Alexander of Constantinople

Last updated
Alexander of Constantinople
Bishop of Byzantium and then Archbishop of Constantinople
Term ended337
Personal details
Denomination Eastern Christianity
Saint Alexander
Venerated in Eastern Orthodoxy
Roman Catholicism
  • August 30 (Orthodox)
  • August 28 (Roman Catholic)

Alexander of Constantinople (Greek : Ἀλέξανδρος; c. 237/240 – c. 340) was a bishop of Byzantium and the first Archbishop of Constantinople [1] (the city was renamed during his episcopacy). Scholars consider most of the available information on Alexander to be legendary. [2]

Greek language Language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

A bishop is an ordained, consecrated, or appointed member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight.

Byzantium ancient Greek city

Byzantium was an ancient Greek colony in early antiquity that later became Constantinople, and then Istanbul. The Greek term Byzantium continued to be used as a name of Constantinople during the Byzantine Empire, even though it only referred to the empire's capital. Byzantium was colonized by the Greeks from Megara in 657 BC, and remained primarily Greek-speaking until its conquest by the Ottoman Empire in 1453 AD.


Origin and early life

Information from the Synaxarion mention that Alexander was originally from Calabria in Italy and his parents were George and Vryaine. From very young he was given to God and stayed in a Monastery, where he cultivated virtue and became a good labourer of God's commands. He was granted divine visions, while for twenty days he stayed completely fasting. But he also stayed naked for four years and fell into thousands of problems because of attacks of the Saracens. In this way, he lived many years travelling around Greece with his pupils Vitalius and Nicephorus.

Calabria Region of Italy

Calabria, known in antiquity as Bruttium, is a region in Southern Italy.

Italy European country

Italy, officially the Italian Republic, is a European country consisting of a peninsula delimited by the Alps and surrounded by several islands. Italy is located in Southern Europe, and it is sometimes considered as part of Western Europe. The country covers a total area of 301,340 km2 (116,350 sq mi) and shares land borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, and the enclaved microstates of Vatican City and San Marino. Italy has a territorial exclave in Switzerland (Campione) and a maritime exclave in the Tunisian Sea (Lampedusa). With around 60 million inhabitants, Italy is the fourth-most populous member state of the European Union.

Monastery complex of buildings comprising the domestic quarters and workplace(s) of monks or nuns

A monastery is a building or complex of buildings comprising the domestic quarters and workplaces of monastics, monks or nuns, whether living in communities or alone (hermits). A monastery generally includes a place reserved for prayer which may be a chapel, church, or temple, and may also serve as an oratory, or in the case of communities anything from a single building housing only one senior and two or three junior monks or nuns, to vast complexes and estates housing tens or hundreds. A monastery complex typically comprises a number of buildings which include a church, dormitory, cloister, refectory, library, balneary and infirmary. Depending on the location, the monastic order and the occupation of its inhabitants, the complex may also include a wide range of buildings that facilitate self-sufficiency and service to the community. These may include a hospice, a school, and a range of agricultural and manufacturing buildings such as a barn, a forge, or a brewery.

Alexander was elected as a vicar to assist the aged bishop Saint Metrophanes of Byzantium. As a result, both Alexander and Metrophanes are reported as the first Bishop of Constantinople (both are also sometimes listed as first "Patriarch" of Constantinople, though the episcopal see had not yet been elevated to that rank). [3] Alexander served as bishop for about 23 years, until his death at 73 years of age, in 337. [4] At the time of Metrophanes' death, he left instructions in his will to elect his vicar to the throne of Constantinople.

A vicar is a representative, deputy or substitute; anyone acting "in the person of" or agent for a superior. Linguistically, vicar is cognate with the English prefix "vice", similarly meaning "deputy". The title appears in a number of Christian ecclesiastical contexts, but also as an administrative title, or title modifier, in the Roman Empire. In addition, in the Holy Roman Empire a local representative of the emperor, perhaps an archduke, might be styled "vicar".

Patriarch ecclesiastical title

The highest-ranking bishops in Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Catholic Church, and the Church of the East are termed patriarchs.

Episcopal see the main administrative seat held by a bishop

An episcopal see is, in the usual meaning of the phrase, the area of a bishop's ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

During his episcopacy, Alexander engaged in debate with pagan philosophers and opposed heresies. He was highly praised by Gregory Nazianzus [5] and Epiphanius of Cyprus. [6] Theodoret called him an "apostolic" bishop. [7]

Theodoret of Cyrus or Cyrrhus was an influential theologian of the School of Antioch, biblical commentator, and Christian bishop of Cyrrhus (423–457). He played a pivotal role in several 5th-century Byzantine Church controversies that led to various ecumenical acts and schisms. He wrote against Cyril of Alexandria's 12 Anathemas which were sent to Nestorius and did not personally condemn Nestorius until the Council of Chalcedon. His writings against Cyril were included in the Three Chapters Controversy and were condemned at the Second Council of Constantinople. Some Chalcedonian and East Syriac Christians regard him as a "full" saint. Although the Eastern Orthodox Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky repeatedly refers to him as "Blessed", there is no evidence in his work that this is the official position of any Eastern Orthodox jurisdiction.

Arian controversy

When the Arian controversy began, Alexander, the Patriarch of Alexandria, requested his cooperation in combatting what he perceived to be heresy. [8] According to most sources, Alexander of Constantinople was present at the First Council of Nicaea [9] as Metrophanes' deputy, although some sources state that Metrophanes (who would have been 117 years of age at the time) attended the council personally. At the council, Arius and his teachings were condemned.

The Arian controversy was a series of Christian theological disputes that arose between Arius and Athanasius of Alexandria, two Christian theologians from Alexandria, Egypt. The most important of these controversies concerned the substantial relationship between God the Father and God the Son.

Pope Alexander I of Alexandria Patriarch of Alexandria

Alexander I of Alexandria, 19th Pope of Alexandria & Patriarch of the See of St. Mark. During his patriarchate, he dealt with a number of issues facing the Church in that day. These included the dating of Easter, the actions of Meletius of Lycopolis, and the issue of greatest substance, Arianism. He was the leader of the opposition to Arianism at the First Council of Nicaea. He also is remembered for being the mentor of the man who would be his successor, Athanasius of Alexandria, who would become one of the leading Church fathers.

Patriarch of Alexandria Archbishop of Alexandria, Egypt, includes the designation "pope"

The Patriarch of Alexandria is the archbishop of Alexandria, Egypt. Historically, this office has included the designation "pope".

Later, Arius desired to be received back into the communion of the Church. The Roman Emperor Constantine I, having been convinced by the Eusebians, commanded Alexander to formally receive Arius back. [10] According to Socrates Scholasticus, Arius did not in fact repent of his heresy, but was equivocating, and Bishop Alexander was aware of this. [11] Alexander, though threatened by the Eusebians with deposition and banishment, persisted in his refusal to admit Arius back into the Church, and shut himself up in the Church of Hagia Irene (which at that time was the cathedral of Constantinople) in fervent prayer that God would take him from this world rather than be forced to restore someone to communion who he feared was only feigning repentance. As it happened, Arius died on his way to the church, before he could be received back into communion.

Arius priest in Alexandria; founder of Arianism

Arius was a Libyan presbyter and ascetic, and priest in Baucalis in Alexandria, Egypt. His teachings about the nature of the Godhead in Christianity, which emphasized God the Father's uniqueness and Christ's subordination under the Father, and his opposition to what would become the dominant Christology, Homoousian Christology, made him a primary topic of the First Council of Nicaea, which was convened by Emperor Constantine the Great in 325.

Eusebius of Nicomedia was the man who baptised Constantine the Great. He was a bishop of Berytus in Phoenicia. He was later made the Bishop of Nicomedia, where the imperial court resided. He lived finally in Constantinople from 338 up to his death.

Hagia Irene Byzantine church building in Istanbul, now a museum

Hagia Irene or Hagia Eirene, sometimes known also as Saint Irene, is a Greek Eastern Orthodox church located in the outer courtyard of Topkapı Palace in Istanbul. It is one of the few churches in Istanbul that has not been converted into a mosque, as it was used as an arsenal for storing weapons until the 19th century. The Hagia Irene today operates as a museum and concert hall.


Alexander did not long survive Arius. [12] On his deathbed he was said to have nominated his vicar, Paul, as his successor, and to have warned his clergy against Macedonius, who became bishop of Constantinople in 342 and whose teachings inspired Macedonianism.

After his death, Alexander came to be regarded as a saint of the Church. The service in his honor was printed in Venice in 1771. According to some ancient manuscripts, the feast of St Alexander was commemorated on June 2. Today, his feast day is celebrated annually on August 30, in a common commemoration with his fellow Patriarchs of Constantinople John the Faster (582–595, also commemorated on September 2) and Paul the New (780-784).


  1. Smith 1911 cites Theodoret Hist. i. 19
  2. Kazhdan, Alexander; Talbot, Alice-Mary (2005-01-01). "Constantinople, Patriarchate of". The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0-19-504652-6 . Retrieved 2018-07-25.
  3. See Canon iii, First Council of Constantinople, 359 AD
  4. Smith 1911 cites Socrates Scholasticus Hist. ii. 6; Sozomen Hist. iii. 3
  5. Smith 1911 cites Gregory Nazianzus, Oration 27
  6. Smith 1911 cites Epiphanius of Cyprus, Adv. Haer. lxix. 10
  7. Smith 1911 cites Theodoret, Hist. i. 3, cf. Phil. 12
  8. Smith 1911 cites Theodoret, op. cit. i. 4
  9. Smith 1911 citesSozomen, op. cit. ii. 29
  10. Smith 1911 cites Athanasius of Alexandria Ep. ad Serap.; Rufinus, Hist. i.
  11. Smith 1911 cites Socrates Scholasticus, op. cit. i. 37
  12. Smith 1911 cites Socrates Scholasticus, op. cit. ii. 6 ; Theodoret, op. cit.i. 19

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Titles of the Great Christian Church
Preceded by
Saint Metrophanes
Bishop of Byzantium
after 330 of Constantinople
Succeeded by
Paul I