Saturday, April 6, 2013

April 6 - Eutychius of Constantinople, Priest, Patriarch, Exiled to Monasticism

It seemed that Eutychius was destined to be Patriarch. At least, that's what the writing in the sand seemed to suggest. He and his friends had been playing like little boys do. They hadn't been planning to be prophetic but sometimes the most convicting moments of prophecy happen when we're not expecting them and they don't always come from the source we expect them. Each of them would write their name in the sand and enjoy seeing the letters of it standing there as a silent witness to their own life. Then, another boy would scoop up a stick and in a flurry of writing would write some title or description next to it. They added "the great" to some names and giggled at the very thought that somebody they had played and joked with could be some great influential person--still ignorant of the flow of time and the necessity of new heroes they couldn't imagine a child like them being important. Then, the boy would erase the title and shake his head in mock exasperation. They continued this game for a while until one boy had the deliciously clever idea to add the title "Patriarch" to the beginning of Eutychius' name. The boys laughed, at first, but their laughter faded as they watched Eutychius stare at the combination of that title with his name. He couldn't shake the feeling that their game had turned to foreshadowing and did not rush to erase the letter. Instead, they stood as a silent witness of a future identity until the wind blew away the word.

As he grew he surely found ways to overlook that prophetic game they had played and convince himself that he was not going to be the head of the Church in Constantinople--it was simply too far beyond him to be that responsible and obligated. Yet, he did eventually enter the ministry and become a priest. Perhaps the friends he had played with on that day would occasionally refer to him as "Patriarch Eutychius" in a way that was but wasn't a joke. They'd laugh but they all would wonder what might become of that day they wrote truths and fables in a sandy place near their homes. The prophecies didn't stop in the sand, though. The Patriarch of the monastery in Amasea where he lived and served fell ill one day shortly before he was supposed to be in Constantinople for a meeting with the Patriarch. He sent Eutychius in his place. The current Patriarch--Menas--met Eutychius and within the conversation expressed his undeniable conviction that God was saying Eutychius would be the next Patriarch. Eutychius' mind flashed backed to hasty letters scrawled in the sand and he had little idea what to say in response.

Eventually, Menas died and the emperor Justinian the First--the one who would be known as the Great--would have a vision. In the vision the Apostle Peter appeared to him and charged him with selecting the next Patriarch. Peter raised his hand and extended a finger.Justinian's eyes were locked upon that finger as it traced through the air in front of many priests and bishops. It eventually stopped in front of the face if Eutychius and Peter said to Justinian: "This one. Let him be the one." So, Justinian appointed Eutychius as Patriarch and it was met with appreciation. He was qualified for the role--he was known for his leadership abilities and his compassionate virtues. But in 553,Eutychius called for the leaders of the Church to meet in Constantinople to address the rising tide of heretical teaching in the Church. They discussed a variety of heretical viewpoints but of chief concern was the viewpoint that Jesus' flesh on the cross was imperishable and incapable of any suffering. To say so was to insist that Jesus' suffering was somehow incomplete or unreal. Eutychius was a part of the group that denied this teaching but Justinian was part of the group that supported it. Soon, regardless of his calling or words written in sand by boys many years ago or even the vision of the Apostle Peter, Justinian deposed Eutychius.

Soldiers of the emperor entered the sanctuary in Constantinople on a Sunday morning and seized Eutychius. Before his congregation--his flock--they stripped the clerical vestments off of him and cast him out of the sanctuary. He had disagreed with the emperor and was no longer welcome within the bounds of the emperor's influence. He was exiled to a monastery in Amasea--back home--and he spent the remainder of his days there providing pastoral care and comfort to the sick and the dying. He healed disease and gave away his possessions to the poor. He had been Patriarch--as had been predicted on no less than three occasions--but had only been so for a little while. It turned out that his greatest calling was not ecclesial power but spiritual devotion to a Lord who also had been rejected by the powerful and cast aside as if he were worthless. It was many years later that the returned to the position of power and service in the Church. Shortly thereafter, Eutychius died after having been a minister to the poor and outcast in his exile and Patriarch in Constantinople.

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