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April 3, 2017

Saint Niketas the Confessor, Abbot of Medikion (+ 824)


Niketas was set free from life, like a trapped sparrow,
With noetic wings he flies off to the heavens.
On the third Niketas was summoned to divine gifts.

Saint Niketas the Confessor was born in Caesarea of Bithynia to a pious family. His mother died eight days after his birth, and his father Philaretos became a monk. The child remained in the care of his grandmother, who raised him in a true Christian spirit. From his youth Saint Niketas, loved temperance, attended church services and was a disciple of the hermit Stephen. With his blessing, Saint Niketas set off for Medikion Monastery, where the renowned Saint Nikephoros (May 4) was the abbot.

The Monastery of Saint Sergios of Medikion, commonly simply known as the Medikion Monastery, and later as the Monastery of the Holy Fathers, was in Trigleia of Bithynia. The founder of the monastery was Nikephoros in 780, who restored a ruined church dedicated to Saint Michael and built the monastery around it. Nikephoros served as its first abbot until his death in 813. Nikephoros participated in the Seventh Ecumenical Synod of Nicaea in 787, where he indicates the monastery's full original name as "Saint Sergios of Medikion".

After seven years of virtuous living at the monastery, famed for its strict monastic rule, Saint Niketas was ordained presbyter. Saint Nikephoros, knowing the holy life of the young monk, entrusted to him the guidance of the monastery when he himself became ill.

Not wanting power, Saint Niketas still devoted himself to the enlightenment and welfare of the monastery. He guided the brethren by his own example. Soon the fame of the lofty life of the inhabitants of the monastery attracted many seeking salvation. After several years, the number of monks had increased to a hundred.

When Saint Nikephorus departed to the Lord in his old age in 813, the brethren unanimously chose Saint Niketas as abbot.

The Lord granted Saint Niketas the gift of wonderworking. Through his prayer a deaf-mute child received the gift of speech; two demon-possessed women were healed; he restored reason to one who had lost his mind, and many of the sick were healed of their infirmities.

During these years under Emperor Leo the Armenian (813-820), the Iconoclast heresy resurfaced and oppression increased. Orthodox bishops were deposed and banished. At Constantinople a synod of heretics was convened in 815, at which they deposed the holy Patriarch Nikephoros (806-815), and in his place they chose the heretical layman Theodotos. They also installed heretics in place of exiled and imprisoned Orthodox bishops.

The emperor summoned all the heads of the monasteries and tried to bring them over to the Iconoclast heresy. Among those summoned was Saint Niketas, who stood firmly for the Orthodox confession. Following his example, all the abbots remained faithful to the veneration of holy icons. Therefore, they threw him into prison. Saint Niketas bravely underwent all the tribulations and encouraged firmness of spirit in the other prisoners.

Then the emperor and the false patriarch Theodotos attempted to trick those who remained faithful to Orthodox teaching. They promised that the emperor would give them their freedom and permit the veneration of the icons on one condition: that they take Communion from the pseudo-Patriarch Theodotos.

For a long time the Saint had doubts about entering into communion with a heretic, but other prisoners begged him to go along with them. Acceding to their entreaties, Saint Niketas went into the church, where icons were put out to deceive the confessors, and he accepted Communion.

But when he returned to his monastery and saw that the persecution against icons was continuing, he then repented of his deed, returned to Constantinople and fearlessly denounced the Iconoclast heresy. He ignored all the emperor’s threats.

Saint Niketas was exiled to the island of Agia Glykeria (Incir Adasi) for six years until the death of Emperor Leo the Armenian. Enduring hunger and travail, Saint Niketas worked miracles by the power of his prayers: through his prayer the Phrygian ruler released two captives without ransom, and three shipwrecked men for whom Saint Niketas prayed were thrown up on shore by the waves. When he was released from prison by Emperor Michael the Stammerer (820-829), he lived in a dependency of the Monastery of Pelekete in Constantinople.

Saint Niketas reposed in the Lord in 824. Both Nikephoros and Niketas were buried at the narthex of the Medikion Monastery's Church of Saint Michael with reverence. Later, his relics became a source of healing for those coming to venerate the Holy Confessor.

In his Canon, written by the Constantinopolitan Hieromonk Joseph the Hymnographer, the life led by Saint Niketas was described as ascetic, he was a wonderworker, God–pleasing, and full of mercy. Saint Theodore the Studite often wrote to him.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Thou wast a firm pillar, O Niketas, and an undaunted guardian of the divine tradition. Thou wast adorned with holy dispassion, and didst become an illustrious confessor of the faith. Accept the prayers of those who cry to thee, and intercede for them with Christ our God.

Kontakion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
An experienced teacher of holy silence, thou wast an unsleeping eye of pastoral care as the abbot of Medikion Monastery. Pray that all may be filled with the Holy Spirit and guided aright, thou guardian of the sacred traditions, for we cry to thee: Rejoice, O thrice-blessed Father.