(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. Isidore, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
Saint Isidore of Chios
So much has been made of the Roman legions of antiquity that almost lost from sight is the navy of that once-mighty empire which looked to its ships to cruise the Mediterranean as links to its far-flung colonies. Ships require bases, and the Greek islands that dot the eastern Mediterranean provided not only strategic harbors, but ports of supply as well. One such naval installation was on the largely Christian island of Chios in the third century, when a Roman naval officer named Isidore was a chance visitor, only to be remembered in church annals as St. Isidore of Chios. Fate decreed that on this Greek island this Roman naval officer was to perform an act of Christian duty that would cost him his life.
A ranking member of the naval command, Isidore was both a patriot and Christian servant of God, compromising both in the name of God and country but with no outward acceptance of Jesus Christ as his Savior because you could not, in the eyes of Rome, serve both the state service and the humble carpenter of Nazareth. Those like Isidore had to know that their dual nature would at some point be discovered, at which time there would have to be a choice, and furthermore that their lives would depend on the choice they made. Some chose to serve Rome alone, some chose to run and to hide to serve the Master in obscurity, while others, when given the choice, preferred to die rather than disavow the Savior.
Isidore’s ship lay at anchor in the harbor of Chios just as the Lenten season was getting under way, and he sought out a Christian church to share the observances with his fellow Christians. He had not taken the usual precautions in his anxiety to get to a Christian church, as a result of which his movements were detected by an observant sailor who reported the incident to the commanding officer, a fierce disciplinarian named Numerius, who was astounded to discover what he considered to be the infiltration of an enemy under his very nose. Isidore declared that he was happy that the secret was out at last and that he no longer had to mask his true feelings. The reward for his honesty was that he was stripped of his rank, and for refusing to disavow Christ, he was sentenced to death, but only after he had been brutally tortured for his supposed treason.
The body of Isidore was then cast into a deep cistern, guarded by soldiers to prevent his removal for burial. A young Christian woman of the island named Myrope, who had come from Ephesus in Asia because of the acceptance of Christianity in Chios, plotted with a friend to retrieve the body and patiently waited out the long night until the guards relaxed their vigil and dozed off, at which time the Christian pair made off with the body. When the dawn brought discovery of the missing body, the soldiers were ordered to find it or they would suffer similar punishment.
When Myrope learned that the soldiers would die because of her action, she went to Numerius and confessed she had snatched the body, thereafter refusing not only to name her accomplice but to reveal where the body of Isidore had been interred. For this she was taken to the public square, bound to a stake and then flogged unmercifully until she was not far from death. She was cast into prison, where in supplication she saw a vision of the late Isidore, who encouraged her with the news that, although she was about to die for what she had done, it would not have been in vain because she would be giving her life for Jesus Christ and not for Isidore or their Christian friends.
When the end came for Myrope, a sweet aroma emanated from the cell in which she had spent her last hours, and an awestricken jailer allowed her body to be carried out by her friends, who buried her alongside Isidore.
With the departure of Numerius, a chapel was built over the gravesite, to be followed by another in their memory by St. Marcian in the fifth century after he had seen the holy pair in a vision. In 1525 the Latins removed the relics of Isidore and Myrope, taking them to Venice, where they are to this day in the Church of St. Mark. St. Myrope has her own feast day on December 2. The gallant Isidore is commemorated on May 14.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from GOArch.org.