May 13, 2020

Saint Sergios the Confessor, Father of Saint Photios the Great

St. Sergios the Confessor (Feast Day - May 13)


How did you come to the end of your life my Sergios?
My end was a common death, and I lived for you.*

Saint Sergios was born around 795 to a wealthy nobleman of Constantinople named Zacharias, who pursued a career as a state official and evidently reached the rank of consul. Sergios received an education suitable for a future civil servant, and soon attained the rank of spatharios, an uncommon honor for such a young man. He is described as a man of large physical stature who had a great soul to match. He was married to an aristocratic woman named Irene, who was pious and virtuous, and whose brother was the patrician Sergios, who married a woman also named Irene who was the sister of the iconophile Empress Theodora. The uncle of Saint Sergios was the Holy Patriarch Tarasios of Constantinople (Feb. 25, 786-806). Saint Sergios and Irene had five sons - Constantine, Sergios, Tarasios, Theodore and the renowned Holy Patriarch Photios the Great. Saint Sergios named his oldest son Tarasios after his uncle the Patriarch, while he named his second oldest son Photios after an eighth century iconophile martyr that may also have been related to him.

During the reign of the iconoclast Emperor Theophilos (829-842), Sergios and Irene especially loved and honored the venerable monks who defended the sacred images. Their devotion to the iconophile cause and its defenders was unusual for government officials at the time. It probably stems from the fact that Sergios' father Zacharias was acquainted with several well-known churchmen of his time, such as Bishop Michael of Synnada, Abbot Hilarion of Dalmatos and Saint Ioannikios the hermit, let alone his brother being Patriarch Tarasios. Around the year 813 Emperor Leo V appointed Zacharias as curator of the Mangana, a post created to administer the crown lands in Thrace confiscated by the recently deposed Emperor Michael I. When Emperor Leo V reinstituted iconoclasm in 815, Zacharias and his son Sergios probably did what they could behind the scenes to help iconophile bishops and monks, including Michael of Synnada and Abbot Niketas of Medicium. Meanwhile, the wife of Sergios, Irene, had two brothers who became iconoclasts, one being John the Grammarian who was made the Patriarch of Constantinople, and the other was Arsaber the Patrician who became the brother-in-law of the iconoclast Emperor Theophilos and by appointed office was a persecutor of iconophiles.

For their love of the icons, Sergios and Irene became a target of the emperor Theophilos, and were deprived of their rank, wealth and nobility. Sergios was brought before the emperor, and was cruelly humiliated by him when he ordered for a rope to be tied around Sergios' neck, and he was paraded through the marketplace of Constantinople to be mocked and disdained by the people and he became an object of their outrage. He was then imprisoned. After this he was sentenced to be exiled with his wife Irene and his children. Saint Photios was seven years old at the time.

Sergios bravely endured the various afflictions of exile, and he died during this time, called by God to receive the unfading crown for his confession. It is believed his wife also died in exile. Later in life, Saint Photios would characterize his father as a brave, pious and virtuous man who was distinguished by a richness of true glory and correct faith, as well as by exile and martyrdom. In a letter written by Photios to his brother Tarasios, we surmise that certain members of his family not only suffered but died during the iconoclastic upheaval. He writes:

"Let us not commit insolence against our ancestors' patient struggles. They have seen the deaths of their children; death such as are not ours, and may they not be ours. Fire, water and the pit took possession of their descendants. Even bitter and heavy exile abroad was imposed upon them, and utter privation of friends and relatives came to them. In a word, everything that brings gratification was taken away from them, and yet they accepted it with good grace. Moreover, they glorified Him Who governs the affairs of men in a way superior than humans reckon."

It should be noted that Sergios authored an anti-iconoclast history, which he left unfinished when he died around 835. It was the desire of Photios to complete this history initiated by his father. In his Bibliotheca (67), Photios even wrote a review of this work around the year 845. He wrote:

"Read a denunciation of the iconoclasts by Sergios the Confessor. It begins with the reign of the emperor Michael, and then goes back to the lawless and abominable acts of Copronymos. Political and ecclesiastical events down to the eighth year of Michael's reign are narrated in order; his military achievements and his views on religious matters are set forth in detail. The style is particularly clear and simple, both as regards the meaning of words, composition, and the general arrangement, which gives the impression of spontaneity. The language, full of natural charm, is not characterized by studied changes of form due to excessive care. He has preserved the style best adapted for an ecclesiastical history, which was indeed what he intended."

* These iambic verses seem to be written as a dialogue between Christ and St. Sergios.