Augustin Sokolovski

On September 15, the Orthodox Churches of the Julian calendar celebrate the memory of St. John IV the Faster (582–595). John is the first patriarch in history to bear the title of Ecumenical.

It was a difficult and dramatic time. With the apparent internal well-being of the Empire, its last, most devastating war with Persia was approaching. Then St. Augustine of Canterbury (+604) went to evangelize pagan England, and a contemporary of those events, the Muslim prophet Muhammad (571-632) was approaching his fortieth birthday, when his work was to begin.

To better understand the historical circumstances in which God placed John's patriarchate, it is important to remember that by the end of the 6th century, Eastern Orthodoxy was divided into two parts. Half of the Church of Antioch and the entire Church of Egypt, except for Alexandria, ceased Eucharistic communion with Constantinople, formed their own hierarchies and elected their own patriarchs. The consequence of this “falling away” was the transformation of Constantinople into the leading see in the entire Orthodox East.

So, John became the first Patriarch of Constantinople in history to take the title of "Ecumenical". This name then meant "Patriarch of the Byzantine Empire." Because Egypt and Syria broke off their unity with the Orthodox Churches, and Italy, after the conquests of Justinian (527–565), again found itself under the rule of the Lombards, such a title seemed logical and consistent from the banks of the Bosporus.

However, as indicated in the relevant documents, along with the title, the primacy of jurisdiction was also implied. Thus, for the first time in history, one of the bishops claimed direct authority over other dioceses.

The Roman Bishop Gregory the Great (690-604) entered a controversy with John. However, the dispute between the two hierarchs, each of whom was subsequently canonized as a saint, did not produce results. Subsequently, following the example of Constantinople, the Roman Church also began to claim the primacy of jurisdiction in the Churches.

Subsequently, following the example of Constantinople, the Roman Church also began to claim the primacy of jurisdiction in the Churches. The title of "Ecumenical" was finally assigned to the Hierarch of Constantinople under Patriarchs Photius (820-896) and Michael Cerularius (1043-1058). It was this patriarch, under whom the division of the Churches of the East and the West took place in 1054, who introduced the title "Ecumenical" into his seal. Thus, in mutual alienation and mutual imitation of the Churches, the institution of the ecumenical patriarchy and papacy was formed. But let us return to John the Patriarch.

Simeon the New Theologian preached at about the same time of division in Constantinople. This great Orthodox God-seer called for the spiritual rebirth of everyone. He preached about the duty of Christians here and now to see God, and to live in Christ in grace consciously. Listening to his sermons, the metropolitan clergy were indignant. They considered themselves "the stronghold of Orthodoxy", and Simeon was nicknamed the "New Theologian" (949-1022). But contrary to the intention of the ill-wishers, later the Church glorified Simeon among the saints with this very title, as an expression of praise and dignity.

But let us return to Patriarch John the Faster. In his youth, John was a goldsmith. Having experienced a conscious conversion, he devoted himself to the service of the Church, and became a deacon. In those days it was an extremely high rank. Patriarchs could be chosen from among the deacons. John was instructed to deal with works of mercy in the metropolitan diocese. The people revered John for his ability to combine the high service with modesty, mercy, and sincere love for self-restraint. However, the very name "Faster" was most likely an expression of the irony of the powers that be, who suspected him of hypocrisy.

"John the Faster" first was an expression of the irony of the powers that be, who suspected him of hypocrisy. They themselves understood fasting purely outwardly, counting the days to wait for the holiday, as a reason to get greedy. Therefore, just as centuries later Simeon was the “New Theologian,” John, during his lifetime, began to be called a “faster” in derision.

People often judge the righteous with malice, but the Lord knows how to bring down their intentions. He remembers every word people say (cf. 12:36). He turns human irony into truth. “His word is sharper than a sword; it judges the intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). This is what happened to John.

Once, already being a Patriarch, he asked the emperor Mauritius (582-602) to loan a large amount of gold for charity. As a guarantee of this mortgage, he gave on receipt all his property, which will remain with him after his death.

When John retired to the Lord in September 595, it was discovered that it consisted of: "a low wooden bed, a thick blanket made of cheap wool and a simple cloak." “A thick cheap blanket” is a reminder of how a hungry person does not sleep, because it freezes at night .... Thus, it became apparent that John's fast was integral. It had nothing to do with food, but in grace of Jesus Christ it clothed him with righteousness.

Emperor Mauritius was a sincerely pious man. He took these things to his palace. And according to the testimony of a contemporary of those events, the Church Historian Theophylact (585–641), during Great Lent he “lay down on this wooden bed of a clergyman and spent the nights on it” without sleep, begging God to grant him the grace of conformity to the Gospel. After 7 years, Mauritius and his five sons were killed on the orders of a usurper.