Sainted Nicephorus the Confessor was born in Constantinople in the second half of the eighth century. Deep faith and preparation for the deed of confessor were instilled in him by his parents, Theodore and Eudocia. They gave their son a genuine Christian upbringing, reinforced by the example of their own life. His father suffered as a confessor of Orthodoxy under the Iconoclast emperor Constantine Copronymos (740-775). His mother, having shared in all the tribulation with her husband, followed him into exile, and after his death she returned to Constantinople and finished her life in a convent. Saint Nicephorus received a fine secular education, but most of all he studied the Holy Scriptures and he read spiritual books.
During the reign of Leo IV (775-780), Saint Nicephorus received the position of imperial counselor. Situated at the imperial court, he continued to lead a strict and virtuous life, he firmly preserved the purity of his Orthodox faith and zealously defended the veneration of holy icons. After the death of Leo IV, during the reign of Constantine VI (780-797) and his mother Saint Irene, at Nicea in the year 787 was convened the Seventh Ecumenical Council, which condemned the Iconoclast heresy. Being deeply knowledgeable in the Holy Scriptures, Saint Nicephorus in the emperor’s name entered into the Council in the defense of Orthodoxy, by which he rendered great assistance to the holy fathers of the Council.
After the Council, Saint Nicephorus remained for several years at court, but the whole life of vanity all more and more became burdensome to the saint. He retired his position and settled in solitude near the Bosphorus, spending his life in scholarly work, and in quietude, fasting and prayer. Saint Nicephorus built a church, founded a monastery, and led a strict monastic life even before taking monastic vows.
During the reign of emperor Nicephorus I (802-811), and after the death of the holy Patriarch Tarasios (784-806), Saint Nicephorus was chosen to his place: he received monastic vows and the priestly dignity and was elevated to the patriarchal throne on 12 April 806, on the day of holy Pascha.
Under the emperor Leo V the Armenian (813-820), a passionate adherent of the Iconoclast heresy, there again began for the Church a period of unrest and persecutions. The emperor was not immediately able to begin open persecution against Orthodoxy, since Iconoclasm was condemned at the Seventh Ecumenical Council. The holy Patriarch continued to serve in the Great church, bolding urging the people to preserve the Orthodox faith, and he led the consequent and unremitting struggle with heresy. The emperor began to recall from exile the bishops and clergy, excommunicated from the Church by the Seventh Ecumenical Council. Having convened with them an heretical council, the emperor demanded that the Patriarch appear for a dispute about the faith. The Patriarch refused to argue about the faith with heretics, since the teachings of the Iconoclasts were already condemned in the anathema of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. He endeavoured all the more to bring the emperor and those around him to their senses, he fearlessly explained to the people the teaching about the veneration of holy icons, he wrote admonitions to the empress and to the city-governor Eutykhianos, the closest one to the imperial dignity, attaching at the end the prophetic words about a quick perishing of heretics from “the punishing hands of the Lord.” Then the heretical council passed an excommunication of holy Patriarch Nicephorus and his predecessors, the blessedly-reposing Patriarchs Tarasios and Germanos. Saint Nicephorus was sent at first to a monastery at Chrysopolis, and later to the island Prokonnis in the Sea of Marmara. After thirteen years of deprivation and sorrow the holy Patriarch Nicephorus died in exile on 2 June 828.
On 13 March 847 the undecayed relics of the holy Patriarch Nicephorus, having lain in the ground for nineteen years, were solemnly transferred to Constantinople into the cathedral church of Saint Sophia.
Saint Nicephorus was outstanding as a church activist of his times, “a credit to his era and his cathedra,” and, having much served the Church, he left behind an extensive spiritual legacy – numerous works of historical, dogmatic and canonical content.