Saturday, December 12, 2009

Saint Spyridon: Protector of the Poor, Father of Orphans, Teacher of Sinners


By Photios Kontoglou

Saint Spyridon is one of the most honored saints of the Orthodox Church, whom Christians call upon in situations, as is St. Nicholas, St. George and St. Demetrios. Kerkyra has his precious relics, just as Zakynthos has the relics of St. Dionysios and Kefallonia has St. Gerasimos.

He was born on the island of Cyprus, of poor parents. This is why in his younger years he was a shepherd who kept sheep. He was very simple in his thinking just like the fishermen Christ chose to make his disciples. When he came of age, he married, and after some years he widowed, and so great were his virtues that they made him bishop in a city called Trymithounda, even though he was completely illiterate.

Receiving this spiritual office in the time of Emperor Constantine the Great, he became even more simple and humble, and shepherded his reasonable flock which Christ entrusted to him with love, though was strict if needed for their salvation. He was a protector of the poor, a father of orphans, a teacher of sinners. And he had such purity and holiness that he was given the grace from above to work many miracles, which is why he is called "the Wonderworker". With his prayers he would gather the clouds and it would rain on the dry earth, he healed the sick, and he punished deceptive people, as he did with certain black marketers for whom he tore down their storage barns in which they kept the wheat even though the people were dying of hunger, and they were crushed together with the wheat. And despite this he lived in such poverty that when a poor man went to him for help to pay a debt, he had nothing to give him, and by a miracle he made a snake that was in the area into gold, gave it to the poor man, he melted it, and payed off his debt. Another time a cataclysm occurred and the rivers flooded the area, but when St. Spyridon prayed, the waters pulled back and the land that was flooded dried up. He healed also the Emperor Constantius who came down with an incurable illness, a deacon who became dumb he made well, evil and greedy people he punished with supernatural strength, and other innumerable miracles did he also perform so that the lawless and unrighteous may fear him and have him as a protector and refuge. But he always had great love and sympathy towards sinners, which is why when certain robbers went one night to steal sheep from his pen, which he managed in order to help the hungry, they went blind and could not escape, crying out for mercy. The saint did not only restore their sight, but gave them also a ram because, as he told them, they suffered all night, and since he exhorted them to be good people, he sent them back to their homes without letting anyone know of the robbery they wanted to commit. He also foretold things before they occurred with exactness, making the people wonder whether he was a superhuman personality, since from a shepherd he was found worthy to achieve such heights. And at the First Ecumenical Synod which took place in Nicaea, St. Spyridon was among the three hundred and eighteen God-bearing Fathers, and though illiterate, he shut the mouth of the heresiarch Arius who was the most learned of all the bishops present.


Throughout his whole life he did not cease to perform miracles. The greatest was that of the resurrection of his dead daughter who arose from her tomb and gave witness to the place she had left some money which belonged to another woman, and afterwards she fell back asleep. Another time a woman whose child just died went to the saint, and implored him with many tears to resurrect him, so accustomed were the people to the miracles of the saint. And he resurrected him through his prayers. When the mother saw the child alive, the same died out of her great joy. And St. Spyridon resurrected the mother as well.

Word of these great miracles spread throughout the world, and St. Spyridon, while still alive, was honored as a saint and wonderworker. And till this day he works many miracles in his shrine which is the treasure of the citizens of Kerkyra.

When he liturgized, angels stood around him which many of the pious Christians saw with their own eyes; and when he said "Peace be to all" the Angels responded "And with your spirit" instead of the chanters. And he was showered in supernatural light.


He reached deep old age in such an angelic state shepherding his reasonable sheep, and ascended to the Lord. His holy relics for a time remained in Trymithounda and from there went to Constantinople where they placed him in the Church of the Holy Apostles in which the relics of many saints were kept. During the Turkish occupation they fell into the hands of a pious Christian named Boulgari and he with great effort brought them to Albania hidden in sacks, and from there crossed over to Kerkyra in a kayak. The Venetians kept them and since then he is found on that island, untouched by the weather, after all that they have endured 1600 years since his falling asleep. In his kouvouklion the saint stands upright, hands crossed, dressed in liturgical dress, and they bring him out in procession twice a year. The people of Kerkyra hold his sacred shrine with great reverence and regard it a treasure of their island. During the time that I worked in the Museum of Kerkyra I came to know Papa-Boulgari, who was the parish priest of the church by lottery, a man who loved the arts and learning. The holy relics work wonders always until today to whoever implores the saint with faith.

In Orthodox hagiography [iconography] St. Spyridon is depicted in old age with a turned nose and with a forked short white beard, wearing a skoufi. The skoufi is strange, like it is Chinese, pointed at the tip. He is never drawn without a skoufi. Except for icons on planks of wood or in other walls of the church, he is often drawn in the Holy Altar with the other great hierarchs Basil, Chrysostom and Gregory under the Platytera. On the paper which he holds, it is written: "To You we offer this reasonable and bloodless sacrifice".


Our hymnology has decorated him with unwithering flowers, which very few of us have meditated on to see how truly they are unwithering.

Apolytikion in the First ToneO Father, God-bearer, Spyridon, you were proven a champion and Wonder Worker of the First Ecumenical Council. You spoke to the girl in the grave and turned the serpent to gold. And, when chanting your prayers, most sacred One, angels ministered with you. Glory to Him who glorified you; glory to Him who crowned you; glory to Him who, through you, works healing for all.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
Wounded by your love for Christ, O holy One, your mind given wings by the radiance of the Spirit, you put the practice of theory into deeds, becoming a sacred altar, O Chosen by God, and praying for the divine illumination of all.

Kathisma 1 in the Third Tone
You turned a snake to gold, O holy Hierarch, and with your words like cords you stifled Arius who was a wicked and impious heretic, O Godbearing Saint. You, O father Spyridon, made the Emperor well again, and you resurrected the dead, and you drove demons out of men. We therefore come together to honor your venerable memory with hymns of praise.

Kathisma 2 in Tone Four
O Father, you beautified the Church of Christ by your words; moreover you honored by your deeds the image of God, O blessed Saint Spyridon, shining the light of virtue in the world by your temperance, flashing the grace of healing over all who entreat you. And therefore with faith we observe your festive memorial.

Kathisma 3 in Plagal of the Fourth
To both rulers and churchmen at the august convocation ingeniously you explained the power of the Trinity in a manner that honored God. They witnessed you proclaiming the single Divinity and dogmatizing clearly that three are in essence one. Therefore by divine inspiration you brought down the wordy philosopher, by the power of the Spirit, O most godly Hierarch. Intercede with Christ our God that forgiveness of offenses be bestowed upon those who with longing observe your holy memory.

OikosLet us now extol Spyridon, the Hierarch of the Lord, who was sanctified from the womb, who received the tablets of grace and divine glory, who was famous to all by his miracles. He was fervent and an eyewitness of divine illumination, a defender of the poor, and spiritual guide for sinners. He proved to be a faithful Hierarch, offering sacrifices at the altar of Christ, and he earnestly prays that God illumine all.

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