October 28, 2023

Saint Arsenios Autoreianos, Patriarch of Constantinople (+ 1273)

St. Arsenios Autoreianos of Constantinople (Feast Day - October 11 or 28)

Born in Constantinople c. 1200, Arsenios received his education in Nicaea at a monastery of which he later became the abbot, though was not ordained to the priesthood. His secular name was George, but he was renamed Gennadios when he embraced the monastic life. Subsequently, he gave himself up to a life of solitary asceticism in a Bithynian monastery, and is said to have remained some time in a monastery on Mount Athos later in life.

From this seclusion he was called by the Emperor Theodore II Laskaris to the position of Patriarch at Nicaea in 1255. After the death of Theodore (1258), Patriarch Arsenios assumed the guardianship of his minor son, John II, whom he tried to protect from the unrestrained ambition of Michael Palaiologos.

Arsenios performed the double coronation of Michael Palaiologos and John Laskaris in January 1259. He had worked to protect the rights of the young emperor John Laskaris, at one point insisting that John and Michael exchange mutual oaths of loyalty. He also insisted that at the double coronation John Laskaris should be crowned first, which Michael Palaiologos saw as a serious barrier to his final usurpation. Pressure was put upon the patriarch to allow Palaiologos to be crowned alone, and even the young emperor was threatened. The patriarch found no support from the bishops assembled: except for two prelates, all believed that Palaiologos had the right to be crowned first. Arsenios at last conceded the point and crowned Michael and his wife first, while John Laskaris received only a special head-dress.

The ceremony completed, Arsenios took refuge in the Monastery of Paschasius, retaining his office of patriarch but refusing to discharge its duties. Nikephoros of Ephesus was appointed in his stead. Michael Palaiologos, having recovered Constantinople from the Latin Empire, induced Arsenios to undertake the office of patriarch, but soon incurred Arsenios' severe censure by ordering the young prince John to be blinded. Arsenios went so far as to excommunicate Emperor Michael Palaiologos; after attempting to frighten the patriarch into rescinding the excommunication by threatening to appeal to the Pope, Michael at last convened a synod, had Arsenios deposed, and towards the end of May 1265 sent him into exile to Prokonisos. There he died some years afterwards (according to Fabricius in 1264; others say in 1273).

Throughout these years Arsenios declined to lift the sentence of excommunication from Michael and after his death, when the new patriarch Joseph gave absolution to the emperor, the dispute was carried on between the "Arsenites" and the "Josephists." The "Arsenian schism" lasted till 1315, when a reconciliation was pronounced by the patriarch Nephon I. Arsenios is said to have prepared the decisions of the synods and the works of the Fathers a summary of divine laws under the title Synopsis Canonum. Some hold that Synopsis was the work of another Arsenios, a monk of Athos; the ascription depends on whether the patriarch Arsenios did or did not reside at Mount Athos.

His Testament is preserved as his authentic work (PG 140, 947-958), while in the Church of Panagia Chrysafitissa in Laconia there is the only depiction of him in Byzantine art, a fresco dating to 1290. The Ecumenical Patriarchate honors him as a Saint on October 28th, while the Church of Greece honors him on October 11th.

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