St Eustathios of Antioch

Memory celebrated February 21

The early church of Jesus Christ was composed of five Episcopal sees, each supreme in its own sphere of influence and collectively answerable to the Kings of Kings. The five centres of Christianity were in the cities of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Rome, the last of which, because it was the political centre of the empire, had a bishop, as did all the others, who was honoured with the title of "first among equals."

St. Eustathios of Antioch is a little-known saint, not because of his small contribution, but because his stature has diminished over the years because Antioch is scarcely more than a memory. The assertiveness of Rome in 1054 AD split the East and West in a 900-year rift.

Many heresies dogged the early Christian Church. A Council was called by the Emperor Constantine in 325 AD to put an end to the internal strife caused by the Arian and other heresies of the time. Among the champions of tradition called upon to discredit Arianism was the venerable Patriarch of Antioch, Eustathios, who joined other clerics of distinction in a condemnation of the wily Arius, excommunicated in a document with such a conciliatory tone that allowed his followers in the Middle East to continue to influence thought after the Council had adjourned. Each of the dignitaries returned to his respective community convinced that peace and order had been restored, but that was hardly the case. The Arians were stubborn fanatics, as subsequent events were to prove.

While yet discredited they sought to fight back by bringing about a denunciation by devious means of those who had been in the ban at the council which had been so nobly conducted, only to be attached later on. The prime target for the malcontents who refused to concede to the truth was Bishop Eustathios, whose downfall was carefully plotted and relentlessly pursued. They set false rumours into circulation, nursing these vile innuendos until they assumed serious proportions which they were clever enough to make appear credible. With mounting howls of protests for the bishop of Antioch to step down, the detractors of Eustathios sent a delegation to the emperor with documents tailored to their claims of the holy man's guilt, the clamour being capped by a sworn statement of a bribed prostitute that the aging bishop had fathered her illegitimate child. When Constantine hesitated to act even with this contrived evidence, Eustathios was then falsely accused of having deliberately insulted the sister of the emperor. With ever mounting criticism assuming the proportions of a storm of protest never before to reach the royal household, Constantine finally gave in to the Arians in Thrace.

The woman's confession on her deathbed that she had lied after accepting a bribe to falsely accuse the bishop came late. Eustathios died in exile on February 21, but his earthly remains were brought back to Antioch for an apologetic funeral service at which he was eulogised by the greatest orator of all time, St John Chrysostom.

from Orthodox Saints, v. 1
by Fr George Poulos, Holy Cross Orthodox Press

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