A Special Note Concerning the Status of Blessed Constantine XI

Several visitors to our site have expressed some interest or curiosity about the canonization, or saintly or blessed status of Blessed Constantine XI (e.g., see Guest Book entries 22, 32 and 38).  The facts of his death as a martyr, his long-standing veneration among both Orthodox and Byzantine Catholics, and the writing of icons in commemoration of him by no less of a leading Orthodox iconographer than Photios Kontaglou, may not appear to be convincing to some, who appear to seek, or might wish to impose, Western-style rationalist determinations and humanly perceptible precision in the realm of the spiritual reality. 

We feel that the facts of Constantine XI Palelogos’ holiness and his striving to live as a Christian speak for themselves, and are in accord with Holy Tradition, which determines a person’s sanctity not by singular legislative-style acts nor decrees, but rather by the quality of his or her life in Christ (which in turn may be the basis for an act or decree).  The sensus fideli is far more determinative in this area.  But, heaven forfend, that we should take it upon ourselves to innovate in this area. 

We Greek Orthodox in communion with the See of Rome simply follow the lead of our Orthodox brethren, as we strive to fulfill the mandate addressed to us to “attain to an ever greater knowledge and a more exact use of them [the history, tradition, ecclesiastical and  spiritual heritage of the Eastern Churches], and if in their [= our, i.e., Greek Orthodox in communion with Rome] regard they have fallen short owing to contingencies of times and persons, they should take steps to return to their ancestral traditions” Orientalium Ecclesiarum, November 21, 1964, para. 6 (Brackets supplied) (See also Orientale Lumen, para. 21 where the Eastern Catholics are “urged to rediscover their full identity”).

We thus rely not only on our own poor understanding of these truths, but rather turn to the clear teaching of our Orthodox brothers who, though they may consider us to be in error on certain points, nonetheless state and defend clearly the status of Blessed Constantine XI.  We offer for your consideration the following  pertinent excerpts from Constantine the Ethnomartyr: Last Emperor of Byzantium by Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna, Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, Etna, CA, 1998, pages 16, 21-23 (Editor’s note: the relevant footnotes from this quoted text will appear as numbered at the end of the text)

“At this juncture, we might also briefly deal with the umbrage taken by our Orthodox purists at the date assigned by the Saint Herman Calendar to the death of Constantine XI(XII).  We shall subsequently deal with their objections to the very presence of his name in the calendar.  The Russian Menologion often cited in support of the Saint Herman listing indicates commemoration days for the Emperor on May 29 and May 30.  The entry under May 30 is as follows:  ‘On this day we commemorate the suffering of the right-believing Emperor Constantine under the ungodly Turkish King, who himself became ruler.’  The entry for May 29 reads simply: ‘Emperor Constantine, who suffered under the Turks’(fn. 32).  These two entries are easily explained, and one might also quite justifiably argue for a celebration of Constantine’s memory on either day.  It is generally agrees  upon by scholars that the final assault which felled the city of Constantinople was begun in the early morning hours of May 29.  And it was undoubtedly during that day that Constantine was killed. (Sphrantzes, for example, reports being separated from the Emperor at about one in the morning on May 29.  He presumes that the Emperor was killed on that same day.) 

“We come then, to the resistance of our contemporary Orthodox purists to the veneration of the Emperor Constantine among the Saints.  Indeed – at least to the best of my knowledge -, the standard Greek listings of the Saints do not mention Constantine, as does the Russian Menologion cited above (note 32). (fn 41)  The Great Synaxaristes of Abbot Victor Matthaiou (an Old Calendar zealot, incidentally), however, does acknowledge the martyrdom of Constantine and the appropriateness of his veneration.  

The same collection reproduces, as well, Photios Kontoglou’s popular Iconographic depiction of the lamentation of “Orthodoxy” and “Greece” (represented by two women) over the Emperor’s body (reproduced herein on page 4). It also contains a reproduction of another popular Icon of Constantine by Kontoglou, representing him as a Martyr, receiving a crown of righteousness (a paraphrase of II St. Timothy 4:8); the Emperor himself holds a scroll with the words, ‘I have finished my course, I have kept the Faith.’ (fn 42)(reproduced herein on page 35).  Attached to these Iconographic works is a panegyric (έγκώμιov), ‘Mournful Feast’, in which Kontoglou praises Constantine as a martyr (fn 43).  Add to these attestations to the Martyrdom of Constantine – by so traditional and sober an Orthodox witness as Photios Kontoglou! – the traditional services of commemoration, throughout modern Greece, of the Emperor on May 29, and even our Orthodox purists will find it difficult to argue that the conscience of the Church does not, indeed, regard him as a Martyr (fn 44).

"The fact is that our Orthodox purists have themselves been tainted by a Western mentality regarding this issue.  They fail to heed the meaning of popular veneration, which is, indeed, an expression of the Church’s conscience, the most authentic verification of the sanctity of any personage.  The listing of a Saint in the official annals of the Church, like a Saint’s Glorification, is merely a recognition of this veneration, not its validation or a sign of ‘official’ approval.  When a person is designated ‘Blessed’, for example, this is not, in the Orthodox Church, a ‘stage’ in the movement toward sainthood, as in the Roman Catholic Church.  Such legalism is unknown in the East.  By the same token, when a Saint is officially listed in the calendar, it does not mean that a new holiness has been attributed to his or her person.  The holiness is revealed within the bosom of the church and, whether recognized or not, has always been there.  And ultimately, a Saint resides in the bosom of the Church because of that Saint’s memory and activity among the people.

“In short, no Saint can endure and live among the people simply because of an act of Glorification (“Canonization”); but similarly, no Saint endures in the people’s hearts, as does Emperor Constantine, unless God so wills it.  No Orthodox – whether under the guise of calendars, conservatism, personal perfection, or even theoretical theological purity – should ever dare to question this spontaneous, mystical revelation of God’s Saints.  To deny it is to take the spiritual content from our Orthodox hagiology.  It is to open the most precious treasure of the Church, Her Saints, to rationalistic circumspection and eventually to succumb to blasphemy.  The presence of the Saints – to be sure, even their manifestation – is miraculous.  Those Saints who have manifested themselves in the hearts of the Faithful, and who have inspired and sustained them, have been revealed by the will of God in an orderly and infallible way.  Never, over the test of time, has the Church evidenced any other understanding of the Saints.  Whether ‘Blessed’, whether Martyrs, whether ‘officially’ listed in the Church Menologia  or not, their sanctity is real and one as are the sanctity and spiritual power of the untold number of Martyrs and Holy Ones whose names, being unknown to us, are not even murmured by the Faithful.

Here follow the Relevant Footnotes for these excerpts:

 “¼(fn 32) Archimandrite Seraphim, Poln’ii Mesyatseslov Vesoka (Moscow, 1876), Vol. II, pp. 142-143.  It should be noted that another Russian source, referring to the ‘memory of the Blessed Emperor Constantine,’ designates May 29 as the commemorative day; cf. I. Kosolapov, Mesyatsoslov Pravoslavnoy Katholicheskoy Tserkvy (Simbirsk, 1880), p. 248.  I am particularly indebted to Monk Laurence, of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville NY, for aid in finding these references to the standard Russian Menologia.

  (fn 33) Sphrantzes, op. cit., p. 280.  We will only note in passing, here, that some chroniclers (Kritoboulos among them) date the general attack on the city earlier.  All, however, agree on May 29 as the actual date of Constantine’s death and the fall of the city¼

  ¼(fn 41) It is worth noting that the Annus Ecclesiaticus, as regards the manuscripts pertinent to the dates in question, does not list Greek or Slavic entires for the Emperor Constantine; cf. Martynov, Annus Ecclesiasticus Graeco-Slavicus (Brussels, 1863).

  (fn 42) II St. Timothy 4:7.

(fn 43) Abbot Victor Matthaiou, op. cit., pp. 675, 686-687.

  (fn 44) A photograph of just such a commemoration appears in the Θρησκευτικη και Ήθικη Έγκυκλoπαιδια (Athens, 1963), Vol. I, s.v.,” Άθηvαι  Έκκλησία τωv Όρθoδoξωv Χριστιαvωv ή Παλαιoημερoλoγιτωv [Athens: Church of True Orthodox Christians of Greece or Old Calendarists],’ p. 818.”

  We also consulted with our Society’s chaplain concerning this matter and he had the following aditional comments to those of Archbishop Chrysostomos, with whose excerpted comments above he agrees.

A Note from Our Chaplain on the Status of Blessed Constantine XI

Actually, I was quite unaware of any controversy over Saint Constantine XI, the Martyr. It is true that there are some published calendars in which he does not appear, but the same is also true of almost any Saint except the very most important, without therebyimplying that there is some doubt.

 It is also, of course, true that Saint Constantine is received by the Church by acclamation, as it were, rather than by a formal canonization process. That is likewise true of the great majority of the Saints, and it is particularly typical in the case of martyrs. I would suspect to the point of certainty that the absence of a formal canonization or glorification of Saint Constantine is not in the least an indication of any doubt, but rather the result of the situation of the Turkocratia, which would have made such a formal glorification impossible (since the Turks would have regarded it as an act of rebellion). By the time that Greece gained independence, the veneration of Saint Constantine XI had been so long established in practice that a formal glorification would have been superfluous (just as would be, say, a move to hold a formal canonization of Saint Patrick of Ireland).

However, we may certainly regard the erection of the statue of Saint Constantine XI in the Cathedral Square in Athens, with the formal blessing of the Church authorities, as an official act of recognition, if anyone should still feel scrupulous.

As for the Catholic Church, she normally does not dispute the veneration of Saints among the Orthodox unless there is some specific reason to object (which is a very rare event indeed). Pope John Paul II clearly teaches that the Saints, and particularly the martyrs, have attained the full communion which we still seek. Moreover, Saint Constantine XI died in full communion with Rome, having received the Holy Eucharist at the hands of Cardinal Isidore of Kiev only a few hours before the martyrdom. So I cannot begin to imagine any reason which would lead the Catholic Church to be at all uncomfortable with the veneration of Saint Constantine - without, of course, turning him or any other Saint into a political football.

Fr. Archimandrite Serge

Dear Readers, we trust that the foregoing discussion is responsive to the inquiries that have been put to us on the matter of the status of Blessed Constantine XI.

  O holy Martyr, Blessed Constantine XI, intercede with Christ God that He may save our souls.

return to Blessed Martyr Constantine IX Page

return to Home Page