(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's saint, St. Tryphon, comes from Volume 1 of the series.)
A third-century shepherd named Tryphon became the lamb of God while yet a boy of seventeen, a martyr and servant of the Lord without formal education or training but endowed with a spiritual grace that superseded the highest learning. Tending a flock offers no credentials for sainthood, but neither does it preclude immortality inasmuch as the shepherd symbolizes loving care and the serenity which come from a proximity to the Lord. It is doubtful that fate would have cast him in any other role but that of a humble herdsman like those who, we are told, shall inherit the earth.
Tryphon was born during the reign of the Emperor Gordianus, who not only was of Hellenic descent but was also extremely tolerant of Christians, who were considered enemies of the state for their allegiance to the Son of God. When Tryphon was only seventeen he was touched with the grace of the Holy Spirit and found that there was within him a genuine power of healing. There have always been faith healers in our midst who are soon enough discredited, but this lad had a bona fide divine gift which he did not try to exploit and which was made known to others in spite of his reticence. Tryphon divided his time between herding and isolated prayer but was constantly called upon by true believers who sought the benefit of his awe-inspiring spark of divinity.
The Emperor Gordianus had a lovely daughter who suddenly became stricken with a malady which the royal physicians diagnosed as fatal. The distraught emperor in desperation sought the help of soothsayers and self-appointed healers to no avail, and was in utter despair when someone told him of the young shepherd. Tryphon was summoned to Rome from Phrygia, but by the time he arrived the girl was in the throes of death; his task seemed hopeless. He took up a vigil at her beside and, after bowing his head in prayer for divine intervention, he took the girl’s hand. The healing power of the Lord coursed through her debilitated body and within a few days she was restored to good health.
The grateful emperor lavished on Tryphon gifts whose worth assured him a place of honor far from his humble abode and his lonely hillside, but he chose to turn over everything given him to the poor and return to his flock as impoverished as the day he left. He resumed his ascetic life as a herdsman and, though there is no record of his having been tonsured a monk, he patterned his life after those who dwelled in cloisters, apparently preferring to remain close to nature, content to glory in the serenity which few have known.
At the death of Emperor Gordianus, a tyrant named Decius, who was as cruel as his predecessor was lenient, issued among his first official orders a decree that all Christians had to disavow Jesus Christ as their master or suffer torture and death. Intent on asserting himself as lord and master of all in the realm, he set in motion a reign of terror designed to eliminate Christianity. It was a campaign of barbarism that made the agony and brutal death of Christians commonplace.
The governor of the Phrygian province, a loathsome myrmidon named Akylinos, who curried the emperor’s favor by sending him Christians in excess of his quota, exulted in the capture of the renowned Tryphon and dispatched the hapless Christian to the emperor, a prize victim worth several lesser followers of Jesus Christ. This pious prey of vengeful paganism was given the usual interrogation and then commanded to disavow Christ and acknowledge only the gods of the sovereign. Refusing this, Tryphon was put to inhuman torture but refused to recant. He was thereupon led to the executioner’s block, where he prayed for God to take him before the blade could descend. He died for Christ while the axe was yet lifted high.
Three hundred years after his death on February 1, 251, the great Emperor Justinian, in the year 552, erected a chapel in his memory, and in 575 his successor, Justin, honored Tryphon with the erection of one of the finest monasteries of antiquity. The rustic St. Tryphon is considered the patron saint of laborers of the field.