SAINT ZOTIKOS - December 31st

By: The Right Reverend Father Michael D. Jordan

On December 31st we remember a most amazing young man. This man was named was Zoticos. He held the title of Chief Magistrate in the court of the King Constantine during the year 330 AD. When Constantine decided to build the "New Rome", he brought to Constantinople (formerly known as Byzantium) many trusted friends to assist him in governing the new city. One of these devoted friends was Zoticos.

In the year 331 AD, a terrible plague ravaged Constantinople. This disease attacked the nervous system eventually leading to leprosy and the decay of the bone structure of the body. It was a deadly disease from which thousands died each week. It was decided that the only way to contain this disease was to cast all afflicted persons into the Bosporos Sea to be drowned. This was a cruel and heartless thing to do, but in those days no cure was available.

The chairman of the Board of Health for the city of Constantinople was given full authority to carry out the terrible fate of all those afflicted with this disease. Zoticos, deeply offended by this turn of events, went to Constantine and asked for large sums of money with which to purchase priceless gems. Constantine gave Zoticos the money without asking any questions what so ever.

With the money Constantine gave him, Zoticos bribed the executioners to release to him all the men, women, and children afflicted with the disease. Zoticos led the people out of Constantinople into the mountains nearby. He built hundreds of tents and cared for the unfortunate victims of the plague, rather than have them cast into the sea.

Constantine became aware of what Zoticos was doing; however, he said nothing. Eventually, Constantine died and his son, Constantius ascended the throne of the Byzantine Empire. Constantius was not very sympathetic to the efforts of Zoticos, nevertheless he respected him as a loyal servant of his father Constantine.

One day the daughter of Constantius was stricken with the deadly disease, and was ordered to be cast into the sea with the others. Again, Zoticos bribed the soldiers and took the daughter of Constantius, along with several others, to his hide-away outside the city walls.

The enemies of Zoticos spread rumors that Zoticos was responsible for the lack of funds in the city treasury, and as Chief Magistrate, he alone was responsible. The Emperor questioned Zoticos about the money his father Constantine had given him to buy precious gems.

Zoticos told Constantius that he would show him the gems. He led Constantius outside the walls of the city to his hide-away, and showed him all of the people he had saved from certain death, including the daughter of Constantius.

Constantius became enraged at what Zoticos had done and ordered his immediate execution. Zoticos was cast down the mountain from where his retreat for the afflicted was located, and his body was smashed to pieces on the rocks below.

Constantius soon repented for his actions and prayed for forgiveness. He ordered a chapel to be built at the spot where Zoticos suffered martyrdom. Tradition tells us that at the exact spot where Zoticos died, a well sprang up, and the waters from that well have brought about many miracles and healings.

On the very spot where the refugee village that St. Zoticos built there's a hospital and orphanage. Since St. Zoticos saved many children from certain death, he is known as the protector of orphans.

When I read the account of the life of St. Zoticos, my first thought was; "How soon we forget!" My second thought was, "Will we ever learn?" The Christians of the third century dealt with leprosy even more severely than the Jews. If you had leprosy in days when Jesus was walking among us, you were sequestered away in a leper colony.

Then in the year 331 AD, the Emperor of most famous Christian City in the world decided to execute all those who suffered from this new form of leprosy by drowning them in the sea. Fortunately, St. Zoticos did the proper Christian thing by sparing these suffering people and tending to them as best as he could.

St. Zoticos realized that Jesus Christ would have ministered to these people if He were still walking on the earth. Can you imagine contracting a terrible disease, then being sentenced to death simply because you were infected?

Jesus Christ was born into this world to teach us to be more human. He blessed the human condition by taking on flesh and dwelling among us. He did not intend for mankind to treat the sick and afflicted in this manner. There is example after example of Jesus Christ cleansing lepers, restoring sight to the blind, healing people of just about every kind of disease.

Jesus never condemned anyone for their illness, He dispensed healing, mercy and compassion. This was an example for all mankind. The Creator was showing us how we should treat our fellow man. As with all lessons, some people learn, others don't!

"When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord if You are willing, You can make me clean." Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, 'I am willing; be cleansed'. Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, "See that you tell no one, but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." Matthew 8:1-4

The touching of a leper was forbidden by the Mosaic Law, because they were considered unclean. Lepers were not permitted to live in the cities, nor worship in the Synagogues, but were banished to leper colonies. Jesus in the Scripture above reached out and touched the leper, showing His compassion, and demonstrating that He is not subject to the Law but over the Law. To the clean, there is nothing unclean!

Our Gospel lesson for today speaks of Mary, Joseph and Jesus fleeing into Egypt, to escape the evil of King Herod. The Emperor Constantine ordered the execution of thousands of innocent victims of the disease. King Herod out of jealousy, anger, and lust for power ordered the execution of all the innocent children two years of age and under.

We honor St. Zoticos today because he learned from the examples of Jesus Christ. When judgment was passed against the victims of this terrible disease, he showed compassion upon them. He helped them flee from their persecutors. Instead of slaying the innocent victims, he presented them to Constantius the son of Constantine as precious gems. Constantius immersed in anger and greed could not see the people as gems even though his own daughter was among them, but rewarded Zoticos' Christian compassion with a sentence of death.

May St. Zoticos always be with those who are victims of unfortunate diseases, praying to Jesus Christ for healing and deliverance from the social intolerance that still infects our world today. May we all learn from first the Holy example of our God and Savior Who walked on the earth with us, and from the Saints, who through His Divine inspiration have taught us Christian love and compassion.