CHURCH FATHERS (68) – Saint Maximus the Confessor

– Anastasios

A great defender of Catholic orthodoxy was Saint Maximus the Confessor (579/80-662). He was born in Constantinople from a rich family. And even if he was very well regarded since his youth by the emperor himself, he was not interested to world fame and honors, but wanted to find peace in monastic life. And we find him in the Monastery of Crisopoli in 630. It seems we are always repeating ourselves when we point out that the main concern for many centuries was the defense of Catholic orthodoxy against heresies. And Maximus was also in this fight. Maximus fought strenuously and died almost as a martyr.

The Orthodox Church of America presents the last years of Saint Maximus: “In the year 647 Saint Maximus returned to Africa. There, at a council of bishops Monothelitism was condemned as a heresy. In 648, a new edict was issued, commissioned by Constans and compiled by Patriarch Paul of Constantinople: the “Typos” (“Typos tes pisteos” or “Pattern of the Faith”), which forbade any further disputes about one will or two wills in the Lord Jesus Christ. Saint Maximus then asked Saint Martin the Confessor (April 14), the successor of Pope Theodore, to examine the question of Monothelitism at a Church Council. The Lateran Council was convened in October of 649. One hundred and fifty Western bishops and thirty-seven representatives from the Orthodox East were present, among them Saint Maximus the Confessor. The Council condemned Monothelitism, and the Typos. The false teachings of Patriarchs Sergius, Paul and Pyrrhus of Constantinople, were also anathematized.

When Constans II received the decisions of the Council, he gave orders to arrest both Pope Martin and Saint Maximus. The emperor’s order was fulfilled only in the year 654. Saint Maximus was accused of treason and locked up in prison. In 656 he was sent to Thrace, and was later brought back to a Constantinople prison. The saint and two of his disciples were subjected to the cruelest torments. Each one’s tongue was cut out, and his right hand was cut off. Then they were exiled to Skemarum in Scythia, enduring many sufferings and difficulties on the journey. After three years, the Lord revealed to Saint Maximus the time of his death (August 13, 662). Three candles appeared over the grave of Saint Maximus and burned miraculously. This was a sign that Saint Maximus was a beacon of Orthodoxy during his lifetime, and continues to shine forth as an example of virtue for all. Many healings occurred at his tomb. In the Greek Prologue, August 13 commemorates the Transfer of the Relics of Saint Maximus to Constantinople, but it could also be the date of the saint’s death. It may be that his memory is celebrated on January 21 because August 13 is the Leavetaking of the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.”

In 2008 Benedict XVI spoke about Saint Maximus: “St Maximus’ thought was never merely theological, speculative or introverted because its target was always the practical reality of the world and its salvation. In this context in which he had to suffer, he could not escape into purely theoretical and philosophical affirmations. He had to seek the meaning of life, asking himself: who am I? What is the world? God entrusted to man, created in his image and likeness, the mission of unifying the cosmos. And just as Christ unified the human being in himself, the Creator unified the cosmos in man. He showed us how to unify the cosmos in the communion of Christ and thus truly arrived at a redeemed world. Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, referred to this powerful saving vision when, “relaunching” Maximus – he defined his thought with the vivid expression Kosmische Liturgie, ”cosmic liturgies.” Jesus, the one Savior of the world, is always at the center of this solemn “liturgy.” The efficacy of his saving action which definitively unified the cosmos is guaranteed by the fact that in spite of being God in all things, he is also integrally a man and has the “energy” and will of a man. The life and thought of Maximus were powerfully illumined by his immense courage in witnessing to the integral reality of Christ, without any reduction or compromise. And thus who man really is and how we should live in order to respond to our vocation appears. We must live united to God in order to be united to ourselves and to the cosmos, giving the cosmos itself and humanity their proper form. Christ’s universal ‘yes’ also shows us clearly how to put all the other values in the right place. We think of values that are justly defended today such as tolerance, freedom and dialogue. But a tolerance that no longer distinguishes between good and evil would become chaotic and self-destructive, just as a freedom that did not respect the freedom of others or find the common measure of our respective liberties would become anarchy and destroy authority. Dialogue that no longer knows what to discuss becomes empty chatter. All these values are important and fundamental but can only remain true values if they have the point of reference that unites them and gives them true authenticity. This reference point is the synthesis between God and the cosmos, the figure of Christ in which we learn the truth about ourselves and thus where to rank all other values, because we discover their authentic meaning. Jesus Christ is the reference point that gives light to all other values. This was the conclusion of the great Confessor’s witness. And it is in this way, ultimately, that Christ indicates that the cosmos must become a liturgy, the glory of God, and that worship is the beginning of true transformation, of the true renewal of the world.”

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