(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. Aristokles, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
Saint Aristokles of Tamassos, Cyprus
The island of Cyprus has had its share of strife; but it has also known an apostolic presence and a succession of missionaries which have made this a bastion of Christianity looked upon with admiration from the mainland of Greece, albeit but with a jaundiced eye from other quarters. The list of holy men of Cyprus is long and illustrious, and not least on the list is Aristokles of Tamassos, a tower of strength in the Diocletian era, when an enfeebled and harassed Christian community badly needed courageous leadership.
Aristokles was a formally ordained priest in Tamassos who went afield of his parish to bring the Savior to peasants who had never traveled more than a few miles from their remote mountain recesses, where the fight for survival made no day any different from another. During these frequent missions, he encountered several religious hermits whom he induced to assist him in the spiritual enlightenment of his fellow Cypriots. The program also served to better acquaint the priest with the eremites whom he would emulate from time to time by secluding himself in meditation and prayer.
The growing influence of Aristokles spread throughout the countryside, where he came to be highly regarded as a true man of God, and his visits were eagerly anticipated. With the increasing menace of persecution in evidence he sought to cling to his Church and its followers, to bolster the spirits of his fellow Christians whose fears grew daily as members were snatched from their ranks to be tortured and put to death. When at last the madness of the pagan enemies led to a wave of persecution aimed at the elimination of Christianity altogether, he fled to the safety and solitude of the hills to contemplate an answer from God as to how best to serve a community put to Aristokles patiently waited for the wrath of the pagans to subside so that he could return to lead his flock in their peaceful ways. But one night, as he pondered the problem, he had a divine visitation in which he saw no one, but heard a voice from above advising him to go not to Tamassos, but to the capital city of Salamina where the need was greater for a regrouping of a scattered band of Christians. An uneasy peace had come to the city, but an overt reassertion of the faith could bring instant retribution. No one knew that better than this divinely inspired priest who did not hesitate to obey the divine will whatever the outcome for himself.
Aristokles went to Salamina where he immediately set about gathering the Christians together with the assistance of a pair of devoted young deacons named Demetrianos and Athanasios, who assisted in the reopening of the Church of St. Barnabas. An air of tolerance seemed to pervade the city as the parish of St. Barnabas held its Sunday services and the priest resumed his active missionary work – this time not in the remote hills, but in the public squares of the city where potential converts abounded. Not every pagan had participated in the persecution during which a great number of Christians had found refuge in pagan households now more open to reason.
Aristokles met with eminent success in his unrelenting campaign to spread the word of Jesus Christ and was ably assisted by the two young deacons who never ceased to tell of the divine visitation received by the holy man they willingly assisted. Aristokles knew that the gains he made were made not without cost to himself, but he warned his young aides to make themselves less evident, even to withdraw altogether at the first sign of danger.The signs were not long in coming, but Demetrianos and Athanasios remained undaunted as they refused to leave the side of Aristokles when the reactionaries raised a cry for the blood of the Christian leader. They had viewed with alarm the growing strength of the Christian numbers and were driven to another wave of persecution in which the three leaders were the first to be brought to justice. With feelings running high, the three were swiftly tried and executed. Aristokles was the first to go, followed by Demetrianos and Athanasios, all of whom died for Christ on June 23, 303.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.