February 25 — Tarasios of Constantinople; Avertanus and Romeo

Tarasios of Constantinople (ca. 730–806) (aka Tarasius), quondam imperial secretary to Constantine VI, became Patriarch when his predecessor, Paul (a repentant iconoclast[1]), retired to a monastery. When the Dowager Empress Irene asked Paul to name his replacement, he named Tarasios. There was some grumbling about the idea of elevating a layman to Patriarch, and Pope Hadrian I (of Rome), perhaps forgetting Pope Fabian (Jan 20), never really got over it[2].

Tarasios of course refused at first, but finally agreed on two conditions: (a) that relations with the Papacy (of Rome) be normalized, and (b) that an ecumenical council be called to kick iconoclasm in the tuchus once and for all. (Actually (a) was only mentioned in my Catholic and secular sources, not the Orthodox ones. Draw conclusions, if you dare.) The council started but was aborted when rioting broke out (dirty iconoclasts). The papal legates caught the first red-eye trireme back to Rome, but eventually the council reconvened and restored the veneration of icons. Was everybody happy? Ha! Well, were all the iconodules happy? Ha! The hardliners (including (St.) Theodore the Studite), were incensed (no pun intended there) that Tarasios preached clemency for repentant iconoclasts. The noive!

Some while later, the emperor divorced his wife (for heirlessness) and married his mistress, Theodote. Tarasios refused to officiate, but did not forbid the match. Predictably, Theodore the Studite (who was Theodote’s first cousin) was outraged. Things got ugly, and some people were exiled, and indeed things didn’t calm down again until Tarasios excommunicated the priest who performed the marriage, which seems a little unfair to me, but (sadly) I wasn’t around for them to ask. Constantine was later mortally deposed (for want of a more euphemistic term) by a hit squad sent by his mother, who then reigned for five years as the first regnant Empress of the Roman Empire. She was somewhat peeved when Pope Leo III, refusing to recognize her reign, crowned Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor. Okay, she was a lot peeved. It didn’t help normalize relations any, either.

Some years later, as Patriarch Tarasios lay dying, those present heard him saying, presumably to demons who were accusing him, “No, I’m not guilty of that sin. Nor of that one. Nope, you’ve got the wrong guy,” and so on. He then fell silent and began beating the air, as if warding off unseen enemies. Finally he lay still, his face “shone as with the light of the sun,” and he breathed his last.

Avertanus and Romeo (d. ca. 1370). Avertanus went off to become a Carmelite in Limoges, over the impassioned pleas of his parents, both quite old, to stick around at least until they died. He replied that parents should be happy when their children are happy, and it would make him happy to become a monk, and besides they would always be engraved in his heart, and so on. Eventually they gave up and let him go. He took to monastic life with a vigor, even sneaking out of the dormitory at night to crawl on his knees to a nearby hill, where the praying was somehow better than back at the monk shack[3]. He also refused to talk about money (thankfully he was not the abbey’s treasurer), had frequent ecstasies, and was even pretty ecstatic about doing menial tasks. Ultimately he and fellow monk Romeo (who is famous for being Avertanus’ companion) received permission to go on a pilgrimage to Rome. They were almost turned back at the Italian border because the people thought they were carrying the plague. They were. They died within days of one another in a hospital near Lucca, Italy. As he lay dying, Avertanus had a vision of our Lord and His Mother welcoming him. If Romeo had any vision, it is (sadly) not recorded.

[1] Best kind.
[2] One hopes he has by now.
[3] Not having been to either, I can’t help you out here.