(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 we commemorate St. Sophronios, whose account is found in Volume 1 of the series.)
St. Sophronios, Patriarch of Jerusalem
One of the lesser-known heresies that cropped up to pose a mild yet ominous threat to accepted Church dogma was the theory of Monotheletism, and the Church’s suppression of this heresy was the handiwork primarily of a man known as Sophronios, a patriarch of Jerusalem in the seventh century, against whose eloquent logic no voice of Monotheletism was any match. It may seem trivial by comparison with the Iconoclastic movement which ravaged the Church for one hundred fifty years, but its theory, nevertheless, was an affront to God that could have had disastrous consequences without the forceful opposition of such as Sophronios.
Quite simply, the doctrine of Monotheletism held that Christ had one will, not two, which was in contrast to the traditional concept of the Lord’s having two wills, one divine and the other human, inasmuch as He was both human and divine. Surprisingly, a number of well-respected theologians were swayed to this view and their shortsightedness may have spread except for the compelling reasoning of the Jerusalem prelate.
Sophronios was born to a Christian couple named Plythas and Mary, whose circumstances were such that they provided more than adequately for the educational and spiritual needs of their son. More fortunate than most, the boy grew to maturity with the gnawing feeling that there was something lacking in his life, and he felt that the void could only be filled by an approach to God through the medium of asceticism, and to that end he gave up all social and economic ties to take up monasticism.
Sophronios was enrolled in a monastery in Egypt, there to encounter a monk named John for whom he developed a deep personal attachment in acquiring from him the benefit of his prolonged experience as a monk and tutor. An authority on dogmatic theology, John imparted to Sophronios the wisdom which was to stand him in good stead in his service to Jesus Christ, and in due course the student was to surpass the teacher. The extent of the knowledge of both these pious monks was encyclopedic and they delighted in testing each other, with John usually yielding to his superior friend.
After Sophronios had taken up his successful stand against Monotheletism, a posture which brought him wide recognition, he was given the post of archbishop of Jerusalem, a prestigious office in which he gave full expression to his piety and wisdom. In 638 the Persian hordes of King Uram overran the Holy Land, terrorizing the people and removing all authority except one – that of Patriarch Sophronios, who refused to be intimidated by the infidels. Not wishing to stir up an insurrection, they retreated from the holy ground of the Patriarchate.
The invaders did surround the city, however, forbidding travel in or out of the limits, but when Sophronios heard news of the death of John the Merciful, Patriarch of Alexandria, he went through the guardpost without incident and continued to Alexandria, where he delivered a stirring eulogy for his longtime friend John. He returned to the Holy City, again passing through the barricades without incident, because not even the wretched Persians dared to approach this holy and resolute man of God.
In the ensuing months of seige, Sophronios ventured out into the crowded city daily, offering his blessing to those who were needlessly oppressed and bolstering the flagging spirits of those whose hopes were growing faint. Even the enemy came to respect this awesome prelate as he exhorted the populace to continue their work as though the enemies of Christianity did not exist, and his inspirational leadership brought heart to the long-suffering people, who found within themselves the capacity to bear burdens they had never anticipated. For as long as he remained patriarch, the spiritual business of the entire community went on uninterrupted and the social order remained intact.
While all this was going on Sophronios found time to express himself in writing, thereby creating some of the finest works in ecclesiastical history, particularly the books that touched on exegetics. He also produced the quite marvelous biography, “Mary of Egypt,” among his many outstanding writings. He died peacefully in Jerusalem on March 11, 669.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.