« Porphyrius, patriarch of Antioch Porphyrius, bp. of Gaza Possidius, bp. of Calama »

Porphyrius, bp. of Gaza

Porphyrius (5), bp. of Gaza, a.d. 395–420. According to his biographer Mark, he was born at Thessalonica c. 352, of a good family. His parents were Christians, and took care to have him instructed in the Scriptures as well as in secular learning. When about 25 he retired to the desert of Scete in Egypt, which, at the end of 5 years, he left for Jerusalem, and passed another 5 years in a cavern near the Jordan. A painful disease, brought on by his austerities, compelled him to revisit Jerusalem, where he made the acquaintance of Mark, who became his devoted disciple and companion. By Porphyry's desire Mark visited Thessalonica, and turned the proceeds of Porphyry's share of his paternal property into money, the whole of which, on his return, Porphyry distributed to the poor and to various monasteries, supporting himself by manual labour. About his 40th year he. reluctantly received ordination from John, bp. of Jerusalem, who committed to his guardianship the sacred relic of the True Cross. After a presbyterate of three years, in 395 on the death of Aeneas he with still greater reluctance became bp. of Gaza, being consecrated by John of Caesarea, who had sent for him on the pretext of consulting him on some scriptural difficulty. The people of Gaza were then almost all pagan, and the position of a zealous Christian bishop was one of no small difficulty and even danger. The cessation of a severe drought at the beginning of the 2nd year of his episcopate, Jan. 326, was attributed to his prayers and those of the Christians, and caused the conversion of a number of the inhabitants. This was succeeded by other conversions, arousing great exasperation among the heathen population, which vented itself in a severe persecution. Porphyry endured their ill-treatment with the utmost meekness. At the same time he despatched his deacon Mark and his minister Borocas to Constantinople, who, through the powerful advocacy of Chrysostom, obtained the emperor's order to destroy the idols and close the temples. This was carried out by an imperial commissioner, who, however, it was asserted, was bribed to spare the principal idol named Marnas, and to wink at the entrance of the worshippers into the temple by a secret passage. To these events Jerome refers in a letter to Laeta (Hieron. H.E.. vii. p. 54). The idolaters still remained the dominant section, and were able to shut out Christians from all lucrative offices and to molest them in the enjoyment of their property. Porphyry took this so much to heart that he exhorted his metropolitan, John of Caesarea, to allow him to resign. John consoled him, and went with him to Constantinople to obtain an order for the demolition not of the idols alone, but of the temples themselves, arriving Jan. 7, 401. Chrysostom was then high in the empress Eudoxia's favour, and their suit was successful. The bishops reached Majuma, the port of Gaza, on May 1, and were followed in ten days by a commissioner named Cynegius, accompanied by the governor and a general officer with a large body of troops, by whom the imperial orders for the destruction of the temples were executed. In ten days the whole were burnt, and finally the magnificent temple of Marnas, and on the ground it occupied the foundations of a cruciform church were laid according to a plan furnished by Eudoxia, who also supplied the funds for its erection. The church was 5 years building, and was dedicated by Porphyry on Easter Day, 405 or 406, being called "Eudoxiana" after its foundress. Jerome refers to its erection (Hieron. in Esaiam, xvii. 1. vii. t. v. p. 86). The heathen population, irritated at the destruction of their sacred buildings and at the spread of Christianity in Gaza, raised a tumult, in which several Christians were killed, and Porphyry himself barely escaped with his life. We may certainly identify him with one of the two bishops of his name who attended the anti-Pelagian synod at Diospolis in 415 (Aug. in Julian. lib. i. c. 15). He died Feb. 26, 419 or 420. He is said to have been indefatigable in instructing the people of Gaza in a simple and popular style, based entirely on Holy Scripture. Migne, Patr. Lat. xlv. pp. 1211 ff.; Ceiller, Aut. eccl. vi. 329; Tillem. Mém. eccl. x. pp. 703–716.


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