Asterius of Amasea, in his Homily IX, On *Phokas (martyr of Sinope, S00052), mentions the saint’s shrines and relics in Sinope and Amaseia/Amasea (both northern Asia Minor), and the presence of his head in Rome. Phokas is especially venerated by seamen and barbarians; Roman emperors and barbarian kings dedicate offerings to him at Sinope; his miracles and oracles are superior to those of several pagan deities. Written in Greek at Amaseia/Amasea (northern Asia Minor), in the late 4th or early 5th c..
Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom
Literary - Sermons/Homilies
Asterius of Amasea
Asterius of Amasea, Homily IX, On Phōkas (CPG 3260.1, BHG 1538-1540b)
For a summary and discussion of the whole text, see E01961.
9. (1.) Στύλον καὶ ἔρεισμα τῶν τοῦ Θεοῦ ἐκκλησιῶν ἐξ ἐκείνου μέχρι νῦν τοῦτον ἔχομεν, ἄνθρωποι· καὶ μαρτύρων ἐστὶν οὗτος ὁ περιφανέστατος ἐν τοῖς ἀρίστοις καὶ μακαριστοῖς τὸ πρωτεῖον ἔχων. Ἀστὴρ γὰρ ἀστέρος διαφέρει ἐν δόξῃ, κατά τε τὴν κοινὴν ὑπόληψιν καὶ κατὰ τὴν φωνὴν τοῦ σκεύους τῆς ἐκλογῆς· καὶ μάλιστα δὴ πανταχοῦ τῆς οἰκουμένης καὶ ὀνομαστότατος ἐν τοῖς ἁγίοις ἐστί. (2.) Καὶ πάντας ἕλκει καὶ συνελαύνει πρὸς τὸ ἑαυτοῦ καταγώγιον· καὶ γέμουσιν αἱ λεωφόροι τῶν ἀφ’ ἑκάστης χώρας πρὸς τὸν τόπον ἐπειγομένων τῆς προσευχῆς. Ἔστι γ’ οὖν ὁ μεγαλοπρεπὴς ἐκεῖνος ναὸς θλιβομένων ἄνεσις, πενομένων πόρος, κακουμένων ἰατρεῖον, λιμωττόντων Αἴγυπτος. (3.) Καὶ δαψιλέστερον τρέφει Φωκᾶς τελευτήσας ἤπερ ζῶν Ἰωσήφ· ἐκεῖνος μὲν γὰρ ἀργυρίου τὸν σῖτον διήμειβεν, οὗτος δὲ προῖκα τοῖς δεομένοις χαρίζεται. Καὶ ὥσπερ αἱ περιστεραὶ κατὰ τὴν χειμέριον ὥραν δυσπορίστου τῆς τροφῆς τυγχανούσης τὰς νεοσπόρους ἐφιπτάμεναι χώρας ταῖς αὔλαξιν ἐκείνων ἐγκάθηνται, οὕτως πάντων τῶν πτωχῶν καὶ ἀλητευόντων τὰ φῦλα προστρέχει τῷ τῆς Σινώπης <ἰσθμῷ> καθάπερ κοινῷ ταμιείῳ. (4.) Εἰ δέ που καὶ ἀλλαχοῦ διὰ μικρῶν λειψάνων οἷον ἀποικίαν τινὰ μητροπόλεως ὁ μάρτυς ἑαυτῷ κατεστήσατο, θαυμαστὸς καὶ οὗτος ὁ τόπος καὶ πᾶσι χριστιανοῖς περισπούδαστος, ὥσπερ δὴ καὶ οὗτος ὁ παρ’ ἡμῖν χῶρος ἱερὸς καταγώγιον ἑορταζόντων. Τίμιος γὰρ ἐναντίον Κυρίου ὁ θάνατος τῶν ὁσίων αὐτοῦ· καὶ πολλαχοῦ μερισθέντα τὰ λείψανα ὁλόκληρον πανταχοῦ τῷ τρισμακαρίῳ σώζει τὴν εὐφημίαν.
10. (1.) Οὕτως γ’ οὖν καὶ κατὰ τὴν βασιλεύουσαν πόλιν, τὴν κορυφὴν Ἰταλίας καὶ βασιλίδα τοῦ κόσμου, ἔστιν αὐτῷ πολλὴ δορυφορία τε καὶ τιμὴ καὶ οἶκος περιφανής, ἠσκημένος εἰς κάλλος. Οὐχ ἧττον δὲ Ῥωμαῖοι τὸν Φωκᾶν θεραπεύουσιν ἢ Πέτρον καὶ Παῦλον. Καί, ὡς ὁ λόγος διδάσκει, τὴν κεφαλὴν τοῦ μάρτυρος ἐσπουδασμένως ἐκτήσαντο ἀντίστροφον τῆς μιαρᾶς Ἡρωδιάδος προελόμενοι γνώμην. Ἡ μὲν γὰρ αἵματος διψῶσα δικαίου κεφαλὴν εἰς ὕβριν ἐζήτησεν· οἱ δὲ εἰς τιμὴν καὶ ὠφέλειαν ἑαυτῶν περιεποιήσαντο.
11. (1.) Ναῦται δὲ καὶ πλωτῆρες οἱ πανταχοῦ, οὐχ οἱ τὸν Εὔξεινον μόνον διαπλέοντες πόντον, ἀλλ’ οἱ τὸν Ἀδρίαν τέμνοντες καὶ ὑπὲρ Αἰγαίου φερόμενοι καὶ ὅσοι τὸν ὠκεανὸν πλέουσι τὸν ἑσπέριον καὶ τοῖς ἐῴοις κόλποις ἐνθαλαττεύουσι, τὰ συνήθη κελεύσματα οἷς τὸν τοῦ πλοῦ πόνον προσαναπαύουσιν, εἰς καινὴν ὑπόθεσιν δι’ εὐφημίας τοῦ γενναίου μετέβαλον· καὶ διὰ γλώττης ἐστὶν αὐτοῖς ὁ τρισμακάριος, ἐπειδὴ καὶ ἐναργεῖς παρέχει τῆς βοηθείας τὰς πείρας. (2.) Πολλάκις γ’ οὖν ὤφθη νύκτωρ προσδοκωμένου χειμῶνος διεγείρων τὸν κυβερνήτην τῷ πηδαλίῳ ἐπινυστάξαντα· καὶ ἄλλοτε πάλιν κάλω διατείνων καὶ τῆς ὀθόνης ἐπιμελόμενος καὶ ἀπὸ τῆς πρώρας προοπτεύων τὰ βράχη. Νόμος γ’ οὖν ἐγένετο ναύταις Φωκᾶν ἔχειν συνεστιάτορα. Καὶ ἐπειδὴ τὸν νῦν ἀσώματον τοῦ βίου κοινωνὸν ἔχειν ἀμήχανον, μάθετε ὅπως εὐσεβεῖ λογισμῷ ἐσοφίσαντο τὸ ἀδύνατον. Καθ’ ἑκάστην ἡμέραν τῶν ὄψων τὴν μερίδα πρὸς ἰσομοιρίαν τῶν ἐσθιόντων ἀποκληροῦσι τῷ μάρτυρι. (3.) Ταύτην δὲ εἷς τῶν δαιτυμόνων ἐξωνούμενος τὸ ἀργύριον κατατίθεται, καὶ τῇ ὑστεραίᾳ ἄλλος καὶ ἄλλοτε ἕτερος· καὶ οὕτως ὁ κλῆρος τῆς ἀγορασίας πάντας ἐπινεμόμενος δίδωσι καθ’ ἡμέραν τῆς μερίδος τὸν ὠνητήν. Ἐπειδὰν δὲ ὅρμος αὐτοὺς ὑποδέξηται καὶ εἰς γῆν ἀποβῶσι, μερίζεται τὸ ἀργύριον τοῖς πεινῶσι· καὶ τοῦτο ἡ μερὶς τῷ Φωκᾷ, πενήτων εὐεργεσία.
12. (1.) Τεθήπασι τοῦτον καὶ βασιλεῖς τὸν καρτερικώτατον καὶ φιλόθεον καὶ φιλοτίμοις κειμηλίοις κατακοσμοῦσι τοῦ Θεοῦ τὸ ἀνάκτορον. Φιλονεικοῦσι δὲ οἱ ἐπιγινόμενοι τοὺς πρεσβυτέρους ὑπερβαλέσθαι. Καὶ οὔπω θαυμαστόν, εἰ οἱ τῆς Ῥωμαίων κρατοῦντες ἡγεμονίας ἄνδρες εὐσεβεῖς, θεσμοῖς τε καὶ νόμοις σύντροφοι, οὕτως εὐλαβῶς ἔχουσι περὶ τὸν θεράποντα τοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὁπότε καὶ εἰς βαρβάρους ἔφθη τὸ θαῦμα· (2.) καὶ πάντες οἱ ἀγριώτατοι Σκύθαι, ὅσοι δὴ τὴν ἀντιπέρας τοῦ Εὐξείνου πόντου ἤπειρον νέμονται, Μαιώτιδος λίμνης καὶ ποταμοῦ Τανάϊδος πρόσοικοι, ὅσοι τε Βόσπορον οἰκοῦσι καὶ ἄχρι Φάσιδος ποταμοῦ παρατείνονται, πάντες οὗτοι δορυφοροῦσι τῷ κηπουρῷ· τοῖς δὲ πᾶσιν ἔθεσιν καὶ ἐπιτηδεύμασιν διεστῶτες ἡμῶν εἰς τοῦτο μόνον ὁμογνώμονες γίνονται τὴν ἀγριότητα τῶν τρόπων ὑπὸ τῆς ἀληθείας ἐξημερούμενοι. (3.) Εἷς γ’ οὖν ἄρχων ἐκεῖθεν καὶ βασιλεὺς τὸν στέφανον τῆς κεφαλῆς ἀποθέμενος, χρυσῷ καὶ ἄνθεσι λίθων περιλαμπόμενον, καὶ τὸν θώρακα τὸν πολεμικὸν ἀποδύς, ὕλας ἔχοντα πλούτου—ἀλαζονικὴ γὰρ καὶ θρυπτομένη τῶν βαρβάρων ἡ πανοπλία—ἔπεμψεν ἀμφότερα ἀναθήμα<τα> διὰ τοῦ μάρτυρος τῷ Θεῷ καὶ δυνάμεως καὶ ἀξιώματος καθιερώσας τὰς ἀφορμάς. Πρόδηλον γάρ, ὡς ὁ μὲν στέφανος τῆς βασιλείας ἦν χαριστήριον, ὁ δὲ θώραξ τῆς κατὰ πολέμους ἰσχύος.
13. (1.) Τὰς δὲ συνεχῶς ἐπὶ τούτοις συμβαινούσας ἐνεργείας διὰ τῶν ἐν ὀνείρασιν ὄψεων καὶ τῶν θεραπειῶν, ὧν οἱ κάμνοντες ἀπολαύουσι, πῶς ἄν τις καὶ διηγήσαιτο ἀδυνάτου καθεστῶτος ταῖς καθ’ ἕκαστον ἐνεργείαις ἐπαφεῖναι τὸν λόγον; Πλὴν τοσοῦτον ἔξεστιν εἰπεῖν πρὸς τοὺς τὴν πολύθεον πλάνην θρησκεύοντας, ὡς εἷς δοῦλος Χριστοῦ καὶ ἡμέτερος ὁμόδουλος πολλῶν τῶν παρ’ ὑμῖν νομιζομένων θεῶν ἐνεργείας πληροῖ. (2.) Καὶ σιωπάτω τὰ μαντεῖα, ὥσπερ οὖν καὶ κατεσιγάσθη ταῖς παρ’ ἡμῖν προρρήσεσι τοῦ δικαίου νικώμενα. Ἀργείτω δὲ ἰατρικῆς ἐργαστήρια καὶ Ἀσκληπιὸς μὴ προσκυνείσθω· Διόσκουροι δὲ μὴ νομιζέσθωσαν ναύταις συναγωνίζεσθαι· ἴσασι γὰρ οἱ πλέοντες τὸν τῶν κινδύνων ἐπίκουρον. Ποῦ ἡ Πυθία, γυνὴ ψευδόμαντις λοξὰς καὶ ἀσαφεῖς τοῖς πυνθανομένοις τὰς ἀποκρίσεις παρέχουσα, ἵνα τῇ τῶν λογίων ἀμφιβολίᾳ τῆς ἀποτυχίας καὶ τοῦ ψεύδους ἀπολογίαν προευτρεπίσηται; Ποῦ πηγὴ μαντικὸν ὕδωρ νομιζομένη γεννᾶν; Οὐ πάντα λῆρος καὶ φλήναφος, ἃ πρὸς τὴν πλάνην ἐδημαγώγει τοὺς ἀθλίους λαούς; (3.) Προσκυνήσατε Θεόν, οὗ δοῦλοι πιστοὶ τοσαύτης ἠξιώθησαν χάριτος, οὐκ αὐτεξουσίως ἐνεργοῦντες, ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὴν δοθεῖσαν αὐτοῖς δωρεὰν εὐεργοῦντες τοὺς ὁμοδούλους. Καὶ ταῦτα μετὰ τὴν ἐνθένδε ἄφιξιν καὶ τὸν τοῦ σώματος χωρισμόν. Γνωρίσατε ἐκ τῶν οἰκέτων τὴν τοῦ Κυρίου μεγαλοπρέπειαν· δοξάσατε τὸν ἀληθῶς ἐπὶ πάντων Θεόν, ᾧ πρέπει ἡ προσκύνησις, νῦν καὶ ἀεί, καὶ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. Ἀμήν.
‘9. From that point up to now, we have him as a pillar and buttress of the Churches of God, gentlemen. He is the most famous of martyrs, having the first place among the best and the blessed. For star from star differs in brightness, according to both common experience and to the words of the Vessel of Election [1 Corinthians 15:41]. And he is indeed most famous among the saints all over the world. And he attracts and gathers everyone together to his dwelling, and the highways are full of people hastening from each region to his house of prayer. For that great shrine is indeed a relief for the distressed, a resource for the poor, a hospital of the afflicted, an Egypt for the hungry – indeed, after death, Phōkas provides more plentiful nourishment than Joseph while alive! For the latter exchanged corn for money, but our man grants his gifts to those who ask for them for free. And as pigeons in winter, when food is hard to find, fly over the recently sown fields and sit on the furrows, even so the throngs of the poor and the destitute wanderers resort to the isthmus of Sinōpē as if to a public storehouse. But if, by means of small relics, the martyr has established elsewhere a colony, as it were, of his metropolis, that place is admired and most sought after by all Christians. Thus is also this place at our home [Amaseia] held holy, and a house of celebrating people. For precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints [Ps 116 (115):6]. And his relics, even if divided over many places, preserve the glory of the thrice-blessed one intact everywhere.
10. Thus, then, he also enjoys a great entourage and honours and a prominent house, beautifully built, even at the imperial city, the head of Italy, and queen of the world. And the Romans do service to Phōkas no less than Peter or Paul. And, as tradition teaches us, they have eagerly acquired the head of the martyr, driven by a purpose opposite to that of the abominable Herodias: for she had claimed the righteous man’s head out of her thirst for blood, and in order to defile it, while they acquired it for the purpose of honouring it, and for their own benefit.
11. Seamen and sailors everywhere, not only those who sail through the Euxine [Black] Sea, but also those crossing the Adriatic and sailing over the Aegean, or voyaging in the Western Ocean or through the bays of the East, have turned the customary commands by which they manage the work of sailing into a new form, by praising our brave man. And the thrice-blessed saint is on their tongue, because he provides clear evidence of his assistance. For he has indeed been seen several times at night, when a storm was expected, waking the helmsman who was dropping asleep over his rudder; at other instances, he has been seen stretching the ropes and taking care of the sail, looking forward from the prow to the shallow waters. It has thus become customary for sailors to have Phōkas as a companion at table. But, since it is impossible to share the material aspects of our mortal life with him who is now incorporeal, listen how they have found a solution to the impossible by a pious device: each day, all diners reserve an equal portion of their food for the martyr; one of them buys it and pays the money, the next day another, and so on. Thus the buying ballot, shared by all every day, indicates the buyer of the portion for each day. And when a harbour receives them and they go on land, the money is distributed to the hungry. And this is Phōkas’ portion: a benefaction for the poor.
12. Even emperors admire this most valiant and God-loving man, and they embellish God’s temple with precious treasures, successors vying to exceed their predecessors. And it is no wonder that the pious men who rule the Roman Empire, abiding by institutions and laws, have such devotion for this servant of Christ, in as much as his admiration has reached even the barbarians. All the most savage Scythians who dwell in the land across the Euxine Sea, and live around lake Maiotis and the Tanais river, and also those inhabiting the Bosphorus, extending up to river Phasis – all these people pay homage to this gardener. And although they differ from us in all their customs and practices, they agree with us in this thing only, thus taming the savageness of their ways by the Truth. And a certain ruler of those regions, a king, having put down the crown of his head (shining with gold and with the bloom of stones) and taken off his cuirass, made of sumptuous matter (for the armour of the barbarians is characterised by arrogance and luxury), sent them both as dedications, thus consecrating to God through the martyr the origins of his power and office: for it is obvious that the crown was a thanksgiving gift for his kingdom, and the cuirass for his might at war.
13. Now how could one recount the miraculous manifestations continuously occurring after all these things, in dream visions and healings enjoyed by the sick, since it is impossible to dedicate a separate account to the wonders granted to each person individually? Yet we may say only this for those adhering to the polytheistic fallacy: one servant of Christ and fellow servant of ours performs the miracles of several of your presumed gods. Let oracles stay silent, since they have indeed been silenced by the prophecies of our righteous man. Let the workshops of medicine become idle, and Asklepios be worshipped no more. Let no one believe that the Dioscuri succour seamen, for sailors know their helper in peril. Where is Pythia, the false prophetess who gave crooked and vague answers to enquirers, in order to secure in advance a ready excuse for her failure and lies by the doubtfulness of her words? Where is that spring which was thought to be gushing forth water with the power of divination? Weren’t all these things just rubbish and nonsense seducing the poor multitudes into error? Worship God Whose faithful servants have been honoured with so much grace, not acting by their own power, but benefiting their fellow servants according to the gift granted to them – and that after their abode in this life and after their separation from the body! Learn the splendour of the Master through His servants. Glorify Him who is truly God above all, to Whom worship is due, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.’
Text: Datema 1970.
Translation: E. Rizos.
Service for the saintFestivals
Saint’s feastCult Places
Cult building - independent (church)Non Liturgical Activity
Saint as patron - of a communityMiracles
Distribution of alms
Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings
Visiting graves and shrines
Miracle after deathRelics
Healing diseases and disabilities
Apparition, vision, dream, revelation
Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future)
Miraculous protection - of people and their property
Bodily relic - entire bodyProtagonists in Cult and Narratives
Bodily relic - head
Transfer, translation and deposition of relics
Transfer/presence of relics from distant countries
PagansCult Related Objects
Merchants and artisans
Ecclesiastics - bishops
Monarchs and their family
Foreigners (including Barbarians)
Precious material objectsTheorising on Sanctity
Considerations about the nature of miracles
Considerations about the veneration of saints
Considerations about the validity of cult forms
Relationships with pagan practices
Considerations about the hierarchy of saints
SourceAsterius was bishop of Amaseia/Amasea in Pontus (north Anatolia) between the 380s and 420s, perhaps having been a rhetorician before joining the clergy. He is only known from his homilies (16 preserved intact), which provide us with pretty much all we know about Asterius’ life, since he not mentioned by other sources from Late Antiquity. His work attracted much attention during Iconoclasm and in the Byzantine period, when his homilies were widely appreciated as models of Christian rhetoric. His Ekphrasis on Euphemia of Chalcedon (E00477) was among the texts quoted in the Second Council of Nicaea (787), in support of the use of images in Christian worship (sessions IV and VI; Mansi XIII, pp. 16-18, 308-309). Ten of Asterius' homilies are quoted in the Bibliotheca of Photius (cod. 271).
On the manuscript tradition of this homily, see:
Datema 1970, 109-112
http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/8577/ (accessed 27-10-2016)
DiscussionHaving recounted the saint’s story, Asterius here refers to the cult of his hero, his shrines, relics, and miracles. The text is very informative about the nature of the saint’s cult, and contains some quite direct references to pagan cults and practices related with, and targeted by, the Christian cult of Phōkas.
The central shrine in Sinōpē apparently attracted pilgrims from various regions, and was renowned for its generous charitable activity, healing miracles, and oracles. The author describes the cult as one of international renown, popular with Roman Emperors and barbarian kings alike. It has a central shrine at Sinōpē and with several secondary ones in other cities, housing translated relics, which the author interestingly compares to colonies of a metropolis. The presumed popularity of Phōkas in the northern Pontic lands and Rome cannot be confirmed by other contemporary sources, but it is attested later. Middle Byzantine clay eulogiae with Phōkas’ image and inscriptions have been found at Cherson in the Crimaea, whereas, at Rome, a church of his is known to have existed at the foot of the Aventine by the Tiber, though it is attested only in the 11th century (van de Vorst 1911).
The specialised activity of Phōkas as a patron of seamen was the most central aspect of his cult, and is stressed by all the sources of his hagiography. It seems that he was associated with nautical legends about a spirit assisting ships in danger. As the author himself confirms, this legend was associated with the Dioscuri in the Graeco-Roman pagan tradition. Perhaps the most striking detail here is Asterius’ reference to the emergence of Christian formulae invoking Phōkas, which replaced or transformed pagan ones traditionally used by the seamen. The author refers to them as keleusmata, literally ‘orders or commands’. (τὰ συνήθη κελεύσματα οἷς τὸν τοῦ πλοῦ πόνον προσαναπαύουσιν, εἰς καινὴν ὑπόθεσιν δι’ εὐφημίας τοῦ γενναίου μετέβαλον· ‘they have turned the customary commands by which they manage the work of sailing into a new form, by praising our brave man’). It is unclear if this refers to nautical commands, blessings/incantations, or songs. Phōkas’ invocation by seamen in the Aegean is otherwise attested by a set of votive inscriptions on the Aegean island of Syros (E01232).
The final paragraph sums up the kinds of miracles performed by Phōkas (healing, dream visions, and divination), and denounces the pagan deities which had been performing the same manifestations: the martyr heals better than Asklepios, offers more reliable oracles than Apollo through the Pythia at Delphi, and protects the sailors better than the Dioscuri – he thus performs all the miracles of several pagan gods combined. It is possible that the oracles, healings, and visions mentioned here, were aspects of the same cult process, namely incubation practised in pursuit of a miraculous healing or answer to a problem.
Datema, C., Asterius of Amasea, Homilies I-XIV: Text, Introduction and Notes (Leiden: Brill, 1970).
Translation and commentary:
Dehandschutter, B., "Asterius of Amasea," in: J. Leemans (ed.), 'Let Us Die That We May Live' : Greek Homilies on Christian Martyrs from Asia Minor, Palestine and Syria, (c. AD 350-AD 450) (London: Routledge, 2003), 167-172.
Baldwin, B., "Asterios of Amaseia," in: A.P. Kazhdan, A.-M. Talbot, and A. Cutler (eds.), Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 213.
Speyer, W., "Asterios von Amaseia," in: Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum (Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 1980), 626-639.
Van de Vorst, C., "Saint Phocas," Analecta Bollandiana 30 (1911), 252-95.
|Name in Source
|Phokas, martyr of Sinope
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