The sick elder remained there under guard for two years. Every day heretics were sent by the Emperor (Leo) to flatter or threaten the saint. When pleas failed to incline Theophanes to iconoclasm, the oppressor’s lackeys mocked and insulted him.
One day (in an effort to beguile Theophanes) Leo sent a message expressing the highest regard for the venerable one and begging him to sign a document rejecting the icons. The saint answered with this letter:
“Submit, O Emperor, to Him Who gave you the throne. Only by His permission do kings rule and tyrants exercise authority upon the earth. Know that God, being uncircumscribable, deigned to be circumscribed. He assumed our nature, becoming like us in everything except sin. In this nature, divinized in Himself, He raised the dead, gave sight to the blind, cleansed lepers, and performed many other miracles. In this nature He voluntarily submitted to death at the hands of the malicious Jews, rose on the third day, and ascended in glory to heaven, where He remains, inseparable from the Father. We devoutly accept everything that the Gospel teaches about Christ God’s human nature and his wondrous deeds in the flesh; therefore, having complete faith in this book, we reverence it and through it, Christ Himself. If we are not condemned for accepting and revering the works of Christ recorded in the words of the Gospel, then how can we be condemned for accepting and revering the Gospel history depicted on icons?
How many illiterates, gazing upon the miracles of Christ and His voluntary Passion depicted on icons, glorify the Lord Who suffered for them! Doing away with the icons, you would deny them salvation. What council ever condemned the veneration of holy icons as sinful and blasphemous? Christ Himself imprinted the image of His face on the Holy Napkin which He sent to heal Abgar, Prince of Edessa. The holy Apostle Luke painted an icon of the immaculate Virgin Theotokos. There is nothing in the practice of icon-veneration contrary to the tradition and doctrine of the Holy Fathers. The great Basil, initiate of mysteries transcending description, teaches that the honor shown an icon passes on to its prototype. And John Chrysostom acknowledges, ‘I love the holy icon depicted in encaustic.’ Likewise Cyril, the harp of the Holy Spirit, admits, ‘As often as I pass by the icon of Christ’s Passion, I am moved to tears.’
Thanks to the icons, even barbarians learn about the life of Christ on earth among men and His marvelous deeds, and they convert to our faith.
Do you consider yourself wiser than the fathers of the ecumenical councils? It is your responsibility, O Emperor, to wage war against barbarians. To define ecclesiastical dogmas and enact canons is the task of the holy fathers, not of rulers.”
Not one of the first six ecumenical synods forbade or denounced the veneration of holy icons or their use in honoring the persons and events depicted on them.
Infuriated by this letter, the persecutor immediately dispatched a brutal officer to Megas Agros in Sigriane with orders to reduce Theophanes’ monastery to ashes, beat the saint’s disciples mercilessly, and disperse them. The Emperor sent a second officer, as cruel as the first, to the Palace of Eleutherius, where the godly one had been imprisoned for two years. This man removed the holy elder from his dark cell; tore the garments from his body, much wasted by fasting and prolonged illness; and laid three hundred lashes on the saint’s back and belly. Leo commanded him to return to the prison the next morning, and the officer flogged Theophanes as mercilessly as he had the day before. Following this, Saint Theophanes was exiled to Samothrace. Several days beforehand, the man of God foresaw with clairvoyant inner eyes his banishment to the island and told the novice that served him to make preparations.
Theophanes’ stay on Samothrace lasted only twenty-three days. The elder departed to the heavenly homeland wearing a confessor’s crown, and God glorified him in death as during his lifetime, bestowing a healing virtue on his relics. The saint’s honored remains were placed in a wooden coffin, which the ill had merely to touch in order to be cured.
After the godless Emperor Leo the Armenian was slain, the venerable one’s disciples returned to Mount Sigriane and rebuilt their monastery. The sacred relics of their father Theophanes were brought from Samothrace to Megas Agros and enshrined in the church, where they worked innumerable miracles, unto the glory of Christ our God, Who is praised forever with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.