This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

April 3 -- Feast of Saint Nicetas of Medicion

Hey Leo, is that a graven image of YOU?
It might seem repetitive to discuss the iconoclastic movement again.  Regular readers of this blog know that I am not in favor of trashing anyone's venerated objects, no matter how bitterly I may oppose their culture or customs.  Still, I would not contend that even the iconoclasts had crossed a line that put them outside the communion with others.  My reading of the Gospels (such as I have read) suggests that Jesus wanted a single communion of all believers; he did not say that they all needed to believe exactly the same thing or to pray in exactly the same way.

Pope John Paul II in Africa
Nicetas was an abbot (hegumen) of a monastery on Mount Olympus (Bithynia) in the ninth century.  He held the post when Leo V, a Byzantine Emperor,  launched another round of iconoclastic persecution.  Nicetas was exiled and jailed a few times.  Normally it would only take once -- either lock someone away or let them free.  My guess is that Nicetas believed enough in the universal church to get himself sprung by the iconoclasts, then slipped back into some iconodule language and got busted all over again.

At one point, he accepted communion (Eucharist) from the iconoclast patriarch, Theodotus.  He figured the dispute was really just church politics (ecclesiology) rather than true doctrine, but when he saw this aligned him with the prevalent faction against his own orthodox brethren, he renounced his decision.  This renunciation earned him more time in jail, of course.  This time he was locked up in the monastery of St. Glykeria, where the exarch Anthemus (a court eunuch) denied him adequate food, exercise, and light.

Pope Benedict at the Blue Mosque in Turkey
Emperor Leo was locking up lots of folks, including his erstwhile ally, Michael the Stutterer.  When the decision came down to lop off Mike's head for treason, he threatened to out his conspiratorial pals unless they took action.  They ran to church, killed Leo in front of the altar, and then hastened to prison to spring Michael.  He was crown emperor while his legs were still bound by iron shackles.

Ecumenism in Assisi
I might dwell on the fact that Leo would be a saint if his views had been orthodox.  Any king killed in a church is a lock for sainthood, unless he is a heretic first.  But that seems beside the point today.  Instead, let's look at Nicetas, who was finally sprung from prison by Michael but opted not to return to his old monastery.  Not as the hegumen, nor even as a simple brother.  Instead, he just found a quiet hermitage in which to prepare himself for his imminent death.  That came on April 3, 824.

It seems to me that Nicetas had it right when he accepted the Eucharist from Theodotus.  The Church is one body, even if believers have different approaches, different practices, even different dogma.  The important things are our unity, our love for our neighbors, and our love for God.   How we love God is less important than that we love God. Today, Christianity is divided into a couple thousand sects and denominations.  The ecumenism of the last fifty years of Catholicism has been stridently opposed by conservatives in the Church.  We must reassure these folks that we love them and will not abandon them or threaten their rites, but we must also insist that if the Pope wants to dance in a syncretic African ritual, that too is loving God.  If he kisses a Qur'an and prays in a mosque, that too is loving God.

Post script: After writing this, I read an article detailing conservative Catholic exasperation with Pope Francis' non-traditional attitude toward the papacy.  I hope this link to it remains active. 

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