May 13, 2022

Saint Polybios, Bishop of Rhinocorura (the disciple and biographer of Saint Epiphanios of Salamis)

Saint Polybios probably came from Phoenicia (Lebanon). Information about his life comes from the Life of Saint Epiphanios of Salamis (Constantia), to whom he was a disciple and biographer. He became a monk from a young age, and "he was pious man and perfect in temperance", according to his biography. While Epiphanios was still in Phoenicia, and when he was a simple monk, the bishops of Palestine gathered in a Synod and decided to ordain him a bishop. So they sent to him the monk Polybios, to inform them how Epiphanios was doing in his monastery in the area of Spanhydrion, but was told not to inform him of his election, so that he could have an excuse to escape. But Saint Epiphanios recognized from divine revelation the truth, called on Polybios to remain with his brotherhood, and thus left the bishops to investigate the worthiness of another bishop.

Polybios obeyed, and became a faithful disciple of Epiphanios. For this reason, when the Saint then came to Cyprus (367) to visit Saint Hilarion the Great, he received with him Polybios, as well as another of his trusted disciples, whose name was John. It was with great joy that the two saints met and Epiphanios with his companions remained for two months in the hermitage of Hilarion. When the time of their visitation ended and they would return home, Hilarion prophetically advised Epiphanios to go to Salamis, then the capital of Cyprus, where God had prepared his place of residence. Epiphanios did not, however, want to obey, but in the end, the sea-turbulence caused the ship to moor at Salamis instead of their destination in Palestine.

Then, in the year 367, there were gathered in Salamis the bishops of the island after the repose of the Bishop of Salamis-Constantia who was also the Archbishop of Cyprus, and who is not named, for the election of a new archbishop, and prayed for several days for God to reveal the worthy successor of the throne. In response to their prayer, it was revealed to Saint Pappos the Confessor and Bishop of Chytri that the one who was well pleasing to God was the monk Epiphanios, who was on this day at the port of the city. Epiphanios had indeed gone to the port of Salamis with his disciples to buy grapes in order to have them as food on the journey with a ship, which they intended to take.

Despite his objections and reactions, Epiphanios was ordained Archbishop of Salamis-Constance of Cyprus, and his two disciples remained with him in the diocese of the island, which Epiphanios organized into a monastery. John, who was then ordained by Epiphanios to be a presbyter, shortly before his repose, handed over to Polybios the handwritten Life of Epiphanios, which he had secretly written, and pleaded with him to continue — secretly from their Elder — this sacred work, which Polybios did (in BHG 597). Saint Epiphanios later ordained Polybios a presbyter, in the place of the departed John.

For his virtues, Polybios became a companion of Epiphanios on his various travels to the big cities of Rome, Constantinople and Jerusalem. In 403, Epiphanios went again — for the last time — to Constantinople, escorted by Polybios and another disciple Isaac, who is identified as Saint Isaiah, Bishop of Kition. In the Queen City, at that time, the well-known scandals concerning the exile of Saint John Chrysostom and the Origenist controversy were occurring. Returning to Cyprus, before Epiphanios reposed in the Lord on the ship, after admonishing the sailors, he addressed his last paternal admonitions and instructions to his two beloved and trusted disciples. And to Polybios he commanded that seven days after their arrival in Constantia to go to the Upper Thebaid of Egypt, so that he would shepherd the sheep of Christ, while Isaac was commanded to remain in Constantia until he was shown by God to go to the city of Kition.

Polybios, upon being given this last wish of his Holy Elder, went to Egypt, where he was ordained, against his will, as bishop of the city of Rhinocorura, which today is near Arish in Sinai. From there, he sent to Constantia his deacon Kalippos with his Letter (BHG 598) to the disciple and successor of Epiphanios, Saint Sabinos I, in order to be informed when and in which place the holy father Epiphanios had been buried, from whom he received the relevant information in a letter of reply (BHG 599).

Polybios reposed, apparently as Bishop of Rhinocorura, in the first half of the 5th century and in any case before June of 431, since at the Third Ecumenical Synod in Ephesus, the Bishop of Rhinocorura that signed was Saint Hermogenes. The day of his commemoration is the 13th of May, the day after the commemoration of Saint Epiphanios, and it is found in the Canonaria and Menologies already from medieval times in the East.