St Maximos the Confessor was born in Constantinople around 580 AD and raised in a pious Christian family. He received an excellent education, studying philosophy, grammar, and rhetoric. He was well read in the authors of antiquity and he mastered philosophy and theology. When St Maximos entered into government service, he became first secretary (asekretis) and chief counsellor to the emperor Heraclios (611-641 AD), who was impressed by his knowledge and virtuous life.
St Maximos soon realized that the emperor and many others had been corrupted by the Monothelite heresy, which was spreading rapidly through the East. He resigned from his duties at court, and went to the Chrysopolis monastery (at Skutari on the opposite shore of the Bosphorus), where he received monastic tonsure. Because of his humility and wisdom, he soon won the love of the brethren and was chosen Abbott of the monastery after a few years. Even in this position, he remained a simple monk.
In 638 AD, emperor Heraclios and Patriarch Sergios tried to minimize the importance of differences in belief, and they issued an edict, the "Ekthesis" ("Ekthesis tes pisteos" or "Exposition of Faith”), which decreed that everyone must accept the teaching of one will in the two natures of the Saviour. In defending Orthodoxy against the "Ekthesis", St Maximos spoke to people in various occupations and positions, and these conversations were successful. Not only the clergy and the bishops, but also the people and the secular officials felt some sort of invisible attraction to him, as we read in his Life.
When St Maximos saw what turmoil this heresy caused in Constantinople and in the East, he decided to leave his monastery and seek refuge in the West, where Monothelitism had been completely rejected. On the way, he visited the bishops of Africa, strengthening them in Orthodoxy, and encouraging them not to be deceived by the cunning arguments of the heretics.
The Fourth Ecumenical Council had condemned the Monophysite heresy, which falsely taught that in the Lord Jesus Christ there was only one nature (the divine). Influenced by this erroneous opinion, the Monothelite heretics said that in Christ there was only one divine will ("thelema") and only one divine energy ("energia"). Adherents of Monothelitism sought to return by another path to the repudiated Monophysite heresy. Monothelitism found numerous adherents in Armenia, Syria, and Egypt. The heresy, fanned also by nationalistic animosities, became a serious threat to Church unity in the East. The struggle of Orthodoxy with heresy was particularly difficult because in 630 AD, three of the patriarchal thrones in the Orthodox East were occupied by Monothelites: Constantinople by Sergios, Antioch by Athanasios, and Alexandria by Cyrus.
St Maximos travelled from Alexandria to Crete, where he began his preaching activity. He clashed there with a bishop, who adhered to the heretical opinions of Severus and Nestorios. The Saint spent six years in Alexandria and the surrounding area.
Patriarch Sergios died at the end of 638 AD, and the emperor Heraclios died in 641 AD. The imperial throne was eventually occupied by his grandson Constans II (642-668 AD), an open adherent of the Monothelite heresy. The assaults of the heretics against Orthodoxy intensified. St Maximos went to Carthage and he preached there for about five years. When the Monothelite Pyrrhus, the successor of Patriarch Sergios, arrived there after fleeing from Constantinople because of court intrigues, he and St Maximos spent many hours in debate. As a result, Pyrrhus publicly acknowledged his error, and was permitted to retain the title of "Patriarch". He even wrote a book confessing the Orthodox Faith. St Maximos and Pyrrhus travelled to Rome to visit Pope Theodore, who received Pyrrhus as the Patriarch of Constantinople.
In 647 AD, St Maximos returned to Africa. There, at a council of bishops Monotheletism was condemned as a heresy. In 648 AD, a new edict was issued, commissioned by Constans and compiled by Patriarch Paul of Constantinople known as the "Typos" ("Typos tes pisteos" or "Pattern of the Faith"), which forbade any further disputes about one will or two wills in the Lord Jesus Christ. St Maximos then asked St Martin the Confessor (commemorated April 14), the successor of Pope Theodore, to examine the question of Monothelitism at a Church Council. The Lateran Council was convened in October 649 AD. One hundred and fifty Western bishops and thirty-seven representatives from the Orthodox East were present, among them St Maximos the Confessor. The Council condemned Monothelitism, and the Typos. The false teachings of Patriarchs Sergios, Paul and Pyrrhus of Constantinople, were also anathematized.
When Constans II received the decisions of the Council, he gave orders to arrest both Pope Martin and St Maximos. The emperor's order was fulfilled in 654 AD.St Maximos was accused of treason and locked up in prison. In 656 AD, he was sent to Thrace, and was later brought back to a Constantinople prison.
The Saint and two of his disciples were subjected to the cruellest torments. Each one's tongue was cut out, and his right hand was cut off. Then they were exiled to Skemarum in Scythia, enduring much suffering and difficulties on the journey.
After three years, the Lord revealed to St Maximos the time of his death (August 13, 662 AD). Three candles appeared over the grave of St Maximos and burned miraculously. This was a sign that St Maximos was a beacon of Orthodoxy during his lifetime, and continues to shine forth as an example of virtue for all. Many healings have happened at his tomb.
In the Greek Prologue, August 13 commemorates the Transfer of the Relics of St Maximos from Lazika on the southeast shore of the Black Sea to Constantinople, to the Monastery of the Theotokos at Chrysopolis (where he had been the Abbott), across the Bosphoros from Constantinople. This transfer took place after the Sixth Ecumenical Council.
August 13 could also be the date of the saint's death, however. It is possible that his main commemoration was moved to January 21 because August 13 is the Leavetaking of the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.