Pope Hormisdas1 successor, Pope St. John I (523-526), found himself caught up in a political contest between the imperial rulers in Constantinople and Theodoric. The resolution of the Acacian Schism was followed a year later by an imperial edict which closed all Arian churches in Constantinople. Moreover, all Arians were dismissed from imperial service. Theodoric, the Germanic Arian rex of Italy, retaliated — his policy towards the Catholics in Italy would no longer be tolerant if this imperial edict remained in force. Theodoric summoned Pope John I to Ravenna and ordered him to head an embassy to Constantinople to obtain a cessation of the new imperial edict against Arians. In addition, those Arians who had been compelled by force to renounce Arianism were to be allowed to revert to their former faith. Pope John I agreed to negotiate on behalf of the first request but rejected the second. He was welcomed in Constantinople with great honor in 525 — it is claimed that the “entire city” came out to greet him with candles and crosses. It is also claimed that Emperor Justin I prostrated himself before Pope John “as though John were Peter in person.” What takes place with this visit by Pope John is historically important. He celebrates the Christmas liturgy and, moreover, Justin I allowed himself to be crowned for a second time. This precedent would be remembered. It was as though the coronation performed by the patriarch was not sufficient. John remained in Constantinople for five months. He was successful in restoring the Arian churches. He also celebrated Easter in St. Sophia, occupying a throne above that of the patriarch. Theodoric suspected that a conspiracy was underway, a conspiracy which would have involved the Roman aristocracy and the Pope. This is probably one of the reasons why Theodoric had Boethius and Boethius’ father-in-law, Symmachus, put to death — a warning that he would not tolerate insurrection. Upon Pope John’s return to Ravenna, he was imprisoned along with his entire escort. There he died in 526 — from “abuse” or starvation.
While Ephraem was persecuting the anti-Chalcedonians in the orient, Theodora was welcoming the exiles in Constantinople. She maintained all exiles at her own imperial expense. She set aside one of the imperial palaces — it was close to the Hippodrome and close to the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus — exclusively for these Monophysite exiles. Rooms were subdivided so that each room could accommodate two monks. Liturgical services took place and “numerous small altars” were set up to accommodate each group represented. This establishment of Theodora was not a secret — indeed, it was one of the attractions of Constantinople. Justinian was wont to visit it, not privately, but as an imperial visit in the sight of everyone. John of Ephesus, once one of the resident exiles, claims that he had seen as many as one thousand monks attending services there. It must be mentioned that John of Ephesus, who was an admirer of Theodora, corroborates in general terms what Procopius had written about the early life of Theodora in his Secret History — John mentions that her life was not common, not “regular” before she became empress.
Even an exiled Monophysite patriarch of Alexandria was present. Theodosius was consecrated patriarch of Alexandria in 536 and exiled shortly thereafter. The grounds for the exile remain unknown. He remained in Constantinople for approximately thirty years, serving essentially as the head of the Monophysite body in the capital.
From this monastery established by Theodora in the capital of the empire itself monastic missionaries went forth. John of Ephesus tells us in his Historiae ecclesiaticae pars tertia that he himself set out as a missionary. The official policy was that he was to work only among the pagans in remote Asia. Within seventeen years he is said to have converted eighty thousand pagans and to have built ninety-eight churches — moreover, it is claimed that he helped build twelve synagogues. Historically the presumption has been that John of Ephesus did more than work among the pagans, that he also used the opportunity to revitalize the anti-Chalcedonians. In his Vita of John of Telia John of Ephesus relates that the faithful non-Chalcedonians in “various places” became concerned over the problem of ordinations. The bishops “were afraid to open to themselves ever stronger flames of persecution and they, therefore, refused to ordain overtly, but they had ordained some covertly.” John then continues that the faithful wrote imploring the bishops to ordain “for the sake of the faithful.” Severus had supported the idea of this type of ordination in his letter to Sergius of Cyrus and Marion of Sura. This was in essence the establishment of a separate hierarchy.
It is known that John of Hephaistos, also from Theodora’s monastery, went forth with the open intent to organize the non-Chalcedonians. In 541 John of Hephaistos ordained fifty priests in Tralles while the Chalcedonians were conducting their own service within the same building. At Ephesus he is said to have ordained seventy clergy in one night. John of Telia had been ordaining. John of Ephesus most probably did the same. John of Hephaistos did the same. One source claims that one hundred and seventy thousand non-Chalcedonians were ordained — these candidates came from Armenia, Phoenicia, Cappadocia, and Arzanene on the Persian border. The beginning of this movement took place about 530.
In 530 and 531 there was a sudden relaxation of Justinian’s policy. Speculation is that one of the reasons was this new movement of ordination. It must, however, be evaluated in the context with the fact of the war with Persia. In any case, Justinian called for a conference about the differences over Chalcedon. At this time the controversy between Severus and Julian had put Severus and his followers in the minority of the anti-Chalcedonians. Justinian’s change of policy towards the Monophysites was obviously strengthened by the Nika riots which took place in 532 in Constantinople.
As Uspensky has pointed out, the Hippodrome was the one place for “a free expression of public opinion.” The circus factions ultimately became political parties, the two most influential in the sixth century being the Blues and the Greens. The Blues supported the Council of Chalcedon and seem to have been representative of the upper classes; the Greens were Monophysites or anti-Chalcedonians and seem to have been representative of the lower classes. The political influence carried by these factions is expressed not only by their rioting but also by the fact that the emperor often had to appear before the people to give an account of his actions. With Justinian as emperor and Theodora as empress there was a split of allegiance to the throne, the Blues supporting Justinian and the Greens Theodora. Cassiodorus tells us that even in Rome in the sixth century under Theodoric there were two contending parties, the Blues and the Greens, the Blues representative of the upper classes and the Greens representative of the lower classes.
The famous revolt in 532 known as the Nika Revolt — for the Greek word Victory — has more than just a religious base. The nephews of Anastasius strongly resented the accession of Justin I and Justinian — they had expected to receive the imperial title. They were supported by the Monophysites of the Greens. There was also public outrage at and bitterness against higher officials in the imperial government, especially against Tribonian and John of Cappadocia. It is significant that the Blues and Greens seem to have momentarily put aside their religious differences to focus on a united revolt against the government. The emperor attempted to negotiate with the factions through representatives in the Hippodrome but no resolution was reached. The rebellion quickly spread through the city in the form of fire and destruction. The basilica of St. Sophia was set aflame and on that site there later rose the Hagia Sophia. One of Anastasius’ nephews was proclaimed emperor. Justinian and his advisors were preparing to flee from the enflamed city when Theodora intervened. Her words in Procopius’ Secret History ring true. “It is impossible for a man when he has come into the world not to die. But for one who has reigned, it is intolerable to be an exile. If you wish, Ο Emperor, to save yourself, there is no difficulty. We have sufficient funds. Over there is the sea, and there are ships. Yet consider whether, when you have once escaped to a place of safety, you will not prefer death to safety. I agree with an old saying that the purple is a fair winding sheet.” Theodora inspired Justinian to make a stand. He entrusted the crushing of the revolt to Belisarius who then drove the rioters into the Hippodrome and killed approximately thirty to forty thousand. The Nika Revolt had ended. The nephews of Anastasius were executed and Justinian’s imperial throne was once more secure. But the following year the strength of the Greens, representing the Monophysites, was revealed again when, after an earthquake in the city, a large crowd gathered to sing a Monophysite doxology. The crowds were also shouting out for baptism in the name of the One — the meaning was “one nature” as opposed to the Chalcedonian “in two natures.” Justinian could certainly realize the enduring strength of the anti-Chalcedonians.