May 9 – Christopher of Lycia; George Preca

Christopher of Lycia (d. ca. 250) was strong, tall (by some accounts about 7.5 feet), and exceedingly handsome. Fearing his good looks would bring him temptation (say, to gaze in mirrors or sit for portraits), he asked God to make him ugly, which He did. Because of this he was called “Reprobus” (“reprobate”), since, as per Disney, all reprobates are ugly. Probably through confusion between the words “Cananeus” (“Canaanite,” which he probably was) and “canineus,” (“dog,” which he probably wasn’t), he is sometimes shown as having the head of a dog. One could do worse.

Reprobus desired to serve the greatest king in the world, and started with the local king, who claimed that title for himself (humility being uncommon among kings). But when the king crossed himself out of fear when someone mentioned the devil, Rep reasoned that Satan must be the greater king, and went off to seek him. He found a man who styled himself “Satan,” a member of an outlaw gang, and began to serve him. Then one day he saw “Satan” shying away from a roadside cross, and determined to leave him and follow Christ. A handy local hermit suggested he do that by helping people cross the nearby river, putting his great strength and height (and ability to dogpaddle) (get it?) to the service of others.

One stormy day a little child came to the ford, and insisted on being taken across, despite conditions. As they crossed, the river mounted, and the child grew heavier and heavier. Christopher all but despaired of making the crossing, but he was doggedly determined to do his duty. When they reached the far shore, he said, “I felt like I was carrying the whole world!” The child said, “You were, for I made the world, and carry it upon my shoulders. I am Christ, whom you serve.” Before Christopher could reply, He was gone. This is of course how he got his name (title) “Christopher,” which means “One who carries Christ.”

He ended his life a martyr. His skull resides in a church in Rab, Croatia. He is the patron of many causes and professions, including, of course, transportation workers and, um, people with toothache (doggone).

The Prophet Isaiah (VIII–VII cent. BC(E)) is definitely one ancient Hebrew prophet and maybe three (authorities don’t just differ, they lob word grenades at each other). According to the book which bears his name, he prophesied in ancient Judah under kings Uzziah (also called Azariah), Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. One of my sources does a bit of math and decides that he may have prophesied as much as 64 years. Talk about job security. Isaiah had a wife and two children, one of which bore the euphonious name “Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz,” which means, depending on whom you ask, “The spoil speeds, the plunder hastens.” This is explained as much as it is explained in the 8th chapter of his book, which styles itself “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah,” but is usually eponymously known as (wait for it) Isaiah.

Back in Izzy’s day Assyria, a nearby kingdom, was in an expansive mood. Ahaz held them off, but Hezekiah was not half the man Ahaz used to be, and the Assyrians came down like a wolf on the fold. Isaiah stepped up and spake forth, taunting their king and saying the virgins of Jerusalem laughed in his face, yea verily. And sure enough the armies of Judah kicked the Assyrian army’s booty back to Assyria and that was that.

Among Christians, however, Isaiah is perhaps best known for penning the words to a chorus by Handel. It is fair to say that modern-day Jews do not see the passage as a messianic prophecy, but Christians almost universally do. The passage, of course, is (as per Handel): “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).