April 3, 2014

Saint Niketas the Confessor as a Model for our Lives

St. Niketas of Medikion Monastery (Feast Day - April 3)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Niketas was a native of Caesarea in Bithynia and lived between the 8th and 9th century AD. Orphaned of his mother from infancy, he was raised by his grandmother, who was most pious and helped him become a man both physically and spiritually. His father made sure the young Niketas receive an early education and he truly progressed in letters, as well as in the spiritual life. He became a monk at the Sacred Monastery of Medikion, where he was later elected abbot.

He was a Confessor of the Orthodox Faith. With all his strength he fought against the heresy of iconoclasm which resulted in him sustaining numerous imprisonments and exiles. The last years of his life he spent in a metochion, north of Constantinople. His end was venerable, just like his entire life was venerable. For the way in which someone leaves this world reveals their way of life and state of being.

In Orthodox iconography, the venerable Niketas is depicted holding one of his writings on behalf of the sacred icons as well as an icon of the Panagia, whom he, like all the saints, loved very much and had as a protector and helper in his struggles on behalf of the Orthodox faith, and life in general.

The life and deeds of the venerable Niketas give us the opportunity to highlight the following:

Orthodox iconography, or hagiography, depicts the person of Christ, the Theotokos and the saints, as well as the events associated with their lives, on the screens, shrines and walls of the sacred churches, because their presence teaches and creates inspiration, as well as a mood for prayer, analogous of course with the spiritual state of each of us.

The faces of Christ, the Panagia and the saints in Orthodox icons are bright, because Christ is "the true Light, Who illumines every person that comes into the world", and the Theotokos and all the saints partake in this Light. Christ is God and Light according to nature, while the Theotokos and the saints are "gods" and lights by the grace emitting from the Light. This Light, which is uncreated, does not create shadows, because it emits from inside towards the outside. Icons, which are made in accordance with the Orthodox style, known as Byzantine, disclose and reveal not so much the physical attributes, as much as the internal life of the saints, in order to inspire the faithful and lead them in prayer, the sacramental life and asceticism, namely the experience of the life in Christ, which leads to communion with God.

The holy icons in Orthodox sacred churches should be manufactured in accordance with the basic standards of Orthodox Tradition. Certainly an important role in the crafting of sacred icons is played by the entire personality of the iconographer - his skills, the inspiration he has, his spiritual state, etc. This is why the choosing of an iconographer must be done primarily through spiritual criteria without, of course, ignoring their experience and ability. The blessed Photios Kontoglou stresses that the iconographer must have, apart from artistry and passion, both piety and the fear of God in order to begin this responsible and beneficent work which is done after fasting and prayer and continues also with prayer and great care.

The honor of sacred icons, according to Basil the Great, belongs to the prototype. That is, when one kisses an icon and prays before it, it does not mean that the material from which it was composed is honored, nor do they speak to the colors, nor to the paper, nor to the wood, but they honor and speak with the person depicted. It is exactly like when someone kisses a photograph of a beloved who is far away; they do not feel like they are kissing colors and paper and are speaking to paper, but they kiss and speak with the person depicted that they love, despite the fact that person cannot hear them at that moment, while Christ, the Theotokos and the saints always hear us.

When a miracle is performed while praying before an icon of the Panagia or some saint, this does not mean the icon performed the miracle, as if the icon has miraculous powers in and of itself, but it means the miracle was done by the Holy Triune God through the intercessions of the Theotokos or the saint depicted.

When an incident from the life of Christ, the Mother of God or the saints is crafted it is natural that other persons will appear in the icon, who were present or related to a specific event, but the central scene must certainly be Christ, the Theotokos or a particular saint, so the attention is focused on them, who are the persons honored.

Iconography, like music, in the Orthodox sacred churches must be presented in this way by iconographers and chanters, in order to create an atmosphere of devotion and a mood for prayer. Any deviation from Orthodox Tradition creates problems in the body of Christ.

Man is created in the image of God and is an animated icon of Christ. "Christ is an image of God, while man is an image of Christ, or an image of an image" (Basil the Great). For this reason respect, care and love should be extended to inanimate icons and especially to these.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΟΣΙΟΣ ΝΙΚΗΤΑΣ Ο ΗΓΟΥΜΕΝΟΣ ΤΗΣ ΜΟΝΗΣ ΜΗΔΙΚΙΟΥ", April 2007. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.