Dionysius was born in Alexandria of eminent pagan parents. He was educated in Greek philosophy, and then studied with Origen. As a young man, he read the epistles of the Apostle Paul, came to believe in Christ and was baptized by Demetrius, Bishop of Alexandria. In the year 247, Dionysius became Bishop of Alexandria, and served God and God’s people as a true shepherd under very difficult circumstances. Externally, the Church was persecuted by pagans, while from within it was rent by heretics. In addition, a plague decimated the population for several years. Dionysius lived, hidden by the faithful, outside Alexandria for three years so as not to be slain before his time. During those three years, he wrote many epistles and other compositions to his flock, instructing and encouraging them to uphold Orthodoxy. Among his writings are several canons that the Church adopted. His epistle against Novatian is also considered a canonical writing. He governed the Church for seventeen years, and reposed in the year 265.
Feast Day: October 5
The story of the lapsed Christian Sarapion
(From a letter of Saint Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria to Fabian, Bishop of Antioch)
“I will set out the following single example that happened amongst us. There was a certain aged believer amongst us, Sarapion, who had lived blamelessly for a long time but yielded to temptation. This man often begged to be restored, but no one heeded him; for he had sacrificed. But he fell ill, and for three days in succession he remained speechless and unconscious. Then recovering a little on the fourth day, he called to him his nephew and said: “How long, my child, do ye keep me back? hasten ye, I pray, and let me go speedily. Call thou one of the elders (presbyters).” After this he became speechless again. The boy ran for the elder, but it was night and he was ill and could not come. Now I had given instructions that if those who were departing life asked and especially when they chanced to have made supplication even before, they should be absolved in order that they might depart in good hope; he gave the boy, therefore, a morsel of the Eucharist, bidding him moisten it and drop it into the old man’s mouth. The lad went back with it. When he drew near, before he entered, Sarapion revived again and said: “Hast come, child? The presbyter could not come, but do thou quickly what he bade thee, and let me go.” So the boy moistened it and dropped it into his mouth: and the other shortly after swallowing it straightway gave up the ghost. Was he not clearly sustained and kept alive until he was absolved that, with his sin wiped out, he might be acknowledged (by the Lord) for the many good things he had done?”