St. Methodius I of Constantinople (Bishop)

Methodius was born in Syracuse, Sicily and was educated there. As a young man he went to Constantinople to seek a position in the imperial court, but on his way met a holy monk who so impressed him that he decided instead to become a monk himself. He built a monastery on the Greek island of Chios, and remained there until he was called to Constantinople by the patriarch, St. Nicephorus, who wanted Methodius to help him in the fight against the iconoclasts " those heretics who demanded the destruction of all sacred images on the false presumption that the faithful worshipped the images, not God. Both Methodius and Nicephorus boldly stood up against the iconoclasts, defending the attempt of Christian artists to inspire the faithful by means of beautiful icons.

When Emperor Leo the Armenian deposed Nicephorus and sent him into exile, Methodius went to Rome to report to Pope St. Paschal I on the destruction of sacred images. He returned in 821 with a letter from the pope to Michael the Stammerer, the new emperor, requesting that Nicephorus be reinstated and allowed to return to his see. Instead, the emperor condemned Methodius as a seditionist and ordered that he be scourged and exiled to prison. He was imprisoned for seven years; when released, he was almost skeletal, but his spirit remained undaunted. He resumed his opposition to iconoclasm under Emperor Theophilus, and when called before the emperor, boldly stated, “If an image is so worthless in your eyes, how is it that when you condemn the images of Christ you do not condemn the veneration paid to representations of yourself? Far from doing so, you are continually causing them to be multiplied.”

Upon the death of the emperor in 842, his widow Theodora became regent for her infant son, Michael III. She repealed all decrees against sacred images and named Methodius Patriarch of Constantinople, replacing the iconoclast supporter, John the Grammarian.

In the remaining five years of his life, Methodius convoked a synod at Constantinople that endorsed the decrees of the Second Council of Nicaea declaring icons lawful in the church. An annual Feast of Orthodoxy, still observed in the Byzantine Church on the first Sunday of Lent, was instituted to stress the lawfulness of venerating sacred images.

Saint Methodius, who died of dropsy in 847, was said to have been a prolific writer, especially of hymns, but we possess only fragments of his many works, including a complete Life of St. Theophanes.

1. Iconoclasm is still with us today, within and without the Catholic Church. Let us consider this statement from the Second Council of Nicaea that St. Methodius fought all his life to defend:

Following the divinely inspired teaching our of holy Fathers and the tradition of the Catholic Church (for we know that this tradition comes from the Holy Spirit who dwells in her), we rightly define with full certainty and correctness that, like the figure of the precious and life-giving cross, venerable and holy images of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, our inviolate Lady, the holy Mother of God, and the venerated angels, all the saints and the just, whether painted or made of mosaic or another suitable material, are to be exhibited in the holy churches of God, on sacred vessels and vestments, walls and panels, in houses and on streets.

2. And from our present-day Catechism of the Catholic Church, we have these words: "The contemplation of sacred icons, united with meditation on the Word of God and the singing of liturgical hymns, enters into the harmony of the signs of celebration so that the mystery celebrated is imprinted in the heart's memory and is then expressed in the new life of the faithful" (CCC 1162).