Augustine Sokolovski

On June 17, the Church honors the memory of St. Metrophanes of Byzantium. The saint was the bishop of the city of Byzantium from 306 to 314. In 330, on the site of this ancient settlement, Constantine I the Great founded the new capital of the Empire – New Rome on the Bosporus. By virtue of this historical succession, the saint is also called Metrophanes of Constantinople.

According to the vita, Metrophanes was a relative of Dometius. The latter was the brother of the Roman emperor Probus (276–282). Professing the Christian faith, and not wanting to conflict with his conscience, Dometius left the Roman imperial environment and retired to Asia Minor. Over time, he was appointed bishop of the city of Byzantium. Metrophanes later became his successor.

The existence of the future Ecumenical Patriarchate in the first centuries of Christianity is based on legends. In this context, Metrophanes is sometimes referred to as the "first historical bishop" of Constantinople.

According to the very little information that has come down to us about Saint Metrophanes, he lived a very long life. He passed away to the Lord at the age of 117. For his contemporaries, he was the embodiment of the Tradition of the Church, since he saw not only the great and final persecution of Christians under Diocletian, but also the former cruel persecutions under Decius and Valerian. He was a witness of the era and a confessor for Constantine I, who gradually came to the idea of legalizing, and subsequently choosing Christianity as a new universal religion.

Due to old age and illness, Metrophanes was unable to take part in the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325. The saint's representative at the Council was his future successor in the see of Constantinople, Alexander. This gesture turned out to be prophetic. It was Alexander who, after the death of Metrophanes a year later, became the first bishop of the New Capital.

Paradoxical as it may seem, but to understand the essence of Metrophanes' vita, one should turn to the personality of the ancient Russian hierarch Metropolitan Peter (1308-1326). The biographies of the two holy bishops are separated from each other by exactly a millennium, and there are amazing parallels in the details of their lives. So, as if the Lord, who lives outside of chronology, already here and now, in history, created some special diachrony, revealing the boundaries of space and time towards sacramentality.

Not being able to stay in the historical center of the Russian Church, Peter chose Moscow as his place of residence. According to the canons, two bishops cannot reside in the same city. Moscow of that time was the only significant political center where there was no bishop. Peter enjoyed the special favor of the then Moscow princes. So, he prophetically chose Moscow as the place of his stay and ministry. He founded the Dormition Cathedral in the Kremlin, and, by virtue of personal righteousness, he contributed to its sacral, that is, its sacred and ecclesiastical exaltation of the New Russian Capital.

Exactly one thousand years before that, Metrophanes of Byzantium enjoyed special respect from Constantine. The future Bishop of New Rome, as the new capital on the Bosporus was officially called, was a simple diocesan bishop. Moreover, he was subordinate to the neighboring Metropolitan. The see of Constantinople had no apostolic succession, no special tradition, or any ecclesiastical canonical privileges.

Once upon a time, in the harmonious choir of voices praising the act of Constantine in establishing the New Capital, there was one single voice contrary. It was St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), who was born later than those events, but in 411 he caught the capture of Rome by the barbarians. In his work “On the City of God,” the Father of the Church wrote that the deed of Constantine was great. However, having founded a city of his own name, he became like Cain (cf. Gen. 4:17).

Contemporaries wept about the capture of ancient Rome by the barbarians, while Augustine argued that, according to Scripture, every human city is destined to fall. As an example of a ruler, the Father of the Church cited Theodosius the Great (379-395), who not only proclaimed Orthodox Nicene Christianity the official religion, but in another imperial capital, Milan, before St. Ambrose (340-397) brought public repentance.

If we continue this thought of Augustine, it becomes obvious that the sacral elevation of the New Capital should have been promoted not by political force, as it sounded in the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 on the establishment and primacy of the patriarchate in Constantinople, but exclusively by the authority and new succession of saints. Such at one time were the metropolitan bishops Gregory the Theologian (329-390) and John Chrysostom (347-407). Their undoubted great predecessor was St. Metrophanes.