Saint of the Day: St. Julian of Cilicia

(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. Julian, whose account is found in Volume 1 of the series.)

Saint Julian of Cicilia

The more widely known name of the Emperor Julian the Apostate lives in infamy, but the lesser-known name of St. Julian of Cicilia lives in honored glory, a gallant martyr for Jesus Christ who might have gone unrecognized had it not been for St. John Chrysostom. The blood of the martyrs of the early centuries of Christianity nurtured the Church, but too many of those who shed their blood for Christ are unknown to us, despite the fact that there appears to be an abundance of saints, especially in the formative years of the Church. Just as there can be no excess in charity, there can be no excess in the number of saints venerated by people of the Greek Orthodox faith. The veneration of little-known saints extends beyond them to those who are, like the unknown soldier, known only to God.

Julian was born in the province of Abazarbos, Cicilia in Asia Minor, the son of a pagan Greek father and a Christian mother. His father was a member of the senate and therefore a man of prominence. He countenanced his wife’s Christian belief and had no objection to his son being raised as a Christian. The father died when Julian was a child and the responsibility for his upbringing rested solely with his mother, who passed on to her son the strong faith in Christ that was to sustain him in his hours of ordeal. A gifted scholar, he was noted for his photographic memory, which enabled him to commit to memory an entire page with scarcely more than a single reading. He applied this incredible talent to the Scriptures, to the classics and to all forms of learning, so that by the time he was eighteen he was an acknowledged authority on just about any topic.

Since the art of conversation, in the absence of technological distractions, was one in which the more enlightened took delight, Julian was a welcome guest at any gathering. In these informal sessions he attained a prominence which by word of mouth carried to the public forums where the great debates between intellectuals provided the best entertainment to be found. These open forums also substituted for the classroom because they not only enlightened but were open for questions from the listeners who thus acquired learning. Radicals were greeted with scorn and heckling, but the words of men such as Julian were warmly received and he found himself in popular demand.

Where abstract philosophy was for the few, religion was for the many, and therefore the subject of discussion most sought after was religion, a topic that summoned forth the greatest debates to be heard. Such was the caliber of Julian’s oratory that he came to be recognized as Christianity’s most powerful protagonist. With a mental alertness that dumbfounded his opposition, he was constantly emerging as winner in a bale of wits, so much so that challengers began to dwindle in number, leaving him oftentimes to occupy center stage alone.

The city magistrate, an overbearing man named Marcian, was the supreme authority whose word was law and who accordingly looked down on debaters, but when he heard of the eloquence of Julian, he decided to take him on with his own brand of pagan eloquence and humble the Christian upstart. So he issued a challenge for the two to meet in public debate on the subject of religion. What he did not know was that the power of the Lord was behind Julian, rendering his own power useless.

At the appointed hour, the two met and in very short order Julian had scrambled the wits of Marcian with the power and beauty of his Christian eloquence. The pagan’s confidence gave way to frustration, which in turn developed into a seething rage. His screaming was in stark contrast to the calm composure of his Christian adversary. No longer able to cope with the scriptural truth being hurled at him, Marcian called for the arrest of Julian on charges of treason and stalked off in full retreat, all the while thinking how badly his prisoner could be mistreated.

Julian was then brutally tortured and then led out to be shown to the public as an example of what happens to those who speak treason against the pagan gods. Even Julian’s mother had to witness the brutality inflicted upon her son, who was led through the streets time and again after torture enough to kill an ordinary human. He was then trussed up in a sack containing snakes and cast into the sea. His body was recovered and sent to Antioch for burial on March 16, 299.

Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia


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