My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
Saint Photios, our holy and God-bearing father, of holy fame, was born in Constantinople around the year 820 to affluent, distinguished, and God-fearing parents. His father, Sergios, was attached to the Imperial Court as "Guardian of the Emperor and the Palace," that is, the Office of Spatharios. Sergios’ brother was Saint Tarasios, the Patriarch of Constantinople (784-806, commemorated by the Holy Church on the 25th of February). Patriarch Tarasios presided over the Seventh Ecumenical Synod at Nicaea in 787 A.D. IT WAS THE SYNOD THAT THE ORTHODOX VENERATION OF ICONS WAS CONFIRMED AND TEH ICONOCLASTIC (ICON-BREAKING) HERESY WAS CONDEMNED. Saint Photios’s mother, the pious and virtuous Irene, often received monks into her home, sought their holy prayers, and gave them alms. The parents, pre-eminent in virtue, nurtured all their children in faith and piety, laying the foundation with prayers and good deeds.
The family of Saint Photios belonged to the party which VENERATED THE SACRED ICONS; therefore, they were persecuted by the iconoclast Emperor Theophilos (829-842 A.D.). Saint Photios’ pious and upright family especially loved and honored the righteous monks who defended the sacred images. As targets of the raging persecution, Saint Photiois’ parents were deprived of their wealth. They were tormented and, together with their children, were exiled to wild and waterless places, that they might end their days. Not once did these confessors and martyrs of the True Faith consent to repudiate the sacred images. Therefore, even from seven years of age, Saint Photios confessed, defended, and sustained the Holy Apostolic Faith and the True Doctrines of the Holy Fathers. Anathemas and excommunications were hurled against Saint Photios’ family and his uncle Saint Tarasios by a council of heretics. Saint Photios’ father and mother died as martyrs in exile.
From his youth, Saint Photios shone forth in chastity and was inclined to the quiet, prayerful, and monastic life. Later in life, as Patriarch Photios of Constantinople, he wrote to the Easters Patriarchs: "Even as a child I longed to be free of life’s concerns and affairs and to pay attention only to that which was my concern… From childhood on, there grew in me and with me a love for the Monastic life."
After a bout with dysentery, the death of the iconoclast Emperor Theophilos came in January of 842 A.D. Christ, in His Omniscient Providence, appointed a devout and pious Empress to rule over the Byzantines until her almost three-year-old son, Michael III, should come of age. With the death of her husband, THE ICONOCLASTS FELL OUT OF FAVOR AND INFLUENCE, especially since the Empress was AN ICONOPHILE (LOVER OF ICONS). Empress Theodora, as it is recorded in her biography, removed her icons from hiding while Theophilos was on his deathbed. In her husband’s final moments, she persuaded him to confess, honor, and embrace the icons with all his soul.
The Empress Theodora’s minister, Theoktistos, had previously appointed Saint Photios as Professor of Philosophy and, Dialectics at the Patriarchal School of the Holy Apostles and the intellectual heart of the Empire. While in his position as a professor, it is said, the notable and celebrated Photios became the central force in the intellectual and literary movement of the second half of the 9th century. He exerted great influence over his young pupils. In educating others, Photios always aimed to guide their minds toward religious reverence. Thus, he mixed civic and ascetic virtue.
On the 13th day of March in the year 856, Michael, having attained an age of discretion, turned the government over to his uncle Bardas and elevated him to the supreme rank of Caesar. Over the years Bardas had become the main regulator of political affairs; and through his machinations, he eventually would eliminate his sister from the regency. However, rumor of Bardas illicit relations with his daughter-in-law echoed all over the city and came to Patriarch Ignatios’ ears. Thus, on the Feast of Theophany, in 858, the Patriarch REFUSED, in the presence of all the dignitaries of Hagia Sofia, to administer Holy Communion to Bardas. Bardas was deeply offended.
Another situation arose when a certain Gideon, posing as the Empress’ son, instigated a plot against Caesar Bardas. Patriarch Ignatios protested the execution of Gideon. Bardas retaliated by having Patriarch Ignatios accused of high treason. Many considered this fabricated charge of Bardas as just another scheme of his to be rid of his saintly sister and the Patriarch. On imperial orders, in October of 858, Patriarch Ignatius was arrested.
Bardas ordered him exiled to the island of Terebinthos, where he submitted his voluntary resignation.
During all these intrigues, Saint Photios maintained kept silent while studying, teaching, and writing on a multitude of subjects.
For more than a year, the Patriarchal throne remained vacant. Caesar Bardas did a great wrong by deposing Patriarch Ignatius uncanonically, that is, not by a synod. Yet the cunning Bardas found a solution–or rather Providence intervened with the bishops in the election of Professor Photios as Patriarch. The meek Photios, however, resolutely declined to accept the complex and demanding office of the Patriarchal throne. He never even considered leaving his books and studies to enter the clergy. He knew that once raised to the Episcopal chair, he would be compelled to give up that peaceful life in which he enjoyed the truest delights of learning. He thus entreated Bardas to give to another that "uncomfortable" chair.
However, pressed by the urgent need of the situation, the government and the bishops, Photios finally and reluctantly obeyed and accepted the ordination. To persist would have been unduly proud. Much as had his uncle, the Sainted Tarasios, Photios had to be rushed through the stages of ordination. This was not without ample precedent.
In accordance with ancient Ecclesiastical custom, when Photios took hold of the rudder of the Church as its Archpastor, having been elevated to the Apostolic Ecumenical, and Patriarchal throne of Constantinople, he sent Systatic Letters concerning his installation to the Eastern Patriarchs in 859 A.D. Due to conflicts in the capital, his letter to Pope Nicholas (858-867 A.D.) did not reach Rome until early 860. [Source: The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church]
[Next: Part II]
"Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God