September 22, 2018

⛪ Saint Phocas the Gardener - Martyr

Saint of the Day : September 22

 Other Names :
• Phocas of Hovenier • Phocas of Sinope • Focas, Fokas

 Died :
beheaded c.303 in Sinope, Pontus (in modern Turkey)

 Patronage :
• against insect bites • against poisoning • against snake bites • agricultural workers, farm workers, farmers, field hands • boatmen, mariners, sailors, watermen • gardeners
• husbandmen • market-gardeners

Saint Phocas, sometimes called Phocas the Gardener or Phocas of Sinope (Greek:Φωκᾶς), is venerated as a martyr by the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. His life and legend may have been a fusion of three men with the same name: Phocas of Antioch, Phocas the bishop of Sinope, and Phocas the Gardener.

St Phocas dwelt near the gate of Sinope, a city of Paphlagonia on the Black Sea, and lived by cultivating a garden. In his humble profession he imitated the virtue of the most holy anchorites, and seemed in part restored to the happy condition of our first parents in Eden. To prune the garden without labour and toil was their sweet employment and pleasure. Since their sin, the earth yields not its fruit but by the sweat of our brow. But still, no labour is more useful or necessary or more natural to man, and better adapted to maintain in him vigour of mind and health of body, than that of tillage ; nor does any other part of the universe rival the charms which a garden presents to our senses, by the fragrance of its flowers and the sweetness and variety of its fruits ; by the melody of its musicians, by the worlds of wonders which every stem, leaf, and fibre exhibit to the attention of the inquisitive philosopher, and by that beauty and variegated lustre of colours which clothe the numberless tribes of its smallest inhabitants and adorn its shining landscapes, vying with the brightest splendour of the heavens and in a single lily surpassing the lustre with which Solomon was surrounded on his throne in the midst of all his glory. And what a field for contemplation does a garden offer to our view, raising our souls to God in love and praise, stimulating us to fervour by the fruitfulness with which it repays our labour and multiplies the seed it receives, and exciting us to tears of compunction for our insensibility to God by the barrenness with which it is changed into a desert unless subdued by ceaseless toil. St Phocas, joining prayer with his labour, found in his garden an instructive book and an inexhaustible fund of meditation. His house was open to strangers and travellers who had no lodging in the place ; and after having for many years liberally bestowed the fruit of his labour on the poor, he was found worthy also to give his life for Christ.

When a cruel persecution was suddenly raised against the Church, Phocas was impeached as a Christian, the formality of a trial was dispensed with, and soldiers were despatched with an order to kill him wherever they should find him. Arriving near Sinope, they could not enter the town, but stopping at his house without knowing it, at his invitation they took up their lodging with him. They at supper disclosed to him the errand upon which they were sent, and desired him to inform them where this Phocas could be found. He told them he was well acquainted with the man, and would give them news of him next morning. After they had retired to bed he dug a grave, prepared everything for his burial, and spent the night in disposing his soul for his last hour. When it was day he went to his guests, and told them Phocas was found and in their power whenever they pleased to apprehend him. They inquired where he was. " He is here ", said the martyr. " I myself am the man" Struck by his undaunted resolution and composure they did not at first know what to do with this man who had so generously entertained them ; he, seeing their trouble, told them that he looked upon such a death as the greatest of favours and his highest advantage. At length, recovering from their surprise and scruples, they struck off his head. The Christians of that city afterwards built a stately church which bore his name. St Asterius, Bishop of Amasea, about the year 400 pronounced the panegyric of this martyr on his festival in a church which possessed a small part of his relics, and said that " Phocas from the time of his death has become a pillar and support of the churches on earth. He draws all men to his house ; the highways are filled with persons resorting from every country to this place of prayer. The magnificent church which is possessed of his body is the comfort and ease of the afflicted, the health of the sick, the storehouse plentifully supplying the wants of the poor. If in any other place, as in this, some small portion of his relics be found, it also be comes admirable and most desired by Christians." He adds that the sailors in the Euxine, Aegean and Adriatic seas, and in the ocean, sing hymns in his honour, and that the martyr has often succoured and preserved them.

Alban Butler's account of St Phocas has been set out above, with some verbal alterations and omissions, because it will touch the heart of all gardeners. But it must be added that all that can be safely said of Phocas of Sinope is that he lived, was martyred, and was widely venerated. Much false and allusive matter has accrued to his story, and the name Phocas figures in calendars on various dates. In the Roman Martyrology St Phocas, martyr at Antioch on March 5, and St Phocas, Bishop of Sinope and martyr under Trajan, on July 14, are probably both derivatives of Phocas the Gardener. His relics, or parts of them, were claimed by Antioch, Vienne in France and other places.

Source : Lives of the Saints, by Father Alban Butler

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