Ioannes Laskaris

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Ioannes Laskaris
8 March 1542
Archiepiscopal Installation
3 March 1599
2 January 1601
Archbishop and Metropolitan of New Rome, Bishop of Kulkas and New Thessalonica, Titular Bishop of Kastamonu, Erzurum, and Sinop

Ioannes Laskaris was the pro-Greek rite Archbishop of New Rome who famously excommunicated Emperor Demetrius VII for forcing the Church in Pantocratoria to convert from the Greek rite to the Latin rite in 1599, for which he was brutally murdered two years later. He is revered by the Greek rite movement in Pantocratoria, and is often referred to by some Constantinople Party politicians, most notably Manuel Sebasto.

Ioannes Laskaris was the third son of a Knight of the Order of the Pantocrator, Sir Michael Laskaris, who was sent to the seminary at a young age (the exact date being unknown to historians). He was ordained a priest in 1565, and was made Bishop of New Thessalonica in 1580 by Emperor Constantine XIII. He fell into the Byzantine Catholic side of the argument ongoing in the Pantocratorian Church at the time on the topic of whether Pantocratoria belonged to the Patriarchate of the West (ie the Pope) or to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which held that while Pantocratoria ideally fell under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople, the fact that the Patriarch was both a Turkish subject and a schismatic (that is to say, Greek Orthodox) precluded this ideal circumstance from being reality.

This made him a natural ally of Emperor Constantine XV who ruled in New Constantinople at the time. New Constantinople was particularly beset with violent clashes between religious groups. Ioannes Laskaris was such a compelling orator that a few words from him could sooth a mob from any of the three distinct camps. Emperor Constantine XV made him Bishop of Kulkas (a see which no longer exists, but which once was adjacent to the Archdiocese of New Constantinople) in 1592. In the same year, he also persuaded Emperor Demetrius VII (ruling in New Rome) to grant him three titular sees, which made him the most titled Pantocratorian churchman of his day other than the then Archbishop of New Rome, Ioannes Ghelmanos.

When Emperor Demetrius VII instituted the Latin rite in 1593 and asserted by decree that Pantocratoria firmly belonged to the Patriarchate of the West and thus fell under the direct jurisdiction of the Pope, Laskaris became a strong critic of the New Rome duumvirate of Emperor Demetrius VII and Emperor Constantine XVI (although the latter was a mere child who reigned only in name). The move to the Latin rite also angered Laskaris' Angeli sponsor, Emperor Constantine XV, whose task of religious stabilisation in turbulent New Constantinople was made even more difficult. Ironically, it was this move to the Latin rite and the associated decrees which brought an end to lay investiture of bishops in the Empire, which in turn brought about the Laskaris' installation as Archbishop of New Rome by the Pope upon the death of Archbishop Ghelmanos in 1599.

Laskaris' first action in New Rome was to demand that Emperor Demetrius VII rescind his decrees. When the Emperor refused, Laskaris excommunicated him. The new Archbishop Laskaris then set about obtaining Papal dispensation for employing the Greek rite, which he achieved in early 1600, in time for the coronation and wedding of Emperor Demetrius VII's son as Emperor Augustus Constantine XVIII - Demetrius having been passed over for the senior emperorship on account of his excommunication. The coronation/wedding ceremony was conducted in Greek - the fact that the young emperor was happy for it to be done in Greek reassured Laskaris that he differed from his father on the issue of the rite.

The relationship between Emperor Demetrius and Archbishop Laskaris was naturally extremely strained. Laskaris would rescind the excommunication only if the Emperor rescinded his decree. His relationship with the new senior emperor, Constantine XVIII and his new co-emperor Constantine XIX also became strained when they both declined to overturn Demetrius VII's decree, citing that he was too powerful to so openly defy in his lifetime (although the fact that the decrees in question were never overturned suggests that neither of these emperors intended to revert to the Greek rite). Laskaris' only theoretical imperial ally was the new Angeli junior emperor who had been allowed to succeed his father, Constantine XVII Angelus, but he was only a child, and was thus of no use.

On Christmas Day, 1600, Emperor Demetrius VII presented himself at the Cathedral of Christ Pantocrator and demanded that Archbishop Laskaris minister him the sacrament, and that he do so in Latin. Laskaris replied "Ask me in Greek." The Emperor stormed off, swearing that Laskaris would never see him again. On New Year's Day, 1601, Emperor Demetrius' Varangians burst into the archiepiscopal palace and kidnapped Archbishop Laskaris while he slept. He was taken to a dungeon in the Imperial Court of Christ Pantocrator where his eyes were put out with red-hot pokers. He was then tortured through the night, with popular legend holding that Demetrius stood in the chamber (after the Archbishop had been blinded, so that as promised, he never did see him again) and screamed at him all night, demanding that he rescind the excommunication and endorse the Latin rite. According to the legend, the Archbishop continually refused. In the morning, the Varangians took him to the Cathedral of Christ Pantocrator and hung him from a tree in front of it, where the body remained until Laskaris' successor, Constantine Diogenes, rescinded Emperor Demetrius VII's excommunication and endorsed the Latin rite.

In late 2005, Patriarch Stephanus III announced the decision of the Synod of Constantinople that Ioannes Laskaris should be glorified as a Saint of the Orthodox Church in a Patriarchal Encyclical (τομοι).

Preceded by:

Ioannes Ghelmanos

Archbishop of New Rome
Succeeded by:

Constantine Diogenes