Augustine Sokolovski

On June 10, the Church celebrates the memory of St. Nichetas the Confessor. The saint was one of those heroes of the faith who, during the era of iconoclastic persecution (700–843) in the Eastern Roman Empire, supported icon veneration and suffered for it. After the name of his diocesan city, the saint is also called Nichetas of Chalcedon.

The saint was a relative of the Empress Irene (752–803). Thanks to this ruler, the VII Ecumenical Council was convened in 787, which recognized the veneration of icons as consistent with the faith and practice of Orthodoxy. However, despite such a high position, very little information about the biography of the saint has been preserved.

It is known that he was born in the middle of the 8th century in Paphlagonia, in the ancient region of Asia Minor on the Black Sea coast. Even before his call to the church ministry, as a man of the world, he became known for his help to the poor and needy. This earned him love among believers, and special authority among equals in position in society.

An opponent of iconoclasm, Nichetas saw in man the true image of God. Indeed, he confessed what he preached. It is historically known that the iconoclastic movement was an initiative of the powers that be of the time. Icon veneration was defended by ordinary believers and monks. In relation to the circumstances of that time and his own interests, Nikita, of course, acted contrary.

Having come to power in 780, Irina was forced to resist the resistance of many representatives of the nobility and the higher clergy, who opposed icon veneration. Being under the cultural influence of the neighboring Arab Empire, which was experiencing a period of its power and prosperity, they believed that the destruction of icons would help bring together different religious teachings. Were a kind of plural theologians before the advent of this postmodern theological phenomenon.

Iconoclasm in Constantinople lasted two periods: 1) From 730 to 787; 2) From 813 to 843. The Eastern Patriarchates were not subject to the emperor, since recently they were under the rule of the Arabs. The Roman Church was under the rule of barbarians, which helped her not to submit to the iconoclastic policy of Constantinople.

A significant part of the episcopate of the Constantinople Empire also spoke on the side of the persecutors of icons. So, in 754, the Council in Hieria, a modern suburb of the capital Fenerbahce, in which 338 bishops took part, adopted decrees against sacred images in homes, churches, and public places.

Recall that before the start of iconoclasm in the Byzantine Empire, sacred images were allowed even on coins. The face of Christ was visibly present everywhere, and for contemporaries such a sudden persecution of images by the authorities seemed to be the true beginning of the apostasy of the last times.

Wanting to enlist the support of the Orthodox episcopate, Empress Irina contributed to the election of Nichetas to the chair of Chalcedon. This ancient city on the Asian shore of the Bosporus, directly opposite Constantinople, was formerly a significant episcopal see. In 451 it became the site of the Ecumenical Council.

By his authority, the bishop - a “brotherly beggar”, like the ancient saints, Nicholas, Spyridon, and many others, greatly contributed to the establishment of icon veneration as a tradition not only sanctified by the piety of the common people but having its foundations in Scripture and Theology.

So, at the Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 787 iconoclasm was condemned, its supporters were excommunicated from the Church. However, as was already the case in previous Ecumenical Councils, the definition did not end the debate. After just a quarter of a century, the rulers changed.

With the accession of Emperor Leo V the Armenian (813-820), iconoclasm resumed with renewed vigor. This time, in addition to the previous enthusiasm of the opponents of images, based on doctrinal considerations, was added a desire for revenge.

Nichetas was removed from the diocese and suffered severely not only for his fidelity to icon veneration, but also for his ability to substantiate it. “In the beginning was the word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Genuine theology has always terrified the mighty of this world.

According to his vita, Nichetas lost his chair and sought refuge in monasteries. But nothing is known about the last days and the place of his rest. Apparently, wanting to hide their treatment of the bishop, who was formerly one of those close to state dignitaries, those in power erased the memory of him from the relevant documents.

According to the practice and canons of the Ancient Church, the bishop could not move from pulpit to pulpit. Unlike priests, he was called by the name of his department. This visible privilege, which signified the election for life, at the same time meant that the bishop no longer belonged to himself. His fate was identified with the Church. Thus, he inherited the bottomless homelessness of God, who, having once gone down in history, according to the Gospel, "had no, where to lay his head" (cf. Matt. 8:22). In the last years of his life, Saint Nichetas the Confessor became a living confession of this divine truth.