University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E01961: Asterius of Amasea, in his Homily IX, On *Phokas (martyr of Sinope, S00052), delivered during a service celebrated at a shrine in Amaseia/Amasea (northern Asia Minor) with relics of Phokas and other martyrs, recounts Phokas’ martyrdom, refers to his shrines, relics, and miracles, and claims that he is the most famous of all martyrs. Written in Greek in Amaseia/Amasea (northern Asia Minor), in the late 4th or early 5th c..

online resource
posted on 2016-10-27, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Asterius of Amasea, Homily IX, On Phōkas (CPG 3260.1, BHG 1538-1540b)

1. The commemoration of saints is a useful and rich source of education for Christians, because it provides practical examples of virtue and piety.

2. Like those who visit the oak of Mamre and call to mind the story of Abraham, Sarah and their sons, the author recollects the story of Phokas, as he stands at his sanctuary.

2. […] (2.)  οὕτως κἀγὼ σήμερον τὸν τίμιον σηκὸν τοῦ τρισμακαρίου Φωκᾶ καταλαβὼν ἐκ τοῦ τόπου πληροῦμαι τῆς μνήμης πάντων ὁμοῦ τῶν ἐπ’ αὐτῷ λεγομένων διηγημάτων· βλέπω τὸν κηπουρὸν τὸ ἐπιτήδευμα, τὸν ἄπλαστον τὴν ψυχήν, τὸν φιλόξενον, τὸν τῆς παραλίας ἐξαίρετον, τὸν τῆς μεσογείου εὐεργέτην, τῶν ἁγίων τὸν ἅγιον καὶ τῶν δεδοξασμένων διὰ Χριστὸν ἐνδοξότερον.

3. (1.) Ἱερὸς μὲν γὰρ καὶ θεσπέσιος ἅπας ὁ τῶν γενναίων μαρτύρων κατάλογος, πάθει τὴν ὑπὲρ πάθους ἀποδοὺς χάριν, αἵματι δὲ τὴν ὑπὲρ αἵματος τῷ Σωτῆρι τῶν ὅλων ἀμοιβὴν ἐκπληρώσας. Πλὴν ἐν αὐτοῖς τούτοις οὐ μία τῶν πάντων ἡ δόξα, οὐδὲ πρὸς ἓν μέτρον ἴσα τὰ γέρα τοῖς ὅλοις ἀποκεκλήρωνται, ἀλλὰ τὸ πρῶτον καὶ δεύτερον οὐδὲ ὁ τῶν ἁγίων ἐκφεύγει κατάλογος. Αἴτιον δὲ οἶμαι τούτου τὸ λίαν ἀπηκριβώμενον τοῦ κριτοῦ καὶ ἀπρόσκλιτον. (2.) Ἐφορᾷ γὰρ καὶ τιμωριῶν μεγέθη καὶ καρτερίας ἐνστάσεις, καὶ βασανίζων τὸ ἀγώνισμα τὰς πρὸς ἀξίαν ἀμοιβὰς διανέμει τοῖς ἀθληταῖς. Καὶ παράδοξον οὐδαμῶς εἰ παρὰ Θεοῦ οὕτως τιμᾶται τὸ δίκαιον, ὁπότε καὶ παρ’ ἡμῖν στρατηγοὶ καὶ ἀγωνοθέται οὐκ ἴσοι γίνονται τοῖς ἀριστεῦσιν ἢ τοῖς ἀγωνισταῖς, ἀλλὰ δὴ ἑκάστῳ κατὰ τὸ μέτρον τοῦ κατορθώματος τὰς δωρεὰς ἀναλογούσας ἐπιφημίζουσιν.

4. (1.) Ταῦτα δὲ διῆλθον, ἵνα δείξω ὡς ὁ σήμερον ἡμῖν παρασχὼν τοῦ συλλόγου τὴν ἀφορμὴν τῶν ἑταίρων καὶ συναγωνιστῶν ἐστι περιφανέστερος. Οἱ μὲν γὰρ ἄλλοι οὐ πάντες παρὰ πᾶσι γνωρίζονται, οὐδὲ βεβοημένην ἔχουσι τὴν ἀνδραγαθίαν· Φωκᾶν δὲ οὐκ ἔστιν ὃς ἀγνοεῖ· ἀλλ’ ὥσπερ ἡ ἀκτὶς τοῦ ἡλίου πᾶσιν ὀφθαλμοῖς ἐφήπλωται, οὕτως καὶ ἡ τοῦ μάρτυρος τούτου φήμη πᾶσαν ἀκοὴν περιήχησε· καὶ ἵνα συνελὼν εἴπω, ὅσοι τὸν Δεσπότην ἐγνώρισαν Χριστόν, οὗτοι καὶ τὸν πιστὸν δοῦλον ἐγνώρισαν· μᾶλλον δέ, εἰ δοκεῖ, τῶν κοινῶν πρὸς τοὺς ἄλλους ἐγκωμίων ἀφέμενος τὰ ἐξαίρετα τοῦ μάρτυρος διηγήματα ὑμῖν τοῖς φιλομάρτυσι διηγήσομαι.

‘2 […] (2.) And so have I also come to the venerable shrine of the thrice blessed Phōkas today, and am filled by the place with the memory of all the stories recounted about him. I can see the man who was a gardener by profession, an uneducated soul and hospitable, distinguished in the coastal areas, and a benefactor of the inlands, the holiest of holy men, and most glorious of all those glorified for the sake of Christ.

3. Because indeed all the host of the valiant martyrs is hallowed and admirable, as to the Saviour of All they have returned the favour of His suffering by their own suffering, and have repaid Him for His blood by their own blood. Yet even among them, glory is not one and the same for all, neither have prizes been allotted to all equally and by the same measure: for even the host of the saints cannot avoid the existence of a first and a second. I believe that the reason for that is the utmost precision and impartiality of the Judge: for He observes the magnitude of tortures, the endurance in perseverance and, after a minute examination of the struggle, He distributes to the athletes rewards according to their valour. And it is not at all strange that justice is held in such honour by God, since, even among us, not all champions and contestants become generals and presidents of games, but people honour each one of them with rewards according to the measure of their achievement.

4. I have said these things in order to demonstrate that the man who provided the reason for today’s gathering of ours is more prominent than his companions and fellow contestants, because not all the others are known to everyone, nor is their achievement renowned. But there is no person who ignores Phōkas. Just like a beam of the sun reaching the eyes of all, the fame of this martyr has rung in every ear. Briefly, all those who have known the Lord Christ have also known this faithful servant. Accordingly, if I may, I shall refrain from a generic praise for all the rest, and shall recount the exceptional stories of this martyr to you, the martyr-loving people.’

5. Phōkas is from the neighbouring city of Sinōpē, a gardener living in a poor house outside the gate, by the highway on the isthmus of Sinōpē. He offers hospitality to all strangers.

6. A great persecution breaks out, and, although a poor and humble man, Phōkas is denounced as a Christian. He confesses his faith openly when asked.

7. Persecutors arrive at the town seeking out Phōkas. Without knowing, they stay at his house and ask him to help them find Phōkas.

8. Phōkas promises to help. He digs his own grave and gives himself up to the persecutors. He persuades them to kill him, and is decapitated.

9. His shrine in Sinope is visited by crowds of the faithful seeking healing. His relics are distributed to many places including the shrine where the speaker stands. (see $E01963)

10. The head of Phōkas is in Rome, where it is honoured no less than Peter and Paul. (see $E01963)

11. Sailors all over the world receive his miraculous help. They have the custom of keeping some of their daily food for almsgiving in honour of Phōkas. (see $E01963)

12. The martyr is revered also by the emperors who dedicate gifts to his shrine. Also the barbarian kings from the north coast of the Black Sea revere him. One of them has dedicated a very ornate crown and cuirass. (see $E01963)

13. Several miracles occur, by dream visions and healings. One saint alone performs miracles that several pagan deities are supposed to perform: his oracles are more reliable than those of pagan oracles and Pythia; his healings are superior to those of Asklepios; he protects sailors better than the Dioscuri. (see $E01963)

Text: Datema 1970.
Summary and translation: E. Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Phokas, martyr of Sinope : S00052 Martyrs, unnamed or name lost : S00060

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Sermons/Homilies Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Amasea Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Asterius of Amasea

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Specialised miracle-working Healing diseases and disabilities Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future) Miraculous interventions in war Miraculous protection - of people and their property Miraculous appointment to office

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Crowds Monarchs and their family Merchants and artisans

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified Bodily relic - head Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Reliquary – institutionally owned Transfer/presence of relics from distant countries

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Ex-votos Precious material objects


Asterius was bishop of Amasea in Pontus (north Anatolia) between the 380s and 420s, perhaps having been a rhetorician before joining the clergy. He is only known from his homilies (16 preserved intact), which provide us with pretty much all we know about Asterius’ life, since he not mentioned by other sources from Late Antiquity. His work attracted much attention during Iconoclasm and in the Byzantine period, when his homilies were widely appreciated as models of Christian rhetoric. His Ekphrasis on Euphemia of Chalcedon (E00477) was among the texts quoted in the Second Council of Nicaea (787), in support of the use of images in Christian worship (sessions IV and VI; Mansi XIII, pp. 16-18, 308-309). Ten of Asterius' homilies are quoted in the Bibliotheca of Photius (cod. 271). On the manuscript tradition of this homily, see: Datema 1970, 109-112 (accessed 27-10-2016)


This homily was given during a festival held at a shrine in Amaseia, Asterius’ episcopal see. The church apparently possessed relics of a number of martyrs, of whom only Phōkas’ story was known to the bishop. Importantly, Asterius regards the popularity of a saint as a sign of his/her higher position in the hierarchy of saints: the obscure martyrs present in that church were saints as well, but they must have been clearly second-class, since no one knew anything about them. It would be interesting to know whether these secondary saints were local or not. At any rate, they were overshadowed by an explicitly imported cult, Phōkas of Sinōpē. The author refers extensively to the central shrine of this exceptionally popular martyr at the coastal town of Sinōpē on the Pontic coast of Anatolia (today’s Sinop in Turkey): Phōkas’ church stood just outside the gates of Sinōpē, on the narrow neck of the peninsula of the city. The shrine apparently included the house of Phōkas and the grave which he had dug for himself before giving himself up to his persecutors – the saint’s story is placed at the same setting as the shrine. The shrine attracts pilgrims from various regions, and is apparently very popular with the poor, which may suggest that alms were liberally distributed there. The homily provides ample evidence about the character of the cult, which is described as one of the highest prominence. Phōkas is revered by monarchs, both Roman and barbarian, as the granter of military victories: in other words, he is venerated as a potentially military saint. He is invoked as a protector by seamen: thus he may be described as one of the earliest recorded occupational saints. Miracles of various categories occur at his shrine, especially healing and oracular prophecies (see E01963). The story recounted by Asterius is the earliest surviving version of the hagiography of Phōkas. The legend shares its basic motif of the martyred gardener with the hagiography of *Konōn of Magydos in Pamphylia (E00359), and thus can be recognised as an early product of Anatolian martyr-related literature. It is probable that Asterius’ homily is based on a pre-existing passio, which, however, has not survived. At some point, possibly in the 6th century, Phōkas’ hagiography was augmented by the composition of a Life (BHG 1535y, 1535z), which is an account of a small set of miracles performed by Phōkas during his childhood at various cities of Pontus (E01962). Asterius seems to be unaware of this text, since all the miracles he refers to are posthumous. The Life seems to have arisen from the growth of Phōkas’ popularity and shrines across Pontus, as it associates the life and miracles of the saint with Hērakleia, Amaseia, and Amisos – cities which do not feature in his original story, unfolding as it does at Sinōpē. The hagiographic dossier of Phōkas also includes a Greek ‘epic’ passio (BHG 1536) of unknown date (probably Middle Byzantine), which avoids associating Phōkas with a particular city, and refers to him as a bishop from Pontus dying in a burning bathhouse after a brave defence of the Christian faith before the governor Africanus, a crowd of fifty-thousand men, and the emperor Trajan. Asterius is unaware of this story which introduces the divergent elements of Phōkas becoming a bishop and dying by fire rather than decapitation. The last paragraph of this passio states that the saint was particularly popular in Armenia, thus most probably indicating the provenance of its account. Indeed, the information about Phokas being a bishop is also known from an Armenian version of his Life (BHO 991), but is absent from the Pontic Greek sources about him (Asterius, the Life). One can therefore tentatively suggest that the legend of Phōkas the bishop is of Armenian origin, and that it only entered the Greek hagiographic tradition later, very probably via Constantinople. Even an encomium written by the 14th c. chartophylax of the church of Trebizond, Andreas Libadenos (BHG 1537b), which uses both Asterius and the Life as its sources, never calls the saint a bishop, thus suggesting that the divergent legend about Phōkas the bishop was not accepted in the saint’s homeland.


Text: Datema, C., Asterius of Amasea, Homilies I-XIV: Text, Introduction and Notes (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1970) Translation and commentary: Dehandschutter, B., "Asterius of Amasea," in: J. Leemans (ed.), 'Let Us Die That We May Live' : Greek Homilies on Christian Martyrs from Asia Minor, Palestine and Syria, (c. AD 350-AD 450) (London: Routledge, 2003), 167-172. Further reading: Baldwin, B., "Asterios of Amaseia," in: A.P. Kazhdan, A.-M. Talbot, and A. Cutler (eds.), Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 213. Speyer, W., "Asterios von Amaseia," in: Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum (Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 1980), 626-639. Van de Vorst, C., "Saint Phocas," Analecta Bollandiana 30 (1911): 252-95.

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager