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, January 21, 2013

January 21 -- Feast of Saint Maximus the Greek

Other Person:  I think it was "Blessed are the Greek."
Gregory:       *The* Greek?
Other Person:  Apparently he's going to inherit the earth.
Gregory:       Did anyone catch his name?
     -Monty Python's Life of Brian 

Best Beard in Russia
Born Michael Trivolis in Arta, Greece in 1475, Maximus moved to Italy as a young man to study ancient languages. He made the rounds, meeting some B-list Renaissance figures (that sounds cols, but B-listers are way above no-names, right?).  He also listened to a Dominican named Girolamo Savonarola, but was not sufficiently moved to embrace that good friar's perilously reformist ideas. 

When he returned to a monastery in Greece, his hegumen (abbot) dispatched him on a mission to Moscow.  Grand Prince Vasili III had asked for someone to help with translation of religious texts to be used in Russian services.  Maximus hadn't studied Russian, but everyone assured him he'd be just fine.  Not an age for prophets, I guess. 

Even as an old man, serious Beardage
It all went great at first.  His translations were such a big hit that Vasili rejected his request for permission to go home to Greece.  That's some gratitude, huh?  Yet he might have spared himself some misery if he had acceded to the request.  Maximus, it turns out, didn't really fit into the Grand Prince's grand design. 

First, there was the question of monastic estates.  Some of the monasteries owned large agricultural manors and funded their (occasionally opulent) lives with the surplus value taken from the peasants.  "Milking the peasants," Maximus and his fellow Non-possessors called it.  Strike One. 

Vasili stumbled into a divorce crisis along the lines of Fat Hank's infamous controversy.  This is covered more thoroughly in the post on Saint Macarius, so I won't belabor it here, except to say Strike Two.  Strike Three was his friendship with other folks on Vasili's говно-list.  These included the Turkish ambassador (Really?  When was hanging with the Turks in Moscow ever a good idea?) and a couple of malcontents named Ivan "Gooseberry" Beklemishev and Vassian Patrikeyev.  Gooseberry got the sword for his bad attitude, but Vassian and Maximus just got convicted and sentenced to imprisonment in hostile monasteries.  Vassian lasted about ten years before meeting a violent end, but Maximus did twenty-six hard. Probably the only thing that spared his life was that the Patriarchs of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Constantinople were all leaning on Ivan (having succeeded his dad) to release Maximus, but that particular Tsar didn't get the cognomen "Terrible" without cause. 
Every icon agreed - best beard ever

Eventually, he was transferred to Troitse-Sergiyeva, a less brutal monastery, but he declined the big opportunity to purchase his freedom by judging the heresy of another defendant.  He died in captivity in 1556, thirty-one years after he was first imprisoned and forty-one after he reluctantly went to Moscow to help them with translations. 

There were two things that he confessed to.  First, he agreed that he had been drinking too much wine.  What, excessive alcohol consumption?  In Russia?   I am shocked, shocked

Second, he agreed that some of his translations contained errors that might well lead to misunderstanding.  Specifically, he used the imperfect tense when the present ought to have been used.  I have students who would complain that it is not such a big deal, but the implication was the the Holy Spirit existed only temporarily as a manifestation of the Father and the Son, rather than part of an eternal Trinity.  Yeah, that could cost you a lifetime of freedom. 

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