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Patriarch of Constantinople and Confessor (entered heaven on June 13, 828)
You are justly exhilarated by being received into the Catholic Church. I congratulate you on your courage and authenticity: God granted you the grace to see that Jesus established one Church and put his Vicar at its head, and that all the other spinoffs are just that. And then he granted you the strength to leave aside the comforts of your old religion, to the chagrin of friends and relatives, and embrace the true faith for which so many have given their very lives. Today’s saint, though not a convert, similarly laid his life on the line for the Catholic faith. One little gesture of his, in my opinion, contains a valuable lesson for you.
He was the son of a great diplomat and civil servant, Theodorus, secretary to the Emperor at Constantinople in the mid-eighth century. When the Emperor slipped off the true path and embraced the Iconoclasitic heresy (which condemns the use of images in prayer and worship), good Theodorus refused to compromise his faith in order to curry favor with the Monarch’s whims. As a result, our saint’s father was beaten, scourged, and banished as a traitor.
Years later, when young Nicephorus had completed his fine education in learning and piety under the bright light of his father’s virtue, a new Emperor took the throne and reestablished the Catholic faith in the Empire. The future saint had shown himself so talented and efficacious that he was raised to occupy the same position his father had filled. He soon became the star of the imperial court. When the Patriarch of the great city died, no one more suited to such a critical role of spiritual leadership could be found, and Nicephorus was consecrated bishop. For the next 22 years, the holy prelate worked assiduously to imbue the city and the Empire with true Christian virtue, and to defend the true faith against the resurgent heresy, which made an especially noxious comeback under Emperor Leo, the Armenian. Leo and his ecclesiastical supporters used deception and intimidation and arguments and cajolery, but all to no avail: Nicephorus remained adamant in defending the true faith, and rallied other faithful prelates to his side. He was so firm that eventually Leo lost patience and sent him the way of his father – into exile, where he eventually died.
The lesson I had in mind has to do with perseverance in the faith. It’s not so easy to do, even though in the first fervor of your Confirmation it may seem so. All the most treacherous heretics started out as faithful Catholics, and more than one spiritual oak tree has fallen with a mighty crash even in its maturity. To keep yourself on the right path, you may want to do something akin to what today’s saint did on the day of his consecration to the Patriarchy. He held in his hand a scroll in which the authentic position regarding Iconoclasm (that popular heresy of the time) was written. After the consecration he placed it behind the altar as a pledge to hold to the true faith no matter what, even if he had to offer his very life, as Christ did on the cross and still does each day on the altar.
He fulfilled his pledge and kept the faith, glorifying God and leaving a luminescent path for the souls entrusted to his care to follow. My prayer as you start your Catholic life is that you will do the same.
Your very sincere uncle,