Monday, June 14, 2004


A trawl through the musty and dark pages of history can often offer the reader with unexpected surprises. In the realm of Greek history, this is ever more so true. Used as we are, to proclaiming the 'effects of Greek civilisation' on the world, it is fascinating as well as refreshing to learn the individual stories of emigrant Greeks of antiquity, who made a difference to the places they adopted as home.
An unlikely candidate for this category just happens to be the seventh Archbishop of Canterbury, Canterbury being the traditional ecclesiastical seat of the English Church. Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, was a Greek, born at Tarsus in Cilicia Asia Minor)about 602AD. As a monk of the Basilian Order, he seems to have been consumed with a peripatetic spirit uncommon to those used to living in the monasteries of the East. Thus, in 667 we find him living in Rome. His personal charisma and fervent evangelism seem to have attracted the attention of the Pope Vitalian, who chose him as Archbishop for the See of Canterbury in place of Wighard, who had died before consecration. After receiving holy orders, Theodore was consecrated by the Pope himself, on 26 March, 668, and set out for England, but did not reach Canterbury until May, 669.
The new primate found the English Church still suffering from the jealousies and bitterness engendered by the long Paschal controversy, only lately settled, in which the church was divided between those who supported the traditional Celtic way of calculating the date of Easter and those who supported the revised Alexandrine method of calculation. The ensuing chaos brought forth a church lacking in order and organization. The dioceses, coterminous with the divisions of the various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms comprising England, were of unwieldy size, and many of then were vacant. Theodore, says the Venerable Bede, the most eminent historian of the English Dark Ages at once "visited all the island, wherever the tribes of the Angles inhabited", and was everywhere received with respect and welcome. He made appointments to the vacant bishoprics, corrected all that was faulty in the practice of the liturgy, instituted the teaching of music and of sacred and secular learning, throughout the country, and had the distinction through his electrifying personality of being, as Bede specifically mentions, "the first archbishop whom all the English obeyed". His contribution to English letters by the bringing of valuable texts from the East is immeasurable.
In 673, Theodore convoked at Hertford the first synod of the whole province, an assembly of great importance as the forerunner and prototype of future English witenagemotes and parliaments. Going later to the court of the King of Northumbria, which country was entirely under the jurisdiction of St. Wilfrid, he divided it into four dioceses against the will of Wilfrid, who appealed to Pope Agatho, another Greek, against what he considered to be a dictatorial action. The pope's decision did not acquit Theodore of arbitrary and irregular action, although his plan for the subdivision of the Northumbrian diocese was carried out and in the 686 he was fully reconciled to Wilfrid, who was restored to his See of York, having previously been removed by Theodore, angry that he had been dobbed on to the Pope. Thus, before his death, which occurred five years later, Theodore saw the diocesan system of the English Church fully organized under his primatical and metropolitical authority. The immensely important work done by Theodore not only in developing a single united ecclesiastical body out of the heterogeneous Churches of the several English kingdoms, but in thus realizing a national unity which was not to be attained in secular matters for nearly three centuries cannot be emphasized.
Theodore died at Canterbury on 19 September 690 and was buried in St. Augustine's Monastery, Canterbury, a long poetical epitaph, of which Bede has preserved only eight verses, being inscribed upon his tomb.

Apart from the epoch-making character of his twenty-one years' episcopate, Theodore was a man of commanding personality: inclined to be autocratic, but possessed of great ideas, remarkable powers of administration, and intellectual gifts of a high order, carefully cultivated. Practically his only literary remains are the collected decisions in disciplinary matters, well known as "The Penitential of Theodore". It was first published complete by Wasserschleben in 1851, and several editions of it have been printed during the past sixty years. Truly a great man, his obscure historical presence, unnoticed largely by Greek historiography begs the question as to which other eminent Greeks, such as Maxim of Russia have made lasting contributions to their country of sojourn and how forgotten they really are.

first published in NKEE on 14 June 2004