Saint of the Day: St. Tarasios, Patriarch of Constantinople

(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's saint, St. Tarasios, is found in Volume 1 of the series.)

St. Tarasios, Patriarch of Constantinople

The temporal leadership of the mighty Byzantine Empire was assumed by a succession of monarchs whose authority emanated from power politics which finally vanished with the last Greek emperor. But the spiritual leadership of Orthodoxy, which commenced with St. Andrew, has extended to the present day in an unbroken line of patriarchs, one of whom was a man named Tarasios, an eighth-century man of God who proved himself to be one of the strongest links in the chain of church stewards that has assured the permanence of the faith of Jesus Christ. His uncompromising stance in an era of political upheaval and theological dispute marked him for the greatness that led to sainthood.

Tarasios was one of the most popular figures of his time, admired as much for his devotion to the Savior as for his devotion to duty to the empire in his capacity of chief secretary to the Empress Irene, who ruled as regent for her ten-year-old son. An established statesman, his religious leanings led to close ties with the Patriarchate (within whose walls he was a familiar figure). He evinced a sensitivity to religious matters and a profound knowledge of theology which placed him on a level with ranking prelates as a servant of God, as well as man. Despite the fact that – for all his piety – he was still a layman, he was looked to for spiritual leadership by church and state alike when the Patriarch Paul VI, weary of the turbulence of the times, decided to step down.

With a mandate from the people and the hierarchy, Tarasios was the logical choice to succeed the outgoing patriarch, and within a week the onetime statesman was made a reader, ordained a priest and then bishop. Finally, on Christmas Day in the year 784, the Empress Irene made her friend and confidant patriarch of Constantinople. In the ensuing years no one, including the royal authority which he was to defy, regretted the selection of Tarasios. A divine will had placed him among the Christians he was to lead out of the confusion and doubts that obscured, even defiled, the cross. From the moment he took office, he made it evident he was a vicar of Christ.

A precondition for his acceptance to the post of patriarch was the empress’ promise to Tarasios that she would immediately invite all the hierarchs from all the corners of the empire to resolve once and for all the problem of Iconoclasm, an issue which had been tearing at the fiber of the Church for several generations. Thus convened, the Ecumenical Synod of Nicaea of 787 was a ended by over three hundred bishops and presided over by a patriarch who set the mood for harmony in such convincing fashion that the assembly was soon in unanimous agreement that the iconoclastic movement had no part in the Orthodox concept of Christian worship. The icons have ever since adorned church interiors as reminders that the Son of God lives in the hearts of men through the devotion and sacrifices of men and women but for whom the image of the Savior might have been obscured altogether by the forces of evil which have assailed the Church.

Tarasios maintained the dignity of his office while showing great humility through his preference for simplicity in all personal matters, avoiding any semblance of pomp in his affairs and retiring to a small room, as time allowed, for meditation and prayer. He exhibited a rare administrative excellence in meeting the challenges that arose and in preserving a harmony among clergy and laity which had been lacking for years.When the son of the Empress Irene came of age, he assumed the throne in place of his regent mother as Eperor Constantine VI, a ruler who was a far cry from his namesake, as events were to prove. Tiring of his wife Mary, the emperor sought to divorce her in order to marry a handmaiden named Theodote with whom he had fallen in love. When refused a divorce, the emperor declared his marriage annulled and proceeded to marry Theodote. Tarasios thereupon excommunicated not only the emperor, but the clergyman who had performed the ceremony, and followed this with such a denuciation of the royal action that the ruler was eventually forced to abandon the throne in favor of his mother. After his death on February 25, 806, Patriarch Tarasios, who had led the simple life, was given a funeral with pomp reserved for royalty.

Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from this website.

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