Christmas in Legend and Story by  Elva S. Smith

Legend of St. Christopher

Adapted from the Golden Legend

There was a mighty man of old who dwelt in the land of Canaan. Large was he and tall of stature and stronger than any man whom the world had ever seen. Therefore was he called Offero, or, "The Bearer." Now he served the king of Canaan, but he was proud of his great strength and upon a time it came in his mind that he would seek the greatest king who then reigned and him only would he serve and obey.

So he travelled from one country to another until at length he came to one where ruled a powerful king whose fame was great in all the land.

"Thou art the conqueror of nations?" asked Offero.

"I am," replied the king.

"Then take me into your service, for I will serve none but the mightiest of earth."

"That then am I," returned the king, "for truly I fear none."

So the king received Offero into his service and made him to dwell in his court.

But once at eventide a minstrel sang before the king a merry song in which he named oft the evil one. And every time that the king heard the name of Satan he grew pale and hastily made the sign of the cross upon his forehead. Offero marvelled thereat and demanded of the king the meaning of the sign and wherefore he thus crossed himself. And because the king would not tell him Offero said, "If thou tell me not, I shall no longer dwell with thee." Then the king answered, saying, "Always when I hear Satan named, I fear that he may have power over me and therefore I make this sign that he harm me not."

"Who is Satan?" asked Offero.

"He is a wicked monarch," replied the king, "wicked but powerful."

"More powerful than thou art?"

"Aye, verily."

"And fearest thou that he hurt thee?"

"That do I, and so do all."

"Then," cried Offero, "is he more mighty and greater than thou art. I will go seek him. Henceforth he shall be my master for I would fain serve the mightiest and the greatest lord of all the world."

So Offero departed from the king and sought Satan. Everywhere he met people who had given themselves over to his rule and at last one day as he was crossing a wide desert he saw a great company of knights approaching. One of them, mounted upon a great black horse, came to him and demanded whither he went, and Offero made answer, "I seek Satan, for he is mighty, and I would fain serve him."

Then returned the knight, "I am he whom thou seekest."

When Offero heard these words he was right glad and took Satan to be his lord and master.

This king was indeed powerful and a long time did Offero serve him, but it chanced one day as they were journeying together they came to a place where four roads met and in the midst of the space stood a little cross. As soon as Satan saw the cross he was afraid and turned quickly aside and fled toward the desert. Offero followed him marvelling much at the sight. And after, when they had come back to the highway they had left, he inquired of Satan why he was thus troubled and had gone so far out of his way to avoid the cross. But Satan answered him not a word.

Then Offero said to him, "If thou wilt not tell me, I shall depart from thee straightway and shall serve thee no more."

"Know then," said Satan, "there was a man called Christ who suffered on the cross and whenever I see his sign I am sore afraid and flee from it, lest he destroy me."

"If then thou art afraid of his sign," cried Offero, "he is greater and more mighty than thou, and I see well that I have labored in vain, for I have not found the greatest lord of the world. I will serve thee no longer. Go thy way alone, for I will go to seek Christ."

And when he had long sought and demanded where he should find Him, he came at length into a great desert where dwelt a hermit, a servant of the Christ. The hermit told him of the Master whom he was seeking and said to him, "This king whom thou dost wish to serve is not an earthly ruler and he requireth that thou oft fast and make many prayers."

But Offero understood not the meaning of worship and prayer and he answered, "Require of me some other thing and I shall do it, but I know naught of this which thou requirest."

Then the hermit said to him, "Knowest thou the river, a day's journey from here, where there is neither ford nor bridge and many perish and are lost? Thou art large and strong. Therefore go thou and dwell by this river and bear over all who desire to cross its waters. That is a service which will be well pleasing to the Christ whom thou desirest to serve, and sometime, if I mistake not, he whom thou seekest will come to thee."

Offero was right joyful at these words and answered, "This service may I well do."

So he hastened to the river and upon its banks he built himself a little hut of reeds. He bare a great pole in his hand to sustain him in the water and many weary wayfarers did he help to cross the turbulent stream. So he lived a long time, bearing over all manner of people without ceasing, and still he saw nothing of the Christ.

Now it happened one night that a storm was raging and the river was very high. Tired with his labors, Offero had just flung himself down on his rude bed to sleep when he heard the voice of a child which called him and said, "Offero, Offero, come out and bear me over."

Offero arose and went out from his cabin, but in the darkness he could see no one. And when he was again in the house, he heard the same voice and he ran out again and found no one. A third time he heard the call and going out once more into the storm, there upon the river bank he found a fair young child who besought him in pleading tones, "Wilt thou not carry me over the river this night, Offero?"

The strong man gently lifted the child on his shoulders, took his staff and stepped into the stream. And the water of the river arose and swelled more and more and the child was heavy as lead. And alway as he went farther, higher and higher swelled the waters and the child more and more waxed heavy, insomuch that he feared that they would both be drowned. Already his strength was nearly gone, but he thought of his Master whom he had not yet seen, and staying his footsteps with his palm staff struggled with all his might to reach the opposite shore. As at last he climbed the steep bank, suddenly the storm ceased and the waters calmed.

He set the child down upon the shore, saying, "Child, thou hast put me in great peril. Had I carried the whole world on my shoulders, the weight had not been greater. I might bear no greater burden."

"Offero," answered the child, "Marvel not, but rejoice; for thou hast borne not only all the world upon thee, but thou hast borne him that created and made all the world upon thy shoulders. I am Christ the king whom thou servest in this work. And for a token, that thou mayst know what I say to be the truth, set thy staff in the earth by thy house and thou shalt see in the morning that it shall bear flowers and fruit." With these words the child vanished from Offero's sight.

But Offero did even as he was bidden and set his staff in the earth and when he arose on the morrow, he found it like a palm-tree bearing flowers and leaves and clusters of dates. Then he knew that it was indeed Christ whom he had borne through the waters and he rejoiced that he had found his Master. From that day he served Christ faithfully and was no more called Offero, but Christopher, the Christ bearer.

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