Daily Archives: January 28, 2015

St John III the Merciful: A Model Orthodox Ruler and Saint for the Last Times

Known to the world as John III Doukas Vatatzes, St John the Merciful was Emperor of Nicea from 1221 to 1254. Born in c. 1192 contemorary Greece, he was probably the son of a general and his wife, an unnamed Imperial niece. In reward for his eminent service and promise, in 1212 when he was aged only 20, the then Emperor of Nicea, Theodore Laskaris, gave him the hand of his daughter Irine and made him his successor. In January 1222, John, aged around 30, was crowned Emperor by the Patriarch in Nicea.

Two years later the new Emperor routed attacking Catholic forces and as a result of this victory the greater part of what the heretics had captured in Asia Minor fell to his control. In 1228 the elderly Catholic John of Brienne exchanged his nominal kingdom of Jerusalem for the Latin throne of occupied New Rome (Constantinople) and in 1233 attacked the Christians. He too was routed and John extended Nicean control over much of the Aegean, freeing Rhodes, Samos, Lesbos, Chios, Cos and many other islands.

Next the Bulgarians joined John as part of an anti-Catholic alliance of Christian rulers. The allies immediately opened hostilities against the Catholic invaders and besieged occupied New Rome by land and by sea. Although the Catholics were reduced to a small strip of land around Constantinople, the siege was unsuccessful. The superiority of the Latin sailors over the Christians led to the defeat of their fleet. By land, however, John was more successful and liberated the rest of the Frankish possessions in Asia Minor. Later John was to liberate most of Macedonia and Thrace.

John’s policy of appointing non-aristocrats to administrative posts was revolutionary. In his social policy he took steps to improve the living standards of both those in the country and in the towns. He ordered a census and gave every subject of his Empire a plot of land. Towards the end of his reign he also requisitioned the property of great landowners and aristocrats. He himself led a very frugal life and took measures to end the excessive spending of private wealth. Moreover, in order to establish and affirm social justice he also took measures against the exploitation of the poor.

John oversaw the smooth functioning of Church affairs. In 1228 he issued a decree in which he forbade the interference of the authorities in matters of Church inheritance. He also made generous donations to Church institutions and saw to the rebuilding of existing churches and the building of new ones. In periods of peace John promoted the welfare of his subjects. He patronized the arts and sciences, built new roads, distributed taxes equally and was loved by all for his kindness and justice.

He was also greatly interested in the collection and copying of manuscripts. The leading representative of the educational movement of the 13th century, the scholar, writer and teacher Nicephorus Blemmydes, lived during his reign. Among Blemmydes’ students were John’s heir and son, the learned Theodore II Laskaris. Sources are full of references to the Emperor’s concern for the development of intellectual life. He promoted the creation of centres of learning, especially of secular studies, while higher educational institutions were established.

In about 1252 when a new war was threatened, John set out to defend the Christians, but fell ill in Macedonia and returned to Asia. He died after much suffering at Nymphaeum on 3 November 1254, probably aged sixty-two, ending a reign of some thirty-three years. He was buried in the Monastery of Christ the Saviour (the Monastery of Sosandra) on Mt Sipylos, near Magnesia in the area of Smyrna.

Christian historians unanimously glorify John and he is called one of the greatest Christian Roman Emperors. His son and successor, Theodore II Lascaris, wrote of him: ‘He unified the Ausonian land which had been divided into a great many parts by foreign and tyrannical rulers, Latin, Persian, Bulgarian, Scythian and others, punished thieves and protected his land…He made our country inaccessible to our enemies’. In spite of his epilepsy John provided leadership in peace and war and he is considered a talented politician and the chief restorer of the Christian Empire.

His foreign policy was focused on the recapture of New Rome and the restoration of the Christian Empire. He brought under his control so much territory that he practically restored the Empire and laid the groundwork for the later recovery of New Rome itself. He was also successful in maintaining generally peaceful relations with his most powerful neighbours, Bulgaria and the Sultanate of Rum, while his network of diplomatic relations extended to the West and the Papacy. Here John’s main diplomatic concern was an alliance with the German ruler Frederick II, as both rulers struggled against Papal aggression. Frederick supported Christian efforts to capture New Rome and in 1236 he stopped the crusade that Pope Gregory IX was organizing against John.

Domestically, John’s long reign was one of the most creditable in history, witnessing the development of a prosperous economy and encouraging justice, charity and a cultural revival. Despite expensive campaigns to restore the Empire, he lowered taxes, encouraged agriculture, built schools, libraries, churches, monasteries, hospitals and homes for the poor and elderly. The arts prospered and he took steps to ensure the harmonious co-existence of State and Church, so that Nicea became one of the wealthiest and finest cities in the thirteenth century world.

When John’s grave was opened seven years after his repose, a fragrance filled the air and his body was found to be incorrupt, an indication of holiness. His body was like that of a living person. John was so loved and revered by the people that he was commemorated as a saint under the name John the Merciful and a Life was composed. Those who went on pilgrimage to pray before the saint’s relics were granted miracles; the sick were healed and demons expelled. The clergy and people of the city of Magnesia and its surroundings, where the Emperor was buried, gathered every year on 4 November to honour his memory.

A half-century later one account mentions that when the Turks invaded Magnesia, a guard on several occasions witnessed a lighted candle circling the city walls. He sent men to investigate, but to no avail. Then the deaf and dumb brother of the guard was sent. He was given a revelation and returned completely healed. He said that where the candle had appeared, he had found a man of a grand royal stature, who loudly urged the Christians to continue their defence. Later, when visiting St John’s shrine, he recognized the icon of the man he had seen.

John’s incorrupt relics were transferred to New Rome once it had been liberated from the Franks. When Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453, his relics were hidden in a catacomb. Tradition tells that ever since he has been awaiting the liberation of the City. It also says that the holy king has his sword with him in its sheath and that every year the blade of the sword emerges a few millimetres until the time comes for the whole sword to emerge completely, which will signify the time for the liberation of the City.

In our own days Elder Ephraim of Arizona has said that the sacred relics of St John the Merciful were guarded by a family of crypto-Christians who kept them secret from generation to generation. He also affirms that the Merciful King has already risen and that the sword has emerged completely from its sheath. Now St John wanders around Constantinople in the guise of a fool and directs the hosts of the saints to take their places around the City. Here indeed is a model Orthodox ruler, and intercessor and restorer for our latter times, when we need him.

Holy John the Merciful, pray to God for us!

Greece: The Thirst for Freedom Spreads

Every attempt to bring the peoples of Europe under central control has always been catastrophic. Whether it was the centralizing military might of pagan Rome 2,000 years ago, the feudal papal project that opened in the 11th century and lasted until the 16th century, Napoleon 200 years ago, the Central Powers 100 years ago, the Third Reich 75 years ago or the EU Fourth Reich today, centralization under Rome, Paris or Berlin has always brought disaster in its wake. Blinded by their arrogance to the point of self-delusion, the centralizers have never learned from history, but always think that they are cleverer fools than the fools who went before them. Elitists to the core, they have always ignored the people and their thirst for freedom.

The fault-lines of Europe have always been clear. In the Western corner the Protestant North and the Catholic South will never see eye to eye. However much Latin bureaucrats try to force individualistic Protestants into their jesuitical collectivist straitjacket they will not fit, and however much Lutheran-Calvinist Merkels tries to foist Lutheran-Calvinist austerity on Catholics, they will not accept it either. However, beyond that, the 11th century dividing line between Orthodox Europe and the secularist rest in the Western corner is far older and far more fundamental. The attempt by Berlin-Brussels to absorb even the 17% of the Orthodox world of Romania, Greece, Bulgaria and Cyprus, let alone the 83% of the Orthodox world in Russia, Serbia, Georgia and the Middle East, has been disastrous. As for the Ukraine, the Eurocrats have blood on their hands.

Through its totally unrealistic promises, which it has been encouraged to make by Washington and its NATO legions, the EU has de facto unleashed a civil war in the Ukraine. This opposes the 80% of the Orthodox Ukrainians with foreign volunteer fighters from Russia, and even from France and Catalonia, to the 20% of the far west Catholic Galicians (formerly in Poland) and their US-paid junta in Kiev. Thousands are dead. In the east dead bodies in NATO uniforms (no doubt belonging to those trained in NATO camps in Lithuania and elsewhere) have been found at Donetsk airport, together with the bodies of foreign mercenaries paid for by the oligarch Kolomoisky, and quantities of US arms.

Meanwhile, young Ukrainians are fleeing abroad from recruiting parties looking for cannon fodder for the junta’s hugely expensive and wasteful war; others who have enough money simply pay the $1,000 as a bribe to get exempted. Civil war threatens to spread to Kharkov in the north and Odessa in the south and in Kiev itself an oligarch coup d’etat against the disastrous puppet Poroshenko is rumoured. Cold and bankruptcy menace the whole country. As for Russian sanctions, they are hitting the EU hard, whether it is Greek fruit-growers, German carmakers, French tourist-operators or Welsh dairy farmers. Indeed, Russia has received open support from seven EU countries, notably from Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Czechia and now from the new democratically-chosen government of Greece.

Thus, Gabriel Avramidis of the right-wing Independent Greeks Party (ANEL) has said that Greece must adjust its geopolitical priorities and turn towards Russia. And ANEL has joined a coalition government with the left-wing party (SYRIZA) which won last Sunday’s parliamentary election. Avramidis said, ‘We believe that Greece should make a geopolitical turn towards the Russian Federation’. It is no coincidence that their leader Panos Kammenos visited Moscow on 15 January. The Russian Minister of Agriculture stated that if Greece comes under EU pressure, Russia is ready to lift the embargo and begin to buy Greek agricultural products with a 30-year treaty. Avramidis also described recent statements that Russia plans to build a gas pipeline to supply natural gas to Central and Eastern Europe via Turkey and Greece and to end the transit of Russian gas to Europe through the Ukraine by 2019 as very important.

Interestingly, the first meeting of the leader of SYRIZA, Tsipras, with a foreign ambassador since being elected Greek Prime Minister was with Russia’s Andrey Maslov. And his first act as PM was to visit a rifle range where the Nazis executed 200 Greeks on 1 May 1944. We have further evidence that Tsipras will substantially realign his country’s national interest away from the west and towards the east. The Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias is due in Brussels on Thursday to discuss possible additional sanctions on Russia over the conflict in Ukraine. Before the cabinet even met for the first time, the Greek government said that it disagreed with an EU statement in which Donald Tusk raised the prospect of “further restrictive measures” on Russia.”

In recent months Kotzias has written on Twitter that sanctions against Russia are not in Greece’s interests. And he said in a blog that a new foreign policy for Greece should focus on stopping the ongoing transformation of the EU ‘into an idiosyncratic empire, under the rule of Germany’. Meanwhile, left-wing parties in Scotland and Catalonia want freedom from colonial centres, and right-wing parties in France, England and elsewhere want freedom from Brussels-Berlin. They defy the EU Superclass and fight for faith, heritage and sovereignty. The war for freedom which began in the Ukraine last year is spreading.