(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press . Today's saint, Averkios, comes from Volume 4 of the series.)
"Although there is no record of his slaying an army with the jawbone of an ass, nor dispatching a lion with his bare hands, an unobtrusive bishop of the late second century was endowed with as much prodigious strength through the power of the Lord as was the much-heralded Samson of the Old Testament, yet he remains as obscure in sainthood as Samson is prominent in biblical accounts. His name was Averkios, a man whose exploits matched those of any hero in church history, but who has been cloaked in the virtual anonymity of ancient manuscripts gathering the dust of ages in antiquated storerooms of Orthodoxy. So obscure has he been that to bring him to light now is akin to exhuming the deceased, but the great spirit of this man has been alive in the eighteen hundred years that have elapsed since his appearance.
So overshadowed by the greater saints as to be virtually obliterated, Averkios stands in the rear ranks of our revered saints, all but forgotten by his own fellow Christians, none of whom deny his place among the greater saints once they know his story. It was in the year 186, the Church Fathers tell us, that while Averkios was winning acclaim as bishop of Hierapolis, he had a vision in which he was told that he would be endowed with physical power that knew no limits and which he was to put to use in God’s work. This strength was given to him that he might destroy with his own hands a mighty temple which had just been erected by the pagans and in this manner display the power of God which the pagans had challenged.
Averkios discountenanced violence of any kind, but the destruction of the temple of paganism was a holy task which he found not in the least offensive, and he felt a sense of deep pride and humility for having been chosen to be an instrument of God. Under cover of darkness he went to the temple, and bowling over the huge columns like pins, he brought to ruin what had been considered a structure that was indestructible. As the thundering noise went out over the city, all came to stand in amazement at this awesome display of God. Not convinced, the pagans retaliated swiftly.
A mob of pagans, five hundred strong, marched to the cathedral of the bishop with every intention of hanging him from the steeple, but they were diverted from doing so by the bishop, now recognized by all the Christians as a true man of God. They arrived in time to witness a cleansing of the bodies and souls of three young men who had been driven out of their minds by an unknown malady. So transfixed by this miraculous cure was this unruly band that they stood in hushed silence and looked at each other questioningly, bewildered by the seeming invincibility of this holy man of an opposite faith. Averkios lost no time in addressing himself to the mob, and in short order they became an attentive audience to the wisdom of the bishop, who praised God and brought the truth of Jesus to what had been, moments before, a horde seeking vengeance upon the house of God and the destruction of his eloquent spokesman. Before the night was out, the community membership had been increased by five hundred, all of whom by morning had been baptized and come to know the sweetness of the love of Jesus Christ.
The incident of this mass conversion brought fame to Bishop Averkios, whose power of healing was now manifest and to whom pilgrims by the thousands came for spiritual comfort and physical cure. The prodigious physical strength God had given this pious bishop became a fountain of spiritual blessing which was showered upon those who had faith, and in the ensuing ten years the cathedral attracted Christians from all corners of the earth who trudged mile after weary mile just to be touched by this man of God.
The emperor of Rome, Marcus Aurelius, and his wife, Faustina, were the worried parents of an ailing sixteen-year-old daughter when the news of the healing power of Bishop Averkios reached them, and, in spite of the objections of their court physicians and soothsayers, none of whom could find a cure, they summoned the bishop for his help. Averkios prayed at the side of the stricken girl and she was forthwith restored to health, in return for which the grateful emperor granted aid requested by Averkios for his people. He returned to Hierapolis and died at the age of seventy-two on October 22, a date on which he predicted he would die."