth is one of three women mentioned by name along with Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba is mentioned as a fourth as the wife of Uriah. Thus showing us that the universality of the Church. Israel was not meant to be a nation of one race, offering salvation based on one's blood inheritance. Israel was meant to graft the foreigners into the community as well. Israel stood as a light. Ruth was grafted into the Church of the Old Testament as also Christ grafted the Gentiles into the Church in the New Testament. Ruth gave birth to the genealogical line of King David (Ruth 4:17). As mentioned, Naomi's husband Elimelech died when she abandoned Israel. Elimelech, meaning "My God is King", in a way symbolized Naomi's apostasy. Mahlon and Chilion, meaning "sickness" and "wasting" married Pagan women and died. But Naomi, having returned to the Church, and bringing back with her a convert daughter-in-law, now finds herself taking God as her King once again. Her daughter-in-law is who conceives the Davidic Royal line of Israel. This is the Royal line that the Messiah is to be born unto. The incarnate God thus finds His way back into Naomi's life as she returns from her own spiritual apostasy. Ruth the Righteous, pray for us!

Friday, December 10, 2021

St. Daniel the Stylite

St. Daniel the Stylite lived during the reign of Emperor Leo the Isaurian. His parents had no children. In her old age, his mother, like Hannah, the mother of Samuel, asked God to be blessed with a child and vowed to dedicate the child to the ascetical life. When the child was born, they brought him before the hegumen of the monastery to be baptized. But the hegumen rejected the name his parents had given him. He told the child to take a book from one of the shelves in the monastery and bring it to him. The child took a book from the shelf and it was none other than the book of the Holy Prophet Daniel. The hegumen then gave the name Daniel to the young child.

At age twelve, Daniel asked to join the monastic and ascetical life. Because the boy was so young, the hegumen initially rejected this offer. The hegumen explained that the monastic and ascetical life is grueling and demanding and that it would be unfit for a child as young Daniel was. But Daniel insisted and stated that with God as his helper, he could do all that was required in the monastic and ascetical life. The hegumen agreed but had to inform his parents that they could not visit the monastery as they had been doing since now Daniel was to become dead to the world. At the young age of twelve, Daniel was tonsured a monk and accepted into the monastic and ascetical life.

Having heard of St. Symeon the Stylite's new devotion, Daniel was always desirous to go and investigate the Holy Lands and learn from this great elder. But the hegumen refused to allow him to go on his own. It happened once though that the Bishop required a meeting of elders in the Holy Land and the Archimandrite took Daniel with him as accompaniment. There, at the monastery in Telanissa where St. Symeon the Stylite had trained, they came across a crowd of monks disputing the new devotion. Certain of the monks mocked the concept of sitting atop a pillar for one's entire life. Other monks believed it to be a beneficial discipline for the body as it was subjected to all sorts of harsh environmental treatments. Symeon, hearing the disputes, called out to those on the ground from his pillar asking to be embraced.

Some refused to go up to the pillar as they were afraid. Others refused to go up to the pillar as they had just spoken out against the discipline and were uncertain if St. Symeon would receive them. Daniel had initially not ascended because he was subjected to the Archimandrite. But with the Archimandrite's permission, he climbed the ladder and embraced St. Symeon. Symeon prophesied of the hardships and the life that Daniel would face. "Thou hast many hardships to endure for God, but I trust in the God whom I serve that He shall both strengthen thee and travel together with thee. He shall give thee strength and help, that thou mightest vanquish the devil to the end." Daniel's life would be spent constantly battling devils and expelling from demons from many people. He would soon find himself in a heated spiritual combat with the devil and his minions.

When Daniel returned to the monastery, the hegumen died, leaving a vacancy for who would succeed him. The brothers loved Daniel and desired to have him elected to fulfill the vacancy. But Daniel refused. He fled the monastery and headed toward the Holy Land. But first, he stopped by St. Symeon the Stylite. Symeon told him that he was not to go to Jerusalem. He would suffer death there. Daniel was committed to go there anyway and said that he would suffer martyrdom for the Kingdom. Symeon told him this was not what God had called him for. He was to go to Byzantium. God is in Byzantium. As Daniel continued to head toward Jerusalem, he found a figure much like Symeon following him, warning him not to go to Jerusalem, but head to Byzantium. When Daniel figured out it was Symeon, he eventually heeded the elder's plea and turned to go to Byzantium.

It was in Byzantium that he came across a Temple of idols that some were saying had a demonic energy that caused many ships to crash and sailors to drown. Daniel, always eager to be tested, headed to the Temple and began praying there that the demons would be cast out of the Temple. He spent three nights in prayer being harangued by the assaults of the demons that filled the Temple. On the third night, the demons began throwing rocks at him. But he remained in the Temple, standing firm. "Though a host should draw up in battle-order against me, yet my heart shall not be afraid." (Ps. 26:4) As he defeated the demons through fasting and prayer, many came to Daniel to hear his instructions. But the demons began to sow the seeds of envy in certain impious souls.

Daniel was accused of being a heretic before Bishop Anatolios. But Bishop Anatolios guarded himself against a rash charge and desired to inquire of the manner further. He reminded the people that Daniel, who was Syriac, spoke a different tongue than the Greek-speaking men who accused him of heresy. That if it was God's will for Daniel to be there, then the demons would be sent away from the Temple and the Temple would be filled with holiness. A second time, Daniel was denounced as an impostor. Wishing to learn more about Daniel, Bishop Anatolios had Daniel brought to his chambers where he inquired of Daniel and a translator was able to help understand the Syriac dialect. The Bishop learned that Daniel was of the Orthodox Catholic faith and that he had been spending time in the Temple to vanquish the demons. While staying with the Bishop, Anatolios fell ill and Daniel healed him. Though the Bishop desired to excommunicate Daniel's detractors, Daniel begged the Bishop to forgive them instead. Though the Bishop wanted Daniel to remain with him, Daniel desired to return to the Temple.

In returning, Daniel beheld a vision of St. Symeon the Stylite with two angels around him, calling him to ascend. Daniel could not determine why he had seen this vision until Sergios, the disciple of St. Symeon, came across him. Sergios was bringing the koukoulion (cowl) of his former teacher to the Emperor Leo, but came across the Temple on his way. There, Daniel explained to Sergios his vision and Sergios revealed that St. Symeon had reposed and that while the koukoulion of St. Symeon was going to be a gift for the Emperor, he realized that God had arranged this visit by His Divine Providence and gave the koukoulion to Daniel instead. Sergios and Daniel both received a vision that Daniel was to become a Stylite, following in the footsteps of St. Symeon, and they left the Temple of idols.

While walking in the wilderness by a garden owned by Gelanios, a dove revealed to Sergios where the pillar for the new Stylite was to be built. Mark, an imperial guardsmen and friend of Sergios, helped them to build the pillar. Seeing the pillar built, Gelanios was determined to get rid of the Stylite, inspired by envy. He sent a claim to the Emperor and the Patriarch Gennadios I. Gennadios I ordered the Stylite to remove himself from the vicinity. Gelanios's field was destroyed by hail. Seeing the destruction, Gelanios's servants pleaded that he might actually benefit from the Stylite's prayers and it is disputable as to whether this was actually on Gelanios's lands. Gelanios, conversing in Syriac, asked Daniel to descend from the pillar but to not touch the ground with his feet. Daniel came down from the pillar and Gelanios, seeing the man's feet, then told the Stylite to go back atop his pillar and even asked the Stylite if he could build an even bigger pillar for him. In the meanwhile, Daniel dispelled a demon from a young child.

Sergios returned, building a booth by the pillar, and the two men saw their disciples begin to gradually increase. Daniel healed many sick and possessed people, including the daughter and the sister-in-law of Kyrios, the prefect of Constantinople, who would become the Bishop of Kolyaion. Kyrios had inscribed at the bottom of the pillar the following:
"Betwixt heaven and earth there stands a man who bears up and strives to gain against wind and rains, which he in no wise fears. His sustenance is ambrosial and his drink bloodless, which have armed this warrior's frame and rooted his two legs to the pillar; he who is the root of Symeon, both his heir and equal, is called Daniel the wondrous, who proclaims the most true God, the Son of the Mother who knew not wedlock."
Another man, Pontus, he healed the son of. He also delivered a child by his prayers to the Emperor's daughter Ariadne. She bore Leo II.

Though Daniel was still not without his detractors. A harlot named Vasiane was bribed to entice the Stylite but he would not give in to her whoredoms. She took on a variety of her seducing poses and lingered for a long time by the monasteries. But none of the brothers gave into her harlotries or seducting poses. Frustrated, she claimed Daniel had indeed given in to her seducings but she refused to ascend the ladder up to him so he had threatened to kill her. This was all a lie and a demon eventually overtook her. She eventually confessed the truth to all and Daniel forgave her, exorcising the demon that had taken over her and seized her. It was through this that even more people came to realize the work of the Stylite atop this pillar. From the moment of her healing, she would remain in a life of virtue.

Daniel was ordained a priest at the command of Emperor Leo I in a most unusual ceremony. Refusing to come down from his pillar, even for this, Patriarch Gennadios I informed the Stylite that the people had revealed the will of God when they announced, "Axios!" There was a Divine Liturgy that was celebrated around the pillar and the Patriarch ascended to the top of the pillar where he blessed Daniel with the ordination to the priestly rank. After this, the Emperor Leo I, who had become very close friends with the Stylite after his daughter had conceived, came to visit Daniel, asking for a blessing and offering to build an even bigger pillar for the Stylite. This pillar was an even bigger double-column that Daniel would sit upon for the remainder of his life.

Daniel, seeing that Constantinople had been plagued with heresies and unbeliefs, prophesied bitter destruction and ruin to the city unless they carried out penitential celebrations. But as Pascha was approaching, the Bishop did not want to cause more grief to the people with their festal celebrations already occurring, so the warning went unheeded. A fire broke out throughout the city and many orphans, widowers, and widows visited the Stylite and he took pity on them. "The wrath which came upon us was on account of our carelessness!" Coming to repentance, the Stylite announced that the fire would last for another week and then dissipate. These things came to pass as Daniel had prophesied.

That winter was particularly bitter and harsh and windy. The wind was so strong that it rocked the pillar back and forth. Many of the brothers thought the pillar would collapse and Daniel would be brought to his destruction. They rushed to fortify the base of the pillar with iron bars but the pillar continued to rock back and forth and they were thrown to the ground even as they tried to save the Stylite. Daniel put his trust in the Lord, realizing that this mortal body was only a shell and vessel to assist him in getting to his main goal. "Bring out my soul from prison in order to give thanks to Thy name." (Psalm 141:10) Emperor Leo was troubled by the wind and investigated, finding that the foundation of the pillar was set incorrectly and demanded the architect be put to death. As he left the Stylite, the Devil was hoping to stir up trouble between the Emperor and the saint, and the Emperor's horse threw him to the ground, causing a jewel to break out from the crown. Jordan, the horse's master, informed Daniel of what had happened, and how he was an Arian but would convert to Orthodoxy if the Emperor spared him. The Emperor, understanding that he had caused more offense to the Stylite by mounting a horse while the Stylite stood on a pillar, confessed that it was his own fault and he would never ascend the mountain on horseback again, instead leaving the horse at the base of the mountain when he visited the Stylite. As in the case of Vasiane, in which a soul was converted through the Devil's malice, yet again, a soul was converted through the Devil's malice and attempts at ruin.

St. Daniel the Stylite's wisdom was so trusted by the Emperor that when Gouzavios, King of Lazika and Emperor of the Rhomaioi wished to settle a treaty with Leo, they both sought council from the holy wisdom of Daniel to mediate their dispute. When Daniel froze during the winter that year, the Emperor Leo took sympathy on the Stylite and built a roof atop the pillar for him. Though Daniel refused initially, he then allowed this gift from the Emperor. The Emperor would send many noblemen to seek council from the Stylite, and when Gaiseric, King of the Vandals and persecutor of Christians, threatened to invade the Empire, Daniel told the Emperor to place his trust in God and not pursue military action against the Gothic King. The threat would subside. Leo would bring the relics of St. Symeon the Stylite back to Daniel's pillar and built a church dedicated to St. Symeon there. When the Emperor's General Edranos, an aggressive, wolfish, and valiant man of military might, met with the Stylite, he came to a sense of peace and was turned to a lamb. He joined the monastery and the Emperor demanded him back. But the Stylite informed the Emperor that God's defense was sufficient for the Empire and he would find a new General, equally fierce, soon enough. Daniel would bless Zeno's campaign against the Barbarians and prophesied all of Zeno's troubles that would soon befall, including the treacherous plot against the Emperor Zeno and the Empress Ariadne, their flight to Chalcedon, and their return to the throne.

Basiliskos would be involved in a coup against the Emperor Zeno not long after Emperor Leo I's death. Emperor Leo II would succeed his father, but being too young, the Emperor Zeno, the husband of the Empress Ariadne, would fulfill the role of regent. After Leo II's early death, Emperor Zeno would take full control of the Empire. Not being the blood relation of Leo I, many subordinates in the Senate would despise the new Emperor and seek to overthrow him. Basiliskos overthrew Zeno and sat on the throne as an usurper. He favored the Monophysite heresy and forced the Church to overturn the Council of Chalcedon and allow communion with the Monophysites. Daniel the Stylite would guide the Church through this crisis and convince the new Patriarch Akakios to resist the Emperor in his heresy. Daniel sent a note to the Emperor stating the following:
"Thou has brought turmoil to the Church and despised her priests....Do not give that which is holy to the dogs, nor cast your pearls before swine. Thus, God has found thee wanting and thy kingdom shall be taken from thee."
He also pointed out that Basiliskos meant "little king" as well as "snake". The people praised Daniel's actions, proclaiming in the Church of Hagia Sophia, "The holy Daniel of the Church! The new Daniel has come to save Susanna in her distress! Another Elias has put to shame Jezebel and Ahab! In thee we have an orthodox priest who protects the Bride of Christ!"

Patriarch Akakios sent messengers to the Stylite to convince him to come down off his pillar and condemn the Emperor in person. Daniel was persistent in refusing, but seeing the men would not let up, allowed himself to be taken down from his pillar and carried to Constantinople. When Basiliskos heard that the Stylite was in Constantinople, he fled to his palace in Hebdomon. Daniel, while in Constantinople, would not be satisfied unless he personally gave censure to the Emperor. As his feet were unfit for walking, the people carried the Stylite all the way to the palace. He healed lepers on the way there and when they arrived, he applied the Gospel command to take the shoes off one's feet and kick the dust off to the Emperor. There were so many people at the palace taking their shoes off and kicking the dust off that the guards heard a clap as if of thunder and joined with the Stylite. The Stylite was proclaimed a Consul as this was seen as an insurrection against the usurper Emperor.

The palace collapsed, the capital burnt, and Zeno returned to Constantinople with the Empress Ariadne to the praise and joy of the people. Basiliskos, his wife, and his child, were sentenced to exile having been formally excommunicated by the Stylite in the presence of the Patriarch Akakios, and they starved to death. While Daniel walked back to the capital to excommunicate the Emperor, a snake wrapped itself around his feet but died. This happened in the presence of Akakios. These events were indubitably the climax of the Stylite's life though when he returned to his pillar, he would continue to perform many more miracles, exorcisms, and various healings which are too numerous to even list.

He announced his repose a week before to his brothers. On the day of his repose, he celebrated one last liturgy and communed. A demon-possessed man confirmed Daniel's repose mentioning the angels, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, surrounding the holy man in the hour of his repose and how this caused him great suffering. When Daniel reposed, he would be expelled and the man would be healed. When this came to pass, it was confirmed that Daniel had in fact entered into eternal glory at last. Daniel reposed on December 11, 493 A.D. at the age of 84 years. Rais, a Patrician woman whom Daniel's intercession brought a child named Zeno to, constructed a spiral staircase around the pillar where Daniel stood all his life. His body was placed in a lead coffin and carried down by Patriarch Euphemios so as it would not be stolen. He was buried above the tomb of the Three Children so that when all come to venerate St. Daniel the Stylite, they come to venerate the Three Children who were thrown into the fire. St. Daniel the Stylite, preserve our Faith and pray for the Bride of Christ! Amen.