Thursday, May 9, 2013

St Christopher the Wayfarer

Today is May 9th, and the feast day of St. Christopher in the Orthodox Church. I would give his Catholic feast day as we, but he was taken off the roster for "Not being of Roman Tradition, and of late origin." Honestly, I think it was more that he is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers who can give aid in times of trouble.  Though most of the rest are still venerated, I could just be a little bitter that St. Christopher didn't get the public praise I think he deserves. St. Chris is an interesting guy, and should be very interesting to every Wizard out there.

Dog Headed St. Christopher
Like a lot of early Saints, St. Chris has some cool legends about him. First, he was huge. Like seven
and a half feet tall, HUGE. It's also said he had a dark and fearsome face. Sometimes this gets translated as "the face of a dog". In fact there are numerous paintings and icons of him that show him as a huge, bulky, human man, with a dogs head. He was a member of the Unit of the Marmaritae, a cadre of dog headed soldier men from Chaldea. In fact, a German Bishop Walter of Speyer said he was from a race of dog headed people of huge size that ate human flesh and barked instead of spoke. From his Hagiography it appears that St. Christopher learned the common tongue of his day, and thus was able to speak with normal humans. Also, perhaps dog headed people were fairly common back then, and no one ran screaming from a massive dog headed giant with weapons and armor.

As a soldier, and someone very good at the arts of war, Christopher wanted only to serve the mightiest King around. So he went out and found himself the mightiest and most frightening king he could. In service to said king, he saw that his new master was scared of the Devil.

What's a dog headed giant to do? Go out and find the Devil, and seek to be in his service, that's what! As Christopher gets to the Devil, he finds the Devil is scared of Christ, thus Christopher goes out to find out how to serve Christ.

Finding a devout hermit in the wilderness, Christopher asks him how does one serve this new Lord? The hermit instructs him in the Christian Faith and says for Christopher to devote himself to fasting and prayer. St. Chris was honest with the hermit and told him that was going to be an enterprise doomed to failure.  Since St. Chris was a werewolf of action, the hermit told him to help people cross a nearby river whose current was so strong it was killing those who tried to cross it. Thus for years St. Christopher helped people back and forth across a turbulent river.

One day a young boy was seeking to cross, and Christopher picked up the young lad on his shoulders and began his trek across. Now you do something every day, and you tend to get good at it, so we can assume that St. Christopher is very good at crossing this particular river by now. He can cross it towing boats, he can cross it holding goats. He can cross it with a lady, he can cross it, light or shady. However, this little kid just gets heavier, and heavier, and heeaaaviiieer. But eventually they reach the other side, and St. Christopher asks the kid what is up, because he is the toughest dude around, and that was intense.

..he said to the child: "You have put me in the greatest danger. I do not think the whole world could have been as heavy on my shoulders as you were." 

The child replied: "You had on your shoulders not only the whole world but Him who made it. I am Christ your king, whom you are serving by this work." The child then vanished..

Fun fact: Christopher is not a name, it is a title. It means "Christ Bearer". There are some strong connections to St. Christopher and St. Menas of the Coptic Church, but no mention of a dog headed giant in those stories, and St. Menas was an ascetic after he was a soldier, and both carried the titles of Wonder Worker, Soldier Saint, and Christ Bearer. The title is filled by the person, and sometimes more than one person, as a collective.
Remind you of anyone we know?

Do I have to spell out all the cool things here? We have crossing of chaotic rivers, guiding the dead, safe travel, and protection from the plague as well as untimely death. We have a being, a Saint capable of defending the weak, and lifting the weight of the world, it's sins, and the God who made it. Wonder Worker indeed!

St. Christopher looks a lot like a Christian Hermanubis, actually. Someone who we might want to get in touch with in our current times. Not Christian? I am unsure of St. Christopher cares as much to your denomination, as much as you are a decent person who isn't trying to destroy others for their own benefit. He did help EVERYONE across that river, after all.

Too tenuous for you? Do keep in mind that His oldest counterpart IS Egyptian after all, and may be one in a line of Powers who simply kept working through the regime change of organized monotheism. One in line with Saint Brigid, and Al Kidir, who just kept on working and helping through the ages. It could also just be an honest example of synchronous blending as cultures mixed and mythic lines were cross bred, like the Indo-Greek sculptures of Zeus and Heracles guarding the Buddha in meditation, or the ever changing role of Shiva in the Pan Asian mythosphere from India all the way to Japan. Or none of these. Your mileage may vary, and if so, that's cool.

Only one way to find out though.. ring the man up, and see for yourself.

St. Christopher's medals abound in the west, of use to Catholic and non Catholic alike. Painfully popular he is both an official Saint and a Folk Saint.  If you don't happen to have a chapel or church dedicated to him near by (back in the olde days you would need a relic of the Saint to dedicate a church to them, except those Saints who were took bodily into Heaven, that is. Thus they would be physically present.), you can always get yourself a small picture or post card, a candle, and a small bit of water will do.

A candle will give light to allow you to be found, and the water is there to refresh and give life, also St. Christopher is very much associated with water being the patron of sailors. Most official pictures of him that you can get in a religious supply store will have a prayer or two to him printed on the back. Most of the prayers that I've found for him online have left me a little flat, honestly, so I usually just do my research and start talking.

If you are Christian you will have a more sure link to him, and even if you aren't you can ask for his aid by virtue of Christ's compassion, as well as his own if you are in a bad spot. You can also cite precedent of Jesus helping and hanging out with Pagans, sinners, and scalawags. He's a heck of a nice guy, but if you call on him he may then expect you to also start to be a heck of a nice person as well.

He's skilled at getting people from place to place unharmed, not just physical travel wise, but he makes a good psychopomp as well. He's also a great defender of the weak, and is the patron of athletes. A Soldier Saint he's good at defending, the best defense being a good offense. He can also just help your enemies get lost for a while.

Offerings wise, he is an Action Saint so be ready to do some good deeds, and don't be surprised if after he grants a favor someone might ring you up looking for a ride or help moving. In fact if you are having trouble getting his attention, start doing those things, and HONESTLY (sincerity is key here, folks) let him know it is because of his example of kindness and devotion that you do them. If you do it  only to get some favors your intention won't be pure enough. You have to actually start being a good dog.

Many Christian Saints seem way more interested in you doing good, and being good, rather than towing a dogmatic line, so if you don't help out some folks in need when they are brought to you, don't be shocked if you are left stranded somewhere to see how it feels for a while. As an all around tough dude, who labored under some heavy burdens himself, and willingly died a martyr, he may not be gentle in reprimand or request. Great needs require great deeds after all.

This Orthoprax approach vs an Orthodox approach may not hold if the Saint in question is a big fighter of Heresy, or enforcer of Dogma. Saints are people too, yo, and sometimes folks gravitate more towards guardians of a tradition, more than a guardian of humanity.


Morgan Eckstein said...

It annoyed me when they removed Christopher from the official list. I had done a lot of work with him in connection with my "moving vehicle" triggered migraines.

grackleandsun said...

Nice write-up. I don't usually dig the whole saint thing, but this was really interesting.