Saint of the Day – 23 July – St Phocas the Gardener (Died c 303) Layman Martyr, Apostle of the poor and needy. Died by beheading c 303 in Sinope, Pontus (in modern Turkey). Also known as – Phocas of Hovenier, Phocas of Sinop, Focas, Fokas. Patronages – against insect bites, against poisoning, against snake bites, agricultural workers, farm workers, farmers, field hands, boatmen, mariners, sailors, watermen, gardeners, husbandmen, market-gardeners.
Christian gardener who lived at Sinope, in Paphiagonia, on the Black Sea and was put to death during the persecutions launched by Emperor Diocletian. Phocas is sometimes confused with Phocas of Antioch, although there is no doubt about the historical act of his martyrdom. According to tradition, he gave welcome to the Roman soldiers sent to find and execute him and, as they did not know who he was, he agreed to take them to the Phocas whom they sought. After giving them a meal and allowing them to sleep in his house, he went out and dug his own grave, using the rest of the night to prepare his soul. In the morning, he led them to his prepared grave and informed them of his identity. When they were aghast and hesitated to slay him, he encouraged them to complete their task and behead him. He is especially venerated in the East and was long considered a Patron Saint for gardeners and farmers.
Phocas dwelt near the gate of Sinope, a city of Pontus and lived by cultivating a garden, which yielded him a handsome subsistence and wherewith, plentifully to relieve the indigent and hungry. In his humble profession, he imitated the virtue of the most holy anchorites and seemed, in part restored, to the happy condition of our first parents in Eden. To prune the garden without labour and toil was their sweet employment and pleasure. Since their sin, the earth yields not its fruit but by the sweat of our brow.
But still, no labour is more useful or necessary, or more natural to man and better adapted to maintain in him, vigour of mind and health of body, than that of tillage. Nor does any other part of the universe, rival the innocent charms which a garden presents to all our senses, by the fragrancy of its flowers, by the riches of its produce and the sweetness and variety of its fruits; by the melodious concert of its musicians, by the worlds of wonders which every stem, leaf and fibre exhibit to the contemplation of the inquisitive philosopher and by that beauty and variegated lustre of colours which clothe the numberless tribes of its smallest inhabitants and adorn its shining landscapes, vying with the brightest splendour of the heavens. And in a single lily, surpassing the dazzling lustre, with which Solomon was surrounded on his throne in the midst of all his glory.
And what a field for contemplation does a garden offer to our view in every part, raising our souls to God in raptures of love and praise, stimulating us to fervour, by the fruitfulness with which it repays our labour and multiplies the seed it receives and exciting us to tears of compunction for our insensibility to God, by the barrenness with which it is changed into a frightful desert, unless subdued by assiduous toil!
Our Saint joining prayer with his labour, found in his garden itself, an instructive book and an inexhausted fund of holy meditation. His house was open to all strangers and travellers who had no lodging in the place and after having, for many years most liberally bestowed the fruit of his labour on the poor, he was found worthy also, to give his life for Christ.
Although his profession was obscure and thought lowly by the world, he was well known over the whole country, by the reputation of his charity and virtue.