Bishop Gregory (hgr) wrote,
Bishop Gregory

Видение Иоанна Евнуха и иерархии Ареопагита (2)

1.1.1.      Vision of John the Eunuch


The new data concerning the early Dormition feast require a fresh look at the vision of John the Eunuch, which is the core of the Areopagitic revelation, according to the Honigmann–van Esbroeck hypothesis.

The vision is described by John Rufus in the Life of Peter the Iberian (§ 61)[1] outside its biographical context. After having said about a miraculous healing of John by the prayers of Peter the Iberian when God promised to add twelve years to his life (§ 60), John Rufus proceeds as following: “Once this blessed John beheld in a vision, for three whole days without talking to anyone at all, the fearful and glorious Second Coming of our Lord, the heavens suddenly being opened…” After having finished his account, John Rufus concludes: “This vision indeed took place a long time later, at the end [of his life].” Cornelia Horn is convincing, in her note,[2] that the vision took place in about 463, shortly before the death of John the Eunuch in 464 (no more than twelve years after the miraculous healing which took place shortly after 451[3]).

The content of vision is the Second Coming of Christ, and this is not simply an interpretation of the hagiographer; the details are quite recognisable themselves.[4] Indeed, the descending of Christ for Assumption might look similar but, nevertheless, the vision as it is seems to have nothing specific which would be related to the feast of Dormition/Assumption of Virgin.

However, things are not so simple. According to all Transitus, Dormition/Assumption is not only an account of an event, but a liturgy of the eschatological Judgment, Yom Kippur. Despite the fact that the liturgical structure of this early Christian Yom Kippur remains mostly unclear, predominance of the Yom Kippur symbolism is out of doubts.[5] Thus, Second Coming of Christ and His coming to His Mother falling asleep are not so different.

The vision has some peculiarities, too. One is connected with the use of altar, another one with Moses and Isaias symbolism, and third one with its internal chronology.


1.1.2.      Altar in the vision of John and the Evodius Transitus tradition


John the Eunuch saw “only one altar, standing on the earth” whose appearance was the same as of that at which John and Peter were serving, and the multitude of holy monks around it. Then, all these saints were snatched away from this altar to the meeting of the Lord. Thus, it was some kind of earthly altar and not the heavenly one.

Despite the word used there for “altar,” ܡܕܒܚܐ, is the exact calque of Greek θυσιαστήριον, one of the most frequently used words in the Apocalypse of John, our “the only θυσιαστήριον on the earth” is not the same as the heavenly θυσιαστήριον of Apocalypse.

The only parallel to this kind of altar known to me is contained in one of the very early traditions of Transitus, namely, in the Coptic tradition under the name of Evodius, “second bishop of Rome” (fictive figure, probably, going back to Evodius of Antioch as the prototype).[6] Unlike other traditions, here, on the very day of Dormition (Tobe 21, as normally for the Coptic rite), “...the Savior (σωτήρ) gathered (συνάγω) us together by his own hands, us and the women who were with us. Then (εἶτα) he said to Peter, ‘Arise and go onto the altar (θυσιαστήριον), beside which I have now gathered (συνάγω) you together, and bring me these linen garments (ἔνδυμα) that I have brought from the heavenly things (ἐπουράνιος),which my Father has sent to you to bury my beloved mother in them...’ ” (§ 18)[7] For this Sahidic recension the terminus ante quem is, according to Shoemaker, the middle of the sixth century, because this text does not know Assumption on August 9.[8]

The theme of this earthly altar of apostle Peter and other apostles is even more elaborated in the Bohairic recension of Evodius of Rome. This recension already knows Assumption on August 9, and thus, its date is posterior to about 550. This date does not prevent some details of this account from being even earlier than those of the Sahidic recension. Namely, the gathering of apostles on Tobe 20, not on Tobe 21, that is, on the eve of Dormition instead of on the very day of Dormition, is certainly a genuine detail coinciding with all other Transitus traditions. Thus, Bohairic Evodius says: “Now it came to pass on the twentieth of the month Tobi, we were gathered together according to the command of the Lord, in the place where the holy Virgin was, and were still preparing the altar (manerswousi[9]), to receive a blessing; and there came unto us our Lord Jesus Christ, and stood in our midst, and saith unto us, Peace be unto you all...” (§ 6).[10]

This tradition of a specific altar on the earth is obviously in parallel with the reference of John Rufus to the altar of John the Eunuch and Peter the Iberian as to the “divine authorization and confirmation” of the anti-Chalcedonism,[11] while, most likely, goes back to the tradition of the anti-Chalcedonian shrine in Gethsemane. In the Coptic tradition consolidated in the Panegyric of Macarius of Tkow  by Pseudo-Dioscorus,[12] the feast of Dormition on Tobe 21 in this shrine became the last heroic page of the anti-Chalcedonian résistance in Palestine under Patriarch Theodosius.

Thus, in the vision of John the Eunuch, the Second Coming of Christ in its quite unusual detail, the earthly altar with the saints gathered before it, has an obvious connection with the very peculiar Transitus tradition going back to the early anti-Chalcedonism. This is an argument pro for placing the vision on the Dormition/Assumption feast, at least, on the level of a working hypothesis. This hypothesis could be verified using the internal chronology of the vision account.


[1] Horn, Phenix Jr, John Rufus…, 88/89–90/91.

[2] Horn, Phenix Jr, John Rufus…, 91, n. 6.

[3] I am not absolutely sure as to the latter date, because the consequence of events in John Rufus could be confused. Nevertheless, this does not affect the rough date of the vision, given that it took place short before the death of John the Eunuch.

[4] They are mostly indicated by Horn in the footnotes, but I would like to add that the appearance of the Cross before Christ himself is also a classical sign; see, e. g., Apocalypse of Peter [CANT 317 and D. D. Buchholz,  Your eyes will be opened: a study of the Greek (Ethiopic) Apocalypse of Peter (Atlanta, GA, 1988)].

[5] F. Manns, Le Récit de la Dormition de Marie (Vatican grec 1982). Contribution à l’étude des origines de l'exégèse chrétienne (Jérusalem, 1989) (Studium Biblicum Franciscanum. Coll. maior, 33).

[6] The entry “Evodius of Rome” by Tito Orlandi in the Coptic Encyclopaedia 4 (New York etc., 1991) 1078–1079 and the entries CANT 133 and 134 are now outdated. See now: S. J.  Shoemaker, The Sahidic Coptic Homily on the Dormition of the Virgin Attributed to Evodius of Rome. An Edition from Morgan MSS 596 & 598 with Translation, Analecta Bollandiana 117 (1999) 241–283, and idem, The Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption, 57–62.

[7] Shoemaker, The Sahidic Coptic Homily..., 274/275 (txt/tr.).

[8] In fact, there is no precise date for this innovation in the Coptic rite but there is a terminus ante quem, a genuine homily of Theodosius of Alexandria on Dormition.

[9] On this word which is also an exact calque of Greek θυσιαστήριον, see: W. E. Crum, A Coptic Dictionary (Oxford, 1939 [reprint: 2000]) 601b, s. v. syue.

[10] Translation: F. Robinson, Coptic Apocryphal Gospels. Translations together with the Texts of Some of Them (Cambridge, 1896) (Text and Studies, IV, 2) 51; original: P. de Lagarde, Aegyptiaca (Gottingae, 1883) 46.

[11] As Horn said in her footnote to the vision of John the Eunuch: Horn, Phenix Jr, John Rufus…, 90, n. 2.

[12] Cf., in the next section, on the Coptic Panegyric of Macaris of Tkow.


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