Thursday, February 6, 2014

St Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem

Confessor and Defender of Orthodoxy during the First Wave of Islamic Jihad



1. Introduction, by Ralph H. Sidway
2. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, References to Islam
3. Life of St Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem
4. The Last Ancient Patriarch of Jerusalem: Saint Sophronius, by Robert Shaffern


1. Introduction - The Continuity of Jihad, from Sophronius' Time to Our Own
by Ralph H. Sidway

Orthodox Christians are likely most familiar with St Sophronius through his Life of St Mary of Egypt, which is prescribed to be read in church in its entirety on Thursday of the Fifth Week of Great Lent, in conjunction with the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete. But Patriarch Sophronius is no less important for his other spiritual and liturgical works, which are referenced in sections 3 and 4 below.

Sophronius lived during a time of horrific upheaval. His references to the first Islamic invasion of Palestine and Jerusalem of the latter 630s provides us with a trustworthy, eyewitness account of the merciless brutality of the Muslims (referred to in antiquity as "Saracens"), which we see again sweeping the world in our own day in Islam's renewed war against Christians. Note below Sophronius' reference to the establishment of mosques by the Muslims.

The Life of St Sophronius (section 3, below) relates his hope that surrendering Jerusalem would win clemency from the Muslims, and how that hope was dashed:

Toward the end of his life, St Sophronius and his flock lived through a two year siege of Jerusalem by the Moslems. Worn down by hunger, the Christians finally agreed to open the city gates, on the condition that the enemy spare the holy places. But this condition was not fulfilled, and St Sophronius died in grief over the desecration of the Christian holy places.

The importance of Sophronius' testimony cannot be overstated, as his references to Islam demonstrate the unbroken continuity between the ferocity and cruelty of Muhammad's first followers, and the bloodthirsty jihadists of today, who are striving to eradicate Christianity from the Middle East, and impose Islam upon the whole world, as commanded by their false prophet and their satanic Quran.

O Holy Patriarch Sophronius, pray that Christ our God would strengthen us in our trials!


2. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (d. ca. 639)
Chapter 2, from External References to Islam, by Peter Kirby
September 11, 2003

Introduction by the editor, Peter Kirby:

Robert G. Hoyland in 1997 published an important book entitled Seeing Islam as Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam. This book contains background, commentary, and evaluation of over a hundred sources that may date between 630 CE and 780 CE, the formative period of Islam, and that refer to the growing phenomenon in either an incidental or purposeful context as an outsider. Unfortunately, the book is expensive and difficult to obtain. So I have excerpted the references themselves, placing them in chronological order, and I encourage the interested reader to buy or borrow Hoyland's book.

In a synodical letter without date, Sophronius gives an extensive list of heretics and asks, in the valedictions, that the following may be granted by God to "our Christ-loving and most gentle emperors":
A strong and vigorous sceptre to break the pride of all the barbarians, and especially of the Saracens who, on account of our sins, have now risen up against us unexpectedly and ravage all with cruel and feral design, with impious and godless audacity. More than ever, therefore, we entreat your Holiness to make urgent petitions to Christ so that he, receiving these favourably from you, may quickly quell their mad insolence and deliver these vile creatures, as before, to be the footstool of our God-given emperors. (Ep. synodica, PG 87, 3197D-3200A [p. 69])

The following comments are dated to December of 634:
We, however, because of our innumerable sins and serious misdemeanours, are unable to see these things, and are prevented from entering Bethlehem by way of the road. Unwillingly, indeed, contrary to our wishes, we are required to stay at home, not bound closely by bodily bonds, but bound by fear of the Saracens. (Christmas Sermon, 506 [p. 70]) 
At once that of the Philistines, so now the army of the godless Saracens has captured the divine Bethlehem and bars our passage there, threatening slaughter and destruction if we leave this holy city and dare to approach our beloved and sacred Bethlehem. (Christmas Sermon, 507 [p. 70]) 
If we were to live as is dear and pleasing to God, we would rejoice over the fall of the Saracen enemy and observe their near ruin and witness their final demise. For their blood-loving blade will enter their hearts, their bow will be broken and their arrows will be fixed in them. (Christmas Sermon, 515 [p. 71])

This dates to the 6th of December in 636 or 637:
But the present circumstances are forcing me to think differently about our way of life, for why are [so many] wars being fought among us? Why do barbarian raids abound? Why are the troops of the Saracens attacking us? Why has there been so much destruction and plunder? Why are there incessant outpourings of human blood? Why are the birds of the sky devouring human bodies? Why have churches been pulled down? Why is the cross mocked? Why is Christ, who is the dispenser of all good things and the provider of this joyousness of ours, blasphemed by pagan mouths (ethnikois tois stomasi) so that he justly cries out to us: "Because of you my name is blasphemed among the pagans," and this is the worst of all the terrible things that are happening to us. 
That is why the vengeful and God-hating Saracens, the abomination of desolation clearly foretold to us by the prophets, overrun the places which are not allowed to them, plunder cities, devastate fields, burn down villages, set on fire the holy churches, overturn the sacred monasteries, oppose the Byzantine armies arrayed against them, and in fighting raise up the trophies [of war] and add victory to victory. Moreover, they are raised up more and more against us and increase their blasphemy of Christ and the church, and utter wicked blasphemies against God. 
Those God-fighters boast of prevailing over all, assiduously and unrestrainably imitating their leader, who is the devil, and emulating his vanity because of which he has been expelled from heaven and been assigned to the gloomy shades. 
Yet these vile ones would not have accomplished this nor seized such a degree of power as to do and utter lawlessly all these things, unless we had first insulted the gift [of baptism] and first defiled the purification, and in this way grieved Christ, the giver of gifts, and prompted him to be angry with us, good though he is and though he takes no pleasure in evil, being the fount of kindness and not wishing to behold the ruin and destruction of men. We are ourselves, in truth, responsible for all these things and no word will be found for our defence. What word or place will be given us for our defence when we have taken all these gifts from him, befouled them and defiled everything with our vile actions? (Holy Baptism, 166-167 [pp. 72-73])

In a work originally composed by John Moschus (d. 619), but expanded by Sophronius (d. ca. 639), actually found only in an addition of the Georgian translation, the following entry appears, concerning a construction dated by tradition at 638, i.e., soon after the capture of Jerusalem ca. 637. It appears in a portion concerning Sophronius as recounted on the authority of his contemporary, the archdeacon Theodore, and may have been written down ca. 670:
The godless Saracens entered the holy city of Christ our Lord, Jerusalem, with the permission of God and in punishment for our negligence, which is considerable, and immediately proceeded in haste to the place which is called the Capitol. They took with them men, some by force, others by their own will, in order to clean that place and to build that cursed thing, intended for their prayer and which they call a mosque (midzgitha). (Pratum spirituale, 100-102 [p. 63])


3. Life of St Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem
Commemorated March 11 —

Saint Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, was born in Damascus around 560. From his youth he was distinguished for his piety and his love for classical studies. He was especially proficient in philosophy, and so he was known as Sophronius the Wise. The future hierarch, however, sought the true philosophy of monasticism, and conversations with the desert-dwellers.

He arrived in Jerusalem at the monastery of St Theodosius, and there he became close with the hieromonk John Moschus, becoming his spiritual son and submitting himself to him in obedience. They visited several monasteries, writing down the lives and spiritual wisdom of the ascetics they met. From these notes emerged their renowned book, the LEIMONARION or SPIRITUAL MEADOW, which was highly esteemed at the Seventh Ecumenical Council.

To save themselves from the devastating incursions of the Persians, Sts John and Sophronius left Palestine and went to Antioch, and from there they went to Egypt. In Egypt, St Sophronius became seriously ill. During this time he decided to become a monk and was tonsured by St John Moschus.

After St Sophronius recovered his health, they both decided to remain in Alexandria. There they were received by the holy Patriarch John the Merciful (November 12), to whom they rendered great aid in the struggle against the Monophysite heresy. At Alexandria St Sophronius had an affliction of the eyes, and he turned with prayer and faith to the holy Unmercenaries Cyrus and John (January 31), and he received healing in a church named for them. In gratitude, St Sophronius then wrote the Lives of these holy Unmercenaries.

When the barbarians began to threaten Alexandria, Patriarch John, accompanied by Sts Sophronius and John Moschus, set out for Constantinople, but he died along the way. Sts John Moschus and Sophronius then set out for Rome with eighteen other monks. St John Moschus died at Rome. His body was taken to Jerusalem by St Sophronius and buried at the monastery of St Theodosius.

In the year 628, Patriarch Zacharias of Jerusalem (609-633) returned from his captivity in Persia. After his death, the patriarchal throne was occupied for two years by St Modestus (December 18). After the death of St Modestus, St Sophronius was chosen Patriarch. St Sophronius toiled much for the welfare of the Jerusalem Church as its primate (634-644).

Toward the end of his life, St Sophronius and his flock lived through a two year siege of Jerusalem by the Moslems. Worn down by hunger, the Christians finally agreed to open the city gates, on the condition that the enemy spare the holy places. But this condition was not fulfilled, and St Sophronius died in grief over the desecration of the Christian holy places.

Written works by Patriarch Sophronius have come down to us in the area of dogmatics, and likewise his “Excursus on the Liturgy,” the Life of St Mary of Egypt (April 1), and also about 950 troparia and stikheras from Pascha to the Ascension.

While still a hieromonk, St Sophronius reviewed and made corrections to the Rule of the monastery of St Sava the Sanctified (December 5). The saint’s three Odes Canons for the Holy Forty Day Great Fast are included in the the contemporary Lenten Triodion.


4. The Last Ancient Patriarch of Jerusalem: Saint Sophronius
by Robert Shaffern, Crisis Magazine

Heavy-hearted, Sophronius, the patriarch of Jerusalem, set out to meet the Caliph, the successor to the Muslim prophet Muhammad, at the gates of the Holy City. The surrender had already been negotiated, after a siege that had lasted four months. Sophronius, patriarch of the city since 634, had decided that the city must be surrendered. For several years, Palestine had been cut off from the rest of Christian-Byzantine territory. Sophronius could have known nothing of Emperor Heraclius’s intentions to relieve or leave the city to its fate. He did know that invaders had ransacked villages of Palestine for the second time in a generation. That terror certainly encouraged him to accept surrender in exchange for the lives of the Jerusalemites and the safety of its churches. In the meantime, he sent many of the city’s precious relics, including the True Cross, to Constantinople, where they could be kept safe. Shortly after the capitulation of the city, Sophronius seems to have fled into a voluntary exile. He died shortly thereafter, sometime in 638, many said of a broken heart.

Sophronius lived in a religiously and politically tumultuous era. Violence between Monophysite and Chalcedonian Christians often erupted in the great cities of Antioch and Alexandria. These two rival groups had been at odds since the fifth century, when oriental Christians began to insist on the one nature in the incarnate Christ, in opposition to the teaching of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, which taught two natures in Christ, one fully divine and the other fully human. In addition to this religious strife, Byzantine politics destabilized, and made the empire vulnerable to invasion from Persia, the Roman Empire’s age-old enemy. In 602, a bloody coup in the palace in Constantinople ushered in a decade of terror and instability, which the Persians used to conquer Egypt, Syria, and Palestine, all of which remained in Sassanid hands for a generation.

Sophronius was born sometime around 560 in Damascus, but was formed by the Christianity of Palestine. Great monastic and liturgical creativity flourished in Christ’s homeland during the sixth century. Still to be seen today are the remnants of numerous lavra, the cliff monasteries in the Judean countryside, some of which are still living communities. Lavra monasticism sought to combine the eremitic and cenobitic observations of monasticism. Between the hours of communal worship, when the monks gathered in church for the celebration of the Office, they remained in solitary prayer in cells bored out of the cliffsides of the Judean desert. Sophronius joined the lavra of St. Chariton, where he became the disciple and friend of the spiritual master John Moschus. In 604, the two monks left St. Chariton to travel throughout Egypt, where they studied monasticism in its homeland. They became advisors to the patriarch of Alexandria, who in 607 encouraged them to gather the lore of the desert fathers. John Moschus collected these in his The Spiritual Meadow, a catalogue of the lives and deeds of mostly Middle Eastern holy men. Some of Sophronius’s own works survive; they clearly influenced the thought of the most creative of the later Fathers, Maximus the Confessor (died 662). All three of these great figures emphasized deification—the divinization and glorification of humanity by the grace and glory of God.

Upheaval in the imperial capital must have contributed to their decision to leave Egypt for Rome. In 602, a general named Phokas deposed and executed the Emperor Maurice. Phokas was a cruel, bloodthirsty tyrant whose rule amounted to a reign of terror. In 610, a general from Africa named Heraclius gathered an army and deposed and executed Phokas. The political instability proved a catastrophe, for the Sassanid Persians took advantage and seized the regions of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt from Byzantine control. Persecution of Christianity accompanied the military campaign, for the Persians slaughtered lay and clerical Christians, and destroyed numerous churches. They took Jerusalem’s most precious relic, the True Cross, off to Mesopotamia. Many Byzantine-Christians fled to the west. Like many other refugees of the religious and political tumult of the east, Sophronius and Moschus found sanctuary in Rome.  Christian worship in the east was badly damaged, and the length of the Persian occupation (about 15 years) meant that many of the young grew up knowing little of Christian faith or liturgy.

Heraclius, however, rallied Byzantine forces and had decisively defeated the Persians by 628. Sophronius returned to Palestine and was named patriarch of the city in 634. The True Cross returned to Jerusalem amid triumphal rejoicing. Still, Byzantine political and religious authorities faced a colossal task. Both government and church desperately needed time to be reconstructed. Alas, that time was not forthcoming. Muhammad himself had planned on a campaign against Christian Syria and Palestine, but when he saw Heraclius’s armies decided to bide his time. In the meantime he died, but his successor Umar waged a campaign of conquest in fulfillment of Muhammad’s ambitions. The great battle of the Yarmuk river in 636 spelled the doom of Christian government in the Levantine regions. The Byzantine army was utterly destroyed. The Persian and Muslim wars, coming as they did in quick succession, had exhausted the Byzantine Empire’s military resources. Heraclius, who lived until 641, could do nothing to recover what had just been recovered. He spent the rest of his days broken hearted, having seen his great reconquests lost.

The feast of Saint Sophronius is observed on March 11, but it is also fitting to remember his struggles on July 15, the date of the reconquest of Jerusalem by the First Crusade.

Robert W. Shaffern is a Professor of Medieval History at the University of Scranton and the author of The Penitents’ Treasury: Indulgences in Latin Christendom, 1175-1375.