Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saintly Saturday: St. Michael the Confessor

Today is the Feast of St. Michael the Confessor who was from Synnada in Phrygia in what is now modern day central Turkey. From a young age he wanted to become a monk, so he travelled to Constantinople. There he met another young man seeking the monastic life who would eventually become St. Theophylact (celebrated on March 8). The two received the blessing by Patriarch Tarasius and entered a monastery on the Black Sea, where both men distinguished themselves.

All of this happened during the era of iconoclasm. Patriarch Tarasius had convened the Seventh Ecumenical Council in defense of icons and was in need of iconodule bishops. Both Michael and Theophylact were persuaded to become such bishops. Michael went back home to become the Bishop of Synnada and Theophylact became the bishop of Nicomedia.

In A.D. 813 Emperor Leo V the Armenian came to power. Seeing recent defeats against both the Bulgars and the Arabs as a sign that the iconodules were wrong, Leo V adopted iconoclastic policies and began to persecute iconodules including both Sts. Michael and Theophylact. Both were exiled. Michael died while in exile about the year A.D. 821.

Given the fact that St. Michael was at a monastery on the Black Sea and his friend St. Theophylact became the bishop of Nicomedia, it seems that it is time for me to expand upon the Sea of Marmara campaign setting. The life of St. Michael seems to suggest a few interesting wrinkles to the immediate history of the campaign.

Leo V the Armenian came to power primarily because he was a good general. Being an iconoclast was as much of a political move as it was a theological one — it placated the iconoclastic Arab Muslims long enough for him to push back and make peace with the Bulgars. Although he seemed to be a good administrator and skilled on the battlefield, he was not as skilled in politics because he was brutally assassinated on Christmas day A.D. 820 by his own generals.

This suggests that the heresy being supported by the Lawful powers that be is a second wave of the heresy and that those powers have been very successful at protecting their territory from outside threats. In past posts, I’ve postulated that Nicomedia and Byzantium are two different political entities. The life and time of St. Michael suggest that one is actually pagan or humanoid. Given its relative isolation to other significant locations on the map, Byzantium seems to fit the pagan/humanoid bill better than Nicomedia. Thus, the Lawful ruler of Nicomedia, although a heretic, is tolerated by the average citizen because he has brought a relative peace and stability to the area.

The persecution of iconodules under Leo V was aimed primarily at monasteries, therefore this fits very nicely into the idea that the Mountain of Skulls was ransacked by the Lawful ruler of Nicomedia, making the evil being guarded there free to wreck havoc. Part of the background noise could very well be a plot to assassinate the ruler by his closest allies to either cover up or in retribution for the mistake of ransacking the monastery.

Finally, since St. Michael’s friend St. Theophylact was deposed as the bishop of Nicomedia by Leo V, it follows that the rebel monks who are fighting against the Lawful ruler of Nicomedia are led by the former bishop of Nicomedia who also happens to be a monk.

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