Animals figure in the lives of many saints. We have only to recall the lion who so faithfully served Saint Gerasimos, after that Saint had pulled a painful thorn from his paw. Another lion dug a grave in the hard ground of the desert for the holy body of Saint Mary of Egypt, when Saint Zosima could not bury it himself. There also comes to mind the bear that was so tame in the presence of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, and the bullock that frequently accompanied Blessed Feofil, the fool-for-Christ. Here is another Saint's Lift. involving an animal, although this animal was neither tame nor friendly.
Commemorated May 12
Blessed Epiphanius was born within sight of the snow capped Libanus mountain-range, in what today is Syria. His family was Jewish. His father, a landowner, died when Epiphanius was ten years old, and his widowed mother worked to provide for Epiphanius and his sister, Calliope.
It was difficult for his mother to make ends meet, and one day she sent Epiphanius to market with a donkey to try and sell it. The boy set off reluctantly. The donkey was as ornery as they come, mean and unruly, and Epiphanius didn't feel right about foisting it upon an unsuspecting buyer, who would later upbraid him for such a bad deal. When, therefore, a certain Jewish man approached him at the market, the boy frankly admitted to him that the donkey was untrained and bad-tempered, and that it was only because the family had no money to buy food that he had been sent to sell it. Impressed by the boy's honesty, the Jew gave him three coins with which to buy bread, and the boy left the market, taking the donkey back with him.
Along the way, he met a Christian by the name of Cleo, who asked Epiphanius if he could buy his donkey and at what price. Again, Epiphanius felt he could not in good conscience sell such a mean animal. As the boy was explaining this to the Christian, the donkey began to bray loudly and to act very skittish, darting from side to side. Suddenly, he kicked up his heels, throwing Epiphanius to the ground, and ran off. Epiphanius had landed hard; he was crying from pain and couldn't get up. The Christian rushed over to him and, feeling his injured side, made the sign of the Cross over the boy three times. Epiphanius then got up without any ill effects from his fall. Then the Christian shouted after the donkey: "In the name of the crucified Lord Jesus Christ, I command you to halt, and because you wanted to kill your master here, you yourself will never leave this place." And at that instant, the donkey fell down dead.
You can imagine Epiphanius' astonishment. "Tell me," he begged Cleo, "who is this Jesus Christ in whose name such wonders occur?" "He is the son of God, Whom the Jews crucified," replied Cleo. Afraid to reveal that he himself was a Jew, Epiphanius continued his way, wondering about this powerful Christ and desiring to know more about Him.
Later in life, he chanced to meet another Christian. He was riding down a road when he saw a beggar approach a man, asking for alms. Having no money at hand, the man took off his cloak and gave it to the pauper, saying, "Here, sell this and buy yourself some food." Epiphanius was deeply impressed by this act of charity. As he was marveling at the man's selfless generosity, O wonder! he saw a shining white garment descend from heaven upon the man. Epiphanius jumped down from his horse and fell to his knees before him. "Tell me," he entreated, "who are you?" The man's name was Lucian, and he was a Christian, a monk. At Epiphanius' fervent request, he proceeded to tell him all about the God-Man Jesus Christ, the Messiah, about Whom Epiphanius had longed to know ever since the incident with the donkey.
Epiphanius was soon baptized, together with his sister. At the Baptism, Epiphanius' face became radiant and a crown was seen resting on his head. Epiphanius sold his estate, he gave some money to his sister, the rest he gave away to the poor, keeping just enough to buy copies of some sacred scriptures. He left the city and went with Lucian to his monastery, where he lived with ten other monks. Epiphanius also became a monk and attained such holiness that God granted him the power of working miracles in His name. Later, Epiphanius became bishop of Cyprus and a great wonderworker of the Christian world. He died in 403.
Subscribe (and order back issues) to
Order Books from Orthodox America
If you note problems with this site, please contact the Webmaster
© 1998-2006 by Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society