“Bow down to the god Apollo,” advised the torturers as they advanced toward Christopher with thin rods of iron, white with heat.
This is the great Saint Christopher whose Feast Day was removed from our calendar of Saints on May 9, 1969.
But much to the dislike of the skeptics who wanted to put a doubt on his very existence, Christians still show their love and devotion to him, which is very pleasing to God.
The early part of the 3rd century, in the country of Canaan there ruled a great king who was very happy that his wife, the Queen, had just bore him a strong male child. In honor of the new prince, the king called together his subjects to prepare for a splendid banquet. At the banquet he would offer his son to the protection of the gods Mars and Apollo. The Queen, however, had her own ideas, she was going to pray that the prince be kept always in the protection of the God of the Christians and His Mother. However this would be done privately.
Years passed and the time came for Prince Offerus to be trained by the King’s bravest knights. But because he possessed such great strength he was soon capable of being sole victor at every sport.
One afternoon while the castle was buzzing with activity, the prince went to visit with the Queen. The Queen told Offerus that she always prayed for him and how at his birth she had dedicated him to the protection of the greatest King and His Mother. She continued telling Offerus how this greatest of all Kings was born in a stable on a very cold night and that He was the Son of God. All of a sudden the King bursting in the room stormed toward the Queen. “I’ll have none of that foolish talk in my castle,” he thundered, “no kings are born in stables, Offerus!,” the king continued, “tomorrow I’m sending you away from your mother’s childish stories, you’ll serve one of the kings here in the area and learn how to run a kingdom.”
“No!” Offerus replied as he watched the king’s eyes flare to red. “No, I only want to serve the most powerful King.”
“Well,” said the king as he regained his normal color, “I arranged for you to go to see the emperor, he could use a strong young man like you, he has many enemies in his court and lives continually in the fear of death.”
“No, I can’t serve him either then. My king can fear no one!”
The king thought hard about this reply! “Give me a little time, Offerus, and then come to the court, I will wait for you there!”
Offerus left in great haste to pack a few belongings and to prepare his horse. He wasted no time but ran as fast as his two legs would carry him to the court. When he entered, his father had just finished with two of his counsellors. His father told him that off to the East somewhere was the king he desired to serve, other than that not much else was known.
Offerus did find his mighty king. But, it wasn’t long before he left him to serve the devil whom the king feared greatly. The devil showed Offerus all his evil tricks and lied to him when he said he was the greatest. While the two were walking down the road one afternoon planning their next mean deed they noticed that along the roadside there was planted a cross. Now you know the devil hates this sign and when casting his eyes upon it he trembled with fear, and fled away. Offerus stood staring at that cross wondering why such a thing could have so much power. Why with one touch he could destroy it, it was so old and weather worn.
The day was coming to a close. Offerus seeing a small light in the distance, followed it and found himself at the door of a small hut. On entering he found it occupied by an elderly man named Babylas. Now Babylas was a Christian but not your ordinary Christian. He was the Bishop of Antioch, where the chair of Peter was before it was moved to Rome. Hanging on the wall behind Babylas was a cross. Offerus told the bishop his story of serving the greatest of kings and how he also served the devil until, pointing to the cross, they encountered that symbol. Babylas told Offerus the story of Christ and how this cross, which was once a sign of disgrace, now represented victory, for Christ conquered death by dying on the Cross and offers life everlasting to those who follow Him. Babylas told him, too, of the suffering and cruel deaths that the emperor was inflicting on the Christians. Offerus was ready to take on the whole empire. But the Bishop told him that first he must learn more about the True Faith before he could fight for it.
Offerus was then baptized by Saint Babylas and given a Christian name, Christopher. While being instructed in the Faith, Christopher in his charity would carry frail people across a forge that had no bridge. One evening after a very long hard day’s work, his gaze fell upon a small child.
“Christopher, Christopher!” All at once he seemed to hear a voice crying his name. He must have been half asleep, for the words seemed to come distinctly to him, and yet he was not sure that he had not dreamed. Wearily he rose and went into the ugly night. He could hardly see a dozen feet before him, and the ever-increasing noise of the water rose as menacingly as the snarl of a beast in a trap.
But there was no one by the fjord, and when he called there was no answer. After a minute or two he went back to his hut.
Again the voice summoned him, but again he could not find a waiting traveler. The third time the voice called he arose, angrily, wondering if someone were playing a trick. “Where are you,” he shouted. Then he saw a Child. “Christopher come out and bear me across the river!”
Christopher looked at the torrent, listening to the angry water, but he was not afraid. He picked up the Child, placed Him safely on one shoulder, then reached for his staff. The Child pressed close to his neck and grasped a lock of his hair.
The Christ-bearer plunged boldly into the river; this was a job to be finished in a hurry. But he had hardly left the bank before the river began to hiss about his body and to sting him as if each wave had the tongue of a scorpion. He staggered on, almost losing his footing, leaning more and more on his staff. The wind rose, the waters were carried higher and higher, the Child on his shoulders seemed to crush him.
“Hurry, Christopher, and carry Me through the torrent. For if you are stout of heart and strong in your faith, then you will be able to carry me across.”
Did he only imagine it, because of his weariness, or was it really true that the Child grew heavier and heavier upon his shoulder? It seemed to Christopher, struggling along in the swift treacherous waters, that he was bearing the world upon his back.
It was in midstream that he hesitated, said a great prayer, drew a deep breath.
“I cannot reach it, Child.”
“Look, Christopher, there is the bank before you. Now one more effort.” Christopher fought on and, presently, he felt the water receding. He had reached the farther shore. Christopher staggered up the bank and sank to his knees upon the ground. He looked up at the Child, whose face seemed more calm and beautiful than any human face. And the Child was smiling upon him.
“Child, who are you?”
The Child spoke softly. “Christopher, I am He for whom you are looking and waiting and serving. I am the Son, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost, created, and now rule the heavens and the earth and all things.”
“You! You are the Great King, the Master of the Universe?”
“I am Christ. And for a sign plant your staff firmly in the earth.” Then He vanished.
When Christopher rose at dawn and looked at the staff it had become a blossoming tree, while from wide spreading branches hung bunches of ripe dates. In the days that followed, Christopher with eager lips and a bounding heart told of the Christ child to Babylas the bishop and all the travelers that passed that way. Time came for Christopher to offer an even greater service to men, the message of salvation.
Word had come to Babylas that the Emperor Decius had again ordered new persecutions for all Christians. He told Christopher to go to the aid of the Christian men and women in Lycia and encourage them in the trying days that lay ahead. This he did, preaching and converting many to the true Faith. Saint Niceta and Saint Aquilina, two women among his disciples, also won the palm of martyrdom the day proceeding Saint Christopher, by being beheaded for the Faith.
Saint Christopher was seized by the Roman soldiers for preaching the Christian Faith. He was taken before the emperor and asked to offer incense to their stone gods. Christopher was scourged with iron rods, cast into the flames, from which he was saved by the intercession of Christ, and finally transfixed with arrows and beheaded; thus he completed his martyrdom.
Saint Christopher is one of the fourteen Holy Helpers, a group of special patrons known to be powerful helpers in various ways. He is invoked by gardeners, bookbinders and travelers. His feast is still kept by loyal devotees on July 25th. The shoulder on which he bore Christ is shown in Saint Peters, Rome.