Severus of Antioch

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Note: This article or section represents an Oriental Orthodox (Non-Chalcedonian) perspective, which may differ from an Eastern Orthodox (Chalcedonian) understanding.

Patriarch St. Severus of Antioch is one of the great fathers of the Church of Antioch, known in Syriac as the 'Togho d'Suryoye' or 'Crown of the Syrians.' He was the most prominent Orthodox Christian theologian associated with the opposition to the compromises with Nestorianism made at the Council of Chalcedon and played a central role in defending the Christology of St. Cyril of Alexandria preserved by Chalcedon's opponents.

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Early Life

St. Severus was born around 459 in Sozopolis, Pisidia (modern day Turkey). His paternal grandfather, also named Severus, was Metropolitan of Sozopolis and in that capacity attended the Council of Ephesus in 431. Before St. Severus' birth his grandfather had a vision in which he was told that his grandson would strengthen Orthodoxy.

Following the death of his father, a senator in Sozopolis, St. Severus left Pisidia for Egypt, where he studied grammar and rhetoric together with the Greek and Latin languages in Alexandria. It was in Alexandria that he was introduced to and fell in love with the writings of Ss. Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzus. In 486 St. Severus moved to Beirut to study philosophy and Roman jurisprudence and in 488 he was baptized in nearby Tripoli, having not been previously baptized as it was a custom in Pisidia at that time not to baptize boys until they had at least come of age.

Life as a Monk

After his baptism St. Severus became increasingly ascetic in his daily life, eventually becoming a monk at St. Romanus' Monastery in Maiuma, Palestine. He later retreated into the desert near Eleutheropolis before founding a monastery for his disciples in Maiuma. The Saint lived there in peace until the coming of Nephalius to Gaza in 508. Nephalius had previously led a faction of the Eutychian heretics before accepting Chalcedon and promptly began attacking St. Severus after his arrival in the area, eventually securing the expulsion of the Saint and his followers from their monasteries.

Following his expulsion from his monastery St. Severus together with 200 monks from the area around Gaza left for the imperial capital of Constantinople, where they remained for 3 years seeking to obtain the favor of Emperor Anastasius. When Patriarch Macedonius of Constantinople was deposed in 511 he was considered for the patriarchate, but Patriarch Timothy, who also opposed Chalcedon, was enthroned instead and St. Severus was able to return to Palestine with his disciples.

Patriarchate

When Patriarch Flavian II of Antioch was deposed in 512 St. Severus was elected Patriarch of Antioch, being enthroned on November 6, 512. Following the rise to power of Emperor Justinian I the Saint was summoned to Constantinople, where the emperor attempted to persuade him to accept Chalcedon. When St. Severus refused the emperor ordered him to be killed, but he was saved by St. Theodora, the emperor's wife, who was the daughter of a priest from Syria and an opponent of Chalcedon. At her urging St. Severus fled the capital, after which Emperor Justinian declared him deposed and in 518 placed a supporter of Chalcedon on the patriarchal throne of Antioch.

St. Severus fled Constantinople for Egypt, where he met with Pope Timothy II and took refuge in a number of different monasteries disguised as a simple monk. Throughout his travels in Egypt St. Severus preached the Orthodox Faith and strengthened the faithful in their resistance to Chalcedon and Eutychianism. He also wrote many books and letters against heresies. Although he wrote in Greek his writings have been primarily preserved in Syriac.

In 535 St. Severus returned to Constantinople to discuss the reunification of the Church with Emperor Justinian. During his stay in the city he brought Patriarch Anthimus of Constantinople to reject Chalcedon, but the schism as a whole was unable to be healed at that time and in 536 the emperor had St. Severus formally excommunicated by the hierarchs who favored Chalcedon on false charges.

Upon returning to Egypt, St. Severus settled in the home of a layman, Dorotheus, in the city of Sakha and continued to teach and work many miracles. On February 8, 538 he fell asleep in the Lord. His relics were then translated to the Monastery of el-Zugag to the west of Alexandria, working many signs and wonders in the process.

Commemoration

St. Severus is commemorated by the Syriac Orthodox Church on February 8 and on the Thursday following the Fast of Nineveh.

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