St. Epiphanius of the Tsunami

Reading the Fathers of the Church is just full of surprises! Check out what I found over at in Eusebius' History of the Martyrs of Palestine!

Epiphanius was a young guy who, at the same time as Eusebius, was busy studying with Pamphilus (who later became a martyr, too) and living in the same house in Caesarea Palaestina.

For when the persecution had been raised against us the second time, in the third year of this same persecution, the edicts of Maximinus arrived — those by which he gave command that the governors of the cities should use great pains and diligence in order to compel all men to offer sacrifices and libations to devils. The heralds, therefore, through all the cities made a diligent proclamation, that the men, together with their wives and children, should assemble in the temples of the idols, and before the Chiliarchs and Centurions, as they went round about to the houses and the streets making a list of the inhabitants of the city. Then they summoned them by name, and compelled them to offer sacrifice as they had been commanded. And while this boundless tempest was threatening all men from all sides, Epiphanius, a perfectly holy man, and a witness of the truth, performed an act which surpasses all words. While no one was aware of his purpose — he even concealed it from us who were in the same house with him — he went and drew near to the governor of the place, and stood boldly before him — having also escaped the observation of the whole band that was standing near the governor, for they had not given heed when he approached the governor — and while Urbanus was offering libations, he came up to him and laid hold of his right hand, and held him back from offering the foul libation to idols, endeavouring with an excellent and gentle address and godlike suavity to persuade him to turn from his error, saying to him: That it was not right for us to turn away from the one only God of truth, and offer sacrifice to lifeless idols and wicked devils.

As you might expect, this bit of free speech elicited a strong reaction.

When then this holy martyr of God had done these things, the servants of devils, together with the officers of the governor, were smitten in their hearts as if by a hot iron; and they struck him on the face, and when he had been thrown down on the ground they kicked him with their feet, and tore his mouth and lips with a bridle. And when he had endured all these things bravely, he was afterwards delivered up to be taken to a dark prison, where his legs were then stretched for a day and a night in the stocks. And after the next day they brought Epiphanius, who, although a youth in age, was a mighty man in valour, into the judgment hall, and there the governor Urbanus displayed a proof of his own wickedness and hatred against this lovely youth by punishment and every kind of torture inflicted upon this martyr of God. And he ordered them to lacerate his sides until his bones and entrails became visible: he was also smitten upon his face and his neck to such a degree, that his countenance was so disfigured by the severe blows which he had received, that not even his friends could recognise him. This martyr of Christ, however, was strengthened both in body and soul like adamant, and stood up even more firmly in his confidence upon his God. And when the governor asked him many questions, he gave him no further answer than this–that he was a Christian: and he questioned him again as to whose son he was, and whence he came and where he dwelt; but he made no other reply than that he was the servant of Christ. For this cause therefore the fury of the governor became more fierce, and he thundered forth the more in his rage, on account of the indomitable speech of the martyr, giving command that his feet should be wrapped up in cotton that had been dipped in oil, and then be set on fire. So the officers of the judge did what he commanded them. And the martyr was hung up at a great height, in order that, by this dreadful spectacle, he might strike terror into all those who were looking on, while at the same time they tore his sides and ribs with combs, till he became one mass of swelling all over, and the appearance of his countenance was completely changed. And for a long time his feet were burning in a sharp fire, so that the flesh of his feet, as it was consumed, dropped like melted wax, and the fire burnt into his very bones like dry reeds. But at the same time, although he was in great suffering from what befell him, he became, by his patience, like one who had no pain, for he had within, for a helper, that God who dwelt within him; and he appeared evidently to all like the sun : and in consequence of the great courage of this martyr of Christ many Christians also were assembled together to behold him, and stood up with much open confidence; and he, with a loud voice and distinct words, made his confession for the testimony of God, publishing by this his valour the hidden power of Jesus, that He is ever near to those who themselves draw near to Him.

Then we have a really interesting turn of events:

And all this wonderful spectacle did the glorious Epiphanius exhibit, as it were in a theatre: for they who were the martyr's oppressors became like corrupt demons, and suffered within themselves great pain; being also themselves tortured in their own persons, as he was, on account of his endurance in the doctrine of his Lord. And while they stood in bitter pains, they gnashed upon him with their teeth, burning in their minds against him, and trying to force him to tell them whence he came, and who he was, and questioning him as to whose son he was, and where he lived, and commanding him to offer sacrifice and comply with the edict. But he looked upon them all as evil demons, and regarded them as corrupt devils : not returning an answer to any of them, but using only this word in confessing Christ, that He is God and the Son of God: testifying also that he knew God his Father only. When therefore those who were contending against him were grown weary and overcome, and failed, they took him back to the prison, and on the next day they brought him forth again before that bitter and merciless judge, but he still continued in the same confession as before. And when the governor and his officers, and the whole band that ministered to his will, were foiled, he gave orders at last that he should be cast into the depths of the sea.

Now comes the plot twist.

But that wonderful thing which happened after this act I know will not be believed by those who did not witness the wonder with their own eyes, as I myself did: for men are not wont to give the same credence to the hearing of the ear as to the seeing of eye. It is not, however, right for us also, like those who are in error and deficient in faith, to conceal that prodigy which took place at the death of this martyr of God; and we also call as witnesses to you of these things, which we have written, the whole of the inhabitants of the city of Caasarea, for there was not even one of the inhabitants of this city absent from this terrific sight. For after this man of God had been cast into the depths of the terrible sea, with stones tied to his feet, forthwith a great storm and frequent commotions and mighty waves troubled the vast sea, and a severe earthquake made even the city itself tremble, and every one's hands were raised towards heaven in fear and trembling, for they supposed that the whole place, together with its inhabitants, was about to be destroyed on that day. And at the same time, the sea, even as if it were unable to endure it, vomited back the holy body of the martyr of God, and carried it with the waves and laid it before the gate of the city. And there was at that time vast affliction and commotion, for it seemed like a messenger sent from God to threaten all men with great anger. And this which took place was proclaimed to all the inhabitants of the city, and they all ran at once and pushed against each other in order that they might obtain a sight, both boys and men and old men together, and all grades of women, so that even the modest virgins, who kept to their own apartments, went out to see this sight. And the whole city together, even the very children as well, gave glory to the God of the Christians alone, confessing with a loud voice the name of Christ, who had given strength to the martyr in his lifetime to endure such afflictions, and at his death had shewed prodigies to all who beheld.

Such was the termination of the history of Epiphanius, on the second of the month Nisan, and his memory is observed on this day. 

St. Epiphanius, pray for us.

You notice, though, that God didn't destroy the city; he just gave a little warning. Heck, if He was going to destroy places, He would have leveled Jerusalem on Good Friday. But instead, He just gave a little warning. And Lisbon didn't do anything horrible to get flattened by a tsunami; that was just bad luck. So all this Katrina wrath-of-God stuff is out. I hold with those who believe that God's wrath usually takes the form of just letting us do whatever we want, and letting the natural results of that just happen.



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