St Tarasius

Confessor and Patriarch of Constantinople (entered heaven this day in 806)

Dear Tara,

I wish I could have the pleasure of looking forward to attending your graduation.  It’s only a couple months away, and in theory I may regain my freedom within that period, but only in theory.  In fact, my captors seem to intensify their indifference as the weeks inch by.  But in any case I will be there in spirit.

You have been a constant encouragement to me – not only because of your kindness through the years, but also because of your example.  It is no easy thing to stay faithful through four years of life in the cultural milieu of a college like yours.  You not only stayed faithful, but actually grew in holiness, and helped others do the same.  My prayer for you now is that you don’t relax your efforts and get tripped up by spiritual overconfidence during these final weeks of senior year.  It is not a vain prayer; I have seen it happen before.  A glance at today’s saint may help you persevere.

Tarasius was the son of a noble family in the heart of the Eastern Roman Empire (which outlasted the Western Empire by about 1000 years, you will recall).  His father was a judge, and his mother a model of virtue and joy.  He received an excellent education, was careful about choosing his friends (the comforts and privileges of life among the upper classes in the Eastern Empire created a social milieu highly threatening to Christian virtue), and pursued a brilliant career in civil service.

In those days, the rampant Iconoclastic heresy (rejection of all holy images as idols) was being fruitfully manipulated by the many powerful, ambitious people who were always vying for the imperial scepter.  Even Paul, an otherwise exemplary Patriarch of Constantinople (the capital of the Empire), succumbed under pressure.  When the Empress Irene reestablished the Catholic faith, he renounced his Patriarchate in order to do penance for his weakness.  Fearing lest an enemy occupy the powerful ecclesiastical office, Irene asked Paul who should succeed him in the Patriarchate.  The dying prelate named Tarasius.

Tarasius resisted as much as possible, but the unanimous acclamation of clergy, people, and Empress prevailed.  He ended up serving as Patriarch for over 20 years, reestablishing the Catholic faith throughout the empire, encouraging every virtue among the people, and tirelessly denouncing the despicable behavior of those Emperors who preferred to use their power for selfish aggrandizement instead of the common good.  These latter constantly tried to corrupt the holy bishop, but to no avail.  So in the end they tried to force him to condone their evil ways, putting him under house arrest.  Still Tarasius held firm, until his dying day.

I hope and pray that you will take advantage of these last few weeks of college to shore up the good spiritual work you have done through these years, following in Tarasius’s footsteps.  Another former Patriarch of Constantinople (St John Chrysostom) gives a good reason for paying special attention at the end of your college career:

“A soul,” he says, “often wants not so much spurring in the beginning of her conversion; her own fervor and cheerfulness make her run vigorously. But this fervor, unless it be continually nourished, cools by degrees: then the devil assails her with all his might. Pirates wait for and principally attack ships when they are upon the return home laden with riches, rather than empty vessels going out the port. Just so the devil, when he sees a soul has gathered great spiritual riches, by fasts, prayer, alms, chastity, and all other virtues, when he sees our vessel fraught with rich commodities, then he falls upon her, and seeks on all sides to break in. What exceedingly aggravates the evil, is the extreme difficulty of ever rising again after such a fall. To err in the beginning may be in part a want of experience; but to fall after a long course is mere negligence, and can deserve no excuse or pardon.”

Your loving uncle,


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