(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, St. Christos, comes from Volume 1 of the series.)
St. Christos the Gardener
When God created the earth, He saw fit to place man in a garden, the Garden of Eden; ever since, the garden has become a symbol of serenity, peace and kinship with God. In what better seeing could man live the abundant life promised by Holy Scriptures to those who follow Christ than in a garden?
To know nature is to know God. It is largely because of this that the humble gardener Christos acquired intimacy with God which placed him among the saints of Christendom. His talent for tending the living things of the Lord paralleled his ability to attend to the needs of his soul and those of his brethren.
Saints abound in the early centuries of Christianity primarily because being a Christian posed a threat to life and in a primarily pagan world a Christian’s life was cheap. In the eighteenth century it was another matter since espousing Christianity was no longer a religious hazard and for that reason saints were harder to come by. For this reason the eighteenth century St. Christos, a Christian tiller of hostile soil, commands profound reverence in spite of his rather prosaic life and uneventful but genuine service to Jesus Christ. That he was able to retain this deep commitment to Christ while surrounded by those who delight in assailing Christians as “Giaours,” or unbelievers, is convincing proof that his devotion to the Savior was total, and although his earthly body belonged to a sultan, his heart and spirit were God’s. To have been forced to live in this oppressive environment and yet stubbornly cling to his Christian beliefs indicate that Christos never flinched, though he walked through the lion’s den every day of his life. It was only after he had died for Christ that a closer look convinced the Church Fathers that to all intents and purposes his spiritual attainment would have been no greater had he spent an entire lifetime as an asectic.
Born in Albania, he found his way to Constantinople, where he became the gardener for the Turkish sultan in 1748. Although he was an Orthodox Christian he nevertheless worked in the garden of the sultan. Because of this the Muslims envied him greatly. They considered him beneath their station and unworthy to set foot in the sultan’s garden, let alone bear the responsibility of its upkeep.
Unheeding, Christos labored with such diligence that the garden flourished in beauty. His astonishing success with the plant life, which Christos realized was a gift from God, served only to intensify the smoldering envy of those about him. It seemed that the kind and gentle Christos, in nurturing his garden, also nurtured a hatred in others in the sultan’s employ. So intense was their hatred that only the complete destruction of the good gardener could appease their wrath. The gathering storm was evident to Christos, but he knew his faith in God would shelter him.
Those plotting Christos’ downfall knew that the only accusation certain to doom Christos was that of treason. His labors were such that he could be forgiven any human frailty. His enemies plotted to draw him into a discussion of his religion, and then bear false witness against him. Their evil scheme was accomplished. Christos was falsely accused of holding the Muslim faith up to ridicule, scorn and derision before many witnesses.Consequently, Christos was cast into prison, where he lanquished for two years under harsh treatment that would have wrenched the soul out of a lesser man. By brutal torture they sought to make Christos recant to save his life. Lashes and chains could not make this man disavow his Christian faith. They promised him the chance to return to his beloved gardens in exchange for a simple statement of conversion to the Muslim faith. Christos remained steadfast. He accepted the sentence of death knowing that his enemies had failed.
On February 12, 1752, he was beheaded. Not long afterwards he was proclaimed a martyr and canonized as a neomartyr, taking his place among the saints of God.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.