(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press.Today's saint, St. Maximos, comes from Volume 1 of the series.)
Saint Maximos the Confessor
To the average communicant, the dogmatics and abstract theological philosophy of the Christian religion are preferably left to the clergy. They are content to go to church on Sunday to worship Jesus Christ, but they need to be reminded that, had it not been for men such as St. Maximos the Confessor, there would be a variety of doctrines in the Orthodox world instead of the one true, solid, and virtually unaltered Greek Orthodox faith which St. Maximos, among others, refused to see splintered.
Born of nobility in 580, Maximos was that rare combination of statesman, philosopher and acknowledged religious leader who was well established when he quite suddenly resigned his post as chief secretary to Byzantine Emperor Heraklios. Although discontent preceeded Maximos’ action, he did not abandon this lofty post solely because of this, but primarily because he preferred to devote all of his time to the Savior. The underlying cause of his departure was his anticipation of taking issue with Heraklios, who was leaning toward acceptance of Monotheletism, an heretical interpretation generating the false notion that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ had but one will – the divine. That was diametrically opposed to the long-accepted Orthodox doctrine that Christ had two wills – the divine and human.
Maximos not only turned his back on the class into which he was born, but gave away his worldly goods for distribution among the underprivileged before entering a monastery. No ordinary monk, he wielded a powerful pen and began to write denouncing Monothelitism. He was elevated to abbot of the monastery and, relieved of temporal chores, stepped up his campaign against the heretics, whom he assailed with unrelenting rhetoric which remains to this day a masterpiece of literature. He saw to it that enough copies of his treatise were distributed to the hierarchy, as well as clergy and influential lay-people.
From time to time, nomadic Persian tribes would besiege the isolated monastery, with attacks upon the cloister increasing with such alarming frequency and intensity that finally the beleaguered Maximos slipped out to take refuge in Alexandria. The patriarch there, however, proved to be as troublesome to Maximos as the Persians had been because, under the influence of Emperor Heraklios, he had embraced Monotheletism.
The death of Emperor Heraklios in no way weakened the position of Monothelitism since his successor Constans not only accepted the heresy but issued his infamous “Typos” Declaration and thus formally accepted it. The heresy was like an infectious disease, spreading throughout the empire until it had infected Patriarch Sergios of Constantinople, to be passed on to his successor Pyrros, as well as several members of the hierarchy and a number of public figures. This imposing array of opposition placed Maximos in a difficult position, but undaunted he sought to regroup his forces and rid the Church of this divisive heresy.
Maximos carried his noble cause to Rome, where he found favor with the city’s bishop, who was in total agreement with him. The pope formed a council of all the bishops of Italy, who issued their unanimous denunciation of the heresy. This action so displeased Emperor Constans that he summoned before him the bishop of Rome, the crusading Maximos, together with an aide by the name of Anastasios, and others. After listening first to the bishop of Rome, the emperor’s answer was banishment. He also sent Maximos into exile.
There was no doubt in any one’s mind by whose order Maximos was systematically put to torture, particularly when he was told that the punishment would end when he embraced Monotheletism. Maximos would not bend to the royal will no matter how severe the punishment. His anger growing with each refusal, the wretched emperor ordered that the right hand of Maximos be severed and that his tongue be cut out as well to assure he would never again preach or write. Maximos, now eighty, survived this horrible mutilation but continued his crusade through his disciple, Anastasios, until he died. Maximos was vindicated in 680, some years after his death, when the Sixth Ecumenical Synod,convened by Emperor Constantine, outlawed the heresy of Monotheletism.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikimedia.