Stories of the Saints - Grace Hall

St Spiridion's Mules

Spiridion, although Bishop of Trimethus in Cyprus, was a shepherd before he was made bishop, and remained a shepherd to the end of his days. Robbers entered his fold one night, intending to carry away some of his flock, but when they tried to leave the enclosure they found themselves hindered by an invisible power, and were forced to remain on the spot. At daybreak Spiridion came to lead forth his sheep; at sight of him the robbers knew not what to do, for they were powerless either to attack him or flee.

"Take a ram away with you," said Spiridion to them, "it were a pity that you should leave my fold unrepaid for the trouble of entering it; but would it not have been simpler to have asked me for one before you attempted to carry away my sheep?"

It happened that once during Lent a weary and hungry traveller arrived at Spiridion's house. Having nothing else to give him, the Bishop offered him some salted pork. The stranger refused it, saying that he could not thus break his Lenten fast.

"To the pure all things are pure," said Spiridion, as he himself ate the meat.

It was not to be wondered at, such being the unorthodoxy of the Saint, that when the Council of Nicaea was called, the orthodox bishops feared that their cause would be injured by the presence of one so ignorant and illiterate as the Cyprian shepherd. They could not imagine him successfully meeting and answering the subtleties of their Arian and Alexandrian opponents.

It was Spiridion's custom to travel on foot and alone, but the great distance to be covered on this occasion, and its unusual dignity, caused him to take with him his deacon; for the latter and for himself he furnished two mules, one white and one black, mounted on which they set forth upon their journey to the Council.

One evening they came to an inn where a number of the orthodox bishops had already arrived on their way to Nicaea, and were spending the night. The opportunity seemed excellent to these for preventing Spiridion's appearance at the Council. During the night some members of their party went out into the pasture where Spiridion's mules were tethered and cut off their heads; then, very quietly, not to say stealthily, and with no delay whatever, they set forth again on their journey.

Long before daylight Spiridion's deacon went out to saddle the mules and make ready to start, in order to cover as much of the road as possible before the heat of the day. Feeling his way in the dark, he discovered the headless mules; he rushed distractedly to Spiridion and reported what had happened.

All undismayed, Spiridion accompanied him back to the pasture, and having knelt down and prayed, directed him to set the mules' heads upon their shoulders again. The deacon, obeying, stood speechless and open-mouthed as the animals, raising themselves from the ground, shook themselves as if to throw off the effects of heavy slumber, and began peacefully to break their fast with the grass at their feet. The mules, apparently unusually refreshed by their more than natural rest, were not long in overtaking the cavalcade of bishops, notwithstanding that these had had several hours' start. In the first light of dawn the bishops saw a strange sight as Spiridion advanced toward them seated upon a white mule with a black head, while the deacon bestrode a black one with a white head: in the dark he had failed to return to each its rightful and proper head!

"The truth is not far to find, my brothers," said Spiridion. "None of us is all white in innocence and worth, nor, equally, are any of us utterly and irretrievably black."

The discomfited bishops had further proof of the simple shepherd's wisdom when, during the Council, discussion ran high. There seemed no end to it, and the controversy bade fair to continue indefinitely, when Spiridion, stepping forth among the disputants, addressed them briefly:

"Christ and his apostles left us no system of logic, no subtleties and vain deceits, but a Truth to be guarded by Faith and Good Works!"

And again he said: "You deny that there can be Three in One—" he reached down and picked up a brick tile lying at his feet. "Look at this brick, it is made up of earth, water, and fire, yet it is one."

As he spoke the brick dissolved into its elements, the fire blazed, the water trickled over his hand; he remained holding only a handful of clay—and the bystanders were silenced.