NOTE: The following Letters are taken from The Correspondence of Athanasius I, Patriarch of Constantinople: Letters to the Emperor Andronicus II, Members of the Imperial Family, and Officials:
NOTE: The following Letters are taken from The Correspondence of Athanasius I, Patriarch of Constantinople: Letters to the Emperor Andronicus II, Members of the Imperial Family, and Officials.
Letter 16: Athanasius attacks bishops and monks who stay in Constantinople, instead of returning to their dioceses or monasteries (Dated between 1303-1309).
To the emperor,
Your divine majesty is aware how the bishops, as well as certain monks, have been and are staying here <in the capital> these days for no other reason than for drinking bouts and dissension and disturbances, and so that people who are bringing cases <before the synod> may make use of this or that <bishop> for assistance, so that even when the bishops deliberate at meetings of the synod, they squabble with each other for reasons alien to truth. For this reason, I beg of you, if God has had mercy on us and has removed or is removing some of these people from here, let us not invite them back to cause harm and confusion. For those who have learned to speak evil, will never speak good. What need is there for the chartophylax or the present <abbot of the monastery> of Akapniou to come here, or another of their ilk? <Are they afraid> they won’t have enough to live on there? If we want them to stir up trouble, let us bring upon ourselves what we will not be able to get rid of even though we hate it. And if your majesty would like to learn how he administers Akapniou, question under oath Kyr Elias, whom you consider to be truthful, and he will tell you why we did not look in Thessalonica for the three hundred hyperpyra of Abbot John of Bera.
Letter 27: Since the Emperor is entitled to regulate the secular administration of monasteries, no one will oppose any imperial measure dealing with secular affairs in monasteries. Therefore Athanasius asks Andronicus to issue a decree protecting monasteries from fiscal agents. If monasteries keep surplus land which has been assigned them, then the tenants on the perisseia should pay morti to the monks, who in turn pay taxes to the imperial treasury. If the perisseia is taken away from the monastery, the monks should not be accountable for the morti since the fiscal agents will probably appropriate the money for themselves, instead of forwarding it to the imperial treasury.
Το the emperor,
Το your divine majesty has been assigned responsibility for monasteries, and the duties performed—and expenses incurred—by your majesty with regard to monasteries are duties secular in nature. For this reason Ι do not think that anyone in his right mind will oppose whatever you command, either in chrysobulls or without chrysobulls, concerning secular administration. And Ι make this petition, that it come to pass, in accordance with agricultural 1aw, that, if the former owners are going to keep the surplus land, then they should pay rent; however, if this (land) is going to be taken away, they should not pay rent on it, because it is very likely that those who are going to collect the rent will pocket it, and the damage will be twofold. For in addition to wronging your imperial majesty, they will be classed among thieves.
Letter 77: Because of the misconduct of the abbot of a patriarchal monastery near Apameia, the synod has granted the property of that monastery to a neighboring monastery dedicated to the Virgin. Now imperial agents are seeking to confiscate some of this property newly acquired by the monastery of the Theotokos. Athanasius asks the Emperor to put an end to this harassment.
<Το the emperor>
It has been rightly ordained from the beginning as a part of pious worship that Orthodox Christians should construct as many holy churches and establish as many monasteries as possible, thus providing a haven for those souls which yearn to escape the stormy seas of life, and then to entrust <them> to the 1ocal <diocese of the> catholic Church, and to the man appointed to Her charge, as is expressly stated by the holy canons. He should concern himself with the advancement and protection and the spiritual examination and God-loving behavior of their inhabitants. And if anyone should attempt to seize the objects there dedicated to God, at a great peril and to the destruction of his own soul, <the bishop> should prevent him as best he can, reminding him either of the grave sin of sacrilege, or of the fact that, just as people who dedicate to God their possessions, whether silver or gold, have their inalienable reward, so people who remove them in any way whatsoever are without any doubt found guilty of the crime of sacrilege. And if in these matters he [the sacrilegious person] should fail to obey those into whose hands God entrusted the rule <of the Church> [i.e., the bishops], they seek assistance, so that, first, in such a way they may deliver the sacrilegious person from his transgression of the law-this for the sake of the State-, and second, so that the Church may be granted the honor of keeping irrevocably those objects which are dedicated to God. Wherefore, as God well knows, Ι, who have been charged with responsibility for the property of the Church of Christ, desire neither to offer it anything which is stolen, since Ι know that « God takes no pleasure in an offering of stolen property», nor can Ι tolerate those who wish to seize the property of the Church. For Ι am gripped with divine fear lest as a result of my silence Ι bring merciless punishment on the thieves.
Thus a while ago a man happened to come before the synod and denounced us without restraint because at the patriarchal monastery near Apameia the proestos of the monastery had shamelessly cohabited with a woman for a long time, and he assured everyone that he [the proestos] indulged in such a cohabitation with the knowledge of the patriarch and the exarchs. When we learned this, thinking to deliver the guilty man from his sin, the monastery from its scandal, and the accomplices from their defilement, we decided to hand the monastery and all its possessions over by means of a letter to the neighboring monastery of the Mistress of the World and Mother of God, the Euergetis, so that there would be an opportunity for pious monks to offer up «entreaties to God, prayers, supplication and thanksgiving on behalf of your majesty and those in authority» all over the world. But now they [the monks] come to me and complain that they are being abused by certain of your divine majesty’s officials. Wherefore Ι have decided to make this report to you, so that if the monk8 are speaking the truth, by the command of your divine majesty they may be left in peace and not suffer any losses; but those who desire the possessions of others should be ordered to refrain from wrongdoing, and especially (to keep away) from offerings dedicated to God. .And thanks to this may the God of righteousness and mercy deem you worthy of the heavenly kingdom in addition to the one you have here on earth.
Letter 83: One of the responsibilities of bishops is to see that monasteries are administered in accordance with the canons. Athanasius complains that the greed of certain people (the bishops to whom the letter is addressed?) has led them to exploit the monasteries which they are administering. If someone builds a monastery, or restores one in ruins, he should take care to entrust it to true servants of God (i.e., to people who will not exploit the monastery). It is sheer folly to give sitiresion (the revenue from monastic lands granted as pronoia) to soldiers, and it is even worse to entrust monasteries to laymen or worthless monks.
Since we have been appointed by divine decision to rule over the Church of Christ, we should not use our authority to manage Her property in accordance with our personal wishes, either to sell it or give it away, but it is both our obligation and ardent desire (to do so) as seems proper to the Holy Spirit, and as has been ordained by those inspired by (the Spirit) for our salvation. Of the duties involved in caring for (the Church), most important seems to me to be the administration of monasteries, even if recently, like every other good thing which was rightly laid down for our generation, it has been forgotten for what reason monasteries have been constructed, or one attached to another; and Ι am to blame if those who ask for <monasteries> and those who grant them do not act in accordance with the canons, just as «(he who know his lord’s will» , and does not soberly carry it out, «will undoubtedly become one of those who is beaten with many stripes» . For monasteries were not organized without the aid of God, but for the sake of those who with divine assistance have fled Sodom and its flames, who do not think pagan thoughts and cling to earthly possessions, but «seek» only «the kingdom» < of God>, and «except in extreme need, do not even partake of necessities», «until» whom «the world is crucified, and they unto the world». It is for the sake of these people that Providence, which marvelously guides everything, takes hold of God-loving souls and urges them to build dwelling-places for the glory of God, as they strive «to live above that which is visible».
But, alas, what a grievous misfortune! How greed has beguiled certain people, like the son of Charmi, to steal without scruple <property> dedicated to God, and to satisfy their own appetites with such things as are not lawful; and the <gifts> which come from the (opened hand, which satisfies the desire of every living being» in the best way, for the dwelling place of holy people, are taken, without scruple and for their own advantage and use, by certain people who should be merely administering them, and are added to their own property <instead>. They search out whatever will contribute to their sensual enjoyment, and are not concerned with inhabiting <the monasteries> in an ascetic manner so that they may please God, but that they may enjoy to satiety (food and wine and other corruptible» <pleasures>. Nor do they heed the warning, «(Woe unto you that are full» , but prefer a life of self-sufficiency together with the man who foolishly boasted, «Ι will pull down my barns» , and who said to his soul, «you have many goods stored away» . But they glory in their shame, alas, causing twofold harm, by attaching to mammon that which has been established for a divine purpose, and indeed in consequence they receive the rewards of those «(who shut up the kingdom <of heaven) against men» , in addition to preventing both themselves and those who wish <from entering), thus bringing upon themselves the cry of «woe !» . And while <it is> easy to lose <even> what is justly acquired, and <one should> not covet the property of one’s neighbor, and <should> «take heed and beware of covetousness», we pretend to be performing good works, but are <actually> slaves of greed, hypocritically «seeking the kingdom», although we are always clinging to the earth, and while we pretend to be virtuous, we are enveloped in sensuous pleasures, deceiving (others) or perhaps deceiving ourselves that we will bequeath to our descendants (oh, what lack of perception!) not the pious life and concern for our souls which will be asked of each of us, but a despicable life and a «feast for moths» .
But if ever a divine passion should come and appear to someone, either to renounce the world, or to build a monastery or repair one that is falling down, let him be very careful not to entrust (the matter) to any chance person-but to undertake the task with love of God, in the knowledge that He said, «man will say to me in that day» , and so forth-but to those who genuinely choose to serve God. For it is admirable to have mercy on and to give to every man ; but to give an allowance, on the pretext of their military service, to certain of the Despot’s men who have never heard the name of weapons which soldiers bear, is not only worthy of scorn and punishment, but is ridiculous stupidity. And the man who grants to unconcerned people an establishment where ascetics dwell will be punished much (more) than the above-mentioned. Wherefore Ι cannot bear to hand over unconcernedly to laymen or to inexperienced monks monasteries which have been dedicated to the God of all, unless those who are going to inhabit them show proof that they are not false to their name, for men of understanding realize that (<one man who does the will of the Lord is better than ten thousand who go against His will».
Letter 91: Athanasius reiterates the canonical ruling that monks should not leave their monasteries. (This letter should perhaps be connected with another of Athanasius’ letters about a runaway Athonite monk, Vat. Gr. 2219, fols. 269V-272v = Laurent, Regestes, no. 1780.)
<Letter concerning monks)
Even if up to now certain people, Ι know not how, have suffered ignorance of God, and have chosen the lawless paths of their own accord, so as to trample and despise the instructions of holy synodical canons and their awesome decisions concerning a way of life leading to salvation, while none of the bishops appointed for such purpose has paid attention to such an evil, such a great storm, but most of them are liable .to burn in hell-fire on account of their accursed silence (and bishops surely will bear the responsibility for the transgressions of their flock, if they do not clearly rebuke them and protest night and day), still as Ι indeed did perceive and realize the situation which was exceedingly grievous, God having mercy on me ; since Ι realized the transgression of divine ordinances ; and since Ι was aware that every Orthodox Christian must without any sympathy render an accounting for his words and deeds, and even more for transgressions < of the commandments) of the Gospels and the apostles and the canons ; henceforth Ι promise before God and the holy angels and the synod, with confidence in the power of my Savior, that hereafter Ι will not be caught failing to live up to my professions and covenants with God. Ι shall never forget the future fire which aw aits transgressors of the words of God spoken through the Spirit, since the divinely inspired passage, which also asserts that anyone who wishes to be saved should not move from his own monastery, declares as follows, word for word : «(If» , it says, «(a monk runs away from his own monastery and transfers to another monastery, or ends up in a worldly resting-place, both he and the one who receives him are to be excommunicated until the run-away monk returns to the monastery which he wickedly left».
Letter 92: Athanasius reminds the Emperor that he is his spiritual father, and therefore Andronicus should follow his advice at all times.
Το the emperor
Events have shown that those who rule over the people on earth should be presented by everyone in various ways with the belongings of others which are pleasing to them. But when Ι looked in myself for gifts pleasing to them, Ι found not even a few to offer to your divine majesty with a show of affection, since you had no need of those blessings, as you have been appointed by the righteous Judge to dispense riches. But Ι do have something which is both suitable and necessary to offer to your divine majesty, since you both need and ought to abound in it, and one might say that both of us have an obligation, on the one hand Ι should speak and compel and demand what is fitting for you, and on the other hand you ought constantly to show your abundant zeal to heed (me) and carry out (my suggestions). And this (characteristic), like nothing else in life, is the distinguishing feature of men who are conspicuous for their piety and virtue, not like «(topaz or gold» but incomparably more important and valuable than them. «(Just what is this one might ask. It is for your divine majesty to refer everything after God to your spiritual father [Athanasius], to entrust undisguisedly to him whatsoever you rule whether on the left or right, to converse more frequently with him than with all other men, since «(the gift of the Holy comes «(according to one’s faith). Ι entreat you to abound in this (spiritual wealth), to pride yourself on it, and to adorn yourself with it with less hesitation than those who ruled before you (?) For what good are spoils and military encampments and ephemeral heaps of gold and silver, and subject nations and cities, since He has the power to snatch them away from those who do not have the abovementioned (spiritual riches), and destroy them? It is my constant prayer that you increase in your possession of this <spiritual wealth). For he who is fortified by this <wealth> will administer everything in his power in a spiritual manner, and will view more humbly and in every way more keenly the position entrusted to him, both the trust he has received and the One Who entrusted it to him, and <see) whether the ship or state is being guided in a manner pleasing to Him, reflecting on the awe some fact that some men, as a result of this gift, will become <<heirs of the true kingdom>> but others will be brought to trial for their malpractice, because they did not take advantage of the <asset> granted them, <that is> to be considered after God as gods by their countrymen. This requires much paternal assurance and assistance and direction, which qualities accrue only to a truly spiritual <father>, not to those who speak only to curry favor, and to lightly debase truth and righteousness for worldly motives, but to the man who <<sets the Lord before him on his right hand, so as not to be shaken at all by Him.>> Therefore Ι ask your divine majesty, who has been promoted by God with incomparable distinctions, at this time to devote more energies toward this worthy goal than anyone who has come down in memory. For if someone possesses all the riches of the world, but does not acquire that <spiritual wealth> which makes him honorable and which departs with him <from this world>, it would be better if he had never been born, and had never enjoyed <those advantages>.
Letter 95: Athanasius urges the Emperor not to delay any longer an investigation of the charges of a certain monk against Niphon, metropolitan of Cyzicus; cf. Letter 89.
To the emperor
Inasmuch as the soul is more precious than the body and heavenly things are more precious than material things, to such an extent every orthodox person, especially emperors, should always strive, just as we breathe, to make sure that the good governance of the Church is of greater concern than that of the State. But, woe is me, most of us have been deprived of this <attitude>, since «all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s». Therefore no one will deny that Orthodox Christians are suffering greatly, because the Church has not been administered by subsequent generations rightfully and as it was ruled in the beginning. Surely those who have ears to hear are aware of the threats against shepherds for such deeds, and the constant ridicule of the Holy Scriptures, even if (these threats) have turned out to be horribly trampled by certain people to whom the words seem nonsense, and especially by some of those to whom bishoprics have been assigned. For in addition to other words of the Spirit, we neither understand nor fear the passage, «the shepherds have become foolish and have not sought the Lord; therefore the whole pasture has failed, and the sheep have been scattered).
But if we who «sit in Moses’ seat» have been overcome by such paralysis that scorn for the divine pronouncements is the result, still God does not allow our affairs to go unperceived, but for this very reason the Church of Christ has been endowed with you as epistemonarch, resplendent in wisdom and piety and discretion, since you know how to honor divine things properly and to defend and respect (the Church) and to seek what is fitting and to present it as a gift due Her, Who was midwife to you and brought you forth for this purpose and preserves you; and we all are confident that She will show you to be heir of the eternal and immovable and blessed kingdom of heaven (if we don’t omit our part); and She has filled you with strength and glory.
Wherefore I ask that we not in a careless fashion leave uninvestigated the accusations of the monk which portend great harm, and let not this affair drag on. For if death should overtake him, or if he should by chance move away, it will cause much hesitation to the consciences of those who are making the investigation, and also for the Xylotes and those who are otherwise anxious to seek pretexts, unless (<injustice shall stop her mouth», because we have conducted a free and truthful investigation. For no one who desires salvation will endure either to be in communion with, or to be friends with, those who rage against the holy icons. And if we do not judge a righteous judgment freely and truthfully, so as either to reveal the innocence of the defendant or to substantiate the plaintiff, and so that such a matter may not remain in our souls uninvestigated, but may receive true and free examination, – even if meanwhile grief fills your soul, as God knows, while storm after storm falls upon the Church on account of my sins, and the waves thus seethe, and constantly dash against Her as a result of «the gales» and machinations «of the enemy», even up to this day.
NOTE: Athanasius I (1230 – October 28, 1310) was the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople for two terms, from 1289 to 1293 and 1303 to 1309. He was born in Adrianople and died in Constantinople. Chosen by the emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus as patriarch, he opposed the reunion of the Greek and Roman Churches and introduced an ecclesiastic reform that evoked opposition within the clergy. He resigned in 1293 and was restored in 1303 with popular support. The pro-Union clerical faction forced him into retirement in early 1310.
He is commemorated as a saint in the Orthodox Church with his feast day observed annually on October 28.
The following Letters are taken from The Correspondence of Athanasius I, Patriarch of Constantinople: Letters to the Emperor Andronicus II, Members of the Imperial Family, and Officials.
Letter 23. Athanasius asks the bishops to join him when he presents a supplication to the Emperor about the problem of the Latins, Jews, and Armenians in Constantinople.
(Το the bishops)
Since each of the most holy bishops must soon go to his assigned see, and since there are certain matters which require a joint supplication to the ruler, such as the question of the Latins and the rumor that they are teaching with impunity, and are corrupting many of wavering (faith), we should not go away without attending to this. There is also the issue of the Jews and Armenians, that they should leave (the capital), and other such God-pleasing acts which require a joint supplication, and (the factor of) the oppressive summer weather. Wherefore, if you please after our meal on Sunday let us assemble and go together to the emperor. For Ι do not think that he will fail to see the advantage of the proposal. Therefore, for the sake of the Lord, let no one be absent through hesitancy. If then you judge it fitting, let us assemble at Chora, and from there go together to meet with the emperors.
Letter 36 <Το the emperor>
The fact <is> that you do not instruct your sons in ways pleasing to God, and that you do not look after your subjects as a father should his children; that the Church has been profaned and attacked, so that not only through ignorance are unworthy men brought into the clergy, but also men who are known to be unworthy; that not only in the common people abandoned without any instruction, but they are defiled as they ought not to be by the introduction of Jews and Armenians; that fiscal agents are not investigated, but persist in their depravity and injustice; that truth and righteousness and judgment and mercy have disappeared; that the people of God have been delivered into the hands of Ishmael on account of their adultery, incest and perverted passion for sodomy and pederasty, and because of their intolerable blasphemy and sorcery and injustice; that never has such license for corruption been granted to nuns and monks; that although you were able to act in both public and private affairs and to acquire exalting humility through the Lord and with the help of the Lord, you preferred to do nothing (?); that when an army is dispatched, there is no one to admonish the men and to frighten them into marching with Christ, but they indulge in adultery and looting and thievery, and how will they then be victorious 1 that although we condemn the disobedience and transgression of the Jews, on account of which they were destroyed, we ourselves are even more guilty of disobedience and transgression, and just as they disregarded their fellow servants, so we disregard our Lord and King the great God. If then with the help of God you strive to the best of your ability for a change <in these conditions>, not only will you rise above the threatened <catastrophe>, and your subjects with you, but, in addition to this kingdom, you will also gain the kingdom of heaven.
Letter 41. Athanasius protests the Emperor’s toleration of religious worship by Jews, Armenians, and Turks within the walls of Constantinople.
(Το the emperor)
When Rhapsakes the general of Senachereim, king of the Assyrians, dared to spew forth words of insult against the Lord of all, the most pious king Hezekiah not only rent his garments in his zeal for the great Lord, but removed his royal garb and donned sackcloth. Wherefore the Lord of hosts was moved to pity and slew 185,000 Assyrians. How then, holy emperor, will the Lord Sabaoth help us, when we not only permit, in the midst of Orthodox Christians, the assembly of a God-murdering congregation, people who sneer at our customs (that is, at our worship and adoration and faith in our Lord and God Jesus Christ, and our pious veneration of images, and all the mysteries in which the holy and immaculate faith of Christians abounds), but when also through bribes Kokalas has given them great power? And if any Christian out of zeal dares to protest, who will save him from jail?
As for the outrages which the Armenians perpetrate towards the neighboring Orthodox Christians, Ι am ashamed to tell that story, God be my witness. I’ll say only so much, that they are not prevented from having a meetinghouse for their prayers, and if any orthodox person should dare to protest in that matter, too, the Armenians will exert a great deal of power with a few silver coins. Everyone knows that <those> Ishmaelites, .who on account of my sins rule Christian cities, do not even allow Christians to strike the semαndron there. But although we are endowed with this Christian empire through the grace of Christ our God, not only have we neglected to do what the envoys of the Ishmaelites did (good-for-nothings that they are, and sent by no better masters), but they openly climb up on high, as is the custom in their land, and shout forth their abominable mysteries. Witnesses of these and similar outrages conceal them and do not report the bald facts to your majesty, so that you might demonstrate your zeal inspired by God.
For this reason, holy emperor, how will God hear our prayers, if we pray at all? How «while thou art yet speaking will He say ‘Behold, Ι am here’»? How «will He speak peace to His people»? For this reason, to borrow your own words, «Ι entreat, Ι entreat, Ι entreat» your majesty, arise! Let victims of wrongdoing have a hearing, evil-doers be restrained, and men of righteousness and truth receive favor and praise. « Gird thy sword upon thy thigh» with the help of God in all good works, and «bend thy bow and prosper and reign, because of truth and righteousness» and divine zeal and courage, «so that the right hand of God shall guide thee wonderfully» , and so that He will honor you ; for God says, «Ι will only honor them that honor me» , and Ι know that you will honor Him in your heart. However, God has a rule: He honors in secret those who honor Him in secret, and He honors in the presence of men those who honor Him in the presence of men. As He says, «Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will Ι confess».
Meanwhile, if you, your majesty, strive with the help of God to fulfil <these duties>, Ι will not hesitate to petition about the other matters. Acquire then a good and holy name for the sake of God. Strive honestly, not in word, but in deed. For at the time of death, one should show deeds, not words. Be <another> Phinees. «Atone» for our evil .deeds, so that «the s1aughter will abate» , and so that God may «broaden the territory» of Christians, so that He will supply an abundance of necessities to your subjects, so that He will protect you in battle, and grind down like dust under your feet every foe and enemy, so that He will grant you long life, and on account of your virtues will hand down the empire to your children and grandchildren, for generation after generation, and in addition to your terrestrial empire will grant you also the one in heaven.