October 13, 2018

Saint Niketas the Confessor and Patrician (+ 836)

St. Niketas the Confessor and Patrician (Feast Day - October 13)


Submitting to afflictions for the sake of the divine icons,
Niketas rejoices with the joy of the intelligences.

Saint Niketas was born in Paphlagonia in 761/62, and his parents were probably named Gregory and Anna. He was a relative of Empress Theodora, the wife of Theophilos (r. 829–842). He was castrated by his parents at a young age, received a good education and was sent to Constantinople at age 17 (c. 778), where he entered the service of the imperial court. Niketas distinguished himself among the court eunuchs and came to the attention of Empress Irene, who handled the Empire's affairs as regent after 780. Irene promoted him because of his ability and because of their ties of kinship. In 787, Niketas is even said to have represented the Empress at the Second Synod of Nicaea.

Shortly after, he was promoted to the rank of patrician (patrikios), and was sent to Sicily as the governor (strategos) of the local theme. On account of this information, he is usually identified with the patrikios and strategos of Sicily Niketas, who in 797 sent an embassy to Charlemagne, as well as with the patrician Niketas Monomachos, who brought the hand of Saint Euphemia from Constantinople in  796 and built a church in Sicily to house the holy relic. Niketas' tenure as governor of Sicily is therefore placed c. 797, and ended before 799, when a certain Michael was governor of the theme of Sicily. If "Monomachos" represents a family name rather than a sobriquet (it means "single combatant"), Niketas would be the first attested member of the Monomachos family, which rose to prominence in the 11th century, with several of its members becoming high-ranking functionaries, and which also produced an emperor, Constantine IX Monomachos (r. 1042–1055).

Almost nothing is known of Niketas' activities in the decade after the deposition of Irene in 802. According to his hagiography, he wanted to retire to a monastery, but was prohibited from doing so by Emperor Nikephoros I (r. 802–811) and his son Staurakios. However, he has been tentatively identified with a number of people of the same name and rank mentioned in the chronicles: thus he may be the patrician Niketas who owned the house where the Gastria Monastery was built, or the patrician Niketas who was one of the founders of the Church of Saint Stephen in Trigleia, Bithynia. He is also frequently equated with the admiral Niketas who in 807–808 led the Roman fleet in its reoccupation of Dalmatia and Venice, who in turn is sometimes identified with the Niketas who was General Logothete in 808–811.

With the accession of Michael I Rhangabe (r. 811–813) to the throne, Niketas was at last able to receive tonsure (late 811). Indeed, the new emperor encouraged him in this endeavor, served as his sponsor, and gave him the Monastery of Chrysonike near the Golden Gate, where Niketas retired. Niketas remained in the monastery as its abbot until late 815, when the second phase of Iconoclasm began under the auspices of Leo V the Armenian (r. 813–820). Refusing to acknowledge the Emperor's iconoclast policies, Niketas left the capital for one of its suburbs. He was accused at one point of sheltering an icon, but he suffered no punishment except for the confiscation of the image and his confinement to house arrest.

Nothing is known of his life during the reign of Michael II the Amorian (r. 820–829), but in the early reign of Michael's son and successor Theophilos, the persecution of iconophiles intensified, and monks in particular became the targets of the emperor's iconoclast zeal. Despite his probable family connection to Theophilos' empress, Niketas was ordered to accept communion with the iconoclast patriarch, Anthony Kassymatas, or face exile. Niketas chose the latter, and with a handful of disciples and other like-minded monks he fled to Bithynia. He spent the next few years moving from locality to locality around the coast of the Sea of Marmara to evade harassment from iconoclast officials, before finally settling in the villages of Zouloupas and then Katesia, where he died on 8 October 836.

The main sources on Niketas are his hagiography and the synaxaria. The hagiography survives in a 12th-century manuscript, now located in the National Library of Greece at Athens. It was formerly attributed to Niketas of Medikion, but was written by an anonymous monk of the Monastery of Asomaton at Katesia, founded by Niketas, sometime shortly after Niketas' death. The account was based on the notes of Niketas' namesake nephew and disciple, who succeeded him as the monastery's abbot.