Augustine Sokolovski

On May 30, on the penultimate day of spring, the Church honors the memory of St. Stephen of Constantinople. Stephen's years: 867–893. He lived only 26 years, from 886 to 893 he was the Archbishop of Constantinople, perhaps the youngest Ecumenical Patriarch in history. Although the Communion of Saints does not know chronology, the memory of Stephen in 2023 can be called a jubilee. After all, exactly 1130 years ago, on this day, he was born into eternity.

To understand the essence of the processes that took place then, it is necessary to pay attention to the events in the Universe. This is how the Eastern Roman Empire proudly called itself. “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all,” Paul formulated the essence of the Christian confession in the Epistle to the Ephesians (Eph. 4,5).

Over the centuries, the Empire “began to add” itself to this ancient Creed. By the 8th-9th centuries, Byzantium was dominated by the belief that there could be only one Empire. Therefore, the coronation of Emperor Charlemagne on Christmas 800 in Aachen caused extreme indignation. There was a need to justify the exclusivity of their own orthodoxy. So, the process of searching for arguments that would make it possible to accuse the emperor of the west of heresy, and thereby deprive him of legitimation, piled on.

From 867, the rule of the Macedonian dynasty began in Constantinople, which continued for almost two centuries until 1056. The beginning of a new era of rule coincided in the Church with the period of confrontation between the two Patriarchs. Photios (858-867, 877-886) and Ignatius (847-858, 867-877) alternately replaced each other, were deposed, and returned, relying on the support of the people, their supporters and those in power. At the same time, Ignatius sought help from the Bishop of Rome, while Photios followed the path of separating the Church of Constantinople by accusing Rome and the West of various deviations from Orthodoxy.

Saint Stephen was the youngest son of Emperor Basil I of Macedon (867–886), and the brother of the new ruler, Leo the Wise (886–912). The latter circumstance played a fatal role in Stephen's biography.

After all, Emperor Leo was not only a politician, but also a writer and even a theologian. Leo possessed great secular and ecclesiastical erudition. He went down in history as the author of hymns and church rules. Influencing the affairs of the Church has always been one of his goals. Therefore, almost simultaneously with his accession to the throne, Leo deposed Patriarch Photios (810-893) and contributed to the elevation of his brother Stephen to the throne instead of him.

The game of thrones of that time is difficult to understand. However, it is obvious that the Church constrained the Empire in its ambitions and plans. Therefore, the Emperor decided to remove Photios and choose his brother in his place. It is possible that in this way he hoped to enlist the support of the Pope in an attempt to undermine the authority of the newborn West Empire. The Pope at this time was the namesake of the new patriarch, Stephen V (885–891). He conflicted with Photios and recognized as Patriarch the Emperor's brother. At the same time, in the capital there was many supporters of the Patriarch Ignatius (797-877), previously deposed under Photios. Since it was Photios who once ordained Stephen a deacon, Ignatius' supporters refused to recognize him.

But power intrigues did not interest Stefan, he was in poor health and took his election too seriously. As a child, he was tonsured a monk. In the intricacies of the Byzantine court, capable of destroying anyone, and, like modern serials, clouding the mind, this image of God in everyone, he did not participate. Stefan loved charity; as suggested by the biblical ideal of the office of a bishop, he tried to help his neighbor in everything. According to his vita, with his accession to the patriarchal throne, he further intensified his ascetic deeds. After only eight years, as an image of the fleeting earthly "career eternity", he died.

Age is given to learn to say goodbye. "Patriarch without autumn" did not live to old age. In the seeming absurdity of his fleeting biography, Patriarch Stefan became an example of how a church exaltation for a righteous man can turn out to be a tragedy.

Paraphrasing Milan Kundera (born 1929), we can say that in the unbearable lightness of being, without any accomplishments and achievements, Stefan's biography became “a life in spite of”, embodied in the garments of biblical holiness.

As a result, a very successful reign of the Macedonian Dynasty in 1056 ended with a break in church communion between East and West two years before. For the Patriarch of Constantinople, this meant an unprecedented long-term rise, but for the Orthodox Empire, centuries later, it turned into a collapse.