Metrophanes

The Council of Nikaia, St. Sozomen's Church, Galata, Cyprus. My photo.

Re-post from 2008.

Metrophanes (on the far right) was old and frail at the time of the gathering at Nikaia. He had retired from being overseer of Byzantion eleven years before the gathering at Nikaia[1], although some say otherwise.[2] We learn from a fresco painter on the island of Kypros that he was present at Nikaia. The scholars[3] are mostly silent.

Despite the conflicting reports of tradition, internet encyclopaediae, fresco-painters, and scholars centuries in the future, Metrophanes of Byzantion stood quietly in the market of Nikaia, examining a pomegranate.

“It is funny,” he noted to Antonios the fruit-seller, “my family is from the upper classes, you see. My grandparents worshipped the old gods; my father was the first to follow Jesus. And, well, the old stories are still a part of who I am.”

“The old stories are part of us all. It’s no shame, old man,” [4] replied the fruit-seller.

“I have a friend,” explained Metrophanes, “who looks at pomegranates, and you know what she thinks of?”

“What?”

“Solomon’s Temple! Pomegranates were one of the chief decorations of the splendour of that place. Imagine. I, on the other hand, think immediately of Persephone, the story of how she was abducted by Hades. Whilst in the Underworld, she eats pomegranate seeds, thus sealing her doom to spend a portion of every year in the Underworld.”

“I know the story well,” said the fruit merchant. “Thus comes the season of winter, say the old stories. It is no shame that a pomegranate reminds you of the stories of the ancients. These stories are part of who we are, whether we be Khristianos, Platonistos, Stoikos, Manichaios, Gnostikos, or worshipper of the Unconquered Sun; we all are Romans.”

An older woman standing nearby held up a pomegranate. “Indeed,” she said, “let us not forget the teachings and stories of the ancients, even if we do not believe in them all; thus can we spoil the Egyptians, like the Israelites did.”

“This is good wisdom,” noted Metrophanes. “I am not acquainted with you, dear lady. My name is Metrophanes.”

“I am Makrina,”[5] she replied. “If we think more deeply on the pomegranate, my brothers, we will find in it a spiritual lesson. For the skin of this fruit is very thick and tough. This is like the beginning of the spiritual life. We find the discipline hard, odious even. We do not wish to pray or fast or get out of bed on the Sun’s Day for the Lord’s Supper. Every act of charity, even for a poor widow or an orphan, feels like an unwanted burden. It does not taste sweet.

“But if we endure past this hard exterior and persevere, within the pomegranate we find these gems, jewels of sweetness,” Makrina tore open the pomegranate, plucked out a seed and began to eat it. “So it is with the spiritual life. Over time, we find that it is sweet to our souls, that the prayers are like the water of life to us, that we cannot even live without the Lord’s Supper. On that note, good sir, I would like to buy three.”

“Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us, Makrina,” noted Metrophanes. “Are you from these parts, or did you travel to Nikaia?”

“I come from Kappadokia,” she replied. “I came here to see what the overseers would decide regarding the faith.”

“You are not Makrina the Confessor, are you? We have heard of your bravery under Diokletianos in Byzantion!”

“Many were brave in those days, Metrophanes of Byzantion,” Makrina said with a smile (was it sly or sad?). “I see a new kind of bravery need now, though, mark me. Rumour has it Byzantion is going to become the New Roma.”

“Well . . . I . . .”

“That’s what I hear, too,” Antonios noted, receiving the coins from Makrina. “Have they not already begun building houses of the Lord there and tearing down the old temples?”

“Indeed, they have,” noted Metrophanes.

“It is to be a city dedicated to the one and only God,” said Makrina. “No pagan ceremony will ever be performed in it, no pagan temple shall stand, no monument to any god but the one, true God.”

“Ah,” snorted a customer leaving with some lemons, “I hear there’ll be a statue of Konstantinos arrayed like the Unconquered Son. Which one, true god does anyone mean these days?” He trooped off.

“The heart of Konstantinos is good,” said Metrophanes. “He is still somewhat young in the faith. We must give him time and see where things go.”

“Indeed, let us hope his thoughts about God do not remain as naive as what we’ve seen in the council,” noted Makrina.

“His thoughts on architecture, on the other hand,” said Antonios, making change for a customer, “are not to be missed! You spoke, madam, of spoiling the Egyptians. Well, Konstantinos has been doing just that for the past year. He is stripping the monuments to the old gods and old emperors to furnish this new city! There shall be fora filled with art from all over the Empire.”

“Yes, my friends, Konstantinos is remaking Byzantion in a new image. The old is going, and the new is on its way. This is his thankoffering to the Most High for his defeat of Likinios and the maintenance of true religion, the triumph of the Anointed’s Assembly,” Metrophanes looked at the two of them.

“However,” Makrina noted, “is it not dangerous, this union of City and Assembly? Ought we not to always be looking to the City of God? Yet Konstantinos plans to give us a City of Earth.”

“He’s a politican,” Antonios replied, “Earth is his domain, not the heavens.”

“You have touched on a key aspect of it all, Makrina,” responded Metrophanes. “This is what the overseer, Alexandros, and many of the others in the city are concerned about. We have all, of course, been anxious to see what will come of this gathering here, about Arios’ fate. But we have another issue at hand in Byzantion — keeping the heavenly kingdom free from compromise as Konstantinos comes with his grand plan of reforming Roma’s dominion. It is a very difficult calling, and markedly contrasted with yours, dear lady. No longer will our faith be tried and tested with the sword, the wheel, the stocks, the rack, burning coals — instead, Satan, the False Accuser, will come after us with mammon, with power, wealth, earthly glory, a share in the course of the events of the empire, status, prestige, comfort, food. Rather than scare us into submission, he will try to buy our souls. It will be the hard task of future generations not to sell them to Hades and its denizens.”

“Well said, Metrophanes. God’s good blessings,” she walked off into the market.

“Well, old man, will you buy the pomegranate or not?” Antonios asked.


[3] J B Bury, Later Roman Empire; Averil Cameron, The Later Roman Empire; Henry Chadwick, The Early Church; W H C Frend, The Early Church (all we know from him is that he counts Alexander as bishop of Byzantium at the time of Nicaea); A H M Jones, Constantine and the Conversion of Europe (the content surrounding the discussion of Constantinople comes from here, pp. 190-193, but all opinions and conjectures are my own or the characters’); Ware, Timothy, The Orthodox Church. Also silent: The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, The Catholic Encyclopedia

[4] In ancient Greek culture, calling someone “old man (geron)” was not rude but respectful.

[5] St. Macrina the Elder was probably not at Nicaea, thus rendering this entire an unlikely fiction. Also, the analogy she is about to make was one that her grandson, St. Gregory of Nyssa, was to make in his Life of Moses. Since this venerable lady exercised an influence over the education of her grandchildren, who is to say that St. Gregory’s idea did not come from her?

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