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Cyril I Lucaris

The entire life of the Patriarch Cyril I Lucaris is characterized by ceaseless activity and constant concern for the integrity and safety of the Orthodox Church.

Cyril Lucaris was born in 1572 in Heraclion, Crete, and had the chance to be a pupil of Meletius Vlastos, the learned monk who taught at the School of the Sinaitic Metochion of St. Catherine's Monastery. After attending courses of general education, he continued his studies under the eminent scholar, writer and preacher Maximos Margunios Bishop of Kythira (1549-1602). He completed his studies in Venice (1584-1588) and later enrolled as a student in the University of Padova (1589-1593).

In 1593, at the age of 21, he was ordained deacon and, later, presbyter by the celebrated Patriarch of Alexandria Meletios Pegas (1549-1601), who perceived the young man's qualities and encouraged him in many ways.

Cyril's association with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and, particularly, with the great Patriarch Jeremias II Tranos gave him the opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge of the problems facing the Orthodox Churches. Later, he travelled throughout SW Russia, especially the Ukraine, to boost the morale of the Orthodox and strengthen their resistance against the proselytizing propaganda of the Uniates.

In 1601, at the age of 30, Cyril was elected to the Patriarchal throne of Alexandria, succeeding Meletios Pegas. As Patriarch of Alexandria (1601-1620), he re-organised the Patriarchate's finances, repaired churches, devoted time to preaching and kept a running correspondence with the Churches of Jerusalem, Cyprus and SW Russia. In 1612 he acted as locum tenens of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for a short period. But all the time, the problems created by the Uniate Church in SW Russia and Constantinople were among his main concerns. In an attempt to normalise the relations between the other Churches and the Patriarchates of the East, he made contacts with the Church of England and his efforts were readily supported by the English and Dutch Ambassadors to the Porte. Later, this policy was continued with the Calvinist divines of Geneva. Among the results of these inter-Christian approaches was the invitation of young Greeks to study in England. One of them was a youth from Macedonia, Metrophanes Critopoulos, who became, later, Patriarch of Alexandria (1589-1639). Cyril presented King James I with a very fine manuscript of the Holy Bible, known as Codex Alexandrinus, and sent a valuable manuscript of the Pentateuch, with Arabic translation, to Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury.

On 4 November 1620, the Holy Synod of Constantinople elected «Cyril Lucaris, renowned for his virtue and wisdom», Ecumenical Patriarch. From 1620 to 1638 Cyril reigned five times (1620-23, 1623-33, 1633-34, 1634-35, 1637-38), and found himself at the centre of the acrimonious dispute between the Papacy and the Reformists, while the Churches of the East, especially that of Constantinople, experienced the stifling and infuriating propaganda of the Jesuits.

State diplomacy took an active part in the conflicting actions and counteractions of the Jesuits and the Reformists. France and Austria offered their services to Rome, where the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide was organizing a scheme against Cyril. Part of the plan was to discredit the Patriarch with the clergy and laity by spreading the rumour that he was a Calvinist. At the same time, the Ambassadors of France and Austria were pressing the Porte to depose Cyril.

Indeed, Cyril was deposed five times and each time he was re-elected to the Patriarchal throne by the clergy, with the support of the Orthodox population. Anglicans and Protestants (the English, Dutch, Germans, Swedes) also supported the return of Cyril to their own advantage. In the swirl of conflicting political and religious rivalries and the resulting dangerous climate, Cyril Lucaris tried to steer a course that, in his opinion, would serve best the interests of the Orthodox Church. He was fully aware of the critical state of affairs and of the pervasive influence of the Jesuits. He wrote: They (the Jesuits) «seek our destruction and the ruin of the Patriarchate and of the entire Church of the Greeks».

The Calvinists, from their side, used political influence, diplomacy, money and every other means to win the Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church over to their views. Cornelius Van Haag, the Dutch Ambassador, made use of all his influence in this unrelenting struggle, assisted by the Calvinist divine Antoine Leger. The latter, through theological discussions, fiery sermons and friendly approaches eventually swayed the Patriarch's entourage, which included Nathaniel Conopios, Metropolitan of Smyrna, Meletios Pontogalos, Metropolitan of Ephesus, Theophilos Corydalleus, Metropolitan of Arta, and John Caryophyllos.

At about that time, the Calvinists of Geneva arranged to print and publish the Holy Bible translated into modern Greek by Maximos Callipolitis. Cyril found himself obligated to sanction Callipolitis's translation, though it contained Calvinist views that could cause confusion to the common people. This confusion became chaotic when, in 1629, the Calvinists of Geneva published the first Latin edition of the so-called «Lucarian Confession», in which the Patriarch appeared to accept the Calvinist doctrines and betray the Orthodox faith. From 1629 to 1633 the «Eastern Confession of Christian Faith» was published under the name of Cyril Lucaris in Latin, Greek, French, German and English. J. Carmiris writes: «This inelegantly worded Confession roused great commotion and indescribable agitation throughout the Church and caused preoccupation not only to the ecclesiastical theologians but also to the politicians and the diplomats. In the beginning almost everyone believed it to be a forgery, not a true work of the Patriarch». More than 350 years have elapsed since the first publication of the so-called «Lucarian Confession». Eminent historians, theologians and researchers have tried to clarify whether Lucaris was the actual author of the «Confession» attributed to him by the Calvinists. The Patriarch himself verbally denied it on several occasions and proclaimed his Orthodox faith with his attitude and in his letters. To the end, however, Cyril did not disavow the «Confession» in writing. Successive Synods of the Orthodox Church have condemned the «Confession» as heretical and alien to the Orthodox faith of the Fathers.

The tragic figure of Cyril Lucaris stood in the midst of opposing religious currents. On the one side the Protestants tried hard to win over the Orthodox in their struggle against the Roman Catholics, going so far as to involve the Patriarch himself with the «Lucarian Confession» in order to promulgate their novel doctrines. On the other side the machinations of the Jesuits reached unheard of extremes. The Ecumenical Patriarch, alone, unprotected and betrayed, was judged and condemned. On 27 June 1638, he was strangled and his body was flung into the Bosporus. Manuel Gedeon writes that after some time «the sea out of compassion for this outstanding champion of Orthodoxy washed ashore his body on the island of Chalki». Cyril's body was buried with all honours by the Patriarch Parthenius I (1639-1644) in the precinct of the historical monastery of Panagia Kamariotissa on Chalki.

In the course of his difficult patriarchy «the much famed and very wise» Cyril Lucaris issued a large number of decrees on many ecclesiastical matters. A few of the synodical resolutions, patriarchal decisions and sigils are noted below:
1. A synodical resolution in July 1622 canonized St. Gerasimos of Cephalonia.
2. A special patriarchal encyclic appealed to all the Orthodox to make donations for the rebuilding of the monastery of Simonopetra, Mount Athos, which had been destroyed by fire.
3. In 1627, Cyril set up a patriarchal printing-press for the publication of Orthodox works that
would invigorate the faith of the sorely tried Orthodox world.
4. Cyril appointed as Director of the famous Patriarchal Academy «Theophyllos Corydalleus, celebrated erudite and expounder of Aristotle's writings».
5. In 1628, Cyril instituted the dating of patriarchal documents from the Birth of Christ and not from the Creation of the World, as was the practice until then.

[author: Athanasios Paliouras, translation: Helen Zigada]

 

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