(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, Philaret, comes from Volume 4 of the series.)
"Membership in the exclusive society of saints is restricted to those Christians who have substantially aided the Christian endeavor. While it is true that the vast majority of our saints have been those whose service was a direct contribution to Christianity, one can find the company of the elite band of saints merely by acting as a Christian to an unusual degree in the course of a routine, secular life. A man whose only credentials for sainthood stemmed from his largesse holds out the hope for the average Christian, if not to become a saint, then at least to find favor with God through consideration of those less fortunate than others.
A man undistinguished in his lifetime, save for the fact that he was born into a family of means, Philaretos was born in Armenia about the middle of the eighth century, the son of a farmer whose land and stock holdings were extensive and whose Christian piety was genuine. Upon the untimely death of his father, he suddenly found himself sole owner of a sizeable estate, which he vowed to put to good use, not for his personal gain, but for the good of the many impoverished whom he saw all about him and for whom he had a great deal of compassion.
The assets of the flourishing estate were directed to the needs of the poor in the form of philanthropic institutions for which Philaretos was principally responsible. His generosity became legendary in his own time and it was difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff with regard to the numbers who appealed to him for help and to whom he could never say no. In his eagerness to serve his fellow man he lost sight of the fact that he might one day fall victim to a turn in the tide of fortune, and indeed the day came when, owing to a number of adversities, he found himself stripped of everything he owned, with the exception of the house in which he lived. He managed to salvage his impressive home with the aid of friends and continued, outwardly at least, to live the lifestyle to which he and his family had been accustomed.
The magnificent house was mere façade, however. Philaretos and his family experienced the deprivation of those he had assisted and his family bitterly complained that he had been generous to a fault. They complained that if this was to be his reward he would have done better to look after his own welfare. The constant want gnawed at his once-proud family and while they wavered in their faith, Philaretos remained unshaken in his and did his utmost to assure his family that God had not forsaken them. He tried to show them that in His own good time He would bring an end to their suffering.
It was in the midst of this prolonged misfortune that word came to the house of Philaretos that Empress Irene herself was in the area and that she might favor the family with a visit to acknowledge the generosity of the master of the house about whom she had heard so much. When the empress arrived, in the company of her son Constantine, the house was in readiness and great care had been taken not to expose the plight of the family whose pride had insisted that the decline of the family fortune remain a secret from the royal party.
The future Emperor Constantine looked with favor upon a niece of Philaretos who had come to help entertain the honored guests. Then and there, he decided to make her his bride, a decision which met with the approval of the empress and which turned the tide of affairs of the long-suffering family. Invited to visit in turn at the royal palace in Constantinople, the generous Philaretos found that his reputation as a philanthropist had preceded him and he was enthusiastically greeted by persons in high places who eventually learned of his financial difficulties and saw to it that his estate was restored.
His faith in God thus vindicated, Philaretos and his family took up again the standard that had been snatched from them many years before. His benevolence continued to brighten the lives of the less fortunate and such was the extent of his kindness and true Christian spirit that, after he died on December 1, 802, the honor of sainthood was bestowed on him.