Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saintly Saturday: St. Phocas of Sinope

Today is the feast of St. Phocas who was bishop of Sinope (modern day Sinop in north-central Turkey on the Black Sea coast). He was martyred in A.D. 102 during the reign of emperor Trajan. He was burned to death in a bath house.

The most interesting part of his story, however, was almost three hundred years after his death when his relics were transferred to the imperial city of Constantinople. This past week James Maliszewski posted about some relics that were recently re-interned at St. Martin of Tours in Kentucky. I found it interesting how inspiring the accompanying photo was in that it invoked a classic S&S feel, with a solid nod toward CAS.

The city of Constantinople, being the city built by St. Constantine (the first Christian emperor), had very little in the way of a history of martyrs. Since the cult of the saints — particularly martyr saints — was so strong within Christianity, there was a perceived need to transfer the relics of martyrs to the the imperial city.

St. Phocas was one of these martyr saints. He was transferred from Pontus around A.D. 400 to the imperial city with great pomp and circumstance. There was a procession through the city streets and its water ways that lasted two days. The relics were accompanied by a flotilla of lamp bearing ships under the gaze of the emperor and the empress. There is an extant homily of St. John Chrysostom, who was the Patriarch of Constantinople at the time, commemorating the event:
Yesterday our city was magnificent, magnificent and renowned not because it has columns, but because a martyr was in our midst, ceremoniously conveyed to us from Pontus. He observed your hospitality and filled you with his blessing. He praised your enthusiasm and blessed the people present. He blessed those who gathered and shared his sweet smell…
Three things to note:

  • St. John talks about the saint in the present tense. The relics of the saints are an integral part of the person of the saint. Their presence indicates the active presence of the saint himself. Miracles are worked through them. My wife, while sitting in the presence of a saint’s relics, felt the saint’s hand on a wound that would not heal. When she got up to leave, the wound was gone.
  • Many relics have a sweet smell — the sweetness of the Kingdom of Heaven. This sweetness is unlike anything I have ever smelled. It is sweeter than honey, flowers, basil or any other fragrance I can think of.
  • These are textural details of a real culture that formed the foundation of everything we know today in the West, and yet it feels entirely foreign, fantastic and worthy of an S&S story by CAS or even REH.

All of this is a reminder that not only is truth often stranger than fiction, but if we want to breathe the fantastic into our campaigns, we need not look much further than the history section of a library.

1 comment:

Anthony said...

"...but if we want to breathe the fantastic into our campaigns, we need not look much further than the history section of a library."

Very, very true. (Wrote the History geek.)