(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. Kallinikos, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)
Saint Kallinikos the Martyr
Obscured by the great orators of Christianity whose voices have thundered from pulpits and public forums is a saint with the virtually unknown name of Kallinikos. His oratorical powers were a marvel of an age of early Christianity. History affords us only a glimpse of this dedicated servant of God, but closer scrutiny indicates that in a debate on theology he was the rhetorical equal of any of the three great hierarchs of Orthodoxy: St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Gregory the Theologian. There is every indication that as an orator he remains unsurpassed, holding spellbound any and all who heard him whether assembled in a church or in a public square.
The origins of Kallinikos are unknown, but it has been determined that he hailed from Cilicia in Asia Minor and received his religious training primarily at the hands of monks. From the outset it was apparent that his God-given power of speech would go to waste in a cloister where silence is golden and whatever audience could be mustered had little need of persuasion to follow Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, he was allowed to develop his oratorical skills along with his usual meditation, prayer and fasting, so that when at last he emerged from within the walls of the monastery, he was a formidable adversary for anyone who questioned the will of God or the teachings of Christianity.
The inspirational sermons of Kallinikos came to the attention of other clergy of the area who suggested he use his mellifluous voice and compelling oratory for missionary work among the faithless, who were blunting the efforts of preachers who lacked his persuasiveness. He thereafter embarked on a preaching tour, succeeding where others had failed, because whenever he spoke, pagan and Christian alike stopped to listen. Once he had the attention of any group, he was virtually hypnotic; each person stood transfixed in the presence of a speaker inspired by God. At the conclusion of any of his orations for Christ, his listeners went away convinced they had heard a voice that was as close to the divine as they would ever hear in their lifetime.
Hecklers stood no chance when they interrupted Kallinikos, who had an overpowering response to would-be vociferous detractors. They were very soon hushed not only by his sharp-witted replies, but by the glances of those anxious to hear more. It seemed almost a desecration when some wag in the crowd made an ill-considered remark, but Kallinikos was more than a match for any who dared to match wits with him. Those who tried inevitably remained silent or simply melted away into the streets, but in any case, once this brilliant orator started, his momentum carried him past any interruptions, and he swayed audiences, all to the good of Christianity.
Pagans, who had refused for years to abandon their gods, began in great numbers to discard their stone images and fanciful figures in a rush to Christianity which alarmed those in high office. The governor of the province, a man named Sakerdos, fancied himself the equal in debate of anyone in the empire; but he was an astute politician who relied on platitudes, vague generalities, and a good degree of demagoguery for his glib tongue. He issued a challenge for Kallinikos to meet him in a debate in a public forum. There he anticipated the tables would be turned, and he would not be forced to prosecute a man of such enormous popularity.
The public forum was jammed with people when Kallinikos and Sakerdos squared off in a verbal joust that was sure to be a standoff – the governor ultimately victorious because of his high position. It was hardly the case, as the gifted Christian preacher made a shambles of the politician’s arguments, at every exchange emerging the clear victor. Finally, the exasperated governor, realizing he had been outclassed, began a shouting match with threats of every form, which the calm Christian took in stride and for which he had answers of pinpoint accuracy.
Kallinikos was sentenced to death – forced to march sixty miles to Gangra. En route he caused a dry well to bring forth water to slake the thirst of the patrol sent with him. He was executed July 29, and the well still yields clear drinking water.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from GOArch.org.