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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER LXVIII THE MARTYRDOM

Gathering Clouds A Tale Of The Days Of St Chrysostom by Frederic William Farrar

CHAPTER LXVIII THE MARTYRDOM

Fateberis non illum martyrio, sed martyrium illi defuisse.

Edd. Benedict. Vit. S. Ambrosii.

Philip received early intelligence of the desolating news that even Cucusus was not regarded as remote enough to destroy the influence and starve out the life of his beloved father, and that in the frightful ruins of Pityus he was doomed to end his days. The news decided him to action. He thought at first of flying to Constantinople and exerting his whole influence with Aurelian and the Emperor to secure a recall of the edict. But this would have been a desperate task, and it was already too late. When the news reached Philip the escort which was to remove Chrysostom had set out upon its way.

The only course which remained was to start for Arabissus at all costs, and do everything which could be done to render the exile's journey more tolerable, and to gain for him every possible comfort in his last retreat. Great as was the sacrifice involved, neither Philip nor Miriam felt a moment's hesitation, in the belief that this was the call of duty. So Philip entrusted Miriam to the watchful care of his friends at Antioch, Anthemius himself giving ready leave of absence, and promising to see that Miriam should not be molested by any subterranean plots of vengeance concocted by Bishop Porphyry and his priests. Philip left her with the less anxiety because the holy Macedonius was close at hand to counsel and protect her.

Then he sped over the bleak hills and burning plains, amid numberless dangers, which in the absorbing eagerness of his purpose he scarcely noticed. Nobody who saw him with hardly any luggage, stained with incessant travel, and forced to content himself daily with fare much worse than coarse, would have conjectured that he bore on his person a considerable amount of gold. From any danger which might arise from provincial bishops or jacks-in-office he was sufficiently guarded by a letter which he carried with him, and by the Emperor's autograph, which he concealed in his clothes, to be produced only as a last resource. He reached Arabissus without serious mishap, and Chrysostom enjoyed one last gleam of earthly happiness as he pressed to his heart his loving and faithful son.

Philip fretted with vain indignation at the prison-like squalor of the Patriarch's surroundings, which were nearly as bare as, and far less wholesome than, the hermit's cavern on Mount Silpius; but he was filled with admiration at the noble fortitude with which the Saint bore every hardship, and the beautiful serenity of his untroubled faith. In two days Secundus and Cythegius, with their quaternion of soldiers, arrived, and issued the surly order that next morning the journey to Pityus must be begun. Neither Evethius nor any servant was to be permitted to accompany the Patriarch or attend to his needs; and when the officers looked at his frail and shrunken figure, and observed how weak and ill he was, they felt quite certain that without an overt act of murder they would not miss the reward and promotion which the bishops had promised them.

Come what would Philip was determined to be with Chrysostom, nor was he ever far from him during the last three harassed months of his friend's misery. The orders of the officers were to avoid all towns, lest the sight of their illustrious prisoner should awaken the populations to indignant pity. They were only to stop at wretched country villages, where none of the conveniences of life were to be had, where the dirt and vermin were an intolerable annoyance, and where even the rudest necessaries were barely to be procured. Philip soon divined their ruthless purpose when, following close upon their tracks, he observed, on the first day of their journey, that the escort resented the slightest exhibition of pity towards their prisoner, and pelted and insulted everyone who showed him any compassion.

He would not start with them, for he was afraid that they might invoke authority to prevent this; but when they were on their way he followed them at no great distance, and stopped at the village where they rested for the night. Here he sought an interview with the two officers. He found that Secundus was a man of impracticably brutal character, who was determined to carry out his instructions to the letter. Philip saw that he had made up his mind that Chrysostom should never reach Pityus alive, and that on this consummation, regardless of conscience or compassion, he intended to base his claim to advancement and reward. In Cythegius, on the other hand, all sparks of humanity were not wholly quenched; but, unfortunately, Secundus was the senior officer.

Philip asked them to allow him to accompany the expedition, and to do what he could to save the Patriarch from needless sufferings, which to one at his age and in his state of health could not but be terrible. He pointed out that, in endeavouring to procure little comforts for Chrysostom, he would be able at the same time to make the hardships of the way a little less intolerable to the officers themselves and their quaternion. Secundus was not only unwilling to make this small concession, but declared, with an oath, that he would not allow Philip to accompany them at all. He had been promised gold and a step in military rank if he did what was expected;' and I mean,' he said, to stick to my instructions.'

There is nothing in your instructions to forbid my coming with you,' said Philip. I do not wish to traverse your orders; I only plead with you for a little ordinary humanity,'

A fig for your humanity!' said Secundus.

There is no harm in letting him come with us, and attend on the Patriarch,' said Cythegius.

Secundus glared at him. I am senior here,' he said; 'and as for you, young man, clear out of this, or you may yet taste the rhinoceros-hide on your back.'

Philip was in a blaze of indignation, but he felt that the bully was a coward. He had meant to offer the wretch a bribe, but now he determined rather to appeal to his fears.

Man!' he said, you do not know to whom you are talking. I see that you have been bribed by Atticus and Severian practically to murder your prisoner, and that you expect great advantages from doing so. Take care! Exercise the least violence to me, and your reward shall be a gibbet. Did you ever hear of Anthemius, Count of the East? Yes? Then read that, and don't attempt to hector and swagger to me.'

He flung on the table the safeguard of Anthemius, which Secundus read with some alarm.

And perhaps you have heard of a certain Count Aurelian, Consular and Prætorian Præfect, who will make very short work with common men like you. Then read that' -- and he showed him a mandate which he had obtained from Aurelian, that all soldiers should treat him with civility.

Once more, it is hardly likely that a man of your stamp should ever have seen the purple ink and the Imperial signature; but do you think your bishops can save you against the sacred majesty of the Emperor?'

He displayed before the officer's astonished eyes the autograph of Arcadius, and said, Your fellow-officer is a witness; and it is perfectly well known to many great personages that I am here, and that I mean to go all the way with you; and perhaps you will learn henceforth that it is as much as your head is worth to talk to me of the rhinoceros-hide again.'

Secundus was now thoroughly crestfallen, but he retained his dogged sullenness. Philip took occasion that night to see Cythegius alone, promised him a sum of money if he would meet his wishes, and pointed out that he might be even more likely to gain advancement from men like Anthemius and Aurelian than from the Bishops Atticus and Severian. Cythegius promised to offer no molestation either to the Patriarch or to Philip, and to do all he could; but he said that he could not prevent any arrangements made by his senior officer.

So Philip day by day went with Chrysostom, and exerted himself to the utmost to cheer and comfort him. They had many a long and delightful conversation about the days which were no more; and the sweetness, courtesy, and resignation of the afflicted victim so deeply touched the hearts of Cythegius and one of the soldiers that, whenever a secret opportunity offered, they testified to him their pity and goodwill, and did their best to lighten his sorrows. The old man, as he toiled along, nearly always on foot, used to lean on Philip's arm; and Philip was deeply thankful that he was able to do much in many ways to make life a little less cruelly intolerable to his father and benefactor. But he was powerless to interfere with the fell purpose and dogged malignity of Secundus. Even for a young and hale traveller, with all appliances and aids to boot, a journey over such rude paths, and byways which forced them to climb rocky passes and traverse torrent-beds and mountain-streams, would have been severely trying, especially since its pitiless fatigue was so tediously prolonged, and no opportunities for rest were given. It took them no less than three months to make their miserable way from Arabissus to Comana. Determined to kill his victim, but without actual violence, the brutal soldier availed himself of every change of weather to hasten his purpose. During their journey the roads and the country were daily burned to dust by the broiling heats of the summer and early autumn; but, however scorching the heat, Secundus would give the pitiless order to advance, and exulted to watch Chrysostom's fainting and stumbling footsteps as, supported by Philip's arm, he barely crawled along, red all over with prickly heat, and with the hot sun blazing on his bald, uncovered head. If violent thunderstorms came on a new opportunity offered itself; and he relied on the chance of the Patriarch's being smitten down with some deadly fever, as he forced him to trudge along with all his clothes wet through, and with streams of water trickling down his back and breast. It was a matter of daily astonishment to all the party that Chrysostom so long bore up against this frightful ill-usage; and it really seemed possible that under Philip's watchful care the murderous purpose of Secundus and his abettors might be defeated after all, and Chrysostom might reach Pityus alive. There were many altercations between Philip and the officer on the way. Philip remonstrated with the utmost impetuosity of his nature, and even ventured to threaten the wretch that he should rue his cruelty. Secundus would certainly have killed him if he had dared; but he trembled at the thought of the vengeance which would befall him from the emperor himself. For Cythegius often took Philip's part; and even the soldiers, won by his geniality and by his secret but liberal gifts, showed him their sympathy as much as they dared. Philip on one occasion denounced Secundus to his face, and told him that even if he succeeded in getting rid of the Patriarch by over-fatigue and cruelty, many who were in high authority should certainly hear of it, and they were men by whom his future chances of promotion were more likely to be influenced than by two bad ecclesiastics.

At last the unhappy cortege arrived at Comana Pontica, in Cappadocia. There it would have been possible for Chrysostom to obtain some of those resources for health and refreshment of which he stood so sorely in need. But Secundus had no intention that they should rest there. He hurried surreptitiously through the most distant outskirts of the town, and did not stop till they had reached a little martyry some six miles beyond it. There they had to stop for the night, more because the officers and soldiers themselves needed rest and sleep than from any consideration for the sufferer.

The little chapel of the martyry was dedicated to St. Basiliscus, a Bishop of Comana who, in the third century, had suffered martyrdom with Lucian at Antioch, at the hands of the Pagan emperor, Maximus Daza. Here the good provincial priest regarded it as an honour to be allowed to do his utmost for the Saint who was obviously not far from death. He gave up to him his own bed, and, to the disgust of Secundus, lavished on him every comfort in his power. For the last time on earth Chrysostom had a refreshing sleep, and in his dream the martyred bishop, St. Basiliscus, appeared to him with his palm-branch in his hand, and said, Be of good cheer, brother John; to-morrow we shall be together.' The priest, too, had a vision of St. Basiliscus that same night, who said to him, Prepare a place for our brother John, for he is coming to join me!' Convinced of the reality of his vision, the priest entreated Secundus to postpone the hour of starting at least till noon. The Prætorian's only answer was to give the order for instant departure.

With an aching heart, Philip, in spite of Secundus, took his place beside his father, supporting him, and pouring into his ear the words of hope and tender consolation. In the extremity of his weakness and feverish unrest Chrysostom still showed a serene and indomitable courage.

You will not be burdened with the care of me much longer, my Philip,' he said, I feel that my sands of life are running low.'

Oh, my father!' he said, you do not mean it when you talk of burdening me. To you I owe everything -- my life, all the happiness I have ever had -- yes, my very soul.'

Chrysostom smiled on him with a look of affection. I know your love for me, my boy,' he said; but I saw St. Basiliscus last night in my sleep, and I shall not outlive the day.'

If we could but get you safely to Pityus,' said Philip, 'you might find friends there, and still have blessed and tranquil years.'

As God will, Philip; but if to me to live is Christ, assuredly to die is gain. I will not ask, with Euripides, |Who knows if death be life, and life be death?| for we know that to those who love God death is life. Nor will I say, as Socrates did to his judges, |I go to death, and you to life, but which is the better God alone knows,| for to us Christ has revealed which is the better, and St. Paul has told us that to depart and be with Christ is not only better, but |

far, far the better.|'

But how ill can you be spared in this corrupted and distracted Church of Christ!'

No man is necessary, Philip. The work goes on though the workman passes away. Dark times are coming on the world; but Christ has many a servant to labour for Him, not more sincere, I trust, by God's grace, than I am, but much more wise and great.'

The words were spoken slowly and with difficulty. Chrysostom gasped for breath, and a few moments later sank fainting into Philip's arms. They had advanced about thirty furlongs from the martyry, and were compelled to halt.

Fling a little water over him,' said Secundus, and press on. It is only a device to gain time.'

He is dying,' said Philip. Surely you will not have the brutal barbarity to drag him farther? If you do, you will have to carry back a corpse on your shoulders to the martyry.'

Philip, supporting the head of Chrysostom on his arm, had sprinkled a few drops of water over his burning face and poured a few drops of wine through his parched lips, and the Patriarch revived a little.

March on!' snarled Secundus.

March on then by yourself,' said Philip; not one step farther shall the Patriarch go.'

We will see to that,' said the officer, lifting the flat of his sword to strike Philip in his rage.

At your peril!' said Philip, looking at him, and the wretch cowered under his glance, while Cythegius and the soldiers strode forward for his protection.

It is useless to advance,' said Cythegius. The Patriarch will never outlive to-day.'

The assenting murmur of the four soldiers showed that they agreed with their junior officer.

This is mutiny,' said Secundus savagely; you shall answer for it.'

Cythegius took him by the arm and led him aside. 'Comrade,' he said, do not be an utter fool. Your only chance of getting either your reward or your promotion is by not driving that young man to desperation. Each of these soldiers -- yes, and I too, if you drive me too far -- would be a witness against you. It is as much as your head is worth not to let well alone.'

March on!' he roared in a frenzy of rage.

Not one step farther will we march with a dying man,' said the soldiers.

If you persist,' said Cythegius to Secundus, we will disarm you, and put you under arrest.'

Secundus cursed and swore, and stamped his feet on the ground in fury; but seeing that it was useless, and might be dangerous, to persevere, he sullenly gave the order to return to the martyry.

Chrysostom could no longer walk, but, aided by Cythegius and the soldiers, Philip, now contemptuously disregardful of the orders of Secundus, cut down some straight branches of the wood through which they were passing, improvised a rude litter, heaped clothes upon it, and, gently lifting the half-unconscious exile, helped to carry him back to the chapel. When they arrived, the priest, who had foreseen their return, had food and cordials ready, and once more laid Chrysostom on his own bed.

I am dying, presbyter,' he said; I would fain die clad in white robes, to remind me of the chrisom garment of my baptism.'

The priest brought out some white vestments, and Philip helped to robe the dying Patriarch. As he took off his own garments, even to the shoes, he distributed them to those present, for whom in after-days they acquired the value of priceless relics. To Cythegius and the soldiers who had shown him any kindness he gave what little money he possessed and other trifling souvenirs. To the kind priest he left his pallium and a little golden altar-vessel. And then he asked to be left alone, with Philip.

Dear son,' he said, you, whose love and loyalty have brightened many happy years and solaced many troubled ones, you, who have been a son, and almost more than a son to me, the childless old man -- may God bless you a thousand times for all your goodness! You have passed through terrible trials for my sake; may He requite you with His hundredfold blessings! May the light of His countenance shine upon you in a happy home bright with children's faces! May your little Eutyches grow up to fill your cup with earthly happiness, and your Miriam be your joy and comfort even unto death!'

Philip was kneeling by the bed, his face hidden in his hands, and he could not speak.

Why should you weep so much for me, dear Philip?' said Chrysostom. There is no cause for sorrow here. The most troubled days of a troubled life, thank God! are ending. |

I have fought the food fight. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day.|

Nay, nay, Philip, you must not weep like this. On the contrary, be glad for my sake; and I want you to tell Olympias, and all my old friends at Constantinople, and my old servants in Antioch, that I die in the faith and fear of God and of His Christ, and in the communion of the Spirit, perfectly happy. Take this gold chain off my neck, which I have always worn under my robe because it was left me by my mother, Anthusa. A golden medal hangs from it with a figure of the Good Shepherd on it. Wear it always, Philip, for my sake. And now, farewell, and receive my blessing.'

He laid his weak hands on the head of his kneeling son, and fervently blessed him. Then he asked to be carried to the Holy Table and to receive for the last time the blessed mysteries of the Eucharist. He followed the brief supplications, and repeated slowly and with difficulty the Lord's Prayer. Then a great glory seemed to come over his face. He half raised himself from the bed, gazed before him with a look of rapture, as though he saw the heavens opened, exclaimed in a clear voice, Glory to God for all things! Amen!' and fell back dead into Philip's arms.

He has laid aside the dust of mortality,' murmured the good priest. He is gathered to his fathers. Be comforted, dear youth. Which of his friends could wish him back again in such a world as this?'

The next morning they laid him in his humble grave by the side of St. Basiliscus. The two martyrs slept together in peace.

It was September 17, 407. Chrysostom was sixty years of age. For nearly seven years he had been Patriarch of Constantinople; for three years and three months he had been a deposed, calumniated, and banished man. He did not live to see the clearing of his name, the scattering to the winds of the lies which had been heaped upon his innocence, the deep repentance of the children of his murderers. Fools counted his life madness, and his end to be without honour. How is he counted among the children of God, and his lot among the Saints!

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