30 April 2010

'The Light of Thy Virtues Has Shone in the World'—St Macarius of Corinth

Today, 17 April on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of St Macarius (Notaras) (1731-1805), Bishop of Corinth. In the words of Constantine Cavarnos, ‘St Macarios was not only a great reformer of the Church, an inspirer, enlightener, helper and spiritual guide of men, but also a great ascetic, who strove to perfect himself and attain union with God.’ [1] Chrestos Yannaras refers to him as an example of ‘a conscious Hellenic presence’ which ‘from time to time across the centuries . . . shines through, linking Gregory Palamas to the present day.’ [2] Furthermore, Yannaras concludes his study of the history of modern Greek theology by referring to St Macarius as one of a series of ‘signposts . . . pointing to the real Hellenism, the historical embodiment of the Church’s Gospel.’ [3] Finally, Basil Skouteris writes:

In the person of St Macarius, we have a combination of many qualities: his saintliness, his innate wisdom, the support of the ancient tradition, and the ability as a speaker and a writer. His social activity, his philanthropy and spirit of renewal are certainly something wondrous. [4]

I posted at great length on the life of St Macarius last year (here), including first and foremost his rôle in the editing and publication of the Philokalia and Evergetinos, so I won’t try to rehash all of the details today. But I did find Skouteris’s description one aspect of his life on Chios rather interesting. Skouteris tells us:

At that stage of life we see St Macarius as he is about to create a circle of intellectuals around him, who were distinguished for their austere lives. Some were from Chios and some from other areas. Among them first and foremost was Athanasius of Paros with whom he had a close relationship and together they tried to repel the later innovations that entered the Church. They strove for the return to the traditions of the Ancient Church. There were others who demanded those things also: (a) Neiolos Calognomus, a native of Chios and a monk of Mt Athos, who was a close friend and fellow ascetic of Macarius. To Calognomus is attributed the building of St George at Resta wereNicephorus of Chios stayed after St George’s death, who was his student; (b) Joseph of Agrapha at Phournas, who followed Niphon from Mt Athos to Samos, Icaria, and Patmos, where he met Macarius and followed him to Chios; Joseph was an archimandrite, an intellectual and a writer for the Great Church; he composed a liturgical service to the Righteous Newmartyr Nicholas; for a while he was a teacher at the School of Chios; Nicephorus was also a teacher of that school as was Dorotheus Proios under Athanasius of Paros; (c) Meletius of Nicomedia, another Chiote and native of Prousa; (d) Joseph of Rhodes, a preacher, and author of many sacred poems. [5]

I note this passage because one of the things that fascinates me most about St Macarius is the extent to which he devoted his life to inspiring, encouraging, and guiding others. It also interested me that while Skouteris described this circle as ‘intellectuals’, they are also characterised by the austerity of their lives and their commitment to ‘the traditions of the Ancient Church’. It strikes me that the Church in America could really use such a circle in our own day, but while intellectuals and even traditionalists surely abound, I’m afraid austerity might be rather harder to come by!

I conclude with two things from Cavarnos’s wonderful book on St Macarius: a passage from the Saint’s New Martyrologium, and a hymn from the Akolouthia for the Saint by Nicephorus the Chian.

Now the Christians of the present age hear from Church histories the martyrdoms, the tortures that were endured by the Demetrioses, the Georges, the James’s, and in a word by all the other exceedingly brave old Martyrs—those who lived between the time of Christ and that of Constantine the Great; and they have to believe all these things as true, as a duty in matters of simple faith, which, according to Paul, ‘is a confirmation of things not seen’ (Heb. 11:1). But the antiquity of the period, the long time that has intervened from then to the present, can cause in some, if not unbelief, at least some doubt or hesitation. One may, that is, wonder how men, who by nature are weak and timid, endured so many and frightful tortures. But these new Martyrs of Christ, having acted boldly on the scene of the world, uproot from the hearts of Christians all doubt and hesitation, and implant or renew in them unhesitating faith in the old Martyrs. Just as new food strengthens all those bodies that are weak from starvation, and just as new rain causes trees that are dried from drought to bloom again so these new Martyrs strengthen and renew the weak, withered and old faith of present-day Christians. [6]

Finally, as Cavarnos writes, ‘Among the many hymns chanted in his honor, contained in the service by Nikephoros the Chian, is the following characteristic one’:

The voice of the Lord in the Gospels has found fulfillment in thee, as it found in the holy Ascetics and Hierarchs of old, O holy Father, Hierarch Macrios. For the light of thy virtues has shone in the world after the manner of the sun, O admirable one; and the heavenly Father, together with the Son and the Spirit—the Holy Trinity, our God—is glorified by all. [7]

[1] Constantine Cavarnos, tr. & ed., St Macarios of Corinth, augmented ed., Vol. 2 of Modern Orthodox Saints (Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies, 1993), p. 39.

[2] Chrestos Yannaras, Orthodoxy & the West: Hellenic Self-Identity in the Modern Age, tr. Fr Peter Chamberas & Norman Russell (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross, 2006), p. 252.

[3] Ibid., p. 308.

[4] Basil Skouteris, ‘Macarius Notaras & his Movement of Reform’, tr. Leo Papadopoulos, Orthodox Life, 54.4 (July—August 2004), p. 44.

[5] Ibid., p. 36.

[6] Cavarnos, pp. 87-8.

[7] Ibid., p. 41.

1 comment:

kenny said...

What is the source of this icon? It has such a distinct style.