(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. Leontis and his companions, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
“He is the pillar of truth, the light of the world, the instrument of the favors of God towards his people, and the support and the glory of all the Orthodox.” These words of St. Gregory the Theologian were applied to a fourth-century cleric. It would be supposed that they described his great contemporaries, either St. Basil or St. John Chrysostom, but St. Gregory was speaking of a man named Eusebios who lived in the shadows of the fourth-century spiritual giants, yet but was their equal in his application of the principles of Christianity. Regrettably overlooked because he lived in an age of Christian supermen, he was nevertheless a stalwart of the Christian era that gave the world so many luminaries in such rapid succession.
Eusebios is chiefly remembered for his strong leadership against the heresy of Arianism. This movement had taken firm root in many areas not only because of the convincing argument offered by the wily Arius, whose brain-child brought nothing but grief, but also because it found favor with a Byzantine ruler whose influence in church matters was considerable, although his knowledge of theology was negligible. The Arian doctrine was a thorn in the side of many capable churchmen, but seemed to be a feather in the cap for those who had royal support and whose shortsightedness was of negative value in the proper view of the sacred person of Jesus Christ. Much can be made of the debate about Arianism, but the best that can be said about it is that, although it was a problem, it served to set aside the pettier quarrels within the Church and link elements going separate ways in a common front against the widespread heresy of Arianism.
From the correspondence of Eusebios with St. Gregory and other spiritual leaders of the day, it is evident that the most vociferous opponent of Arianism was the lesser-known Eusebios, whose virtual anonymity served to blunt the thrust of Arius, particularly on one occasion. Working behind the scenes at a synod held in Antioch for the appointment of a bishop to that city, Eusebios was instrumental in securing a majority vote for a worthy cleric named Meletios who was as much opposed to Arianism as his sponsor.
It was the low-key, almost noncommittal approach that brought about the selection of Meletios. Thus, the Arians were lulled into a sense of smug satisfaction in presuming they had brought about the election of a man they could manipulate. There were no preconditions to this selection, but the over-confident Arian sponsors were in for a rude awakening when the newly-appointed Bishop of Antioch made one of his first pronouncements a denunciation of Arianism. They were further annoyed to see the unobstrusive Eusebios align himself with the new bishop. The frustrated Arians were powerless to overturn the decision of the synod, but they had a powerful friend in the Emperor Constantios, whom they petitioned to review the synod action on the premise that the documents recorded and now held by the appointed secretary, Meletios, had been falsified.
The synodical acts were inviolate and inaccessible to anyone, including the emperor himself, but that did not deter the feisty Constantios from making an illegal demand that the papers of the synod be handed over to him for whatever action he might choose, which obviously was to render the action null and void. When Eusebios refused to comply, Constantios threatened to cut off the right hand of the vernerable bishop of Samosata. Eusebios replied that the emperor could sever both of his hands, but he would never surrender the sacred acts of the synod. It was a standoff from which the emperor withdrew, perhaps the wisest move he ever made, and the courageous Eusebios was widely acclaimed for his heroic defiance.
Heartened by this public mandate, Eusebios traveled extensively throughout Asia Minor, eliminating the heretical Arianism wherever he went, and he was instrumental in the selection of St. Basil as bishop of Caesaria. With the succession of the Emperor Valens, another Arian sympathizer, came exile for Eusebios, but he returned after some years to Samosata, only to be killed by an Arian fanatic. He died for Christ on June 22, 380. Arianism did not die with Eusebios, but his spirit hovered over the issue until it was finally eliminated.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.