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St Methodius I
Patriarch of Constantinople (entered heaven in 847)
I chuckled when your dad told me that you have a summer job working in the local cemetery. I imagine no one bothers you there. Actually, it reminds me a bit of today’s saint. Methodius was a well-educated Sicilian who moved to Constantinople as a young man, hoping to make a career for himself in the magnificent court of the emperor there. He met a holy monk, however, who pointed out the advantages of serving an Emperor whose rule would never end, so Methodius took the habit and was ordained a priest. Soon, however, he was called to the side of the Patriarch of Constantinople, St Nicephorus, and became embroiled in the bloody iconoclastic controversy, which ruptured forever the peace of his monastic routine.
The iconoclasts denounced the veneration of sacred images as against the first commandment (the part that says, “you shall not make any graven images”), even though the Church had already pointed out that Christian sacred images were not idols, so they weren’t “graven.” After all, God himself had become visible in Jesus Christ, so it certainly can’t be wrong to adorn our worship and inspire our prayer through pictures and statues of our Lord and the saints, as long as those pictures and statues are not mistaken as gods themselves.
The controversy raged for almost a century, leading to the desecration of more than a few sacred sites. Methodius was vehemently against this heresy and suffered for it. He tried to mediate between the Pope and the iconoclastic emperor Michael the Stammerer, but stirred up the emperor’s resentment and ended up being imprisoned with two thieves in a mausoleum – you know, one of those large, above-ground family tombs that look almost like little chapels or temples; I am sure the cemetery where you work has one or two. They left him there for seven years, during which time one of the thieves died; they left his corpse there to rot. But by the grace of God, Methodius emerged sane and healthy, though looking a bit skeletal. He continued to defend the true doctrine of the Church and was finally rewarded by the repeal of iconoclasm at the hands of the regent empress Theodora, who also appointed him to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which he worthily filled for the rest of his life.
As you ride that mower around the tombstones and trim those gravely decorous trees, then, you may want to reflect on what went through Methodius’ heart and mind during his long confinement in a mausoleum. Perhaps with his intercession, you can learn the same lessons about life, death, faith, and truth in seven weeks instead of seven years.
God bless, Uncle Eddy