(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 we commemorate St. Michael, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
Saint Michael of Asia Minor
Michael of Asia Minor exemplifies in the highest tradition the defense of Christianity in the face of the withering blasts of the Muslims. Because he came to know both worlds, Michael looms as an heroic figure despite the fact that he was nothing more than a man in the street with whom all can identify. He held no high office, lay or clerical, made no name for himself as a monastic, but he took the stand for Christianity as few men have done. Like all Greek Orthodox, he had the Savior in his heart and proved it beyond any reasonable doubt, not, however, until he appeared to have become the one least likely to do so.
The village of his birth remains obscure, save to say that it was not on the Greek peninsula but somewhere in the remoteness of Asia Minor where Greeks had lived for centuries. Orphaned as a child, he had become a master coppersmith at an early age and, like most Greeks, was anxious to work out of his own shop in full expression of his own artistic ability. Competition in this field was stiff , but for a Greek to compete against Turkish craftsmen, even those of mediocre talent, was a near-impossibility. The Turks saw to it that only their own shops prospered.
A Turkish businessman happened to see an example of Michael’s craftsmanship and proposed to back Michael with adequate financing in a partnership by which both would profit. The price that Michael had to pay was conversion to Islam, since a Turk could hardly be expected to go into business with a Christian. At the age of eighteen, Michael saw no harm in this, since he merely had to appear to have defected and thereby have his own business. He lacked reason no more than he lacked talent, but in his boyish eagerness he failed to realize the overt seriousness of apostasy. The full meaning of the sacraments which were actually dear to his young heart gave way to his anxiety to prosper and escape the wretchedness of hunger and deprivation.
He had made this ill-considered venture for only a few months when his folly was brought to bear on him with a sudden surge of the Christian spirit he had sought to disregard out of expediency. The advent of the Christian Lenten season found him in a state of complete remorse and an abandonment of his coppersmith ambitions. In the absence of his Muslim partner, he rejoined his Christian friends and perhaps because of his return, much like the prodigal son, he was more of a Christian in the Orthodox family than ever before. Basking in the glory of the light of the holy season, he observed fasting to the letter and when at last the “Christos Anesti” echoed and re-echoed throughout the city he was brimming over with the love of the Savior. The joy of celebrating the risen Christ was all-consuming and an exuberant Michael went to seek out his former partner.
Unaware of what had happened, the Turk was confronted by an elated Michael and, thinking him to have drunk too much wine, went along with the young Greek’s proposal to answer some questions. When Michael asked him if he would exchange a piece of gold for lead, the bemused Turk answered, “Of course not.” Both agreed that would be folly. The young man then said to the unsuspecting Turk that he had exchanged his gold for lead and was returning the lead to get his gold. Assuming this to be a riddle by which the golden Greek was looking for a better business arrangement, he asked for a clearer definition.
It was then that Michael said he had forsaken his Lord, the gold to which he referred, for the lead of the Muslim faith, and was returning to the golden light of Christianity. The Turk became infuriated at having allowed himself to be led into this personal affront by a young upstart and let loose a torrent of rage, only exacerbated by the calm demeanor of the youthful Christian. Not one to allow money to slip through his fingers, he contained his wrath at last and tried to prevail upon the lad to resume their arrangement. This was met by a firm declaration that under no circumstances would the young Greek allow himself to become an apostate as he had so unwisely done before.
The promise of further wealth was meaningless.The inevitable charge of treason was brought against Michael, whose defense of Christ brought the death sentence. He was beheaded on April 16, 1772, at the age of nineteen, and is enshrined in the Church of St. Photini.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.