Feast of Sts. Plato of Symboleon, Theodore Studites, and Nicephorus of Constantinople (March 13)   Leave a comment

Above:  Triumph of Orthodoxy Icon

Image in the Public Domain

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SAINT PLATO OF SYMBOLEON (CIRCA 734-814)

Eastern Orthodox Abbot

His feast transferred from April 4

Uncle of 

SAINT THEODORE STUDITES (759-826)

Eastern Orthodox Abbot

His feast transferred from November 11

Sometimes Ally of

SAINT NICEPHORUS (A.K.A. SAINT NICEPHORUS PATRIARCHA) OF CONSTANTINOPLE (758-828)

Patriarch of Constantinople

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DEFENDERS OF ICONS

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As I continue my exploration of the Communion of Saints, learning much along the way, I find stories of saints whose lives intersected.  As compelling as each life might be individually, he composite account is the one which is most coherent much of the time.  Today I tell the story of three great saints–an uncle, a nephew, both abbots, and a Patriarch. The abbots disagreed much of the time with the Patriarch, but all three loved and served the same Lord and Savior.  And all three suffered for their faith.

We begin with St. Plato of Symboleon (circa 734-814).  Orphaned at age thirteen, his uncle, the Byzantine imperial treasurer, raised him.  St. Plato sold his possessions eleven years later, gave the proceeds to his sisters and the poor, and entered the Symboleon Monastery in Bithynia, in Asia Minor.  He became abbot there in 770 then left to assume the abbotcy at Saccadium Monastery (founded by his sister’s children) twelve years later.  He resigned that post in 794 in favor of St. Theodore Studites, his nephew, and resumed life as a regular monk.

St. Theodore Studites (759-826), born at Constantinople, has become a novice at Saccadium Monastery.  Ordained at Constantinople in 787, he returned to Saccadium Monastery, where he became abbot seven years later.  Emperor Constantine VI (reigned 780-797) married for a second time while his first wife was still alive.  A priest named Joseph presided over the wedding.  These actions prompted St. Theodore and St. Plato to to denounce the Emperor, who exiled them and their monks to Thessalonica in 796.  The following year, however, their exile ended after Empress Irene (reigned 797-802) deposed and blinded her son.  The Byzantine Empire, for an officially Christian state, was terribly violent in its actions.

Back in imperial good graces, St. Theodore became abbot at Studion Monastery in Constantinople.  The monastery had fallen on hard times, but the abbot restored it in every way, even increasing the number of monks from about a dozen to nearly one thousand.  And he made Studion Monastery, where St. Plato had become a hermit, the center of Eastern monasticism.  Life was better for our heroes, but the winds of Byzantine imperial politics turned on them again.

St. Nicephorus of Constantinople (758-828) was the son of Theodosius, secretary to Emperor Constantine V (reigned 741-775), an Iconoclast.  The Emperor had Theodosius tortured and exiled for opposing Iconoclasm.  So young St. Nicephorus knew of the fickleness of imperial politics.  Shifting imperial political winds allowed him, all grown up, to have become an imperial commissioner and to found a monastery on the shore of the Black Sea before 806, when he, although a layman, became Patriarch of Constantinople.  St. Theodore Studites opposed this appointment, receiving imprisonment for his opinion.  Emperor Nicephorus I (reigned 802-811) disapproved of such dissent.  Three years later, with the official affirmation of Constantine VI’s second marriage, St. Nicephorus (the Patriarch) forgave Father Joseph for presiding at the wedding ceremony.  Sts. Plato and Theodore Studites, still opposed to that union, had to enter a second exile–this time, to Prince’s Island–in 809, along with St. Theodore’s brother and Archbishop Theodore of Thessalonica.  The Imperium also dispersed the monks of Studion Monastery.  The exile at Prince’s Island ended in 811, with the death of Emperor Nicephorus I.

In the meantime, St. Nicephorus (the Patriarch) had been engaged in doing his job.  He had built up his see and restored monastic discipline.

And what about St. Plato?  His healthy broken, he returned to Constantinople in 811 and died there in 814, bedridden.

Emperor Leo the Armenian (reigned 813-820) united Sts. Nicephorus and Theodore Studites in common cause.  Leo was an Iconoclast; the saints were not.  In 814, with the discovery of private correspondence in which St. Theodore Studites affirmed Papal primacy, the abbot went into a third exile, mixed with imprisonment.  He was in prison for three years then was subject to harsh treatment by an Iconoclastic bishop who wished that authorities would permit him to behead St. Theodore.  And St. Nicephorus, deposed in 815 for opposing the policies of Emperor Leo, survived assassination attempts and spent the rest of his life in exile at the Black Sea monastery he had founded.  He wrote anti-Iconoclastic treaties and two histories, Breviarum and Chronograhia.  He died on June 2, 828.

St. Theodore’s exile ended in 820, shortly after the murder of Emperor Leo the Armenian.  The new boss, Michael II “the Stammerer” (reigned 820-829), also an Iconoclast, refused to restore St. Theodore to any post.  The saint founded a monastery on Akrita for the monks who remained faithful to him.  There he died on November 11, 826.  Most of the hymns he wrote survive to this day.

So ends this tale of orthodoxy, woe, and official violence–all of it in the name of Jesus, who suffered.  May we never cause the suffering of our fellow Christians.  In other words, whom would Jesus persecute?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 16, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GUSTAF AULEN, SWEDISH LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ADELAIDE, HOLY ROMAN EMPRESS

THE FEAST OF MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

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Lord God,

you have surrounded us with so great a cloud of witnesses.

Grant that we, encouraged by the example of your servants

Saint Plato of Symboleon,

Saint Theodore Studites,

and Saint Nicephorus of Constantinople,

may persevere in the course that is set before us and,

at the last, share in your eternal joy with all the saints in light,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 59

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Revised on December 24, 2016

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