February 6 – Photios of Constantinople and Vedast of Arras

Text illumination showing Photios of Constantinople and supplicants, 13th centuryPhotios of Constantinople (820–893) was a government official when Emperor Michael III overthrew the regent (his mom) with the help of his uncle Bardas (her brother). Bardas’s irregular (ahem) relationship with his widowed daughter-in-law led to his excommunication by Patriarch (St.) Ignatius, who was then forced to resign. Photios, commended by his holiness (or his family ties to Bardas), was chosen as successor. Find that dizzying? Hold my Ouzo. Over the course of six days (December 20–25), he was made a monk, reader, subdeacon, deacon, priest, and finally Patriarch. This looked kinda fishy, so Pope Nicholas sent two legates to the capital, and a council was held. Photios was affirmed by all present, including the legates, but Nicholas, unimpressed, held his own council two years later, which deposed Photios and excommunicated the erring legates. Photios, unmoved, accused Nicholas of overstepping his bounds.

Somewhere in there, Photios famously sent (Sts.) Cyril and Methodius (May 11) to Moravia to translate the scriptures and services into Slavonic. He also baptized the Bulgarian Khan Boris (May 2), who eroded east-west relations further by playing Pope and Patriarch off each other so well that Bulgaria emerged with its own autocephalous* church.

Back in Constantinople, Michael granted co-emperor status to his friend Basil, who returned the favor by assassinating him. Photios cried foul, and was promptly locked away in a monastery, replaced by his predecessor Ignatius. In the amazing Battle of the Fourth Councils of Constantinople, two councils with that name were held to decide Photios’ fate. The first denounced him and sent him to prison, and is considered the true council by the Catholics. The second denounced the first (and the Pope), and is considered the true council by the Orthodox. Between the two, Ignatius passed away and Photios returned to the patriarchate. When Basil died in a “hunting accident,” (you can’t make this stuff up) he was succeeded by Leo the Wise (Enough to Cover His Tracks), who was either his own son or the bastard of Michael. (Mom had, shall we say, divided loyalties.) Photios was deposed and replaced with Basil’s brother[1], and died peacefully in 891.

Tapestry of Vedast of Arras with the beasts, 15th centuryVedast of Arras (d. 539) was also known as Vat, Vaast, Waast, Vedastus, Gaston, and Foster (?!). Names were cheap in fifth century Gaul. Clovis I, King of the Franks and inventor of the stone arrowhead, defeated the Alemanni in 496, and to celebrate decided to nip off down to Reims and get baptized. Passing through Toul, he popped into the cathedral, presented his hierolibrary card, and asked to check out a priest to instruct him in the faith on his trip. He was given Vedast, hitherto a simple hermit who “charmed” the bishop “by his virtue,” whatever that means. While en route, Vedast restored the sight of a blind man by praying and making the sign of the cross, and some of Clovis’ court converted to Christianity on the spot.

Vedast was made archdeacon in Reims, and was later sent to Arras. Sadly, the neighborhood had fallen apart somewhat after the Romans had handed the keys to the Vandals—his see consisted of one ruined church. He buckled down, though, and in time through wonderworking, patience, meekness, charity, prayers, and an online fundraising site, he made a diocese fit for a bishop. He was so holy that 128 years after he died, his relics were moved—from the cathedral to a small chapel. The chapel grew into an abbey, which was desecrated by the Revolution, only to be reborn in 1838 as the cathedral. So you see he was moved from the cathedral to the cathedral; it just took 1200 years.

[1] Ever wonder where the term “byzantine” came from?