This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

June 27 -- Feast of Saint Sampson the Hospitable

The story of Saint Sampson's life reads so simply and quickly that I might have overlooked the intriguing questions if I had not been planning to write this post.  Before raising those questions -- to which, by the way I have no firm answers -- let's look at his brief biography.  

Sampson was born in Rome to wealthy and well-respected parents.  He became a physician and moved to Constantinople, where he bought a small house which he converted to a free clinic.   His reputation as a healer grew, and eventually  Patriarch Menas ordained him a priest.  When Emperor Justinian the Great fell ill and none of his regular physicians could heal him, he was advised in a dream to send for Sampson.  The priest-physician came, laid a hand on him, and told him to be healed.  It was, as they say, done.  The grateful emperor offered silver and gold aplenty, but Sampson replied that he had no use for such treasure; in fact, he had been a wealthy man but had given it all away.  Justinian insisted that he had to repay him somehow, so Sampson suggested an expansion of the hospital.  The Emperor thought this was a fine idea, and when the expansions were completed, it was the largest free clinic in the Empire, serving the people for the next six centuries.  Sampson died in 530 and was laid to rest in the Church of Saint Mocius, where his body exuded oil of myrrh.  A fire damaged but did not destroy the clinic in 532, but the Emperor ensured the full reconstruction.  

There's nothing wrong with that story, but it's not totally  right, either.  To begin with, why Constantinople?  Rome in the fifth century was a desperate, needy place, a city on the way down, so to speak.  Think Detroit.  Surely there were plenty of folks there that needed medical attention.  Why didn't Sampson stick around to help his neighbors?  He presumably already had a good sized mansion that his folks had left, but did they leave it to him?  Was he a younger brother who inherited some cash and struck out for the capital to make his own fortune?  Did he think medicine was the path to fame and fortune, but later have some conversion experience with the least of God's children, or did he convert first and then see medicine as the way to help?  And was God on the face of the conversion, or just at its heart?  We are told that the Patriarch ordained him, but we don't hear much about Sampson's faith or devotion to God.  He served the people, which Jesus recommended as the way to serve God, but was the ordination just a recognition of his virtue, an honorary degree, so to speak?  Or was it expedient to have him administering sacraments to the mortally ill in his clinic?  Or was he also a man of profound faith, called to be a priest, but that faith was overlooked by his biographers in favor of his service as a hospitaler?  

The story's nice: rich guy gives up the soft life in service to the poor.  It's nice, and it's true, but it isn't complete.  There, in a couple of spots that still blank,  the Way of the Saint is still obscured.  

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