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E07147: The Greek Life of *Spyridon (bishop of Trimithous in Cyprus, ob. 348, S00790) by Theodore, bishop of Paphos, paraphrases a biography of the saint by Triphyllios, which was written in verse in the late 4th century (now lost). Theodore augments Triphyllios’ poem with a miracle account derived from a version of the saint’s life, reportedly found in Egypt, and five miracle stories collected by the author himself. Written around AD 656 and read at the saint's festival in Trimithous.

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posted on 07.12.2018, 00:00 by erizos
Theodore of Paphos, Life of Spyridon (CPG 7987, BHG 1647, 1647b)

Summary:

I. Life of Spyridon (based on Triphyllios)
Prologue. Encomium of Spyridon’s piety and hospitality. He was a simple man from Cyprus who used to work as a shepherd. Upon his wife’s death, he entered the church and eventually became bishop of Trimithous during the reign of Constantine the Great.

1-2. Through various miracles and intercessions, Spyridon helps the island’s poor against the rich. During a severe drought, people suffer from hunger, because the rich have stored up all the grain in granaries. Spyridon constantly prays to God for rain. Eventually, it rains for many days, the granaries burst open, and the poor take as much grain as they need.

3. Spyridon transforms a snake into gold to help a poor man pay his rent.

4. He sets out for Constantia to intercede on behalf of a man who has been imprisoned on false charges. On the way, he calms a torrential river through prayers.

5. In Constantia, he is approached by a former prostitute, whose sins he forgives.

6. Spyridon is one of the 318 prelates who attend the council of Nicaea. During the council, he impresses everyone by defeating a pagan philosopher in a debate, which leads to the immediate conversion of the latter. The emperor Constantine’s piety is illustrated through a scene in which an Egyptian bishop named *Paphnoutios (S01542) is kissed by the emperor in the eye that had been gouged out during the persecution of the emperor Maximian. After much debate, the council decides to send Arius and his followers into exile.

7. In Cyprus, Spyridon learns that his daughter has died, and that jewels that were entrusted to her safekeeping are nowhere to be found. Through prayers, Spyridon revives her for a brief moment and questions her about the whereabouts of the jewels. The narrator refers to Socrates Scholasticus as an authority regarding this anecdote.

8. Constantine the Great has died, and one of his sons, also named Constantine, is now ruling in Antioch. The emperor comes down with an illness and, prompted by an angelic vision, invites Spyridon to court. After healing the emperor and instructing him in Trinitarian theology, Spyridon returns to Cyprus.

9. He resurrects a dead baby and then the baby’s mother.

10. A supplier (proagorastes) purchases a hundred goats from Spyridon. He tries to deceive the saint, but he is caught and rebuked.

11. Spyridon punishes a village deacon for reciting prayers in an unnecessarily lengthy and ostentatious way out of vanity.

12. One day, divine voices join in the evening prayer with the saint.

13. Spyridon’s church runs out of oil for the lamps, and the congregation cannot continue with the prayers in darkness. Spyridon prays to God, and all the lamps are miraculously filled with oil.

14. Spyridon sets out on business with one of his disciples named Triphyllios. On the way, the saint reads the secret desires of Triphyllios’ heart and reminds him of the good things that await them in the afterlife.

15. A woman is found to be with child, even though her husband had been absent from home for the last 24 months. She claims to be innocent, but Spyridon does not believe her and admonishes her for being an adulteress. She has an early labour and dies with the baby.

16. A pagan named Olympos is converted to Christianity.

17. In the summer before his death, Spyridon goes to his field, in order to reap. Drops of cooling rain fall onto his head only, and he explains to his companions that he is about to die, his memory will be celebrated by people of all ages and generations, and he will grant to them the grace which he will acquire from God. Theodore’s source for the Life of Spyridon so far was an iambic poem attributed to *Triphyllios (S01617), Spyridon’s disciple and later bishop of Kallenikesis/Leukon Theon (Leukosia/Nicosia). The author believes that the attribution is false, or that the author simply happened to be called Triphyllios, but cannot have been Triphyllios the saint. Theodore also adduces a chapter from Socrates’ Ecclesiastical History, and some miracles which he himself has collected.

II. Chapter from Socrates
18-19. The author quotes in full Socrates, Ecclesiastical History 1.20 (see E03992).

III. Episode from a lost hagiography of Spyridon
20. While staying in the monastery of Symboulos near the city of Kourion, the author heard the following story from a monk named Ioannes who had heard it during a pilgrimage to the shrine of *Kyros and Ioannes (physicians and martyrs, S00406) in Egypt during the Persian invasion of 618. After his pilgrimage, Ioannes met in Alexandria the Cypriot deacon Stephanos of Akroterion, who was carrying some books, including the Life of Spyridon. The monk asked him what the Cypriot saint's story had reached Alexandria, and Ioannes recounted the following story.

The patriarch of Alexandria invited several bishops in order to demolish by their prayers those idols which were still standing by the power of magic. Praying before each one of them, the bishops caused their destruction, but one idol proved impossible to destroy even by the prayers of the patriarch himself. Prompted by an angelic dream, he invited Spyridon to Alexandria. The holy man obliged, and as soon as he disembarked from his boat onto Alexandrian soil, the idol and its temple collapsed spontaneously. The news of the miracle caused a mass conversion of pagans to Christianity.

This episode was depicted in an image (eikon) displayed above the main entrance of Spyridon’s church in Trimithous. Yet no one in the town knew the meaning of this depiction, until the author’s text was read on the saint’s feast in AD 656. Some were initially sceptical of its veracity on the grounds that it was not part of Triphyllios’ poem, but the story was accepted when they identified it as one of the hitherto unidentified scenes depicted over the portal of the church. That image contained several other unidentified scenes, which proved that the saint’s story indeed included episodes which Triphyllios’ text had omitted. The source of this additional story, Ioannes, died in AD 650 (for the full text of this episode, see $E07148).

IV. Episode from the oral tradition of Trimithous
21. Thirty years earlier (i.e. in the 620s), the author attended the saint’s feast at Trimithous and diligently sought out local traditions concerning the saint’s life. An old and pious man, who had heard from other elders, recounted the following story. Spyridon used to lend money to the needy. One such man, a shipmaster, had an arrangement with the saint, whereby he would take as much as he needed from a chest and return with the money whenever he could repay his debt to the saint. One day, the shipmaster tried to deceive the saint, but was caught and admonished.

V. Four posthumous miracles recounted by an anonymous old man (possibly Theodore himself)
22. Another old man described how he once visited Trimithous and venerated the saint’s sarcophagus on his feast of 14 December. He was so overwhelmed by the divine energy of the tomb that for the whole day he experienced a kind of trance, contemplating the glory of God, and being unable to speak or eat, except to receive Holy Communion.

23. The same man recounted how he once visited Trimithous on the saint’s feast, intending to venerate Spyridon's tomb and buy clothes for the poor from the local fair. He venerated the tomb and once again was overwhelmed by grace and contemplation of eternal spiritual goods. After worship, he went out to the fair and bought the clothes, but two days later severe rain storms broke out. The man prayed at Spyridon’s tomb requesting his help. His company set off, and both the weather and the road remained miraculously dry around them along their journey. He could feel the saint’s invisible presence. Three to four miles before their destination, the man felt, by way of farewell, the saint touching his heart and filling him with joy. They had hardly reached their destination, and the rain resumed.

24. The same man recounts how another time, after venerating Spyridon’s tomb on his festival, he asked him to visit the church where he (the witness) lived. When he returned home, he could again feel Spyridon’s real presence and blessing during the service.

25. The same man explained that once, while attending a gathering of bishops, he was inspired by the Holy Spirit so as to understand the source of Spyridon’s extraordinary perfection and grace. Throughout his life, Spyridon maintained a child’s simplicity and humility, according to the Evangelical commandment (Mt. 18:3-4). The author has added these episodes, with the purpose of inspiring his audience to imitate Spyridon.

Text: Van den Ven 1953.
Summary: Arsen Nişanyan, Efthymios Rizos.

History

Evidence ID

E07147

Saint Name

Spyridon, bishop of Trimythous (Cyprus), ob. 348 : S00790 Triphyllios, bishop of Leucosia in Cyprus, 4th c. : S01617 Kyros and Ioannes/Cyrus and John, physician and soldier, martyrs of Egypt : S00406

Saint Name in Source

Σπυρίδων Τριφύλλιος Κῦρος καὶ Ἰωάννης

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives Literary - Sermons/Homilies

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

650

Evidence not after

660

Activity not before

350

Activity not after

670

Place of Evidence - Region

Aegean islands and Cyprus Aegean islands and Cyprus

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Paphos Trimythous

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

Paphos Salamis Σαλαμίς Salamis Salamis Farmagusta Far Κωνσταντία Konstantia Constantia Trimythous Salamis Σαλαμίς Salamis Salamis Farmagusta Far Κωνσταντία Konstantia Constantia

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Activities Accompanying Cult

  • Fair

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Prayer/supplication/invocation

Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Public display of an image

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle after death Miracle at martyrdom and death Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Power over life and death Invisibility, bilocation, miraculous travels Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money) Healing diseases and disabilities Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future) Miraculous intervention in issues of doctrine

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Monarchs and their family Pagans Heretics Relatives of the saint The socially marginal (beggars, prostitutes, thieves)

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body

Source

For the manuscript tradition, see: https://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/13463/

Discussion

Theodore’s Life of Spyridon is the earliest surviving version of the hagiography of the popular Cypriot saint. Spyridon was among the first bishops of the post-Constantinian church to be revered as a miracle worker and to have a hagiography, already in the 4th century. Theodore’s model text, the verse Life by Triphyllios, was known in the monastic circles of 4th c. Palestine, including Jerome of Stridon and Rufinus of Aquileia. It is doubtful whether Theodore’s scepticism with regard to the authenticity of the text’s attribution to Triphyllios is justified. The style of the poem was probably no longer appealing to the literary taste of Theodore’s time, and he does not hide his disapproval of it. But Triphyllios was revered as a saint himself by the 7th century, so it was probably not thought right to criticise a saint’s literary work. Be that as it may, Theodore’s decision to rewrite the story of the poem in prose represents an early example of metaphrasis (rewriting) before the Metaphrastic movement. The date and occasion of the current text’s composition are given with precision. A version was read by the author in 656, when he participated alongside a group of other bishops in the saint’s feast at Trimithous. Continuing an old tradition, attested already in the Cappadocian fathers, visiting bishops were expected to preach on the day, and Theodore apparently gave a talk on the saint’s life. Yet his reading caused a sensation, because in addition to the already known story from Triphyllios’ poem, he added a miracle set in Alexandria. The locals were sceptical, because they had never heard of it, but then they realised that the account explained a painted depiction in the church, which up to that point no one had been able to interpret. Triphyllios’ poem was not the only version of Spyridon’s hagiography. Even if it was the only one used at Trimithous in the mid 7th century, the paintings in the saint’s church indicated that, in times past, a different version of the story was known and used in the city. The paintings, apparently much older than the 7th century, included scenes which were not part of the poem. Theodore claims that he had heard about a Life of Spyridon found in Egypt, which included several other episodes omitted by Triphyllios. Is his claim reliable, or did he devise the story based on the mysterious painting? Theodore also claims to have himself collected and adduced a number of miracle stories. The first one, he purportedly had heard from a local man in Trimithous in the 620s, as a local memory of an episode from the saint’s life. The other four are posthumous miracles which the author ascribes to another person who experienced them. It is very probable that this anonymous old man, who was evidently a cleric (he attended the festival regularly, bought clothes for the poor of his own church from the local fair, attended councils with other bishops), was in fact Theodore himself, concealing his identity out of humility.

Bibliography

Text: Van den Ven, P., La légende de s. Spyridon évêque de Trimithonte (Bibliothèque du Muséon 33; Louvain, 1953), 1-103. Further reading: Chrysos, E., "Αγία νήσος αγίων επισκόπων," In: Th. Giangou, and Ch. Nassis (eds.), Κυπριακή Αγιολογία (Paralimni, 2015), 281-292. Efthymiadis, S., and Déroche, V., "Greek Hagiography in Late Antiquity (Fourth-Seven Centuries)," In: S. Efthymiadis (ed.), The Ashgate Research Companion to Byzantine Hagiography. Vol. 1: Periods and Places (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011), 35-94 (at p. 77). Rapp, C., "Cypriot Hagiography in the Seventh Century: Patrons and Purpose," in: Th. Giangou and Ch. Nassis (eds.), Κυπριακή Αγιολογία (Paralimni, 2015), 397-411.

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