Lives of the Saints

Our Models and Protectors

May 12
  

Saint Epiphanius

Archbishop of Salamis (Cyprus)
(315-403)

Saint Epiphanius
Saint Epiphanius

Saint Epiphanius was born about the year 315, of Israelite parents, in Palestine. He lost his father while very young, and was raised by a wealthy man who later made him his heir when he died. In his youth he began the study of Holy Scripture, and became a Christian in circumstances which remain unknown. With his sister he received Baptism; and then, leaving a part of his inheritance to her, he sold the rest, gave the money to poor, and kept only what he needed to buy books for his studies. He knew several languages, and could read Scripture in all its texts.

With a desire for perfection, he visited the solitaries of Egypt, and when formed for monastic life, returned in 333 to his homeland. He was ordained a priest and founded a monastery in his native region of Eleutheropolis, which he governed for long years as Abbot. His labors in the exercise of virtue seemed to some to surpass his strength; but his apology was always: God gives the kingdom of heaven only on condition that we labor; and all we can do bears no proportion to such a crown. He sometimes relaxed his personal austerities in favor of hospitality, preferring charity to abstinence. To his prayer and corporal austerities he added an indefatigable application to study. Most books extant at that time passed through his hands. Although he was himself the skillful director of many others, Saint Epiphanius chose the great Saint Hilarion of Palestine as his master in the spiritual life, and benefitted from his direction and acquaintance for over twenty years.

A prophecy made to him in Egypt, that one day he would be bishop of Cyprus, alarmed him; and to avoid that honor, which he regarded as a misfortune, he decided to go elsewhere. The ship on which he embarked, however, landed by a contrary wind on Cyprus, where the bishops were assembled to choose a successor to the deceased bishop of Salamine, its capital. He was elected in 367 by a disposition of Providence whose details are unknown. He continued to wear the monastic habit and to govern his monastery in Palestine, which he visited from time to time. No one surpassed him in tenderness and charity to the poor.

The veneration which all men had for his sanctity exempted him from the persecution of the Arian Emperor Valens in 371. In 382 he journeyed to Rome, for a council convoked by Pope Saint Damasus. In the year 403, when he was on his way back to Salamis after an absence in Constantinople, he was taken ill and died during the voyage, having been bishop thirty-six years. He was greatly admired and praised by his contemporaries, and his Cypriote disciples built a church dedicated to him.

Reflection. This is the meaning of charity — it is not we who loved God, but it is He who has first loved us. (I John 4:10)

Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 5; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler's Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).