Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
Απολυτικίον (Dismissal) Hymn of Saint Photius. Fourth Tone
Since thou wast of like ways with the Apostles, and a teacher of the world, O Photius, entreat the Master of all, that peace be granted unto the world and great mercy to our souls.
OUR HOLY FATHER PHOTIUS THE GREAT, CONFESSOR AND PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE
[source: The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church]
Our holy Father Photius the Great was born into one of the great families of Constantinople in 810 A.D. His father, the spatharios Sergius, was the brother of the holy Patriarch Tarasius (25 Feb.) and his mother Irene's brother had married the sister of the Empress Theodora. His parents loved the monks and were martyred during the iconoclast persecution, bequeathing their son a more precious legacy than wealth and high rank, namely, love the true Faith unto death. He received the best possible education in every branch of learning, both sacred and secular. He spent whole nights in study and, possessing exceptional intellectual ability, there was no field of contemporary knowledge in which he did not become proficient. In breadth and depth of learning, he was the greatest scholar of his time and a central figure in the intellectual renaissance of Byzantium after the turmoil of iconoclasm. He occupied a professional chair at the imperial School established in the Magnaura Palace, where he taught the philosophy of Aristotle and theology. In the course of an embassy to the Caliph at Baghdad, he composed from memory, for the benefit of his brother, a critical summary of around 280 books of all kinds--his Myriovivlos (Library), a proof of the extent of his knowledge, he was appointed chief secretary to the imperial chancellery (protasecretis), but he still had time for his academic duties and for his beloved studies.
In 857 A.D. Bardas, the uncle of the Emperor Michael III, assumed power with the title of Caesar. He forced the resignation of the holy Patriarch Ignatius (23 Oct.), who had denounced his immoral behavior, and prevailed on the clergy to elect the wise and pious Photius as his successor. Photius held out against his election as strongly as he could, since he regarded death itself as preferable to that perilous office in those troubled times; but, in the face of injunctions and threats he at last gave way, and agreed to give up the peace of his study and philosophical discussions with like-minded friends. He was consecrated Patriarch of Constantinople on 25 December 858 A.D., having been raised through all the degrees of the priesthood in the previous six days. He took firm action against the remaining Manichean and iconoclast heretics, took in hand the restoration of the many churches, monasteries and charitable foundations damaged by the iconoclasts, and took an especial interest in missions to spread the Gospel among the barbarians. His attempts to appease the supporters of Ignatius failed; and while expressing disapproval of the violent measures taken against them by the government, he was obliged to summon a Council in 859 A.D., which confirmed the deposition of Ignatius and exiled him to Mytilene and then to Terebinthus. Agitation against Photius continued however and, in 861 A.D. another Council, known as the 'First-Second', assembled in the Church of the Holy Apostles with the official purpose of approving the restoration of Orthodoxy and of pronouncing the definitive condemnation of iconoclasm. In addition, the Council recognized the validity of the nomination of Photius, with the full agreement of the papal legates present, who, although acting contrary to the Pope's instructions, thought that they had thus achieved the triumph of papal authority.
The arrogant and ambitious Pope Nicolas I (858-68), who supported Ignatius, took the opportunity of the controversy to asset openly for the first time the pretension of the Popes of Rome to jurisdiction 'over the whole earth and over the Universal Church.' To the primacy of honor of the Roman Church and her authority as arbiter in matters of dogma, which had always been acknowledged by the other Churches--especially when the Arian, Monothelite and iconoclast heresies were being promoted by Emperors in Constantinople--the Papacy now ascribed to itself the hegemonic claims which the Frankish Empire, after the death of Charlemagne and the Treaty of Verdun (843 A.D.), could no longer sustain. On the initiative of authoritarian Popes, the Papacy sought to exercise a supremacy over the whole Church that was supposed to have been granted by Christ Himself and to have given the Popes the right to intervene in the domestic affairs of other Churches, and to impose on them all the usages of the Roman Church, such as clerical celibacy, Saturday fasting and unleavened bread for the Eucharist.
The opposition of Pope Nicolas I and his interference in the internal affairs of the Byzantine Church, when he had only been requested to pronounce decisively on iconoclasm, drove Saint Photius to condemn the novel usages of the Roman Church. 'Abolition of small things which have been received through tradition' he wrote, 'will lead to complete contempt for the dogmas.' Incensed by this response, the Pope wrote to all the bishops of the East accusing Saint Photius of adultery as being in illicit possession of another's see, and he decreed on his own initiative the deposition of the Patriarch of Constantinople--a thing never before heard of. Moreover, asserting the right of Popes to judge Councils, he declared that the decisions of the 'First-Second' were invalid. Nor did he stop there, but summoned to Rome a Council of Western bishops, which declared Saint Photius deposed and excommunicated all the clergy ordained by him. When the Emperor Michael III objected to these proceedings, the Pope informed him (in 865 A.D.) that 'he derived his supremacy over the Universal Church from Christ Himself.' Then, in successive letters, he subjected Photius to a litany of insults, to which that true disciple of the Savior made no reply.
The holy Patriarch did not allow these conflicts and cares to hamper his apostolic activity. With the support of the Emperor, he promoted the evangelization of the Slav peoples, engaging his learned friend and colleague Constantine (whom we venerate as Saint Cyril) and his brother Methodius, an ascetic from Mount Olympus, to undertake a preliminary mission to the Khazars of Southern Russia in 860 A.D. Three years later, at the request of the Prince of Moravia, he sent the two brothers on that great missionary endeavor which marked the beginning of the conversion of the Slav peoples of the Balkans.
At about the same time, Boris (Michael) the Khan of Bulgaria, who had recently been baptized by Saint Photius with the Emperor Michael as his godfather, bringing his whole nation into the Christian fold, turned away from Constantinople, which had refused to grant him a patriarch, and looked to Rome for support (866 A.D.) Seizing his opportunity, the Pope immediately sent Latin missionaries to Bulgaria with instructions to spread their innovations in this young Church which the Byzantines had evangelized, especially the addition of the Filioque to the Creed. Seeing the peril of an innovation which touched on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, Saint Photius estimated that is was time "for the meek to become a warrior" (Joel 4:9), and that he would have to break his silence and issue a rejoinder. He addressed an Encyclical Letter to all the bishops of the East in which he vigorously condemned the errors of the Latins, especially the Filioque. He summoned a great council to Constantinople, which in 867 A.D, proclaimed the victory of Orthodox doctrine over all the heresies, and anathematized Pope Nicolas and his missionaries in Bulgaria. The two churches were thus separated by a formal schism, which was a precursor of the final break in 1054 A.D.
He wrote the Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit--a systematic refutation of the Filioque heresy, in which he shows that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Person of the Father, the source of the Divinity, and is sent to us by the Son in order to make us partakers of the Divine Nature (2 Peter 1:4). Leaving this treatise as his testament to the Holy Church in view of conflicts to come, he departed to join the choir of holy Fathers and Doctors on 6 February 893 A.D. The miracles which soon took place in plenty at his tomb helped to convert even his inveterate enemies.
Humble, serene and long-suffering in tribulations, this true confessor of the Faith, unjustly called a fanatic by his enemies, remains one of the great luminaries of Orthodoxy and a wholly trustworthy witness of the spirit of the Gospel.
Please note: On the Filioque. "The erroneous doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit 'from the Father and the Son,' and not from the Father alone as Holy Scripture teaches, was first propounded by St. Augustine as a personal opinion, and would have caused no real difficulty had it not been taken up by Frankish theologians desirous of establishing a doctrinal distinction from the Greek Church, and finally by the Roman Church herself as a handle for the ambition of the Popes to dominate the Universal Church."
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God