The Gentle Giant
The Gentle Giant had gone to rest after his day's labour, a labour so light when measured by his strength as to awaken in him a sense of discontent. As he lay stretched under his shelter of boughs, his stature was twice that of any man reckoned of even more than ordinary height. He pondered, while sleep was on its way to claim him, upon the events of his recent years, and wondered what might be the outcome of his long quest.
Oforo was the giant's name, Oforo the Bearer, the carrier, for owing to his strength he was able to carry incredible burdens, able and willing as well. In youth he had argued with himself thus: "Had I, through the will of the gods, been born to the high places of this world, what power had been mine, with my size and mighty sinews! What a monarch I had made! But since the gods in their wisdom have decreed that I should fill a lowly station and serve rather than command, then will I serve none but the most powerful king in the world!"
And now as he lay, he called back to memory a procession of the images of his long search for the greatest of all kings. How once he had thought to have found him, and arriving at his court, had offered to be his servant, and how the King had been well pleased, for none other could boast a servant so strong and so obedient. But one day, as the King, in all his glory of fine raiment, gold, and jewels, sat in his vast hall listening to the song of a minstrel, Oforo saw him tremble and crouch down on his throne at the repeated name of Satan.
Oforo questioned why the King trembled and paled, and answer was made him: "Because Satan is more powerful than any ruler, and him the King fears!"
"Then Satan and none other will I serve," cried Oforo, "for before none but the greatest king in all the world will the Giant Oforo bow."
Without delay he set out in quest of Satan. He had not far to search. In a grim wilderness, as he sat at rest, he saw what seemed an endless train of people, stretching out of sight to the very horizon and beyond. With pennants flying and brilliant trappings they rode toward him at great speed, men and women gaily clad and of proud mien. At their head was one whose dread countenance struck awe even into the heart of Oforo, so sinister was his glance and haughty his bearing.
As one in high authority, and nowise intimidated by the giant's size, he addressed him: "Who art thou, and what doest thou here?"
Oforo answered: "I seek the greatest of all kings. Satan is his name, and him would I serve!"
The strange leader answered: "Then is thy search at an end, for I am he, and thou shalt serve me. I promise thee pleasure, and service neither difficult nor burdensome." He then bade Oforo ride by his side.
But they had not travelled far before they came to the meeting of two roads, where in the shadow of a tree there stood a cross, seeing which Satan cowered in his saddle, and raising an arm as if to ward off a blow, fled with all his following hosts into a thick forest, and regained the road only after making a wide circuit to avoid the cross-ways.
"Why is this?" cried Oforo. "What is this cross, and wherefore dost thou go so far to avoid it?" Satan made no answer but only frowned as his eyes dwelt on the distance ahead, as if in fear that something might again come in sight which he dreaded to see.
Oforo cried again: "Unless thou answerest me, I shall leave thee."
Reluctantly Satan spoke, with eyes still watchful: "I fear the cross, for on it died one Jesus Christ, and when I behold it I fly lest He should overcome me."
"Then must I leave thee," said the giant, "for I have vowed to serve none but the mightiest king, and since thou fearest Him, must Jesus Christ be more powerful than thou."
So he left Satan's train and wandered long alone in search of Christ. He wandered over mountain and plain, through dreary forests, and along far coasts, and the seasons passed like a painted pageant, but nowhere could he find Him.
At length, one day he came to a cave beside a wood, where lived an aged hermit, and as was his custom Oforo asked where he might find the greatest of all kings, Jesus Christ.
The hermit answered: "Thou art right to call Christ the greatest of all kings, for He is Ruler of Heaven as well as earth, and His Kingdom shall endure for all eternity, but thou shalt wander the whole world over and never find Him except through fasting and prayer."
"Fast will I not," said the giant, "for my strength is that with which I can best serve, and why should I waste it in fasting? Nor will I pray, for I know not how to pray, nor is prayer the part of the strong, but of the weak."
"There is yet another way to serve Him," said the hermit. "Hard by is a river, wide and deep and swift; often it is swollen with rains, and many are the travellers and pilgrims who must cross it; many also are they who are swept away by the current and lost in their efforts to reach the far shore. Do thou go and take up thy abode on the shore of that river and give help to those who must brave the waves. Carry the small and the weak upon thy broad shoulders and bear them safely across; thus shalt thou serve Christ."
Instantly Oforo consented, for the thought of service made him glad. He built a hut of branches on the brink of the river, he plucked up a palm-tree, which he smoothed and shaped to be his staff, and by day and by night he carried men and women, the rich and the poor alike, over the river, so that none more were now lost.
Never did he weary of his good work. Yet this it was that now irked him as he lay tossing by night, for the task seemed so light that it was to him not labour at all, and he wondered sadly whether he were not wasting his glorious strength, losing precious time, and failing to achieve that service of the Great King for which he thirsted.
While he was recalling all the scenes of his search, his eyes, glancing out through the opening of his hut, rested upon the silver-bathed landscape, and the clear heavens with the full moon riding high, reflected in the smooth surface of the river; he heard the murmur of the water streaming over the pebbles of the shore, and the infinite beauty of the night seemed to reproach him for his trivial task, and for the waste of his power, which seemed to him equal to so much mightier effort. At last he fell into slumber, from which he was presently awakened by a voice calling: "Oforo, wilt thou bear me across the river?"
He sprang awake, and hastily arose to answer, but no one was there; all was silent and empty as before. When he had lain down again to sleep, again he heard the voice; Oforo, wilt thou not bear me over the river?"
Yet a third time, after he had returned to rest, came the gentle and insistent question: "Oforo, wilt thou not bear me on thy shoulders to-night?"
And there on the shore stood a child whose white garments gleamed in the moonlight.
"Truly will I," said Oforo, gladly, "and set thee down safely on the other side."
"Wilt thou, indeed?" asked the child.
"Yea, safely as though thou wert still in thy mother's arms!"
The child smiled as Oforo, lifting him, placed him upon his shoulder, a smile so endearing that the giant felt his heart melt in his breast for tenderness; his whole being was suffused with indescribable joy at the sense of giving aid to this small and tender being.
Girding his garments high, he stepped into the water. Immediately a wild wind began to blow, the face of the moon was hidden, and the waves rolled up violently till the roar was as thunder. They hurled themselves against Oforo as though they sought to overwhelm him. Where the waters had been wont to reach only to his knees they now covered his thighs; they even dashed against his powerful breast, and rose ever higher. Moreover, the child whom he had raised to his shoulder as lightly as if he had been a little bird or a flower, now grew heavier and yet heavier.
Oforo, however, was undismayed—the crossing was difficult, but his belief in his strength was equal to any test. Thinking that the child might be afraid, he looked up at him over his shoulder, saying: "Fear not, little one; the tempest may rage, but I shall carry thee over safely, even as I promised!"
The young voice questioned: "Wilt thou, indeed, Oforo?" and the storm redoubled its fury, till the giant's heart began almost to fail him, for the child became so heavy upon his shoulder that it seemed that both must sink and be lost. This thought so rent him that he groaned in anguish. Again he turned to look at his burden, wondering that one so frail and delicate could weigh so cruelly. The face, luminous and visible to him in spite of the darkness, though grave, showed no fear, but only compassion for Oforo's distress. This gave courage to his now sinking spirit, and he steeled himself to renewed effort, though it seemed his bones must crumble like a great tower under the weight of his burden and the rage of the elements.
Slowly, painfully, haltingly, he advanced, and finally, after what seemed an eternity, he reached the shore and stumbled forth out of the water on to the bank.
Panting, he set his charge down, crying: "Who art thou? Whom have I borne this night? Had it been the whole world it could not have been more heavy!"
In the silence of the night which was once more so serene that Oforo could have believed the storm to have been but an evil dream, the child replied:
"I am He whom thou didst wish to serve. Now art thou in truth My good servant, for on thy shoulders hast thou borne this night not only the whole world, but Him who made it, who redeemed it, and who bears on His own shoulders all its sins. If in thy heart thou canst not believe, I will leave a sign of My power and of My love for thee. Drive thy staff into the earth, so—and see, it shall again bear leaves and fruit."
While Oforo's eyes were fixed upon his staff, which, but now set into the ground, was already covered with verdure glistening in a radiant light, the Child disappeared.
And thereafter the Gentle Giant was known by the name of Christoforo, whom we call St Christopher, for he had been the bearer of Christ.