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E06980: The Greek Life of *Isaakios (monastic founder in Constantinople, ob. 383, S02118) recounts the struggles of the anchorite Isaakios who attempted to convert the emperor Valens to orthodoxy, and founded the first monastery of Constantinople under Theodosius I. He died on 26 May 383, and his body was buried by the altar of the shrine (martyrion) of *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030) in Isaakios’ monastery. Written in Constantinople in the late 5th century, or later.

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posted on 2018-10-23, 00:00 authored by erizos
Life of Isaakios (BHG 956)


The rise of Arianism
[1] Once he renounced the pagan gods, the emperor Constantine ordered the destruction of all pagan images of the gods. During his reign, the Devil raised up Arius in Alexandria. He was cast out of the orthodox communion by *Peter of Alexandria [S00247], who was convinced to do so by a divine vision which he had in prison just before his martyrdom.

[2-3] Arius preached false doctrines about the Holy Trinity, which the emperor Constantine attempted to stop by sending letters to him. Arius did not comply, thus Constantine summoned a council at Nicaea which condemned Arius and his doctrine. Following the council, Arius died in a disgraceful way.

Isaakios attempts to convert Valens
[4] Some time later, the Arian heresy was revived by the emperor Valens. During his reign, Isaakios, who was living as an anchorite in the desert in the East, was commanded by God to go to Constantinople.

[5-6] At that time, there was a rebellion of the Goths against the Romans. Isaakios recommended twice to the emperor to reopen the orthodox churches, but Valens refused and tried to have Isaakios killed.

[7-8] Isaakios tried a third time to convince the emperor, predicting that Valens would win, if he opened the orthodox churches, but would be burned alive on the battlefield, if he refused. The emperor had him imprisoned, entrusting him to two officials, Satorninos and Viktor.

The Restoration of Orthodoxy under Theodosius
[9] The emperor [Valens] was defeated in battle and, while fleeing the barbarians, he was burned alive in a barn. The western emperor Gratian was notified, came to Sirmium, and appointed Theodosius emperor of the East. Together, they defeated the barbarians. On his way to Constantinople, Theodosius fell sick at Thessalonike and was baptised there by the orthodox bishop of that city, Acholius.

[10] Theodosius arrived in Constantinople, where Gregory of Nazianzus was leading the orthodox community in an oratory which later became the church of Anastasia. Hearing from Satorninos and Victor about the imprisonment of Isaakios, the emperor ordered his release and requested his blessing.

[11] Theodosius issued an edict against the Arians, ordering them to return the churches to the orthodox, and hold their gatherings outside the city.

[12] Theodosius summoned the Council of Constantinople which reaffirmed the faith of Nicaea.

[13] Nectarius was elected bishop of Constantinople, and it was decreed that the bishop of Constantinople should rank second only to the Pope of Rome.

Isaakios founds a monastery in Constantinople
[14] Isaakios wished to return to the desert, but Satorninos and Viktor asked him to stay with them. Initially reluctant, he asked of them to build a cell for him. Both men started building on their estates, Satorninos outside the city walls, and Viktor in Psamatheia, near Helenianae. Isaakios chose to live in the cell built by Satorninos, because it was simpler.

[15-16] Isaakios’ holiness and teaching attracted many people, including the emperor Theodosius. His community introduced monastic life to Constantinople for the first time. Satorninos transferred to him the ownership of all his estates.

[17] Being about to die, Isaakios summoned his disciples, gave them his last instructions, and appointed Dalmatios as his successor. When he died, everyone, including the emperor, grieved his loss. His body was brought to the cathedral of Saint Irene, where his funeral was celebrated by bishop Nectarius.

[18] In front of the monastery of Isaakios, there was a shrine (martyrion) of *Stephen the First Martyr [S00030] , which had been built by the imperial official Aurelianos. Using a large crowd of monks, Aurelianos managed to have Isaakios’ body stolen during the funeral, and buried it inside the church, next to the altar.

Isaakios died on 26 May, during the reign of Theodosius and Arcadius, and the consulship of Merobaudes (second term) and Saturninus [= AD 383].

Text: Acta Sanctorum, Maii
Summary: Efthymios Rizos and Giovanni Hermanin de Reichenfeld.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Isaakios, abbot in Constantinople, ob. after AD 406 : S02118 Stephen, the First Martyr : S00030 Petros, bishop and martyr of Alexandria, and companion martyrs : S00247

Saint Name in Source

Ἰσαάκιος Στέφανος Πέτρος

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Constantinople and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Constantinople Constantinople Κωνσταντινούπολις Konstantinoupolis Constantinopolis Constantinople Istanbul

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - monastic

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miraculous protection - of people and their property Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - abbots Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Aristocrats Foreigners (including Barbarians) Heretics Monarchs and their family

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


For the manuscript tradition of the text, see:


The Life of Isaakios belongs to a group of hagiographic texts which were composed in Constantinople, possibly in the sixth century. The group also includes the Lives of the Constantinopolitan bishops *Metrophanes and Alexandros (E07162), and *Paul the Confessor (E07002), a now lost pre-Metaphrastic Life of *Athanasius of Alexandria (E07163), and the Martyrdom of *Markianos and Martyrios the Notaries (E06890). All of these works are characterised by the poverty of their information about their heroes and their dependence on the fifth-century ecclesiastical histories, especially Socrates. Three of these texts (the Lives of Metrophanes and Alexandros, Paul the Confessor, and Athanasius) were read by Photius in the 9th century, and are summarised in his Bibliotheca. This suggests that these texts were produced after the mid-5th and well before the 9th centuries. A 6th century date seems likely. Their composition may have been politically motivated by an effort to celebrate the contribution of Constantinople to Orthodoxy (Fusco 1996). Isaakios' life is presented almost like an anecdote within greater ecclesiastical history. An anchorite from the desert is divinely inspired to come to Constantinople in order to convert the heretical emperor Valens. He predicts the latter's death and is imprisoned for almost two years till the arrival of Theodosius I. With the material support of wealthy officials (Saturninus and Victor), he establishes the first monastery of the city. Isaakios is praised as a man of great holiness and excellent spiritual guide, but no effort is made to present him as a great miracle-worker, healer, or exorcist of demons. Most of the text discusses the broader context of Arianism under Valens, the battle of Hadrianople in 378, and the accession of Theodosius I. The date given by the author for the saint's death (AD 383) is implausibly early. 383 is very probably the year when the monastery was established, while Isaakios himself is known from other sources to have lived much longer, into the first decade of the fifth century. He had a rather tumultuous career as a monastic leader. He was one of the chief opponents of John Chrysostom and played a central role in his deposition (Hatlie 2007, 66-68). It is perhaps these embarrassing events that the author of our text is trying to hush up by having his hero die very early, and not long after the achievement which secured Isaakios' heroic memory - his opposition to Valens' Arianism and participation in the restoration of Orthodoxy. The Life of Isaakios also provides a narrative for the foundation of the monastic house which came to be known as the Monastery of Dalmatos. It was located in the area of Psamatheia, near the Marmara Sea coast, between the Constantinian Walls and the Theodosian Walls. The quarter was known as Helenianae and Aurelianae, and included the shrine of Stephen the First Martyr in Aurelianae (Janin 1969, 82-84, 472-473). During the fifth century, this was the largest and most prestigious monastic house of the capital, and its abbot was recognised as the exarchos (superintendent) of all the monasteries of Constantinople. The claim of the text that monasticism had previously been absent in the region is probably partly inaccurate. Constantinople is likely to have had ascetic communities loyal to the Homoean/Arian Church of the 4th century, but it may be true that the first organised cenobitic monastery was that of Isaakios.


Text: Acta Sanctorum, Maii VII (1688), col. 247-258. Further reading: Fusco, R., La vita premetafrastica di Paolo il Confessore (BHG 1472a). Un vescovo di Costantinopoli tra storia e leggenda, (Rome, 1996). Hatlie, P., The Monks and Monasteries of Constantinople, ca. 350-850 (Cambridge, 2007). Janin, R., La géographie ecclésiastique de l'empire byzantin. I 3: Les églises et les monastères de la ville de Constantinople. 2nd ed. (Paris, 1969).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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