This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

March 11 -- Feast of Saint Sophronius (and Caliph Umar)

Sophronius, eyes on the ball
Great scene:  The Patriarch of Jerusalem is giving the Christmas sermon of 634 and the Muslim army has already taken Bethlehem and is moving toward the Holy City.  What should he say?  Should he rally the troops for battle?  Should he stir them toward martyrdom?

Nope.  It wasn't even his focus.  He did give a sideways jeremiad, noting that the inevitable fall of Jerusalem was God's punishment for the faithless and sinful Christians.  He saw the Caliph's army as the instrument of God, much as the Babylonian and Assyrian Empires had been doing God's work in conquering the Hebrews.  Then he launched into his real concern: Monophysitism.  No matter who was in charge of Jerusalem, the real enemy was the belief that Jesus had only one nature, a heresy that flew in the face of the orthodoxy proclaimed at the Council of Chalcedon.

When Caliph Umar's army took over the Holy City, Sophronius negotiated Covenant of Umar.  Under this treaty, Christians were recognized as a People of the Book and allowed civil and religious freedom as long as they paid a poll tax.  Sophronius invited Umar to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but the Caliph declined, fearing a precedent which would suggest to other Muslims that they were entitled to pray there.  In lieu of the honor, Sophronius gave Umar the keys to the church, which were then turned over to Muslim nobles to be safeguarded in the city as a treasure. 

Modern historians question whether the treaty was really negotiated by Umar and Sophronius.  There's no question that it came to have the force of law, but how soon after conquest is debated.

I'd like to think that Sophronius was so pragmatic that he was unconcerned about the inevitable conquest.  That's pragmatism to such an extreme that it almost makes one seem detached from the concerns of the day.  By inveighing against Monophysitism in the face of the Muslim conquest, he was truly redirecting his congregants' attention to the Straight and Narrow.

I have to wonder what he would think if he could know the status of Jerusalem today.

Umar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb, in Arabic (obviously)
Umar, by the way, was an interesting fellow in his own right, and so gets to share the day (at least here).  He had been a great opponent of Islam, even going so far as to plan an assassination of the Prophet Muhammad.  Umar was on his way to do this when, according to legend, he stopped at the home of his sister.  He found that she and her husband had already converted to Islam.  He began to beat her.  She began to sing verses from the Quran.  He was so moved that he stopped hitting her and decided to convert to Islam.

He was the second caliph, the first to begin conquering outside Arab territory.  But seven years after his army conquered Jerusalem, he was assassinated by a Persian prisoner of war.

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