February 25, 2011

Saint Tarasios and the Asylum Seeker at Hagia Sophia

An interesting event took place during the patriarchate of Saint Tarasios in the Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople when a spatharios was accused of taking public revenues.

There was a certain official, girded with the imperial sword in honor of his rank, who prided himself on fame, prestige and wealth. He was accused of stealing a considerable amount of money, for which he suffered punishment, imprisonment, and harsh interrogations. He was confined to a dark cell where he was driven into despair.

One night he passed unnoticed by the guards and fled to the sanctuary of the Great Church, where he grasped tightly to the edges of the holy altar. The guards, fearing their own punishment for the prisoner's escape, hastened to the church. The guards encircled the wall of the sanctuary, not allowing the fugitive meals or the means to take care of his other needs. Thus, they watched and waited for the spatharios to exit out of necessity.

It was not long before the compassionate Tarasios heard of the incident and hastened to protect the sufferer. When he first heard the account, he was filled with distress on account of the contempt being shown to the holy places by the guards. What did the prudent Tarasios contrive? He entered the little doors on the right, and served the fugitive his dinner. Whenever the fugitive was required to relieve himself, Tarasios would descend straightway from above and take him away to the privy. He would then wait and return him to the sanctuary. This service was performed by Tarasios whenever the fugitive needed to visit the privy.

The military contingent marvelled at the holy man and recognized that they could not apprehend the prisoner as long as the hand of Tarasios was involved in the matter. They, therefore, placed an ambush of men at another entrance. On the occasion when the fugitive answered nature's call, the military seized him through another little gate and violently pushed him towards the palace. It was not long before Tarasios recognized what was taking place, and grieved. He then made his way to Eleutherios, where [Empress] Irene was dwelling at the time.

When the arrival of Tarasios was discovered, the men feared the hierarch's indignation. They chose to ignore him and left him outside of the palace. When he perceived that he could not achieve anything regarding the case, he bound them all with the bars of a common penance. He thereby deemed them unworthy of receiving the communion of Christ's Mysteries, should they cause any harm to Church's suppliant. After he uttered these words with apostolic authority, he departed for the patriarchate.

As for those men, they were bound fast. They ceased punishing the accused man with their instruments of torture. Through further interrogations, they uncovered what became of the missing moneys. Consequently, the spatharios was found innocent and released.

We have, therefore, by this singular account, demonstrated how Tarasios administered affairs and suffered personal risk on behalf of his flock. In like manner did he judge other cases. He compelled those who had disputes to come to mutual agreement. He showed no favoritism. All were equal before him, as he meted out justice. It should be said here that he equally preserved canon and other laws.

From The Great Synaxarion of the Orthodox Church, translated by Holy Apostles Convent, pp. 930-931.