Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. Theophanes the Confessor

St. Theophanes the Confessor was an 8th-9th century monk who had once been married and been an imperial bodyguard. He died on the island of Samothrace. The title Confessor is given to saints who are imprisoned, tortured and/or sent into exile for the faith but are not martyred. St. Theophanes earned this title because he was exiled to Samothrace by the emperor Leo the Armenian.

The issue that caused this exile might seem trivial and strange — icons.

St. Theophanes was one of the defenders of the use of iconography by the Church. Leo the Armenian was an iconoclast (literally, a breaker of the icons). It is kind of amazing to think that a piece of wood with a painting on it could cause a bloody conflict that would last from 730 to 843.

The reason that iconoclasm became such a large controversy was because it became an issue over the nature of Christ. The iconoclasts not only argued that icons were idols and therefore banned according to the 10 commandments, but that mere wood and paint were not worthy of depicting the beauty, holiness and glory of Christ and His saints.

The iconodules (literally, lovers of icons) argued that if creation, in the form of wood and paint, were evil enough that they were incapable of depicting Christ and His saints, then it follows that iconoclasm calls into question the incarnation of Christ. By refusing the ability of Christians to depict the reality of God Incarnate who walked the earth, interacted with His creation, ate, drank and was touched, heard, and seen because wood and paint are not worthy of His image, they imply that the humanity — which is as much part of creation as wood and paint — is also not worthy of being united with Christ. If we cannot depict Christ, we cannot definitively defend the incarnation.

The first Sunday of Lent in the Orthodox Church is the celebration of the return of the icons to the Churches. On this day the Gospel Reading is from the end of the first chapter of John. The last verse (51) is actually a difficult thing to translate. Usually, it is translated thusly:

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

Here is a more literal translation:

Truly, truly I say to you: you will see heaven — the one that has opened — and the angels of God — the ones ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

Note the subtle difference in tense. Nathaniel cannot see what already is, but with faith he will. For Orthodox Christians, icons are one of the means by which we see what already is.


Miracle Working Icons

These items appear to be normal paintings on wood varying in size from about an inch a side to a couple of feet a side; however, when used in prayer to ask the saint depicted for intercession, the icons will reveal their miraculous nature. There are several types, roll a d12:

1-3 Myrrh flowing. These icons will produce a flow of myrrh. When used to anoint the wounded, this myrrh will function in the same manner as a staff of healing.
4-6 Protection. These icons produce the effect of a Protection from Evil 10r. spell.
7-9 Healing. Once per day, these icons can produce the effect of a Cure Disease spell.
10-11 Prophesying. These icons will prophesy for the faithful. Once per day they can be asked a yes or no question with the same results as if an Augury spell had been cast.
12 Spell Casting. These icons will allow the user to cast Cleric spells. These spells are determined randomly: 1d3 spells per day. Each spell will be of 1d3 levels.


John Matthew Stater said...

Great post - always fun to learn something new.

FrDave said...

Thanks for reading and for the kind words. I truly do appreciate it.

Alex Osias said...

Hm, I had wondered what the Confessor title was used for but never Googled it.

And now I have. Interesting!

I must thank you FrDave! Your blog is a treasure trove of material for another RPG fave of mine: Fading Suns. Because of the heavy influence of a monotheistic religion in the setting (it's one of the major political powers in the setting -- along with the Guild, the Noble Houses, and the Emperor), I've been reading up more on saints, religious history, schisms, exorcisms, and the like. The Saintly Saturday series in particular is useful for peppering games with little known saints.

FrDave said...

Thank you for reading. I've really enjoyed putting these posts together, and now I am going to have to put Fading Suns squarely on my radar...

Alex Osias said...

Well, if you want some free sneak peeks on Fading Suns (to see if it's of interest) you can check out the following links:

the current website for Fading Suns is at -

You may wish to check out the downloads page and look for the Fading Suns Quickstart PDF in particular -

FrDave said...


Thanks for the links, I will be looking at these with interest...