Born toward the end of the first century, Narcissus was advanced in age when he was elected bishop of Jerusalem. Life in second- and third-century Jerusalem couldn’t have been easy, but St. Narcissus managed to live well beyond 100.
Many miracles were attributed to the saintly prelate, one of which the historian Eusebius relates: the deacons being out of oil for the lamps to be used in the Easter Vigil liturgical solemnities, the bishop bade them draw water from a well.
Pronouncing a blessing over this water, he poured it into the lamps, and it immediately turned to oil to the astonishment of all the faithful. Some of this oil was still preserved when Eusebius wrote of the miracle.
The general veneration of all good men for this holy bishop could not shelter him from evil tongues. Three incorrigible sinners, resentful of Narcissus’ strictness in the observance of ecclesiastical discipline, accused him of an atrocious crime, which Eusebius does not specify.
They stressed the “truth” of their shameless slander by terrible oaths: one wished that he would perish by fire, the other to be struck with leprosy, and the other that he to be made blind.
He was known for his holiness, but there are hints that many people found him harsh and rigid in his efforts to impose church discipline. Despite the fact that the faithful unwaveringly believed their bishop innocent, one of his many detractors accused Narcissus of a serious crime at one point. Though the charges against him did not hold up, he used the occasion to retire from his role as bishop and retired into solitude. His disappearance was so sudden and convincing that many people assumed he had actually died.
Sometime later, divine vengeance pursued the calumniators: the first man died with his whole family in a fire that consumed his home; the second contracted leprosy, and the third, deeply repentant, died blind from the amount of tears he shed.
So that Jerusalem was not left without a pastor, the surrounding bishops appointed three consecutive pastors to lead the church. On the third bishop’s term, Narcissus reappeared, as one returned from the dead. His innocence having been authentically proven, his whole flock wished to reinstate him. Narcissus acquiesced, but because of his great age, he soon asked St. Alexander to be his coadjutor.
Narcissus continued to serve his flock and even other churches by his earnest prayers and exhortations as St. Alexander testifies in a letter to the Arsinoites in Egypt. In this letter he writes that Narcissus was, at that time, one hundred and sixteen years old.
The Roman Martyrology honors his memory on October 29.