St. Spyridon’s Shoes – and My Shoes

 

Earlier this year I was making my way to Antiochian Village for a Writers’ Conference. Walking across the expanse of the Atlanta Airport, I became aware of something odd about my shoes. At first, I thought something had gotten into my shoe, a rock, or some such thing. Then I thought that maybe there was something strange about the footbed. One of my toes seemed to be digging unusually deep as I walked. Eventually, I got to my gate, sat down and examined my shoes. The soles were falling apart! Huge chunks of rubber were missing. Apparently, the shoes (quite old) had developed a case of “dry rot” in their rubber soles and were disintegrating. I hobbled my way onto the plane, and, America being the land of shoppers, found a shoe store at my destination airport and replaced them. The shopkeeper had to sweep up after me as my shoes had dribbled bits of rubber all over their white, marble floor.

All of that put me in mind of a saint who is famously associated with shoes – St. Spyridon. Born in the late 3rd century on Cyprus, he was a shepherd, known for his great generosity. Married with children, he was made Bishop of Tremithus on Cyprus after the death of his wife. He took part in the Council of Nicaea. Stories of his life include miracles and continuous radical generosity. But his shoes belong to another period.

The are many thousands of recognized saints in the Church.  Many of them are martyrs, others are wonderworkers, some are theologians. But the saints that are best known and most beloved are those whose continuing intercessions and miracles have become part of the lives of the faithful. St. Nicholas is not beloved in Orthodoxy because of a confusion with Christmas, much less his historical role at Nicaea. He is deeply loved because his kindness and generosity are still experienced through his intercessions for the faithful. St. Spyridon is similar. He is loved because of the continuing miracles associated with his prayers. There is, as well, an ongoing miraculous story that emphasizes his wide-flung care for God’s earthly flock: his shoes.

Like many saints, the Church venerates the incorrupt relics of this 4th century bishop. Today, they are enshrined at the Cathedral on Corfu, invasions and war making their transference from Cyprus a long-ago necessity. For those who have never seen the incorrupt relics of a saint, I will offer a description. The body of the saint remains intact, having not rotted or disintegrated through the centuries (many times such relics also exude a fragrant oil or pleasing odor). Generally, the relics are clothed. If it is the body of a cleric, they are vested according to their office. The body remains intact, but the vestments may have to be replaced regularly. This is true for St. Spyridon’s shoes. According to the monks who take care of the him, the saint’s shoes wear out on a regular basis. It is said that this occurs as a sign of his travels on behalf of the faithful. St. Spyridon’s shoes are a unique part of his story.

And this brings me back to my shoes in the Atlanta airport. My journey to the Writers’ Conference (with new shoes) gave me a chance to spend time with an “extended” family member, Khouria Christine Rogers. Her husband, Fr. John Rogers, is my second daughter’s brother-in-law, her husband being Fr. Philip Rogers. Yes, the brothers are priests and the sons of Fr. Gregory Rogers. Kh. Christine is a new author with an adolescents’ book, Spyridon’s Shoes (Ancient Faith Publishing). She has a writer’s gift.

The gift in this book is both an introduction to St. Spyridon, with a wonderful story that involves his shoes, and an introduction to understanding the place of the saints in the life of Orthodox devotion. In my experience, converts often struggle with devotions to the saints. We understand the theological explanations, but fall down when it comes to experience. This is the sort of book that baptizes the imagination into the experience of that blessed company.

My readers will know that I don’t often write reviews of books. This one, however, falls right into the midst of our recent discussions about children and the virtues. They need stories of the heroes of the faith. They need stories that provide models of understanding and behavior. This is such a book – a great Christmas gift for a young Christian or a parish library.

I told Khouria Christine that the coincidence of my shoes “exploding” and my introduction to her book was too much to ignore. I promised to write a review. Apparently, St. Spyridon would like you to read and share this book. He certainly got my attention!

The book, Spyridon’s Shoes, is available through the Ancient Faith Store and other vendors. There is also an audio version read by the author.

Pictured at the top is one of my “exploded” shoes in the Atlanta airport. You can’t make this stuff up!

34 comments:

  1. I’ve met people who describe their relationship with particular Saints as real and immediate as they feel with anyone their talking to at the time. They see them as their friends. I both marvel and wonder if that’s even really possible. The cover art of the book suggest exactly that kind of relationship.

  2. Indeed, thank you for this review! I’ll buy the book for our parish library (and will read it myself).

    Our patron saint is St Herman and his presence is very palpable. I’m grateful for his work in my life as well as that of Blessed Olga, an Alaska Native presbytera of blessed memory. Both help me at home and at work.

    BTW if anyone has ever wondered ‘why the plural’, originally my comments were held in moderation and I discovered accidentally that the apostrophe was responsible when I did a typo and it went through without moderation. So I continued to use it. Then I slowly realized how my own life was being shaped by the Apostolic Tradition through multiple successions of faithful fathers and mothers in America and come to believe in the appropriateness of the plural.

  3. Father,
    What a wonderful ‘not-a-coincidence’ with your shoes and the book! It is in such unexpected ways that the Saints make it known that they mingle among us.
    After reading the book review, I think this kid (me) would enjoy it very much as well. I notice on the cover photo that St Spyridon is sharing one of his shoes with the young boy. I’m thinking this is part of the theme of the book, his generosity.
    And of course, this post brought laughter and smiles. Thank you!

  4. Paula,
    I had gotten those shoes out of the back of the closet the week before, and wore them for an afternoon and evening at a major service at our neighboring Greek Orthodox parish – with no ill-effect. So, I was completely surprised walking across the Atlanta airport. My first thoughts were those of imagining myself wandering around the conference in my bare feet (not a happy prospect). I called my dear wife, who googled the upcoming airport (Pittsburgh) and told me that my shoe brand had a store in that airport. So, I hobbled over. At my age you don’t buy a lot of experimental shoes. If a brand fits well and is comfortable, you feel quite lucky and stick with it, even if they explode every ten years or so.

  5. I don’t want to sound naive nor to oversimplify but it is something that I really do find fascinating. Actually, shouldn’t we desire that closeness and immediacy with Christ himself? Of course, but isn’t it because of our weakness and his love for us that we have the Saints as figures we can perhaps more readily relate to? Beacons of hope that many different types of people through all of time have lived the life in Christ, and we can be encouraged.

  6. So of all the things, your shoe brand had a store in the airport your were landing in! Too much!
    Yeah, the first thoughts that go through our mind are a resignation to do without. Not usually a pleasant thought! But the wife pulls through 🙂

  7. Robert,
    Of course we desire that immediacy with Christ Himself. However, can one ever have too many good friends, especially those who intercede for us while in the presence of Christ? I have immediacy with my dear wife. Yet I also seek others in life whom I love and with whom we give and receive from one another mutual support. I relate to Christ as my Lord and God, to the saints as friends who have fought the good fight before me.

  8. Wonderful recollection and reflection on shoes and what they symbolize. I also recall a previous Pope’s infatuation with a certain pricey brand of fancy red shoes. Interesting. Also, you are not alone in your disregard for making a fashion statement with your own footwear. I had to call my darling (I mean that! He is a saintly soul) husband over to look at your shoe photo. Yes, there IS someone else in this world who wears his shoes like this! Waste not.

  9. Robert,
    We enjoy the fellowship of the saints because they, too, are the Church. Christ did not set us in a situation in which it is just “me and Jesus.” He instead gave us the Church. We know Christ in the Church. That’s His idea, not ours. I would say, by experience, that there is much about Christ that you cannot know unless you know it in and through the saints. This, interestingly, is the way it always is. We don’t read the Scriptures by ourselves, we don’t make the Eucharist by ourselves, we don’t make our own sermons, etc. Even the Scriptures are the work of the saints!

    God is not jealous of these relationships. It is God who said, “Love one another.” Jesus didn’t say, “Love only me.” That, however, is a fairly common mistake within the contemporary Christian mind – dominated by individualism.

  10. My brother and sister in law made a pilgrimage to Corfu this summer to venerate Saint Spyridon.

    I read the book just shortly before they left for their journey… and it is indeed a marvelous book – and it is also very touching.

    Recently I read about Saint Dionysius of Zakynthos – he is also a walking Saint whose shoes wear out.

  11. Love it!

    I confess I was thinking about St. Spyridon’s shoes at my late Rector, emeritus’ funeral service a couple of weeks ago. I couldn’t help but notice his shoes in the casket (looking rather well broken in—he never wore fancy stuff). I knew Fr. John wore a lot of hats in the OCA, but I was amazed *how much* he had done over his 50-year ministry when I read his obituary (the longest in OCA history, and I was told that was the edited version)—he was such an unassuming person. As Met. Tikhon remarked in his eulogy, he “did all this with such self-effacing humility we almost don’t notice it”!

    I can’t help it—I think Fr. John’s shoes are going to keep wearing out, too! If ever there was a person who kept his feet shod with the preparation to preach the gospel to all, it was him. He also is one of the most generous people I’ve ever met, and he never rested from serving Christ in his earthly life. Somehow I don’t see that changing now that he has transitioned to the next.

    I look forward to reading the new book….🙂

  12. Robert,
    It seems to me that you have the starting point. We have to draw closer to Christ and the place provided for that is the Divine Liturgy. In the fear of God, with faith and love draw ye near. Receive the Body and Blood of Christ for healing of soul and body, for forgiveness of sins, and life everlasting. Two other things: Do we really believe what we pray just before the Eucharist, “the Living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”. and what the priest says, “Heaven has descended and we have ascended” Maybe as our faith grows, Christ will choose to introduce us to some of His friends. the Saints, or even His Holy Mother for our encouragement to finish the race that is set before us.
    The other thing that comes to mind is to read the lives of the saints, especially the last 200 years as there at well written biographies available. Men and women who have lived in times like ours.

  13. David,
    Thank you for your encouraging words. I have begun to make a habit of reading the lives of saints. This is actually kind of why I started with my question. It is born of a desire and I often learn much from the experiences of others and the wisdom of our priests.

  14. Karen,
    Your words about Fr John, your rector, are so lovely! You can’t help but realize, in these stories, that death has truly been conquered in Christ…that it is anything but an ending…except that it is an ending of physical life on earth…but too, a continuation of life and indeed a joy to celebrate. There is a difference in Orthodox funerals in that way.
    As for Fr John, and the same with the Saints, there is no more death, we do not remain in the grave. And each one’s particular gift, the fruit that they bore, continues to touch us physically…we can see it, experience it, with our senses, as an extension of God with us. The very gift of Life He gives us…that which ‘He Is’.
    You describe Fr John as so unassuming as to practically be oblivious to the honor bestowed upon him, completely taken by putting on the whole armor of God…as a pastor, his feet shod with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in service to Him, His Church.

    So…shoes! I am so glad Father wrote about shoes! Looking forward to reading the book.
    There is no end to glorifying God in everything that touches our lives…big, small, and even a seemingly insignificant, like the shoes on our feet! Yeah, the base things of the world, humbled, He exalts.

  15. Robert, it can be quite a transition into the Church to experience the mystery of fellowship the Church shares. Many former Protestants have commented to me that they miss the type of fellowship they had as a Protestant. I understand that as we often do not do the best job of developing more concrete community here.

    Nevertheless the greater community is quite palpable at times. Early in my life in the Church, I entered the temple portion of my parish ahead of the celebration of the Feast of Theophany. My wife and I were the first parishioners there, yet as we entered, it felt as if the place were full to the raters. Angels, saints already there to worship with us.

  16. My children just recently finished reading this book (with Mom- I haven’t read it).
    There were a few interesting surprises and coincidences for them too as they read, like a gentle invitation to relationship with this holy man. We find this more and more; certain saints coming into our lives, and we are learning to pay attention to these little signs and nudges toward intimacy.

    I somehow have to add that we recently had the joy of a mini-pilgrimage to visit the myrrh streaming icon of the Theotokos of Hawaii, as she visited a friend’s parish in Idaho.
    As my oldest son Joshua asked- a recent highschool graduate going through his process of questioning faith- “I guess it’s a miracle but what’s the point of it?” (there were no flashy healings on the spot, though the infirm were prayed over). I found the answer in my own experience of the weekend with Her: communion. Nothing more and nothing less than just being in Her presence as she came to us all, so humbly and sweetly.

    St Spyridon pray to God for us.
    Most Holy Theotokos, save us;
    -Mark Basil

  17. Father , those shoes have seen some mileage! Have enjoyed the exchange between you and others with Robert, who I can somewhat relate.
    I say “somewhat” because I was raised in the RCC, 12+ years parochial schooling – in deep – yet abandoned it for Protestantism at the tail end of the Jesus Movement. All things RCC (and by extension, anything resembling it) became anathema to me. Have been exploring Orthodoxy last couple of years, looking for the Church that “the gates of hell shall not(has not) prevail(ed) against..” , as I witness “the gates” prevailing against many “churches” in pandering to worldliness. In attending my first Divine Liturgy , I had thought I might break out in hives with so many ” idols”(icons) staring at me , but instead felt something familiar, one could say nostalgia – but it went deeper – as in visiting old friends and settling in on a well worn couch to chat.

  18. I might mention that the OCA homepage has an easy link to information about the saints being remembered on any particular day. I highly recommend it. I read it every morning, myself. Not every Saint, just those that sound interesting to me. I have read some amazing stories! Look forward to new stories every day.

  19. I have to add-
    this a most wonderful book. It is beautifully written with humor and laced with sanctity. What a lovely supposing of a relationship with St Spyridon. Thank you Khouria Christine for a most entertaining and heart provoking book.

  20. Your blessing Father, only you and the new NBA star Zion Williamson can make news out of shoe “material failure” 🙂
    I hope you didn’t injure yourself. Our middle child is a Spiridon (Spiros) and also half of the male population of Corfu (anecdotally about 5 boys in each class).

    This year we were lucky enough to be there during the Saint’s procession. It is quite a sight if you’ve experienced it. Corfu is visited by many Eastern Orthodox faithful who chant their own hymns as they walk behind the Saint’s relics. I am humbled by the faith of people who travel so far for a pilgrimage.

    Our children ask good questions. Spiros is taught at a Church of England school in London, mainly how to be a good atheist and accept all religions as part of human expression! Our own examples speak louder than our words. We have faith in the long walks of St Spiridon who loves all people and intercedes whether it is to ask for a pair of new shoes, some weight loss and finding purpose in this life. Glory to God.

  21. Fr Stephan

    I somehow have not been receiving your blog in my email inbox for several months. What a joy to receive this one!
    May I please be on your mailing list again?

    Thank you and God bless
    Randi McAllister
    email hidden; JavaScript is required

  22. Thomas B,
    I don’t usually rant but I might make an exception this time…
    “Spiros is taught at a Church of England school in London, mainly how to be a good atheist and accept all religions as part of human expression!”
    Goodness! These new ideologies rob people of their ability to even think straight.
    I see this newly institutionalised form of post-modernist secularist ideology multiplying like a pandemic.
    The archetypal story of the fall takes does surely take on a myriad forms. It’s even politically institutionalized lately. This way, even ‘christianity’ (little c) can now have a diluted ‘pink version’ that has no Cross and no banner, it’s just another pluralistic choice in the new subjectivist, secularist arena… (And some thought the institutionalization of the 4th century Constantinian shift was an impetus for certain fervent believers to leave cities for the dessert and live out the life of the Cross in earnest!)
    Isn’t Man always and in a whole array of ways, cheated of his (responsible) freedom, rationality, & devotion in the name of some (irresponsible) liberty, ideology and impertinence? It can happen brutally (rarely) or extremely subtly (usually). But the truth is that it is only in the name of classical Christian obedience to our Creator –the Logos, ‘calling’, ‘destination’ [Alpha & Omega] and meaning of all being– that created man is ever truly liberated.
    It seems always the case, as in the Fall story, that revolting against a given good in order to grasp for some promised future better thing, man continually falls for the bait, becoming his own worst enemy. The ‘giveness’ of our ‘theistic’ creatureliness (which can lead to recognising we are in paradise) is revolted against, erroneously hoping for another paradise, self-created, self-defined, within a brave new world that accepts and promotes such an atheism.
    Modern and post-modern secularist ideologues in particular are a case in point here.
    I think that what we see today in the public ‘consensus-media’ sphere, is what CS Lewis once prophetically alluded to, about future men without ‘chests’, –without ‘nous’–: post-modernist people who threw off the supposed “shackles” (because these were a narrative ‘given-by-Another’) of ‘essentialist’, eternal first principles (along with the vast responsibility these entail), in order to redefine and self-create their own principles (despite the meaninglessness these can only ever lead to), have moved so far away from what real ‘thinking’ actually is, that they are increasingly (and ironically) just running a script.
    I think that for some such poor souls, post-modernist ideology has taken complete possession of their ability to think for themselves – all in the name of revolting against the traditional ‘giveness’ of reality.
    In the name of freedom, of rights, of thinking for oneself, modern man becomes a slave to his impulses [not just to his passions of desire –as has always been the case – but to his mistaken interpretative lense of reality] and cannot even think for himself. And this has been seeking to become multifariously entrenched in education for quite some time now (as CS Lewis once pointed out).
    Exscuse my rant please!

  23. Agreed Dino. It is nothing more than us, recasting God into our image. It is hard to not despair when hearing and seeing such things.

  24. Byron
    it is good to uncover the true desperation hidden behind such things, the only unassailable hope is Christ.

  25. Dino and Thomas,
    My youngest son just started college. I did not visit the college campuses or orientations for the older two, so I did not have any idea about what colleges campuses are like these days. The buildings, the various facilities and all the student services are amazing (at least here at the University of Minnesota), but I was shocked by the amount of direct advertisements of LGBT related groups, services (for students) and, in general, the directness and “in-your-face’ness” of this theme in open view!

    “That is not your grandmother’s college campus – not even your mother’s” – this is what Fr. John Parker from St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary wrote in their recent newsletter (those of you who get STOTS mailing, I recommend reading the whole letter). Fr. John said this college visit reminded him “how much this generation – indeed our society increasingly – is this flock of sheep without a shepherd”.

    If I was not Orthodox and did not know that I must pray for my children day and night, to the Lord himself, to his Holy Mother and to ALL the Saints, I would despair indeed, Byron.

    Will we “hit bottom” in all this any time soon? I have heard our times compared to the time before Noah and the Flood, when people lived long and rich, only cared about their pleasures and entertainment. And to the ways of Sodom and Gomorrah, not only because of all the sexual perversion but also because of the general acceptance of greed, cruelty, selfishness. It’s enough to listen to the news to be assured we have arrived at that point as well. Without our hope in Christ all this would be unbearable indeed. May the Lord guide us to Him as the only safe harbor in this madness and give us strength to model sanity for our own children (and right words in talking to them).

  26. “…this has been seeking to become multifariously entrenched in education for quite some time now (as CS Lewis once pointed out)…”

    I think Dreher is on the whole right about education/schooling. It not that it is impossible for your children to attend government/public education and remain Christian (in any recognizable Orthodox/traditional way), it’s just improbable. Here in America it was not that long ago that a “it varies by local” by the Orthodox/traditional parent when evaluating the situation but that is no longer the case (if it ever truly was). If traditional Christianity wants to *be* and exit through the generations, we have to be honest about how public education sets us up for failure.

    I believe it is a kind of litmus test in that you can judge the health of a local parish by how many of the children attend public school…

  27. Byron,
    I doubt that the establishment of such schools would go unchallenged in the current climate in England. I know of at least one school that has been unspoken in upholding traditional values and is facing funding cuts because of this. The new ‘values’ are all pervasive.
    But I think Christians have a long history of living amongst pagans and coexisting in a very adept way…

  28. Thank you Dino. I like a good rant – as my children will attest to you personally!
    If Spiros saw a father figure who lived like a Christian, believed as an Orthodox and patented as the Father in the Gospel, school could not affect his faith in any way.
    I don’t expect schools to make up for my own shortcomings. All of his friends will quickly fill the void and suggest alternatives.
    I am at odds with the despair, even though I feel it myself at times (the children volunteers the nonsense they are being taught). Don’t expect to see heaven in this life. Even when RE was to the letter of the scriptures, people sinned, they were off the mark. Our bar is lower.

    We keep the faith, with our limited ability and attention span. All else is fighting at the level of the fanatics who “do not know what they are doing”. Mind you, even the social justice fighters, eventually grow tired and seek meaning where meaning hides… I get their calls, they are less angry at Christ 😇

  29. Just a simple note on learning to commune with the saints. It has worked for me. Find an icon of a particular saint. Spend some time with him/her in conversation. Not prayer per se. With the Theotokos I simple told her I would like to get to know her.

    With St Raphael of Brooklyn, I venerate his icon by crossing myself and saying, Glory to thee oh God. A respectful relationship can begin simply by recognizing in faith that the saints are real people and God is the God of the living.

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