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June 14, 2017

Saint Methodios the Confessor, Patriarch of Constantinople (+ 846)

St. Methodios the Confessor (Feast Day - June 14)


Methodios the luminary of the Church,
With your death was extinguished the gloomy cloud.

Our Holy Father Methodios was born to wealthy parents in Syracuse of Sicily. In his youth he was sent to Constantinople to continue his education and hopefully attain an appointment at the imperial court. Instead he went to Chenolakkos Monastery in Bithynia, where he was tonsured a monk.

After becoming a presbyter and holding the high position of “apokrisiaros” (“advocate for ecclesiastical matters”), he was sent as an ambassador to Rome in 815 or 816 on behalf of Patriarch Nikephoros of Constantinople, who had been exiled by the iconoclast emperor Leo V the Armenian (813-820). There he reported to Pope Paschal I concerning the iconoclast controversy. He remained in Rome until the death of Leo in 820, and returned to Constantinople.

Being an advocate in favor of the veneration of holy icons, Emperor Michael the Stammerer (820-829) had Methodios locked up in prison in a fortress of Akrita. After the death of Michael the Stammerer, the ruler was Theophilos (829-842), who also was an iconoclast. More refined a man than his father, he set free Saint Methodios, who likewise was a man of learning, and superbly skilled in matters not only ecclesial, but also civil. Having received his freedom, Methodios renewed the struggle with the iconoclasts, and for a while the emperor tolerated this.

But after defeat in a war with the Arabs, Theophilos vented his anger against Methodios, saying that God had punished him because he had let an “icon-worshipper” come close to him. Methodios objected, saying that the Lord was angry with him for the insults he had made upon His holy icons. The emperor gave the Saint over to tortures, where he was struck many times on the face, from which his jaw was broken and he had to afterwards wear a bandage under his chin to support it. Methodios was then sent off to the island of Antigonos and he was locked up there with two robbers in a sepulcher. In this dark and damp sepulcher where the light of day did not penetrate and little food was provided, Methodios languished for seven years.

During this time, the Holy Confessors Theodore and Theophanes the Branded, who had also been sent to prison, sent Methodios greetings in iambic verses by means of a fisherman, saying:

To the one alive yet dead and dead bearing life
Abiding on earth and walking in heaven
The Branded write, bound by bonds.

And Methodios replied with greetings in iambic verses as well, saying:

To those whose names are written in the Book of Life
And to those sensible persons who are branded
Speaks he who is buried alive as a fellow wearer of bonds.

While imprisoned in the dark sepulcher with the two robbers, a Christian would visit them and bring them an obol of oil which they used to light a lamp - their only means of light in the dark tomb. One week he did not bring oil, so the Saint prayed and God provided them with oil. Even when one of the robbers died, the Saint was not permitted to open the tomb in order to remove the body and bury it. The Saint therefore bore the horrible stench of the decaying body with the other robber, which brought great suffering and misery to them.

The release of Methodios came about in the following manner. Emperor Theophilos was a lover of books, and he came upon a passage in a certain book that he could not figure out, so he inquired of the interpretation from certain philosophers named Jannis and Leo. Since they could not solve it, the emperor sent a cubicularius (eunuch chamberlain of the imperial palace) to Methodios to solve the problem, since he was known for his knowledge and wisdom. When he arrived, Methodios greeted him, saying: "Welcome, brother cubicularius John, I know well the reason for which you were sent by Theophilos. Give me paper and ink." With these, the Saint wrote down three solutions to his difficulty. This caused the emperor to revere him, so he had Methodios released and brought to the palace. The other robber was left to remain in the sepulcher, and he was given the grace also to work miracles.

When Methodios was released, we are told that he looked like a skeleton, but his spirit was unbroken. He resumed his opposition to iconoclasm under Emperor Theophilos, and was called before the emperor. Blamed for his past activities and for the letter that he supposedly incited the pope to write, he replied boldly, "If an image is so worthless in your eyes, how is it that when you condemn the images of Christ you do not condemn the veneration paid to representations of yourself? Far from doing so, you are continually causing them to be multiplied."

Soon after the death of the emperor in 842, the influential minister Theoktistos convinced the Empress Theodora, as regent for her two-year-old son Michael III, to permit the restoration of icons by arranging that her dead husband would not be condemned. He then deposed the iconoclast Patriarch John VII Grammatikos and secured the appointment of Methodios as his successor on March 4th in the year 843, bringing about the end of the iconoclast controversy. Speedily he summoned a Synod in Constantinople that endorsed the decrees of the Second Synod of Nicaea (787) declaring icons lawful in the Church. A week after his appointment, accompanied by Theodora, Michael and Theoktistos, Methodios made a triumphal procession from the Church of Blachernae to Hagia Sophia on March 11, 843, restoring the icons to the church. This heralded the restoration of Orthodoxy, and became an annual festival in the Orthodox Church, celebrated every year on the First Sunday of Great Lent, and known as the Triumph of Orthodoxy. The Synodikon of Orthodoxy compiled by Saint Methodios is also read on the First Sunday of Great Lent.

Attempting to undermine the authority of Saint Methodios, and also the love and esteem of his flock for him, the heretics slandered him after hiring a woman to declare that the Patriarch had physical relations with her. The whole of Constantinople was aghast at this slander. Not knowing how to prove his innocence in any other way, the Patriarch overcame his embarrassment and presented himself naked before the court, voluntarily showing them his body all withered and debilitated from fasting. The court was clearly persuaded that the Patriarch had been slandered. Therefore the people rejoiced at hearing this and the heretics were put to shame. Then the woman herself admitted that she had been persuaded and bribed to slander God's saint, and thus those who sought to bring shame on Methodios unwittingly increased his fame.

Throughout his short patriarchate, Methodios tried to pursue a moderate line of accommodation with members of the clergy who were formerly Iconoclasts. This policy was opposed by extremists, primarily the monks of the Stoudios Monastery and their abbot Saint Theodore the Studite, who demanded that the former Iconoclasts be punished severely as heretics. To rein in the extremists, Methodios was forced to excommunicate and arrest some of the more persevering monks.

Methodios was indeed well-educated, engaged in both the copying and writing of manuscripts. His individual works included polemical, hagiographical and liturgical works, sermons and poetry. Unfortunately not many of his writings have survived, except his life of Saint Theophanes and various fragments.

The final years of the Saint passed peacefully for the most part, having toiled much, wisely guided the Church and his flock, renovated temples ruined by the heretics, gathered up the relics of saints scattered about by the heretics, and transferred the relics of Patriarch Nikephoros from the place of his imprisonment back to Constantinople. Saint Methodios died of dropsy in the year 846 on June 14th. He was spiritually close to Saint Ioannikios of Mount Olympus, who had foretold that he would become patriarch and also the time of his death. His successor, Patriarch Ignatios, instituted the annual commemoration of the feast of Saint Methodios.

Apolytikion in Plagal of the First Tone
Putting forward a method of piety, you dissolved the barren designs of the heretics, the foundation of Orthodoxy Father Methodios, you restored with honors the icon of Christ, as a divine hierophant, and now you ever entreat, that our souls receive mercy.

Another 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. Methodios, our father and priest of priests, intercede with Christ our God that He may save our souls.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
Thou didst struggle on earth as one without a body, and didst inherit Heaven, O Methodios; for thou didst set forth the veneration of icons to the ends of the earth. And while living in abundant labours and hardships, thou didst not cease boldly to censure them that set at nought the icon of Christ.