The Miracle of Carthage
The “miracle of Carthage” is little known. Until recently this miracle has been met with no little furrowing of the brows. However, with medical evidence supporting the testimony of those who have been “clinically dead,” only to be revived and brought back to life, there is no reason to doubt the remarkable incident that took place in the seventh century, a demonstration of the power of the Lord.
This amazing story was not written by some ancient Greek mythologist, but by a venerable ascetic named Anastasios who lived a pious and studious life in the serenity of the Monastery of St. Catherine’s at the base of Mt. Sinai. This gifted religious writer made known this remarkable occurrence during the reign of Emperor Heraklios (625) only after careful scrutiny of a tale that still holds ascetics the world over spellbound with its ring of truth as an example of the power of good over evil.
The scene of this divine expression was somewhere near Carthage, the area now known to us as Tunisia, and concerns a young soldier whose name is unknown. It occurred at a time in which a plague was ravaging the land, causing the young man to flee with his family from a city where thousands either lay dead or were dying. Married but a short time, the young soldier violated one of the commandments by committing adultery in one of the villages where he had paused in flight.
The soldier took ill of the plague very soon after this ugly episode and, after lingering between life and death for a brief period, finally succumbed and was hastily buried. Within hours there emanated from the tomb cries for help. The tomb was opened by an incredulous family who was struck dumb at the awesome sight of a man, presumed dead, who was very much alive – something of a seventh-century Lazarus. There was no trace of the plague, but the soldier, more awestricken than any onlooker, could not bring himself to speak and was attended to by a family so overjoyed at his return from the dead that it mattered little whether he ever again uttered
It was only when Patriarch Thalassios came to see for himself what God had wrought that the soldier found his voice and proceeded to tell the patriarch what had happened. It was a harrowing tale with a happy ending.
The patriarch listened in awe as the young soldier related that, following his entombment, his spirit departed from his body in a darkness in which he could only make out the terrifying figure of what he presumed to be a demon coming to escort him to doom. The specter seized the thoroughly frightened spirit of the deceased soldier, but just as he was about to be dragged to the abysmal pit of the condemned, there appeared two white angels of the Lord, presumably the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, who interceded so that he might be more properly judged rather than condemned outright.
The soldier was brought before a series of “customs stations,” each station representing one of the many sins of man, and at each he was examined. He was not found wanting in any of the stations, indicating he had led an exemplary life, but at the stations of adultery he was pronounced guilty. At this point the dark powers seemed to step forward to claim the condemned, but the soldier pleaded with the angels for mercy, proclaiming a sincere repentance for a sin which he might very well have duly atoned for had the plague not taken him from the temporal life.
The angels were as one in their forgiveness, and as the powers of darkness vanished into the depths, the forgiven soldier’s spirit was returned to his body. It was then that his human life was reasserted and he issued the call for help. This incredible incident had taken place in a span of three hours, but the patriarch could see that in that short space of time the young man had acquired a singleness of purpose. The soldier would make a true repentance on earth for whatever sins he had committed.
The plague had taken its toll on the body, and with the rigors of penitent asceticism and fasting making further demands on the flesh now known to be less than that of the spirit, the young soldier died. After his death no sound emanated from his tomb, and to this very day, particularly in monasteries where its memory is kept fresh, the saga is a reminder of the triumph of the human spirit.
For more on the subject of mortality, check out Hierotheos of Nafpaktos' Life after Death.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.