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E01748: Gregory of Nyssa in his Encomium On *Theodoros (soldier and martyr of Amaseia and Euchaita, S00480), of the 380s, talks of the special grace of the remains of martyrs. He describes the saint’s shrine which included a painted representation of the martyr's death, and a coffin (thēkē) with relics, occasionally opened to grant closer contact. Pilgrims take dust from the surface of the reliquary. Written in Greek in Pontus (northern Asia Minor).

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posted on 17.07.2016, 00:00 by erizos
Gregory of Nyssa, On *Theodoros (CPG 3183, BHG 1760)

For the context of this passage, see E01747

ed. Cavarnos p. 62.3-64.10

Καί μοι λοιπὸν τὸν νοῦν ἐπιστήσαντες διασκέψασθε, οἱ τῆς καθαρᾶς ταύτης θρησκείας ὑπηρέται καὶ φιλομάρτυρες, ἡλίκον χρῆμα δίκαιος καὶ ὅσων ἀξιοῦται τῶν ἀμοιβῶν, τῶν ἐν κόσμῳ τέως, λέγω, καὶ τῶν παρ᾽ ἡμῖν· τῶν γὰρ ἀοράτων οὐδεὶς ἱκανὸς λογίσασθαι τὴν μεγαλοπρέπειαν· (……) τὴν παροῦσαν ἴδωμεν τῶν ἁγίων κατάστασιν ὅπως καλλίστη ἐστὶ καὶ μεγαλοπρεπής. ψυχὴ μὲν γὰρ ἀνελθοῦσα περὶ τὸν ἴδιον κλῆρον ἐμφιλοχωρεῖ καὶ ἀσωμάτως τοῖς ὁμοίοις συνδιαιτᾶται, σῶμα δὲ τὸ σεμνὸν καὶ ἀκηλίδωτον ἐκείνης ὄργανον οὐδαμοῦ τοῖς ἰδίοις πάθεσι βλάψαν τῆς ἐνοικησάσης τὴν ἀφθαρσίαν, μετὰ πολλῆς τιμῆς καὶ θεραπείας περισταλὲν σεμνῶς ἐν ἱερῷ τόπῳ κατάκειται, ὥσπερ τι κειμήλιον πολυτίμητον τῷ καιρῷ τῆς παλιγγενεσίας τηρούμενον, πολὺ τὸ ἀσύγκριτον ἔχον πρὸς τὰ ἄλλα τῶν σωμάτων· οὐδὲ γὰρ κοινῷ καὶ τῷ τυχόντι διελύθη θανάτῳ καὶ ταῦτα ἐν ὁμοίᾳ ὕλῃ τῆς φύσεως ὄν. τὰ μὲν γὰρ ἄλλα τῶν λειψάνων καὶ βδελυκτὰ τοῖς πολλοῖς ἐστι καὶ οὐδεὶς ἡδέως παρέρχεται τάφον, ἢ καὶ ἀνεῳγότι περιτυχὼν ἐκ τοῦ παραδόξου, ἐπιβαλὼν δὲ τὴν ὄψιν τῇ ἀμορφίᾳ τῶν ἐγκειμένων πάσης ἀηδίας πληρωθεὶς καὶ βαρέα καταστενάξας τῆς ἀνθρωπότητος παρατρέχει.

Ἐλθὼν δὲ εἴς τι χωρίον ὅμοιον τούτῳ, ἔνθα σήμερον ὁ ἡμέτερος σύλλογος, ὅπου μνήμη δικαίου καὶ ἅγιον λείψανον, πρῶτον μὲν τῇ μεγαλοπρεπείᾳ τῶν ὁρωμένων ψυχαγωγεῖται οἶκον βλέπων ὡς θεοῦ ναὸν ἐξησκημένον λαμπρῶς τῷ μεγέθει τῆς οἰκοδομῆς καὶ τῷ τῆς ἐπικοσμήσεως κάλλει, ἔνθα καὶ τέκτων εἰς ζῴων φαντασίαν τὸ ξύλον ἐμόρφωσε καὶ λιθοξόος εἰς ἀργύρου λειότητα τὰς πλάκας ἀπέξεσεν. ἐπέχρωσε δὲ καὶ ζωγράφος τὰ ἄνθη τῆς τέχνης ἐν εἰκόνι διαγραψάμενος τὰς ἀριστείας τοῦ μάρτυρος, τὰς ἐνστάσεις, τὰς ἀλγηδόνας, τὰς θηριώδεις τῶν τυράννων μορφάς, τὰς ἐπηρείας, τὴν φλογοτρόφον ἐκείνην κάμινον, τὴν μακαριωτάτην τελείωσιν τοῦ ἀθλητοῦ, τοῦ ἀγωνοθέτου Χριστοῦ τῆς ἀνθρωπίνης μορφῆς τὸ ἐκτύπωμα, πάντα ἡμῖν ὡς ἐν βιβλίῳ τινὶ γλωττοφόρῳ διὰ χρωμάτων τεχνουργησάμενος σαφῶς διηγόρευσε τοὺς ἀγῶνας τοῦ μάρτυρος καὶ ὡς λειμῶνα λαμπρὸν τὸν νεὼν κατηγλάϊσεν· οἶδε γὰρ καὶ γραφὴ σιωπῶσα ἐν τοίχῳ λαλεῖν καὶ τὰ μέγιστα ὠφελεῖν· καὶ ὁ τῶν ψηφίδων συνθέτης ἱστορίας ἄξιον ἐποίησε τὸ πατούμενον ἔδαφος.

Καὶ τοῖς αἰσθητοῖς οὕτω φιλοτεχνήμασιν ἐνευπαθήσας τὴν ὄψιν ἐπιθυμεῖ λοιπὸν καὶ αὐτῇ πλησιάσαι τῇ θήκῃ, ἁγιασμὸν καὶ εὐλογίαν τὴν ἐπαφὴν εἰναι πιστεύων. εἰ δὲ καὶ κόνιν τις δοίη φέρειν τὴν ἐπικειμένην τῇ ἐπιφανείᾳ τῆς ἀναπαύσεως, ὡς δῶρον ὁ χοῦς λαμβάνεται καὶ ὡς κειμήλιον ἡ γῆ θησαυρίζεται. τὸ γὰρ αὐτοῦ τοῦ λειψάνου προσψαύσασθαι, εἴ ποτέ τις ἐπιτυχία τοιαύτη παράσχοι τὴν ἐξουσίαν, ὅπως ἐστὶ πολυπόθητον καὶ εὐχῆς τῆς ἀνωτάτω τὸ δῶρον, ἴσασιν οἱ πεπειραμένοι καὶ τῆς τοιαύτης ἐπιθυμίας ἐμφορηθέντες. ὡς σῶμα γὰρ αὐτὸ ζῶν καὶ ἀνθοῦν οἱ βλέποντες κατασπάζονται, τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς, τῷ στόματι, ταῖς ἀκοαῖς, πάσαις προσάγοντες ταῖς αἰσθήσεσιν, εἶτα τὸ τῆς εὐλαβείας καὶ τὸ τοῦ πάθους ἐπιχέοντες δάκρυον, ὡς ὁλοκλήρῳ καὶ φαινομένῳ τῷ μάρτυρι τὴν τοῦ πρεσβεύειν ἱκεσίαν προσάγουσιν, ὡς δορυφόρον τοῦ θεοῦ παρακαλοῦντες, ὡς λαμβάνοντα τὰς δωρεὰς καὶ ταύτας παρέχοντα ὅταν ἐθέλῃ ἐπικαλούμενος.

Ἐκ τούτων πάντων, ὁ εὐσεβὴς λαός, καταμάθετε ὅτι Τίμιος ἐναντίον κυρίου ὁ θάνατος τῶν ὁσίων αὐτοῦ. ἓν μὲν γὰρ καὶ τὸ αὐτὸ σῶμα πάντων ἀνθρώπων, ἐξ ἑνὸς φυράματος ἔχον τὴν σύστασιν, ἀλλὰ τὸ μὲν ἁπλῶς ἀποθανὸν ῥίπτεται ὡς τὸ τυχόν, τὸ δὲ τῷ πάθει τοῦ μαρτυρίου χαραωθέν, οὕτως ἐστὶν ἐράσμιον καὶ ἡδὺ καὶ ἀναμφισβητήσιμον ὡς ὁ προλαβὼν λόγος ἐδίδαξεν. διὰ τοῦτο πιστεύομεν ἐκ τῶν φαινομένων τοῖς ἀοράτοις, ἀπὸ τῆς ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ πείρας τῇ τῶν μελλόντων ἐπαγγελίᾳ.

‘Now, servants of this pure religion [cf. Jas 1:27] and friends of the martyrs, pay attention to me and consider what a great asset a righteous man is, and how many rewards he is honoured with – I mean recent ones, in this world and in our times, because nobody is able to estimate the splendour of the invisible ones. [….....] let us behold the current condition of the saints, how most beautiful and magnificent it is: the soul has gone up and happily entered its lot, joining its peers without the body; as for the body, the soul’s reverend and blameless instrument, which in no way harmed by its passions the immortality of the soul which once inhabited it, it has been buried with great honour and care, and is now lying solemnly at this holy place, like a highly valued treasure, preserved for the moment of its rebirth. Its condition is incomparably different from that of other bodies: for it was not destroyed by a death of a common and random manner, even though it consists of the same matter of nature. Indeed, to most people the remnants of other bodies are abominable and nobody passes by a grave with pleasure. And, if one encounters by chance an open grave and catches a glimpse of the ugliness of its content, they are filled with all feelings of disgust and run away, heavily bemoaning the human condition.

But when coming to a place like this, where our gathering is taking place today, and where the memory of a righteous man and his holy remains are kept, one is first attracted by the magnificence of the spectacle, as they see a house splendidly built like a temple of God, distinguished by the size of its construction and the beauty of its decoration. Here the carpenter has carved the wood into an image of living creatures, and the mason has polished the stones to silver-like smoothness. The painter has painted the blooms of his art, depicting the martyr’s brave deeds in an image: his responses, his tortures, the monstrous figures of the tyrants, the abuses, that blazing furnace, the most blessed end of the athlete, the likeness of the human figure of Christ who was the master of the contest. Depicting all these things for us in colours, he has recounted with clarity, as if in a speaking book, the struggles of the martyr, and has beautified the temple like a splendid meadow. Indeed, although silent on the wall, a painting can speak and be most useful. And the mosaicist has made the floor we are treading worthy of careful observation.

And, having so much pleased the eyes with these visible masterpieces, one then longs to approach the coffin (thēkē) itself, regarding its contact as sanctification and blessing. And if someone gives us to take away some of the dust (konis) lying on the surface of the resting place, that soil (chous) is received like a gift, and the earth (gē) is treasured like a valued possession. But to touch upon the relics themselves, should, at some point, such a great fortune provide an opportunity to do so – those who have experienced it, and have been granted such a great wish, know what a highly desirable thing this is, the granting, indeed, of the loftiest of prayers! For those who behold it embrace it like a living and blooming body, offering their devotion with their eyes, mouth, and hearing, and all their senses. And then, shedding tears of piety and emotion, they address to the martyr, as fully present and visible, their plea to intercede on their behalf, imploring him as a guardsman of God and as one who, when called upon, receives and grants gifts, as he pleases.

From all this, pious people, you must learn that Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints [Ps 116 (115):6]. The body of all people is one and the same thing, consisting of the same material: yet the body of a person who has died a common death is thrown away like anything, whereas a body blessed with the grace of suffering martyrdom is dear and cherished and undisputed, as my account has just taught us. Therefore, we believe in the things we cannot see based on things apparent, and, based on our experience in this world, we believe in the promise of the things to come (……)’

Text: Cavarnos 1990, 59-71. Translation: Efthymios Rizos

History

Evidence ID

E01748

Saint Name

Theodore Tiro, martyr of Amaseia (Helenopontus, north-eastern Asia Minor), ob. 306 : S00480

Saint Name in Source

Θεόδωρος

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom Literary - Sermons/Homilies

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

379

Evidence not after

390

Activity not before

379

Activity not after

390

Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Euchaita

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Euchaita Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory of Nyssa

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Pilgrimage

Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Public display of an image

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Crowds

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified Contact relic - dust/sand/earth Touching and kissing relics Reliquary – institutionally owned Public display of relics

Source

Gregory of Nyssa was born in the late 330s as one of the youngest of a leading Christian family of Cappadocia. His siblings included important figures of church life, namely Basil of Caesarea, the ascetic Makrina the Younger, and Peter of Sebaste. Gregory was trained in philosophy and rhetoric mainly by his brother Basil, who, in 371 or 372 ordained him bishop of the Cappadocian township of Nyssa. In 376, Gregory was deposed from his see, to which he was able to return in 378, and, from then onwards, he was one of the protagonists of church politics in the East Roman Empire. He played an important role during the Council of Constantinople (381) and was very close to the imperial family of Theodosius I. He was sent on missions to Armenia and Arabia in order settle problems in local churches. Gregory died after 394. He left a large literary heritage on philosophical, theological, ascetical, catechetical and homiletic works. On the manuscript tradition of this oration, see: Heil, Cavarnos, and Lendle 1990, cxxxv-clxxii (J. P. Cavarnos) For a catalogue of the 96 manuscripts: http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/3819/ (accessed 03/02/2017)

Discussion

These paragraphs, datable to the 380s (see E01747), are one of the first detailed descriptions of the veneration of relics in its full development, and of the shrine of the martyr Theodore, probably the one known to have existed at the township of Euchaita in Pontus. Gregory draws the attention of his audience to the contrast between the status and treatment of the remains of the common dead and those reserved to the holy dead. In the 4th century, the shrines of martyrs still stood in necropolises among the graves of other people, and the author’s arguments rely very much on the immediate impressions of his audience who found the shrine of Theodore surrounded by other graves. As Gregory points out, the tombs and bodies of the common dead are avoided as impure, abominable, and ominous, while those of the martyrs are frequented and venerated as pure and gracious. Particularly noteworthy is Gregory’s ekphrasis (description) of the church of Theodore, which apparently featured sumptuous furnishings and decoration in mosaic, painting, marble, and wood, including a pictorial representation of the martyrdom of the saint. Together with Asterius of Amasia’s Ekphrasis on Euphemia of Chalcedon (see E00477), this is the earliest attestation of pictorial representations of hagiographic themes. Yet perhaps even more striking is Gregory’s detailed account of the paraphernalia of the veneration of Theodore’s relics which were kept in a coffin (thēkē). Gregory reports that visitors were given quantities of dust or soil as a blessing from the resting place of the saint, and, on extraordinary occasions, they were allowed to see and touch the relics. Gregory’s words seem to suggest that the relics were displayed to the pilgrims who ‘offered their devotion with their eyes, mouth, and hearing, and all their senses. And then, shedding tears of piety and emotion, they address to the martyr, as fully present and visible (…)’ All these reflect a set of practices framing the cult of relics, in its full development and maturity, at an unexpectedly early historical stage. It must be pointed out that the author does not seek to justify or even regulate the veneration of the saint and his relics, neither does he argue against critics of these practices. He simply refers to them as a self-evident reality which proves the extraordinary grace and honour granted to the saints and their bodies after their death.

Bibliography

Text: Heil, G., J. P. Cavarnos, and O. Lendle, eds. Gregorii Nysseni Opera X.1: Gregorii Nysseni Sermones Ii. Leiden: Brill, 1990, 59-71 (J. P. Cavarnos). Translations: Leemans, J., ed. 'Let Us Die That We May Live' : Greek Homilies on Christian Martyrs from Asia Minor, Palestine and Syria, (c. AD 350-Ad 450). London: Routledge, 2003, 82-90 (J. Leemans). (with introduction and further bibliography) Mango, C. The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312-1453: Sources and Documents. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986, 36-37. (translation of the description of the shrine) Further reading: Bernardi, J. La prédication des pères Cappadociens, Paris : Université de Paris, 1968, 301-307. Daniélou, J. (1955), ‘Chronologie des sermons de Grégoire de Nysse’, Revue des Sciences Religieuses 29.4, 346-372. Haldon, J., A Tale of Two Saints: The Martyrdoms and Miracles of Saints Theodore 'the Recruit' and 'the General', (Translated Texts for Byzantinists 2; Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2016). (introduction and bibliography). Leemans, J. "Hagiography and Historical-Critical Analysis: The Earliest Layer of the Dossier of Theodore the Recruit (Bhg 1760 and 1761)." In Martyrdom and Persecution in Late Antique Christianity: Festschrift Boudewijn Dehandschutter, edited by Johan Leemans. Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium, 333-51. Leuven: Peeters, 2010. Limberis, V., Architects of Piety: The Cappadocian Fathers and the Cult of the Martyrs (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 56-62. Walter, C. (1999) ‘Theodore, Archetype of the Warrior Saint’, Revue des Études Byzantines 57: 163–210. idem, The warrior saints in Byzantine art and tradition, Aldershot : Ashgate, 2003. On Gregory of Nyssa: Dörrie, H., “Gregor III,” in Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 12 (1983), 863-895. Maraval, P., ‘Grégoire, évêque de Nysse’, in Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques 22 (1988): 20–4. Silvas, A. M. Gregory of Nyssa. The Letters: Introduction, Translation and Commentary. Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 83. Leiden / Boston: Brill, 2007, 1-57.

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