File(s) not publicly available

E00671: Basil of Caesarea delivers his Homily on *Gordios (martyr of Kaisareia/Caesarea of Cappadocia, S00114) during a service held at the saint's shrine. He recounts the story of the martyrdom from oral tradition. Written in Greek in Caesarea (central Asia Minor), in the 370s.

online resource
posted on 27.08.2015, 00:00 by pnowakowski
Basil of Caesarea, Homily 18, On Gordios (CPG 2862, BHG 703)

Εἰς Γόρδιον τὸν μάρτυρα.

Νόμος ἐστὶ φύσεως ταῖς μελίσσαις μὴ ἀπαίρειν τῶν σίμβλων πρὶν ἂν ὁ βασιλεὺς αὐτῶν τῆς πτήσεως ἀφηγήσηται. Ἐπεὶ οὖν καὶ τὸν λαὸν Κυρίου εἶδον νῦν πρῶτον ἐπὶ τὰ οὐράνια ἄνθη, τοὺς μάρτυρας, ἐξιόντα, ζητῶ τὸν ἡγεμόνα. Τίς ὁ κινήσας τὸν πολὺν τοῦτον ἐσμόν; τίς ὁ τὴν χειμερινὴν κατήφειαν εἰς ἐαρινὴν φαιδρότητα μεταστήσας; Νῦν γὰρ δὴ πρῶτον ὁ λαὸς, οἱονεὶ σίμβλων τινῶν, τῆς πόλεως προχυθέντες, τὸν προπόλεον κόσμον, τὸ σεμνὸν τοῦτο καὶ πάγκαλον τῶν μαρτύρων στάδιον, πανδημεὶ κατειλήφασιν. Ἐπεὶ οὖν καὶ ἡμᾶς ἀναστῆσαν ἤγαγε τὸ θαῦμα τοῦ μάρτυρος, ἐκλαθομένους τῆς ἀσθενείας, δεῦρο δὴ καὶ αὐτοὶ τῇ κατὰ δύναμιν φωνῇ, οἷόν τινι ἄνθει τῶν τοῦ ἀνδρὸς ἔργων περιβομβήσωμεν, ὅσιά τε ποιοῦντες καὶ τοῖς παροῦσιν ἅμα κεχαρισμένα· Ἐγκωμιαζομένου γὰρ δικαίου, εὐφρανθήσονται λαοὶ, ὁ σοφὸς ἡμῖν ἀρτίως ἔλεγε Σολομών.

‘On the martyr Gordios

Bees have the natural law not to leave their hives before their king (sic) leads the way in flight. And so, since I have now seen the Lord’s people going out so early to the heavenly flowers, the martyrs, I look for their leader. Who is he that has stirred up this great swarm? Who is he that has changed winter gloom into spring brightness? For, as early as this time, the people have poured forth out of the city in a crowd, as if from their beehives, and reached the jewel of the suburbs, this hallowed and most beautiful stadium of the martyrs. And so, since admiration for the martyr has raised and brought here even us, forgetting our feebleness, let us then also hum around the man’s works, as if on a flower, as much as our voice permits, thus doing both what is right and what is agreeable to those attending. Indeed, when the righteous is praised, the people will rejoice (Prov. 29:2), the wise Solomon has just told us.’

There follows an explanation of the biblical phrase as referring to the importance of studying the examples of righteous men like Moses, Joseph or Samson. Basil notes that an ecclesiastical sermon cannot conform to the norms of biographical panegyric which demands starting by praising one’s country and family origins. It would make no difference to start the talk by praising the past war trophies of the city, its landscape, men and wealth. These things lead to no spiritual improvement, and it is ridiculous to use them in praise of people who rejected the world. A commemoration of the actual deeds of the martyr is more than enough for his praise and for the edification of the congregation.

Καίτοι οὐδὲ τοῦτο μικρὸν, ἀκριβῶς τυχεῖν τῆς ἀληθείας τῶν τότε. Ἀμυδρὰ γάρ τις φήμη πρὸς ἡμᾶς διεδόθη, τὰς ἐπὶ τῶν ἀγώνων ἀνδραγαθίας τοῦ ἀνδρὸς διασώζουσα. Καί πως δοκεῖ τὸ καθ’ ἡμᾶς τῷ τῶν ζωγράφων προσεοικέναι. Καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνοι, ἐπειδὰν ἐξ εἰκόνων μεταγράφωσι τὰς εἰκόνας, πλεῖστον, ὡς εἰκὸς, τῶν ἀρχετύπων ἀπολιμπάνονται· καὶ ἡμᾶς, αὐτῆς τῆς θέας τῶν πραγμάτων ἀπολειφθέντας, κίνδυνος οὐ μικρὸς τὴν ἀλήθειαν ἐλαττῶσαι. Ἀλλ’ ἐπειδὴ ἐνέστηκεν ἡ ἡμέρα ὑπόμνησιν φέρουσα μάρτυρος, ἐπιφανῶς τοῖς ὑπὲρ Χριστοῦ μαρτυρίοις ἐναθλήσαντος, εἴπωμεν ὅσα οἴδαμεν. Οὗτος ἔφυ μὲν ἀπὸ τῆς πόλεως ταύτης, ὅθεν καὶ μᾶλλον αὐτὸν ἀγαπῶμεν, διότι οἰκεῖος ἡμῖν ὁ κόσμος ἐστίν. Ὥσπερ γὰρ τὰ εὔκαρπα τῶν φυτῶν, οὓς ἂν ἐκθρέψῃ καρποὺς, τῇ οἰκείᾳ γῇ παρατίθεται· οὕτω καὶ οὗτος ἐκ τῶν λαγόνων τῆς ἡμετέρας ἀναδραμὼν, καὶ πρὸς μήκιστον ὕψος τῆς δόξης διαναστὰς, τῇ ἐνεγκούσῃ καὶ θρεψαμένῃ τῶν οἰκείων τῆς εὐσεβείας καρπῶν τὴν ἀπόλαυσιν ἐχαρίσατο. Καλοὶ μὲν γὰρ καὶ οἱ ἐκ τῆς ὑπερορίας καρποὶ, ὅταν ἡδεῖς τε ὦσι καὶ τρόφιμοι· πολλῷ μέντοι ἡδίους τῶν ἐπηλύδων οἱ ἡμεδαποὶ καὶ ἐγχώριοι, πρὸς τῇ ἀπολαύσει ἔτι καὶ καλλωπισμόν τινα ἡμῖν διὰ τῆς οἰκειότητος χαριζόμενοι.

‘But even this is no small task, to acquire an accurate and truthful sense of the events of that time. For it is only vague hearsay that has come down to us, preserving the feats of the man in his struggles. Our task somehow appears to resemble that of painters: indeed, when they copy pictures from pictures, they usually, and quite naturally, fall short of their models. And there is no mean danger that we also do injustice to truth, since we were not present to see the events. But since the day has come, which bears the memory of a martyr who was prominently distinguished in the martyrdom for Christ, let us say as much as we know. He hailed from this city, and, therefore, we love him even more, because his honour is our own. Just like fruitful plants offering the fruit they grow to their land, so too did he, having sprouted out of the womb of our land and risen to the loftiest height of glory, grant the enjoyment of the fruits of his piety to the land which had produced and reared him. Fruits from abroad are indeed good, when they are sweet and edible. Yet much more pleasant than the foreign are the local ones, from our own land, since, in addition to pleasure, they also give us some pride by being our own.’

The martyr is a native of Kaisareia and serves as a centurion in the army, when a bitter persecution against the church starts. General turmoil prevails in the city, as people get tortured, properties of Christians get plundered, houses are deserted, and people take refuge to the wilderness. Gordios resigns from his office and retreats to the wilderness where he purifies his spirit and has revelatory visions. He returns to the city during the public festival of a war-loving demon (probably Mars), while the whole town attends horse races. All the people, including Jews, pagans and several lax Christians are gathered in the stadium, when Gordios comes down from the mountain, enters the stadium, and before everyone declares that he is there for anyone that seeks and asks about him. The people are amazed by the sight of the man, thin, crooked and dirty after his long stay in the mountains, but shining with some kind of grace. As his name gets known, the crowd gets excited and the building is filled with noise. The heralds call for silence and they take Gordios before the magistrate who interrogates him. Gordios reports his name, origin, office, and the reasons for his flight, and declares that he is there in contempt of the magistrate’s orders and in order to demonstrate his faith to God. The magistrate is enraged and calls for tortures to be prepared for Gordios. The martyr says prayers reciting from the psalms, and provokes the torturers to harm him. Seeing that violence cannot bend Gordios’ determination, his torturers try to entice him with promises and frauds, at which he laughs. The magistrate condemns him to death, and the whole city comes out to watch. Some advise him to save his own life, and to denounce God by his words only, but not by his heart, but Gordios remains steadfast in his decision. He addresses those admonishing him, and advises them not to think of earthly life which is necessarily due to finish, but to seek eternal heavenly life. He crosses himself, and calmly gives himself up to martyrdom. The homily finishes as follows:

Τοῦτό ἐστι τὸ στάδιον ἐκείνου τοῦ στεφανίτου. Αὕτη ἐπεῖδεν ἡ ἡμέρα τὸ θαυμαστὸν ἐκεῖνο θέαμα, ὃ οὐκ ἠμαύρωσεν ὁ χρόνος, οὐδὲ ἐξέλυσεν ἡ συνήθεια· οὐκ ἐνίκησεν ἡ τῶν ἐπιγινομένων ὑπερβολή. Ὥσπερ γὰρ τὸν ἥλιον ἀεὶ καθορῶντες, ἀεὶ θαυμάζομεν· οὕτω καὶ τοῦ ἀνδρὸς ἐκείνου ἀεὶ νεαρὰν τὴν μνήμην ἔχομεν. Εἰς μνημόσυνον γὰρ αἰώνιον ἔσται δίκαιος, καὶ παρὰ τοῖς ἐπὶ γῆς, ἕως ἐστὶν ἡ γῆ, καὶ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, καὶ παρὰ τῷ δικαίῳ κριτῇ· ᾧ ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. Ἀμήν.

'This is the stadium of that crowned victor! This day witnessed that wonderful spectacle which time has not obscured, habit has not erased, and the passing of posterity has not defeated. Just as we always marvel, when we look at the sun, so do we also keep that man’s memory always fresh. For 'the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance' (Ps. 112.6), both among those in earth, as long as earth exists, and in heaven, and with the just Judge, to Whom be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.'

Text: PG 31, 489-508. Summary and translation: E. Rizos (using Allen 2003).

History

Evidence ID

E00671

Saint Name

Gordiοs, soldier martyr in Kaisareia of Cappadocia : S00114

Saint Name in Source

Γόρδιος

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom Literary - Sermons/Homilies

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

370

Evidence not after

379

Activity not before

370

Activity not after

379

Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Kaisareia/Caesarea in Cappadocia

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Kaisareia/Caesarea in Cappadocia Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Basil of Caesarea

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Sermon/homily

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Place of martyrdom of a saint

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Considerations about the hierarchy of saints

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Crowds

Source

Born around 330 to an aristocratic Christian family of Neokaisareia/Neocaesarea of Pontus Polemoniacus (Anatolia), Basil was educated in Kaisareia/Caesarea, Antioch, and Athens. After his studies, he spent time in the monasteries in Egypt, before returning to Pontus, where he organised an ascetic community on his family estate. In the 360s, Basil was ordained in Kaisareia/Caesarea, and, on 14 June 370, he was consecrated bishop there. He died on 1 January 379. Basil was a prolific writer, composing homilies, theological, ascetic, and liturgical works. We also have nearly 370 of his letters. Four of his homilies refer to the martyrs, all apparently delivered in the 370s. However, we can assume that the bishop preached homilies also on other martyr feasts, which have not come down to us. The Homily on Gordios is thought to date from 373. For the manuscript tradition, editions, and translations of this text, see: Fedwick, P.J., Bibliotheca Basiliana Universalis. 5 vols. Vol. II, 2 (Corpus Christianorum; Turnhout: Brepols, 1996), p. 1073-1075.

Discussion

Basil states explicitly that this homily was composed for a service held on the feast day of the local martyr Gordios. His statement that the assembly took place during winter agrees with the dates of the feasts of Gordios, recorded elsewhere, namely 3 January and 2 March. The venue was probably the site of Gordios’ martyrdom outside the city. In his highly rhetorical language, Basil talks of this most hallowed and beautiful stadium of the martyrs, apparently a florid way of defining a martyrium. The text makes no reference to the relics or burial site of the saint, but only vaguely to his martyrdom outside the city. Was this the site of his burial or the place of his execution? And did the execution take place in the same show building where horse races took place (vaguely described by Basil as θέατρον and στάδιον, ‘theatre/show building’, ‘stadium’)? Basil’s statement about the special pride of the city in its local martyr apparently suggests that the cult of non-local martyrs was also well established at Kaisareia. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this homily are Basil’s remarks concerning his own work as a writer. He defines his talk as an enkomion, thus placing it in the tradition of biographical panegyric. Such addresses were given in honour of important people, usually during memorial ceremonies, and were written according to standard literary conventions. Yet, as Basil notes, his peculiar subject does not allow him to follow the established norms of the genre. The purpose of a hagiographical enkomion is both to praise its hero and edify its audience, and this, according to Basil, can only be achieved by focusing on the acts of the saint’s martyrdom, rather than on other biographical information concerning his origins, which was the norm in encomiastic panegyrics. Basil’s literary problems, however, were also, and perhaps mainly, due to the fact that his source material was extremely poor: there was no written martyrdom account for Gordios, and he was compelled to work with oral tradition only. Despite the absence of a written account, the cult of Gordios was apparently very popular in Kaisareia. Thus this text provides a fine example of hagiography being produced as a consequence of an already flourishing cult, while, at the same time, it presents Basil as a hagiographer at work. It is interesting to contrast this with Basil's homily on Ioulitta, where we have the festival of a martyr being celebrated by the decision of the bishop, who seems to have been urged to his initiative by an already existing martyrdom account (E00670). While purportedly defying the norms of secular enkomia, Basil tacitly adopts the norms of martyrial hagiography, perfectly conforming to the structure of a typical passio. An original aspect of our text is the addition of a monastic dimension to the story, defining Gordios’ retreat into the wilderness as asceticism, a theme particularly familiar and dear to Basil. Gordios gives up all his worldly goods in order to go into the wilderness, he fasts, purifies his spirit, and has revelatory visions. Basil compares him with the Prophet Elijah, one of the biblical models of the ascetic movement. Basil’s most tricky task is perhaps to present in an acceptable form the fact that Gordios was a voluntary martyr. The practice of voluntary martyrdom was widely discouraged among Catholic communities during the persecution, but it was a reality, and some voluntary martyrs acquired substantial popularity. Basil disguises this potentially embarrassing detail by comparing Gordios’ martyrdom with Jesus' willing surrender to his persecutors on the Mount of Olives, and by presenting Gordios’ decision as defiance for a life which is anyway temporary. The Greek martyrdom account of Gordios (BHG 703b) has not been published. An Armenian version (see E00284) reports that the shrine of the saint in Caesarea was founded by Basil of Caesarea, although that may be based on the fact that the Armenian text relies heavily on Basil's homily discussed here. A minor detail of particular interest is the episode with Gordios crossing himself before execution, one of the earliest occurrences of this particularly frequent motif of martyrdom accounts.

Bibliography

Text: Migne, J.-P., Patrologiae cursus completus: series graeca 31 (Paris: Imprimerie Catholique, 1857), 489-508. Bones, K., Bousoulas, E., and Papachristopoulos, K. (eds.), Βιβλιοθήκη Ελλήνων Πατέρων και Εκκλησιαστικών Συγγραφέων. Vol. 54 (Athens: Αποστολική Διακονία της Εκκλησίας της Ελλάδος, 1976). Translation: Allen, P., "Basil of Caesarea," in: J. Leemans, et al. (ed.), 'Let us die that we may live': Greek Homilies on Christian Martyrs from Asia Minor, Palestine and Syria (c. AD 350-AD 450) (London: Routledge, 2003), 55-67. Further reading: Bernardi, J., La prédication des pères Cappadociens (Université de Paris, Sorbonne, 1968), 80-83. Girardi, M., Basilio di Cesarea e il culto dei martiri nel IV secolo. Scrittura e tradizione (Bari, 1990), 97-119. Halkin, F., “Un second saint Gordius?” Analecta Bollandiana 79 (1961), 5-15. Limberis, V., Architects of Piety: The Cappadocian Fathers and the Cult of the Martyrs (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 31. Rousseau, P., Basil of Caesarea (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 186.

Usage metrics

Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

Categories

Keywords

Licence

Exports