December 11, 2011

Early Christian Histories of Saint Spyridon

Rufinus of Aquileia (340/345 – 410 A.D.) writing of the great men gathered at the First Ecumenical Synod of Nicea in 325 A.D., says the following about Spyridon (Eccl. Hist. Bk. 10, Ch. 5):

If any of their number would have been even more outstanding, it is said to have been Spyridon, a bishop from Cyprus, a man belonging to the order of prophets, so much have we learned from what was said by those who saw him. He remained a shepherd even after he was appointed bishop. Now one night when thieves approached the fence and stretched forth their wicked hands to make an opening to bring out the sheep, they were held fast by invisible bonds and remained so until daybreak as though they had been handed over to torturers. But when the elder got ready to lead the sheep out to pasture in the morning, he saw the youths hanging stretched upon the fence without human bonds. When he had learned the reason for their punishment, he loosed with a word those whom he had deservedly bound, and lest they should have nothing to show for their nocturnal labors, he said, “Take one of the rams for yourselves, lads, so that you will not have come for nothing; but you would have done better to get it by request than by theft.”

They also relate of him the following miracle. He had a daughter named Irene who after she had faithfully served him died a virgin. After her death someone came who said he had entrusted to her a deposit. The father did not know of the affair. A search of the whole house failed to reveal anywhere what was sought. But the one who had left the deposit pressed his claim with weeping and tears, even avowing that he would take his own life if he could not recover what he had deposited. Moved by his tears, the old man hurried to his daughter’s grave and called her by name. She said from the grave, “What do you want, father?” He replied, “Where did you put this man’s deposit?” She explained where it was, saying, “You will find it buried there.” Returning to the house, he found the thing where his daughter, from the grave, had said it was, and returned it to the one who had asked for it. There are many other miracles of his mentioned which are still talked about by all.

Socrates Scholasticus (c. 380 - ?) gets his information from Rufinus about Saint Spyridon, but adds some information he acquired from inhabitants of Cyprus. He writes (Eccl. Hist. Bk. 1, Ch. 12):

With respect to Spyridon, so great was his sanctity while a shepherd, that he was thought worthy of being made a Pastor of men: and having been assigned the bishopric of one of the cities in Cyprus named Trimithus, on account of his extreme humility he continued to feed his sheep during his incumbency of the bishopric. Many extraordinary things are related of him: I shall however record but one or two, lest I should seem to wander from my subject. Once about midnight, thieves having clandestinely entered his sheepfold attempted to carry off some of the sheep. But God who protected the shepherd preserved his sheep also; for the thieves were by an invisible power bound to the folds. At daybreak, when he came to the sheep and found the men with their hands tied behind them, he understood what was done: and after having prayed he liberated the thieves, earnestly admonishing and exhorting them to support themselves by honest labor, and not to take anything unjustly. He then gave them a ram, and sent them away, humorously adding, ‘that ye may not appear to have watched all night in vain.’ This is one of the miracles in connection with Spyridon. Another was of this kind. He had a virgin daughter named Irene, who was a partaker of her father’s piety. An acquaintance entrusted to her keeping an ornament of considerable value: she, to guard it more securely, hid what had been deposited with her in the ground, and not long afterwards died. Subsequently the owner of the property came to claim it; and not finding the virgin, he began an excited conversation with the father, at times accusing him of an attempt to defraud him, and then again beseeching him to restore the deposit. The old man, regarding this person’s loss as his own misfortune, went to the tomb of his daughter, and called upon God to show him before its proper season the promised resurrection. Nor was he disappointed in his hope: for the virgin again reviving appeared to her father, and having pointed out to him the spot where she had hidden the ornament, she once more departed. Such characters as these adorned the churches in the time of the emperor Constantine. These details I obtained from many inhabitants of Cyprus. I have also found a treatise composed in Latin by the presbyter Rufinus, from which I have collected these and some other things which will be hereafter adduced.

Sozomen (c. 400 – c. 450) is the last of the three earliest ancient ecclesiastical historians who refer to Spyridon, following the accounts of his predecessors. He recounts details not mentioned in the other two accounts which are valuable, adding three stories to Rufinus (Eccl. Hist. Bk. 1, Ch. 11):

Spyridon, bishop of Trimythun in Cyprus, flourished at this period. To show his virtues, I think the fame which still prevails about him suffices. The wonderful works which he wrought by Divine assistance are, it appears, generally known by those who dwell in the same region. I shall not conceal the facts which have come to me.

He was a peasant, was married, and had children; yet was not, on this account, deficient in spiritual attainments. It is related that one night some wicked men entered his sheepfold, and were in the act of stealing his sheep, when they were suddenly bound, and yet no one bound them. The next day, when he went to the fold, he found them fettered, and released them from their invisible bonds; but he censured them for having preferred to steal what it was lawful for them to win and take, and also for making such a great exertion by night: yet he felt compassion towards them, and, desirous of affording them instruction, so as to induce them to lead a better life, he said to them, “Go, and take this ram with you; for you are wearied with watching, and it is not just that your labor should be so blamed, that you should return empty-handed from my sheepfold.” This action is well worthy admiration, but not less so is that which I shall now relate. An individual confided a deposit to the care of his daughter, who was a virgin, and was named Irene. For greater security, she buried it; and it so happened that she died soon after, without mentioning the circumstance to any one. The person to whom the deposit belonged came to ask for it. Spyridon knew not what answer to give him, so he searched the whole house for it; but not being able to find it, the man wept, tore his hair, and seemed ready to expire. Spyridon, moved with pity, went to the grave, and called the girl by name; and when she answered, he inquired about the deposit. After obtaining the information desired, he returned, found the treasure in the place that had been signified to him, and gave it to the owner. As I have entered upon this subject, it may not be amiss to add this incident also.

It was a custom with this Spyridon to give a certain portion of his fruits to the poor, and to lend another portion to those who wished it as a gratuity; but neither in giving nor taking back did he ever himself distribute or receive: he merely pointed out the storehouse, and told those who resorted to him to take as much as they needed, or to restore what they had borrowed. A certain man who had borrowed in this way, came as though he were about to return it, and when as usual he was directed to replace his loan in the storehouse, he saw an opportunity for an injustice; imagining that the matter would be concealed, he did not liquidate the debt, but fraudulently pretending to have discharged his obligation, he went away as though he had made the return. This, however, could not be long concealed. After some time the man came back again to borrow, and was sent to the storehouse, with permission to measure out for himself as much as he required. Finding the storehouse empty, he went to acquaint Spyridon, and this latter said to him, “I wonder, O man, how it is that you alone have found the storehouse empty and unsupplied with the articles you require: reflect whether you have restored the first loan, since you are in need a second time: were it otherwise, what you seek would not be lacking. Go, trust, and you will find.” The man felt the reproof and acknowledged his error. The firmness and the accuracy in the administration of ecclesiastical affairs on the part of this divine man are worthy of admiration. It is said that on one occasion thereafter, the bishops of Cyprus met to consult on some particular emergency. Spyridon was present, as likewise Triphyllius, bishop of the Ledri, a man otherwise eloquent, who on account of practicing the law, had lived alone while at Berytus.

When an assembly had convened, having been requested to address the people, Triphyllius had occasion, in the middle of his discourse, to quote the text, “Take up thy bed and walk,” and he substituted the word “couch” (σκίμπους), for the word “bed” (κράββατος ). Spyridon was indignant, and exclaimed, “Art thou greater than he who uttered the word ‘bed,’ that thou art ashamed to use his words?” When he had said this, he turned from the throne of the priest, and looked towards the people; by this act he taught them to keep the man who is proud of eloquence within bounds and he was fit to make such a rebuke; for he was reverenced and most illustrious for his works: at the same time he was the superior of that presbyter in age and in the priesthood.

The reception which Spyridon gave to strangers will appear from the following incident. In the quadragesima, it happened that a traveler came upon a journey to visit him on one of those days in which it was his custom to keep a continuous fast with his household, and on the day appointed for tasting food, he would remain without nourishment to mid-day. Perceiving that the stranger was much fatigued, Spyridon said to his daughter, “Come, wash his feet and set meat before him.” The virgin replying that there was neither bread nor barley-food in the house, for it would have been superfluous to provide such things at the time of the fast, Spyridon first prayed and asked forgiveness, and bade her to cook some salt pork which chanced to be in the house. When it was prepared, he sat down to table with the stranger, partook of the meat, and told him to follow his example. But the stranger declining, under the plea of being a Christian, he said to him, “It is for that very reason that you ought not to decline partaking of the meat; for the Divine word shows that to the pure all things are pure.” Such are the details which I had to relate concerning Spyridon.