Saint Spyridon of Tremithus was born towards the end of the third century on the island of Cyprus. He was a shepherd, and had a wife and children. He used all his substance for the needs of his neighbors and the homeless, for which the Lord rewarded him with a gift of wonderworking. He healed those who were incurably sick, and cast out demons.
After the death of his wife, during the reign of Constantine the Great (306-337), he was made Bishop of Tremithus, Cyprus. As a bishop, the saint did not alter his manner of life, but combined pastoral service with deeds of charity.
According to the witness of Church historians, St Spyridon participated in the sessions of the First Ecumenical Council in the year 325. At the Council, the saint entered into a dispute with a Greek philosopher who was defending the Arian heresy. The power of St Spyridon's plain, direct speech showed everyone the importance of human wisdom before God's Wisdom: "Listen, philosopher, to what I tell you. There is one God Who created man from dust. He has ordered all things, both visible and invisible, by His Word and His Spirit. The Word is the Son of God, Who came down upon the earth on account of our sins. He was born of a Virgin, He lived among men, and suffered and died for our salvation, and then He arose from the dead, and He has resurrected the human race with Him. We believe that He is one in essence (consubstantial) with the Father, and equal to Him in authority and honor. We believe this without any sly rationalizations, for it is impossible to grasp this mystery by human reason."
As a result of their discussion, the opponent of Christianity became the saint's zealous defender and later received holy Baptism. After his conversation with St Spyridon, the philosopher turned to his companions and said, "Listen! Until now my rivals have presented their arguments, and I was able to refute their proofs with other proofs. But instead of proofs from reason, the words of this Elder are filled with some sort of special power, and no one can refute them, since it is impossible for man to oppose God. If any of you thinks as I do now, let him believe in Christ and join me in following this man, for God Himself speaks through his lips."
At this Council, St Spyridon displayed the unity of the Holy Trinity in a remarkable way. He took a brick in his hand and squeezed it. At that instant fire shot up from it, water dripped on the ground, and only dust remained in the hands of the wonderworker. "There was only one brick," St Spyridon said, "but it was composed of three elements. In the Holy Trinity there are three Persons, but only one God."
The saint cared for his flock with great love. Through his prayer, drought was replaced by abundant rains, and incessant rains were replaced by fair weather. Through his prayers the sick were healed and demons cast out.
A woman once came up to him with a dead child in her arms, imploring the intercession of the saint. He prayed, and the infant was restored to life. The mother, overcome with joy, collapsed lifeless. Through the prayer of the saint of God the mother was restored to life.
Another time, hastening to save his friend, who had been falsely accused and sentenced to death, the saint was hindered on his way by the unanticipated flooding of a stream. The saint commanded the water: "Halt! For the Lord of all the world commands that you permit me to cross so that a man may be saved." The will of the saint was fulfilled, and he crossed over happily to the other shore. The judge, apprised of the miracle that had occurred, received St Spyridon with esteem and set his friend free.
Similar instances are known from the life of the saint. Once, he went into an empty church, and ordered that the lampadas and candles be lit, and then he began the service. When he said, "Peace be unto all," both he and the deacon heard from above the resounding of "a great multitude of voices saying, "And with thy spirit." This choir was majestic and more sweetly melodious than any human choir. To each petition of the litanies, the invisible choir sang, "Lord, have mercy." Attracted by the church singing, the people who lived nearby hastened towards it. As they got closer and closer to the church, the wondrous singing filled their ears and gladdened their hearts. But when they entered into the church, they saw no one but the bishop and several church servers, and they no longer heard the singing which had greatly astonished them."
St Simeon Metaphrastes (November 9), the author of his Life, likened St Spyridon to the Patriarch Abraham in his hospitality. Sozomen, in his CHURCH HISTORY, offers an amazing example from the life of the saint of how he received strangers. One time, at the start of the Forty-day Fast, a stranger knocked at his door. Seeing that the traveller was very exhausted, St Spyridon said to his daughter, "Wash the feet of this man, so he may recline to dine." But since it was Lent there were none of the necessary provisions, for the saint "partook of food only on certain days, and on other days he went without food." His daughter replied that there was no bread or flour in the house. Then St Spyridon, apologizing to his guest, ordered his daughter to cook a salted ham from their larder. After seating the stranger at table, he began to eat, urging that man to do the same. When the latter refused, calling himself a Christian, the saint rejoined, "It is not proper to refuse this, for the Word of God proclaims, "Unto the pure all things are pure" (Titus 1:15).
Another historical detail reported by Sozomen, was characteristic of the saint. It was his custom to distribute one part of the gathered harvest to the destitute, and another portion to those having need while in debt. He did not take a portion for himself, but simply showed them the entrance to his storeroom, where each could take as much as was needed, and could later pay it back in the same way, without records or accountings.
There is also the tale by Socrates Scholasticus about how robbers planned to steal the sheep of St Spyridon. They broke into the sheepfold at night, but here they found themselves all tied up by some invisible power. When morning came the saint went to his flock, and seeing the tied-up robbers, he prayed and released them. For a long while he advised them to leave their path of iniquity and earn their livelihood by respectable work. Then he made them a gift of a sheep and sending them off, the saint said kindly, "Take this for your trouble, so that you did not spend a sleepless night in vain."
All the Lives of the saint speak of the amazing simplicity and the gift of wonderworking granted him by God. Through a word of the saint the dead were awakened, the elements of nature tamed, the idols smashed. At one point, a Council had been convened at Alexandria by the Patriarch to discuss what to do about the idols and pagan temples there. Through the prayers of the Fathers of the Council all the idols fell down except one, which was very much revered. It was revealed to the Patriarch in a vision that this idol had to be shattered by St Spyridon of Tremithus. Invited by the Council, the saint set sail on a ship, and at the moment the ship touched shore and the saint stepped out on land, the idol in Alexandria with all its offerings turned to dust, which then was reported to the Patriarch and all the bishops.
St Spyridon lived his earthly life in righteousness and sanctity, and prayerfully surrendered his soul to the Lord. His relics repose on the island of Corfu (Kerkyra), in a church named after him (His right hand, however, is located in Rome). His memory is also celebrated on Cheesefare Saturday.
The Life Of St. Spyridon
The holiest shrine on the island of Kerkyra (Corfu) just off the western coast of Greece is the tomb of a fourth-century saint whose body after sixteen centuries is in such a remarkable state of preservation that every year St Spyridon is carried in solemn triumph through the streets on the occasion of His feast day.
Born on the island of Cyprus, St Spyridon preferred the tranquility of the countryside he roamed as a boy while shepherding his father’s flocks. Even after he rose to the office of bishop he would find the time to tend the sheep on a hillside, where he knew complete contentment.
St. Spyridon’s beginnings were humble. He came from a rural family which for generations had lived in such remoteness that there was no school for miles around. Although he was exceptionally bright, Spyridon like most youngsters in his circumstances was never taught to read or write. However, the communities that lacked a school never lacked accessibility to a countryside church, and as a boy Spyridon loved his church. He displayed considerable religious fervour and remarkable intelligence, which enabled him to memorize long passages from the Bible.
His parents, not wanting to see his great talent and love for Christ constrained, sought counsel from their priest, who in turn arranged for the boy’s education and religious training.
Ordained a priest just after the turn of the fourth century, St Spyridon was assigned to a rural community much like the one in which he had grown up. He made it his first act to use the church as a school for the education of children. He convinced the parents to give their children time away from their chores, to learn at least how to read and write. His dedication to the people and his complete commitment to the Saviour did not go unnoticed. After the death of his wife, he was appointed Bishop of Trimithous, a post in which he won the admiration of his flock and prominence in the international Christian community. Whenever he could get away from the responsibilities of his office, he chose to return to the peace and tranquillity of the family farm.
It was in 325 that the momentous council of Nicaea was convened at the request of the Emperor Constantine to resolve the issues so divisive in that era. The greatest figures of Christianity of the age were invited. Among them was the shepherd-bishop Spyridon, whose reputation preceded him and who was therefore made one of the Principals. At this Council St. Spyridon met St. Nicholas, with whom he
formed a lasting friendship. Their lives formed a parallel which comes down to us as a glorious part of the rich heritage of Christianity. Spyridon acquitted himself most honourably at this meeting and was instrumental in resolving critical theological questions, which allowed for a successful conclusion to the most important Council in Christian history.
Icons of St. Spyridon often recall the miracle he used to illustrate the indivisible nature of the Trinitarian God. Squeezing a brick in his hand he drew the three elements of fire, earth and water. St. Spyridon is known for many miracles, including the turning of a snake into gold to help a poor person pay his debts, before returning it to its original state.
Like his friend Nicholas, Spyridon fell victim to pagan persecution and was one day hauled off to prison, where he was so brutally beaten by the guards that he lost the sight of one eye. Years of misery were to follow then, for rather than execute him the Romans consigned him to the mines. There the gentle saint lived in squalor and labored in agony for many years before at last he died. Faithful to the end, his last words were in praise of the Lord. His body was cast into a ditch from which it was taken by his friends for a Christian burial. Later removed, his body lies intact to this day, preserved by the hand of God.
"Once, the bishop, [St. Spyridon] after a long journey teaching his people, he became tired, and went to rest in the home of one of the faithful. Hearing this, many people from neighboring houses at first, and later from the whole community ran out to meet and to get the blessing of the Saint. Among the crowds was a woman who was sinner, who also came to see the saint. Some even fell down below, to embrace his feet. With the Grace of the Holy Spirit, as soon as the Saint looked at her, he immediately understood her sin. Without anyone else hearing, in a sweet and humble manner, he whispered to the woman: «Lady, don't touch me.»
She insisted, however. And then the Saint with austerity revealed the face of the sin of all. The woman was in awe, and with a broken heart and tears she began to seek the mercy of God. Before this repentance, the loving father said with emotion those words once said by the Lord to such a sinner: «Take heart, o daughter. Your sins are forgiven you.» Go forth and be careful in the future. With his way, the Saint helped the woman who was a sinner to repent. He also gave a lesson to all. Only sincere repentance cleanses and restores the soul of man its honored position, to be a child of God."
"Once the saint, accompanied by his friend and pupil of Trifyllio, the first bishop of Nicosia (then Lidras), set out for Kyrenia for some task. The road passed by Kythrea, and at the time it was spring and nature around was more beautiful than a painting. The trees were putting forth flowers. The lovely birds sung sweetly and flew from branch to branch. Mountain flocks were grazing on the rich grass with so many flowers, with the aroma that if seemed to glorify the Creator. They were traveling along the way slowly, because it was an uphill path, and at some juncture Trifyllios was admiring the verdant panoramic plain, which stretched beneath their feet, began to have certain thoughts:
What good, he was thinking mentally, to have for my bishopric some of the buildings located in this place. They would give me a good income to face so many needs.
-What are you thinking, my brother? St. Spyridon said. Why let your mind be occupied with such vain things at this time?
-My Geronta [Elder], were you reading my thoughts?
-My Brother, «For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come» (Hebrews 13:14). We don't have here on earth a permanent and lasting home and city, with deep longing we desire the future, the celestial Jerusalem. Vain are all earthly goods. In your heart always have one desire. To aquire the heavens, the eternal good things. All the earthly goods are provisional and deceptive. Today is ours. Tomorrow will be owned by someone else. And never desire? [Και ουδέποτε τίνος.?]
-My Father, forgive me. I was defeated by visions. Prayer to our Lord to forgive me.
-Yes, my son, be careful. The devil uses the most innocent things, to tempt us and scandalize us. Instead of visions, leave our minds to glorify the Creator, Who made everything for our love and happiness, instead of yearning forcefully to seek vain things and to seek to obtain, to make our buildings? [να τα κάμει κτήμα του?]
How much wisdom is in the words of the Divinely-illumined Bishop. Instead of man thinking to hymn and glorify his Maker and Fashioner before the majesty of the Almighty Creator, as one generally does, one yearns to acquire and enjoy the goods of the earth."
Two other miracles I think are worth mentioning from his life, also because they are mentioned in his apolytikion below, and aren't explained in too many places.
"One day, another poor family knocked at the door of the Bishop. They approached the Saint with tears and asked for a loan. He wanted to pay a debt to a rich man who threatened to sell their home. But where would the Saint find that much to give? The pain that gave rise to bitter tears of the poor family, torn by grief, struck the loving bishop, and he went for a walk. Suddenly there was in front of them a snake slithering through the green. Like lightning, the rod of Aaron struck the mind of the Saint, which at the palace of Pharaoh fell to earth and became a snake. «As it is, Lord, may this snake become gold for this poor family, he said slowly. Yes, Lord. Let it become gold to help this miserable creature of Yours», and again lifted his hand. The snake stopped, and the Saint bent down and picked it up. In his hands the disgusting serpent was transformed and now show forth as gold.
-Take it, son, said the Saint with kindness. Take it and do your work. And the poor man full of joy took the gold and ran to give it to the rich creditor. When the man, with the help of God, paid the debt, the lender returned the golden pledge. The poor man took it back with tears of gratitude and returned it to the Saint. Once he received it in his hands, he turned his eyes towards to heaven, glorified God for His infinite charity, and then threw it to the earth. And miracle of miracles! The gold became a snake again and and left ahead of them."
"When the saint returned to Cyprus [after the 1st Eccumenical Council], he learned with great sadness that his daughter Irene had died. The faithful bishop accepted this trial with exemplary patience and endurance. A few days later a woman came to him with tears and asked for a precious thing, a jewel. It was given to his daughter to watch shortly before she died. The saint arose and carefully searched throughout the house to find the missing object. Unfortunately, it was not found anywhere. Then without any hesitation he went to the grave of his daughter. When he arrived, he offered a fervent prayer, and then, after he bowed over the grave, he asked the dead daughter, as if she were alive, to tell him where she had put the object. Immediately a voice from the depths of the tomb was heard to say:
-My Father, I have it hidden in that certain place. Then the Saint said: -Sleep, my daughter, in peace. Sleep until the day when the Lord will raise us all in the General Resurrection. Those who were there were shaken and were left speechless. They reflected on the strength with which the All-good God endowed this simple but holy bishop. The good shepherd, who would do everything for the benefit and service of Christians."
Commemorated December 12/25
Troparion of St Spyridon tone 1
Thou wast a champion of the First Council and a wonderworker,/
Kontakion of St Spyridon tone 2
Thou didst lend wings to thy mind with the fire of the spirit,/