Monday, May 10, 2010

Commemoration of St. Christopher the Martyr

Yesterday, May 9, was my name day. St. Christopher, my namesake, is commemorated on that day. You may not have heard much about it since yesterday was the final Sunday of Pascha, it was Mother's Day and Christopher shares his commemoration day with the Prophet Isaiah. It also doesn't help that the Roman Martyricon has removed him altogether following the reforms of the calendar made in the wake of Vatican II (his commemoration on their calendar though was on July 25). It is of further little help that even the Prologue of Ohrid has only this to say about him:

Christopher was a great miracle-worker. He is especially venerated in Spain. The people pray to him primarily for protection from contagious diseases and great pestilence. He suffered for Christ and was glorified by Christ in the year 249 A.D.

Much of what we think we know about St. Christopher is rooted in legend. That is why he was dropped from the Roman Calendar. Despite this, the Church has never said that the acceptance of the literal truth of the lives of the saints or even the Theotokos was absolutely necessary. But what is the truth behind such legends?

As I so often tell my students, truth is not fact. Fact answers "what" questions. Truth answers "why" questions. So why celebrate St. Christopher's Day even if he was not actually a martyr and did not actually carry the Christ child across a river before martyrdom under the Emperor Decius? I believe Elysia Younes writing on the Antiochian Archdiocese website gives a good answer: "Although so little is known about the life of St. Christopher, there is so much to be gathered even from his experience carrying Christ across the river. We all bear and are called to bear and to “put on” Christ by taking up the crosses in our lives that He has given to each of us. St. Christopher bore his cross and eventually suffered martyrdom for the faith, fulfilling the commandment of Christ, “He who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of me.” (Matt 10:38)

May Christopher continue to intercede for us before the Dread Judgment Seat of Christ for relief from afflictions of this life and that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

*Also, a sidenote. Iconographers who depict St. Christopher with the head of a dog are in error. Christopher is called "dog-faced" because his countenance was so terrible to behold.


  1. Here is some other information on our shared patron in addition to that found in the Prologue and the website of the Antiochian Archdiocese:

    A young Turkish girl was baptized at my parish and took the name of Martyr Aquilina, one of the two harlots converted by St. Christopher.

  2. In addition, to sharing May 9 with the Prophet Isaiah, St. Christopher is also commemorated with St. Joseph of Optina, the disciple of the famous starets, St. Ambrose of Optina. A certain Orthodox Christopher I know has the middle name of Joseph...

  3. Happy name day to you, Chris. Thanks for the additional info.

  4. Happy name day to you, Chris. Thanks for the additional information.

  5. Chris[topher] (and the other Chris), happy belated nameday - many years!

    I was actually going to mention Martyr Aquilina as well.

    I was struck when, at Orthros yesterday, we were reading the Synaxarion and it had only this line about St. Christopher:

    On this day we commemorate the holy Martyr Christopher.

    Yet, in regard to Aquilina (and Callinica):

    On this day we commemorate the holy Martyrs Callinica and Aquilina, who believed in Christ through Saint Christopher and were perfected in martyrdom, the first being pierced with a long spit from foot to shoulder, the second being hanged by the hair of her head with a heavy stone tied to her feet.

    I didn't take note of this because of the fact that so little was included about St. Christopher. Rather, it seemed to me the fact that Aquilina and Callinica are commemorated in such detail and that St. Christopher's name is mentioned was enough to convey the truth of St. Christopher's life (rather than the fact, as you rightly distinguish in your post). That he was so able to be a clear window for the light of God to shine brightly through, and thus convert the likes of Aquilina and Callinica to such true and zealous faith so as to endure horrific martyrdom, speaks volumes about him more than any hagiography (doubted or confirmed) could ever do.

  6. Thanks, Andreas.

    I think that the reading from the synaxarion for May 9 exemplifies how one is truly living in the souls of others. We light candles in front of hte icons of saints because Christ lives in them. As such, the Martyrs Callinicia and Aquilina became martyrs to our Lord because St. Christopher, in a sense, lived in them.

    Thanks for reminding me that it is in action, not words that makes us followers of Christ.