Christopher of Lycia

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Saint Christopher of Lycia the Cynocephalus (Greek: ο Άγιος Χριστόφορος ο Κυνοκέφαλος) is a saint listed as a martyr killed during the 3rd century. He is believed to be the protector of travellers and is commemorated by the church May 9.


Saint Christopher lived in Lycia under the reign of the Roman emperor Decius (reigned 249-251) and is considered one of the 14 holy helpers. Almost nothing is known about him, but there are, however, many legends connected to him.

The Orthodox tradition describes the saint as a tall man of tremendous strength who made a living carrying people across a raging river. One day his passenger was a child who grew so heavy as they crossed the river that he feared they would both drown. Christopher was amazed that such a small child could overcome someone so mighty as himself. The child then revealed that he was Christ, and the heaviness was caused by the weight of the world which he bore.

Although so little is known about the life of St. Christopher, there is so much to be gathered even from his experience of carrying Christ across the river. His story represents, to the Orthodox Christian, a message of hope that all Christians bear, and are called to bear and to “put on” Christ, by taking up the crosses, given to each of us, in our lives. Christopher bore his “cross” (Christ himself) and eventually suffered martyrdom for the faith, fulfilling the commandment of Christ, “He who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of me.” (Matt 10:38).

The Greek word "Christophoros" translates into "Christ-bearer" and he is, therefore, depicted in iconography as carrying a child, who, in turn, is carrying a globe. Some people hold the superstition that if you see an icon of St. Christopher you cannot die on that day, this superstition is not supported by orthodoxy.

The Saint came to martyr, under the emperor who wanted to kill him for his faith. Christopher was first asked to renounce Christ. The saint was tied to an iron stool, which was placed over fire. The stool melted, but St. Christopher was unharmed. The emperor then ordered archers to shoot him, but all the arrows missed. One archer shot the emperor in the eye. Outraged, the emperor then ordered that the saint be decapitated. St. Christopher's severed head told the emperor to put some of his blood in his wounded eye, and when the emperor did so he got his sight back, and so converted.

Cynocephalus is a Greek word, literally meaning “dog-head”. What makes Christopher unique, is that there are some rare icons that identify this martyr with the head of a dog. Such images may carry echoes of the Egyptian dog-headed god, Anubius and Christopher pictured with a dog's head, is not generally supported by the Orthodox church. However, these images have made him especially popular among the Roman Catholics who have created many stories to explain his ‘cynocephalus’ appearance.

The relics and the head of the Saint are being held on the island of Rab in Croatia.


Kontakion of St. Christopher, Tone 4 Your physique was overwhelming and your face horrifying. You willingly suffered trauma from your own people. Men and women tried to arouse consuming fires of passion in you, but instead they followed you to your martyrdom. You are our strong protector, o great martyr Christopher!

Troparian of St. Christopher, Tone 4 In beautiful garments woven from thy blood thou dost stand before the King of Heaven. For thou dost chant the Thrice-holy hymn with Angels and Martyrs. By thy supplications save thy servants