The Holy Orthodox Church commemorates:
Martyr Zoticus of Constantinople, feeder of orphans
December 30/Jan 12 and Dec 31/Jan 7
Hieromartyr Saint Zoticus, Protector of Orphans, an illustrious and rich Roman, was in the service of Saint Constantine the Great (306-337). When the emperor transferred the capital from Rome to Constantinople, Saint Zoticus also moved there. Soon, however, spurning worldly honors, Saint Zoticus was ordained to the holy priesthood. An outbreak of leprosy in the new City became so severe that the Emperor ordered that all lepers, whatever their rank, be driven from the city or drowned in the sea. Zoticus, moved by compassion for these people, went to the Emperor and asked him for a large amount of gold to buy gems and pearls to enhance the glory of the city, ‘For, as Your Majesty knows, I am well-qualified in this field.’ The Saint then used the gold to ransom all those being led into exile or to drowning, and to establish for them a camp on the hill of Olivet on the opposite shore of the Bosphorus. There he brought the sick and provided for their care. Then, receiving funds from Saint Constantine, he built a place of treatment for the sick, a shelter for the homeless, where he took in those afflicted with leprosy, rescuing them from the soldiers, who had been ordered to drown them in the sea.
In the year 337 Constantius, an Arian heretic, and the son of Saint Constantine, took the throne upon the death of his father. Some of Saint Zoticus’ enemies at court, seeing an opportunity, denounced Zoticus to the new Emperor, saying that he not only held subversive views, but had misappropriated public money. When he learned of these charges, Zoticus presented himself to the Emperor, finely dressed, and offered to take Constantius to see the gems and pearls that he had bought on his behalf. When they reached the hill of Olivet, Constantius was astonished to see a company of lepers coming to greet him with lighted candles, honoring and praising him and their patron Saint Zoticus. Then the holy Zoticus said to the Emperor, ‘These are the precious stones and brilliant pearls that give luster to the crown of the heavenly Kingdom that you will inherit by their prayers. I bought them for the salvation of your soul.’
The heartless Emperor, instead of being grateful, ordered that Zoticus be tied behind wild mules and dragged until he died. The mules ran down the hill, breaking the Saint’s body upon the rocks and brush. Then, of their own accord, they returned to the top of the hill, still dragging the body, and, like Balaam’s donkey (Numbers ch. 22), spoke and proclaimed that the Martyr must be buried on that hill. The astonished and repentant Emperor ordered the Martyr buried with honor, and commanded that a hospital for lepers be built there, staffed by the best physicians and caretakers.
Saint Zoticus is also called Orphanotrophos, ‘Cherisher of Orphans,’ because in later years a large orphanage was added to the leprosarium. The orphanage included a general hospital and a home for the aged. The Saint was honored throughout Byzantine history as the patron of the orphanage.