(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. Karpos, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
Saint Karpos the Apostle
When Shakespeare said that the evil men do lives after them and that the good is oft interred with their bones (Julius Caesar), he made a profoundly true statement, as borne out by the fact that there is hardly a Christian who cannot call to mind at least one of the original twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, namely his betrayer, Judas. Similarly, it would take a researching theologian to tell you who the good Karpos was, despite the fact that Karpos is mentioned in the Bible by the mightiest of all the apostles, the magnificent St. Paul. The most knowledgeable Christians sometimes fail to recite the complete roster of the twelve apostles, but no one can be expected to count off the names of the so-called seventy disciples, of whom one was a devoted friend of the Messiah, Karpos.
In 2 Timothy 4:13, the beloved St. Paul writes to his young companion Timothy requesting, “The cloak that I left at Troas with Karpos, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.” The Karpos referred to is not some tailor with whom the cloak of St. Paul had been left for mending, but rather a trusted and cherishd friend with whom Paul had spent some time and in whose house was the aforementioned cloak, presumed to be that of St. Paul, but for all we know might have been that of the Savior. Any man whose name is worthy of mention in the Holy Bible, especially when linked with the glorious St. Paul, is worth finding out about. A closer look at Karpos reveals a missionary in the name of Jesus Christ whose relative obscurity is undeserved. He typifies so many of the unsung heroes of the early days of the new faith. To look at him is to look at the lives not only of the seventy disciples but of the countless early missionaries who trod the thankless miles while Jesus was on earth.
It was at Pentecost that the responsibility for spreading the word of Jesus Christ was thrust upon the seventy disciples, a project far more demanding in that day of the ox, when the only means of communication was by word of mouth and when the entire pagan world was marching to the rhythmic beat of a welter of drums. A procession of false prophets down through the centuries, accompanied by a profusion of worrisome and quarrelsome gods, made the way more difficult for true messengers, who were eyed with suspicion by a spiritually drained people weary of soothsayers and rabblerousers. Into this maelstrom of hostility and doubt the seventy disciples strode with confidence and concern, an everlasting credit to the Messiah who chose them.
From all accounts Karpos traveled with St. Paul primarily in Greece, remaining after the departure of the great apostle to work alone among pagans who for centuries had been steeped in the traditional worship of mythological gods and who naturally resented any challenge to their time-honored codes. It was only with infinite patience and consummate tact that Karpos was able to reach a few with open minds. These people came to accept the Messiah and in turn convinced their fellow Greeks of the folly of myths and the salvation to be found through Jesus Christ. When there were Christians in sufficient numbers, churches were set up under his direction. Even as the tyrant Nero reigned and tortured Christians, Karpos was named bishop of Thessaly, making him one of the first prelates of Christianity.
With the great Paul’s blessing, Karpos ranged throughout Greece in his missionary work, all the while managing to escape the wrath of the pagans, who by this time did more than take a dim view of what at first had been considered just another in the long history of innovators. The menace of Christianity to their way of life became so real that the overwhelming number of pagans grew restless and the torture and killing of Christians became commonplace, but the tide of Christianity was inexorable.
As the thousands denounced their gods to accept Jesus Christ, the persecution by pagan hordes was stepped up. Karpos redoubled his efforts with every new threat and, as a matter of fact, seemed in a hurry to get as much as possible accomplished for Christianity before the pagans caught up with him.
While Karpos had resigned himself to the fate of his fellow disciples, almost all of whom met violent deaths, he managed to escape, with the result that he was one of the few early Church Fathers to become a senior citizen. When he died on May 26, he was immediately declared a saint.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from GOArch.org.