The purpose of the commandments. St Maximus the Confessor

St Maximus the Confessor

"The whole purpose of the Savior's commandments is to free the mind from incontinence and hate and to bring it to the love of Himself, and of its neighbor. From these is begotten the splendor of holy knowledge, actually possessed."

St. Maximus the Confessor.

 


I saw this in email today. This has been one of the themes of my priestly ministry. Very few understand the commandments. They see them as do's and dont's, and too difficult. The commandments are life, because in learning of them, we become alive.

A pastor must strive to give his flock a reason to follow the commandments. This quote by St Maximus is the reason, or, better, one of the many ways of expressing the reason. A person who really listened to my homilies will see that every one of them in some way gives a reason to follow the commandments. Each sermon is not "the same old story", the "same sermon", but is another expression of the purpose of our life – union with the Holy, which is only possible if we strive to become holy.


 

The Monk Maximos the Confessor (Jan 21/ Feb 3) was born in Constantinople in about the year 580 and raised in a pious Christian family. In his youth he received a very diverse education: he studied philosophy, grammatics, rhetoric, he was well-read in the authors of antiquity and he mastered to perfection theological dialectics.

 

When Saint Maximos entered into government service, the scope of his learning and his conscientiousness enabled him to become first secretary to the emperor Heraclius (611-641). But court life vexed him, and he withdrew to the Chrysopoleia monastery (on the opposite shore of the Bosphorus — now Skutari), where he accepted monastic tonsure. By the humility of his wisdom he soon won the love of the brethren and was chosen hegumen of the monastery, but even in this dignity, in his own words, he "remained a simple monk". But in 633 at the request of a theologian, the future Jerusalem Patriarch Saint Sophronios (Comm. 11 March), the Monk Maximos left the monastery and set off to Alexandria.

Saint Sophronios was known in these times as an implacable antagonist against the Monothelite heresy. The Fourth Ecumenical Council (year 451) had condemned the Monophysite heresy, which confessed in the Lord Jesus Christ only one nature (the Divine, but not the Human nature, of Christ). Influenced by this erroneous tendency of thought, the Monothelite heretics introduced the concept that in Christ there was only "one Divine will" ("thelema") and only "one Divine effectuation or energy" ("energia"), — which sought to lead back by another path to the repudiated Monophysite heresy. Monotheletism found numerous adherents in Armenia, Syria, Egypt. The heresy, fanned also by nationalist animosities, became a serious threat to church unity in the East.

The struggle of Orthodoxy with the heresies was particularly complicated by the fact, that in the year 630 three of the Patriarchal thrones in the Orthodox East were occupied by Monothelites: at Constantinople — by Sergios, at Antioch — by Athanasias, and at Alexandria — by Cyrus.

The path of the Monk Maximos from Constantinople to Alexandria led through Crete, where indeed he began his preaching activity. He clashed there with a bishop, who adhered to the heretical opinions of Severus and Nestorius. At Alexandria and its surroundings the monk spent about 6 years.

 

In 638 the emperor Heraclius, together with the patriarch Sergios, attempted to downplay the discrepancies in the confession of faith, and the issued an edict: the so-called "Ecthesis" ("Ekthesis tes pisteos" — "Exposition of Faith), — which ultimately decreed that there be confessed the teaching about "one will" ("mono-thelema") operative under the two natures of the Saviour. In defending Orthodoxy against this "Ecthesis", the Monk Maximos recoursed to people of various vocations and positions, and these conversations had success. "Not only the clergy and all the bishops, but also the people, and all the secular officials felt within themselves some sort of invisible attraction to him, — testifies his Vita.

Towards the end of 638 the patriarch Sergios died, and in 641 — the emperor Heraclius also died. The imperial throne came to be occupied by the cruel and coarse Constans II (642-668), an open adherent of the Monothelites. The assaults of the heretics against Orthodoxy intensified. The Monk Maximos went off to Carthage and he preached there and in its surroundings for about 5 years.

When the successor of patriarch Sergios,  patriarch Pyrrhos, arrived there in forsaking Constantinople because of court intrigues, and being by persuasion a Monothelite, — there occurred between him and the Monk Maximos an open disputation in June 645. The result of this was that Pyrrhos publicly acknowledged his error and even wanted to put into writing to Pope Theodore the repudiation of his error. The Monk Maximos together with Pyrrhos set off to Rome, where Pope Theodore accepted the repentance of the former patriarch and restored him to his dignity.

 In the year 647 the Monk Maximos returned to Africa. And there, at a council of bishops Monotheletism was condemned as an heresy. In the year 648, in place of the "Ecthesis", there was issued a new edict, commissioned by Constans and compiled by the Constantinople patriarch Paul,  the "Typus" ("Tupos tes pisteos" — "Pattern of the Faith"), which overall forbade any further deliberations, whether if be about "one will" or about "two wills", as regarding the acknowledged "two natures" of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Monk Maximos thereupon turned to the successor of the Roman Pope Theodore, Pope Martin I (649-654), with a request to examine the question of Monotheletism at a conciliar consideration by all the Church. In October of 649 there was convened the Lateran Council, at which were present 150 Western bishops and 37 representatives of the Orthodox East, amongst which was also the Monk Maximos the Confessor. The Council condemned Monotheletism, and its defenders — the Constantinople patriarchs Sergios, Paul and Pyrrhos, were consigned to anathema.

When Constans II received the determinations of the Council, he gave orders to arrest both Pope Martin and the Monk Maximos. This summons took 5 years to fulfill, in the year 654. They accused the Monk Maximos of treason to the realm and locked him up in prison. In 656 he was sent off to Thrace, and again later brought back to a Constantinople prison. The monk, together with two of his students, was subjected to the cruelest torments: for each they cut out the tongue and cut off the right hand. Then they were sent off to Colchis. But here the Lord worked an inexplicable miracle: all three of them found the ability to speak and to write.

The Monk Maximos indeed foretold his own end (+ 13 August 662). On the Greek Saints-Prologue (Calendar), 13 August indicates the Transfer of the Relics of Saint Maximos to Constantinople, but possibly it might apply to the death of the saint. Or otherwise, the establishing of his memory under 21 January may be connected with this — that 13 August celebrates the Leavetaking of the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Over the grave of the Monk Maximos shone three miraculously-appearing lights, and there occurred many an healing.

The Monk Maximos has left to the Church a large theological legacy. His exegetical works contain explanations of difficult places within the Holy Scripture, also Commentary on the Prayer of the Lord and on the 59th Psalm, various "scholia" ("marginalia" or text-margin commentaries) on treatises of the PriestMartyr Dionysios the Areopagite (+ 96, Comm. 3 October) and Sainted Gregory the Theologian (+ 389, Comm. 25 January). To the exegetical works of Saint Maximos belongs likewise his explication of Divine-services, entitled "Mystagogia" ("Introduction concerning the Mystery").

To the dogmatic works of the Monk Maximos belong: the Exposition on his dispute with Pyrrhos, and several tracts and letters to various people. In them are contained expositions of the Orthodox teaching of the Divine Essence and about Hypostatic-Persons of the Holy Trinity, about the Incarnation of God, and about the "theosis" ("deification", "obozhenie") of human nature.

"Nothing in theosis is the product of human nature, — the Monk Maximos writes in a letter to his friend Thalassios, — since nature cannot comprehend God. It is only but the mercy of God that has the capacity to endow theosis unto the existing… In theosis man (the image of God) becomes likened to God, he rejoices in all the plenitude that does belong to him by nature, since the grace of the Spirit doth triumph within him and because God doth act within him" (Letter 22).

To the Monk Maximos belong also works concerning the anthropologic (i.e. concerning man). He deliberates on the nature of the soul and its consciously-personal existence after the death of a man. Among his moral compositions, especially important is his "Chapters on Love". The Monk Maximos the Confessor wrote likewise three hymns in the finest traditions of church hymnography, following the lead of Saint Gregory the Theologian.

The theology of the Monk Maximos the Confessor, based on the spiritual experience of the knowledge of the great Desert-Fathers, and utilizing the skilled art of dialectics worked out by pre-Christian philosophy, was continued and developed upon in the works of the Monk Simeon the New Theologian (+ 1021, Comm. 12 March), and Sainted Gregory Palamas (+ c. 1360, Comm. 14 November).

Taken from the Menologion program. Get it for your PC and read the Scriptures and the lives of the Saints every day.

Share

One Response to “The purpose of the commandments. St Maximus the Confessor”

  1. Thank you, Fr. Seraphim, for the comprehensive life of this greatest of saints and confessor of Christ Jesus. And thanks, too, for the link to the Menologion program. I just installed it and I'm looking forward to using it daily!

Leave a Reply