John of Ephesus (d. 587)

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John of Ephesus
(d. 587)

One of the famous dignitaries of his time and the author of interesting historical writings, he was an indefatigable and industrious man, and above all, a propagandist and active missionary of Christianity.246

John was most likely born at Agel in the province of Amid around the year 507. He came close to death when he was two years old, but was healed by the prayer of Mar Marun, the stylite ascetic in the Monastery of Ara Rabtha (The Great Land) at Agel. When he was four years old, his family sent him to Marun’s monastery in compliance with the ascetic’s order. He remained at the monastery until he became fifteen years old. At this time, the ascetic (Marun) died, and John joined the monks at the Monastery of John the Iberian north of Amid, which was founded at the end of the fourth century. This monastery gained popularity and was comprised of many monks. At this monastery, John studied the Holy Scriptures, practised the spiritual life and learned the two languages popular at that time. In 529, he was ordained a deacon by John, metropolitan of Talla, and then became a monk. When the monks were peresecuted and dispersed, he departed with them, but in 530 they were allowed to return to their monastery. John, however, went about visiting the monasteries and the monks’ cells, conversing with the most virtuous ascetics, learning from them and recording their chronicles. In 532, he journeyed to Antioch, then in 534, to Egypt and to Constantinople in 535. In the following years he shared the fate of monks who were severely persecuted and tortured by Ephraim of Amid and the tyrant Abraham bar Kili. In 540 and 541, he traveled to Constantinople and Mesopotamia and then returned to the capital. In 542, he was chosen by Justinian, who had great confidence in him because of his zeal and ambition, to preach to the heathens in Asia Minor, Caria, Phrygia and Lydia and call them to Christianity.247 Around the year 558, he was ordained by Jacob Baradaeus – as a metropolitan of the Orthodox community in Ephesus, from which he took his generic name. He took another generic name from Asia Minor. For nearly twenty-nine years he carried out his mission and achieved great success by converting eighty thousand heathens to Christianity and founded, according to one narrative, ninety-two churches and ten monasteries, and according to another one, ninety-nine churches and twelve monasteries.248 In these efforts, he was assisted by Deutrius, whom he ordained a bishop of Caria. After the death of Theodosius in 566, John became the head of the Orthodox community at Constantinople and the rest of the Byzantine country.249 However, in 571, Justin II as well as the Malkite bishops of the capital severely tortured the Orthodox citizenry, among whom was John. He was detained in an exhausting prison and then banished to an island for forty months and nine days. He was also placed under surveillance for more than three years.250 He was arrested for a second time, released and then arrested for a third time under Tiberius. He was banished from the capital with his companions on Christmas Day of 578.251 He died around 586 or 587, and was styled as “The Converter of Heathens,” the “Idol Breaker” and the “Ecclesiastical Historian.”
Mar John wrote an ecclesiastical history in three parts, each comprising six books. The first and the second parts begin from the time of Julius Caesar and extend until 571 A.D.; the third part contains the chronicles of the church from 571 to 585, in 418 pages. The first part has been lost; the second was entirely incorporated into the history written by the monk of Zuqnin in 775, of which portions have been separately published. The third part, which he wrote while at the prison of Chalcedon, has come down to us with several chapters missing. This part has a unique copy transcribed in the seventh century.252 It was first published by Cureton in 1853 and then translated into English by Payne Smith in 1860, and into German by Schonfelder in 1862. It was republished by Brooks and also translated into Latin. The author, however, admitted that this part is mis-arranged because he wrote it in a time of adversity and suffering. He intended if circumstances changed for the better to re-organize it. The significance of his history stems from the fact that it contained events not found in any other history. These events relate to the Ghassanid Kings, the countries of the Slavs and the Armenians, the Christianization of the land of the Nuba as well as some of the Ethiopian tribes and the farm provinces of Asia Minor. It also contains an account of the pestilences which swept over most of the countries of that time. As an historian, John was a truthful and diligent investigator who judged the facts from the Orthodox point of view, but with impartiality. He is to blame only for his awkward and involved style, which also abounds with unnecessary Greek phrases.

Between 566 and 568, John wrote another history, no less momentous and useful than the first one, in which he incorporated the biographies of the Eastern saints. This history is of two parts, comprising six hundred and nineteen pages and containing fifty-eight biographies of church dignitaries, ascetics, monks and pious men – most of whom were his contemporaries. In this history he followed the method of the histories of Palladius and Theodoret, but surpassed them in providing exact dates. He also added an interesting chapter on the history from 389 to 567, of the Monastery of Mar John the Iberian, from which he graduated. Beside the biographies of some church dignitaries, he incorporates much useful information about monastic life and customs and the administration of monasteries at that time. One of the merits of this history is that the author did not write down anything except what he witnessed, heard and verified or what was related to him by authorities with no redundancy or superfluity. Furthermore, his style is much better than that of his predecessors. Following is the table of these biographies:

1) The biography of Mar Habib; 2) the biography of Mar Zura; 3) the biography of John the Nazirite of the Monastery of Zuqnin; 4) the biography of the two stylite brothers Ibrahim and Marun; 5) the biography of the two ascetics Simon and Sergius; 6) the biography of the Solitary Paul; 7) the biography of Abraham, the lay recluse; 8) the biography of Addai the Chorepiscopus of Anazete; 9) the history of the cleric Mara of Anazete; 10) the history of the Bishop Simon, the Persian dialectician; 11) the history of Harphat, Chorepiscopus of Anazete; 12) the history of the two sisters Mary and Euphemia, daughters of Ghazala(Dorcus); 13) the history of Thomas, Stephen, and Zota, the notaries and syncelli of Mara, metropolitan of Amid; 14) the history of Abi the Nazirite; 15) history of the two brothers, one of whom was named Jacob from the Edessene monastery at Amid; 16) the history of Simon, the solitary of the Tur; 17) the history of a man who was not willing to have his name mentioned; 18) the history of a monk who quitted his monastery without being absolved; 19) the history of Zachariah the Aged; 20) the history of a monk from the Monastery of Zachariah; 21) the history of Thomas of Armenia who became an ascetic monastic with his wife and children; 22) the history of the two brothers, Addai and Abraham; 23) the history of Simon the solitary; 24) the history of John, bishop of Tal Mawzalt (Constantina); 25) the history of John of Gazza, Coptic Bishop of Hephaestus, the second contender for the Orthodox faith; 26; the history of Thomas the Confessor, bishop of Damascus (the origin is wanting); 27) the history of Susanna the virgin; 28) the history of Mary the solitary; 29) the history of Malke the stranger ascetic; 30) the history of Elias the Dara; 31) the history of the two merchant brothers, Elias and Theodore; 32) the history of a monk who stole and afterwards repented; 33) the history of Hala the Zealous, of the monastery of the Edessenes in Amid; 34) the history of the scribe Simon the Aged of Amid; 35) the history of the monks who were persecuted and expelled from the monasteries of Amid from 521 to 567; 36) the history of Mara the solitary and all the ascetics who were buried at the cemetery of the strangers; 37) (wanting in the original); 38) the history of the priest Aaron and the rest of the priests and deacons; 39) the history of the priest Leontis; 40) the history of the priests Abraham and his son Zota and the history of his nephew deacon Daniel; 41) the history of Basianus the solitary, Romanus the priest and Periodeutes of the Monastery of Talada and of the abbot Simon; 42) the history of the abbots Mari, Sergius, and Daniel; 43) the history of the deacons Abraham, Cyriacus, Bar Hadhbshabba and Sergius, who assisted the author in preaching to the heathens and in building churches and monasteries; 44) the history of a pious Tribunus and Comes; 45) the history of Isaac the prefect of Dara; 46) the history of Paul of Antioch; 47) the history of the group of monks assembled by the Empress Theodora at the palace of Hormizda in Constantinople; 48) the history of the five exiled patriarchs during the persecution; 49) the history of Mar Jacob, a militant metropolitan; 50) the history of the two militant Metropolitans Jacob and Theodore; 51) the history of Kashish, bishop of the island of Chios; 52) the history of the ascetics Theophilus and Maria of Antioch; 53) the history of Priscos the Ascetic; 54) the history of the ascetic patrician lady Caesaria; 55) the history of John and Susiana, chamberlains of the patrician lady Caesaria; 56) the history of Peter the imperial chancellor and his brother Photius the Chastularius;253 57) the history of Theodore, the imperial chamberlain and quaestor; 58) the history of the monastery of John the Iberian in twenty-one pages.
These histories of saints have a unique Estrangelo copy at the British Museum MS. Add. 14647 transcribed in 688254 which was published by Land in 1868, who also in collaboration with Van Dowen published it in Latin in Amsterdam in 1889. It was also published in English by Brooks in 1924.
John also wrote another book on the persecution provoked by the Malkites against the church in 537, which he mentioned in his Ecclesiastical History and in the beginning of the thirty-fifth biography. This book has been lost. He also wrote the story of the pestilence around the year 541-542 and incorporated it into the first book of his history, which is lost except for what was quoted by Michael the Great. However, the protest which he delivered to the Eastern Council concerning unity in 571255 is thought to have taken place before the year 575. He also wrote sundry letters to categories of the faithful whom he mentioned in his history,256 into which he incorporated the adversity which had befallen him. Furthermore, he wrote more than ten letters to Mar Jacob257 and to the Patriarch Paul and his partisans after his disagreement with them;258 he also composed a reply to the abbots of the monasteries of the East regarding the ordination of Peter III of Callinicus around the year 581.259

69- John of Ephesus (d. 587)