March 11 Saint of the Day – Sophronius of Jerusalem

On this day in 1702, the first issue of the Daily Courant, England’s first national daily newspaper, was published. It consisted of a single sheet of paper, printed on one side only. As such there were no pictures, naughty or otherwise, on page 3.

Sophronius of JerusalemOur one-for-the-price-of-two saint today is Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (ca. 560 – 638), celebrated on this day on both sides of the Adriatic. Arab in origin (maybe born in Damascus), Sophronius started his career as a philosopher and teacher of rhetoric, and is thus also known as “Sophronius the Sophist.” Once he got that out of his system, he moved to the St. Theodosius Monastery near Bethlehem, where he fell in with (Saint) John Moschos, a hieromonk (priest-monk) and hagiographer. The two of them traveled extensively, collecting the stories and wisdom of the ascetics, which they distilled into their work The Leimonarion (“book of lemon air”) or Spiritual Meadow. Something of an invader magnet, Sophronius and Moschos left Jerusalem for Antioch when the Persians attacked, then left Antioch for Alexandria when the Persians attacked there, then left Alexandria for Rome when the Persians attacked there. While still in Alexandria they worked with John the Almsgiver to battle the Monophysite heresy. It was also during this time that Sophronius was delivered from an eye problem (disease or failing vision) through the prayers of Cyrus and John the Unmercinaries. In thanks, he wrote a panegyric (or ecomium — sources vary) about them.

John Moschos died in Rome, and Sophronius brought his friend’s body to Palestine for burial, both settling back into the St. Theodosius Monastery. He then began a brief and unsuccessful game of whack-a-heretic, traveling to Alexandria to speak out against Patriarch Cyrus when he began preaching monothelitism, and then to Constantinople to denounce Patriarch Sergius for the same offense. In 634 he was elected Patriarch of Jerusalem, and shortly thereafter he composed his Synodical Letter laying out what became the Church’s official teaching on the two wills of Christ. (This refers to Christ’s human will and his divine will, not his will leaving everything to his brother James and his will leaving everything to his Mother. That whole thing has been proven apocryphal.)

In 637 Sophronius’ invader magnetism struck again, and caliph Umar I captured Jerusalem. The patriarch was, however, able to negotiate limited civil and religious freedoms for Christians in return for a tribute. Historically this is called the Umari Treaty, although apparently most modern scholars think the document that now bears that name was written somewhat later, for values of “somewhat” approximating 200 years. Nevertheless, Sophronius took Umar around to see the holy places of the Holy City, and invited him to pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but Umar demurred, fearing that if he prayed there, it would set a precedent that would ultimately make it impossible for Christians to keep it as a Christian holy site. (Am I the only one who immediately thinks of the Dome of the Rock at this point in the narrative? Thought so.) One source says that the keys to the Church of the Sepulchre were given to the caliph at this time, and have remained with the Muslims ever since. (Did it occur to nobody to change the locks when the Muslims weren’t looking? Nobody?) Sophronius died shortly after the city fell, “disheartened” according to one source, or “of grief” according to another.

In addition to his polemical works and ecomium (or panegyric) of Cyrus and John, Sophronius also wrote lives of Mary of Egypt and John the Almsgiver, as well as 23 anacreontic odes. These are poems written in a meter (˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ¯) used by the Greek poet Anacreon. (Unless the poem is in English, in which case it refers to a poem about love and wine. But Sophronius wrote in Greek, so that’s irrelevant.) Some readers will recognize Anacreon as the guy referred to in the song from which the American national anthem (“O Say Can You See”) took its melody: “To Anacreon in Heaven.”

March 11 (Wikipedia)
Daily Courant (Wikipedia)
St Sophronius the Patriarch of Jerusalem (OCA) – Main source
St. Sophronius of Jerusalem (Catholic Online)
Sophronius of Jerusalem (Wikipedia)
Monastery of St. Theodosius (Wikipedia)
Pact of Umar (Wikipedia)
Anacreontics (Wikipedia)
To Anacreon in Heaven (Wikipedia)

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.