Sunday, March 28, 2010


Abraham, Cyriac, Barhadbshabba, and Sergius

John of Ephesus, Lives of the Eastern Saints 43 (The History of Abraham and Cyriac and Barhadbshabba and Sergius the Deacons), tr. E.W. Brooks in Patrologia Orientalis, vol. 18, p. 659:
And the four of them with all the rest gained a blessed ending, since amid the same spiritual employment and the tiring nature of the countries and the high rugged mountains of Asia each one of them ran zealously and mightily in his time, and was strengthened to abolish paganism, and overthrow idolatry, and uproot altars and destroy shrines and cut down trees in ardent religious zeal...
Frank R. Trombley, "Paganism in the Greek World at the End of Antiquity: The Case of Rural Anatolia and Greece," Harvard Theological Review 78 (1985) 327-352 (at 333-334), cites the above quotation from John of Ephesus. Trombley also provides other examples of Christians felling trees sacred to pagans, e.g. on p. 333, citing F. Nau, "Analyse de la seconde partie inédite de l'Histoire Ecclésiastique de Jean d'Asie, patriarche jacobite de Constantinople (d. 585)," Revue de l'Orient Chrétien 2 (1897) 455-493 (at 482):
In the year 542 the kindness of God visited Asia, Caria, Lydia, and Phrygia, thanks to the zeal of the victorious Justinian and by the activity of his humble servant [John of Asia]...When God opened the minds of [the pagans] and made them know the truth, he aided us in destroying their temples, in overthrowing their idols, in eradicating the sacrifices which were offered everywhere, in smashing their altars defiled by the blood of sacrifices offered to pagan gods (aux de/mons), and in cutting down the numerous trees which they worshipped, and so they became estranged from all the errors of their forefathers.
Here is Nau's French translation of John of Asia's Syriac:
En 853 (542), la bonté de Dieu visita l'Asie, la Carie, la Lydie et la Phrygie, grâce au zèle du victorieux Justinien et par l'opération de son hmble serviteur (c'est-à-dire Jean d'Asie)....Quand Dieu eut ouvert leurs esprits et leur eut fait connaître la vérité, ils nous aidaient de leurs mains à détruire leurs temples, à renverser leurs idoles, à extirper les sacrifices que l'om offrait partout, à abbatre leurs autels souillés par le sang des sacrifices offerts aux démons et à couper les innombrables arbres qu'ils adoraient, car ils s'éloignaient de toutes les erreurs de leurs ancêtres.
Trombley (at 334) also translates a passage from Callinicus of Rufinianae, De Vita S. Hypatii Liber, edd. Seminarii Philologorum Bonnensis Sodales (Leipzig: Teubner, 1895). Trombley refers to page 8, but I find the Greek on p. 64 of the Teubner edition:
[Hypatius] had zeal for God and converted many places in Bithynia from the error of idol-worship. If he heard that there was a tree or some other such [cult object] which persons worshipped, he went there at once taking his disciples the monks, cut it down, and burned it.

ζῆλον δὲ εἶχε θεοῦ καὶ πολλοὺς τόπους ἐν τῇ Βιθυνῶν χώρᾳ ἀπὸ πλάνης εἰδωλικῆς ἡμέρωσεν· εἴ που γὰρ ἤκουσεν ἢ δένδρον ἢ ἄλλό τι τοιοῦτον ὅτι προσκυνοῦσί τινες, ἤρχετο ἐκεῖ εὐθέως παραλαβὼν τοὺς μονάζοντας τοὺς ἑαυτοῦ μαθητὰς καὶ κατακόψας αὐτὸ κατέκαιεν πυρί.
Finally, on p. 334 Trombley mentions a passage from a life of St. Nicholas of Sion, in the edition of G. Anrich, Hagios Nikolaos, vol. 1 (Leipzig 1913), pp. 13-15. Anrich's book is unavailable to me. This life has been translated into English as The Life of Saint Nicholas of Sion. Text and Translation by Ihor Ševčenko and Nancy Patterson Ševčenko (Brookline: Hellenic College Press, 1984), also unavailable to me. However, the relevant passage from the Ševčenko translation is available on the Centro Studi Nicolaiani web site:
[15] One day there came men from the village of Plakoma, who fell down before holy Nicholas and said: "O servant of God, on our land there is a sacred tree in which dwells the spirit of an unclean idol, that destroys both men and fields. It is also ... to the district and we are unable to go unhindered about our business [?] on account of it. May Your Holiness yield to our entreaties and deign to come with us and fell it, so that God, Lover of mankind, may through your prayers drive out the unclean spirit dwelling in that tree, and the fields and the district may be at peace and find respite.

[16] Being so strongly urged by the inhabitants of the village of Plakoma, Nicholas, the servant of God, offered prayers, and came to the spot where the tree stood. Seeing the tree, holy Nicholas said: "Is this the sacred tree?" In response, the men of the aforementioned fields said to him: "Yes, Lord." And Nicholas, the servant of God said: "What are those gashes in the tree?" They said to him: "Some man of old came to fell the tree with two hatchets, and an axe. And as he began to fell it, the unclean spirit snatched away the blades, and slaughtered the man, so that his grave was found at the roots of the tree." Offering prayers, the servant of God Nicholas—there being a crowd of nearly three hundred men, women and children to watch the workings of God, for none believed that such a tree, being sacred, was about to be felled—then the servant of God Nicholas knelt and prayed for two hours. And rising, he enjoined the men around saying: "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and of Holy Sion, come here, try and cut it down."

[17] A shiver ran through all those who were standing around holy Nicholas, and no one dared so much as to look at the tree. Then the servant of God Nicholas said: "Give me the blade and I will cut it down myself in the name of my Lord." Taking the blade, the servant of God Nicholas made the sign of the cross over it and struck the sacred tree seven times. The unclean spirit saw that the servant of God Nicholas had power from God, and when the tree was struck by Nicholas' holy hands, the unclean spirit cried out, saying: "Woe be unto me: I made for myself an ever-expanding dwelling in this cypress tree and have never been overcome by anyone; and now the servant of Nicholas is putting me to flight, and no longer will I be seen in this place. For not only has he expelled me from my dwelling in the tree, but he is driving me from the confines of Lycia, with the help of Holy Sion."

[18] When he was about to fell this sacred tree, the servant of God said: "Assemble with one accord up the slope on the North side." For it was expected that the tree would fall to the West. The unclean spirit thought at that moment to frighten the crowd. And he made the tree lean toward the North, up the slope where the crowd stood watching, so that they all screamed with fear in one voice, saying: "Servant of God, the tree is coming down on top of us, and we will perish." The servant of God Nicholas made the sign of the cross over the tree, pushed it back with his two hands, and said to the sacred tree: "In the name of my Lord Jesus Christ I command you: turn back [in the other direction] and go down where God has ordained you." Forthwith, the tree swayed back by the will of God and moved toward the West, where it crashed. From that time on, the unclean spirit was no longer seen within those parts. And they all glorified God, saying: "One is God, who gave power to his servant against the unclean spirits."

[19] The sacred tree having been felled, the servant of God gave instructions in the metropolis of Myra that workmen be found to saw up the tree. When the workmen heard of the size of the tree, that not only was its stump the thickness of three and a half cubits but that its height was forty cubits, they were afraid, saying: "We will not be able to cope with such a tree." So the servant of God Nicholas made it known that he was seeking workmen from any city. And finding none, he was forced to make his announcement in the village of Karkabo. And workmen were found, five in number, and by the power of God and the prayers of holy Nicholas, they sawed up the tree. When the whole surrounding district of Arneai and Myra saw that the tree had been sawed up by the prayers of holy Nicholas, they obtained his permission [?] and came to drag it away. It was dragged to the holy and glorious shrine of Holy Sion, and all glorified God, who had given such power unto His servant Nicholas.
According to Trombley, p. 334 and n. 45, Louis Robert, "Villes et monnaies de Lycie," Hellenica 10 (1955) 188-222 (at 197-199, non vidi), considered this passage from the Life of St. Nicholas of Sion to be evidence of the survival of the cult of Artemis Eleuthera into the 6th century. On the following 3rd century A.D. coin from Myra in Lycia, snakes defend Artemis Eleuthera, in a tree, against woodcutters:

Related posts: Ronsard and the Forest of Gâtine; The Heavenly Beauty of Earthly Things; Apollo Karneios and the Cornel-Trees; Pitiful Destruction; Enemy of Orchards; Arboricide and Matricide; The Sacrilegious Axe; Arboricide on the Wayne Ranch; The Woods of Bachycraigh; Papadendrion; Papadendrion Again; A Bewilderment of Birds; Ancient Protests Against Deforestation; Illustrations of Erysichthon; Prayer and Sacrifice to Accompany Tree Cutting; A Spirit Protects the Trees; St. Martin and the Pine Tree; The Geismar Oak; Bregalad's Lament; Petition of a Poplar; Cactus Ed and Arboricide; Views from the Center of Highgate Wood; Artaxerxes and Arboricide; When the Last Tree Falls; The Hamadryads of George Lane; Sorbs and Medlars; So Foul a Deed; Like Another Erysichthon; The Fate of Old Trees; Scandalous Misuse of the Globe; The Groves Are Down; Massacre; Executioners; Anagyrasian Spirit; Butchers of Our Poor Trees; Cruel Axes; Odi et Amo; Kentucky Chainsaw Massacre; Hornbeams; Protection of Sacred Groves; Lex Luci Spoletina; Turullius and the Grove of Asclepius; Caesarian Section; Death of a Noble Pine; Two Yew Trees in Chilthorne, Somerset; The Fate of the Shrubbery at Weston; The Trees Are Down; Hornbeams; Sad Ravages in the Woods; Strokes of Havoc; Maltreatment of Trees; Arboricide; An Impious Lumberjack; Erysichthon in Ovid; Erysichthon in Callimachus; Vandalism.


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