By Demetrios J. Constantelos
Greek Orthodox Theological Review, vol. 33.4 (1988)
Introduction: “What is this? What is this distressing and heavy catastrophe and abomination? Why has this dreadful thunderbolt fallen on us out of the farthest north? What clouds compacted of affliction and condemnation have violently collided to force out this irresistible lightning upon us? Why has this thick, sudden hailstorm of barbarians burst forth,…who…miserably grind up men’s bodies, and bitterly destroy the whole nation? …This people is fierce and has no mercy, its voice is as the roaring sea…we have beheld their massed aspect and our hands have waxed feeble; anguish has seized us…”
This is how the great intellectual and Patriarch Photios started the first of two homilies which he delivered on the occasion of a Russian attack on Constantinople. It was on June 18, 860, when more than 200 vessels originating from the remote north appeared in the Sea of Marmara, landing on the shores destroying and plundering villages, towns and islands, spreading fear and consternation to the inhabitants of the capital and vicinity which had not been attacked since the Arabic invasion of 717.