October 23, 2015

Saint Ignatios, Patriarch of Constantinople (+ 877)

St. Ignatios, Patriarch of Constantinople (Feast Day - October 23)


Having been removed from your former office,
You became a Forerunner of New Rome, Ignatios.

Saint Ignatios was born in Constantinople in 798. He was given the name Niketas by his father, Emperor Michael I Rangabe, who ruled the Roman Empire in the two years before the iconoclast Leo V the Armenian (813-820). His grandfather, the Emperor Nikephoros, had appointed Niketas, then a boy of ten, to exalted court offices, which he was never able to enjoy because, when Leo V deposed his father, their whole family had to enter the monastic life. So Niketas, at the age of fourteen, was made a eunuch and gladly became a monk, taking the name Ignatios, in the Monastery of the Archangels (which was previously known as Anatellontos and later became known as Satyros) of the Prince's Islands.

Austere in his ascesis, he was a faithful disciple of Saint Theodore the Studite (Nov. 11) and soon became a deacon, priest and abbot. In the reigns of Theophilos (820-829) and Michael III (842-867), the blossoming of monastic life in the region owed much to him, having founded three monasteries in the Prince's Islands. In the summer of 846, Empress Theodora had him elevated to the Patriarchal throne and governed the Church wisely for eleven years, until he was exiled by Emperor Michael III and replaced by Saint Photios the Great (Feb. 6).

As patriarch, Ignatios soon became involved in the dispute between the Stoudites and the defenders of former iconoclasts. Siding with the Stoudites, Ignatios deposed their leader Gregory Asbestas, the archbishop of Syracuse who then appealed to Pope Leo IV in Rome. This action set off a period of conflict in relations between Constantinople and Rome.

As Michael grew up under the regency of his mother, the empress Theodora, he came under the influence of his maternal uncle, Caesar Bardas, who was noted for his sinful life. To improve his position, Bardas undermined the authority of Theodora until, in 855, he convinced Michael to depose his mother and send her to a monastery with her daughters. Ignatios refused to bless their monastic clothing. Ignatios, who had been a strong critic of Bardas, soon lost the support of Michael. In 857, wanting to avoid a conflict between the Church and the government, his bishops advised him to resign. To replace Ignatios, the bishop’s council of both sides recommended to Michael as the new patriarch the layman Photios to avoid the election of bishops from rival parties. Over his protests, Photios was ordained through the Holy Orders and consecrated as patriarch on December 24, 858 by Gregory Asbesta, who had been rehabilitated by the bishop’s council, and two Ignatian bishops. Photios was a scholar and strong opponent of the iconoclasts.

Several months after his exile, some supporters of Ignatios met and appealed to Pope Nicholas I in an attempt to discredit Photios’ appointment. This action further strained relations between Constantinople and Rome as Nicholas used the dispute in an attempt to increase his power over the Eastern church and assert jurisdiction over the newly converted Bulgaria. Councils, one in 859 convened by Photios and a second in 861, convened by Michael with Photios’ concurrence, affirmed that Photios was the lawful and canonical patriarch.

In 867, the rivalries for the emperor’s throne quickly changed the situation as Basil the Macedonian murdered Michael and Bardas and usurped the throne. Photios did not accept the murder of Michael and refused Basil communion. Having raised Basil’s ire Photios was removed from office on September 25, 867. Ignatios was reinstated on November 23 and occupied the Patriarchal throne for another eleven years.

Upon his return, Ignatios followed policies that did not differ much from those that Photios used. Ignatios refused to yield to the papacy and by 870 brought Bulgaria back into the sphere of influence of the Church of Constantinople. As the politics of Constantinople calmed, Photios was returned to Constantinople in 876 by Basil I and entrusted with the education of Emperor Basil’s sons.

Having striven for so many years, in spite of imperial wiles, to preserve the peace of the Church, Ignatios departed to the Lord on 23 October 877 at the age of 79. With the repose of Ignatios, Photios was restored to the patriarchal throne, having been so recommended by Ignatios.