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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

from its origins to circa AD 700, across the entire Christian world

The Greek Life of *Theodoros (ascetic and abbot of Sykeon, ob. 613, S01619), by Eleusios-Georgios of Sykeon, mentions several festivals of saints, including processions, night vigils and the celebration of the Eucharist, celebrated in the 6th and 7th centuries at Iouliopolis, Germia and Sykeon (all in central Asia Minor), and in Constantinople. Written at Sykeon, in the 640s.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts

Georgios of Sykeon, Life of Theodoros, abbot of Sykeon and bishop of Anastasiopolis (CPG 7973 = BHG 1748)

13. 19-25. Ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ἐν τῇ Ἰοπολιτῶν πόλει, οὔσῃ ἀπὸ σημείων δεκαπέντε, ἐν τῷ καιρῷ τῆς παννυχίδος τοῦ ἁγίου μάρτυρος Εὑρέτου, ἐξερχόμενος τῇ ὥρᾳ τοῦ δείπνου ἀπήρχετο δρόμῳ εἰς τὴν παννυχίδα νήστης, καὶ εὐχόμενος καῖ τῶν θείων τοῦ Χριστοῦ μυστηρίων μεταλαμβάνων ὑπέστρεφεν ἐν τῇ ὥρᾳ τοῦ μεσονυκτίου καταλαμβάνων τὰ ἴδια. Ἦν γὰρ εὔδρομος πάνυ (...)

‘Similarly at Iouliopolis, which is about fifteen miles away, on the occasion of the vigil of the holy martyr
Heuretes/Heuretos [S02000], he would go running at dinner time, without eating anything, would venerate and receive the divine Sacraments of Christ, and would return home around midnight. For he was indeed a very fast runner (…)’

69. 5-7 (…) οὐ γὰρ ἠσθίετο κρέα ἐν τῷ μοναστηρίῳ, εἰ μὴ ἐν τρισὶ συνάξεσι τῶν ἁγίων δι’ ὅλου τοῦ ἐνιαυτοῦ εἰς ὑποδοχὴν τῶν ὄχλων.

‘No meat was consumed at the monastery, except at three feasts of saints during the whole year, for the entertainment of the multitudes.’

71. 5-12. Ἐν αὐταῖς οὖν ταῖς ἡμέραις έπέκειτο σύναξις τῆς δεσποίνης ἡμῶν τῆς Θεοτόκου, τῆς τιμωμένης ἐν Μουσγῇ τῷ χωρίῳ, εἰς ἥνπερ καθ’ ἕκαστον χρόνον ἀπήρχοντο αἱ δύο πόλεις τῶν τε Γερμίων καὶ Εὐδοξιάδος μετὰ λιτῆς καὶ ἑώρταζον. Παραγενομένης δὲ ταύτης τῆς συνόδου, ἐξῆλθον κατὰ τὸ ἔθος οἱ τῶν δύο πόλεων ἐπίσκοποι μετὰ λιτῆς πανδήμου ἐπὶ τὸ προλεχθὲν χωρίον Μουσγῆς.

‘Those same days, a festival was approaching of
our Lady the Mother of God [S00033], who is venerated at the village of Mousge, on which every year the two cities of Germia and Eudoxias used to visit in procession and celebrate. When this festival came, the bishops of the two cities set off according to custom, in a procession with all the people, for the said village of Mousge.’

126. 1-3. Ἐπιτελουμένης δὲ τῆς ἀθλητικῆς συνάξεως τοῦ ἁγίου μάρτυρος Ἀντιόχου τῇ ἐξκαιδεκάτῃ τοῦ Ἰουλίου μηνὸς ἐν τῷ εὐκτηρίῳ αὐτοῦ καὶ τοῦ ὁσίου προσκομίσαντος...

‘As the feast of the contest of the holy martyr
Antiochos [S01997] was being celebrated on the 16th of the month of July in his chapel, and the holy man was offering the Eucharist (…)’

152.4-6. Καὶ οὐ μετὰ πολλὰς ἡμέρας ἐπιτελούντων ἡμῶν τὴν ἀθλητικὴν σύναξιν τῶν ἁγίων μαρτύρων Σεργίου καὶ Βάκχου τῇ ἑβδόμῃ τοῦ ὀκτωβρίου μηνὸς [...]

‘Not many days later, while we were celebrating the feast of the contest of the holy martyrs
Sergios and Bakchos [S00023, S00079], on the 7th of the month of October, (…)’

162. 10-12. Ἐνάτῃ δὲ τοῦ αὐτοῦ μηνός, ἐπιτελεσθείσης τῆς εἱωθυίας συνάξεως τῶν Ἐγκαινίων τοῦ σεπτοῦ οἴκου τοῦ ἁγίου Ἀρχαγγέλου, ἔθηκεν ἑαυτὸν ὁ μακάριος ἐν τῷ κελλίῳ αὐτοῦ μικρὸν νοσήσας τὸ σῶμα, ὡς νομισθῆναι ἀπὸ κόπου τῆς ἀγρυπνίας τῆς παννυχίδος τοῦτο αὐτῷ συνβεβηκέναι.

‘On the 9th of the same month (November), after the customary feast of the Dedication of the reverend house of the holy
Archangel [S00181] had been celebrated, the blessed man lay down in his cell, and was afflicted by a brief bodily malady. This was thus thought to have been caused to him by the fatigue of wakefulness during the vigil.’

163. 11-18 Ἔτι δὲ καῖ τὰ περὶ τῆς μελλούσης κατὰ καιρὸν ἐπιτελεῖσθαι μνήμης αὐτοῦ προσείρηκεν ἡμῖν· «Θέλω, φησίν, τέκνα, ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν τὸ νατάλιν μου κατ’ ἔτος ἐπιτελεῖτε.» Ἡμεῖς δὲ ἐπὶ τῷ τοιούτῳ αἰνίγματι οὐ συνήκαμεν, ἀλλ’ ἀνθρώπινόν τινα λογισμὸν καὶ αὐτὸν ἐσχηκέναι ὑπενοήσαμε, ἐκ τῶν ἐν τῇ βασιλίδι πόλει γινομένων τοιούτων ἐπιτηδευμάτων μεμαθηκότα, ἐν τῷ εἰσιέναι αὐτὸν ἐκεῖσε διαφόρως.

‘But he also talked to us about the future celebration of his memory: “I wish, children,” he said, “that, from now on, you celebrate my
natalin every year.” We did not understand this riddle, but thought that some human way of thinking of sorts had occurred to him, which he would have learned from the celebration of such things in the capital, during one of his several visits there.’

169. 37-40. Οὕτως γὰρ συνέφθασεν ὥστε τῇ αὐτῇ ἑσπέρᾳ ἐπικεῖσθαι τὴν παννυχίδα τῆς ἀθλήσεως τοῦ ἁγίου μάρτυρος Γεωργίου, ἔχοντος τοῦ ἀπριλλίου μηνὸς εἰκάδα δευτέραν. Καὶ ἐγένετο ἡ φωταψία καὶ ἡ παννυχὶς προκειμένου αὐτοῦ.

‘It thus coincided that that same evening [when Theodoros died] the vigil of the contest of the holy martyr
Georgios [S00259] was to be celebrated, for it was the 22nd of the month of April. And the services of the lights and vigil were celebrated with him lying in state.’

169. 25-30. Ἐν δὲ τῇ αὐτῇ ἡμέρᾳ εἴτε θεόθεν εἴτε ἐκ ταχυδρομίας ἀνθρώπων ἠκούσθη ἐν τῇ βασιλευούσῃ πόλει ἡ κοίμησις τοῦ ἁγίου παρὰ τῷ πατριάρχῃ καὶ τοῖς ἄρχουσιν, ἣν καὶ τιμήσας ὁ πατριάρχης Σέργιος ἐκήρυξεν εἰς τὴν αὔριον, ἐπιτελέσας αὐτὴν ἐντίμως ἐν τῇ ἁγιωτάτῃ τοῦ θεοῦ μεγάλῃ ἐκκλησίᾳ, θεσπίσας ἐτησίως αὐτὴν προκηρυκτικὴν ἐπιτελεῖσθαι.

‘On that same day, either by God or by human post, the news of the holy man’s dormition reached the Patriarch and the authorities in the capital. Patriarch Sergios paid homage to it and announced it one day later, during a solemn celebration at the most holy Great Church of God, and established that it be celebrated by public announcement every year.’

Text: Festugière 1970.
Translation: Efthymios Rizos.

Liturgical Activities

Service for the saint
Eucharist associated with cult


Saint’s feast
Anniversary of church/altar dedication
Dating by saint’s festival

Activities accompanying Cult

Feasting (eating, drinking, dancing, singing, bathing)

Non Liturgical Activity

Ceremonies at burial of a saint
Ceremonies at burial of a saint

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - abbots
Ecclesiastics - bishops


The text is preserved in three manuscripts of the 10th and 11th centuries (Biblioteca Marciana 359; Patmos Monastery Library 254; Athens National Library 1014).

The extant text is no earlier than the death of Heraclius in 641, since the author records the fulfilment of Theodoros’ prophecy about the emperor’s thirty-year reign (166. 30-36). The author, however, also tells us that he started composing the text shortly before Theodoros’ death in 613, when he was still a teenager (165). Indeed, in his first appearance in the narrative (2. 21-27), the author requests his audience’s prayers on account of his young age. The twenty chapters which refer to the childhood of Theodoros (3-22) form a separate section with its own epilogue (22) where the author states that he wrote this part as a form of special teaching for the young. This might suggest that the whole childhood section, or at least its epilogue, were composed, when the author was at an advanced age. This is also suggested by the fact that the author introduces himself and talks about his sources in both the epilogue of the childhood section (22), and the final epilogue (170).


These references provide some insights into the way the feasts of saints were celebrated in the 6th and 7th centuries. The festivals are normally called by the terms σύναξις (or specifically ἀθλητικὴ σύναξις for feasts of martyrs). There is a reference to a σύναξις τῶν Ἐγκαινίων (feast of dedication or patronal feast). The feasts are often also defined by the term παννυχίς, referring to the main service of the feast, which was a night vigil celebrated on the eve of the main feast day. In chapter 169, it is mentioned that the night vigil (παννυχίς) of the feast of George included a service of illumination/lights (φωταψία), probably vespers. Middle Byzantine monastic charters contain specific instructions for the generous illumination of the churches on the days of major feasts.

Some of the celebrations are marked by processions through the countryside, mentioned as λιτή. A less frequently used term is σύνοδος, which is common in fourth century sources, and seems to be referring to the overall festivities, including the dancing and feasting accompanying the event. Three festivals of the several saints honoured at Sykeon (conceivably George, Michael, and Mary) were celebrated in the form of massive public feasts which were the only occasions when meat was allowed to be consumed on the premises on the monastery.

Particularly interesting is the reference of the author to Theodoros’ prophecy about the yearly celebration of his
natalin (natale / dies natalis), which his monks initially did not understand. Was the Latinate term unfamiliar in Galatia?

In ch. 169 there is a rare attestation of the establishment of a saint’s yearly feast by an announcement of the Patriarch at Constantinople, immediately after the famous holy man’s death.

The text mentions a number of dates for feast days, demonstrating that the calendar which prevailed at Constantinople and in its patriarchal jurisdiction in Middle Byzantine times was observed in 6th and 7th century Anatolia, with only slight discrepancies (Sergios and Bakchos on 7 October, the Archangels on 9 November [rather than 8], George on 23 April). The feast of Antiochos on 16 July, and the identity of the martyr are not known from elsewhere. The martyr Heuretos/Heuretes of Iouliopolis is also unattested.


Festugière, A.-J. Vie de Théodore de Sykéon. 2 vols. (Subsidia Hagiographica 48; Brussels, 1970), with French translation and commentary.

Dawes, E., and Baynes, N.H., Three Byzantine Saints: Contemporary Biographies (London, 1948) (partial translation).

Further reading:
Brown, P.R.L., "The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity," Journal of Roman Studies 61 (1971), 80-101.

Kaplan, M., "Les sanctuaires de Théodore de Sykéôn," in : C. Jolivet-Lévy, M. Kaplan, and J.-P. Sodini (eds.),
Les saints et leur sanctuaire à Byzance. Textes, images et monuments (Byzantina Sorbonensia 11; Paris, 1993), 81-94.

Kaplan, M.
Pouvoirs, église et sainteté. Essais sur la société byzantine (Classiques de la Sorbonne 3; Paris, 2011).

Mitchell, S.,
Anatolia: Land, Men, and Gods in Asia Minor. Volume Ii: The Rise of the Church (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993), 122-150.

Rosenquist, O.,
Studien zur Syntax und Bemerkungen zum Text der Vita Theodori Syceotae (Uppsala, 1981).

Record Created By

Efthymios Rizos

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00023Sergios, soldier and martyr of RusafaΣέργιοςCertain
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristΘεοτόκοςCertain
S00079Bakchos, soldier and martyr of BarbalissosΒάκχοςCertain
S00181Michael, the ArchangelΜιχαήλCertain
S00259George, soldier and martyr, and CompanionsΓεώργιοςCertain
S01619Theodoros, ascetic and abbot of Sykeon, ob. 613 ΘεόδωροςCertain
S01997Antiochos and Kyriakos, martyrs in Galatia (Anatolia)ἈντίοχοςCertain
S02000Heuretos/Heuretes, martyr honoured in Iouliopolis (Anatolia)Εὑρετος/ΕὑρέτηςCertain

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