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May 8, 2020

Saint John the Theologian and the Poisoned Chalice

Acts of Saint John the Evangelist
(Chs. 10-11)

Now when Aristodemus, who was chief priest of all those idols, saw this, filled with a wicked spirit, he stirred up sedition among the people, so that one people prepared themselves to fight against the other. And John turned to him and said: "Tell me, Aristodemus, what can I do to take away the anger from thy soul?" And Aristodemus said: "If thou wilt have me believe in thy God, I will give thee poison to drink, and if thou drink it, and die not, it will appear that thy God is true." The apostle answered: "If thou give me poison to drink, when I call on the name of my Lord, it will not be able to harm me." Aristodemus said again: "I will that thou first see others drink it and die straightway that so thy heart may recoil from that cup." And the blessed John said: "I have told thee already that I am prepared to drink it that thou mayest believe on the Lord Jesus Christ when thou seest me whole after the cup of poison."

Aristodemus therefore went to the proconsul and asked of him two men who were to undergo the sentence of death. And when he had set them in the midst of the marketplace before all the people, in the sight of the apostle he made them drink the poison: and as soon as they had drunk it, they gave up the ghost.

Then Aristodemus turned to John and said: "Hearken to me and depart from thy teaching wherewith thou callest away the people from the worship of the gods; or take and drink this, that thou mayest show that thy God is almighty, if after thou hast drunk, thou canst remain whole." Then the blessed John, as they lay dead which had drunk the poison, like a fearless and brave man took the cup, and making the sign of the cross, spake thus: "My God, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whose word the heavens were established, unto whom all things are subject, whom all creation serveth, whom all power obeyeth, feareth, and trembleth, when we call on thee for succour: whose name the serpent hearing is still, the dragon fleeth, the viper is quiet, the toad is still and strengthless, the scorpion is quenched, the basilisk vanquished, and the spider doth no hurt - in a word, all venomous things, and the fiercest reptiles and noisome beasts, are pierced. Do thou, I say, quench the venom of this poison, put out the deadly workings thereof, and void it of the strength which it hath in it: and grant in thy sight unto all these whom thou hast created, eyes that they may see, and ears that they may hear and a heart that they may understand thy greatness."

And when he had thus said, he armed his mouth and all his body with the sign of the cross and drank all that was in the cup. And after be had drunk, he said: "I ask that they for whose sake I have drunk, be turned unto thee, O Lord, and by thine enlightening receive the salvation which is in thee." And when for the space of three hours the people saw that John was of a cheerful countenance, and that there was no sign at all of paleness or fear in him, they began to cry out with a loud voice: "He is the one true God whom John worshippeth."

But Aristodemus even so believed not, though the people reproached him: but turned unto John and said: "This one thing I lack - if thou in the name of thy God raise up these that have died by this poison, my mind will be cleansed of all doubt." When he said that, the people rose against Aristodemus saying: "We will burn thee and thine house if thou goest on to trouble the apostle further with thy words." John, therefore, seeing that there was a fierce sedition, asked for silence, and said in the hearing of all: "The first of the virtues of God which we ought to imitate is patience, by which we are able to bear with the foolishness of unbelievers. Wherefore if Aristodemus is still held by unbelief, let us loose the knots of his unbelief. He shall be compelled, even though late, to acknowledge his Creator - for I will not cease from this work until a remedy shall bring help to his wounds, and like physicians which have in their hands a sick man needing medicine, so also, if Aristodemus be not yet cured by that which hath now been done, he shall be cured by that which I will now do."

And he called Aristodemus to him, and gave him his coat, and he himself stood clad only in his mantle. And Aristodemus said to him: "Wherefore hast thou given me thy coat?" John said to him: "That thou mayest even so be put to shame and depart from thine unbelief." And Aristodemus said: "And how shall thy coat make me to depart from unbelief?" The apostle answered: "Go and cast it upon the bodies of the dead, and thou shalt say thus: The apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ hath sent me that in his name ye may rise again, that all may know that life and death are servants of my Lord Jesus Christ." Which when Aristodemus had done, and had seen them rise, he worshipped John, and ran quickly to the proconsul and began to say with a loud voice: "Hear me, hear me, thou proconsul; I think thou rememberest that I have often stirred up thy wrath against John and devised many things against him daily, wherefore I fear lest I feel his wrath: for he is a god hidden in the form of a man and hath drunk poison, and not only continueth whole, but them also which had died by the poison he hath recalled to life by my means, by the touch of his coat, and they have no mark of death upon them."

Which when the proconsul heard he said: "And what wilt thou have me to do?" Aristodemus answered: "Let us go and fall at his feet and ask pardon, and whatever he commandeth us let us do." Then they came together and cast themselves down and besought forgiveness: and he received them and offered prayer and thanksgiving to God, and he ordained them a fast of a week, and when it was fulfilled he baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and his Almighty Father and the Holy Spirit the illuminator.