He became a high-ranking courtier at the court of the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius, and later became a monk and the abbot of a monastery not far from the capital. He was the a great defender of Orthodoxy against what was called the Monothelite heresy, which developed from the alleged heresy of Eutyches, i.e., as Eutyches asserted that there is only one nature in Christ, so the Monothelites asserted that there is only one will in Him – the Divine. This was diametrically opposed to the long accepted Orthodox doctrine that Christ had two wills – the Divine and the human. St. Maximos resisted this assertion and found himself in opposition to both the Emperor and the Patriarch. Emperor Constans II, the successor to the Emperor Heraclius, issued his infamous “Typus” Declaration, formally accepting the Monothelite teaching as official dogma.
But St. Maximos was fearless and persevered to the end in his attempt to prove that there are in the Lord two wills and also two natures. By his efforts, one Council in Carthage and one in Rome stood firm, and both these Councils anathematized the Monothelite teaching. St. Maximos’ sufferings for Orthodoxy went beyond description: he was tortured by hierarchs, spat upon by the masses, beaten by soldiers, persecuted, imprisoned, until finally, with his tongue cut out and one hand cut off, to keep him from speaking or writing, he was condemned to exile for life in Skhimaris. But his faithful assistant, St. Anastasios, continued his work of writing in defense of Orthodoxy after these events.
Maximos’ arguments in behalf of Orthodoxy were so powerful that, after a public debate on the faith with Pyrrhus, the Monothelite Patriarch of Constantinople, the latter renounced the heresy in 645.
His opponents often went from urging and appealing Maximos, to threatening, abusing and beating him. Maximos was sent into exile several times and called back to Constantinople each time. On one occasion, St. Maximos was called back, and the imperial grandees, Troilus and Sergius, subjected him yet again to interrogation. They began to accuse St. Maximos of pride for esteeming himself as the only Orthodox who would be saved and for considering all others to be heretics who would perish.
To this, he replied, “When all the people in Babylon were worshipping the golden idol, the Three Holy Youths did not condemn anyone to perdition. They did not concern themselves with what others were doing, but took care only for themselves, so as not to fall away from true piety. In precisely the same way, Daniel also, when cast into the den, did not condemn any of those who, in fulfilling the law of Darius, did not want to pray to God; but he bore in mind his duty, and desired rather to die than to sin and be tormented by his conscience for transgressing God’s Law. God forbid that I, too, should condemn anyone, or say that I alone am being saved. However, I would sooner agree to die than, having apostatized in any way from the right faith, endure the torments of my conscience.”
Then Troilus and Sergius pointed out to St. Maximos that the whole Christian world recognized the Monothelite Patriarch of Constantinople as legitimate, that all the Eastern Patriarchs and their locum tenentes were in communion with him, and that the plenipotentiary representatives of the Roman Pope would serve with the Patriarch and commune with him. Thus, he was the only one remaining in the whole world who did not recognize the Patriarch.
The St. answered, “If even the whole universe should begin to commune with the Patriarch, I will not commune with him. For I know from the writings of the holy Apostle Paul that the Holy Spirit will give over to anathema even the angels, if they should begin to preach any other gospel, introducing anything new.”
St. Maximos remained unshaken in his religious convictions. Finally, they cut off his right hand and tongue, so that he could not proclaim or defend his beliefs, either by word or pen. They then dispatched him to confinement in Lazov, a region of Mingrelia in the Caucasus. Here his faithful assistant St. Anastasios continued his work of writing in defense of Orthodoxy. St. Maximos died on August 13, 662, foreknowing his approaching death.
He wrote many theological works in defense of Orthodoxy. Especially valuable are his instructions on the spiritual and contemplative life, some of which are included in The Philokalia, a collection of patristic instructions on prayer and the ascetic life. In these ascetic instructions, the spiritual profundity and perceptiveness of St. Maximos’ thought is revealed. Also, an explanation of the Liturgy that has a great theological significance is included.
In 680, 18 years after St. Maximos’ death, the sixth Ecumenical Council outlawed Monothelitism. In addition to his theological and apologetic writings, St. Maximos left many writings on the Christian life and spiritual counsel for believers. The second volume of The Philokalia, compiled by Sts. Nektarios of the Holy Mountain and Makarios of Corinth, contains many writings of St. Maximos, including two hundred texts on Theology and the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, texts on the nature of Christian love, a treatise on the Lord’s Prayer, and various other teachings.