July 23, 2010

Chrysostom's Homily On Saint Phocas, Bishop of Sinope

Saint Phocas, Bishop of Sinope, was known for the many miracles he worked and for his apostolic zeal in shepherding the flock of Sinope. He contested for the faith during the reign of the Emperor Trajan, in the year 102, when he was left to die in a bath-house. A homily in his honor was composed by Saint John Chrysostom on the occasion of the translation of his relics to Constantinople. The translation of his holy relics from Pontus to Constantinople about the year 404 A.D. is celebrated on July 23. His primary feast is on September 22.

On July 23rd, one miracle of this Saint is also commemorated. The Arabs captured a man named Leo Pontianos. The Arabs shackled him, bound his hands to his back and left him to die. Lying on his stomach on the ground, and not being able to move, Leo Pontianos cried out: "O Holy Martyr Phocas, have mercy on me, and deliver me in this time of need and from these shackles!" Saying this he fell asleep and, in a dream, saw Saint Phocas approaching him, touched him by the hand and said: "Get up, get up and leave!" When the man awoke, he found himself loosed from all bonds and free. He arose and departed for his home and took Saint Phocas as the patron saint of his household.

Saint John Chrysostom's homliy speaks little of the life of Saint Phocas, leading some to question whether he is speaking of Saint Phocas the Bishop or Saint Phocas the Gardener, both celebrated on the same day whom many consider to be the same person. He begins by speaking of the festival that is being celebrated encouraging everyone to participate and come and venerate his holy relics. The Psalm read for the occasion leads him to digress onto the issue of Christ's nature and to address the heresy of the Anomoeans, that Christ and God are not equal. This takes up the bulk of the homily.

Table of Contents:

1. Yesterday a martyr from Pontus was escorted through the main areas of the city; today he is being escorted across the sea to his own resting place. Not everyone was present yesterday to receive his blessing.

2. John encourages everyone to attend today's festival and make their way to the tomb, where the imperial couple will participate. The power of the martyrs is such that it draws people of all backgrounds and is the Church's crown. The martyrs are not honored by the size of the crowd; rather the crowd is blessed by them.

3. Today's festivities involve setting out on the sea with lamps which will reflect in the water. The church is packed. The Church is likened to a merchant ship.

4. Today's Psalm leads us into battles against heretics. The attack is not against the person but the heresy. In doing this, John imitates Christ.

5. The example of King Jeroboam.

6-8. The audience is asked to pay attention, as John is about to wrestle with heretics. The heretics interpret Scripture in a way that suits them. Christ's true nature is not affected by their claims.

9-11. Scripture is not responsible for the heretics' interpretation, but the mind of those doing the interpreting. In their desire to show that the Son is less than the Father, they attribute different labels, saying that "God" refers to the one, and "Lord" to the other. John uses logic to show that "God" and "Lord" are one and the same.

12. The audience is asked to remember what has been said and to take the arguments of the sermon home to their wives for the dinner table.

Read the complete homily of St. John Chrysostom here.