Monday, February 20, 2017

Saint Leo of Catania and the Sorcerer Heliodoros

By Agapios the Cretan

On the island of Sicily, a diviner and sorcerer, named Heliodoros, wrought signs and marvels by demonic cooperation. His satanic activities and powers surpassed the wickedness of Jannes and Jambres (2 Tim. 3:8) and Simon Magus (Acts 8:9), since he had all diabolical energy working in him. Now he was the son of noble Christian parentage; his mother was the patrician Barbara. All assumed Heliodoros was a Christian. But from his childhood he showed himself to be arrogant, insolent, audacious, rash and proud. In time, he aspired to become prefect of the city [of Catania], not that he might be of service to the people, but rather that he might commit with impunity his shameless misdeeds according to his will and pleasure. It was, however, not the will of God that the unworthy Heliodoros, with his overweening pride, should attain to that high dignity. That vile and perverse man, thereafter, turned his steps in the direction of the occult.

He dared to betake himself to a certain Jewish magician and enchanter who had delved deeply into the black arts. Heliodoros and the Jew became friends, at which point Heliodoros pleaded with him and said, "Help me to achieve the dignity and office for which I long and which I deserve." The Jew then presented Heliodoros with an epistle and said to him, "At midnight, go to the tombs of the rulers. Ascend to the top of one of the pillars. There shall then come to you an awesome and fearful specter, but do not cower. If you are told to descend, do not obey until you are promised that he shall do all you will." The abominable Heliodoros, with a gait that bespoke his happiness, went and did as the Jew had bidden him. As he climbed higher and higher, he rejoiced and threw the epistle high into the air. Heliodoros then beheld the devil mounted on a deer. The devil addressed him, saying, "What do you require of me?" Heliodoros answered, "I want you to do as I desire and give me whatever I reach after." The devil replied, "If you will deny Christ, I will grant you immediately whatsoever you might request."

Then the hapless one glibly renounced Christ. He agreed and united himself with the devil, thinking to gain power, when in reality he placed himself under the evil one's command. Satan assigned one of his devils, a creature most malignant and malicious, to Heliodoros. That fiend's name was Gasparon. Satan commanded his minion in this manner: "You are to stand close to Heliodoros and submit yourself to him always and execute all his commands." After the ruler of darkness spoke these insidious words, he vanished. The deceived Heliodoros, the flagrant denier and adversary of God, was filled with malignant joy at what had transpired. The mindless coward did not even imagine that he was delivering up his soul and body to destruction. He was unmindful that he was consigning his soul to everlasting punishment. He was oblivious to the righteous judgment of God, which often overtakes us in this life. Did he think that he might perish incidentally by fire in this life, and go on to inherit the everlasting one? No, rather he was utterly forgetful of such happenings. He was too full of himself and absorbed in his potential powers to consider his apostasy. He was a match for Lucifer. As for God's unconquerable power, it never entered Heliodoros' thoughts.

The impious plotter lost no time utilizing his power to prey upon and mistreat the pious. Who can describe his assaults upon, and the ill-use he made of, godly folk? The accursed one contrived all kinds of devices to bring about agitation and turmoil. By means of apparitions, appearances, spells and charms, he sought to beguile and bewitch. Heliodoros did not confine his wizardry to Catania, but spread his sorceries also into other cities and villages of Sicily, so that all were disturbed and troubled by his magic. Reports of Heliodoros' foul deeds were submitted by Governor Lucius of the province to the co-emperors Leo and Constantine, who sentenced Heliodoros to death. Heliodoros managed to evade arrest by the royal officers sent by the emperors. By demonic power, he appeared in Constantinople before the emperor and suddenly vanished, only to be seen in Catania within one hour's time. (It is unclear whether his appearance was a demonic illusion or actual bodily transport.) At Catania, he was apprehended again and conveyed, by conventional means, to the capital. While under arrest in the capital, he wrought havoc by bringing misfortune upon the inhabitants and causing all the lights and fires of the city to be quenched. Just prior to his execution by the sword, he once more disappeared and reappeared in Catania. But let us not defile the ears of our listeners with the workings of demonic devices. Let us now speak of the bad end to which Heliodoros came, as was meet.

Often times the Hierarch Leo, as a sympathetic and loving shepherd who imitated Christ, admonished Heliodoros with useful and pertinent advice for his salvation. He would say to the thrice-wretched reprobate, "Be done with these ill effects and villainies, lest you should suffer everlasting punishment." How did Heliodoros react to the holy bishop's guidance and counsels? He became worse in committing frauds and knavish tricks. He did not meditate in the least on what the man of God bade him or warned him against, rendering his words to be just silly talk and nonsense. Heliodoros heaped one lawless deed after another upon his soul. In his delusion, he thought to make sport of the hierarch by mocking him before the congregation in the very church itself. Heliodoros, therefore, entered the sacred house of God. He began to deride and scoff at the immaculate and divine Mysteries, but none gave him heed, so he left.

Unabashed, on another occasion soon thereafter, when it was a great feast day of the Church and the bishop was liturgizing, Heliodoros entered the church. He who had put himself under a curse then began to dance and kick up his heels in a disorderly manner. He started babbling all sorts of foolishness and blasphemies, attempting to provoke the parishioners to laughter. He boasted he could make the Saint and all the other Christians at the divine service that day dance and clap in the church. The miserable one's prating came to naught, because divine power impeded the malevolence and mischief of the demon. At that time, nonetheless, the God-bearing Leo, oppressed by the audacity and vain-mindedness of Heliodoros, went to his knees in prayer. He fervently supplicated God to help him put to shame the wickedness of Heliodoros. Upon completing his entreaty, he went and communicated the divine Mysteries. He then exited the holy bema. Before he removed his episcopal garb, he approached Heliodoros who was still present. Leo proceeded to remove his omophorion (pallium) from his shoulders and wrap it snugly around the neck of Heliodoros, saying, "The Lord God Who cast headlong out of heaven your father the devil, rebukes you, that you should no longer be able to work your magic by which you have deceived and destroyed many."

Immediately, as these words were spoken, the magical arts and satanic powers of Heliodoros vanished. According to the imperial decision, he was arrested and consigned to the flames for the criminal acts he had committed with impunity. A great miracle then took place at Heliodoros' sentencing and execution. The ever-memorable Bishop Leo, with his omophorion around the wizard's neck, held him securely - lest the condemned man should again work conceit - entered into the fire, and stood in the midst of the flames. While the Bishop remained unharmed by the fire, Heliodoros was utterly consumed, so that only ashes remained. Thus, the unjust one was justly dissolved by fire, as one who was an inheritor of fire, the unquenchable one. The great hierarch and wonderworker Leo then emerged intact from the roaring flames, to the amazement of the bystanders. The fire, moreover, did not singe the least thread of the sacred vestments nor to touch one hair of his venerable and most holy head. Not even the smell of fire adhered to his vestments, since the divine dew of the Holy Spirit enveloped him, the initiate of the sacred mysteries, and prevented him from being consumed or overcome by the heat and smoke. Saint Joseph the Hymnographer chants in the divine office for today: "The one who with demonic deceptions attempted to make foolish all who believe in Christ did you justly deliver up to fire, O blessed one, and as a true and saving shepherd you rescued souls from his pernicious harm." Consequently, even as it once happened during the time of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon to the holy Three Children, this awe-inspiring wonder was acknowledged by many amazed witnesses who, in one great voice, all together gave glory to God Who wrought such wonderworkings and glorified His servant.

The fame of this extraordinary miracle spread throughout the inhabited world. The emperor sent letters to the Saint, inviting him to come to Constantinople that he might enjoy Leo's company and receive his hierarchical blessing. Bishop Leo made the voyage, lest he should appear to disobey the imperial command. The autocrat, with deference and reverence, honored the Bishop of Catania when he gazed upon the Saint's solemn countenance. Since the man of God spent a little time in the capital, the emperor had opportunity to observe Leo's angelic conduct of life and, thus, to perceive the grace and radiance of the Spirit Who wrought mightily in the Saint. While Bishop Leo was in the capital, he accomplished works of great power among the people: the blind were given sight, the deaf had their ears opened, the lame walked aright, the infirm were restored, the demons took flight, and a heathen temple collapsed. At the royal palace, when lit coals and incense were placed on Leo's cassock, his vesture was in no wise damaged. The incense wafted heavenward to the glory and majesty of God. The sight of burning embers acting contrary to physical laws astounded the emperor and those in the palace. It also confirmed the truth of the report that even fire reverenced the hierarch. As was meet, Bishop Leo was held in high esteem.

From the Neon Paradeison.