Byzantine Story from the Black Sea
From "Reflections" in the iBook…
During the past two Sundays, we have dwelt on images of the baptism of Jesus, and the preaching of John along the River Jordan. Today, we move “upstream” to the source of the shallow Jordan in the deeper waters of the Sea of Galilee.
And while the images of water remain, the image of light returns to our stories. This is the light that hovers over the dark waters of chaos. This is the light of a new creation.
As Jesus emerges out of his baptismal waters, so He now invites us to be drawn out of the waters. And He invites us to have an active part in this transformation from death to life. He asks us to be both the Fishers and the Fished.
The feasts of Saint Phocas of Sinope (on July 14 and September 22) celebrate the story of a person who willingly plunged into the waters of chaos to bring out new life. His name in Greek means “The Seal”. The same word for seal can also be found among the Celtic Bretons where there is also a tradition of “seal people” in their folklore. Among the Celtic Scots and Irish, these people are known as “Selkies.”
The Byzantine Greek tradition does not speak of these creatures, but identifies Phocas as one who lives in two worlds. He is called Phocas the Gardener, and Phocas the Mariner. And so he is named “The Seal.”
In my retelling of his story, his miracles are many. He brings light to the darkness, he brings food from the earth, and he ministers to the poor, the homeless, the pilgrims of this world.
I am struck by how Phocas manages to do so much in the world, and yet nurture his hermit’s heart. And even after his death, his hospitality continues with the work of charity that Greek sailors and fishermen have practiced over the centuries in selling their food rations for the sake of the poor.
Phocas gazes at us with the eyes of a seal, and beckons us to act with compassion.
This story in both short and long versions, along with the Scripture images, and the commentary, is included in both written and spoken versions in my ibook, Letter to an Emperor. Click on the book cover below for more information (Link Coming Soon):
Now also available in this anthology along with other stories. Click on the ibook cover below for more information:
I also welcome your private reponse to my reflections…