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Important Personalities

                        St. Basil the Great Church

 

 

St. Gregory the Illuminator

 

Christianity in  the ancient world was practiced in secrecy until the year 301 A. D. when St.Gregory the Illuminator or Enlightener who himself was of high birth and royal blood converted to Christianity and took upon himself the hard task of converting king Trdat (Tiridates) III the Great and his court. St. Gregory knew that it was necessary to convert the king and upper classes in order to successfully install Christianity as a state religion. At first king Trdat III opposed the religion as his predaceousour and even threw St. Gregory in a deep pit (Khor Virap in Armenian) near Holy Mount Ararat. But soon after king Trdat realized that Christianity can be a uniting force and a great shield against the pagan Persia and its assimilationistic policy and the Zoroasterism which the Persians were trying to instate in Armenia in order to gain influence amongst the people of Armenia. St. Gregory the Illuminator himself became the first patriarch Catholicos of Armenia's Holy Apostolic Church and began the construction of the Great Mother Church and Catholicos seat of St. Echmiatsin which in Armenian means the site of Jesus's appearance or landing. As tradition tells the spot where to begin the construction of mother church was pointed out by Jesus Christ were he himself came down upon from the heaven. Throughout the centuries Armenia's Holy Apostolic Church took upon itself the task of preaching the word of God to its nearby neighbors. Peoples of Caucasian Albania and Iberia (Georgia) were converted to Christianity and other tribes of Caucasus and beyond were also converted.

St. Gregory the Illuminator is one of the most significant and prominent individuals in all of the Armenian history. His strong devotion and dedication to the Christian faith, his unbreakable will and continuos, tenacious and religious persuasion in the ultimate goal of making all of the Armenian nation Christian, earned him not only canonization of the Armenian Holy Apostolic Church, but also made him a holy and divine being in the eyes of all of the Armenian people alike. The Armenian nation, not only remembered his remarkable deeds and accomplishments, but showed a deep gratitude and respect to St. Gregory, who was directly responsible in the forging and preservation of not only the Armenian Christendom, but as well as the preservation and conservation of the Armenian nation and culture as a whole. History showed us, that had it not been for the Christian faith and the Armenian Christian devoutness and affinity, particularly in that of the preservation of national identity with direct identification of Christianity, the Armenian fate might have been similar to that of the neighboring nations and peoples, who having accepted and adopted the religious ideals and faith of the conquering nations (be it Mazdeism, Graeco-Roman paganism or even Islam. A good example of this would be the numerous tribes and peoples that lived throughout Near East, in Anatolia, Iranian plateau and Mesopotamia.) very quickly assimilated and faded away from the pages of history as distinct nations.

St. Gregory was born in the year of 239 AD in the family of Anak of noble blood and Parthian descent. From the early childhood St. Gregory had to face a life of hardship and difficult path. His father Anak being charged for assassination of one of the kings of the Arshakouni line (with the help of Sasanid Persians who had a hostile and antagonistic stance toward the Arshakounis of Armenia) was put to death and St. Gregory narrowly escaped and was saved from the hands of the guards with the help of his caretakers Sophia (Sopia) and Yevtagh. The young St. Gregory was taken to Caesaria, in Cappadocia, where Sophia and Yevtagh hoped to raise and educate him in the proper fashion. They also hoped that as the time went on, the Arshakouni rulers would forget the treachery of the clan of St. Gregory. St. Gregory was given to the Christian Holy Father Phirmilianos, for the proper Christian upbringing and education. St. Gregory was brought up as a devout Christian. St. Gregory from a young age on decided to dedicate his life to the preaching of the word of God, the conversion of the Armenian nation and the establishment of the first Christian nation became his ultimate objective in life. He also in a way wanted to "cleanse" himself and the name of his noble family in the face of the Arshakounis, especially in that of the king of Armenia, Trdat (Tiridates) III.

Having reached adulthood St. Gregory married Mariam (Mary), the daughter of Davit, one the noblemen of Armenia Minor. Mariam was a devout and consigned Christian. St. Gregory and Mariam had two sons; the eldest being Vrtanes followed by Aristakes. Mariam with her youngest son Aristakes retreated to a convent monastery. Vrtanes was placed under a safe guardianship and upbringing of close friends of the family, by the directions of St. Gregory, who was finally free to begin his holy mission and task in Armenia. In 287 AD, St. Gregory departed from Cappadocia to Greater Armenia. St. Gregory on his way to the prominent capital of Greater Armenia, Vagharshapat (St. Echmiatsin) preached the word of God and many new converts joined the Christian faith (Christian communities in Armenia had already been established more then 200 years earlier by the holy preaching of two of Jesus' apostles St. Thaddeus and St. Bartholomew, until the year 301 AD they prayed and worshiped God in secrecy). The fact that there was a strong Christian presence in Armenia greatly contributed to the success of winning of Christian faith over paganism. St. Gregory hoped that the fact that nearly half a century had passed since the time of assassination of Trdat's father, would help him to convince and convert Trdat and the rest of the royal court to the Christian faith. Upon his arrival in Vagharshapat, St. Gregory was promptly arrested upon the charges of "heresy" by the royal guards of King Trdat Arshakouni. Trdat imprisoned St. Gregory and placed him into a dungeon Khor Virap (literary, deep pit). The reasons behind the imprisonment of St. Gregory were not necessarily because of Trdat's revengefulness and retaliation for St. Gregory's father, Anak's, assassination, but rather had a deeper motive and meaning behind it. The Christian faith in the late third century AD was being prosecuted and put down by the Roman Empire with utmost cruelty and oppression of the Christian followers. The prosecutions and martyrdom of early Christians in the boundaries of the Roman Empire, continued well into the Fourth Century. Trdat was a close friend and an ally of the Roman Emperor, Diocletanius, who convinced Trdat to have a hostile and suppressive policy toward the Christians of Armenia, with their spiritual leader being St. Gregory. St. Gregory remained imprisoned for twelve long years in the dark chambers of Khor Virap, yet he never lost his faith and conviction in God, nor did he revert from his holy task, indoctrinated and called upon by Lord Himself, as he believed and attained to the conclusion and very end of his holy mission.

Things quickly began to change in the year 297 AD. Trdat, having seen the true nature of Diocletanius, who in 297 AD invaded Armenia and conducted and signed a treacherous treaty (behind Trdat's back) with Sassanid Persia, by which a vast amount of territory from Western provinces of Greater Armenia, became "protectorates" of Rome. The traditional history (Pavstos Buzand IV th century Armenian Christian chronicler) tells that Trdat, sickened by "madness" that turned him into a "wild beast" in desperation sought the help and protection of St. Gregory and the Christian God. After his release St. Gregory prays for Trdat's sole to God and begs for God's mercy and forgiveness. God answers the prayers of the Holy Father and grants sanity back to the king. The traditional story chronicled by Armenian historian Pavstos Buzand tells us of the swift change of Trdat from persecutor to protector of Christians and Christendom. In 301 AD St. Gregory the Illuminator officially baptized king Trdat the Great along with the members of royal court and upper class. Trdat issued a decree by which he granted full rights to St. Gregory for the beginning of carrying out his holy mission of conversion of the entire nation to the Christian faith. In 302 AD St. Gregory, accompanied by an escort of 16 aristocratic nobles, returned to the city of Caesaria, where he was raised in the true spirit of Christianity and where he contemplated his sacred devoir.

St. Gregory had to face the resistance of the pagan priestly class, who resisted the spread of Christianity. Although many priests converted and joined the Christian faith (in the IV th century AD in the monarchal order of Armenia the word of the king was the law and his orders were unquestionably carried out, although this would change in the V th century with the rise of the forcible nobility). St. Gregory establishment new churches in Western Armenia, the ancient Sun worshiping center of Ashtishat was turned into a new center of Christian faith, the Grande temple of Ashtishat being turned into a church. In 303 AD St. Gregory began the construction of the Cathedral of the Mother Church of Armenia's Holy Apostolic Church, on the spot of another pagan atrushan (eternal fire) temple in the capital city of Vagharshapat (St. Echmiatsin). The place was chosen after the Holy Vision of St. Gregory the Illuminator, who saw Jesus' descent from the Heaven to the Holy Spot, hence the name Echmiatsin: Site of Lord's descent, or the Descent of the Only Begotten Son of Lord. The newly built Cathedral, the Mother Church, became the new spiritual and as well as cultural center of Christian Armenia and remained so to this day for nearly one thousand seven hundred years. Most of the Armenian common folk were baptized in the sacred rivers of Armenia Aratsani (upper Euphrates) and Yeraskh (Arax). Many of the pre-Christian, traditional Indo-European, festivals and celebrations such as Tyarndarach (Trndez- associated with fire worship) and Vardevar (Vadarvar, associated with water worship), that dated back to thousands of years were preserved and continued in the form of Christian celebrations and chants. St. Gregory also foresaw and realized a need for a competent successor who could stabilize and continue the strengthening of Christendom not only in Armenia, but in Caucasus and all of Anatolia, for Armenia (Trdat) had become a refuge and a defender of the persecuted Christians from all of the Roman Empire. Aristakes, the youngest son of St. Gregory was named by St. Gregory as a successor to St. Gregory's newly established holy seat in St. Echmiatsin.

St. Gregory in the last decades of his lifetime undertook the burdensome efforts in establishment of new Christian orders and institutions in order to solidify Christianity in Armenia and the entire region as a whole. New schools and churches were being establishment throughout Armenia, in the East and the West. St. Gregory also placed and instructed his grandson Grigoris (son of Aristakes) in charge of the holy missions to the peoples and tribes of all of the Caucasus, in Iberia (Georgia) and Caucasian Albania. Grigoris fell as a Christian martyr, killed by a fanatical mob, while preaching amongst the pagan tribes of Albania. St. Gregory, after seeing the fulfillment and accomplishment of his divine purpose and holy mission in life, as chronicler Pavstos Buzand writes, given to him by God Almighty Himself, of seeing Armenia Christian, named his youngest son, Aristakes the next spiritual leader of Armenia, the next Catholicos in line of Armenia's Holy Apostolic Church. St. Gregory, at an old age (in his late eighties) withdrew to a small sanctuary, near Mt. Sepuh, in the Manyats Ayr province. Here he spent the remainder of his earthly life (until the year 325 AD) with a small convent of monks he entered the Kingdom of Lord Jesus Savior in Heaven, praying and glorifying God Almighty. It is also believed that it is in this convent that St. Gregory wrote his "Holy Scriptures", which are among the best and rarest in their type of early Christian religious-philosophical thought and belief. St. Gregory is regarded as not only the establisher of Christianity and Christendom in Armenia, but as well as an important and essential part of the establishment of Christendom worldwide. By establishing Christianity in Armenia, which served as a model Christian nation to the rest of the world (particularly to the Romans, who closely watched the developments in Armenia), and after seeing the success of Christianity and the positive changes and growth that it brought about in Armenia, the Romans too followed the example and decades later, they too proclaimed Christianity as the official state religion, modeled after that of Armenia. After the acceptance of Christianity by the vast Roman Empire (which comprised a large part of the ancient world) Christianity was to stay and to become the dominant religion of the world. In 2001 Armenia will celebrate the 1700 th anniversary of Armenian State Christendom and the establishing of the first pioneer Christian nation, Armenia.

 

 

St. Basil the Great

 

st-basil_s.jpg (14766 bytes)A younger contemporary of St. Athanasius of Alexandria, St. Basil the Great (ca.330-379) Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. The oldest of the three Cappadocian Fathers, St. Basil's life is also very closely tied with a vehement defense of the First Ecumenical Council, held in Nicaea in 325. Basil was too young to have dealt with Arius. His battle, and that of the other two great Cappadocians, St. Gregory the Theologian (of Nazianzus) and St. Gregory of Nyssa) was especially against the later Neo-Arian movement headed by Aetius of Antioch and later Eunomius of Cyzicus, but it also necessitated taking very tricky political steps in order not to ruffle the feathers of a number of mediocre bishops in Asia Minor who were mostly interested in the status quo, which - at the time - meant confusion in trinitarian discourse.

Unlike Athanasius, Basil was not present at the Council of Nicaea. This was the first council summoned by the Emperor Constantine for the entire oikumene (civilized world), hence it was the First Ecumenical Council. But its authority was really built on the affirmations of its infallible status by later ecumenical councils. In Basil's lifetime, the Arian question was far from over.

Let us remember that the Council of Nicaea in 325 was called because an Alexandrian priest named Arius had come up with the teaching that there is one God, the "Utterly Alone One," (Monos monotatos) who existed above all created things, whether spiritual or material. This God made a mediator between Himself and the created world (full of misery due to its inconstancy and change). This mediator, called the Logos, created the world, then became incarnate, leading a perfect life which was to be imitated by humans, and for which the Logos and his followers would receive a reward of eternal glory (but not union with God). Thus, Arius was overly influenced ny the ideas of Plato about the unseemly character of the created world, and reduced Christianity to an ethical religion of following Christ's example.

Nicaea was supposed to solve the problem by coming up with an airtight wording about who the Son or Logos was and his relationship with God the Father. The assembled Fathers at Nicaea (representatives of the major centers of Christianity) and the Emperor settled on the term homoousios to patro (of the same substance as the Father) was chosen.

As was stated in our last expedition into the Fathers, some people today think that these debates over a few letters was useless, but it was, in fact, critical to the faith in a God who is not a distant uncaring unit, but rather a union of three loving persons, whose love overflow, creating the universe and saving even those who had turned away from God, through the Incarnation of one of the Holy Triad, the Logos or Son. This Logos became a human being, in order to bring us into complete oneness with the Divine Triad and its never-ending joy and love. Through the sacraments we become members of His Body (Baptism) and His Body becomes part of us (Eucharist). Thus we become truly one with God through the Son, and we become adopted children of God, partakers in God's own nature through this adoption.

Basil was born around 330 into an aristocratic Christian family which produced a number of saints. He received a splendid education at Neo-Caesarea, Caesarea, Constantinople and Athens (where he befriended his life-long ally St. Gregory of Nazianzus. Although many opportunities were open to him, he chose a monastic life, spending time with various ascetical Christian groups and eventually starting his own community. The accent must be placed on community, because Basil felt that anchorites (hermits) were sometimes too self-serving, and that the truest way to God was through a mix of concentration on prayer and worship with service to one's neighbour, beginning with fellow monks, but branching out from there to all in need. His writings and his disciples would set the foundation for most religious communities in both East and West. His influence on St. Benedict of Nursia was very strong.

His life became much more complicated when he arrived in Caesarea as a priest and was elected Archbishop in 370. Cappadocia was literally under siege from pro-Arian bishops. Imperial authorities were leaning towards the Arians as well, and Cappadocia was divided into two provinces, partly with a view to help divide those who held to the teachings of the Council of Nicaea. The new Arian force was considerable more formidable than Arius and his cohorts had ever been. Aetius and his disciple Eunomius were astute logicians and had minds like steel traps. (Significantly there are reports from the period, relating how tedious and detailed Eunomius could get in his preaching.) The argument of the Neo-Arians was simple and syllogistic.

  • The essence of God is to be unbegotten.

  • The Son or Logos is begotten of the Father

  • Therefore, the son is unlike (anomoios) the Father.

All of this is very logical. Basil and his Cappadocian allies had a very stinging response, however. A paraphrase of it might sound something like this: Everything hinges on the proposition that the essence of God is to be unbegotten. Since when do you know the essence of God, smartypants? To know the essence of God would make you equal to God ( Remember the forbidden fruit and original sin? All that was about grasping at equality with God!) In fact, we cannot know the essence of God, but only his external activities (also called energies, from the Greek word energeiai, meaning works). Thus, apophatic theology was brought to the fore and has remained a hallmark of Eastern Christian approaches to God. Apophatic comes from the Greek word for "not speaking". There are certain divine mysteries which are beyond human reason and human articulation. So, even though we live to know God, there are some things we cannot know about God. This paradox, and the many others like it, which form the basis of Christian dogma are unsavory to those who like neat, linear, cut and dry answers to things. Alas, life is seldom neat, linear or cut and dry. Have you ever had a love-hate relationship with someone? If so, then you probably understand.

As anyone can guess, winning an intellectual argument is one thing, but wresting control of the Church from a bunch of heretics who have imperial support is quite another. Basil needed more allies as bishops, so he basically forced his best friend, the melancholy but brilliant Gregory of Nazianzus to become bishop of a one-chariot town called Sasima, and his younger brother Gregory to become bishop of Nyssa. Neither of the two Gregories appreciated the gesture. Basil was the most savvy politically, and did most of the maneuvering, especially in trying to rid the Church of State interference during the reign of the Arian emperor Valens (364-378). He also had to fight a new group of people who didn't like the concept of a Triune God: the Macedonians (supposed followers of Macedonius, bp. of Constantinople who died c. 362). The Macedonians were also known as the Pneumatomachoi (roughly Ghostbusters) who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. To some degree the Arian controversy was quelled in the East by the Council of Constantinople in 381 (the Second Ecumenical Council). It would survive in pockets in the East, but esp. the West for a few more centuries, but was never again in a position to threaten the Catholic Orthodox teaching of the broader Church as defined by these two Councils.

Basil was a very dynamic bishop, taking care of his flock as he simultaneously fought theological battles of worldwide importance. In his diocese, he worked constantly to aid the sick and the poor, instituting hospitals, hospices, orphanages and schools to train people in the arts and industry, so that they could raise themselves out of poverty, and much more. Some of his sermons on poverty (That second coat in your closet is not yours - it belongs to the poor!) would probably get him expelled from most middle class parishes today.

His life as a bishop was most difficult. His health was very bad, and he had vicious enemies in the Church and the government. But when he died on January 1, 379, after a scant nine years as Caesarea's archbishop and metropolitan, he was mourned by Christians, Jews and pagans of the city.

His dogmatic works are usually against the Arians. Most important are his Against Eunomius (in three books, 364) and his On the Holy Spirit (375), where he defends the doxology "Glory to the Father with the Son, together with the Holy Spirit." Because he did not want to lose the support of some wishy-washy bishops, Basil never actually came out and said that the Holy Spirit is God, but the implication is clear from this book, and it is drawn out later by his younger brother, Gregory of Nyssa.

His exegetical writings include the nine homilies called the Haexaemeron (On the six Days of Creation), Homilies on the Psalms, and a work on the first part of Isaiah. In his biblical exegesis he did not follow the Alexandrian allegorical approach, but rather tried to stick with the literal meaning.

His ascetical works include three treatises known as The Ascetica, The Moralia, composed of 80 instructions on Christian living, two monastic rules , the Longer Rule and the Shorter Rule, in question and answer format, as well as other works.

He also wrote homilies (over twenty are still extant and considered authentic) and a multitude of letters. In the Byzantine and Coptic traditions, there is a Liturgy of St. Basil, (with an anaphora or extended Eucharistic prayer that bears some influence from Basil).

Prayer of St. Basil the Great

O God and Lord of the Powers, and Maker of all creation, Who, because of Thy clemency and incomparable mercy, didst send Thine Only-Begotten Son and our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind, and with His venerable Cross didst tear asunder the record of our sins, and thereby didst conquer the rulers and powers of darkness; receive from us sinful people, O merciful Master, these prayers of gratitude and supplication, and deliver us from every destructive and gloomy transgression, and from all visible and invisible enemies who seek to injure us. Nail down our flesh with fear of Thee, and let not our hearts be inclined to words or thoughts of evil, but pierce our souls with Thy love, that ever contemplating Thee, being enlightened by Thee, and discerning Thee, the unapproachable and everlasting Light, we may unceasingly render confession and gratitude to Thee: The eternal Father, with Thine Only-Begotten Son, and with Thine All-Holy, Gracious, and Life-Giving Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

 

 

St. Gregory of Nyssa (The Father of Fathers)

 

 

The younger brother of St. Basil the Great (ca.330-379) the famed Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, namely, St Gregory of Nyssa.  Like that of St. Gregory of Nazianzus (ca.329-390, who was also known as St. Gregory the Theologian), the life of the third of the three Cappadocian Fathers, St. Gregory of Nyssa, is also very closely tied with a vehement defense of the First Ecumenical Council, held in Nicaea in 325, and its definition of the Son as being of the same substance as the Father. Like Basil and  Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-c.394) was too young to have dealt with Arius.  His battle, like that of the other two great Cappadocians was especially against the later Neo-Arian movement headed by Aetius of Antioch and later Eunomius of Cyzicus.  Gregory of Nyssa’s life is also marked by intense family loyalty, which his older brother Basil does not seem to exhibit. It is from Gregory of Nyssa that we find out much about his amazing family. He wrote and delivered funeral orations on his father, Gregory the Elder, his sister Gorgonia and his brother Caesarius, and two works in which his elder sister Macrina is the central personage.  Basil never tells us of another brother, Naucratius, who drowned as a youth.  It is Gregory who mentions him.  For St Peter of Sebaste, another sibling, Gregory wrote his mystical commentaries On the Creation of Man and the Six Days of Creation (Hexaemeron), in fact as a completion of Basil’s efforts in that sphere. It is a good thing for Basil that his younger brother held him in such high esteem.  Gregory of Nyssa often came to Gregory’s defense in various writings.  He also attributed all of his education to Basil ( who had the best education the world had to offer at the time, including university studies in Athens).  The amazing thing is that Gregory of Nyssa is a much deeper writer and thinker than Basil.  He was a rather naive and sloppy administrator (for which he was scolded not once, but several times by his big brother), but Gregory far outshines Basil in the mystical depth of his writings.  In fact, some scholars would go so far as to say that Gregory gave the philosophico-mystical underpinning to the immensely practical monastic rules of Basil.

Gregory of Nyssa was shanghaied into episcopal ordination much like Gregory of Nazianzus. Basil, needed allies to fight for control of the newly divided province of Cappadocia in Asia Minor (today’s Turkey). Opponents of Nicene Trinitarianism were abundant, and Basil, as metropolitan of Caesarea in Cappadocia knew that he needed suffragan bishops on whom he could count absolutely.  Nyssa was another dusty little town, not unlike the see of Sasima which Gregory of Nazianzus was never eager to occupy.  Nevertheless, both Gregories were able to rise above pettiness and to recognize the threat of the ultimately logical Neo-Arians, the Eunomians, who held that the Son could not be God because he was begotten, and the very essence of God was to be unbegotten.

It is quite probable that Gregory of Nyssa was a married man.  Some scholars believe that evidence points to his wife as being Theosebeia.  He did, however, write the very important work  On Virginity, perhaps at the request of Basil. Written perhaps around 370, it is among his earlier compositions.

Gregory became bishop of Nyssa in 371, was deposed in 375 under Arian influence, returned to his see in 379 after the Arian emperor Valens died.  He figured prominently at the Council of Constantinople (381) which we now call the Second Ecumenical Council.  He was favored by the imperial court as an orator.

The last years of his life seem to have been dedicated to his most sublime mystical works, including the Life of Moses, in which he relies on Origen’s approach to drawing out the mystical meaning of scriptural texts where they might not be obvious at first glance. It is here that he gives us his vision of eternal life as forever stretching towards God (epektasis) Some of his other exegetico-mystical works included his homilies on the Song of Songs, On Ecclesiastes, On the inscriptions of the Psalms, On the Beatitudes and On the Lord’s Prayer.

He also wrote important dogmatic works: 12 Books against Eunomius, who had replied to Basil’s earlier attack after Basil was dead and could no longer reply himself. His Great Catechism is tremendously important, as are his various clarifications on Trinitarian doctrine, e.g. To Ablabius, That there are not Three Gods. His Life of St, Macrina served as a sort of ascetical handbook in biographical form, much like Athanasius’ Life of Anthony. His eschatological views are expounded in the form of a platonic dialogue at Macrina’s deathbed, under the title On the Soul and Resurrection.

We know nothing of St Gregory of Nyssa after 394, and that is why he is presumed to have died somewhere around this time.

 

 

St. Gregory of Nazianzus (The Theologian)

 

st-gregory_s.jpg (15281 bytes)A close friend and contemporary of St. Basil the Great (ca.330-379) the famed Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, namely, St. Gregory of Nazianzus (ca.329-390), also known as St. Gregory the Theologian. The second of the three Cappadocian Fathers, St. Gregory’s life is also very closely tied with a vehement defense of the First Ecumenical Council, held in Nicaea in 325, and its definition of the Son as being of the same substance as the Father. Like St. Basil, Gregory was too young to have dealt with Arius.  His battle, like that of the other two great Cappadocians was especially against the later Neo-Arian movement headed by Aetius of Antioch and later Eunomius of Cyzicus, as well as imperial intrigues and unruly mobs, which for the quiet, reserved and melancholy Gregory were a source of enormous torment.

Gregory was born near Arianzus in Cappadocia.  His Father was the bishop of Nazianzus. Like Basil, he received the best education, in Caesarea of Cappadocia, Caesarea of Palestine (where Origen had taught in the previous century), at Alexandria and Athens.  It was in Athens that the acquaintance begun between him and Basil at Caesarea would be forged into a strong friendship (which Gregory would come to regret somewhat, without, however, losing his love and respect for Basil).  The two spent some time together exploring the monastic life in Pontus, another province of Asia Minor (today’s Turkey).

Gregory spent a good deal of his life doing things that others wanted him to do, but for which he himself held little desire.  Around 361 he was ordained to the priesthood by his father (who was also his bishop!) against Gregory’s will. In those days candidates for ordination did not have to write letters to their bishops requesting ordination.  He was chosen at the insistence of the faithful. For a few months he tried to flee this burdensome responsibility by returning to the tranquility of Pontus, but returned to assist his Father in the pastoral work at Nazianzus.  His friendship with Basil would be severely tested when Basil, acting as Metropolitan of Caesarea appointed Gregory as Bishop of Sasima, a dusty little town whose episcopal see Gregory may never have actually assumed. He continued to help his father, and was in fact appointed bishop of Nazianzus upon the death of his father (again by Basil).  Basil needed bishops who would be allies in the fight against the Neo-Arians who claimed to know that God’s essence is to be unbegotten, and since the Son was begotten, He could not be, in the eyes of the Arians, equal to the Father and truly God.  At times it was a numbers game  — a power struggle over which view would prevail.  In the end, the teachings of the Council of Nicaea would win out, but not without great suffering on the part of its supporters.

One year after his appointment as his own father’s successor as bishop of Nazianzus, Gregory resigned his position.  His parents and siblings were dead and Gregory was himself very ill.  He tried to take up again the quiet monastic life of which he had always dreamed, this time in Seleucia in Isauria.  Alas, this would again be interrupted.  When Basil died in 379, Gregory grieved for his friend, but also realized that someone had to continue Basil’s fight against the Arians. This was also the year that Theodosius began to rule in Constantinople, which had become an Arian stronghold during the reign of Valens.  The pro-Nicene party was a tiny minority in the capital city.  But Theodosius was pro-Nicene and there was hope that the orthodox catholic teaching could be restored.  It was however a daunting task for the quiet and retiring Gregory, who was called to Constantinople to reestablish Nicene orthodoxy there.  This he did at great risk and amid enormous difficulties.  He started with a small house which he would turn into a church (aptly named the Anastasis, or Church of the Resurrection).  It was his eloquent and convincing preaching, backed by his own living example that won over the population of Constantinople.  The emperor Theodosius gave him the cathedral, which had been heretofore held by the Arians, and the populace wanted him as their bishop.  This he did not accept until the Second Ecumenical Council, the Council of Constantinople was held in 381 and the council fathers acclaimed him as holder of the capital see.  When shortly afterwards some new arrivals to the council protested his accession to Constantinople on the grounds that Nicaea forbade the translation or moving of bishops from one see to another, Gregory was more than glad to resign.  He returned to Nazianzus until a successor could be found in the person of Eulalius in 383.  Gregory then returned to the place of his birth, Arianzus, writing and devoting himself to a quiet ascetical life until his death in 389 or 390.
 
Gregory’s 45 orations were masterpieces of oral and written communication.  They included eulogies for his Father and for Basil, an apologetic oration explaining why he fled Nazianzus after his priestly ordination (which offers a deep reflection on the nature of the priesthood), an attack on the pagan emperor Julian who ruled briefly, but posed a great threat to Christianity by wanting to offer the empire’s support to reestablishing pagan worship.  He also wrote an oration in praise of St. Athansius the Great.  But of all the orations, his Three Theological Orations against the Eunomian Arians and the Macedonians who denied the divinity of the holy Spirit are most important.  They are numbered as Orations 27, 28 and 29.  Oration 30 has been demonstrated to be a work by the well-meaning heretic Appolinaris, which was saved from destruction by being ascribed to Gregory.  His three great Theologial Orations are usually considered to be the reason he is known as St. Gregory the Theologian, an extremely rare distinction.

Gregory also wrote several hundred letters that are still existant, and some two hundred poems, especially in his retirement.  While many say that the Theological Orations won Gregory the title Theologian, it is not inconceivable that it was his poetry that won the hearts of many.  Some were written as easy-to-memorize counterattacks against Arianism.  Others helped to displace the pagan literature which had been dominant for so long. Others still are simple outpourings of this great man’s burdened soul.  There are only two other saints who bear the title TheologianSt. John the Evangelist and St. Symeon the New Theologian (late 10th century).  Both of them were cherished especially for their poetry.  John’s Prologue to his Gospel and Symeon’s Hymns of Divine Love are both powerful poetic works which also powerfully express the deepest truths of the christian faith.  In Gregory’s day, the Arians were followers of Eunomius, who was known for his tedious logical syllogistic sermons.  Perhaps in naming Gregory of Nazianzus the Theologian, the Church was saying that poetry expresses the mystery of who God is and how God is better than any linear reasoning.

 

 

MEVLANA

Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi and the Mevlevi Order

 

Tomb of MevlânaThe followers of Mevlâna Celaleddin-i Rumî, belonging a variety of creeds, sects and classes, acknowledged him as their spiritual leader; but during his lifetime ,they had no tekkes nor any fixed rules. It was Mevlâna's son Sultan Veled (1226-1312) who after his father's death in 1273 strengthened and consolidated the order and established a ritual with precise rules which laid great stress on dancing (semâ).

The Seljuk Emir Alamüddin Keyser (d. 1284) built a Türbe (tomb) for Mevlâna, so that his adherents had a meeting place and pilgrimage centre, and Sultan Veled provided for the maintenance of the türbe by pious donations. From Konya he sent khalifs to Kırşehir and Erzincan to establish zaviyes and thus bring the believers together in small local centres dependent on the main centre. In later centuries tekkes of the Mevlevi order were directed by çelebi (noblemen) descended from Mevlâna. The order took its final form during the first half of the century. The çelebi frequently played a part in political affairs, a circumstance which on occasion led to differences of view about the use of the community's funds.

The Mevlevi doctrine was based on music, dancing and poetry. With its stress on the value of love and ecstasy, it was considered superior to other schools on account of the aesthetic pleasures it afforded. The order acquired adherents among the mass of the people and in the villages, but after the 16th century its main support was among the upper classes in the towns. The emirs, high dignitaries and the Sultans themselves belonged to the order, together with the more prosperous members of society, who in the end made up the whole of its membership. There were four grades in the order - mühib, dede, sheikh and khalif (caliph).

The Mevlevi order had a very considerable influence on Turkish literature, music and art, as well as on everyday life. With a membership recruited mainly among the urban middle and upper classes - in contrast to the Batinite order - it played a large part in maintaining the existing social and political structure.

The Gülseniye order was strongly influenced by Mevlevi doctrines. Its founder, Hüsamüddin Çelebi of Konya, was the son of a Turkish Ahi.

Mevlâna Celaleddin-i Rumî was the first great mystical thinker, scientist and artist of 13th century Seljuk Anatolia. He was born on 30th September 1207 at Balkh, the first capital of the ancient Turkish territory of Khorasan. His father, Bahaeddin Veled bin Hüseyin Hatibî, known as Sultanül Ulema ("sultan of the men of learning"), was descended from a cultivated family of Balkh. According to some of the written sources Bahaeddin's mother was a sister of Sultan Harezmashah Alaüddin Muhammed.

mevlana2_s.jpg (9102 bytes)He was much concerned with religion and mysticism: in the morning he taught theology in the medrese, in the afternoon he discoursed on the truths and mysteries of life, and on Fridays he devoted his whole time to sermons. It is recorded that he openly propagated his ideas and conceptions, which were mainly of a mystical cast. Ahmed Eflaki, author of the Menakibül Arifin ("Legends of the Sages"), tells us that Bahaeddin Veled was in disagreement with Fahreddin Razi (d. 1209), master of Muhammed Harezmashah and one of the leading philosophers of the day.

Bahaeddin Veled later fell into disfavour and was obliged to leave Balkh in 1212-13, when Celaleddin Muhammed was only five years old: this at any rate is what we are told in Bahaeddin's work Maarif. In fact the reason for his move was the Mongol invasion; for during a visit to Baghdad in 1217 he learned that the Mongols had laid siege to Balkh. According to a traditional story the father and son conversed with Sheikh Feridüddin Attar (d. 1221), who presented the young Mevlâna with his poem, the Asrarnâme.

Bahaeddin Veled thereupon made his way from the Hejaz to Anatolia by way of Damascus. We do not know in what towns he first stayed, but it is known that before settling at Konya he spent seven years at Laranda (now Karaman). It was there that Mevlâna married Gevher Hatun, daughter of Sheikh Semerkandi, and that his son Sultan Veled was born in 1226.

In the same year Bahaeddin went to Konya on the invitation of Sultan Alaeddin Keykubad I. Here he enjoyed great renown, the emirs and the Sultan himself coming to listen to his sermons. The Sultan's preceptor Badruddin Gavhartash Dizdar built the Hüdavendigar Medrese for him: a clear indication of the status and admiration he enjoyed among his contemporaries. His only writings were the Maarif, a four-volume work on Koranic mysticism.

When Mevlâna Celaleddin was born in 1207 his father was sixty years old. Bahaeddin was a great mystic who had attained the highest degree in the spontaneous and sincere union of the soul with the essence of its being, had arrived at a direct understanding of the soul and the absolute Being, and had found immortality in the existence of God. Mevlâna's philosophy thus derives from the thinking of his father, for whom he felt respect, love and boundless trust. Eflaki tells us that he reread the Maarif several times in order to find the solution to his own problems. We also learn from Mevlâna's own prose work, the Fihi ma Fih, that in his discussions he was accustomed to repeat his father's words. Indeed on one occasion Şems-i Tebrizî urged him not to read the Maarif, which he maintained was influencing his thinking too strongly.

The Maarif teaches that mysticism is the achievement of knowledge, ecstasy and love, and not a purely imaginary union. Unlike other mystics, Mevlâna laid stress on love and fervour. In him, as in his father, we observe a transition from spiritual union to the union of humanity, so that the sentiment of divine love gives rise to feelings of tolerance and love for all mankind.

Soon after his father's death, in 1231, Mevlâna made the acquaintance of Burhaneddin Termizî and remained for nine years a disciple of this spiritual guide, who was also a great scholar familiar with all the learning of his day. Seyyid Burhaneddin Termizî discoursed to him of the "inward" or "spiritual" state of his father Sultanül Ulema and urged him to attain it. He taught that without this inward being life had no meaning: this alone was the truth of the human heart. Immortality and the perfection of the soul were two quite different things; to attain the immortality of the soul it was necessary to achieve this inward completeness. Burhaneddin Termizî also spoke of the "aesthetic state" which he himself had learned from Sultanül Ulema; and although he explained that this state was not attainable through mere learning but must be sought by giving up the whole soul to the pursuit, Mevlâna nevertheless set out for Aleppo and Damascus to perfect his knowledge of the sciences. It is recorded that at Damascus he made the acquaintance of İbn Arabi; and this seems on the face of it quite likely, for we know that İbn Arabi had left Konya and gone to Damascus, where he lived until his death in 1236, and Mevlâna's stay in Damascus in 1232 would fall within this period. It must be said, however, that there is no mention of this stay in the Velednâme of Sultan Veled, Mevlâna's son. Eflaki tells us that Mevlâna studied jurisprudence and the learning of the sects with the great scholar and poet Kemaleddin Adem, director of the Halaviyye University in Damascus. We also learn from Eflaki that, after his period of association with Mevlâna, Seyyid Burhaneddin Termizî went to Kayseri, where he died in 1240. After his death Mevlâna spent five years teaching jurisprudence and Koranic science at the university; but the mystical truths which he had acquired during his nine years with Burhaneddin had prepared him for a great spiritual adventure. In 1244- he met Şems-i Tebrizî at Konya and fell in love with him, in the mystical sense of the term. This love inspired powerful poetic and mystical impulses which led him to give up his duties as a preacher, a mufti arid a teacher of the sciences, to abandon asceticism and abstinence - to give up, indeed, the whole of his life-in order to acquire a new personality, the personality of a lover in ecstasy.

What manner of man was Şems-i Tebrizî, who was able to change so quickly and so easily a man of such strong personality as Mevlâna? This has been the subject of much discussion, and a variety of very different views have been put forward, both in earlier and in more recent times. Mevlâna himself went so far as to divinise his master, in the mystical sense of the term, using the form of address "My Şems, my God". Sultan Veled, Mevlâna's son, who knew Şems-i Tebrizî well, explained the relationship between the two men in the following way, in an attempt to enlighten those who might seek to judge the matter on the basis of appearances: "As soon as he saw Şems's face the mysteries were revealed to him like the light of day. He saw what no man had ever imagined. He fell in love and was lost: greatness and baseness were alike indifferent to him."

The following words throw a revealing light on the character and personality of Şems-i Tebrizî: "There is a world above the world of saints (evliya): the world of the ‘adored ones' (makam-ı maşuk). Before Şems-i Tebrizî we knew nothing of this. And so Şems is one of those who in the eyes of ordinary people are even more secret and incomprehensible than the mystics: that is, the lovers. It was he who showed the way to Mevlâna; and Mevlâna said that he needed to re-learn everything after meeting Şems." Eflaki tells us in his Menakibül Arifin that during this period of his life, on the suggestion of Şems, Mevlâna began to practise and teach the Semâ.

The Semâ

mevlana.jpg (10059 bytes)Semâ means to whirl round, to dance, to attain ecstasy by means of music. Many mystics, according the needs of their soul, practised the Semâ as a source of ecstasy. Mevlâna regarded it as a kind of prayer, a form of worship, comparing a man who sang during the Semâ to the imam officiating at the namaz (prayer). In his poems he calls the Semâ the nourishment of lovers' souls; it was an activity permitted to lovers and mystics but forbidden to bigots.

ın 1245 Şems fled to Damascus to escape the jealousy Mevlâna's disciples, but on the urgent plea of Mevlâna, who could not endure this separation, he returned to Konya, accompanied by Sultan Veled, and married Mevlâna's adopted daughter Kimya Hatun. Thereupon a group of Mevlâna's disciples, including his second son Alaeddin Çelebi, again began to conspire against Şems, of whom they were jealous; and this was followed by the mysterious disappearance of Şems in 1247. Mevlâna fell into the deepest despair and made two journeys to Damascus in search of Şems. Sultan Veled tells us that the words and actions of his father made a strange impression on the people of Damascus, although Eflaki declares that he acquired many followers there.

After the final disappearance of Şems Mevlâna alternated between hope and despair, and gave himself up to the Semâ with such passion that his son Sultan Veled, although devoted to his father, felt bound to make a courteous protest. He danced everywhere - in the streets, in the convent, in the medrese. Finally, after long questing, Mevlâna found Şems again within himself: that is, like certain mystics and like his own father, he began to be dominated by the idea and the state of identification with the adored being. In other words Mevlâna had a wholehearted faith in the uniqueness of God and, having lost the absolute love which he had found in Şems, found it again after a long period of seeking – first within himself, and then everywhere and in all things. He was able at last, as he himself expressed it, to free himself from "colours and images" and to attain the world of a single colour: that is, the union of the soul and the spirit.

The influence of Şems also explains Mevlâna's passion for the Semâ, for music and poetry. In his own poems - the Divan-ı Şemsu'l Hakayik, devoted to immortalising Şems - he achieves the loftiest expression of pantheism, under the impulse of fervent love and a sublime and divine inspiration. At the same time they are a record of his feelings, his inner conflicts and his mystical flights.

In order to trace the full extent of the spiritual influence wich Şems exerted on Mevlâna, however, it is necessary to compare Mevlâna's writings with the Makalât, which contains the teachings of Şems. There are passages in Mevlâna's Mesnevi, indeed, which are explicitily borrowed from the Makalât.

In 1257 Mevlâna met another man who took Şems's place in his heart. This was Salahüddin, a jeweller of Konya: a handsome, simple-minded, prudent and devout man, who was able by his persuasiveness and shrewdness to calm Mevlâna and give him back peace of mind. Mevlâna appointed him as his khalif and married his son Sultan Veled to Salahüddin's daughter Fatma Hatun so that they should be joined by the bonds of kinship. Salahüddin himself had a profound respect for Mevlâna's master Burhaneddin and also for Şems-i Tebrizî.

Mevlâna's jealous disciples now threatened Salahüddin with death; but Salahüddin met them with these words: "How can you put an end to my life, which is in God's hands? Do not be angry that Mevlâna has chosen me as his companion, for I am merely the mirror. Mevlâna sees himself in me: how, then, should he not choose himself? What he loves in me is his own beauty."

The Mesnevi

Mevlâna wrote 71 ghazels (poems) to Salahüddin, who died in 1262; and in his letters he refers to him as "the Beyezit of his time, the pole of poles." After his death Hüsamüddin Çelebi of Urumiye became Mevlâna's khalif and companion. But now Mevlâna's spirit, which had been growing calmer, was moved by fresh impulses, and this recrudescence of Agitation produced the Mesnevi. On the plea that mystical and didactic works like the Ilahinâme and the Mantik ut-Tayr of Sheikh Feridüddin Attar enjoyed great favour among the dervishes, Hüsamüddin Çelebi begged his sheikh to write a Mesnevi which should instruct the adept on the rules of the order and the mystical realities. Mevlâna thereupon pulled out of the folds of his turban a piece of paper with eighteen lines written on it, saying that he had already been thinking of this. On this basis they began to compose the Mesnevi, Mevlâna dictating and Hüsamüddin Çelebi writing down the inspirations and thoughts of his sheikh. When the first volume was complete Hüsamüddin's wife died and the work of composition came to a halt for two years. Later, on the plea of Hüsamüddin, work was resumed and the six volumes of the Mesnevi, with 26,000 lines, were completed. The whole work took seven or eight years: neither the exact date of beginning or ending is known, but the second volume gives 1264 as the date of beginning the work. Towards the end of the first volume it is stated that the Abbasids were ruling at Baghdad during its writing, indicating that the first volume must have been written in 1258.

The Mesnevi, one of the masterpieces of Islamic mystical literature, is a moral and didactic work written mainly for adepts and disciples. It largely follows the pattern of Attar and Senai (d. 1131) in expressing ideas, precepts and opinions in the form of parables. The course of the main story is interrupted by the insertion of other tales but is then resumed and completed after the interruption. Mevlâna was no formalist, and in this work, unlike the Divan-ı Kebir, he uses verse solely for its educative value.

This time there was no opposition to Mevlâna's friendship with his disciple, and after his death on 17th December 1273, on the urgent insistence of Sultan Veled, Hüsamüddin Çelebi agreed to become khalif.

Mevlâna's death, which took place at Konya after a short illness, was seen as one of the most important events of the period. Men of all countries, classes and religions followed his funeral cortege and watched night and day over his tomb. The event is described in Ahmed Eflaki's Menakib in these words: "In him the Christians mourned their Jesus, the Jews their Moses." A priest expressed the need all men felt for him: "Mevlâna is like bread: what man shall think of turning away from him?" Mevlâna's true greatness lay in the fact that, whereas the various religions and sects have a force within them making for separation, he brought all religions and sects together in the melting-pot of love, giving fresh life to dead and desiccated spirits in a veritable resurrection of the human soul.

In the Fihi ma Fih, a collection of Mevlâna's sayings put together by his son Sultan Veled or one of his disciples, we find an expression of his mystical conception of death: "Do not blame death and illness for me, for death exists merely to conceal the truth: what in reality kills is the matchless grace of God." In the same work we find his conception of the afterlife in the religious sense: a spiritual world beyond the terrestrial world, whose transitory pleasures do not satisfy; a world which man himself loves and creates by his struggles, in which he will find peace and serenity.

Mevlâna had two sons by his first wife Gevher Hatun, Sultan Veled and Alaeddin Çelebi. By Kena Hatun, whom he married after the death of his first wife, he had Muzaffuruddin Alim Çelebi and Melik Hatun. Of all these children the one who most resembled his father was Bahaeddin Veled (1226-1312). He had, therefore, been brought up with great care, and Mevlâna's father, Sultanül Ulema Bahaeddin Veled, handed on his own name to his grandson.

In 1284, after the death of Hüsamüddin Çelebi, Sultan Veled was appointed khalif on the urgent insistence of the adepts, and occupied this position until his death in 1312. During this period he wrote his work-s and sought to establish the Mevlevi order on a systematic basis, adding new rules and new methods to the structure of which his father had laid the foundations.

Mevlâna, the Mystical Philosopher

mevlana3_s.jpg (13023 bytes)After this account of Mevlâna's life, work and ideas as they emerge from his own writings it seems necessary to attempt a definition of his mystical and spiritual personality.

Mevlâna was not a philosopher: he was a mystic. But since mysticism is basically a philosophical theory he can perhaps be described as a mystical philosopher. At the same time he was a moralist and an acute psychologist, with a profound understanding of men in all their aspects, individually and in society; a man who exercised great influence on others, and, a very great poet into the bargain.

Mevlâna disagreed with the philosophers-because they valued only reason. in his view it was necessary to have regard to men's feelings as well. Man is always yearning for the. ineffable, and Mevlâna, attaching more importance to feeling than to reason, believed that the only approach to absolute Being was through the heart and by a synthesis between the outward and the inward worlds. The outward world, he taught, is merely the foam on the surface of the sea: the inward world is the infinite sea itself, invisible and perceptible only through the heart. For Mevlâna, basing himself on reason in everyday life but on feeling as a means of attaining mystical truths, the way of the heart is love. The only way to attain absolute Being is by love; the absolute Being is God, the love of God is to be found everywhere, and everything leads to God. If we love everything for God's sake and if this love leads us towards God, we shall find God at the end of the way. The main thing is to love, to have the capacity to be in love. Mevlâna believes that the human soul can become united with the infinite and identify itself with the infinite by annulling its own substance and following the way of the heart. God is absolute truth, absolute beauty and absolute light. The mystic who succeeds in annihilating his own being and drowning himself in ecstasy can attain understanding and knowledge.

Mevlâna attaches great importance to Semâ because the pleasure and enthusiasm obtained from Semâ, morally exalted and purely aesthetic, take man away from the material world. Semâ is the unitary soul which dances round the integral soul as the moth flutters round the candle, singeing its wings. The universe emanates from a single Being, who is God. All forces and all things are merely manifestations of God in diverse forms. In this Being there is Union, and Mevlâna believes that all religions are basically one.

In the field of morality the principles to which he attaches greatest importance are those which procure serenity for the individual and the people with whom he comes into contact - morally edifying qualities like modesty, patience, resignation, abnegation, kindness and honesty. He taught his disciples to avoid any discrimination on grounds of colour, race, class, wealth or strength, to love and respect all men, since each man was a reflection of the absolute Being. This is perhaps the main difference between his mystical thought and that of other mystics. In no other religion or sect are the love of mankind and the idea of tolerance expressed with such lucidity and purity. By his invocation, "Come; let all men come!" he calls on all humanity to follow his way and imposes on himself the duty to educate and sublimate mankind. He is thus an educator as well as a philosopher.

The full greatness of Mevlâna Celaleddin-i Rumî is revealed in his works and in the doctrines of the Mevlevi order, which so profoundly influenced the artistic and intellectual life of the Turkish people: a sage, a mystical philosopher, a thinker and a poet, whose achievement forms part of the spiritual heritage of all mankind..

Come, come, whoever you are;
Be you infidel, idolator or pagan, come.
Our convent is not a place of despair.
Even if you have gone back on your oath a hundred times, still come!

 

 

Yunus Emre

(ca.1238 - 1320)

 

Yunus Emre

There is a strong challenge inherent in any attempt to describe a great and influential personality like Yunus Emre in a condensed form such as this. We will, therefore only make an attempt to give an introduction to the man and his philosophy which will tempt you into further reading. Wherever possible we will allow Yunus to speak for himself.

Mystic is what they call me,
Hate is my only enemy;
I harbor a grudge against none,
To me the whole wide world is one.

Yunus Emre was a great folk poet, a sufi (Islamic mystic), a troubadour and a very influential philosopher who had an effect on the Turkish outlook on life that has stayed alive and vital for 700 years. Above all, and in an age of religious repression, he was a humanist who’s love for God was integral to his love for humanity. His abhorrence for conflict and his dismissive attitude to riches and material assets have been echoed through the ages, not least in the ’flower power’ era of the 1960s and 70s.

I am not here on erth for strife
Love is the mission of my life.

Yunus EmreYunus Emre was more concerned with the reason for living than with the details of how life should be lived. Essentially he thought that people should live modest lives filled with love and friendship, aspiring towards spiritual purity and an indivisible unity with God. He despised the pursuit of fame and riches because none of these could mean anything after death.

Death is a recurring theme in his poetry but without morbid overtones. He wants us to accept that death is inevitable, so that we don’t squander our time on earth, but also to realize that death is not the end of the road. For each of us death will demonstrate the futility both of pursuing riches and of filling life with hatred, war and grudges. Our only worthwhile legacy is the product of a life filled with friendship and love.

Firm hands will lose their grip one day
And tonques that talk will soon decay:
The wealth you loved and stored away
Will go to some inheritor

Yunus Emre was the epitome of tolerance in a world dominated, from East and West, by fanaticism and by the idea that human beings are born in sin and have to spend their lives trying to rise above their base natures.

See all people as equals,
See the humble as heroes.

According to the traditional outlook the only path to redemption is a difficult one, narrow and dangerous, and can only be negotiated with the help of qualified guides, the leaders of organized religions. Most religions, moreover, insist that their path is the only possible route to heaven and that the followers of other paths, no matter how well intentioned, are destined for the other place. Yunus Emre rejected this single path approach.

For those who trully love God and his ways
All the people of the world are brothers.

We regard no one's religion as contrary to ours,
True love is born when all faiths are united as a whole.

True faith is in the head, not in the headgear.

His beliefs were rooted in religion, and he was undeniably an Islamic sufi, but his philosophy was independent and he taught that every belief and every idea, religious or otherwise, that leads to the creator is sacred.

You better seek God right in your own heart
He is neither in the Holy Land nor in Mecca

Yunus Emre’s idea of God (the 'Friend' of his poetry) is that God is everywhere and within each of us. The love of humanity and the love of God are therefore indivisible.

We love the created
For the Creator's sake

In his poems Yunus Emre shows himself to be a humane, sensitive and modest person firmly grounded. His poems were, and remain, great because he uses language beautifully but simply, his images are rich but extremely clear. Yunus Emre wrote in Turkish and his words can be read today in the original with very little difficulty. That is one reason why his influence has remained so strong, his work is accessible to ordinary people, appreciated and kept alive by them. His hymns are still being sung, and his words quoted, by thousands of people in Turkey today while his popularity is growing world wide.

Come, let us all be friends for once
Let us make life easy on us,
Let us be lovers and loved ones,
The earth shall be left to no one.

 

 

Hacı Bektas and the Bektasi Order

 

hacibektas-veli_s.jpg (9612 bytes)Between the 12th and 14th centuries the Kırşehir area made a remarkable contribution to Turkish culture, producing such outstanding figures as Hacı Bektaş, founder of the Bektaşi order; the famous poet and philosopher Aşık Paşa (1272-1333), author of the Garipnâme; Gülşehri, who produced a verse translation of Feridüddin Attar's Mantiku't-Tayr; Ahi Evren, the leader of merchants and craftsmen; Caca Bey, who conquered Smyrna; and Sheikh Edebali, father in law of Osman Gazi.

Hacı Bektaş and the Bektaşi doctrine have attracted particular interest both in Turkey and in other countries, since they played an important part in Turkish political and cultural history.

Unfortunately we know very little about the life of Hacı Bektaş, who is believed to have lived from 1208 to 1270. The story of his life is recounted in the book known as the Velayetnâme or Menakıbnâme of Hacı Bektaş of Khorasan. This work cannot, however, be entirely relied on, since it records various unusual events, miracles and other happenings which cannot be reconciled with the historical facts. This is mainly because it was written many years after Hacı Bektaş's death on the basis of oral traditions rather than reliable documents; and during the intervening years the sect had undergone considerable changes and lost its original identity under pressure of external circumstances.

The book tells us that Hacı Bektaş was a hünkar (gentleman), the son of İbrahim-i Sanî, a descendant of Ali, the fourth Caliph, who lived in Nishapur (Khorasan), and of Hatem Hatun. It also says that he was educated by a mystic named Lokman-i Perende and afterwards by the great Turkish Sheikh Ahmet Yesevî, and that he came to Anatolia on Yesevî's orders. It is, however, impossible to take these statements at their face value, since Ahmet Yesevî died in 1167.

The historical sources describe Hacı Bektaş as a Turkish sheikh from Khorasan, well versed in religion and mysticism. It is said that after much journeying and pilgrimage he returned to Anatolia with his brother Menteş and lived in Kayseri, Kırşehir and Sivas. His brother was killed in a battle and thereafter he was associated for some time with a Babaî sheikh, Baba İlyas, who also came from Khorasan. Hacı Bektaş then settled in Suluca Karahöyük, a hamlet of only seven houses 40 kilometers south-east of Kırşehir (now Hacıbektaş in Nevşehir province).

It was a common practice, based on social and religious motives, to establish settlements along the roads with the necessary accommodation and facilities to provide for the safety, overnight lodging and refreshment of travelers; and it seems likely that Suluca Karahöyük, situated at a reasonable distance from Kırşehir on a road which had been very busy in previous centuries, was built for this purpose.

Here Hacı Bektaş surrounded himself with a company of dervishes, many of whom he sent as missionaries to other countries. Although the Menakıbnâme tells us that he was associated with Akçakoca, San Saltik, Ahmed Karaca, Tapdik Emre, Yunus Emre, Ahi Evren and Seyyid Mahmud Hayranî, as well as the young Osman Gazi, Alaeddin Keykubad and others, there is no confirmation of all this from other sources.

Hacı Bektaş died at Suluca Karahöyük in 1270, a date attested in various documents. His tomb is surrounded by a number of houses and other buildings erected at different dates in attractive architectural styles. The place is known as Pirevi, the House of the Patron Saint, and here memorial services are held every year from 16th to 18th August, attracting large crowds of visitors.

Hacı Bektaş wrote a number of works on tasavvuf (mysticism), the best known and most important of which is the Makalât. Although the vagueness and incompleteness of other historical records bas produced conflicting theories about his personality, the Makalât gives us a valuable account of his thinking, showing that he was a humble, sincere and mature student of mysticism.

The Makalât contains eight chapters:

  1. The four categories of Moslem, their characteristics and manner of prayer

  2. The grades of Şeriat

  3. The grades of Tarikat

  4. The grades of Marifet

  5. The grades of Hakikat

  6. The nature and circumstances of the heart

  7. The devil and the bad habits which aid him in his work

  8. The creation of man and his value

According to Hacı Bektaş there are four stages in the approach to God:

  1. Şeriat:the divine commands (the laws of religion)

  2. Tarikat: the principles of the mystical orders

  3. Marifet: enlightenment in religious and spiritual matters

  4. Hakikat: enlightenment in all the mysteries of religion, life and the universe

On the basis of this classification Moslems are divided into four categories: the abids or followers of şeriat; the zahids or followers of the mystical orders (the dervishes); the arifs or theistical philosophers; and the milhibs, the true lovers of God.hacibektas.jpg (17959 bytes)

Plan of convent of Hacıbektaş:

 

  1. Main entrance

  2. Outer courtyard.

  3. Fountain

  4. Doorway of Trees

  5. Laundry

  6. Court-room

  7. Pool

  8. Main courtyard

  9. Horsemen's Gate

  10. Lion Fountain

  11. Mosque

  12. Kitchens

 

  1. Tombs

  2. Square of the Forty

  3. Court of Goodness

  4. Torahs

  5. Tombs

  6. Infirmary

  7. Güvens Abdal

  8. Mausoleum

  9. Mausoleum

  10. Rooms of the Sages

  11. Mausoleum of Sultan Balum

Hacı Bektaş defines the four categories as follows:

  • Şeriat (rules): the ability to judge between clean and dirty, between right and wrong. A man must learn judgment, practicing what God has prescribed in the Koran and avoiding what He has told us should be avoided. But knowledge alone cannot elevate a man.

  • Tarikat (order): the way of the dervishes who pray night and day, calling on God's name. They are striving towards the future life, but must avoid a dull and listless manner; if a man's worship is not sufficiently active and he gives way to pride he cannot hope to achieve elevation.

  • Marifet (enlightenment): Enlightened mystics are like water, which is clean and makes other things clean. They are beloved by God, for even if they do not look for worldly and heavenly interests they faithfully respect the rules.

  • Hakikat (realities): Men who know realities are the highest of the four categories. They practice modesty, resignation and submission; they have effaced themselves in the presence of God; they have attained the level of constant contemplation and prayer (münacat), they are holy men who love God and are loved by Him.

Thus these four categories are like four successive gateways (Dört Kapı) through which man must pass to reach the highest level. Each is approached by ten steps or obligations, making a total of forty in all (Kırk Makan). No man can reach God without ascending each step. For example if a man prays without truly believing, or acts dishonestly in his charity, or changes his mind on returning from his pilgrimage, or does not have faith in Muhammed or one of his disciples, all is in vain.

In man the devilish and the angelic are always in conflict. The king of one side is wisdom, his chief deputy is faith, and his commanders are knowledge, generosity, decency, modesty, patience, the avoidance of sin, the fear of God, morality and other virtues. Each of these virtues bas hundreds of thousands of soldiers under its command. The king of the other side is the devil, his deputy is man's self, and his commanders include pride, envy, meanness, avarice, anger, idle talk, buffoonery and loud laughter. Each of these also bas hundreds of thousands of soldiers under its command.

It is not possible to win battles without knowing oneself and one's own good and bad qualities. Hacı Bektaş recommends men, therefore, to look into themselves. He emphasizes that a man who does not know himself cannot know God either, since God is closer to man than is his own physical existence. He attributes great importance to this matter, and in one chapter of his book he analyses the human body, noting the similarities between the body and the external world and the universal and concluding that man is a "world in little".

The faults which cause Hacı Bektaş most concern are ostentation, hypocrisy and inconsistency. "Poor wretch!" he cries. "Faith bas lost its meaning for you. You say, 'I have faith in God,' but you do not follow His orders. You say, 'l have faith in the angels,' but you commit sins when you are alone, out of the sight of others, not realizing that there are three hundred and sixty angels within your own body. You say, 'l have faith in the Book, the Koran,' but in your heart and in your deeds are all kinds of evil. What book tells you to behave in this manner? Even the elect of God, going hungry one day and sated the next, spending day and night in prayer, cannot be sure of their future life: even they live in fear of the supreme judgment. You may be sure that your faults will rise up to confront you."

Elsewhere he says: "It is of no avail to be clean outside if there is evil within your soul. In the same way if your pot is dirty inside and you close it up tightly, you may wash the outside thousands of times a day for ten years, but the inside will still be dirty. It is a pity, therefore, that you are full of arrogance, envy, meanness, anger, calumny, loud laughter and folly. How is it possible to cleanse yourself with water when all the dirt is within you? If you commit only one of these sins all your prayers are vain. And if all eight are round within a man, what then shall be his punishment?"

Hacı Bektaş accordingly attached great importance to prayers which expressed the true desire and love for God; and it was for this reason that he regarded the mühibs ("lovers") as the highest category of believers. It is significant that Nishapur, his birthplace, was a centre of the Melamet sect of dervishes, who were known for their advocacy of love and harmony and the stress they laid on sincerity and the avoidance of hypocrisy and external show as a means of attaining God. His own thoughts on the love of God are given poetic expression in the following passage:

When a man calls on God with the words 'O my Lord!' God answers, welcoming him. From this invocation and response comes a light, and from the beams of the light hundreds of thousands of flowers grow in the seventh level of Heaven; the sixth level is irradiated with the light of the flowers; the fifth is inundated with the smell of ambergris; the fourth with abir, the third with sweet basil; the second with musk; the first with roses. In the seventh heaven the angels pick these flowers and decorate the eight heavens. When a man loved by God comes to the end of his life the angels offer him these flowers to smell, and take away his life while he is enjoying the perfume.

Such a man does not suffer the fears and pains of death. Faced with the beauty of the prophet Joseph, the ladies of Egypt cut their hands inadvertently instead of the apples they were eating.

Hacı Bektaş himself had infinite love for man and great tolerance. He taught that a mature person should be modest in his life on earth, should not despise the seventy-two nations, and should not criticize others. He should treat all creatures well, both humans and animals, and should do them no harm.

Some students have suggested that he belonged to the Batinite sect; but this suggestion is incompatible with his ideas as summarized above. Eflaki's assertions that he did not follow the rules of Şeriat and that he did not even pray, although he had knowledge and insight, are likewise untenable in the light of his own clear and definite statements. Nor can it be accepted that he was attracted to the Shiite sect which believed in the Twelve Imams, tevella (the love of Ali and his family) and tebarra (the hatred of all those who do not love Ali).

The style of Hacı Bektaş's works, the frequent references to verses from the Koran and the traditions of the Prophet, and the fact that although addressed to Turks his works were written in Arabic, which was fashionable among the educated classes of the period: all these are indications of Hacı Bektaş's innate sense of conservatism.

Hacı Bektaş and his order were also associated with the Fütüvva, a society of young men distinguished by courage, generosity, unselfishness, self-sacrifice, abstinence, self-control, forbearance and other virtues. At an earlier period an order based on these qualities and associated with mysticism had developed on a considerable scale in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Egypt; and there is evidence of the existence of this order in Anatolia in the 13th and 14th centuries. The famous traveler İbn Batuta was looked after by this order during his journeys, and speaks of the fetas (young men) who wore special dress and were ruled by a sheikh known as the Ahi. The members of this order were noted for their hospitality to travelers and strangers, providing armed escorts to ensure their safety, taking vigorous action to put down banditry and maintaining links with the guilds of merchants and craftsmen.

The early Bektaşis thus had intimate connections with the Ahi order. The Melamet sect in Khorasan to which Hacı Bektaş belonged, indeed, was connected with the Fütüvva from its earliest days, and many adherents of tasavvuf followed the rules of both orders.

The Velayetnâme tells us that Hacı Bektaş and Ahi Evren, a leader of the guilds of merchants and craftsmen of Anatolia, were close friends; and Ahi Evren himself is recorded as saying: "He who has me as a sheikh also has Hacı Bektaş." Most of the early Bektaşis, indeed, were also members of the Ahi and moved into Western Anatolia with the Turkish forces who carried out the Ottoman conquest. There after they continued westward to settle in the Balkans, taking Turkish culture with them.

It is also significant that the Bektaşi initiation ceremonies (kissing the saddle, putting on the belt, drinking from the same cup), together with the special dress worn and prayers said during these ceremonies, are wholly derived from those of the Ahi order.

The idea that Hacı Bektaş preached his doctrine to the Janissaries seems to have arisen from the fact that the founders of the Corps of Janissaries - Kara Rüstem, Seyyid Ali Sultan, Gazi Evrenos and a number of soldiers like Abdal Musa - had connections with the Ahi order and consequently with Hacı Bektaş. In fact Hacı Bektaş died long before the establishment of the Janissaries-indeed before the foundation of the Ottoman principality.

Nevertheless the Janissaries saw in Hacı Bektaş just the right patron for their corps. Some of the rulers of the Ottoman Empire and the commanders of their armies erected buildings or fountains in Hacı Bektaş's convent and made donations of money for the benefit of the Bektaşi order. The Janissaries were known as the “sons of Hacı Bektaş" and the 94th Orta (regiment) always had a member of the order attached to it; and during the ceremony of induction of a leader of the order he was crowned by the chief janissary.

These two closely associated organizations, the Janissaries and the Bektaşis, shared a similar fate; for when Mehmet II abolished the Janissaries he also put an end to the Bektaşi sect.

Hacı Bektaş was a contemporary of the famous Mevlâna Celaleddin-i Rumî, who was connected with the Melamet sect in Khorasan. The two men had much in common, both being remarkable for their tolerance and humanitarian spirit. Mevlâna, however, wrote in literary Persian and addressed himself to the educated classes, while Hacı Bektaş sought followers mainly among peasants and time-served soldiers. Mevlâna's influence spread through Cappadocia and made itself felt in Kırşehir, where two of his followers, Sheikh Süleyman Türkmenî and Muhammed Aksarayî, established convents of dervishes. The Emir Nureddin of Kırşehir, who built a mosque and school in 1273, was also a disciple of Hacı Bektaş. We are told by Eflaki (d. 1360) that Hacı Bektaş sent one of his khalifs, Sheikh İshak, to Konya with some of his dervishes to see Mevlâna.

A well known anecdote illustrates the different characters of the two men-one a modest and dignified teacher who disliked all external show, the other a poet who was always in an exalted state of love, ecstasy and frenzy. Hacı Bektaş asked Mevlâna:

"Why do you behave in this manner? What do you want? Why are you so restless? If you have found what you were seeking, you have achieved your goal: would it not then be better to rest and keep quiet? If you have not, is it not foolish to disturb the public order with such a noise and let everyone see you in this state?"

To this reasonable criticism, however, Mevlâna replied only with a poem:

"If you have no lover, why should you not look for one? If you have won a lover, why should you not enjoy him? Sitting quietly at your ease, you say, 'What a strange way to behave!' But indeed you are the one who ought to be surprised that you do not desire to become involved in this strange but delightful situation.”

The connections between the Bektaşi and Mevlevi orders continued after the deaths of Hacı Bektaş and Mevlâna. In the 15th century a Mevlevi sheikh, Divane Mehmet Çelebi, accompanied by members of the Bektaşi order, visited the town of Hacıbektaş; and in the Velayetnâme, written in the 15th century, there are very friendly references to Mevlâna.

In the poems of Yunus Emre (d. 1320), one of the greatest poets in Turkish literature, we find some of Hacı Bektaş's ideas expressed. Like Hacı Bektaş, Yunus Emre speaks of the forty steps and the four gateways, the value of continuous prayer and contemplation of God, the need to avoid disdaining the seventy-two nations, the continual struggle between the satanic and divine forces within men, the commanders and soldiers on both fronts, the good and bad habits of men. It is now generally agreed that some of these references were added by Yunus at a later date, and some others were introduced into El Risaletül Nushiyye. It is clear, therefore, that there was a close relationship, either direct or indirect, between Hacı Bektaş and Yunus Emre.

Another 14th century poet, Said Emre, also refers to Hacı Bektaş with respect and uses some of his ideas and expressions. Clearly the poems of these followers of Bektaşi doctrines matched the national taste, and accordingly they played au important part in the development of Turkish language and literature from an early stage.

The Bektaşi doctrines spread rapidly through the conquered countries, particularly under the influence of the Janissaries; but within a short time, lacking strong leaders, an established corpus of literature and body of doctrine, and any centralized authority, the sect admitted numerous deviations from its basic ideals. In rater years the admission of various persecuted heretical groups like the Haydariye, Edhemi, Kalenderiye and Hurufi sects into what had earlier been a pure and carefully selected order, contacts with other religions and cultures, the influence of converts and intensive Shiite propaganda from Iran in the 16th century changed the strict Bektaşi order into an ill-defined, heterogeneous and cosmopolitan association which satisfied the needs of the most diverse types of people, from the practitioner of canon law to the atheist. Recent studies have stressed this aspect and drawn attention to the great difference between the purity, fervour and practical helpfulness of the earlier dervishes and the Bektaşis of later periods who misunderstood their attitudes and deviated from their purposes and ideals.

As a religions leader and ethical teacher Hacı Bektaş must count among the greatest of those who prepared the way for the Ottoman Empire. While Mevlâna wrote for the educated classes and influenced scholars, poets and artists, Hacı Bektaş was the recognized spiritual leader of the soldiers and peasants, inspiring their imagination and arousing their emotions. His reputation spread into many countries and continents; he dedicated himself to the people, serving directly as their educator and indirectly as a promoter of Turkish language and literature, and accordingly surviving in the hearts of millions of people down the centuries.

 

 

Aretaeus of Cappadocia

(2nd Century AD)

 

Greek physician from Cappadocia who practiced in Rome and Alexandria, led a revival of Hippocrates' teachings, and is thought to have ranked second only to the father of medicine himself in the application of keen observation and ethics to the art. In principle he adhered to the pneumatic school of medicine, which believed that health was maintained by "vital air," or pneuma. Pneumatists felt that an imbalance of the four humours - blood, phlegm, choler (yellow bile), and melancholy (black bile) - disturbed the pneuma, a condition indicated by an abnormal pulse. In practice, however, Aretaeus was an eclectic physician, since he utilized the methods of several
different schools.

After his death he was entirely forgotten until 1554, when two of his manuscripts, On the Causes and Indications of Acute and Chronic Diseases (4 vol.) and On the Treatment of Acute and Chronic Diseases (4 vol.), both written in the Ionic Greek dialect, were discovered. These works not only include model descriptions of pleurisy, diphtheria, tetanus, pneumonia, asthma, and epilepsy but also show that he was the first to distinguish between spinal and cerebral paralyses. He gave diabetes its name (from the Greek word for "siphon," indicative of the diabetic's intense thirst and excessive emission of fluids) and rendered the earliest clear account of that disease now known.

 

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