Maximus the Confessor was born in Constantinople around 580 and raised
in a pious Christian family. He received an excellent education,
studying philosophy, grammar, and rhetoric. He was well-read in the
authors of antiquity and he also mastered philosophy and theology. When
St Maximus entered into government service, he became first secretary
(asekretis) and chief counselor to the emperor Heraclius (611-641), who
was impressed by his knowledge and virtuous life.
St Maximus soon realized that the emperor and many others had been
corrupted by the Monothelite heresy, which was spreading rapidly through
the East. He resigned from his duties at court, and went to the
Chrysopolis monastery (at Skutari on the opposite shore of the
Bosphorus), where he received monastic tonsure. Because of his humility
and wisdom, he soon won the love of the brethren and was chosen igumen
of the monastery after a few years. Even in this position, he remained a
In 638, the emperor Heraclius and Patriarch Sergius tried to minimize
the importance of differences in belief, and they issued an edict, the
"Ekthesis" ("Ekthesis tes pisteos" or "Exposition of Faith), which
decreed that everyone must accept the teaching of one will in the two
natures of the Savior. In defending Orthodoxy against the "Ekthesis," St
Maximus spoke to people in various occupations and positions, and these
conversations were successful. Not only the clergy and the bishops, but
also the people and the secular officials felt some sort of invisible
attraction to him, as we read in his Life.
When St Maximus saw what turmoil this heresy caused in Constantinople
and in the East, he decided to leave his monstery and seek refuge in the
West, where Monothelitism had been completely rejected. On the way, he
visited the bishops of Africa, strengthening them in Orthodoxy, and
encouraging them not to be deceived by the cunning arguments of the
The Fourth Ecumenical Council had condemned the Monophysite heresy,
which falsely taught that in the Lord Jesus Christ there was only one
nature (the divine). Influenced by this erroneous opinion, the
Monothelite heretics said that in Christ there was only one divine will
("thelema") and only one divine energy ("energia"). Adherents of
Monothelitism sought to return by another path to the repudiated
Monophysite heresy. Monothelitism found numerous adherents in Armenia,
Syria, Egypt. The heresy, fanned also by nationalistic animosities,
became a serious threat to Church unity in the East. The struggle of
Orthodoxy with heresy was particularly difficult because in the year
630, three of the patriarchal thrones in the Orthodox East were occupied
by Monothelites: Constantinople by Sergius, Antioch by Athanasius, and
Alexandria by Cyrus.
St Maximus traveled from Alexandria to Crete, where he began his
preaching activity. He clashed there with a bishop, who adhered to the
heretical opinions of Severus and Nestorius. The saint spent six years
in Alexandria and the surrounding area.
Patriarch Sergius died at the end of 638, and the emperor Heraclius also
died in 641. The imperial throne was eventually occupied by his
grandson Constans II (642-668), an open adherent of the Monothelite
heresy. The assaults of the heretics against Orthodoxy intensified. St
Maximus went to Carthage and he preached there for about five years.
When the Monothelite Pyrrhus, the successor of Patriarch Sergius,
arrived there after fleeing from Constantinople because of court
intrigues, he and St Maximus spent many hours in debate. As a result,
Pyrrhus publicly acknowledged his error, and was permitted to retain the
title of "Patriarch." He even wrote a book confessing the Orthodox
Faith. St Maximus and Pyrrhus traveled to Rome to visit Pope Theodore,
who received Pyrrhus as the Patriarch of Constantinople.
In the year 647 St Maximus returned to Africa. There, at a council of
bishops Monotheletism was condemned as a heresy. In 648, a new edict was
issued, commissioned by Constans and compiled by Patriarch Paul of
Constantinople: the "Typos" ("Typos tes pisteos" or "Pattern of the
Faith"), which forbade any further disputes about one will or two wills
in the Lord Jesus Christ. St Maximus then asked St Martin the Confessor
(April 14), the successor of Pope Theodore, to examine the question of
Monothelitism at a Church Council. The Lateran Council was convened in
October of 649. One hundred and fifty Western bishops and thirty-seven
representatives from the Orthodox East were present, among them St
Maximus the Confessor. The Council condemned Monothelitism and the
Typos. The false teachings of Patriarchs Sergius, Paul and Pyrrhus of
Constantinople were also anathematized.
When Constans II received the decisions of the Council, he gave orders
to arrest both Pope Martin and St Maximus. The emperor's order was
fulfilled only in the year 654. St Maximus was accused of treason and
locked up in prison. In 656 he was sent to Thrace, and was later brought
back to a Constantinople prison.
The saint and two of his disciples were subjected to the cruelest
torments. Each one's tongue was cut out, and his right hand was cut off.
Then they were exiled to Skemarum in Scythia, enduring many sufferings
and difficulties on the journey.
After three years, the Lord revaled to St Maximus the time of his death
(August 13, 662). Three candles appeared over the grave of St Maximus
and burned miraculously. This was a sign that St Maximus was a beacon of
Orthodoxy during his lifetime, and continues to shine forth as an
example of virtue for all. Many healings occurred at his tomb.
In the Greek Prologue, August 13 commemorates the Transfer of the Relics
of St Maximus to Constantinople, but it could also be the date of the
saint's death. It may be that his memory is celebrated on January 21
because August 13 is the Leavetaking of the Feast of the Transfiguration
of the Lord.
St Maximus has left to the Church a great theological legacy. His
exegetical works contain explanations of difficult passages of Holy
Scripture, and include a Commentary on the Lord's Prayer and on Psalm
59, various "scholia" or "marginalia" (commentaries written in the
margin of manuscripts), on treatises of the Hieromartyr Dionysius the
Areopagite (October 3) and St Gregory the Theologian (January 25). Among
the exegetical works of St Maximus are his explanation of divine
services, entitled "Mystagogia" ("Introduction Concerning the Mystery").
The dogmatic works of St Maximus include the Exposition of his dispute
with Pyrrhus, and several tracts and letters to various people. In them
are contained explanations of the Orthodox teaching on the Divine
Essence and the Persons of the Holy Trinity, on the Incarnation of the
Word of God, and on "theosis" ("deification") of human nature.
"Nothing in theosis is the product of human nature," St Maximus writes
in a letter to his friend Thalassius, "for nature cannot comprehend God.
It is only the mercy of God that has the capacity to endow theosis unto
the existing... In theosis man (the image of God) becomes likened to
God, he rejoices in all the plenitude that does not belong to him by
nature, because the grace of the Spirit triumphs within him, and because
God acts in him" (Letter 22).
St Maximus also wrote anthropological works (i.e. concerning man). He
deliberates on the nature of the soul and its conscious existence after
death. Among his moral compositions, especially important is his
"Chapters on Love." St Maximus the Confessor also wrote three hymns in
the finest traditions of church hymnography, following the example of St
Gregory the Theologian.
The theology of St Maximus the Confessor, based on the spiritual
experience of the knowledge of the great Desert Fathers, and utilizing
the skilled art of dialectics worked out by pre-Christian philosophy,
was continued and developed in the works of St Simeon the New Theologian
(March 12), and St Gregory Palamas (November 14).
Champion of Orthodoxy, teacher of purity and of true worship,
enlightener of the universe and adornment of hierarchs:
all-wise father Maximus, your teachings have gleamed with light upon all things.
Intercede before Christ God to save our souls.
Let us the faithful fittingly praise the lover of the Trinity,
the great Maximus who taught the God-inspired faith,
that Christ is to be glorified in His two natures, wills, and energies;
and let us cry to him: "Rejoice, herald of the faith."