The Giant Who Became Saint
mong the smooth, blue hills of an eastern country lived a simple hearted giant lad named Offero.
Though he was four times as high and four times as wide as the other boys, that did not make him proud in the least. He played with them as good-naturedly as if he had been no bigger than they. Sometimes he would hold them at arm's length, one in each great hand. Sometimes he would toss them gently into the air. And when he was particularly good-humored, he would stand still for hours at a time while they clambered up on his high shoulders.
One evening, tired from these boisterous games, they all lay sprawled along the hillside, watching the stars come out and talking about the great men they were going to be.
“I shall be a shepherd,” cried one, “and roam the hills all day.”
“And I shall be a barber, like my father,” shouted another. “As for me,” cried a third, “I shall be a wine merchant, and live in ease.”
But Offero never said a word.
“Offero! Offero!” cried the boys, scrambling up and swarming over him. “What are you going to be?”
But Offero held his peace. Then suddenly he sprang up, shaking them off like so many puppies.
“I shall serve,” he thundered, “I shall serve the greatest king in the world!”
The boys stared. “But how will you find him?” they cried.
“I shall walk till I find him,” said Offero, “and I shall know him because he will be afraid of no one.”
In Search of the Greatest King
Next morning at daybreak, Offero set out across the hills to seek his king. For months he walked, from one proud palace to another, and past the miles of poor men's houses in between. Many a fine, glittering court he saw, and many a king. But none of them was the one for whom he searched. For no matter how broad their kingdoms might be, they were all afraid of some king beyond, who had more men or more ships than they.
But Offero kept on, undismayed. And after a year and a day he came to the king whom the others feared. When Offero saw the mighty look of this king, his heart thumped with joy. “At last,” thought he, “I have found the greatest king of all!” For when the courtiers spoke of war, the king did not cringe as the others had, but raised his head more majestically than before.
So Offero went towering down the hall, and bent his huge height before the throne.
“Oh, king,” he cried, “behold your servant, Offero!”
The king's eyes gleamed. For proud and powerful as he was, with a giant like this his name would be more terrible still.
“Rise, Offero,” he said. “The king accepts your service. In battle you will march at our army's head; and in peace you shall stand behind our throne.”
But when Offero marched before the king's army, wars ceased. For at the sight of him the enemy scurried away as fast and far as their legs would go. So there was little for him to do but stand behind the king's throne in the palace hall, which at times was rather dull for a great, strapping giant like Offero.
“But,” he would remind himself, “I am serving the greatest king of all—the only one who is unafraid.” And then he would straighten his big, stiff shoulders, and look as proud and fierce as should the servant of such a king.
One stormy night as Offero stood behind the throne, a minstrel came to play his lute before the king.
He sang of war, of dangers and temptations; Offero stood drinking in the music and the story with all of his heart. But the king fidgeted in his great chair, and Offero could see his gold crown tremble. One hand would grip the carved, gilt lion by his side, while the other made a nervous sign upon his forehead. Offero watched, troubled.
It was when the minstrel sang of Satan that the king shuddered. It was at that name that he made the sign upon his forehead.
When the minstrel was done, and the courtiers had taken their leave, Offero knelt before the throne. “Oh, king,” he cried, “why did you shake at Satan's name?—you who are afraid of no one!”
The king smiled sadly. “Ah, Offero,” he said, “the mightiest monarch of the earth must fear Satan. For he is more powerful than any king among us; and only that sign of the cross can save us from him.”
Offero sprang up, his huge shadow darkening the throne.
“Then you are not the greatest king!” he thundered. “Farewell. I go to serve him whom you fear—King Satan!”
And like a cyclone Offero was gone through the palace gate.
Looking for King Satan
All night he strode through a storm; and when day broke, he found himself on a wide, pleasant road thronged with people all going down a hill.
“Ho, there!” shouted Offero from his height. “Can any of you tell me the way to King Satan?”
“Follow us,” cried the foremost; “we are bound that way.”
Now, the leaders, who went swiftly ahead, looked mean and crafty, while those who shuffled along behind were pale and wild, with restless eyes. But Offero, towering so far above, could not see their faces. He was only glad in his great, honest heart to be with such a large, gay company.
“For,” he said to himself, “does it not show that Satan is the greatest king of all when so many people willingly leave other kings to serve him?”
The road went down, steeper and steeper, and the faster it fell, the gayer and more reckless the travelers became. They shouted and danced along so riotously that even Offero's huge strides hardly kept up with them.
Suddenly, there was a shriek. In an instant all the gay cries were changed to rasping screams. Offero stopped in bewilderment. Directly before him the road was swallowed up in a vast, smoking cavern. It was into this cavern that his companions had gone.
The shrieks grew fainter, and over them came a hoarse, sneering laugh.
“A cruel king, this Satan!” thought Offero. “But I have vowed to serve the greatest, and I must go on.”
He stepped up to the cavern's mouth. A blast of black smoke choked him, and as it cleared, he saw coming toward him a haughty figure with a crown of flames. Offero bowed low.
“A handsome recruit!” snarled Satan. “Well, friends, a fellow like this will be useful on our errand in the world up there.” And without a word to the giant, Satan motioned for him to fall behind.
Offero followed sadly while Satan and his entourage swept jeering up the hill. All along the way people cringed and shook at Satan's coming.
Dukes and princes, ladies and laborers, all scurried at his glance. A whole army marching to battle turned in terror at the sight of him. Satan went on, haughty and unconcerned.
Little by little, Offero began to forget his cruelty out of admiration for his boldness. “At last,” thought the honest giant, “I have found the greatest king, who is afraid of no one.” And he stepped along proudly, thinking that his search was over.
The road gave a sudden turn. Over the heads of Satan and his followers Offero could see a rough cross of wood against the sky, and at its foot, a child placing a handful of wild flowers.
The giant's kind heart was troubled. “Such a baby!” he muttered. “If only Satan would not frighten her!”
But even as he spoke, there was a snort of fear. Yet, it was not the child who gave it. Satan, cowering, burst through his followers, and back along the road. Offero's great form barred the way.
“Let me by!” shrieked Satan. “Let me by, I say!”
Offero's mighty hand tightened on his shoulder. “Tell me first,” said the giant calmly, “of what you are afraid.”
“The cross!” screamed Satan. “The cross! The cross of Christ, my enemy!”
“This Christ,” said Offero, “is a greater king than you, or you would not fear his cross.”
“Let me go!” cried Satan, beating with his fists on Offero's massive arm. “Save me!”
Offero loosened his grip. “Go,” he said scornfully, and stood aside while Satan and his train rushed by him down the hill.
Looking for King Christ
The little girl stood wondering beneath the cross. “Good day,” said Offero. “Can you tel1 me the way to the king called Christ?”
“You must ask the hermit,” answered the child. “He knows the way. But the path to his hut is steep and jagged, up a high hill.”
'Thank you,” said Offero. “The path does not matter, if he can tell me how to find the greatest king.”
So the child pointed the way. All day long Offero climbed. The stones were so big and sharp that they cut even his huge, hardy feet; and it was sunset before he came to the hut on the mountain top.
The hermit was beginning his evening meal. “Welcome, friend,” he cried. “Come in and sup with me.”
As they ate, Offero told the hermit of his errand. “I would find this king called Christ, for I have vowed to serve the greatest king, who is afraid of no one. My arms are strong. I can fight for him and make him more powerful than before.”
The hermit smiled. “To find Christ,” he said, “you must first serve him. And to serve him you must not kill your fellow men, but help them.”
“What can I do then?” asked Offero ruefully. “I am strong to fight. How can I help?”
The hermit looked at him. “Good giant,” he said, “your shoulders are broad and sturdy. They should be able to carry great weights.”
“They can indeed,” cried Offero happily. “It is from them that I have my name—Offero—the carrier.”
“Then, Offero,” said the hermit quietly, “why not use your shoulders to serve King Christ? There is a river not far from here, which runs deep and wild, and there are many people who come night and day to cross it over. The strongest and hardiest pass through safely, but the old and weak are often swept away by the flood.”
Offero's eyes flamed with sudden pride. “I can carry them all safely across!” he cried. Then his face darkened. “But how shall I find King Christ?” he asked.
The hermit's eyes looked far away. “You will not have to search,” he said gently. “If you serve Him well, He will come to you.”
The Raging River
The next morning, Offero and the hermit set out for the river. Hardly were they down the mountain when every traveler called out to them to turn back.
“The river is in a fury,” they cried. “No man can reach the other side alive.”
The hermit shook his head. “Come and see,” he said. “For I have a trusty ferry man here who can weather any flood.” So Offero and the hermit kept on, and the travelers followed, wondering.
The river beat against its banks, and the waves rushed white with foam. Offero pulled up a stout green tree to steady himself, and waded in till he could feel the cruel whirlpools sweeping around his ankles. Then lifting the hermit to his broad, firm shoulder, he plunged fearlessly into the raging stream. The water swirled and hissed about him. It rose to his great chest, and wet the edge of the hermit's robe. But it was of no avail against the giant. He towered through it as solid as a cliff, and set the hermit safely on the other side.
A great “bravo!” went up from the watching people, and when Offero came back, they gathered about him, clamoring to be carried. Thus it was that Offero began serving the great King whom he had never seen.
Day and night he kept at it—in the spring when the river was high and surly, in the winter when it was chilling and swift. To be ever within call, he built himself a hut on the bank; and there was no one who knocked, however haughty or humble, whom Offero did not take upon his shoulder and carry safely through the river.
So every day Offero's great face grew more kindly and his shoulders more patient. But always in his heart there was a kind of longing wonder whether the King would really seek him out, as the hermit had said, and whether Christ was indeed the greatest king, afraid of no one.
“If Christ would only come!” he thought. Sometimes in the depths of the night, he would start up and unbar the door, thinking that he heard the knock of the King. But it was only the wind, or now and again some belated pilgrim begging to be carried across the river.
One black night when the rain lashed the hut, and the river ran high and wild, Offero awoke to a sound that was not the storm. “A knock!” said his listening heart. “A knock!” Or was it after all a dream? No pilgrim, not even the fearless King would travel on a night like this.
Nevertheless, Offero sprang up, lit his great, rude lantern, and threw open the door. A drenching blast blew away his breath, but there on the threshold, in the gusty light was a pilgrim indeed—a little child with his cloak dripping with rain.
Offero caught him up with one grasp of his great arm. “Poor little one!” he said. “Come in from the storm.” “No, no, kind giant,” pleaded the child. “I cannot stay. I must cross the river tonight. It runs deep and wild for my small strength, and I come to ask if you will carry me through.”
So Offero took up his staff and, settling the child gently on his shoulder, plunged out into the pelting storm.
Above the wind they could hear the river roaring in the dark mess. Offero strode to the edge and stepped in. At the very bank the water was knee-deep, and the waves washed high on his great body. The child clung closer to his neck, and Offero stopped and steadied himself. The bottom was slippery at best, and tonight, with the waves rushing against him, it was harder than ever to stand upright.
At every step the river grew deeper and more savage. The rapids snarled about his neck, and his eyes were blinded with foam. The child, who had been but a featherweight, seemed suddenly to become heavier than a man. Offero's mighty shoulder bent under the load.
The waves dashed against his face, choking him. And still the child pressed him down. The water was smothering him, and he felt the current sweeping him off his feet. As firmly as he held to his staff, he could not go on. The child was like a mountain, bearing him down. His limbs were numb and cramped, and all his strength seemed gone. A daze came over him, and the water surged above his head.
With one last struggle, he straightened himself, raising the child above the foam. Offero gasped, staggered forward, and stopped, trembling and weak. But he had passed the channel and stepped into the shallow water on the other side. No matter how heavily the child bore upon him now, he could keep his head above the waves. So he stood, bowed and panting, beaten by the river and the rain.
Then slowly he felt his way through the blackness out of the torrent and up the muddy bank. Gently he set the child down and stooped beside Him. “Are you quite safe and well, little one?” asked he.
“Quite safe, good Offero,” said the child, “thanks to your kind care. For you have served me bravely, carrying me and my great burden through the raging river.”
“I saw no burden,” said Offero, wondering, “I only felt it.”
And as he spoke the sky brightened, the storming of the wind and river ceased, and the rain fell in gentle, shining drops.
“My burden,” said the child gravely, “is the greatest any man has ever borne. For I have taken on my shoulders all the sins of the world.”
Offero fell back, dumb with wonder. For before him stood no longer the child, but a stately figure, serene and triumphant, with a crowning light about His head.
“For I,” said the kind, deep voice, “am Christ, the king whom you have served.
And because you have borne Me faithfully, you shall be called not Offero, the carrier, but Christ-offero, the Christ-carrier. So all men shall know that you are my brave and loyal servant.”
The giant dropped to his knees, but for wonder and joy he could not find his voice. He could only gaze with grateful eyes. And as he looked, the King turned and walked majestically over the hills toward the sunrise.
But Christ-offero knelt on, lost in ecstasy, for he knew that he had found the greatest king, who was afraid of nothing, not even the sins and sorrows of the whole world.
So Offero, the good, and loyal giant, by serving the King of Kings, became the giant Saint Christopher whom we still invoke today as the patron of travellers.
From Friendly Giants by Eunice Fuller (New York: The Century Co., 1914)
DAILY QUOTE for July 23, 2019
SAINT OF THE DAY
St. Bridget of Sweden
In the days of yore, when travel must be had on foot or by horse, many were the dangers to be found along the roadways.