Saints of the Day – Porphyry of Gaza

Saint Porphyry, Bishop, from Pictorial Lives of the SaintsArticle

(also known as Porphyrius)

Born in Thessalonica, Macedonia, in 353; died at Gaza in 420.

Born into a wealthy home, Porphyry at the age of 25 left Thessalonica for Egypt, where he entered the famous desert monastery of Skete. Five years later he went to Palestine to visit its holy places, and settled in a cave near the Jordan River for another five years before. At this time he developed a serious illness and decided to spend his last days in Jerusalem, where he could daily visit the sites of our Lord’s Passion. He practiced great austerities and after a period became so ill that he could only with difficulty, leaning on a stick, visit the shrines that he loved.

About this time he met a former friend of his called Mark, who, seeing his weakness and with what difficulty he walked, offered his arm, but Porphryry refused it. He had come to Palestine, he said, to seek pardon for his sins, and it was not right that he should be eased by anyone. “Rather let me undergo labor and inconvenience, that God, beholding it, may have compassion on me.”

Thus he lived and suffered, each day receiving the Sacrament and visiting some spot made sacred by our Lord, and happy despite his pain, except for one thing: he still retained his wealth, and the thought of it troubled him. One day, therefore, he commissioned his friend Mark to return to Thessalonica and act on his behalf, giving him instructions to sell his property. Mark set out, and three months later returned with the assets to the value of 4,500 pieces of gold. Porphyry embraced him with joy, and Mark was delighted to find that his friend had fully recovered from his sickness.

When asked how he had been cured, Porphyry replied: “Forty days ago, being in extreme pain, I made a shift to reach Mount Calvary, where, fainting away, I felt such a blinding trance that I thought I saw our Savior on the Cross, and the good thief hanging beside Him. I said: ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ whereupon He ordered the thief to come to my assistance, and he, raising me off the ground on which I lay, bade me go to Christ. I ran to Him, and He, coming off His Cross, said to me: ‘Take this wood (meaning the Cross) into your custody.’ In obedience I carried it on my shoulders, and then I awoke and have been free from pain ever since.”

The dream appears to have come true, for in course of time (about age 40) he was ordained priest and the bishop of Jerusalem committed to him the care of the Cross. But first, having distributed his wealth among the poor of Palestine and become impoverished, he learned to make shoes and earned his living as a cobbler.

In his later life he was sent for by the archbishop of Caesarea and, on appearing before him, found that without his knowledge he had been made a bishop in 396. And, as bishop of Gaza, he returned to Palestine, where he continued his simple lifestyle and remained the guardian of the Cross.

Most people in Gaza were still heathen and openly resented Porphyry’s initial success in evangelizing their neighbors; therefore, he was harassed by the pagans of his see. The year of his consecration was also marked by a drought in Gaza. Pagans blamed the Christians for bringing this new man into their midst, and locked the saint out of the city. It is said that this happened when Porphyry and his supporters were processing around the boundaries of the city asking God to send rain. At that moment the rain began to fall, and grateful citizens again opened the gates to let in their bishop.

But other sources say that the conversion or expulsion of nearly every pagan by the time of his death was not so easy. They report that Porphyry applied to Emperor Arcadius, who gave him permission and the imperial troops needed to demolish a temple to Marnas, which had been a cause of great trouble to the Christians in Gaza. Other pagan temples and idols were destroyed as well. Riots resulted, his house was pillaged, and his life was threatened. The people of Gaza were at length brought to Christianity only by Porphyry’s patient teaching.

On the site of the razed temple to Marnas, Porphyry built a large church, which was consecrated in 408. By the time of his death, his see was free of paganism. His friend, Mark, who had become his deacon, wrote his biography. Another biography, however, seems to deny that Porphyry appealed to force.

Mark’s biography is a valuable document for its picture of the last days of paganism around the eastern Mediterranean; it is also a witness to the reverence given at Jerusalem at the end of the 4th century to what purported to be a large piece of the wood of Christ’s Cross (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Gill, White).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 23 May 2020. Web. 2 June 2020. <>