Methodius was born in Syracuse, Sicily, an island off the Italian coast famous for its olives, wine, and marble. The schools there afforded him a good education, and he developed political ambitions. The capital of the surviving Roman Empire was Constantinople, so Methodius packed his bags and traveled there, hoping for a post at court. Instead he met a monk who persuaded him to abandon secular pursuits and to enter the ministry. Methodius was eventually noticed by Patriarch Nicephorus who gave him ecclesiastical responsibilities.

The iconoclastic controversy was tearing the church apart at the time. Should icons and images of Christ and the saints be worshiped? Methodius vigorously argued in the affirmative, but he found himself on the losing side. Patriarch Nicephorus was deposed, and Methodius was condemned, flogged, and imprisoned in a tomb with two thieves. When one of the thieves died, officials refused to remove the body, leaving it to rot where it had fallen. Methodius suffered in this putrid confinement for seven years, and he was little more than a skeleton when released.

But he immediately resumed his crusade for the worship of idols and relics in the Eastern church. He was summoned before Emperor Theophilus and charged with heresy, but he threw the charges back in the ruler’s face: “If an image is so worthless in your eyes,” he reportedly thundered, “how is it you do not also condemn the veneration paid to representations of yourself? You are continually causing them to be multiplied.”

Emperor Theophilus died soon thereafter, and his widow, Theodora, took Methodius’s side. Icon worshipers returned to the churches, exiled clergy returned to the empire, and within 30 days icons had been reinstated in all the churches of the capital.

Methodius was named Patriarch of Constantinople and soon called a council of Eastern churches to endorse his decrees about icons and to institute the Feast of Orthodoxy, celebrating the return of images to the churches. He ruled as patriarch for four years until he died of dropsy on June 14, 847.

What is an idol worth? It’s merely a false god. Why trust a speechless image made from wood or metal By human hands? What can you learn from idols covered with silver or gold? They can’t even breathe. Pity anyone who says to an idol of wood or stone, “Get up and do something!” Let all the world be silentThe Lord is present in his holy temple. (Habakkuk 2:18-20)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). June 14.

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