Cyril Mango translated and edited 18 homilies of Photius, the Patriarch of Constantinople (d. 893). Photius is well-known for his role in the parting of ways between the Western and Eastern church. During this tumultuous time, Photius famously maintained that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and not from the Father and the Son as the Western church argues.
The procession of the Spirit was the presenting theological reason for the eventual separation of the West from the East. But the actual picture is more complicated. Politics, geography, and church order played important roles here too.
Despite the reputation of Photius, it is nevertheless important to note that he was a pastor and preacher. And his extant homilies provide insight into the spirituality of the 9th century in Byzantium.
On the Edition
Cyril Mango’s edition ably describes the history of the manuscripts that lay behind his edition. His notes throughout the edition provide further insight into variants as well as pointing to biblical references in the homilies. Mango also introduces each of the homilies to give a reader a sense of what to expect.
Description of the Homilies
Homilies 1 and 2 are Good Friday sermons, while numbers 3 and 4 respond to a Russian invasion that caused havock in Byzantium. Homily 5 is a sermon on the Annunciation. The sixth homily calls for the schismatic group led by Ignatius to return to unity. Homily 7 is another Annunciation sermon but with the emperor in the audience. Homily 8 is on Palm Sunday and Lazarus. Homily 9 concerns the Nativity. Homily 10 speaks of the Church at the Palace. Homily 11 is on Holy Saturday (the burial of Jesus), while Homily 12 constitutes another Holy Saturday sermon. Homily 13 refers to Wednesday of Lent’s first week, while Homily 14 is on Friday of Lent’s first week. Homilies 15 and 16 historically recount the 4th century church. Homily 17 is on Holy Saturday in 867, while Homily 18 relates to the council of 867.
Since Cyril’s edition is well-done, we can turn to Photius himself. Now, since his sermons have entered into the realm of classics, it is nearly impossible to review his words. At the same time, one helpful way to review his words are to let his words be read. To that end, I have collected quotations throughout his homilies that I found particularly interesting. They should give you a sense of Photius’ preaching:
“[L]et us study death before death, so that we may live after death, having slept, according to the Psalmist, a sleep ‘precious in the sight of the Lord'” (Photius, Homilies 2.3).
“Let us weep for our sins, that we may not lament without avail at our punishments, that we may not wail forever, condemned to the gnashing of teeth, to worms and fire and darkness” (Photius, Homilies 2.3).
“For if we feed not the poor, nor admit the homeless under our roof, if we do not clothe the shivering, nor receive the stranger in our house, if we do not give even some vold water for the thirsty to drink, if we do not visit the sick or the prisoner, nor join in sympathy for their sufferings, then the Judge shall come upon the throne of glory, and He shall speak (but may none of us, O Lord, hear that distressing and harsh voice!) saying, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an [sic] hungred, and yet gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and yet clothed me not sick, and in prison, and yet visited me not'” (Photius, Homiles 2.5).
“Let us consider in our mind, if nothing else, at least the mystery of this day: how the Lord and Creator of the universe, the unbound and uncircumscribable, who holds the earth aloft by His word alone, and moves the sky with His nod, and grasps the world in His palm—let us consider how, having come forth for us, incarnate from a vigin’s blood, He is hanging on the cross, and surrenders His hands to the nails, and His feet are transfixed, and His side is pierced, and He is spat on and smiten—He at whom the Cherubum tremble, and by whose providence the universe is governed” (Photius, Homilies 2.14).”
He continues to explain why Christ died:
“Why does He suffer these things? That He may pour forth salvation for thee, that He may deliver thee from the bondage of the devil, that He may snatch thee away from the ancient domination. He, then, suffers these things that He may redeem us that have once been sold through sin, yet do we try to by such foul and unseemly pleasures and negligence to sell ourselves back again? He is lashed that He may remove from us the lashes of our sins, and do we submit to them again as to good masters? He surrenders His body to death that He may vivify our soul, and do we, by goading our own body with unnatural deeds, allow it to wage war and breathe death against the soul? He is tasting death that He may give us immortality, and do we strive to strangle ourselves with the noose of our passions? The earth quakes, the sun is darkened, the veil of the temple is rent, because they see the Lord crucified for us, and do we not even grieve for our sins? The elements are altered, and dost thou not change for the better even so, do not even these things call thee to repentance, do they not soften hte hardness of thy soul?” (Photius, Homiles 2.14).
Speaking of the serpent, Photius writes: “His devices against us weaken, as an incorporeal being brings the message of the invincible trophy against sin: for Christ’s cross and willing suffering are death and sin swallowed up in victory, and such also is His suffering through the Incarnation” (Photius, Homilies 5.1)
“An angel is being sent to the Virgin, and the bond of sin is being torn up, and the penalty for the disobedience is abolished, and the universal recall is pladged in advance” (Photius, Homilies 5.1).
“Tell me, O man: Christ, fastened to the wood, is crucified for thee, and suffers the death of criminals; out of that, grace and victory over the foe accrue to us; the enemy fails, for the swords of the enemy have failed utterly; our free will have been liberated from the disabilities caused by the transgression ; the pacts with God lie before us” (Photius, Homilies 6.1)
“Hear, O daughter, and receive obediently the tidings of conception: for the substantial and co-eternal Word of the Father, not departing from His own essence, nor turning into mere flesh (for that would have been both harmful to humankind, and an extreme insult to divine essence), but keeping each of the components unmindgled in an indissoluble unity, has in a manner befitting God chosen to inhabit thee for our renovation, and mercifullly opens wide the heavenly tabernacles for us to dwell in” (Photius, Homilies 7.5)
“Let us escape vainglory, through which the first of the incorporeal beings suffered the first fall” (Photius, Homilies, 8.6)
“Whom the entire creation cannot contain, the Virgin’s belly bears without being straitened. Whom the Cherubim do not dare to behold, the Virgin carries in her arms of clay. From the barren and fruitiness womb comes forth the holy mountain, from which has been cut without hands a precious cornerstone, Christ our God, who has crushed the temples of the demons and palaces of Hell together with their domination” (Photius, Homily 9.10)
“For this reason He is crucified, and died and is buried, so that, having snatched human kind away from the Serpent’s domination, and drawn it up from the pits of death, He may raise it up along with Himself, and make it worthy again of its portion in paradise, from which it had been banished for wilful wrong-doing” (Photius, Homily 12.2)
“But piously professing the Trinity to be consubstantial, jointly throning and of the same nature to itself, let us maintain in correct faith the identity of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost unmingled, believing the Father to be unbegotten, the Son begotten, and the Holy Ghost emanated, and proclaiming them to be not jointly without beginning as to cause (for the Father is the beginning and cause of the Son, as begetter; for the latter is begotten, One out of One; and as Producer, He is the cause of the Holy Ghost; for that, too, is produced, One out of One), but jointly without beginning in time: for the One gave birth, the Other was born, and the Third has proceeded beyond time and age, and beyond comprehension, neither the Spirit being included in the birth of the Son, nor the Son having a share in the processing of the Ghost, but each preserving His identity pure and unmingled, inasmuch as the diversity of identity and of name does not introduce a diversity of essence but shows the difference of persons, and silences the blasphemny of Sabellius” (Photius, Homily 16.12)
Photius’ sermons provide insight into the preaching ministry of Photius, a patriarch and a theological politician. It has both historical and theological worth. If you find yourself interested in the history of Christianity, I would recommend reading these homilies.
Disclaimer: Wipf & Stock provided me a digital copy for review
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