Saint Niphon Bishop of Constantiane, in Algeria of Africa. (4th century)
Commemorated on December 23
Once when he was praying and had his gaze turned to Heaven, a divine light shone in front of him. At the same time a white-clad angel, dressed as a deacon, appeared. He was holding a gold censer and censed first in the direction of Heaven and then Nephon. Suddenly the gates of Heaven opened and the angels of God ascended and descended like bees, transporting the souls of people who had died. The evil spirits of the air were struggling to grab them and throw them down, but the angels resisted violently, whipping them and saving the souls.
The the blessed one saw the angels carrying yet another soul, and the demons ran out to them and cried out: “Why are you carrying souls without knowing them? For example, you are carrying this one, who is a lover of money, a bearer of malice, and an outlaw.” The angels replied: “We well know that it did all these things, but it wept and lamented, confessed its sins, and gave alms; for this God’s has forgiven it.” But the demons began to say: “If even this soul is worthy of God’s mercy, then take and carry away sinners from the whole world. Why should we be laboring?” To this the angels replied: “All the sinners who confess their sins with humility and tears receive forgiveness by God’s mercy; but he who dies without repentance is judged by God.”
Thus, having put the evil spirits to shame, the angels went past. Again the blessed one saw them lifting still another soul that was very devout and God-fearing. She spent all her life in purity, modesty, and a great deal of charity. She showed love toward all. The dragons of the air threatened her, gnashing their teeth. And that poor thing, terrified by their wildness, shriveled up in the bosom of the angels of God, while the angels descending to take up other souls kissed her with love.
When that holy soul ascended into heaven, a large number of good spirits gathered around her, embracing and kissing her tenderly, and saying joyfully: “Glory to Go Who delivered this soul from the dreadful dragon!”
It was a delight to see them. The heavenly powers always do this: they rejoice and celebrate for each Christian who is saved. When they reached the throne of Grace, they brought her to the feet of the Lord Jesus, and he permitted her to worship His Father and to be filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Later He turned her over to Michael, the lord of the covenant, to guide her to eternal rest, as indeed it happened.
Conversing once with the brethren for the benefit of their souls, Niphon remembered the following: “There was in this city the slave of a renowned man; his name was Basil, he was a tailor by trade, and was of evil life: he used foul language,was disobedient and was a clown; he spent all his time in games and unclean fleshly sins with harlots,and he did not listen to the instructions of his master. But by the wondrous providence of the merciful Master, he received salvation in this way:
“By God’s allowance, for the sins of the people, there occurred a great famine,and the masters began to chase away their slaves because there was not enough food; and Basil’s master also chased him away. Basil went away and the first day sold his clothing so as to acquire food for himself; then he began to go naked and beg for alms. It was winter then, and he was shivering and freezing from cold. Finally, in exhaustion he lay down in a certain street. After sometime his toes froze off, and then his feet also. Basil endured everything, considering this as a chastisement for his sins, and he said nothing but ‘Glory be to God for everything!’ Thus he lay for two months in the street without covering, weeping over his sins By chance a certain lover of Christ, Nicephorus by name, was walking on that street. Seeing the sufferer Basil, he commanded his slave to take him to his house, where with love he gave him repose;with his own hands he made his bed and fed him. In two weeks, on a Saturday, the sick Basil began to say: ‘Your coming is joyful to me, O holy angels; rest a little and we shall go.’ And they said: ‘No, come quickly, for the Lord is calling you.’ ‘Wait a little,’ replied Basil, ‘until I give over my debt; I took a loan of ten copper pieces from a certain friend of mine, and up to now I have not given it back. If I do not, the devil may detain me in the air for this.’
“And again the angels waited until Basil, having gathered ten copper pieces, sent them to the one to whom they were owed; and then he gave over his spirit to God. So you see, children,” Niphon finished his account, “what are the decrees of God and how, according to His desire, He saves a sinner.”….
Nephon related all this to his acquaintances and advised them: “Be careful, my children, not to judge anyone, especially if he is a man of God. I beg you, guard yourselves from this sin. Look after yourselves and be conscious of your own faults. With this consciousness we will be able to repent. Some of the servants of God show and some hide their virtue. Certain people criticize those who have the courage to be seen. However, these will be punished harshly on Judgment Day. For God has placed before all men those who scorn human glory, so that they may confess their faith with courage, and thus benefit many.
Let your light so shine before men, He commanded them, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in Heaven. And conversely, to those who lean toward conceit He says: Those who do the works of righteousness openly to be pleasing to people and not to Me, truly, truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. For he who willfully is vain will not receive mercy. Keeping this in mind, then, my children, let us not judge anyone, and let us not pay attention to the slanderers, whether they criticize righteous person or anyone else. Judge not, the Lord commands. You who sit on the throne, do not scorn your servant, for he may hide within him the Spirit of God and, without realizing it, you find yourself the enemy of God.”
The saint said this to them and begged them once more to look to themselves and not judge anyone. But also they should not lend money with interest, for how does it profit a man to say he is a Christian, when he has stored up gold and lends it out with interest?
Saint Niphon Bishop of Cyprus, from The Orthodox Word #92 May-June 1980
Translated from the Russian Lives of Saints based on the collection of St. Dimitry of Rostov Moscow 1903
Stories, Sermons, and Prayers of Saint Nephon: an Ascetic Bishop, Light and Life Publishing Company, Minneapolis, MN, 1989
Troparion of St Niphon, Bishop of Constantiana tone 4
Thou wast chosen by God to be shepherd and herald of His Church,/
and to teach repentance to the fallen./
By thy prayers thou didst reveal the demons’ deceits/
and thy countenance shone like Moses’./
O Father Niphon, pray to Christ our God for those who honour thee.