Snakes and the Church's Saints
Religious Fables, Folklore, Legends, and Stories
From All Creatures Articles Archive

Submitted by: Yuri Klitsenko

St. Jerome of Prague who worked among the Lithuanians in the final decade of the fourteenth century issued a decree that all snakes should be killed and burnt in the public market place. One of the best-known stories about St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, is that he banished all the snakes from Ireland.

St. Hypatius, Bishop of Gangra, was beating the snake with his staff.

When Constantius II was emperor of Byzantium (he reigned from 337-361), an immense serpent managed somehow to crawl into the imperial treasury; he lay with his head near the door, terrifying everyone that tried to enter.

The Emperor had heard of the wonderworking powers of the holy Bishop of Gangra and summoned him to the capital. The Emperor himself met the Saint with honor. He bowed down before him and asked that he chase away the serpent . "Not by my prayers," replied St. Hypatius, "but according to your faith, O Emperor, may the Lord fulfill your request."

After a long prayer, the Saint asked that an oven be constructed on the field where horse races were held, and a fire kindled in it. Then he took his bishop's staff and went to the imperial treasury. He entered the chamber and beat the serpent repeatedly with his staff. The Emperor and the people looked on from a distance, petrified. They watched as the Saint put his staff into the serpent 's mouth. "In the name of my Lord," he commanded the beast, "follow me!" The immense serpent, which measured close to ninety feet in length, held onto the staff with his teeth and, like a captive prisoner, crawled after the Saint.

And truly, he was held captive by the power of God manifest in this great wonderworker. The Saint led the serpent out of the palace and onto the field to the burning oven. "In the name of Christ, Whom I, the unworthy one, preach, I command you to go into the midst of the flames!" The serpent obediently curled his body and leaped into the oven, where he perished in the fire.

[Ed. Note] These are some of the church stories that scapegoat snakes as being evil in order to "justify" killing them.  This also is an example of how the church hardens the hearts of people, rather than making them the loving, compassionate peacemakers that Jesus call us to be.  St. Francis of Assisi, for example, in the true power of God, would have addressed the snake as a brother and politely asked him to leave, which the snake would have done.

Yuri Klitsenko is a Russian living in Moscow.  He works for the Russian Orthodox Church.

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