The Varangian Guard
In 988, Emperor Basil II faced one of the greatest crises of his reign: The troops of a rebel general, Bardas Phocas, were encamped across the Bosporus from his capital. Basil appealed to Prince Vladmir I of Kieve for aid, promising him the hand of his sister in return.
The Varangians were the elite forces of the Byzantine army- much like the Praetorian Guard of ancient Rome or the Ottoman Janissaries. They were originally made up exclusively of Vikings (which the empire had been hiring as mercenaries since the 9th century), but after the Norman Conquest of England a rush of exiled Anglo-Saxons were added to the mix. By the 12th century there were so many English that it was commonly being referred to as the ‘Anglo-Varangian’ Guard.
Vladmir sent him 6,000 Varangians, expert Viking mercenaries who had settled in Russia.
After defeating the rebel troops, many of the Varangians stayed on to become the elite personal guards of Basil and successive Byzantine emperors. Well paid and with no local sympathies, they were famous both for their prowess with the sword and the battle-ax.
In the midst of battle, the guard would cluster around the emperor in a fearsome wall of defense.
After William the Conqueror took England, disaffected Anglo-Saxons filtered into the guard as well. During the Crusades, however, European forces defeated the Varangians and they faded from historical view.
It seems like Germany, Russia, and Italy have been fighting somebody forever. We have one more review in regard to the Byzantine Empire, so tomorrow we’ll take a quick look at…
The Mission of the Seventy
1 After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.
In Byzantium the members of the Varangian Guard were famous as men with red hair and beards, “as tall as date palms”; they were also said to drink too much. But the main symbol of the Varangians was the longhafted Danish axe with its crescent-shaped edge. This guardsman wears ringmail, a mail coif and splint limb armour, and apart from his axe is armed with a sword and a knife.
“Appointed other seventy” – recorded only in Luke, though similar instruction were given to the twelve (Matt 9:37-38; 10:7-16; Mk 6:7-11; cf. Lk 9:3-5).
Jesus covered Judea with His message as thoroughly as He had Galilee.
“Two and two” – during His ministry in Galilee, Jesus had also sent out the twelve in pairs, a practice continued in the early church (Acts 13:2, 15:27, 39-40, 17:14, 19:22).
2 Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth laborers into his harvest.
3 Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves.
4 Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way.
5 And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house.
6 And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again.
7 And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the laborer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house.
8 And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you:
An illumination of a scene from the Skylitzes Chronicle, depicting a Thracesian woman killing a Varangian who tried to rape her, whereupon his comrades praised her and gave her his possession.
9 And heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.
10 But into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out into the streets of the same, and say,
11 Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.
12 But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city.
“More tolerable in that day for Sodom” – although Sodom was so sinful that God destroyed it (Gen 19:24-28; Jude 7), the people who heard the message of Jesus and His disciples were even more accountable, because they had the gospel of the kingdom preached to them.
This passage clearly teaches degrees of punishment. Some sins are worse than others and bring more judgment (Lk 12:47-48).
13 Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, which have been done in you, they had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.
14 But it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment, than for you.
“Tyre and Sidon” – Gentile cities in Phoenicia, north of Galilee, which had not had opportunity to witness Jesus’ miracles and hear His preaching as the people had in most of Galilee.
15 And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell.
Ninth century emperor Theophilus used mercenary guards that may have included Vikings, precursors in the Varangians.
“Capernaum” – Jesus’ headquarters on the north shore of Galilee whose inhabitants had many opportunities to see and hear Jesus. Therefore the condemnation for their refection was the greater.
16 He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.
17 And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.
18 And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.
19 Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.
“Serpents and scorpions…power of the enemy” – the snakes and scorpions may represent evil spirits; the enemy is Satan himself.
20 Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.
Man’s salvation is more important than power to overcome the evil one or escape his harm.
Emperor Basil II (“The Bulgar Slayer”) stgands triumphant over prostrate Bulgars, in a frontispiece from an 11th century Byzantine Psalter.
“Your names are written” – salvation is recorded in heaven (see Ps 69:28; Dan 12:1; Phil 4:3; Heb 12:23; Rev 3:5).
21 In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.
22 All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.
23 And he turned him unto his disciples, and said privately, Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see:
24 For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.
25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.
“Love…God…thy neighbor” – elsewhere Jesus uses these words in reply to another question, putting the same two scriptures together (Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18).
Whether a fourfold love (heart, soul, strength and mind, as here and in Mk 12:30 or threefold Deut 6:5; Matt 22:37; Mk 12:33, the significance is that total devotion is demanded.
Basil II was a Byzantine Emperor from the Macedonian dynasty who reigned from 10 January 976 to 15 December 1025. He was known in his time as Basil the Porphyrogenitus and Basil the Young to distinguish him from his supposed ancestor, Basil I the Macedonian.
The early years of his long reign were dominated by civil war against powerful generals from the Anatolian aristocracy.
28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do and thou shalt live.
29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?
30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
“Jerusalem to Jericho” – a distance of 17 miles and a descent from about 2,500 feet above sea level to about 800 feet below sea level. The road ran through rocky, completely desolate country, which provided places for robbers to way lay defenseless travelers.
31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
!0:31-33 – “Priest…Levite…Samaritan” – it is significant, and a completely shocking reversal, that the person Jesus commended was neither the religious leader nor the lay associate, but a hated foreigner.
Jews viewed Samaritans as half-breeds, both physically and spiritually. Samaritans and Jews practiced open hostility, but Jesus asserted that love knows no national boundaries.
32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
“Two pence” – two day’s wages which would keep a man up to two months in an inn.
William the Conqueror was born in the Normandy region of France in 1027 or 1028. His father was Robert the Magnificent, Duke of Normandy. After the death of his father in 1035, William became the Duke of Normandy at the age of seven. At age 15, the young duke was made a knight by King Henry I of France.
36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?
“Which…was neighbor unto him..?” – the question now became: Who proves he is the good neighbor by his actions?
37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
B38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
“A certain village” – Bethany, about two miles from Jerusalem, was the home of Mary and Martha (Jn 12:1-3).
39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.
40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
…Byzantium and Russia.