On May 9th the Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast of St Christopher. The Saint lived during the 3rd Century and according to some sources, he was from Thessaly. He was a tall and a muscular man and ironically prayed to God to give him a less desirable face. This was to avoid temptation. Christopher’s name before his baptism, was Reprebus which was suggestive of his disfigured face.
Christopher wanted to serve the greatest king in the world. So, he first offered to serve the local king. Yet, when that king feared Satan, he left him to serve Satan. However, when Christopher learned that Satan feared Christ, he went in search of Him. He was told by Saint Babylas of Antioch that the best way for him to serve Christ was as a ferryman.
One stormy night, Christopher escorted a Child across the river. As he slowly proceeded across the water, the Child gradually got heavier. As they both got to about the middle of the river, Christopher was exhausted and could not go any further. The Child who was Christ Himself, told him as they reached the other side that he had just carried all the sins of the world on his shoulders.
He then ordered Christopher to plant his walking stick in the ground. Soon after, that walking stick became a giant tree. At that moment he recognized that the Child was Christ, the King who he had vowed to serve.
In the icon of St. Christopher, we see him carrying a young Christ over his shoulders with the walking stick in his hand. Some icons depict the walking stick having branches and leaves, depicting the tree it would eventually become. This epic event of the Saint bearing Christ above his shoulders became known as the Legend of St Christopher. His name in Greek, Χριστόφορος, means "Christ-bearer.” This is representative of the Saint carrying the young Christ over his shoulders across the river.
An image can also be seen here of Christopher being a “type” of Christ who bears the sins of the world. The walking stick that grew into a tree is an image of the Holy Cross, upon which Christ bore our sins.
Soon after, the Emperor Decius heard that Christopher was a believer in Christ and had him apprehended. The Emperor had Christopher imprisoned and sent two prostitutes to seduce him. Instead of falling into sin, Christopher converted them into Christians and encouraged them during their own martyrdom.
Christopher refusing the two prostitutes relates to that of Joseph fleeing from the Egyptian woman who tried to seduce him. We hear about the account of Joseph, son of Jacob at the Matins for Holy Monday (sung on Palm Sunday Evening, 1st Bridegroom Matins). Both Joseph and Christopher resisted the temptation and remained chaste.
St Christopher performed several great miracles. One was, a dry stick blossomed in his hand. This is reminiscent to Aaron’s rod that budded, a prefiguration of the Theotokos. And behold, Aaron’s rod for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds, and had produced blossoms and yielded ripe almonds (Numbers 17:23). This image can also be seen as a prefiguration of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross.
We hear about Aaron’s rod that budded in Hebrews 9:1-7, the popular epistle reading for feasts dedicated to the Theotokos.
Another miracle was the multiplication of loaves of bread by his prayers. This is similar to the account of Jesus feeding the five thousand in Mt 14:16-21, Mk 6:37-45 and Lk 8:11-17, Jn 6:5-14 or the four thousand in Mt 15:34-39. The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is reported by all four Evangelists. It is seen as an image of the Eucharist.
The feeding of the four thousand is not a duplicate report of the first miracle in Matthew, but rather another miracle performed in a different place. The service of the αρτοκλασία, also known as the Blessing of the Five Loaves, translates into Greek as the “breaking of bread.” The αρτοκλασία is usually done at a vespers service or after a liturgy. It is a special service dedicated to the health of people, commonly done on a feast day; signifying Christ’s miracle.
St Christopher faced other harsh persecutions, even being placed in a red-hot metal box but remained unharmed. After many fierce torments, St Christopher was beheaded in Lycia, 250 AD.
In Greece, many churches have the icon of St Christopher by the entrance, so that people can see it as they enter and depart. In fact, there is a Greek proverb that says: when you see Christopher, you can walk safely. There is also a legend that anyone who sees the icon of St Christopher will not die a sudden or accidental death that same day. Of course, many view this as a superstition.
The holy dust of your relics does many miracles. It guards from bolts of lightning, and it rescues from perils and from epidemics. And therefore we pray, O St. Christopher who endured uncounted labors, that you ever keep us safe from disaster and catastrophe (sticheron of Festal Vespers).
Let us remember that as Christians we are all Christ-bearers, Χριστόφοροι. It starts from our own baptism: All those in Christ who have been baptized, Christ we have put on us, Alleluia. (Ὅσοι εἰς Χριστὸν ἐβαπτίσθητε, Χριστὸν ἐνεδύσασθε. Ἀλληλούϊα.) Throughout our lives, as we deny ourselves and pick up our own cross, we in essence are bearing Christ upon us.
O Christopher, robed in the purple of your martyrdom, You came before the Lord of heaven; Therefore with the choirs of angels,You now sing the Thrice-Holy Hymn. Intercede for the salvation of those who honor you. (Festal Apolytikion)
Christ is Risen!
A Blessed Feast to all!
A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.