(Photo of the Jordan River where Christ was baptized by St. John the Forerunner)
Some saints were thieves, murderers, adulterers, blasphemers and so on. These saints give us a different form of the same hope that the saints who have always been saintly give us. These saints who have a sinful past, give us who have a sinful past, the hope of sanctity. One of those saints is St. Porphyrios the Mime/Actor/Jester.
The first time I heard about Saint Porphyrios the Mime, I admit, I laughed. Since then I have grown to love the saint.
What is his story?
St. Porphyrios was a Mimic, actor, and jester in the court of Emperor Julian the Apostate in the 4th century. For the Emperor’s birthday, Porphyrios decided to mock the sacrament of baptism. He mocked baptism by going down into the water and saying “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Not necessarily a good idea, right?
How does someone like this become a saint?
The short answer is GOD!
When Porphyrios came up out of the water, he said: “Now I am a Christian!” Everyone at the spectacle assumed that he was joking around and continuing his act of mocking the Christian faith. As it turns out, Porphyrios was transformed and maintained that he indeed was a Christian. After this event, he never mocked Christianity again and even went on to be beheaded as a martyr.
Now he is St. Porphyrios whose feast day is September 15th.
It is ironic that on hearing this story for the first time, I found it humorous and laughed. I remember thinking, ‘how ridiculous.’ I was the one mocking God at that point. I had unknowingly and unintentionally put a limit on God’s action in my mind. In saying that this story was ridiculous, I was really saying that God wouldn’t act in a way that was so out of the ordinary.
St. Porphyrios and his path to sainthood taught me two main things:
The first is that God indeed does work in ways that are completely out of the ordinary. This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, and it shouldn’t have come as a shock to me. I do believe it and strongly. I was forced to look at all the ways that God has worked in the lives of people that I know and in my own. This led me to realize that it seems to be God’s way to act in ways that we would deem unordinary.
The second teaching from St. Porphyrios is related to the first. It is that the situation of St. Porphyrios, while at first seeming to be strange is actually quite ordinary. Now it doesn’t happen that we openly mock baptism and end up being converted; true. It is, however, the case that God works even through our sins to bring us to Him.
This is something all of us who believe and love God can be reminded about through St. Porphyrios the Mime.
“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
I know that in my own life I have experienced God work through my sins. When I was nowhere close to the Church and was living a completely immoral life (understatement of understatements) deep down in me somewhere, there was the tiniest spark of love for God. It was so tiny that nobody, including myself, could see it, except for God. God saw it and used many of my vices and issues towards the aim of the good.
I have returned to the Church and entered a monastery. The situation is still the same sometimes. My sin is still something that God continues to work through. One of the many things I am blessed with at the monastery is a community that is open to God’s working. I’m sure it is hard for people to believe that in a group of men living together, from time to time an argument can arise. We are, after all, just like all Christians, struggling to live the Christian life. Every, and yes I do mean EVERY, time I’ve been involved in an argument at the monastery (let’s assume they were all my fault; it’s probably a fair assumption) a great good has emerged. Sometimes the good is learning about my brothers that causes me to love them even more. Other times it causes me to see something in myself and leads me to fix it. Every time though it has led to a better relationship and a greater love of God and each other. That is God working through our sins and helping lead us to Him.
My guess is, and I could be wrong, that everyone who looks honestly and deeply at themselves and their relationship with God, will find instances where God has worked through their sins.
St. Porphyrios reminds us that
God is greater than our sin!
The story of St. Porphyrios the Mime can teach us much more if we reflect on it. What on its face seems a strange and perhaps silly situation is, in reality, edifying and helpful in moving us towards salvation.
Pray for me.
I’ll pray for you.