ieromartyr Cyril Lucaris or Loukaris (Greek: 13 November 1572 – 27 June 1638), born Constantine Lucaris, was a Greek prelate and theologian, and a native of Candia, Crete (then under the Republic of Venice). He later became the Greek Patriarch of Alexandria as Cyril III and Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople as Cyril I. Lucaris strove for a reform of the Eastern Orthodox Church along Protestant and Calvinist lines.
Attempts to bring Calvinism into the Orthodox Church were rejected, and Cyril’s actions and motivations remain a matter of debate among the Orthodox.
Cyril Lucaris was born in Candia, Crete on 13 November 1572, when the island was part of the Venetian Republic’s maritime empire. In his youth he travelled through Europe, studying at Venice and the University of Padua, and at Geneva where he came under the influence of the reformed faith as represented by John Calvin.
Lucaris pursued theological studies in Venice and Padua, Wittenberg and Geneva where he came under the influence of Calvinism and developed strong antipathy for Roman Catholicism.
In 1596 Lucaris was sent to Poland by Meletius Pegas, Patriarch of Alexandria, to lead the Orthodox opposition to the Union of Brest-Litovsk, which proposed a union of Kiev with Rome. For six years Lucaris served as professor of the Orthodox academy in Vilnius (now in Lithuania).
Due to Turkish oppression combined with the proselytization of the Orthodox faithful by Jesuit missionaries, there was a shortage of schools which taught the Orthodox Faith and the Greek language. Roman Catholic schools were set up and Catholic churches were built next to Orthodox ones, and since Orthodox priests were in short supply something had to be done. His first act was to found a theological seminary in Mount Athos, the Athoniada school.
He sponsored Maximos of Gallipoli to produce the first translation of the New Testament in Modern Greek.
Cyril’s aim was to reform the Orthodox Church along Calvinistic lines, and to this end he sent many young Greek theologians to the universities of Switzerland, the northern Netherlands and England.
In 1629 he published his famous Confessio (Calvinistic doctrine), but as far as possible accommodated to the language and creeds of the Orthodox Church.
It appeared the same year in two Latin editions, four French, one German and one English, and in the Eastern Church it started a controversy which brought critics at several synods, in 1638 at Constantinople, in 1642 at the Synod of Jassy, and culminated in 1672 with the convocation by Dositheos, Patriarch of Jerusalem, of the Synod of Jerusalem, by which the Calvinistic doctrines were condemned.
Cyril was also particularly well disposed towards the Church of England, and corresponded with the Archbishops of Canterbury.
It was in his time that Metrophanes Kritopoulos — later to become Patriarch of Alexandria (1636–39) — was sent to England to study.
Both Lucaris and Kritopoulos were lovers of books and manuscripts, and many of the items in the collections of books and these two Patriarchs acquired manuscripts that today adorn the Patriarchal Library.
In 1629 in Geneva the Eastern Confession of the Christian faith was published in Latin, containing the Calvinist doctrine. In 1633 it was published in Greek. The Council of Constantinople in 1638 anathematized both Cyril and the Eastern Confession of the Christian faith, but the Council of Jerusalem in 1672, specially engaged in the case of Cyril, completely acquitted him, testified that the Council of Constantinople cursed Cyril not because they thought he was the author of the confession, but for the fact that Cyril hadn’t written a rebuttal to this essay attributed to him.
However, Western scholars continue to insist on the Calvinism of Cyril, referring not only to a confession, but also in his extensive correspondence with Protestant scholars (especially the letters of 1618–20 to the Dutchman’s Velgelmu).
The Orthodox historian Bishop Arseny (Bryantsev) challenged the authenticity of the correspondence and, incidentally, points to the 50 letters of Cyril of Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich and Moscow Patriarch Filaret, stored in a Moscow archive of the main Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the evidence of Cyril’s commitment to Orthodoxy, as well as in his 1622 letter in which he speaks of Protestantism as a blasphemous doctrine.
Lucaris was several times temporarily deposed and banished at the instigation of both his Orthodox opponents and the Catholic French and Austrian ambassadors, while he was supported by the Protestant Dutch and English ambassadors to the Ottoman capital.
Finally, when the Ottoman Sultan Murad IV was about to set out for the Persian War, the Patriarch was accused of a design to stir up the Cossacks, and to avoid trouble during his absence the Sultan had him strangled by the Janissaries on 27 June 1638 aboard a ship in the Bosporus.
His body was thrown into the sea, but it was recovered and buried at a distance from the capital by his friends, and only brought back to Constantinople after many years.
Lucaris was honoured as a saint and martyr shortly after his martyr’s death, and Saint Eugenios of Aitolia compiled an akolouthia (service) to celebrate his memory. The official glorification as a hieromartyr took place by decision of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Alexandria on October 6, 2009.
According to a 1659 letter to Thomas Greaves from Edward Pococke (who, on his book-hunting travels for archbishop William Laud, had met Lucaris) many of the choicest manuscripts from Lucaris’ library were saved by the Dutch ambassador who sent them by ship to Holland. Unfortunately, although the ship arrived safely, it was sunk the next day in a violent storm along with its cargo.
Lucaris’ position in Eastern Orthodoxy continues to be a matter of debate in the church. Some Orthodox accept the view of most secular historians that he was an advocate of Calvinism. Others say his personal position was distorted by his enemies, and that he remained loyal to Orthodox teachings.