I came across this story a few weeks ago while doing some sermon preparation. It is is too good to not share – please take the time to read about Phocas:
The True Story of Phocas as told by Dr. John Macarthur…
It’s a story of man who really lived, his name is Phocas. He lived in the fourth century. He has been revered through the years as a real precious saint of God, who lived in Asia Minor. He lived in the city of Sanopae and he had a little cottage outside the city gate in which he grew a garden. The whole story of the man is recorded by one of the ancient bishops and somehow has found its way down through history. The story goes something like this.
Travelers passed his door almost all hours of the day and night as they went in and out of the city gate. And by the wholly ingenuity of love, he stopped as many of them as possible. Were they not weary? Let them rest themselves, sitting in his well-tended garden. Were they in need of a friendly word? He would speak it to them in the dear Master’s name. But then quite suddenly one day life was all changed for Phocas.
Orders went out from Emperor Diocletian that the Christians must be put to death. When the persecutors entered Sanopae they were under orders to find a man by the name of Phocas and kill him. About to enter the city one hot afternoon, they passed in front of the old man’s cottage and garden by the gate. In his innocence, he treated them as though they were his warmest friends, begging them to pause a while and rest themselves. They consented. So warm and gracious was the hospitality they received that when their host invited them to stay the night and go on their way refreshed the next day, they agreed to do so. “And what is your business?” said Phocas unsuspectingly. And then they told him that they would answer his question if he would regard it as a secret. Well it was obvious to them by now that he was a man to be trusted. Who were they? Why they were the soldiers of Rome searching for a certain Phocas who was a Christian. And please, if their kind host knew him, would he be so good as to help them identify him? After all, he was a dangerous follower of this Jesus about whom the Christians talked and he must be executed immediately. “Oh, I know him well,” said Phocas quietly. “And by the way, he’s quite near. Let’s attend to it in the morning.”
His guests having retired, Phocas sat thinking. Escape? That would be easy. He had only to leave under cover of darkness and at daybreak he could be at least 20 miles away and he knew fellow Christians who would give him hospitality by hiding him. And when the persecution had passed, he could reappear and once again cultivate his little garden. The decision to flee into safety or stay unto death was apparently made without struggle or delay. We can only imagine what he was thinking. Out in his garden Phocas went and began digging in the middle of the night. Was there any earthly thing he loved better than this little plot of ground, the odor of the humus, the feel of the soil, the miracle of fertility? What were his thoughts as he went on digging? Well, there was still time to run away but the Savior didn’t run. He didn’t run from Gethsemane and He didn’t run from Calvary. Or perhaps he thought of his fellow Christians to whom he might go for rest, would not his coming endanger them? And as for these executioners that now were soundly sleeping under his roof, they were, after all, only men who were carrying out orders, and if they failed to find their man, their own lives likely as not would be taken and they would die in their sins. Deeper and deeper Phocas dug. Before dawn he was done and there it was, his own grave.
Morning came and with it the waking of the executioners. “I am Phocas,” he said calmly. And we have it on the word of the Christian bishop who recorded the story that the men stood motionless in astonishment. They couldn’t believe it. And when they did believe it, they obviously were reluctant to perform an execution without mercy on a man who had shown them nothing but mercy. But it was a duty, he reminded them, that they were required to perform. And he was not bitter at them. Besides, death did not terrify him; his heart was filled with hope of heaven. Toward them he bore nothing but the love of Christ and moments later it was all over. The sword had done its work and the body of Christ’s love mastered man lay in the stillness of death in the garden he loved so dearly.
I am struck by so many things in this story: the faith shown, the love of others, the resolve to do what is right, and wisdom in knowing that the men sent to kill him were just doing their job.
What sticks out to you in the story? How do you see it fitting in with how we live our daily lives?
Dear Lord – I pray that I might have the faith, show the kindness, the love, resolve, and wisdom as Phocas does in this story. Lord, my I always consider others and be filled with your Spirit and have eyes that are looking on to heaven. – Amen