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!