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.

Monday, July 9, 2012

July 9 -- Feast of Saint Theodore of Edessa

The staging of this story is a little complex so I'm going to start with the dramatis personae. 

St. Ted's in there somewhere
Theodore of Edessa -- Theodore was a ninth century monk from the famed Mar Saba monastery, located a little east of Bethlehem, one of the oldest still-inhabited monasteries in the world.  He split his time between serving in the monastery, where he was an able administrator, and leading a hermit's life in the desert, where he wove baskets and mats from palm fronds.  When the Bishop of Edessa died, the locals asked the patriarch of Antioch to appoint a successor.  He picked Theodore, who protested enough to satisfy modesty before accepting the job.  Then he stepped into the role, pushed back against heresy, offered aid to the poor, and seemed to have been an all-around good bishop. 

John the Grammarian -- John VII, Patriarch of Constantinople,  was smart and brave, but he was an iconoclast and I have little patience for those.  He headed up a delegation to Baghdad to propose peace between the Byzantine and Abassid (Muslim) Empires, but there was no peace to be had between the two nations.  Nonetheless, he and the Abassid emperor got along very well together since they both respected knowledge, wisdom, and book-learning.  After John's former student Emperor Theophilos died,  John was deposed from his patriarchate by the imperial widow, Theodora. who wanted an end to the iconodule persecution.  The medieval cartoon to the right shows John scrubbing out the image of Christ with a stick and sponge, the same tool soldiers are using to give Jesus vinegar and gall as he hung on the Cross. 

al-Ma'mun gets a haircut
al-Ma'mun ibn Harun -- The Caliph of Baghdad.  He overthrew his brother to claim the throne.  A wise ruler with scholarly interests.  He rejected both Shi'a and Sunni doctrine in favor of Muʿtazilah Islam, which had been influenced by Hellenistic rational philosophy.  It taught that the Qu'ran is created, not co-eternal with Allah.   He was a complex guy -- although tolerant of Christian and Jewish scholars from whom he hoped to learn much, he set up an inquisition of sorts (the minha) to root out scholars who adhered to a more Orthodox views.  He saw the job of Caliph as the defender and arbiter of the Faith, while of course religious scholars saw themselves playing that role. 

John the Grammarian's visit to al-Ma'mun -- an historical event

You might be wondering why al-Ma'mun and John the Grammarian are included here.  In spite of all the plausible saintly stuff (monk, hermit, good bishop) stuff that Theodore did, some biographer wanted to gild that lily.  He wrote that Ted went to visit al-Ma'mun, who fell deathly ill and responded to no treatments from his Muslim physicians.  Theodore pulled out some dust from the Holy Sepulcher (Christ's tomb) and brewed it up into a tea.  The Caliph responded to the treatment, converted to Christianity, and was baptized with the name John.  Caliph John then sent Theodore to Constantinople to ask the Byzantine Emperor for a chunk of the True Cross.  Naturally, the Emperor posted that right off in a jeweled box, even though the Caliphate was authorizing raids deep into Anatolia, murdering, plundering, and enslaving the folks living there.  Of course all the Baghmoms and Baghdads were upset that their caliph just apostatized and cut him to pieces, bringing al-Ma'mun's half-brother, al-Mu'tasim, to the throne. 

I don't mind that Theodore's story was embellished -- hell, hagiography would not be half as interesting if they didn't make stuff up.  I don't mind that the accounts of Theodore's trip omit any reference to John the Grammarian.  He was an iconoclast, so if someone effaces his record, that just chickens roosting at home.  But I resent the fictitious conversion of al-Ma'mun.  He seems like a complex, intriguing fellow and deserves better than he got in this story.  As a sign of respect for him, he is NOT being entered in the canon here, but only because I don't think he would have wanted it. 

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