(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's saint, Artemios, comes from Volume 4 of the series.)
"The great English historian Edward Gibbon is quoted as having said that St. Athanasios was more capable of ruling the Byzantine Empire than all the sons of Constantine the Great, but had he been so inclined he might have said the same thing about St. Artemios. The comparison was made to underscore the tremendous talents of Athanasios, with whom Artemios is easily compared. A half century of devotion to God and empire ended in 363 when Artemios was martyred.
A close association was formed by Artemios when he became prefect of Egypt under Constantios, third son of Constantine and ruler of the eastern sector of the empire. The partition of the empire was made by Constantine to strengthen it against its enemies. The friendship of Artemios was firmly cemented when, at the request of Constantios, he recovered the sacred remains of St. Andrew from the comparative obscurity of Patras (Achaia) in Greece as well as the remains of St. Luke from Thebes, to be more suitably placed in Constantinople, the Byzantine capital.
Later, a power struggle followed and Julian the Apostate emerged victorious. He tried to set the clock back by reviving paganism. Moreover, he disregarded the Edict of Milan, which guaranteed tolerance to Christians, and began persecuting them. Chief among those who held their Christian ground when the pagan wrath of Julian was directed towards them was the devout and fearless Artemios.
Julian looked the other way as pagan rabble transformed sweet churches of Christ into chambers of horror, with stone idols glowering where once stood the cross. Then Julian himself took up the sword against Christianity, aiming at its strongholds of the east, hoping to draw into the conflict the redoubtable Artemios whom he suspected was responsible for his brother’s death in the power struggle that preceded his claim as Caesar of the empire. By his authority the first vicious pagan thrust was directed towards Antioch, one of the first citadels of the new faith.
Not interested in the innocuous peasant flock that made up the bulk of Christianity, the apostate Julian went directly to the top of the Christian community by having the city’s most influential clergymen, Eugenios and Makarios, brought ignominiously before him and charged with spurious crimes. The two hierarchs were subjected to humiliation reserved for the gravest of offenders and when their mock trials had been completed, were cast into filthy prisons to be further badgered by criminals. While these two unfortunate clerics were being destroyed systematically, the vile Julian paid scant attention because he personally had a bigger fish to catch in the person of Artemios.
As could have been predicted, the venerable Artemios, the most highly respected figure in Egypt, went directly to the emperor to protest the persecution of his friends in Christ. He did not stride innocently into the lion’s den but with the full knowledge of what could happen, facing it with Christian courage. Julian was not interested in any cat-and-mouse games, because although he was more vicious than any of the feline family, he knew that Artemios was no mouse. He further knew that if he followed his standard procedure and simply eliminated the extremely popular Artemios, his power in Egypt would be considerably eroded, if not completely eliminated. For this reason he made it appear as though he was a fair-minded ruler whose intentions were the best and in the common interest.
After a lengthy harangue, Julian extended the hand of friendship to Artemios, exhorting him to follow his example and return to the ancient rites of pagan idolization, thereby restoring peace and prosperity to the entire community. An egomaniac, Julian was stupid enough to assume that his words would be effective, a mistaken estimation of himself and an underestimation of Artemios, who showed considerable forbearance while listening to this ignorance before replying that there were no words nor enough idols to cause him to disavow Jesus Christ. With the awesome thrust of Roman power behind him, the apostate did not hesitate to have Artemios dragged to a public square for execution. His remains were removed to the Chapel of St. John the Baptist in Constantinople. He died for Christ on October 20, 363."