02 May 2009

'The Shepherd of Corinth, the Really Blessed One'—St Macarius of Corinth

Unfortunately, because of this project I was working on all day Thursday, I missed writing about a Saint in whom I’m quite interested. So forgive me for posting this after the fact, but I plan to make up for my oversight with thoroughness!

On the 17 April on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of St Macarius (Notaras) of Corinth (1731-1835), one of the Kollyvades Fathers. There isn’t a lot of material on St Macarius in English yet, but fortunately Constantine Cavarnos’s St Macarios of Corinth, Vol. 2 in Modern Orthodox Saints (Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1993), contains a good overview of his work, a Life of the Saint by his friend, St Athanasius Parios, and various additional materials as well.

According to St Athanasius, the young St Macarius belonged to the wealthiest, most influential family in Corinth, ‘the noble, ancient, and brilliant House of Notaras, which can be traced back to the Senate of the Byzantines’ (Cavarnos, p. 42), and the most famous of whom is probably Loukas Notaras, the last Μέγας Δούξ of the Empire. He was educated in ‘sacred letters and Greek learning’, and (apropos of my recent post on the ‘theology of play’!)—'From his early youth he began to show signs that he had no inclination whatsoever for worldly things, but tended only towards the spiritual. He lived with the greatest piety, eagerly attending church services and shunning the company of youths and worldly vanity' (p. 43)jj.

He used to give liberally to the poor, and eventually fled for a time to the Mega Spelaion Monastery in the Peloponnesus. His father, however, had him brought back, and, forcibly returned, ‘he occupied himself with the reading and study of Divine Scriptures as well as other instructive and edifying books’ (p. 44). He also volunteered to teach without pay at the school of Corinth for six years.

Finally, in 1764, the people of Corinth with one accord elected ‘the virtuous Macarios’ to be consecrated Archbishop by Patriarch Samuel I in Constantinople. St Athanasius tells us:

Like Gregory the Theologian, he reflected that 'he did not receive the office of Bishop as an unexamined power' and as a means to enjoyments and the acquisition of wealth, but as a supervision and fatherly concern for the security and salvation of his spiritual flock, for which he was to be held accountable to the Supreme Shepherd, the Lord and God of all. (p. 45)

Accordingly, he set about preaching to the people, ridding the Church of corruption and ineffectual priests, ordaining virtuous and educated priests who were canonically qualified (and sending the unqualified candidates to monasteries for education and training), distributing catechisms and baptismal fonts adequately sized for proper Baptisms, and planning the establishment of schools ‘throughout his province’ (p. 47).

Unfortunately, the holy Hierarch was forced to flee with his family in 1768 during the Russo-Turkish War, and by the time he was able to return from exile, the Holy Synod ordained a new Archbishop of Corinth, giving St Macarius the right to serve anywhere he liked ‘unhindered’ (p. 49). Eventually, he went to the Holy Mountain, ‘But’, as St Athanasius writes, ‘he did not find this refuge by any means a calm harbor of salvation, as he had hoped, but on the contrary an agitated sea’ (p. 49). For it was at this time that St Macarius become involved in what became known as the Kollyvades controversy (here is a very brief overview, here is a longer one), and Bishop Basil (the former Antiochian diocesan bishop of Wichita) calls him ‘the greatest Kollyvas’. As Cavarnos writes, ‘St Macarios’ demand for a strict adherence to the Orthodox Tradition, his efforts to rid the Church of unwarranted and bad innovations, and to bring the Greeks back to the early Christian practices are clearly seen in his connection with the Kollyvades movement’ (p. 15).

After enduring threats by those monks opposed to the strict stance of the Kollyvades (St Macarius famously told them, ‘I myself have neither performed nor will ever perform a memorial service for the dead on a Sunday’ [p. 49]), the holy Hierarch left for Patmos, where he met with other Fathers who had left the Holy Mountain because of the controversy: ‘the most holy fathers Niphon of Chios, a priest-monk, Gregory of Nisyros, and Athanasios of Armenia’ (p. 50). After the death of his father, St Macarius was summoned to Hydra to divide the inheritance with his brothers. The holy Hierarch gave his brothers his share of the money, and promptly burned all of his father’s promissory notes, ‘thus freeing a great many people from debt’ (p. 50).

It is at this point that St Athanasius speaks of the publishing activities of St Macarius. It seems that it is rather difficult to disentangle the rôle played by the Saint in various publications from that of the other Kollyvades. With regard to the Philokalia, perhaps the most famous product of the movement, the editors of the English edition are content simply to say, ‘It was compiled in the eighteenth century by two Greek monks, St Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain of Athos (1749-1809) and St Makarios of Corinth (1731-1805), and was first published in Venice in 1782’ (The Philokalia, Vol. 1, trans. G.E.H. Palmer, et al. [London: Faber, 1983], p. 11). St Athanasius tells us that St Macarius went to Smyrna to meet Prince John Mavrogordatos of Moldo-Wallachia, and succeeded in persuading him to fund the publication of the Philokalia as well as the Holy Catechism of Metropolitan Platon of Moscow (in addition, St Athanasius tell us, ‘As a result of the teaching of this divine Father, he [the prince] transformed his house into a holy dwelling through Vesper Services and Matins, and the strict observance of the traditional fasts’ [p. 51]).

With regard to the Evergetinos, Cavarnos mentions that St Macarius encouraged St Nicodemus to prepare the text for publication, and found a donor in the person of John Kannas. St Athanasius refers to the important Kollyvades text, Concerning Frequent Communion of the Immaculate Mysteries of Christ (which has been translated by Fr George Dokos [Thessalonica: Uncut Mountain, 2006]), as ‘the holy Father’s book’ (Cavarnos, p. 58), and quotes a letter from Patriarch Neophytos to St Macarius where the former calls it ‘your work’ (p. 59). But Cavarnos notes that St Nicodemus gave it ‘its final form’ (p. 19), and Fr Dokos writes that the latter’s early biographers agree that he ‘edited, corrected, and expanded it’ (Frequent Communion, p. 26, n. 12; Fr Dokos also mentions the suggestion that a ‘Neophytos Kavsokalyvites’ may have been involved [ibid., p. 27]). Finally St Athanasius tells us the the holy Hierarch collected the ‘lives of holy Ascetics and Martyrs, both ancient and modern, to which he gave the title New Leimonarion’ (Cavarnos, p. 64).

After his departure from the Holy Mountain, apart from brief trips to Ikaria and Patmos, St Macarius settled in a hermitage on the island of Chios. There, according to Cavarnos—

. . . he spent the rest of his years, from 1790 to 1805, in the quiet of his hermitage, subjecting himself to severe ascetic struggle, practicing interior prayer, writing books, confessing and counseling people, instructing them in the true Faith, inciting them to virtue, and offering material help to those in need. (pp. 30-1)

It was at this point that St Macarius took up one of his most interesting vocations—the ‘training’ of Martyrs. Cavarnos mentions that he probably played a rôle in the publication and dissemination of a predecessor of the New Leimonarion called the New Martyrologium (p. 33), which St Athanasius tells us inspired such New Martyrs as Theodore of Byzantium and Demetrios the Peloponnesian (p. 56). More importantly, however, St Athanasius writes that ‘he readily received all, and not only encouraged them with words, but also kept at his hermitage for many days those who were in need of further preparation, training and strengthening them through fasts and prayers’ (p. 62). It is interesting to note that we can see accounts of the Martyrs preparing spiritually for their contests going all the way back to the Martyrdom of St Polycarp. Besides the story of St Theodore, to which I’ve linked above, I’ve already posted about one other New Martyr specifically trained in this way in a monastic environment, also at a hermitage on Chios (though it is after St Macarius’s time): St Onuphrius of Trnovo. At any rate, commenting upon this aspect of St Macarius’s life, St Athanasius writes:

Now it is just for us to regard the trainer of these gloriously triumphant Martyrs, the holy Macarios, as belonging among them and as being a Martyr in principle. . . . And just as the crown of righteousness is laid up for the Martyrs, according to the Apostle Paul, because they finished the course and kept the faith, so it is laid up for the holy Macarios, as a co-worker, fellow contender, and helper of them through his advice and zeal in deed as well as in word.

But, as St Athanasius emphasises, this martyric spirit in St Macarius was also joined with a deep practice of inner prayer and a love of fasting and seclusion, in other words, a monastic spirit. Concerning the holy Hierarch’s prayer life, for instance, he tell us:

The divine Fathers teach that prayer is a converse with God. Now those of us who have heard the holy Macarios in church reading the Psalms and other parts of Holy Scripture all confess that his reading was indeed a converse with God. Being undisturbed, quiet and calm, it undoubtedly reached the hearing of the Lord of Sabaoth. And if we all confess this about his common reading and prayer in church, much more must it be understood about his private prayer—that prayer which is more mystical, separated from every material circumstance and human association. Surely at such times, he lifted up to God’s hearing not only what he uttered with his lips, but also all his pious and beautiful thoughts. (pp. 54-5)

St Macarius fell asleep in the Lord in the year 1805. Cavarnos notes (p. 108) that his biographer and friend, St Athanasius appended to his Life stories of twelve miracles wrought by the Saint, of which Cavarnos has included four (pp. 67-73).

The Old Calendarist periodical Άγιος Κυπριανός published a review—available in English here—of a book on the Saint in Greek (by the wonderful Akritas Publishers), called St Macarius of Korinth: The Author of the Philokalic Revival, by Stylianos G. Papadopoulos (Athens: Akritas, 2000). The review quotes the following from Papadopoulos’s book:

‘Philokalism’, that is, neptic spiritual struggle, is ineffectual without regular partaking of the Mysteries. But one must not approach the Mysteries without a prior spiritual struggle. Neither Philokalism without the Mysteries, nor the Mysteries without Philokalism. The combination of the two constitutes a tradition of the Orthodox Church. The absence of this combination leads to many kinds of deviations, in view of which St Makarios compiled the Philokalia and wrote Concering Frequent Communion, thereby becoming the author of this entire movement for renewal, of which St Nikodemos the Hagiorite, that holy and great theologian, was chosen by St Makarios himself as a radiant messenger.

I shall conclude with just two more things: a brief excerpt from the New Martyrologium, and the Apolytikion of the Saint. First, the excerpt:

But in order to be firm in the faith, it is necessary that you lead a Christian life in accordance with that faith, that is, a life accompanied by good works. For just as the true and Holy faith begets and makes firm the true and holy life, so conversely, the holy life begets and makes firm the Holy faith: the one is a constituent of the other, according to the divine Chrysostom. And we see, indeed, that those who deny the faith of Christ, or fall into evil doctrines, have prior to this become corrupt by a wicked life, full of passions and perverted. If you lead a Christian life, not only will you keep the Orthodox faith yourselves, not only will you not provoke the impious to curse the Holy name and faith of Christ, but you will even incite those of another faith to embrace it, by seeing your good deeds, as the Lord has said: ‘Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father Who is in heaven’ (Matt. 5:16). (pp. 91-2)

And here is the Apolytikion of the holy Hierarch (Tone 1; I give Cavarnos’s translation, p. iii, which assumes more knowledge of Greek—see the HTM translation set to Byzantine notation here):

Let us faithful praise the shepherd of Corinth, the really Blessed one, who by God’s providence, for reasons ineffable became Chios’ great spiritual leader—him who shone through deeds, words, and prayers; for truly he received from God grace for healing the sick and driving away unclean spirits. Glory to the Father Who destined him, glory to the Son Who elevated him, glory to the Spirit who acts through him.

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