The life Of Our Patron Saint: 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 tranquillity 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 came from a small village which had no school. He was exceptionally bright, but like most other people of that time, he was not taught to read or write. However, his parents as devout Christians encouraged him to follow Christ’s teachings. As a boy St 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 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 which were so divisive in that era. The greatest figures of Christianity were present at the Council. 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. St 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 St Nicholas, St 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, 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 in Corfu, preserved by the hand of God.
(Based on ‘ORTHODOX SAINTS” – Volume 1)