(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. Methodios, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
Saint Methodios, Patriarch of Constantinople
Differences of opinion in a healthy climate where mutual consideration is maintained at all times can be beneficial to those who have opposing points of view; when carried to extremes these differences of opinion lead to crises or disaster. The Iconoclastic movement, which sought to remove the holy icons from Christian churches and homes, caused a near-disaster to Christianity. It threatened the structure of Christendom for more than one hundred fifty years. But the Iconoclastic movement did not completely ravage the framework of Christian worship, thanks to the stand taken by a few stalwarts, among whom was Methodios, archbishop of Constantinople and a champion of the preservation of the sacred icons.
Methodios opposed the iconoclast view that the icons themselves were being venerated. He insisted that as symbolic representations they should be maintained as the founding Fathers of the Church had planned. An erosion of this basic concept would have unnerved the might of Christianity and stripped it of its authority, thus reducing it to a philosophic expression. Without Methodios and others defending Tradition against the flood of controversial Iconoclasm, the Christian Church would not be as we know it today.
Born in the city of Syracuse in the ninth century, Methodios followed the time-honored paths to religious greatness, preparing himself for the service of Christ through intensive study and zealous application to the glory of God. Well-versed in philosophy, dedicated to the dissemination of the word of Jesus, and pious in all endeavors, he placed himself in a monastery in Henolakkos, near the ancient city of Byzantium. With attention to every detail of prayer and worship, he soon became abbot of the monastery.
The next step in Methodios’ glorious career was his appointment as archbishop of the diocese of Kyzikios. Here his reputation as a complete man of God was forged through his tireless efforts for the betterment of mankind and the spiritual elevation of those about him. Methodios’ fame spread through the empire. About this time, Emperor Leo the Armenian, an avowed iconoclast, assumed power; his successor, Michael the Stammerer, continued Leo’s iconoclastic policies. The resulting polarization paralyzed the Church. When Methodios boldly sought to stave off the forces of Michael, he was rewarded by exile to the tiny island of Antigone, near the Bosporus.
While an outcast, Methodios was subject to humiliation and hardship. Although there was no evidence of physical torture while he was on the island, nevertheless he was badgered and embarrassed. This mighty voice of the Church was systematically reduced to a whisper, with the ultimate end being his complete silence.
Later, Methodios was removed to Constantinople and further demeaned by being placed under guard. The iconoclasts did not dare to inflict cruelties upon such a popular bishop for fear of arousing the populace.
Methodios was not to be silenced, however. Gradually his firm stand against the iconoclasts came into full view and he was once again able to speak out against those who would reduce the churches to barren timber and stone. His sentiments were echoed throughout the empire when Emperor Theophilos died. His wife and successor, Theodora, offered Patriarch Methodios her official support.
In recognition of his contribution to the Church, Empress Theodora heaped great honors on Methodios. Together they convened a General Synod which declaredon March 11, 843 that icons were reaffirmed as an integral part of Christian veneration. He died on June 14, 847.