A Special Note Concerning the Status of Blessed
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.
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
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 43) Abbot Victor Matthaiou, op. cit., pp. 675, 686-687.
Note from Our Chaplain on the Status of Blessed Constantine XI
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.
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).
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
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.
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
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