I don’t know what made me think of Saint Spyridon of Tremithous this morning, but he is on my mind. Maybe it’s because I am amazed that this man, who lived in the 3rd to 4th century on the island of Cyprus, was a shepherd, someone who tended a flock of sheep, and at the same time was elevated to the rank of bishop by his people. Even though he was their bishop, he still tended his flock of sheep. I’m surprised that none of the ikons I have found of him ever show him in the guise of a shepherd, but he is always shown wearing that funny little cap—I wonder if that was part of his shepherd’s garb? But what of his “rational sheep” as the flock of Christ followers is called in the Akathistos hymn written by Saint Romanos? How can a man tend to the spiritual care of this flock, when he has also to care for his worldly affairs, in Spyridon’s case, his flock of literal sheep?
Now I remember!—That’s what brought him to my mind. I was asking myself my perennial question: What is it that men do who are given the title of “pastor” in the Church? What makes them our pastors, that is, our shepherds? For that is what pastor means. This question has baffled and stumped me for many years, as I watched the processions of goldenly clad clergy pass me by, surrounded by chanting and clouds of incense smoke. That’s the question that never fails to pop into my head as I pass by churches with witch’s hat-shaped steeples and billboards that say things like “Meet Pastor Peg!” or have directory lists of names with imposing titles after lines of dots. Somehow, I just can’t get over the impression that “pastor” is no longer a description of what ordained priests and ministers do, but just an honorific title—like the title of proistámenos—regardless of whether he leads his flock to Christ, or to market.
Back to Saint Spyridon.
His fame seems to rest on his many reported miracles, on the fact that he was an attendee of the 1st Ecumenical Council of Nicæa, and on his relics (that is, his unembalmed body) which are held to be incorrupt. Oh yes, and then there’s the fact that his slippers have to be replaced every year because they miraculously wear out, probably due to the fact he walks all over the island of Corfu watching over its people and looking for opportunities to do them good. Perhaps they should get his incorrupt feet something more substantial to wear, and then they wouldn’t have to replace them as often.
For me, though, the fame of Spyridon of Tremithous has more to do with what his real life says about what a man of God is called to be. If he is called to be a pastor, he follows and imitates the Good Shepherd, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Though he may have to deal with worldly affairs, he still doesn’t neglect his first call, really his first love, and that is, to shepherd the people of God, looking after them, looking for them, calling them each by name, keeping them together, leading them Home. Spyridon could tend his flock of literal sheep without abandoning his rational sheep. That’s the real miracle. That’s true incorruptability.
May those whom we name “pastors” likewise follow his example, and even more, the example of the Good Shepherd whom Spyridon followed as a true disciple, saying and doing exactly what he heard and saw Him saying and doing. God grant us true shepherds to replace the hirelings, for the sheep are scattered, and the time is close (Revelation 1:3).