chapter  6
16 Pages

The power of the eucharist in early medieval Syria: grant for salvation or magical medication?


Towards the end of antiquity, around 600, John Moschos reported in his Spiritual Meadow about two Syrian brothers who were money dealers in Constantinople.* When their father passed away, the younger brother returned to Syria to take over the paternal business, while the older one remained in the capital. Soon the older brother was disturbed by nightly visions of his brother in Syria fornicating with a tavern keeper’s wife. As the visions continued, he recalled his brother from Syria and questioned him about the matter. The brother swore by God that he had not fornicated with anyone. However, he admitted to having begun to be in communion with the “Severians,” the non-Chalcedonians, in his village. Opponents labeled non-Chalcedonians “Severians” after their former patriarch Severos of Antioch (512-18), one of the major theologians of the sixth century presented here as tavern keeper.1 The latter insinuation has no factual basis, but it slanders the non-Chalcedonians: their spiritual leader is accused of conducting a business that was not respectable in the Roman world.2 The “tavern keeper’s wife” refers to the non-Chalcedonian church, which had started to build its ecclesiastical structures following the persecutions of the 520s and 530s.3 In other words, the Chalcedonian author interprets the celebration of a non-Chalcedonian eucharist as fornication – as unlawful intercourse with a condemned heresy.