Today, 27 Jun 2012, is the memorial of St Samson of Constantinople (a.k.a. Sampson the Hospitable, Samson Xenodochius). He lived in the 6th century and is still revered because he dedicated his whole life to tending to the needs of the sick and destitute. Many miracles of healing occurred in his lifetime and after his death around the year 530.
St Samson started out in life as the son of a wealthy and noble Roman family of Christians. Having received a thorough classical education, Samson developed an interest in the growing science of medicine. He found that he was not only interested in learning how to alleviate the sufferings of the sick, but that he also had a special aptitude for it. Probably taking inspiration from the lives of the 3rd century Saints Cosmas and Damian who ministered to the sick without charge, Samson began to do the same.
When his parents died, they left Samson a very large inheritance. Wanting to respond to God’s call to follow Him in poverty, Samson set about divesting his wealth in favour of the poor and freeing all the slaves on his family’s estates. At that time if you wanted to live radically for God, you went off to the East and joined the Desert Fathers in their lives of prayer and penance. So divested of possessions Samson set off for the East, depending upon God’s providence to get him to the place where God wanted him. As he journeyed, Samson ministered to the sick and dying that he met along the way. Surprisingly the pull of God’s grace led him in the direction of the imperial city of Constantinople and not to Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
In a poor part of the big city Samson found a place to dwell, and started ministering to anyone who came to him. Some needed medicine, some needed money, some needed food and clothing, some needed encouragement and hope, they all came to Samson and found help. Word soon spread about this new physician and his free clinic, who was ministering more and more frequently with prayer and miracles rather than with medicine. In order for Samson to be able to minister to the whole person, spirit, soul and body, when the Patriarch learned of Samson’s work and holy life, he came and ordained him into the priesthood.
The good Lord, seeing His servant Samson penniless and in need of bigger premises to look after the sick and indigent, now started His plan to spectacularly answer those needs. The Emperor Justinian was taken ill, and many physicians tried to cure him without success. Being someone of faith, Justinian prayed to God for a cure. In a dream God answered his prayers and showed him the doctor who would cure him: not an elderly prosperous medic but a doctor who was young, humble and badly dressed. Justinian set about trying to find this doctor, and indeed when Samson came in and made the Sign of the Cross over the Emperor, all of the terrible pains dissipated away.
Justinian naturally wanted to reward Samson generously, but Samson would have none of it. He had already given away one fortune to embrace the poverty of Jesus, and he didn’t want those hassles again. However, if Justinian was serious about doing something, then he could build a large hospital for the poor. Justinian happily agreed and a large hospital was duly built between the Church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sofia) and the church of Peace in Constantinople. Now Samson had just the facility he needed to help great numbers of the poor, the sick, the injured and travellers.
For the rest of his days Samson used his gifts and talents in serving the sick and others in need at this first free clinic and hospital at Constantinople. Samson lived well into old age and after a brief illness received a happy and holy death around the year 530. For at least 600 years this hospital and free clinic kept going following Samson’s death. Numerous are the Miracles that continued to occur at Samson’s grave. At times apparitions of Simon were necessary to help those caring of the sick to start doing an exemplary job. Through his generous response to God’s gifts and His promptings, Samson was able to bring healing and comfort to an immense number of people in God’s name.
St Samson of Constantinople, pray for us.