(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 Sts. Jasn and Sosipater, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
Saints Jason and Sosipater
The island of Kerkyra (Corfu) has attracted down through the ages any number of visitors, ranging from mainland marauders who envied its strategic proximity to the continent to peaceful lovers of nature who admired its great beauty. The island’s prominence was also an attraction to the early Christian missionaries, chief among whom were two men of such stature in the new faith of Jesus Christ that they are addressed by no less than the great St. Paul, who acknowledged their great service to the Savior. The two are Jason and Sosipater, who were assured immortality by mere mention in the New Testament but who offered far greater reason for their being venerated as saints.
In addition to St. Paul’s reference to this holy pair in his Epistle to the Romans which reads, “Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you” (Romans 16:21), St. Luke says in reference to Jason in Acts (17:6), “And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying ‘These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.’” Sosipater might well have been one of the brethren referred to, although he is not mentioned in this passage by name.
Having served with enthusiasm, both were rewarded by St. Paul with sees, Jason as bishop of Tarsus and Sosipater as bishop of Ikonion where, independent of each other, they implanted Christianity. Jointly serving St. Paul, then separately serving as bishops, they were rejoined in the common cause of bringing the word of Jesus Christ to the island of Corfu. With such a pair of devout preachers, the success of their mission in Corfu was assured, and within a short period of time, Christian converts were attending services in a church dedicated to the memory of the protomartyr St. Stephen.
At first disregarded by King Kerylinos, their spread of Christianity caused sufficient stir in the royal court that the two holy men were questioned by the king himself. Ignoring their case in the name of the Savior, the king ordered their imprisonment for insulting his pagan deity, and the two found themselves sharing the squalor of a dungeon with seven convicted felons. There the two holy men preached the word of Jesus convincingly enough to convert their fellow prisoners. The king greeted this disquieting bit of news with an order that all but the two holy men be put to death, sparing Jason and Sosipater as a matter of expediency in light of their popularity with a fraction on the island now to be reckoned with.
Seeking to disgrace them, the king had Jason and Sosipater dragged through the streets by a horse at a speed calculated to be slow enough to bruise them without killing them, a spectacle which was looked upon by the king’s daughter not as an act of shame but as an act of wretchedness on the part of her father. The daughter, aptly named Kerkyra, visited the hapless pair in their prison cell and was won over by them as a Christian convert, a conversion which was to cost her life. With mounting vengeance the king mounted a campaign against the Christians, even embarking on a voyage to another island to destroy Christians there, but a voyage that was doomed when his ship went down in a howling storm.
The succeeding king, Donatios, deemed it his royal duty to continue the course of persecution, and in an ill-considered decision to flaunt his authority, he ordered that Sosipater be put to death. It was presumed that Jason would follow his comrade in death, but the king decided to question the surviving partner first. A gnawing sense of guilt had precipitated the meeting of Jason and Donatios, after which the repentant monarch was himself converted to Christianity, bringing about official acknowledgement of the truth of Jesus Christ.
The body of Sosipater was entombed within the confines of a church on the island named after St. Andrew.
Not long after this, the twelve-year-old daughter of Donatios was stricken with a fatal illness, but after Jason had knelt in prayer she recovered. Jason continued to work for the Messiah until his death at the age of sixty on April 29, the day on which Sosipater had died for Christ.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from GoArch.org.