“My lord brother,” Bishop Anastasius exclaimed pleasantly, looking up as Nestorius entered. The room was small and dark, made smaller and darker by the large cupboard of shelves stacked with scrolls and books that lined each wall. The only light entered in from the wide door that took up half the wall, and opened out onto the balcony overlooking the central atrium, open to the sky. The brilliant summer morning sun poured down into this well of light at the centre of the house, and all the rooms opened onto it for their light source. They had no space for other windows as the houses in this part of town were pressed up against their neighbours cheek to jowl. Oil lamps burned indoors even during the day to fight the pervasive gloom.
Anastasius had been standing by the shelves, reading the tags attached to the scrolls, his slave holding an oil lamp so that he could read more clearly. Two other slaves were beside them, one slave’s arms were full of papers, the other sat cross legged in the corner, an inkwell beside him and an open scroll on his thigh, scribbling notes as Anastasius had been calling out the titles of the scrolls.
“Anastasius, my brother, it is an honour. You look well.” Nestorius embraced the older man, kissing him warmly on both cheeks. Despite the old Bishop of Tenedos’ reserved, dry nature, they had always got on well. Photius knew that Anastasius had never been an academic like Nestorius, though he had retained several private tutors in the past. But he had the mind of a scholar, and a quick grasp of ideas, and Nestorius always appreciated speaking with him.
Nestorius and Anastasius had met only a handful of times, but on almost each occasion had found themselves talking seriously long into the night, discussing obscure texts and authorities as the lamps guttered fitfully beside them and their full wine cups lay abandoned beside them. At most other times he had seemed distant and distracted, but when engaged in philosophical conversation his eyes focused like an eagle’s, and his voice grew low and quick.
“You are welcome,” Anastasius gestured to his slaves to leave, making room for the two clergymen. “And you too deacon”, he went on, gesturing to Photius distractedly, forgetting his name. “Join us. I have wine if you would like some.” Nestorius waved it away. “Tell me”, he asked Anastasius. “How long have you been in the city? Have you seen any others of our friends? Have you seen the Alexandrians yet?”
“Peace brother.” Anastasius replied. The older man stepped across to a short stool by a side table and sat himself upon it, sighing aloud as he did so, his legs crackling. The other two men remained standing beside him. Anastasius straightened his back, peering at the younger bishop steadily. “You are early yet, I have not been resident here for more than a week. And only a few of our brothers have arrived as yet, more each day, but few still. The great parties will be travelling together and more slowly.”
“You have not seen the Alexandrians?”
“I suspect they will take their time,” Anastasius said. “If they come at all.”
“You think that likely?” Photius spoke up.
“They must see the way the wind is blowing. Why come to a battle when they know they will lose.”
“It is not yet as certain as that surely?” Photius asked.
“Not certain, no.” The old man stretched his legs out in front of him, rubbing his knees. He turned his attention to the young deacon standing near the doorway. “Nothing in this fallen world is certain but the love of God. But still, how can the coming Council turn against its own divinely appointed leaders. Constantinople, Antioch, the Emperor himself. We are united, and what does Cyril have but his own subordinates, his lies, and his letters.”
“He has Celestine,” Nestorius said quietly, pacing across to the scroll racks. Anastasius snapped his head to him. He arched his eyebrow. “Rome supports the heretics now? When, how?
“I received a letter from our brother of Rome a month ago, demanding of me…”
“As good as,” Nestorius admitted, his eyes glancing across the titles of the scrolls in the dim light.
“He is your brother, no matter if the elder. Who is he to demand of you?”
“Nevertheless with his support, Cyril is not alone.” Nestorius said, turning to face his friend again. “And Rome speaks for the West, for the old Empire, for the Apostle Peter himself.”
“Cyril must have deceived him.” Anastasius growled.
“Assuredly. But still.”
“Did you not write to him yourself?” Anastasius asked.
“Twice,” Nestorius replied. “I never received a response except to condemn me and demand I submit to Cyril’s importunacy.”
Anastasius looked thoughtful. He rose himself back up from his stool, and paced a little. “He can’t still be upset with you over the incident with the Pelagians, surely”
“Well…He took it as a personal slight against his authority.” Nestorius said. “It is unlikely he has forgotten.”
“Hmm.” Anastasias stopped pacing and thought carefully. “Well then. Our position is perhaps not as unassailable as I thought. But to go against the Emperor himself and two other Apostolic Sees. It is a mountain Cyril must climb, even with Celestine to lift up his foot. He cannot think it easy.”
“He cannot. But he is arrogant enough to try.”
“How many Bishops came with you from Constantinople?” Anastasius enquired. He walked over to the stool and sat upon it. He reached over to the side table where there were several small piles of barley grains neatly separated upon it. He gathered them all together.
“I gathered sixteen from Thrace and Bithynia.” Nestorius said, and Anastasius counted out sixteen grains carefully, and pushed them to the right-hand side of the table. Nestorius continued, “From each province I invited its metropolitan Bishop with a few suffragan bishops in support, just as the Emperor directed. They will arrive over the next few days.”
“Sixteen is good.” Anastasius replied, peering at his little collection of grains. “We have the provinces of Thrace and Dacia, the Islands, we have Syria, we have Pontus,” Anastasius grabbed another handful of grains from the main pile. “What does Cyril have?”
“Macedonia perhaps.” Nestorius replied.
“Yes, he’s been working on them for some time. So what’s that,” he counted out the grains onto the left-hand side, “five, maybe six provinces if Crete follows them as well. But who else could he have?”
Nestorius shook his head. “No one in any number,” he said. “A few Bishops may be swayed by his argument. Egypt of course. They have always voted as a block with Alexandria.”
“But what is that, only six more provinces?” Anastasius carefully placed six more grains upon the left pile. “Egypt is powerful, but its wealth comes from grain and trade, not its numbers.”
“I’m suspicious of Memnon. And Asia will go wherever he leads it,” Nestorius told his brother bishop.
“He’s a politician,” Anastasius replied. “They all are around here. But politicians follow where the power is. Memnon won’t dare oppose the Emperor. It’s not worth his while.”
“And if he does?”
“He won’t. But so what if he does. He takes a few provinces with him. They still don’t have the votes.” Anastasius counted some more grains out. “Ten, maybe fifteen provinces on their side, against what, fifteen on ours just with Syria.” He added the grains to the right. “And Thrace and Dacia have twelve more between them. We are almost twice their number even without counting Pontus and Asia.” He stared at the two piles, the right one significantly larger than the left, trying to understand why Cyril thought he might win.
“Cyril’s been sending his letters out all over the Empire. It seems lately everyone I speak to has read them, or heard them read,” Nestorius added.
“His letters may fool the common people, even the lower orders.” Anastasius turned to Photius, “no offence my son”, and turned back to Nestorius without waiting for a reply. “But no Bishop will be so easily deceived.”
“They were convinced in Macedonia,” Nestorius admitted thoughtfully.
“Macedonians don’t know what they believe. Every man thinks himself a philosopher there. They can be convinced by the wind one day and the sun the next.”
“Still,” Nestorius insisted, “I don’t think we can be complacent.”
“Of course, of course.” Anastasius stood and called to his slaves standing outside the door. One of them entered, carrying papers. “I continue to be assiduous in my efforts for the faith. Look, I’ve been writing to our brothers, I’ve received letters from several already, promising their support.” The slave found the paper he was referring to and passed it over. Anastasius glanced over it and held it up to Nestorius,
“Read this,” he cried, “from Julian of Sardica, ‘My most beloved fellow-servant’ etc…here…he says, ‘never fear, I am as passionate for the defence of the true apostolic faith as you are’…etc. etc…he goes on ‘I will be in Ephesus on the 10th, by God’s will…we will be a high wall against the heretics, unassailable, determined, a church founded on the firm rock of Christ.’ Ha!” Anastasius exclaimed. “I never thought that old book-worm had it in him.” He handed the papyrus sheet back to his slave, who carefully filed it among the rest. “Don’t worry my brother,” Anastasius cried, “with good men like Julian on our side, and God as our shield, who can stand against us?”
“Julian’s a good man, pious, honest. I’m not concerned about him. But not everyone is like him.”
“Will Julian even make it?” Photius spoke up.
“What, of course he will!” exclaimed Anastasius. “What could stop him?”
“Well, the Huns…” Photius said.
“The Huns are the governor’s problem.” Anastasius snapped. “This is a religious matter. Julian’s place is here. Nothing is more important.”
“Practically though. They’ve been crossing the border freely over the last few years. The roads may not be safe. And it’s a long journey from Sardica.”
“God will protect him.” Anastasius’ tone was sharp. Photius stayed silent.
“We are currently at peace with the Huns in any case.” Nestorius replied confidently.
“For whatever worth honest treaties have with those heathens,” Anastasius couldn’t resist adding. An expression of concern crossed Nestorius’ face, but only for a second.
“In any case,” Nestorius added, “Julian is already on his way, I had a letter from him before I left Constantinople. He had left Dacia already and was almost at the coast.”
“As I said,” Anastasius spoke up, “We need not fear barbarians or bandits or wild animals. God will protect his own.” He strode over to the open doorway. “Now,” he cried. “Who’s for a cup of wine with their food?”
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> Chapter Five (Coming Soon)