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. Kodratos, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)
Saint Kodratos, Bishop of Athens
Christianity owes its existence to men of the apostolic era whose famous names are readily recalled. But there is an equal indebtedness to the early hierarchs to whom the torch was passed, and who in turn passed it on in an unbroken relay that is now nearly two thousand years old. Among the earliest of these first men of the Church was an Athenian named Kodratos, a bishop of Athens who succeeded Puplios. Together they shared an undeserved obscurity, remembered as men of God who gave their lives for Christ and the permanence of the Christian Church only by ecclesiastical scholars.
Born in the mid-first century, Kodratos is certain to have learned about Christianity firsthand from men who lived and walked with the Savior, men who were not only companions of the Son of God, but the very first missionaries who dared to face a hostile world in His name. When Kodratos was made bishop of Athens, there was no gathering of church dignitaries in great numbers to celebrate the occasion, simply because there were very few dignitaries to begin with and no great cathedral to gather in. The Christians of his day were not only a minority group by choice, but an oppressed sector which might easily have been eliminated except for the courageous spiritual, as well as temporal, leadership of men such as he.
When Kodratos assumed the post of bishop of Athens, he was well aware of the cruel persecution and deaths of his predecessors, but was not in the least deterred from clasping the cup which had been passed on by his fallen brothers in Christ. This refusal to let the cup fall is what kept the early Christian faith intact in spite of the lack of large memberships, churches, seminaries, monasteries, philanthropies, and all other aspects of a strong church that were to follow. The diocesan see of Athens, headed by Kodratos, had fewer members in the great city of Athens than the tiniest mountain village of today, but his voice was greater than that of succeeding prelates who came to know influence and support as time wore on. He was a missionary in the tradition of the great St. Paul who had spoken to a handful of Greeks at Mars Hill not too many years before.
Under Kodratos the city of Athens became increasingly aware that the polytheism of their ancestors had been an utter waste both in terms of the spirit and of the money lavished on temples and carved figures. Ancient traditions, including part of the Greek cultural heritage that practiced idolatry, are not easily abandoned; nevertheless, the bishop brought hundreds of the populace into the Christian fold. The pagans who refused to accept Christ were divided into two groups, the first of which acknowledged the rights of others to worship as they please, and the second of which felt a hatred of Christianity which grew to an open and vengeful hostility.
The more militant pagans brought misery to Christian families in a series of brutal executions which Kodratos was powerless to stop. When the Emperor Hadrian appeared in Athens for the Eleusian Games, the bishop seized the opportunity to appear before him to plead his case for his suffering Christians, ignoring the warning that the emperor would be wholly unsympathetic and only make matters worse. What ensued is an everlasting tribute to the compelling appeal of a true servant of the Lord.
Granted a private hearing, Kodratos addressed himself to the pagan Hadrian, pleading for the cessation of the ongoing persecutions with such persuasiveness and compassion that the emperor ordered a halt to the senseless killings. There have been few incidents in history in which whatever compassion lies in a pagan heart, particularly that of royalty, can be brought out even by the most eloquent of spokesmen for the Savior, but this magnificent bishop convinced a king that Christians would 'render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,’ while yet serving their Lord with no threat to the throne.
When the games had been completed and the emperor had gone from the city, the rabble element declared the king’s amnesty had been granted in observance of the games. Bishop Kodratos was forced to flee a new outbreak of persecution and went to Magnesia in Asia Minor, but even this move was futile. A group of pagans sought him out, and he was murdered in his own church, where his earthly remains were placed. His feastday falls on September 21, although in the West his memory is honored on May 26.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from GOArch.org.