Cyril Lucaris

The Greek Orthodox theologian Cyril Lucaris (1572-1637), who was patriarch of Constantinople, aroused a storm of controversy by interpreting the doctrines of his Church along Calvinistic lines.

Cyril Lucaris, or Lukar, was born on the island of Crete on Nov. 13, 1572. He was a bright young man who displayed a great deal of personal initiative as well as a strong religious faith. He spoke fluent Greek and learned Latin thoroughly, profiting by his student years in Venice, Padua, and especially Geneva. Cyril came in contact with the faith of the Reformers in Geneva toward the end of the 16th century. He was greatly impressed by John Calvin's teachings, especially his view that some men are clearly predestined by God to heaven and his interpretation of a decent, upright life as a sign of God's favor.

In 1602 the brilliant young theologian was elected patriarch of Alexandria in Egypt, which had traditionally been a center of the Orthodox faith. He filled the position with dedication for 19 years. Cyril began to exercise his greatest influence in the Orthodox Church in 1621, when he became patriarch of Constantinople. The city, which had been under Moslem domination for centuries, was not prepared for him. Cyril's articulate preaching and penetrating writings upset the city's religious peace. Several times he was deposed, but each time the Sultan was forced to reinstate him to calm the indignant Orthodox population, who loved him.

Cyril attempted to inject new life into the Orthodox faith by reshaping its teachings in the spirit of Calvin. He arranged for a number of promising theologians to study in the Calvinist centers of Europe, especially in Switzerland and Holland. Not everyone appreciated his efforts. He met with a great deal of opposition in his own Church from those who thought that he was misinterpreting instead of reinterpreting the faith. In 1629 Cyril published his Confession, a declaration of his beliefs about God and man in language that was traditional but expressing ideas that were derived from the Reformation. This work served as the focal point of a controversy that stirred the Orthodox Church for decades, until the patriarch of Jerusalem called a synod in 1672 which condemned Cyril's teachings, long after his death.

Cyril disappeared suddenly and permanently in June 1637. A story emerged that he had been ordered killed by the Sultan, who was about to embark on a war with Persia and wanted to avoid the trouble Cyril would cause while he was away. Reportedly Cyril was strangled by a contingent of soldiers who threw his body into the sea.


Further Reading on Cyril Lucaris

Cyril Lucaris's controversial The Confession of Faith reveals his major religious ideas. A study of his life is Georgios A. Chatzeantoniou, Protestant Patriarch: The Life of Cyril Lucaris, 1572-1638, Patriarch of Constantinople (1961). Cyril's influence on the history of his Church is examined in Adrian Fortescue, The Orthodox Eastern Church (1907; 3d ed., 1920), and R. M. French, The Eastern Orthodox Church (1951).