(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. Antipas, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
Saint Antipas of Pergamon
It is one thing to introduce the light of Jesus Christ to a people not yet emerged into the full light of knowledge, but quite another matter to tell an ancient and proud people, who for centuries had introduced not only democracy but science and philosophy as well, that they were to be commended for their intellectual achievements but condemned for their form of worship. This was the unenviable task that lay before those who preached the word of Christ to the ancient Greeks, who saw no greater wrong in their false idols than in their flawless architecture or compelling literature.
It can be argued that, the task of converting the pagan Greeks would have been that much easier because of their advancement. The question is moot, but in any case Greece was a ripe territory for the first apostles because Greece had stood for centuries as the greatest of nations. Equal in world esteem were the sparkling islands of the Aegean, one of which is Patmos where St. John wrote of the angel of Pergamon, Antipas of Pergamon. The only apostle to escape a martyr’s death, St. John went to the island of Patmos to write the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament.
In Revelation (2:13) St. John writes, “I know thy works and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is, and thou holdest fast my name, and thou has not denied my faith, even in those days werein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.” The complete story of the man named in the New Testament by St. John himself lies in more than his reference in Revelation as a martyr for Jesus Christ. As Stephen was the first to die for Christ in the western part of the Middle East, Antipas was the first to lay down his life for the Savior in Asia Minor.
Antipas had been appointed bishop of Pergamon by St. John, and the two had campaigned throughout Asia Minor as two of the most compelling of the early apostles, working together as a team that won converts in great numbers. It so happened that in Pergamon a temple called an “Asklepeion” had been built by the ancient Greeks, who were drawn in great numbers to pay homage to their chief god Zeus. For this reason it was a hotbed of paganism and therefore referred to by St. John as the place of Satan. The resistance to the Christian movement quite naturally was the stiffest among those who had come for miles to venerate an ancient god, and it is to their everlasting credit that from out of this hostile crowd, Antipas, together with St. John, converted to Christianity hundreds of pagans whose forebears had looked to Zeus for centuries.
While John continued through Asia Minor to preach the word of Christ, Antipas remained as bishop at Pergamon, where he continued to win converts in numbers so alarming to the pagan leaders that he was ultimately brought before the magistrate for having brought scorn and derision on the faith of their fathers. The magistrate was not a man of cunning and guile, but he was a confirmed pagan and undertook to dissuade Antipas from his new faith by pointing out that tradition was of the weightiest consequence when measured against that offered by an obscure carpenter from a foreign land.
Antipas replied that he too was proud of his ancient traditions, except for the paganism against which the greatest arguments were contained in the Old Testament.
Without reference to a New Testament yet to be written, the pious bishop recounted the wonderful story of the prophesies which anticipated the coming of Christ by hundreds of years and related the sweet story of the birth and life of Jesus, who had come to save all of mankind. Using the Old Testament stories as well as the parables of the Savior, Antipas argued his case for Christianity against a hardened adversary who realized that swift punishment was in order before too many hearers forsook the darkness of paganism for this new light in which he would lose control. Refusing to deny Christ, Antipas was put to death. His remains lay in the beautiful church of Pergamon. His feast day on April 11 is especially observed in the Church of St. John in Constantinople.
(Icon from Wikimedia.)