Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Saint Who Starved and the Witch Who Devoured

In the Orthodox Church we commemorate a Saint on September 3rd who is relatively unknown to us, except for his name and how he died. His name is Saint Archontios, and he died as a martyr for Christ by being starved to death. The iambic verses composed in his honor in the Synaxarion of Constantinople poetically describes his martyrdom as follows:

Archontios starved and hence was worn out,
The ruler of this world is a noetic lamia.

Here a dichotomy is presented between Archontios who died by starvation and gained the Kingdom of Heaven, with the devil who is the ruler of this world and is described as a "noetic lamia." By noetic is meant "invisible," while a lamia in ancient Greek mythology was a woman who became a child-eating monster, much like a witch who in folklore is said to devour children in order to maintain her youth and beauty. Therefore, the devil is described here as a gluttonous lamia for devouring the children of God, as opposed to Archontios who starved to death for his love of God.

It should be noted that for many Christians of the Eastern Roman Empire when these verses were composed at the turn of the first millennium, the belief in the lamia was often held to be real, and the sin of gluttony was often associated with being like a lamia. So when the devil is described as a gluttonous noetic lamia, it implies that he is like a real physical gluttonous lamia. Even into modern Greek times, parents would threaten their children to behave or else a lamia will come to take them away and devour them.