Conon, or Konon, was a man of Greek or Syrian heritage. His father was a commander in the Byzantine army of the Thracian province. This is now known as Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. The future pope was probably born in Sicily, around 630, when Syracuse was the Empire’s westernmost outpost, a favorable position for an army commander.
The young man was educated in Sicily. However, with the coming of the Islamic Caliphate’s raids in the mid-600s, like many Christian Sicilians, Conon moved 500 miles to Rome to escape the laws and taxes put on the non-Muslims. He studied and was ordained in Rome. It is said he was admired for his handsome features.
Conon was a faithful servant of the Church for a number of years. On 1 May 683 he was raised to the cardinalate by Pope Leo II. Two popes died in rapid succession, including John, in the summer of 686.
This was a time of change in the Italian peninsula. The Byzantine Emperor was becoming a figure of little importance in the day to day life of Romans. Military officers were becoming the landed gentry, politically active and social leaders. The pope was seen to run the militia and the militia was seen as controlling the papacy. Due to the wars, Easterners were flocking to Rome and outnumbered the citizens. As Pope John died, the military came out in favor of Theodore, a priest. The clergy of the city supported the archpriest, Peter. After much negotiating, Conon, was chosen as a compromise, based, mostly on his age, venerable appearance and simple character. He must have been a good choice because the exarch of Ravenna approved the election almost immediately. Conon took office 21 October 686, a little over two months after the loss of the last pope.
Conon was found favorable in the eyes of the Byzantine Emperor, the young Justinian II. He was sent the sealed writings of the Council of Constantinople, declaring Monophytism anathema. Justinian promised to abide by these precepts. The emperor also remitted certain taxes and dues from various papal patrimonies, as his father, Constantine IV, did. The following year, 687, Justinian also signed a peace treaty with the Islamic army and moved 12,000 Christians out of Lebanon to save them. Despite his rough exterior and anger management difficulties, the emperor was a friend and helper to Conon.
Early in his reign, Pope Conon welcomed the famous Irish missionaries, Killian and Colman, to Rome. They came to describe the area of Franconia (now Biden and Bavaria) to the pope and ask permission to serve and evangelize there. Conon not only gave them permission, but also consecrated Killian as a missionary bishop.
Soon, however, illness reduced the activities of the new pope, including ordinations. Conon ended up depending on his advisors, who did not always seem to have the best of intentions. The pope made a poor choice in designating a deacon, Constantine, as rector of the papal patrimony in Sicily. The Roman clergy was angry. The income from that patrimony was important to papal affairs. If the rector was a Sicilian, then Sicily would probably get the income. The Romans objected to the change in rights. The Sicilian workers on patrimony land were angry due to the victimization of the rector based on his greed and deception. The issue ended with the governor of Sicily throwing Constantine in jail. Most likely the workers were right about the greed.
It was soon obvious that Conon was not going to live very long. Archdeacon Pascal, of Rome, tried to assure his succession by bribing the exarch of Ravenna. Theodore, the contender of the year before, was ready to try again. Conon, hearing of the upcoming dispute, put in the name of Sergius, a priest from Syria, as a compromise. After some months of bickering and each one declaring himself the winner, the exarch declared that Sergius was the true pope.
Pope Conon died 21 September 687, eleven months after he was consecrated pope. He was buried within a day at the basilica of St. Peter. The tomb was destroyed in the 16th century when the basilica was torn down and rebuilt.