(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, St. Philotheos, comes from Volume 1 of the series.)
It is ironic that Asia Minor was the land in which most of the blood of the martyrs was spilled, only to eventually be trod by opposing religions and cults whose members were a far cry from the teachings of Jesus Christ, all of which lends credence to Cowper’s remark that God moves in a mysterious way. It is also ironic that seven martyrs whose blood was shed in this region surfaced in ecclesiastical history with no precise dates as to when they made the supreme sacrifice. It is enough to know of their heroic action and that at least their names have been handed down to us to be venerated. It is safe to assume they acted for the Savior in the early centuries of Christianity.
Known as the “Seven Martyrs,” chief of whom was St. Philotheos, they went under the name of Hyperechios, Abibos, Julianus, Romanos, Iakovos and Parigorios. They all comprise a group venerated as saints by the Greek Orthodox Church, and although not one was an exalted hierarch, each was a servant of God.Much has been made of the well-known saints who have served the Lord to the fullest, but these obscure seven gave as much. And it is enough to know that they were aggressive, youthful and dedicated, and beyond that possessed outstanding courage. They are not to be found in high places, nor has it been recorded that they spent so much as a day in a monastery. They are not known to have been ascetic, hermits, or eremetic pillar-dwellers, making themselves known in spectacular fashion. They were the average men of their time with whom the average Christian of today can identify.
If one were to take an educated guess, it would be that this glorious group of seven lived during the reign of Emperor Diocletian, known as much for his arrogance and cruelty as for his pagan intransigence. The accounts given of this gallant seven is commensurate with the treatment meted out by Diocletian.
While many earnest, well-meaning Christians remained passive, others like the Sacred Seven were activists whose overt devotion to the Lord is what kept Christianity growing in the face of superior odds. Undaunted, they carried the word of Jesus Christ to any who would listen and, although none was singled out as an orator of supreme persuasion, they served by example in the conversion of pagans to Christianity. Service to the Savior is not always measured in terms of asceticism, priesthood or monasticism, but is as valuable when a man approaches another and asks to listen to the story of Jesus Christ.
We leave the work of the Lord in the hands of the clergy today, but when clergy was scarce, or virtually nonexistent in some hostile areas, someone had to shout out for the Savior and these seven shouted and were heard. Persecutions would ebb and flow with the whim of the emperor, whose fiendish delight was never better satisfied than when Christians were put to torture. It was during one of these assaults on hapless Christians that special effort was made to capture the Seven who had become a team, inseparable in their crusade for Christ. They were rounded up and separated from others who had been caught. They were placed in a squalid dungeon where they were intermittently beaten as a prelude to their final torture.
Eventually led from prison, they were told that hanging or beheading would be too easy a death for them. The Seven did not flinch. They were taken to a public square before a howling pagan mob. Their friends had not deserted them, but they could not prevail against the odds and chose not to look upon this bestial scene. They took to other places, even more determined to spread the word of the Savior.
A wooden wall stood at one end of the square and the now suffering Seven were placed against this barrier to be nailed to the wall, much as their Savior had been nailed to the cross. Not content to have nails driven through their arms and legs, the pagan executioners then produced long spikes which were driven through the heads of the dying Seven, and with blood streaming until their hearts had stopped, the fanatic mob howled in delight. It is doubtful if such inhumanity has been surpassed, even with burnings at the stake. The martyrdom of the Seven is commemorated on January 29.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikimedia.