February 25, 2015

Saint Tarasios, Patriarch of Constantinople (+ 806)

St. Tarasios of Constantinople (Feast Day - February 25)

By Hieromonk Makarios of Simonopetra

This great luminary of Orthodoxy was born at Constantinople into a prominent family of patrician rank. In his uprightness and concern for the defense of the weak and innocent he followed his father, an eminent member of the judiciary, and he shared the great piety of his mother. He completed an extended education during the reigns of Irene and her son Constantine VI. In 780, he was raised to the consular dignity and appointed secretary of state (protosecretis), an office in which he combined outstanding talents with a strong sense of the eternal dimension in human affairs.

In 784, Patriarch Paul IV, who had returned to Orthodoxy after supporting the iconoclasts, resigned and retired to the Monastery of Floros, discouraged by the inextricable problems that affected the Church. To the bitter criticisms of the Empress-Regent and of her son at his resignation, he responded that he could struggle no longer, and he recommended Tarasios as the one capable of restoring the true Faith, and of bringing the Church of Constantinople back to communion with the other Patriarchates.

Tarasios was greatly disturbed by the proposition, which he rejected outright on the grounds that he was merely a layman. But under pressure from the rulers, from the Senate and from all the people gathered in front of the palace, he gave way at last on condition that an Ecumenical Synod be summoned without delay to put an end to the heresy. On 25 December 784, he was consecrated Archbishop of Constantinople.

As soon as he was placed on the lampstand of the Church, his sole care was to illumine her with the light of the holy virtues through fasting, all-night vigils of prayer and meditation on the word of God, and through works of evangelical philanthropy. He followed after the Lord in regarding himself as the servant of all and in refusing to let people act as his servants. Simply dressed and unassuming in all that he did, his example was a sermon in itself against the arrogant luxury of the clergy of the time. So extensive were his works of philanthropy that he became known as "the new Joseph". He built hospices and inns, invited the poor to his table to share his simple meal, and provided a monthly allowance for others whose names were entered in a register. During the winter, dressed in his episcopal garb, he would personally serve the poor with an ample meal.

Many of his disciples were drawn by his teaching and example to renounce the world, and for them he founded a large monastery on the left bank of the Bosporus. Saint Michael of Synnada (May 23) and Theophilos of Nicaea, pillars of renascent Orthodoxy, were two of a number of bishops who received their formation there. In accordance with his promise, the Patriarch saw to it that the rulers summoned a great assembly of bishops which met at Constantinople in the Church of the Holy Apostles in August 786. However, the iconoclasts burst into the church and drove out the Fathers. The riot was put down with difficulty and the Synod was transferred to Nicaea, where the first session opened on 24 September 787.* Saint Tarasios presided at its sessions with prudence and authority, directing the debates which concluded in the condemnation of the heresy and in the restoration of the veneration of the holy icons.

The good shepherd then bent all his efforts to restoring the heretics to the bosom of the Holy Church with gentleness, lest severe censure discourage them, although this policy met with some opposition from the rigorous Studites, Saint Plato and his nephew Saint Theodore (Nov. 11). He fought against simony, and did not hesitate to act in defense of the right of the sanctuary. Thus he gave his protection to an official wanted for squandering public money, who, clasping a corner of the altar, had sought sanctuary in Hagia Sophia. When soldiers used force to arrest him, the Archbishop excommunicated them.

When Constantine VI was of age, he became sole Emperor (790). Presuming to set himself above the laws of the Church, he repudiated his wife, Mary the Armenian, in order to marry Theodota, one of her servants. The Patriarch refused to bless this adulterous match and protested strongly to the Emperor, whom he threatened with an anathema if he persisted in his sin. Roused to anger, the Emperor had the Patriarch placed in confinement. He obliged his legitimate wife to take the veil and had his illicit nuptials blessed by Joseph, the time-serving steward of the Great Church. But the judgement of God was not long in being shown, for the following year Constantine VI was blinded and dethroned.

On recovering his freedom, Saint Tarasios excommunicated the priest Joseph, and was thus able to effect a reconciliation with the Studites, who had separated themselves from his communion, leading a large section of the people into schism.**

Like Job, the holy Patriarch remained steadfast, peaceful in soul and recollected amid all these tribulations, and he continued to exhort the people to make the restored Faith bear fruit by keeping the commandments. On the accession of Emperor Nikephoros I (802-811), the peace of the Church was restored and the task of Saint Tarasios was accomplished after an episcopate of twenty-two years. He contracted a long, painful illness but continued to serve the Liturgy daily, leaning on his staff. On the threshold of death, he could be seen waging a mighty war against the demons, who sought to accuse him of imaginary crimes. But having a pure conscience before God, he brushed them aside with his hand for he could no longer speak. And in church, when they reached Psalm 85 and began to chant: "Bow down Your ear, O Lord, and hear me," his blessed soul cast off its tunic of skin and rose up to find its place in the eternal mansions, accompanied by the weeping of the whole City. He was buried in his monastery a week later, on 25 February 806. Many miracles were wrought in the days to come, through the oil from the lamp that burned in front of his tomb.

In 820, the Emperor Leo the Armenian, who for seven years had supported the iconoclasts and had fiercely persecuted the Orthodox, had a disturbing dream. He saw a stern-looking Saint Tarasios ordering a man by the name of Michael to run Leo himself through with a sword. Six days later, Leo was in fact assassinated by Michael the Stammerer, who seized power (Dec. 4, 820). In Physical appearance, Saint Tarasios is said to have closely resembled Saint Gregory the Theologian.

* This became the Seventh Ecumenical Synod.

** In fact it was out of concern for preserving the peace of the Church and for fear of reanimating the iconoclast heresy that Tarasios had not pronounced the anathema against Joseph. The holy Studites had paid for their resistance with exile, from which they were now recalled.

From The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, Vol. 3, compiled by Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra and translated from the French by Christopher Hookway (Chalkidike, Greece: Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady, 2001) pp. 610-613.

See also:

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
A model of faith and the image of gentleness, the example of your life has shown you forth to your sheep-fold to be a master of temperance. You obtained thus through being lowly, gifts from on high, and riches through poverty. Tarasios, our father and priest of priests, intercede with Christ our God that He may save our souls.

Kontakion in the Third Tone
Thou didst make the Church to shine with thy most Orthodox doctrines, teaching all to venerate and worship Christ's sacred image; so didst thou convict the godless and hateful doctrine of all them that fought against Christ's ven'rable icon; O Tarasios our Father most wise and blessed, to thee we all cry: Rejoice.