March 22, 2023

Saint Niketas the Confessor of Apolloniada as a Model for our Lives

St. Niketas the Confessor (Feast Day - March 22)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Niketas the Confessor lived in the 8th century AD, when the heresy of iconoclasm prevailed and those who remained steadfast in the Orthodox faith and venerated and honored the holy icons were persecuted. He courageously and boldly professed the Orthodox faith, developing the theology of holy icons, that the icons of Christ, the Most Holy Theotokos and the Saints are not worshiped, but venerated. He was persecuted by the iconoclasts, exiled and suffered many hardships, but he remained "faithful unto death", and received from God, the giver of the prize, "the incorruptible and undefiled crown of confession". He settled on the throne of the Diocese of Apolloniada, which was a city in Bithynia of Asia Minor, and as a Diocese was subject to the Sacred Metropolis of Nicomedia.

Saint Niketas was an excellent scholar of the Holy Scriptures, a skillful handler of discourse and a piercing preacher, a good shepherd of Christ's rational sheep and most merciful, and especially a Confessor of the Orthodox faith.

His had a peaceful end.

His life and his conduct give us the occasion to emphasize the following:

First, faith is connected with the doctrines of the Church, that is, with the truth as a revelation, as expressed by the Church through the Prophets, the Apostles and the Holy Fathers, as Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou says. Also, it is connected with the Orthodox phronema and the life according to Christ, and whoever possesses both of these is truly a believer, while the one who lacks them, or even possesses only one, is, in reality, an unbeliever. Because, as Saint Gregory Palamas says, an unbeliever is not only the one who does not believe in the existence of God, but also the heretic, the one who falsifies the faith and alters the Orthodox way of life, as well as the one who may have received Baptism, but he does not have an Orthodox phronema and ethos and does not confess his faith with his word and above all with the way of his life. In other words, faith is connected with the Orthodox doctrine, confession, repentance, good works, obedience to the Church and the commandments of God, and generally with the Orthodox way of life. And anyone who does not have the above characteristics is an unbeliever or has an empty dead faith, like that of demons. Because even the demons "believe and fear", but their faith does not benefit them and does not save them, because, due to their pride, they do not repent and do not obey God's will.

In other words, the faith that saves man is the one that remains unadulterated and is linked to obedience to God's will, absolute trust in His love and His promises. And a believer is he who, even when tested by various events that cause him pain and sorrow, does not despair, but hopes in God and prays and perseveres. And then at the moment that God will judge as appropriate, He visits him with His Grace, comforts him, strengthens him, eases his pain, sweetens his heart and fills him with inner peace and spiritual joy.

Second, "icon" means depiction, likeness, description or likeness. Various persons or events are depicted in the icon. In ecclesiastical iconography or hagiography, Christ, the Most Holy Theotokos and the Saints are depicted or various events of their lives are depicted. The veneration which is given to the holy icons, according to the words of Basil the Great, "goes to the prototype". This means that, when the believer venerates the icon, he does not give honor and veneration to the materials of which the icon is made, but honors and venerates the imaged person.

However, apart from the painted icons of Christ, there are also His living icons, which are all people. Christ is the image of the invisible God, as the Apostle Paul tells us, while man is the image of Christ. In other words, man, as Basil the Great says, is the image of the image, and therefore he should try to resemble his prototype. However, in order for man to resemble his image, namely Christ, as far as this is possible, he must be a member of His Body through Baptism and obey His commandments. In other words, to have an ecclesiastical attitude and to respect and obey the sacred institution of the Church. Also, as he honors and loves the paintings depicting Christ, in the same way he should honor and respect the living images of Christ, i.e. the people, without distinction or favoritism.

The holy icons are historicized by people, who are called iconographers. However, there is also the Holy Mandylion, which, according to an unwritten tradition, is considered an icon of Christ not made with human hands. According to this tradition, which is preserved by Saint John of Damascus, Abgar, who reigned in Edessa in Asia Minor, sent a painter to capture the face of Christ, but he was unable to do so because of the dazzling brightness of His face. Then Christ, who knew what the painter wanted, put a cloth cover over His face, on which He imprinted His image and sent it to Abgar.

However, the real image of Christ not made with hands is the one that is inscribed by God Himself, not with ink and colors on wooden or stone surfaces, but by the Holy Spirit in the depths of the human heart. Of the hearts of all those who struggle with asceticism, prayer and the sacramental life to be spiritually reborn and from mental to become spiritual, from earthly to heavenly, because flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, nor corruption inherit incorruption, as Christ said to Nicodemus, the hidden disciple, who visited him at night.

A spiritual person is one who, by the Grace of God and his personal struggle, "acquired a ruler's mind against the passions of destruction" and through repentance "saved the image of God within from being unblemished", and was found worthy to reach the "according to the likeness", that is, to know God empirically or rather he was found worthy to be known by God.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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