(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, Amphilochios, comes from Volume 4 of the series.)
Historians have failed to give due recognition to a saint whose lot it was to have lived in the same era, between 350 and 400, when the theological scene was dominated by the three great hierarchs, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom. This holy triumvirate unwittingly placed in their shadow a man who most consider to have been their equal, but they had no way of knowing how history would treat a man with whom they trod on the same level.
This obviously overlooked and underestimated saint was a man whose cumbersome name of Amphilochios may have been too much for some historian’s quill. But Amphilochios can be easily looked upon in historical review as having been a fourth member of the great hierarchy whom God placed among men at a time when the need for Christian leadership was greatest. Very much in the background now, he was abreast of the three hierarchs, adding to the luster in that “Golden Age” of Christianity.
In his lifetime, Amphilochios was very evident on the Christian scene. He enjoyed the friendship of St. Basil and St. Gregory, both of whom he sought to assist in the Christian endeavor, but neither of whom he is known to have tried to upstage. He preferred to remain in the wings, all the while projecting the image of his counterparts while he remained in virtual anonymity. That is not to say that Amphilochios followed the leader. On the contrary, he was his own man in adding to the glory of the church of Jesus Christ. A long, hard look at this man brings him out of the shadows and places him in the forefront in thought and deed, every bit as important to the development of Christianity as any of his contemporaries.
Born in Cappadocia, Amphilochios was, at the age of twenty-five, one of the most brilliant scholars and orators found not only in that city, but in the rest of the civilized world. It was Christendom’s good fortune that he chose to follow Christ and apply his talents to the Savior’s cause. He was a cousin of St. Gregory of Nazianzos, with whom he corresponded regularly, and by whom he was influenced greatly. While serving in Constantinople as rhetor, he displayed the erudition which prompted the commendation of St. Basil, with whom he also corresponded throughout his lifetime.
Amphilochios had left Constantinople for the bleakness of an Asian desert in order to find solitude for the spiritual refreshment that can be found in self-denial when he received word that his two friends, Basil and
Gregory, had arranged for him to become archbishop of Ikonion, a post made vacant by the death of Archbishop John. Hesitant at first to leave the seclusion which was affording him an inner peace, he was prevailed upon to leave the desert on the grounds that it would be in the best interest of the Church for him to serve as a hierarch.
The recommendation of his friends was more than justified when the noble Amphilochios asserted himself as bishop of a see whose members in very short order realized that they had been blessed with a spiritual leader of the highest caliber. An accomplished theologian, he made his presence felt not only in the bishopric, but in other parts of the empire. There he was known not only as a brilliant leader of a Christian sector, but a strong defender of the faith against heresy from within, as well as from the enemies outside the Church.
Invited to speak at a church of Caesaria by his friend Basil, he delivered a sermon aimed particularly at the heresy of Arianism, speaking out in a denouncement with all the oratorical power at his command. His firm stand on the issues was well received by all who heard him, including Basil, and he emerged as the standard-bearer in the preservation of the true Orthodox faith. When the cause of Arianism, which would have sundered the character of Jesus Christ, found sympathy with Emperor Theodosios, he was chosen as spokesman for Orthodoxy in an a empt to convince the emperor that Arianism was heresy. The fact that others failed before him did not deter the resolute bishop.
In his interview a dramatic gesture of ignoring the emperor’s son illustrated the folly of Arianism, and Amphilochios emerged victorious. He went on to other triumphs, but in his long life the denial of Arianism was his greatest.
Image from GOArch.org.