My first parish assignment as a priest was at Holy Trinity Church in Clayton, Wisconsin. The good people there had to put up with an inexperienced priest, and they kindly taught me many good lessons. Many of the parishioners at that time (early 1980’s) were involved in farming and almost everyone in the parish came from a farming family even if they themselves were not farming.
It happened while I was there that I saw in an Orthodox Hagiographic Calendar on June 1 was listed St. Metrios the Farmer. I had never heard of St. Metrios but did some research (this was still pre-Internet days) and found a couple versions of his life, which were largely similar with some variations in details. I immediately loved his story.
So often Orthodox hagiographies are full of miracles, super-human ascetic feats and other inimitable deeds, that they often don’t speak to me. I’m looking for someone whom I can imitate. St. Metrios life was simple and straight forward. It has a miracle in it, but that is a gift from God. Metrios’ hagiography consists mostly of one deed: he did the next right thing. He was honest and returned money he had found to its rightful owner without seeking a reward. That is a Christian behavior I can imitate. The life of St. Metrios tells me, do the next right thing. Leave the ascetic feats to the monks (though Metrios’ good deed involved a lot of self denial) and leave miracles to miracle workers. Christ did not command us to do miracles, but He did command us to love. Love is something within my power. It involves doing the next right thing. Sanctity and the Kingdom of God are not beyond our reach, but rather are possible for everyone who follows Christ and allows the Holy Spirit to work in their lives. God equips us to do the next right thing – to imitate St. Metrios the holy farmer.
The edifying tale of St. Metrios the Farmer:
In the area of Galatia and Paphlagonia, there was a farmer named Metrios. He would see his neighbor preparing his sons for Constantinople, where they would become officers and servants of the Emperor. Then Metrios beseeched God, saying: “Lord, if I am Your worthy servant, grant me a male child to lean on in my old age, and that I may glorify Your Holy Name.” Having prayed, he went to the festival that took place every year in Paphlagonia, loading his carriage with whatever he needed.
On his return, Metrios stopped in a small forest that had water in order to water his animals. There, he found a pouch that had 1500 coins. As it was sealed, he did not open it, but took it and went home. He hid the pouch in a safe spot and did not tell anyone about it.
The next year Metrios returned again to the festival of Paphlagonia, and when he had sold and bartered all of his goods, he set out for home. He again stoped in the woods where he found the coins, and there he observed those who passed by. There then appeared someone who was looking for something, heavily distressed. The farmer asked him why he was so distressed, and he replied that he was a skilled and successful merchant and he had borrowed in good faith 500 gold coins from another man last year. He had come to the festival and had sold a lot of goods at the festival and had accumulated 1500 gold coins, but then lost them in this forest. Thus he had been reduced from being a fortunate and wealthy man to poverty, unable to repay his debt.
Then the farmer went and took from his carriage the pouch which he had found and showed it to the merchant. So stunned was the merchant that he fell to the ground in a dead feint. The poor farmer helped the dealer recover by getting water for him, then he opened the pouch, and they counted the coins which were in fact 1500. The dealer then wanted to give the farmer 500, but he would not accept anything. Less was offered, but the poor farmer would not take even one coin. So after both thanked God, they separated.
That night, when the farmer fell asleep, he saw in his dreams an angel of the Lord, who said that for what he had done God would grant him a male child which he was to name Constantine, and that the child would bring great blessing to his house.
It happened after a certain time that the farmer’s wife gave birth to a baby boy, which when he grew up was educated in Constantinople, and Emperor Leo the Wise elevated him to be a Patrician. Thus God rewarded the farmer for his act of honesty.
Honesty it turns out is the path to holiness. It is something each Christian is capable of doing.
St. Metrios, pray to God for us.