By St. Dimitri Rostov
The city of Sipontus lies between the Adriatic Sea and the mountain named Garganus; it is located twelve thousand paces from the mountain. Living in this city was a wealthy man whose herds were tended on the slopes of the mountain. Once, a bull from one of his herds was lost. After a lengthy search the lord and his servants found the bull standing before the entrance of a cave on the summit of the mountain. Enraged by the labor that he had expended in the search, the rich man took a bow and a poisoned arrow and shot at his bull, hoping to kill him. However, the arrow suddenly reversed its course and wounded the shooter. Those who had accompanied him were frightened at seeing this occurrence and did not dare to approach the cave; rather, they returned to the city and informed the people of what had happened.
When the Bishop of the city heard the story, he entreated God to reveal to him the meaning of this mystery. The holy Chief Commander Michael appeared to the Bishop in a vision, telling the Bishop that he had chosen that place for himself. He explained that he guarded it, desired to visit the place frequently, and gave succor to those who prayerfully resorted there.
The Bishop announced his vision to the people, and after a three-day fast which had been ordained for all the inhabitants of the city, he went with his clergy and all the people to the mountain. Ascending it, they found in some rocks a cave with a narrow entrance. Not daring to enter, they instead offered up supplication before the entrance. Since that time the people have frequented that place, praying to God and the holy Chief Commander Michael.
Once, the unbelieving Neapolitans gathered together and fell upon the city of Sipontus without warning, hoping to take and destroy it. They struck great fear into the hearts of the citizens of Sipontus. The Bishop of the latter city ordered that the people fast for three days, eating nothing, and that they pray fervently to be delivered from the foes who were besieging them. Saint Michael appeared to the Bishop in a vision the day before the enemy planned to assault the city with all their forces, saying, "Tomorrow morning at the fourth hour of the day, instruct the citizens of your city to take up arms and sally against the enemy, and I shall come to your aid."
The Bishop awoke from sleep and revealed his vision to the people, who rejoiced exceedingly over the promised victory over their foes and were strengthened by this good hope. When the fourth hour of the day arrived, they heard great thunder. Lifting up their eyes, they beheld a great cloud descending upon Mount Garganus. There fire, smoke, and lightning appeared as once on Sinai. The thunder was so loud that it caused the entire mountain, which was covered by the cloud, to shake. The enemy, being extremely frightened at what they saw, began to flee. The citizens thus perceived that their good guardian and swift intercessor had come with his heavenly hosts to their aid, and they opened the city gates and pursued their enemies, cutting them down like grass. The holy Chief Commander Michael struck them from above with thunder and lightning as the people put them to the sword from behind. Six hundred men were killed by thunder and lightning. Having pursued them all the way to Naples, with the help of the heavenly powers they utterly defeated their foes, returning in triumph to their own city. The Neapolitans acknowledged the power of the mighty hand of the all-powerful God from that time forward and received the holy faith. As for the citizens of Sipontus, they gathered together with the Bishop and clergy and went to the mountain upon which the dread manifestation took place, wishing to render thanksgiving there to God and to their helper, the Chief Commander Michael, and to all the heavenly powers. When they had come close to the entrance of the cave, they found footprints in the marble, seemingly human, and clearly outlined as though in miry ground. They said to one another, "Lo, the holy Chief Commander Michael left here an indication of his visitation, for he was present here himself and delivered us from our enemies." Bowing down, they kissed those footprints and sang a service of thanksgiving to God, rejoicing in their guardian and intercessor. They resolved to erect there a church dedicated to the holy Chief Commander Michael. However, when they were ready to build the church, Saint Michael appeared to the Bishop once again and said, "It is not necessary for you to trouble yourselves with building a church; I will prepare a temple there for myself without your assistance. Only go there tomorrow, serve the Holy Liturgy inside, and administer the divine Mysteries to the people."
After seeing this vision, the Bishop instructed all the people to prepare themselves to receive the Communion of the Holy Mysteries, and he went with them, singing a hymn of supplication. When they arrived at the holy place where the sacred footprints were outlined in the marble, they found a small church hollowed out of the rock. It was not made in the usual manner by the hands of men; rather, it was fashioned in the form of a cave with uneven walls. The height of the ceiling varied; in one place one’s head might touch the ceiling, and in another place the ceiling could not be touched with the hand. Clearly this church was arranged in such a fashion for the instruction of men, for God desires pure hearts, not elaborate stonework. The holy table was covered with a scarlet cloth, and on it the Bishop served the Holy Liturgy, distributing the most pure Mysteries to the people. There was in the altar on the north side a trickle of pure water that was sweet, exceeding clear, and miraculous, and those who drank this water received health. The people also drank of this water after communing of the Holy Mysteries. Countless miracles were worked in that church, and every infirmity was healed through the prayers of the holy Chief Commander Michael. The Bishop erected cells alongside the church, arranging for the priests, deacons, cantors, and readers to fulfill the daily order of church services to the glory of God and in honor of the holy Chief Commander Michael.