THE FIVE HOLY MARTYRS: EUSTRATIOS, AUXENTIOS, MARDARIOS, EUGENIOS AND ORESTES
These five holy martyrs lived during the reign of the Roman emperors Diocletian and Maximian, in 296 A.D. At that time, perhaps the worst persecutions against Christians had broken out, aiming to wipe off all Christians from the face of the earth.
In those days the Cappadocians were being slandered to the emperors, claiming they did not respect or listen to the emperors' orders and were preparing to defect.
When Diocletian heard this, he was disturbed. He immediately ordered that the rulers of Cappadocia be removed from office, and in their place he sent two wise Hellenistic Romans, authorizing them to put to death any person found out to be Christian, without needing a pretext and under false accusations.
The basic precondition was the knowledge of the Greek language, since from the time of Archelaos the Macedonian, not only had Cappadocia been Hellenized, but many Greeks, especially from the islands, had translocated there as well.
A strong example are the small towns of Bar-Poros, Dila-Dilos, Axos-Naxos, Imvros-Imvrassos, Limna-Limnos, Tenei-Tenedos, etc. And so the official language of Cappadocia was Greek. After having reached their provinces, Agricolaus and Lysias remorselessly and mercilessly put to death young and old, men and women, without a reason and without plea. In fact, so as not to allow Christians to martyr in their own areas―something which they desired greatly―the two prefects agreed that the martyrs of Caesarea would be sent to Sebaste and those of Sebaste to Caesarea.
And so, Eustratios, the ruler of the area of Arabrak and a general, who respected God and was a virtuous person, saw what was happening and decided―after a revelation of the divine will―to appear to Lysias and to outspokenly appeal for the Christians and become a martyr.
He first invited all his friends and hosted them to his last supper. Among them was also the military tribune Eugenios. The saint's face was so bright and cheerful that his heartfelt friend Eugenios asked him where this brilliance came from. Saint Eustratios revealed to him his intention.
The following day, after Lysias sat on his throne in the middle of the city, he ordered all the prisoners to be brought for examination. Eustratios came before him proud and upright, wearing the official vesture of a general. The Roman prefect was perplexed with the saint's unexpected appearance and outspokenness. He immediately ordered they remove his vestments, strip him naked and tie him up and bring him before him.
He asked how many years he had served the Roman army. “Twenty seven,” the saint replied.
“Eustratios,” the prefect said, “repent and denounce your Christian ideas and call on the mercy of the gods, the goodness of the kings, and the court's philanthropy!”
“Are you ordering me to worship deaf idols and mischievous demons?”
“And you, Eustratios, you miserable people, how is it you worship a crucified God?” Lysias replied.
“If your mind and soul were not corrupt, I would bear witness to my crucified Savior and the Creator of all Creation for you!”
Enraged, Lysias ordered that the saint's legs be burned with fire and that he be whipped and after his wounds be coated in salt and vinegar. Afterwards, the ruler approached him and said, “Did you take pleasure in that, Eustratios?”
The saint unperturbed replied, “Would you like to be certain that nothing is impossible for my God? Watch me!” Suddenly the wounds fell off as scales and nothing of his previous torture was apparent.
Then Eugenios, a fellow citizen of Eustratios', who came from the same class, the Roman army's military tribune cried out saying, “Lysias, I too am a Christian like Eustratios.” On hearing those words and trembling from his rage and astonishment, the ruler ordered that both saints' entire bodies be chained up and they be put in jail along with the other Christians.
The next day, he ordered his servants to make all the necessary preparations for the march to Nicopolis. He also ordered that the martyrs wear shoes embedded with nails.
Without complaining the saints wore them, and after a two days march they reached Arabrak. A simple builder, named Mardarios, saw the glorious star Eustratios being led to martyrdom, and after having descended down to the room of his home (he must have been living in a catacomb), he said to his wife, “Wife, have you seen our province's lord, who had so much money and army and was of a proud lineage, how he disregarded all this and is on his way to becoming a sacrifice well-pleasing to God, to be worthy of the kingdom of Heavens?
And the virtuous woman answered: “What is stopping you, my husband, from accompanying him, and along with him to be made worthy of good perfection? He immediately put on his tunic, embraced his two children and, facing the east, prayed: “Lord God, Father Almighty, Lord the Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit, One God, One Power, have mercy on me the sinner and do not consider my wrongdoings, save me Your unworthy slave as You are forever blessed. Amen.” (Please note that this prayer has been included in the services of our Church, such as the Midnight office, the Hours, etc.)
So, having warmly embraced his wife and children and greeted them farewell, he hurried away to meet Arabrak's notable Moukatoras, St. Eustratios' relative and a warm Christian, and asked him to become his family's protector after God. Receiving his assurance he quickly caught up with the saints.
And he said, “Lord Eustratios, I also come to accompany you as an innocent lamb running to his shepherd. Accept me and number me among your holy company and lead me as a martyr to my Lord and Savior Christ, even though I am unworthy.”
After having said all that, he cried out in a loud voice saying, “I too am a Christian as my lord Eustratios.” Then the soldiers tied him up and jailed him along with the two other saints and announced this fact to Lysias. In the meantime, among the many Christians they had jailed in Arabrak, there was also the notable and virtuous elder and friend of Saint Eustratios, the devout Auxentios. He was a priest of Arabrak, who celebrated the mystery of the Holy Eucharist in the catacombs located on the edge of the small city and which survives to this day. This catacomb hosted and saved Saint Makrina, Saint Basil the Great's grandmother, during Galerius' and Diocletian's era when forced into a long exile with her husband due to the relentless persecutions against Christians (K. Boni). The catacomb was soon to become the grave of the five martyrs, then be named in honor of Saint Makrina, and would exist up to this day.
The next day, Lysias ordered them to bring Saint Auxentios before him tied. “Auxentios,” he said, “turn back from your disastrous beliefs and bow down before the goodness of the gods so that they can forgive you.”
“I know one God only, and Him I honor. And even if you threaten me through countless beatings and wounds, flames and iron, I will not change my thoughts and opinion.”
Then the ruler commanded that he be beheaded in a deserted forest and that his relics be left there to be eaten by beasts. After that he ordered them to bring up Mardarios. The saint looked pleadingly at Eustratios and said to him, “My lord, pray for me please, and tell me what answer I should give, so that this disbeliever does not take me for an uneducated villager and ridicule me?”
And Eustratios replied, “Persist, my friend Mardarios, saying only that you are a Christian and do not give any other answer.”
And so the soldiers brought the saint in front of the ruler. He calmly replied to all the questions saying that he is a Christian. Lysias, seeing his simplicity, said, “Pierce his ankles, insert ropes through the holes, hang him and with flaming spears, burn his kidneys and his back, so he can acquire some understanding and speak differently.”
And while all this was happening the saint said, “Thank you, my Lord, for making me worthy of all these good things... Accept my spirit in peace.” After having said that, he surrendered his sanctified soul to God's hands, and the executioners brought down his sanctified remains.
Then the ruler ordered that they bring him Saint Eugenios. And so they brought the saint to him, and Lysias said, “Tell me which cunning demon unnerved you, so that in audacity you insult us, ignoring the strictness of the court?”
“My God,” answered Eugenios, “who abolishes the demons, strengthened me and granted me outspokenness so that I scorn your threats.”
“Cut out his offensive tongue and crush his hands and feet, so that he speaks more prudently.” And so the blessed one handed over his sanctified soul to Jesus, the prize-giver.
After the martyrdom of Saint Eugenios, Lysias went out to the plain to exercise his soldiers. Seated on a rock, he ordered all the soldiers to individually pass in front of him and then to hit a target on a tree using their spear.
A young officer with an upright posture and handsome in appearance, after having been praised by Lysias, was ordered to throw the spear at the target. His tunic suddenly opened and right in front of him a small gold cross which he was wearing on his chest appeared.
From this, one can see that the lovely practice of Christians wearing a cross on their chest is ancient. Saint Pagratios of Tavromenia, an ancient bishop, who received the baptism from the hands of the apostles and followed the Apostle Peter for a while, after baptizing Christians, he gave them a cross made of cedar to keep on themselves. Besides, Saint John the Bostrine said that the demons are scared of three things from Christians: Baptism, the cross which they wear on their neck and Holy Communion.
When Lysias saw the cross, he called the young Orestes close, and bewildered, said to him, “What is this? Do you also belong to the Crucified One?”
The saint spoke out affirmatively. Then Lysias ordered for Orestes to be tied up and taken near Eustratios, so they would be examined not in Arabrak but in Nicopolis. But the surprise that Lysias experienced was unordinary. A crowd of soldiers, giving the impression of a rebellion, yelled aloud in one voice, “Lysias, we are all soldiers of Christ.”
Initially he was scared that they would dash against him. But then, seeing that they gave themselves up as lambs, he ordered that they be prisoned. But he was tortured by the presence of Saint Eustratios because of his strong character and his ability to perform miracles; he would be able not only to support Christians but also to dissuade idolaters.
So he decided to send Saint Eustratios and Orestes to Agricolaus in Sebaste, requesting that he judge him who was elevated to the highest of military offices but scorned everything according to his most wise judgement and the laws of the Kings.
The two martyrs passed their very sorrowful march which lasted many days with psalms and hymns. On the way, Saint Eustratios asked Saint Orestes, “Tell me my friend, in what eagerness and in what way did the holy Auxentios perfect himself?”
And Saint Orestes answered, “After Lysias issued the decision to put him to death, he begged the soldiers to let him see you, but they refused. Then they took him to a gorge called Ororea. All the while the saint sang psalms. As he saw me close by, he nodded to me to approach him and said, 'My brother Orestes, tell Eustratios to pray for me and soon he will be with me.' After that he bent his knees, raised his hands to the sky and prayed. The soldiers beheaded him, but no Christian dared come close because of the commencing persecution. When it got dark, devout men from Arabrak took his relics in secret but could not find the head. A bird cried from the branch of a tree. As they approached, they saw his holy head in between the branches. After taking it along with the holy relics, they left for the small town.”
When the saint heard this he cried and pleaded God to make him worthy of a fast ending.
Five days later, the escort reached Sebaste and handed over the saints to Agricolaus, who ordered them to be imprisoned in a very secure prison.
The following day, after sitting at the market's central throne, the saints were taken there in front of the whole town. Afterwards, he asked that someone read Lysias' letter. Listening to the testimony and the saint's responses he said to him, “Do not think that Lysia's punishment is anything compared to my own! Before you try my tortures, obey the royal commands and worship the gods.”
But the Saint replied, “Are not laws above kings? Are you not all obligated to act according to the laws? Is it not written in the laws that the defendant pleas without repression and the judge in gentleness, wisdom and discretion listens to him and decides?”
“Yes,” answered Agricolaus.
“Then I also ask you to hear me before you decide”
“Say in outspokenness what you want so that the court judges you more fairly?” answered Agricolaus.
So taking the opportunity the saint told him, “What are you ordering me to worship, a God or gods?”
The ruler said, “God and gods.”
And the saint, “Greater and lesser ones?”
“Yes,” answered Agricolaus.
Then, calmly, convincingly and vividly, the saint started to analyze the Greek theogony with the monotheistic beliefs of many wise people, such as those of Plato, whom he knew by heart: a Plato who on one hand extols virtues, and on the other taunts the weaknesses of the Olympian gods and advises every virtuous person not to imitate the passions of a lawless, immoral and patricidal Zeus.
“Your impudence has crossed the limits of my patience and philanthropy,” answered Agricolaus. “And who then is your Galilean?”
“He is the only real God who resurrected us and made us worthy to become His children, teaching us how to fight the demons and our passions, how to exercise our thinking, how to avoid dishonesty and acts of shame and how, by cultivating His unique ethical teaching, we can be led to perfection and find our residence in heaven.”
Agricolaus was enraged and said, “We are not worthy to judge the royal virtues, but only to obey to their commands. And so, let any conversation seize and come worship the gods. Otherwise, I will punish you with such torture you cannot even imagine.”
The saint said to him, “Why then did you not do so earlier? Did you think I would cower?”
Then the tyrant ordered an iron bed to be lit up by a big fire underneath till it became red and for Orestes to be placed on it. Then he said to Eustratios, “It is fair for you to first see the hell that awaits you and then be tortured, so that you can show more fortitude.”
The executioners took young Orestes and led him to the burning bed. On seeing the fire, the saint cowered for a moment, but immediately Eustratios said to him, “Do not cower, Orestes my child, because only the looks of it are fearful and punishing, but you will not feel it at all, if you walk in faith. God is here with us and helps us. Remember the bravery of Saint Auxentios and the rest of the martyrs and don't appear more neglectful than them, because in a little while the pain passes away and the never ending heavenly treasure remains.”
After having heard all this, Saint Orestes took courage and bravely jumped onto the burning iron bed, made the sign of the Cross over his chest and immediately lay down his body saying, “Lord to you I hand over my soul!”
After that the ruler ordered that Saint Eustratios be put in prison for further examination. At this point let's stop discussing the events for a moment which will lead us to Saint Eustratios' martyrdom, and let us describe a joyful event that occurred in Chios, and in particular, in Nea Moni.
The people of Chios, always having been believers and lovers of martyrs, always had a close connection to Cappadocia and the five martyrs. This is apparently for two reasons. One is because the builders' guilds literary scoured Cappadocia, reached Caesarea and met the saints up close. Even the name Eustratios was linked to the well-wish “good path”* (in Greek “kali strata” meaning “kalo dromo”) in folkloric imagination, just like at weddings for the newlyweds' good progress (“kali prokopi”) they call on Saint Prokopios. It is also known that many years ago they were forced to move to Asia Minor, together with other islanders and people of Chios.
And this explains the wonderful mosaics of the five martyrs found in Chios's Nea Moni, like the beautiful church of Saint Eustratios in Chios' Thymiana, which we visited in 1989 for its 100th anniversary, bringing along the saint's skull. It is the third church mentioned by Orthodoxy after their catacomb in Semedere and their the church named after them in Cappadocia's Bor (Poros).
Let it also be noted that after gathering material for 27 years, as many years Saint Eustratios' served in the army, we are given today the opportunity to print this book, when the Metropolitan of Philippi is the Very Reverend Prokopios, born in myrrh-bearing Chios, with deeper roots from Asia Minor. On this island there was a metochi (dependent monastery) of the five holy martyrs that belonged to Nea Moni. The year the miracle occurred, there was a heavy and harsh winter. Because of the excessive snow the fathers were not able to get down to the metochi and the pilgrims could not get to the chapel. The priest by himself rang the bell, made the blessing and began Matins.
Suddenly, he saw five respectable people entering the church humbly, unknown to the priest, taking their seats with the youngest in the middle chanting the canon. Their faces seemed familiar, their dress strange, their voices bright, their look dignified. The priest was filled with joy and pleasure, glorifying God for the unexpected helpers. But he was curious to know who they were. The time of the reading of the “synaxarion” (lives of the saints) arrived. The young canon singer read, “… Saint Orestis, being led to the bed, snickered (emeidiase) and, after approaching Saint Eustratios, said pray for me…” At that point, the man who looked very much like Saint Eustratios lifted his eyes and looking very carefully at the one resembling Orestes, said to him, “Why did you change the words and not say them as they are written? Read this part a second time.”
But he again changed the verb and instead of reading “cowered (edeiliase),” because he was embarrassed, he said “emediase.” Then Saint Eustratios said to him loudly, “Read it as it happened to you, because you did not snicker when you saw the bed, but you cowered.”
Immediately after this exchange all five of them disappeared. Seeing this paradox, the priest remained speechless for a long time. When he came to his senses, he finished the service as best as possible. After that he narrated in fear to those that arrived later what had happened. That's all regarding the word “cower.”
And now let us continue with Saint Eustratios' martyrdom.
The whole time during his path to martyrdom he kept a faithful servant with him. At night he said to him, “My child, bring me my will, because tomorrow I also hope to appear before my Lord.”
After the servant brought a parchment and ink, he wrote, “Transfer my relic to the small city of Arabrak and bury it there in the Analidazor catacomb, together with the relics of the saints Eugenios, Mardarios, Orestes and Auxentios.
He asked that his holy relic be taken to the village of Arabrak (Semedere), to be buried in the Alivazora catacomb, to remain whole and complete together with the other bodies for burial with his four fellow martyrs, according to their previous desire, at the time of their arrest. After that he asked that his estates be dedicated to the monastery that would be made in their name and from the rest of his fortune, half be given to his relatives, in order to free the servants and the other half to the poor. After putting together his will, he fasted for the whole of that day.
In the meantime, Saint Vlasios, the bishop of Sebaste, heard of the glorious personality that had arrived in the city and routed Agricolaus. Believing that his presence in his bishopric was a blessing, he approached the crypto-Christian guards at night, tipped them, and even asked to let him enter the interiors and talk with the saint. After having entered, he fell on his face and knees and said, “You are blessed, Eustratios, for the strength that God gave you. Please remember me, the sinner.”
“Please do not act this way, my father,” answered the saint. “I am required to bow in front of you. God sent you here to me, because as He has revealed to me, tomorrow in the afternoon at twelve o' clock, I will make my way to my Christ. And so, take what I have written and read it. After all this, he asked the bishop to give his word that he himself would take responsibility for his relic and that of Saint Orestes and bury them along with their fellow martyrs. He asked to commune of the Holy Mysteries. Soon the dark prison became a church. The necessary things for the holy liturgy were found. Guards, the imprisoned and the bishop were the partakers of the holy mystery, as light flooded the prison. The time for Holy Communion arrived. As Saint Eustratios was receiving the divine pearl, lightning shone in the prison and a voice was heard saying, “Eustratios, you have fought well. Come receive your crown.”
When the people present heard this voice, they fell on their faces and worshipped God. The bishop stayed for that whole night listening to him, receiving joy from the holy saint's words. He left in the morning, promising not to neglect all that was discussed in prison. After a while, Agricolaus sat on his throne and ordered that they bring up Eustratios. After calling him up, he told him in secret, “Honestly, Eustratios, I feel very sorry for you because you do not accept to obey the royal commands. Just for appearances, bow down and in your heart believe in your own God, and ask for forgiveness for this submittal so that you, a very wise and very well reputed man, don't have to perish as though you were a common criminal. If my position was not at risk, I would not ask you to succumb. Besides, I have put to death many Christians and I was not saddened, but I am so concerned for you that all night I stayed awake and was very troubled.”
The saint answered soberly, “Do not be upset about my death, nor put your position at risk for me, but act according to the royal rules, because neither through hypocrisy nor by any other way do I wish to sacrifice to your gods. My torture gives me joy and if you don't believe it, try.”
Then the ruler covered his face with his hands for a long time and weeped. In fact, the ones who were there, because they knew the ruler's sympathy and appreciation towards the saint, both Christian and idolaters, broke out in whaling tears.
But the saint told them, “Why are you lingering? In your tears and sympathy, I see the acts of the evil one trying to bend me emotionally, to stop me from receiving the crown of martyrdom... So, do what you desire. I oppose the royal commands and your will. I detest and I curse your gods… as they are accursed and they who respect them.”
Consequently, the ruler, seeing the solidity of his faith and his great willingness to martyr, forced himself to write the decision against the saint: “Eustratios, who showed disobedience to the orders of the kings and whose iron soul did not yield to the emperors' commands and did not wish to worship the gods, I order that he be burned in fire and in this way end his life.”
When the saint received the decision, he stood up, gazed upwards and lifted his hands to the sky and in a loud voice said, “I humbly glorify You, Lord, as You have seen my humility, and have not left me to the hands of my enemies, but have saved my needy soul. And now, my Lord, let Your hand protect me and have mercy on me, as my soul is troubled and aching, as it is about leave from this miserable and unclean body, that it may never meet the evil one's cunning will and obstruct it, for the sins which I have committed in this life, in ignorance or in knowledge. Be merciful to me, my Lord, and let not my soul face the murky and abhorrent evil demons, but let it be received by winsome and bright angels. Glory be to Your Holy name and through Your strength elevate me to Your throne. When judging me let me not be received by the ruler of this world to take me the sinner into the abyss of hades, but stand for me and be my Savior and helper. Lord have mercy on my soul which is polluted by passions and cleanse it through my repentance and confession and accept it, as You are forever blessed. Amen.”
After having prayed this wonderful devout prayer, full of meaning (which in our Church has been included in Saturday's midnight office) and seeing that the servants had already lit a fire, making the sign of the cross he entered it singing psalms and joyfully handed over his soul. Saint Eustratios was put to death on 13 December.
Simply and accurately his pious biographer closes the scene of the great martyr's life exemplifying the greatness of the man's soul, who joyful and singing psalms lay on the burning bed and accepted sacrifice for the Jesus, the prize-giver.
The great skinarios (keeper of the archives) of premier ducal class, the gifted leader of numerous perfections, the one who had a “rare” and “most sweet” tongue, so much so that his biographer notes that he was a professor “more eloquent than orators” on the 13th of December, 296 AD ascended into heaven to meet the choir of martyrs, leaving us his relic full of grace. In keeping his promise and his obligation, the holy martyr Vlasios received the two relics. Despite the danger he was in and which he did not escape in the end, as he himself sealed his life as a martyr, joyfully received the relics and taking great care through a many days walk, numerous dangers and adverse weather conditions, due to the notorious Cappadocian winter, he reached Arabrak. The inhabitants were very moved and accepted the precious bodies. They went to the catacomb of St. Makrina, where she once stayed to escape Galerius' wrath. They opened the stone door and descended the five steps. Then they turned eastwards and continued down into the dark passageway. After having gone down another ten steps they came across a big column. The old Christian alter area with the two gates, the central one and that of the service of Preparation, seemed minimally altered through the dim light of the two candles. Freshly dug under the arches were two graves. According to the order of the martyrdom of the saints, buried on a lower lever Saints Eugenios and Mardarios, a little higher the priest, Auxentios, and now the experienced hands of the Arabrakan-Semendrian were digging the third one. With great devotion they placed Saints Orestes and Eustratios inside, away from the memory of the enemies of the Faith, lights in the darkness of idolatry.
Immediately an describable fragrance filled the catacomb, a scent which continues to our days, from the graves up to the reliquary. The three graves that till today the muslims worship in Asia Minor and the Semendrians are unable to explain why there are three and not five.
Not long after Saint Vlasios' return to Sebaste, he too received the crown of martyrdom. And in the early painting of the catacombs, that which escaped the wrath of the iconoclasts, it shows Saint Vlasios' image next to that of the five martyrs, holding Saint Eustratios' will. The whole of the Orthodox world honored Christ's saints very devoutly, those who through their blood sealed their love and desire for Christ.
The amazing martyrdom of our five saints always projects before our eyes a reminder of our own obligations, to check our own behavior against what is correct, which is the constant confession of our Christian identity.
The five martyrs' constitute the evangelical completion, as they in their position of works, in times of confession and martyrdom, have completed Christ the Savior's commands. The offering of their sacred blood has taken away the importance given to idols and has created an infinite crowd of God's faithful people.
This was the martyrdom of Saint Eustratios alongside with the “competing” holy martyrs Eugenios, Mardarios, Auxentios and Orestes. But still, if the cold tomb stone for all Christians is nothing more than the beginning of another life, how much more for Christ's' martyrs, the ones that “God has highly honored and in glory sits among them.” Their blessed relics, within their “more than spring flowers most scented reliquaries,” will forever bless, sanctify, work miracles “so that in all elements and Angels and people and events and the unseen, glorify the most holy name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”.
So let us devoutly approach those graves and rejoice in the venerable pages that they have written in their living presence since the time of their martyrdom, in 296, till today 1996―that is seventeen whole centuries. Let us touch their gracious reliquaries, and let us speak out together with Cassiani: “the five chord lyre and five lighted candlestick, of the Church of God, the God-bearing martyrs, offering hymns, and devoutly praise. Praise be to the good one under God's soldier... Eustratios the divinely wise... Praise to the equal in number choir of wise Virgins... Deliver us from all rage and trouble and of Your indescribable glory make us partakers”.
*Trans. Note: A more English expression would be “safe journey.” The name Eustratios is actually from eu=good, stratia=army, not strada=way/path, which was taken from Italian
Fr. Theoharis Mengas
THE HOLY FIVE MARTYRS
FROM CAPPADOCIA TO POLISTILO OF KAVALA
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