(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. Hesychios, is found in Volume 1 of the series.)
Prior to the turn of the fourth century, Christians were sustained in their firm belief that the Messiah was to re-appear and that his second coming was virtually at hand each dawn. Among those whose faith was rock-ribbed, but who were pragmatic enough to know that in the timeless infinity of God there is a different timetable, was a man who has come down to us as St. Hesychios, a man who let it be known to his Christian friends that the lack of the Lord’s company did not mean that He was not among them at all times. To spend an hour with this devoted servant of God was enough to allow one to feel the spiritual euphoria of Christ’s love and to retain that feeling for the rest of one’s days.
Never a man of the cloth nor even in close association with hierarch or primate, Hesychios was nevertheless an overpowering personality when the subject of faith in Christ was discussed. A far cry from what his saintliness proclaimed him to be, he was actually a civil servant in his temporal life, rising in the ranks of state government to become a magistrate in the court of Emperor Maximilian.
Forced to keep his true Christian identity masked behind a veil of unmistakable benevolence which his associates could not see as deriving from the love of Jesus Christ, he became a trusted friend and confi dant of the emperor, who assigned to him delicate matters that called for tact, diplomacy and astuteness. The beguiling, insincere and shrewd politicians were no match for the astuteness and intellect of a man who had the light of Jesus Christ probing the darkness of pagan minds. Whenever meetings were convened, those calling for the most serious of discussions were invariably chaired by Hesychios, whose judgment even in most crucial matters was never questioned.
At the time of Hesychios no Christian was allowed to hold high office, but he had convinced the emperor that among Christians were to be found some of the finest minds in the land who could serve the state with the same loyalty they applied to their religion. This resulted in the employment of many Christians in the lower echelons of the state. The pagan superiors, aware of the influence of Hesychios but unaware of his Christianity, countenanced their Christian underlings towards whom they would otherwise have been hostile.
One day, Hesychios intervened on behalf of a Christian who was being abused by a scornful pagan superior. The pagan’s wrath turned to Hesychios and in the ensuing argument the saintly man, wearying of his burdensome secret, unmasked himself and flatly declared for all to hear that he was a Christian. At that moment, he was by law no longer a magistrate and, in the absence of the emperor, he was demoted to the ignominious post of overseer of the city brothels and stripped of the trappings of his office.
He endured the accompanying indignities with Christian forbearance, happy at last to shed the mantle which had disguised him for so long and content to be on the same level with other followers of Jesus Christ.
When the emperor returned from his extended tour, the gleeful pagans hastened to tell him about his now discredited friend Hesychios, who had betrayed his trust for so many years. The emperor’s disbelief on hearing this news soon gave way to an embittered anger as he listened to more and more accusations. When he had regained his composure, he ordered his former friend to be brought before him so that he might hear from the accused man’s own lips of his alleged treachery.
When confronted by the emperor, Hesychios declared his loyalty to the king, but also his higher loyalty to the King of Kings. When asked how he could endure the humility of the degrading office, the condemned man said he accepted it as the will of God as any Christian would. He then attempted to draw on his past record and those of his fellow Christians to prove that the empire itself was better off by the presence of Christians whose increasing numbers were a help and not a hindrance to the state.
This drew a rebuttal from the prosecution whose revilement provoked the king to even greater anger. In a seething rage he ordered Hesychios to be put to death immediately. Hesychios was lashed to a huge millstone which was rolled into a river, thus drowning him. He died for Christ on March 2, 303.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.