March 13 – Nicephorus of Constantinople; Euphrasia of Constantinople

Nicephorus of Constantinople (ca. 758–829), after his iconodule father was scourged and banished (to Nicea) (horrors!), went into politics, becoming a cabinet secretary. He attended the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787, at which icon use was officially reintroduced for officially the last time. Worn out from counciling, he retired to a monastery he had founded earlier, where he prayed and studied mathematics and philosophy and other (more wholesome) things, until he was recalled to Constantinople to run a poorhouse.

At the death of the patriarch, Nicephorus was chosen by the Emperor (also named Nicephorus) to ascend the ecclesial throne. This caused much consternation, as our Nicephorus was a layman. (Clearly those consterned were troublemakers, as this was hardly unprecedented.) When the emperor died in battle and his son and his successor each received early retirement (kof), Leo the Armenian, an iconoclast, gained the imperial throne. He attempted to force Nicephorus and the other bishops to renounce icons, even holding a kangaroo synod (of course they wouldn’t have called it that because they didn’t know that word yet), which succeeded in deposing the patriarch. He was exiled to one of his monasteries, from which he wrote reams (well, flocks if they were on parchment) of diatribes against iconoclasm which, despite having been officially denounced for the last time, was ba-a-ack. Many attempts were made on his life, but apparently by incompetents. He died in exile, and about 50 years later his body was carted back to the capital. He is also celebrated in the west on this day.

Euphrasia of Constantinople (380–ca. 420) (aka Eupraxia but since that’s also her mom’s name, we’ll call her Euphrasia) (cue: “It’s a Byzantine day in the neighborhood!”) was born to mover-and-shaker parents, and when she was only five a marriage was arranged for her with a senator’s son (it ain’t me, it ain’t me) by Emperor Theodosius I. When her father died, however, her mother packed the china (although she wouldn’t have called it that) and the best crystal and headed to her estates in Egypt, Euphrasia firmly in tow. Near their home was a large women’s monastery with a very strict rule, and Eupraxia offered them a large endowment if they would promise to perpetually pray for her deceased husband. The abbess, wary of worldly riches and a shrewd bargainer, bargained her down to a continual supply of oil and incense. “That’s all we need,” she averred.

Little Euphrasia, now seven, begged her mother to be allowed to join the convent. She was taken to the abbess, who handed her an icon. Euphrasia took it and kissed it, saying, “I dedicate myself to Christ by vow.” Eupraxia blessed her daughter, and went home weeping. The nuns thought the girl would soon tire of monastery life. As if. She fulfilled her part of the community’s work with joy, even seeking out extra work despite some grumbling from the other nuns. To help her take her mind off her many temptations, the abbess gave her difficult but meaningless tasks to undertake, most notably carrying large stones for no particular reason from one place to another and back. When the devil saw her doing this patiently and contentedly, he flung up his hands and went and tempted somebody else.

When the emperor heard that Eupraxia had died, he remembered Euphrasia and sent for her. “Time to marry the Senator I picked out for you,” he said. She wrote back saying, “I’m a consecrated virgin for Christ, and will not be the wife of some worm chow. Give my property to the poor, free the servants, and pray for me.” He did so, and showed her letter to his Senator friends. “That’s some woman,” they all said, weeping.