April 22 – Vitalis of Gaza; Theodore of Sykeon

Vitalis of Gaza (d. ca. 625) was a monk from Gaza who at age 60 moved to Alexandria, citing Gaza’s deplorable lack of prostitutes. He spent his days working, and his money in the red-lampada district. His custom was to hire a prostitute for the night, tell her to take the shift off and sleep, whereupon he prayed until dawn for her salvation. Each night he went to a different prostitute, working his way through his little black codex, then going back to the alphas and starting over. He swore them to secrecy, though, so his reputation in the city was a bit soiled. People spat at him and threw things at him, but he bore it all silently. Through his intercessions, many of these women were able to leave their trade and get married, go to monasteries, or find more wholesome day jobs. Finally a good, upstanding citizen struck him on the head with something unpleasantly heavy and hard, and after he staggered back to his cell, he died. All the prostitutes and ex-prostitutes of the city came to his vigil and funeral, and the true nature of his work was revealed. Many miracles took place at his grave and it became a pilgrimage destination. Better yet, he was allowed to remain in it. He is, of course, the patron saint of prostitutes.

Theodore of Sykeon (d. 613) was the son of either a camel-riding circus acrobat or an imperial messenger (if indeed there is a difference). His mother was a self-prostituting innkeeper. When he was six, she gave him a golden belt and began to plan a civil service career for him, but St. George (Apr 23) came to her in a dream and nixed the idea. Her lucky break came when she hired a fabulous cook, the inn got three stars in the Michelin Red Guide, business boomed, and she was able to quit her night job (if you get my drift). She landed a respectable husband, and left the inn and the boy to her sister.

In time, Theodore wandered off to Jerusalem, where he became in turns a monk, priest and hermit. He left his hermitage after it morphed into a monastery complex of several buildings (as hermitages will do), and took to hanging from the cliffside in an iron cage. He must have come down from time to time, because he was eventually dragged off to Anastasiopolis (near Angora) and forced onto the bishop’s throne. His manner of living remained very simple, though. A visiting African monk, Antiochus, wrote that Theodore drank only water and ate only uncooked vegetables with vinegar and salt. He also wrote that Theodore’s eyebrows met in the middle (this is really in my sources), but I for one shan’t hold that against him. Against Antiochus, I mean. After trying for ten years to tender his resignation, Theodore finally managed to return to hermiting. This came during a squabble involving dishonest managers of church lands, one of whom quite literally pulled the chair out from under the bishop, sending him crashing to the floor. “That’s it,” he said. “I quit.” And, mirabile dictu, they let him

In retirement he unleashed his inner wonderworker, healing many people of many illnesses, one of which (people, not illnesses) was the Emperor Maurice’s leprous (or elephantiasisous) son. He also reconciled estranged married couples, and helped barren women conceive. He also also had the gift of prophecy. Emperor Heraclius for example sought the saint’s blessing before a battle, but refused his invitation to dinner. “Bad move,” Theodore said, intimating that it would result in the army’s defeat, which of course it did. We are also told of his discernment—once he refused to use a chalice which turned out to be a repurposed chamber pot. We don’t know why someone would try to slip a chamber pot onto the altar, but the whole thing stinks.

Sometime after he died (we’re not told the circumstances so we’ll assume there was no foul play involved), his bones were moved to Constantinople, which was something of a relic magnet in those days, as we have seen. He is not, alas, the patron saint of recycling.