Bishop of Gaza
At the age of twenty-five, Porphyry, a rich citizen of Thessalonica, left the world for one of the great religious houses in the desert of Scete. Here he remained five years, and then, finding himself drawn to a more solitary life, passed into Palestine, where he spent a similar period in the severest penance, until ill health obliged him to moderate his austerities. He then made his home in Jerusalem, and in spite of his ailments visited the Holy Places every day, thinking so little of his sickness, says his biographer, that he seemed to be afflicted in another body than his own. About this time God put it into his heart to sell all he had and give it to the poor; then, to reward the sacrifice, He restored him, by a miracle at the Holy Sepulchre, to perfect health.
In 393 the zealous Christian was ordained priest and entrusted with the care of the relics of the True Cross in Jerusalem. Three years later, in spite of all the resistance his humility could make, he was consecrated Bishop of Gaza. That city was a hotbed of paganism, and Porphyry found in it an ample scope for his apostolic zeal. His labors and the miracles which attended them effected the conversion of many; and an imperial edict for the destruction of the pagan temples, obtained through the influence of Saint John Chrysostom, greatly strengthened the influence of the Bishop in Gaza. During a long drought, a fast and a procession to the tombs of the martyrs outside the city, held by the Christians in obedience to their bishop to obtain rain from God, brought the trial to a successful end. Many pagans were converted when a torrential rain descended.
When Saint Porphyry first went to Gaza, he found there one temple more splendid than the rest, in honor of the chief god. When the edict went forth to destroy all traces of heathen worship, Saint Porphyry determined to put the demon to special shame, there where he had received special honor. A Christian church was built upon the site, and its approach was paved with the marble stone of the heathen temple. Thus every worshiper of Jesus Christ trod underfoot the vestiges of idolatry and superstition, each time he went to assist at holy Mass.
Saint Porphyry lived to see his diocese cleared of idolatry, wholly Christian, and then died in the year 420.
Reflection. Superstitious searching into the future or efforts to contact deceased persons, such as paganism has always practiced, is forbidden by the First Commandment, just as formally as is the worship of any false god. Let us ask Saint Porphyry for a great zeal in keeping this Commandment, lest we be led astray, as many are, by a curious and prying mind.
*On leap years, the feast day of this Saint is celebrated on February 27.
Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 3