Bishop of Gaza in Palestine, b. at Thessalonica 347 or 353; d. at Gaza, 26 February, 420 or 421.
At the age of twenty-five, Porphyry, a rich citizen of Thessalonica, left the world for one of the great religious houses in the desert of Scete. Here he remained five years, and then, finding himself drawn to a more solitary life, passed into Palestine, near the Jordan, where he spent a similar period in the severest penance, until ill health obliged him to moderate his austerities.
He then made his home in Jerusalem, and in spite of his ailments visited the Holy Places every day, thinking so little of his sickness, says his biographer, that he seemed to be afflicted in another body than his own. About this time God put it into his heart to sell all he had and give it to the poor; then, to reward the sacrifice, He restored him, by a miracle at the Holy Sepulchre, to perfect health.
It was on a visit to the scene of the Resurrection he met the Asiatic Mark, at a later date a deacon of his church and his biographer. To effect the sale of the property still owned by Porphyrius in his native city, Mark set out for Thessalonica and, upon his return, the proceeds were distributed among the monasteries of Egypt and among the necessitous in and around Jerusalem. In 392 Porphyrius was ordained to the priesthood, and the relic of the Holy Cross was intrusted to his care. In 395 he became Bishop of Gaza, in spite of all the resistance his humility could make.
If the accounts we have are correct, he was elected bishop of Gaza without his knowledge and against his will. He was, in effect, kidnapped (with the help of a neighboring bishop) and forcibly consecrated bishop by the members of the small Christian community there.
Gaza was a stronghold of paganism, with an insignificant Christian community. The attitude of the pagan population was hostile so that the bishop appealed to the emperor for protection and pleaded repeatedly for the destruction of pagan temples. He finally obtained an imperial rescript, through the influence of Saint John Chrysostom, ordering the destruction of pagan sanctuaries at Gaza.
When Saint Porphyry first went to Gaza, he found there one temple more splendid than the rest, in honor of the chief god. When the edict went forth to destroy all traces of heathen worship, Saint Porphyry determined to put the demon to special shame, there where he had received special honor. A Christian church was built upon the site of the temple of Marnas, and its approach was paved with the marble stone of the heathen temple. Thus every worshiper of Jesus Christ trod underfoot the vestiges of idolatry and superstition, each time he went to assist at holy Divine Liturgy.
Porphyry found Gaza an ample scope for his apostolic zeal. His labors and the miracles which attended them effected the conversion of many. Shortly after he was consecrated bishop he was accused by the local pagans of causing a drought. St. Porphry ordered a fast and a procession to the tombs of the martyrs outside the city, to obtain rain from God. The rains came, the pagans gave credit to Porphyry and the Christian population, and many pagans were converted when the torrential rain descended.
Saint Porphyry lived to see his diocese cleared of idolatry, and wholly Christian.
In 415 Porphyrius attended the Council of Diospolis. The "Vita S. Porphyrii" of Mark the Deacon, formerly known only in a Latin translation, was published in 1874 by M. Haupt in its original Greek text; a new edition was issued in 1895 by the Bonn Philological Society.