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December 18, 2018

Saint Michael the Synkellos and Confessor (+ 846)

St. Michael the Synkellos (Feast Day - December 18)


Death was a stranger to you Michael,
But by death you live, even live worthily.

Michael was born at Jerusalem around 761 into an Arab family of pious Christians and at the age of three was dedicated to the service of God by his parents. Around 786 he became a monk at the Lavra of Saint Savvas. After the death of his father, he persuaded his mother and sisters to go to a monastery in Jerusalem.

Venerable Michael lived in the monastery for twelve years, subjecting himself for eighteen years to every form of hardship, eating a few vegetables two or three times a week, and allowing himself a little bread on the weekends. The abbot then chose Michael to be ordained a priest on account of his virtuous way of life. Following this, he received permission from the abbot to withdraw into a quiet cave.

At that time two brothers entered the monastery, Saints Theodore (Dec. 27) and Theophanes (Oct. 11), who later became known as Confessors and were called "the Branded". They were assigned by the abbot to be disciples of Saint Michael, and with his blessing they were ordained priests.

In around 811, at the age of fifty, Michael was appointed to be the synkellos (or chancellor) of Patriarch Thomas I of Jerusalem. Father Michael and his two disciples then went to the Monastery of the Spoudaei, which was near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. A year prior to this Michael responded to certain Frankish monks who took up residence at the Mount of Olives that had added the filioque to the Creed.

At this time there reigned the Iconoclast emperor Leo the Armenian (813-820). The Patriarch sent Saint Michael to him in 815, together with the holy brothers Theodore and Theophanes, as well as his own brother Job, with the hope that they might persuade the emperor to cease his persecution against the Orthodox. The emperor subjected Saint Michael to beatings and sent him off into exile.

Later having returned from exile, the monk again suffered for the veneration of holy icons under the emperor Theophilos (829-842). The companions of Saint Michael, Theodore and Theophanes, were subjected to horrible torments: upon their foreheads was put red-hot brands with an inscription in iambic verses slandering them. This is how they received the title “the Branded.” Again condemned, Saint Michael was sent with his brother Job to a cell in the Praetorium.

After the death of Theophilos, the empress Theodora (842-855) restored the veneration of holy icons, and ordered the return of Christians banished by the Iconoclasts. She made the offer that Saint Michael might occupy the Patriarchal Throne in place of the deposed iconoclast, Grammatikos. But the Holy Confessor declined this offer. Thus upon the Patriarchal Throne entered Saint Methodios, another disciple of Saint Michael. Michael served as the synkellos to Patriarch Methodios and accepted the post as abbot of the Chora Monastery in Constantinople.

Saint Michael the Confessor to the end of his days toiled in the position of synkellos and as abbot of Chora Monastery. After bidding farewell to the empress Theodora and her son, as well as Patriarch Methodios, he spent his final days in prayer. On December 18, 845 illness befell him, then he reposed on January 4, 846 at Chora Monastery. He was interred at the same monastery next to Saint Theodore the Branded and Patriarch Germanos I (715-730).

Venerable Michael was also known as a homilist and grammarian. He is especially known for elegant encomiums to Saint Dionysius the Areopagite and the Archangel Michael. He is also credited with liturgical hymns and a poem on the restoration of the icons.