August 7, 2017

Holy Hieromartyr Narcissus, Patriarch of Jerusalem (+ c. 216)

St. Narcissus of Jerusalem (Feast Day - August 7)


Your pleasant scent, Narcissus, more than a narcissus,
Gives fragrance to the land of Eden.

Of Greek origin, tradition holds that Narcissus was born in the year 99 and was at least 80 when he was made the thirtieth bishop of Jerusalem. More than a century had then elapsed since the city was destroyed by the Romans, and it had since been rebuilt as Aelia Capitolina by the Emperor Hadrian.

In the year 195, Narcissus, together with Theophitos or Theoktistos, bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, presided over a synod held by the bishops of Palestine in Caesarea, and it was decreed that Easter was to be always kept on a Sunday, and not with the Jewish Passover.

According to Eusebius of Caesarea (Eccl. Hist., Bk. 6, Chs. 9-11), the holy bishop performed many miracles. He writes:

"The citizens of [Jerusalem] mention many miracles of Narcissus, on the tradition of the brethren who succeeded him; among which they relate the following wonder as performed by him.

They say that the oil once failed while the deacons were watching through the night at the great paschal vigil. Thereupon the whole multitude being dismayed, Narcissus directed those who attended to the lights, to draw water and bring it to him.

This being immediately done he prayed over the water, and with firm faith in the Lord, commanded them to pour it into the lamps. And when they had done so, contrary to all expectation by a wonderful and divine power, the nature of the water was changed into that of oil. A small portion of it has been preserved even to our day by many of the brethren there as a memento of the wonder.

They tell many other things worthy to be noted of the life of this man, among which is this. Certain base men being unable to endure the strength and firmness of his life, and fearing punishment for the many evil deeds of which they were conscious, sought by plotting to anticipate him, and circulated a terrible slander against him.

And to persuade those who heard of it, they confirmed their accusations with oaths: one invoked upon himself destruction by fire; another the wasting of his body by a foul disease; the third the loss of his eyes. But though they swore in this manner, they could not affect the mind of the believers, because the continence and virtuous life of Narcissus were well known to all.

But he could not in any wise endure the wickedness of these men; and as he had followed a philosophical life for a long time, he fled from the whole body of the Church, and hid himself in deserted and secret places, and remained there many years.

The great eye of judgment was not unmoved by these things, however, but soon looked down upon these impious men, and brought on them the curses with which they had bound themselves. The residence of the first, from nothing but a little spark falling upon it, was entirely consumed by night, and he perished with all his family. The second was speedily covered with the disease which he had imprecated upon himself, from the sole of his feet to his head.

But the third, perceiving what had happened to the others, and fearing the inevitable judgment of God, the ruler of all, confessed publicly what they had plotted together. And in his repentance he became so wasted by his great lamentations, and continued weeping to such an extent, that both his eyes were destroyed. Such were the punishments which these men received for their falsehood.

Narcissus having departed, and no one knowing where he was, those presiding over the neighboring churches thought it best to ordain another bishop. His name was Dius. He presided but a short time, and Germanio succeeded him. He was followed by Gordius, in whose time Narcissus appeared again, as if raised from the dead. And immediately the brethren besought him to take the episcopate, as all admired him the more on account of his retirement and philosophy, and especially because of the punishment with which God had avenged him.

But as on account of his great age Narcissus was no longer able to perform his official duties, the Providence of God called to the office with him, by a revelation given him in a night vision, the above-mentioned Alexander, who was then bishop of another parish.

Thereupon, as by Divine direction, he journeyed from the land of Cappadocia, where he first held the episcopate, to Jerusalem, in consequence of a vow and for the sake of information in regard to its places. They received him there with great cordiality, and would not permit him to return, because of another revelation seen by them at night, which uttered the clearest message to the most zealous among them. For it made known that if they would go outside the gates, they would receive the bishop foreordained for them by God. And having done this, with the unanimous consent of the bishops of the neighboring churches, they constrained him to remain.

Alexander, himself, in private letters to the Antinoites, which are still preserved among us, mentions the joint episcopate of Narcissus and himself, writing in these words at the end of the epistle:

Narcissus salutes you, who held the episcopate here before me, and is now associated with me in prayers, being one hundred and sixteen years of age; and he exhorts you, as I do, to be of one mind."

Some sources say Saint Narcissus died while in prayer on his knees at the age of 117, while the Synaxarion of Constantinople says he was martyred by the sword.