Document: Letter 15
Date: 383
Addressee: Bishops of Macedonia
English Translation: FC 26.200-205
Summary of Contents: Eulogy for Acholius after hearing of the Bishop of Thessalonika’s death.

While I had a deep longing to keep always in mind the saintly man and to scrutinize his acts, stationed, as it were, on a watchtower, with ever-enveloping anxiety I drank the bitter draught of that too sudden message and learned what I would prefer still to be unacquainted with, that the one we were ever seeking on earth is already at rest in heaven.

You ask who brought this message, since the letter of your Holiness had not yet arrived. I do not recall the bearer of the message; we generally do not willingly remember the messenger of sorrow. And although at that time the sea was closed and our lands held fast by invading barbarians, although there was no one who could come, there was not lacking one to bring that message. It seems to me that the saint himself was his own messenger to us, because, having received the everlasting reward of his labors, and being set free from the chains of the body, fast by the side of Christ amid the ministry of angels, he wished to dispel the cloud of doubt of one who loved him, lest we should pray for long life for one to whom the rewards of eternal life were already being given.

He departed, he did not die; this veteran soldier of Jesus Christ left us, exchanging the soil of this earth for heaven. Beating his wings, the oarage of his spirit, he says: “Lo, I have gone far off flying away.” In the spirit of the Apostle he wanted long ago to leave this earth, but he was detained by the prayers of all, as we read of the Apostle, because the Church had need of his abiding longer in the flesh. He lived not for his own interests but for those of all, and he was to his people the dispenser of eternal life, experiencing the enjoyment of it in others before knowing it in himself.

Now he is an inhabitant of the regions above, an occupant of the eternal city Jerusalem, which is in heaven. He sees there that city’s boundless boundary, its pure gold, its precious stone, and its perpetual light which knows no sun. Seeing all these, known to him for a long time, but now revealed face to face, he says: “As we have heard, so have we seen, in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God.” Stationed there, he addresses the people of God, saying: “O Israel, how great is the house of God, and how vast is the place of his possession! It is great and hath no end.”

But what is happening? While I am pondering the merits of the man, and, as it were, following him in spirit as he departs, and mingling with the choirs of the saints who are escorting him not by any virtue of mine, but by my affection I am almost forgetful of myself. Has there not been taken from us a wall of faith, of grace, and of sanctity? Often, although troops of Goths besieged this wall, their barbarian weapons have never been able to penetrate, nor has the warlike fury of many nations been able to take it by storm. In other lands they sought plunder, but in your land peace. And when men wonder what brings them to a halt without benefit of a soldier, the wise suggest that a man who resembles Eliseus is within, like him in age, not unlike him in spirit; let them beware [they say] lest blindness overwhelm them as it did the Syrian ranks.

Yet around Christ’s disciples are His various gifts. Eliseus led the captive lines of the Syrians into Samaria, while the saintly Acholius by his prayers drove the victors from Macedonia. Do we not see it was by a higher power that from where there was no soldier they were routed without a soldier? Is it not blindness for them to have fled whom no one pursued? Truly the saintly Acholius was attacking and engaging them, not with swords but with prayers, not with spears but by his merits.

Or do we not know that the saints keep up the struggle even when they are unoccupied? Was not Eliseus enjoying quiet? Yes, his body was quiet but his spirit was all aquiver, and he did battle by his prayers when the cry of horsemen was heard in the Syrian camp along with the cry of a great host. In fact, the Syrians thought that the armies of other kings were coming upon them to aid the people of Israel. For this reason they fled in great fear, and four lepers who had come forth, longing for death, contaminated the camp of the enemy. Did not the Lord work similar or almost greater miracles in Macedonia by the prayers of the saintly Acholius? For, not by vain fear or vague suspicion, but by a raging plague and burning pestilence, were the Goths routed and terrorized. In fact, they fled at first to escape, but later came back and sued for peace to live.

In the deeds of this great man we have seen ages past and we have witnessed the works of those Prophets of which we used to read. Like Eliseus, while he lived, Acholius spent his days amid armies and battles, bringing wars to an end by his good deeds. At last, when peace was restored to his countrymen, he gave up his holy spirit, a misfortune harsher than the war itself. Like Elias he has been taken up to heaven, not in a fiery chariot, or by fiery steeds unless, perchance, we did not see them or in a fiery whirlwind, but by the will and favor of our God, and with the joy of all the holy angels who rejoiced that one so great had come to them.

Certainly we cannot doubt these facts since other details agree so well. At the very moment when he was being taken up, letting his garment fall, as it were, he put it on blessed Anysius, his own disciple, and vested him with the miter of the episcopal office. I am not hearing of his deeds and favor now for the first time, nor did I learn of them in letters from you, but I recalled them from your letters. Knowing beforehand that he would be his successor, Acholius kept assuring him by promises, marking him with special tokens, speaking of the help he had received through his care and labor and ministry. He seemed already to declare him his coadjutor so that he might come not like a tyro to the high office of the episcopate, but like a veteran and an accomplished performer of the priestly office. To him is applied very beautifully that saying of the Gospel: “Well done, good and faithful servant; because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many.”

These thoughts about the saintly Acholius you and I have in common. I have a special attachment to this man of blessed memory, since he made it possible for me to know him. For, when he came to Italy and I was confined by an illness so serious that I could not go to meet him, he himself came and visited me. With what fondness and affection did we rush into each other’s embrace! With what groans did we deplore the evils of our age and the events taking place here so that we moistened our garments with a stream of tears all the while we two enjoyed this hoped-for meeting and I clung to the embrace of one so long desired. Thus did his kindness make possible my prayer to see him, and although in the soul, the seat of love, the greater share and deeper knowledge of others reside, we also desire to see our friends in person. Therefore, in times past the kings of the earth sought to see the face of Solomon and to hear his wisdom.

But Acholius has gone from us and left us on this sea. An event which is beneficial to him is harder upon many than was the fury of the barbarians. He used to drive them off; but who will be able to take his place for us? The Lord takes his place and in his disciple he succeeds himself. Your decisions represent him whereby it has been said: “Grant to Levi those who are manifest as his, and his truth in the holy man.” You have chosen one who is manifestly his, inasmuch as he was grounded in his teaching; you have chosen an imitator of that man who said to his father and mother: “I do not know you.” This man, too, has not acknowledged his brothers and did not know his sons; he has kept the word of the Lord and observed His Testament. The people will declare his justice.

Such was this man’s life, such his heritage, his way of life, his succession. As a youth he entered a monastery; he was enclosed in a narrow cell in Achaia while by grace he wandered over the space of many lands. Having been called to the fullness of the priesthood by the people of Macedonia, he was elected by the clergy; and where formerly the faith was weakened through its priest, there, later, through a priest the foundation walls of faith were made firm.

Imitating no one else, he is a disciple of him “who said to his father and mother: ‘I have not seen you.’” He saw them not with longing or with affection, and he did not know his brethren because he desired to know the Lord. He observed the word of the Lord and kept His Testament, and he will always lay honor upon His altar. O Lord, bless his faith, his holiness, his zeal! May your blessings come upon his head and his shoulders! May he be like the bull in the herd; may he toss the hearts of his enemy and melt the souls of the saints, and may the judgment of your priests flourish in him like a lily.

Farewell, brethren, and love me as I also love you.

Translation from FC 26.200-205, adapted by SMT

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