(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. Pancharios, whose account is found in Volume 1 of the series.)
The joint reign of Diocletian and Maximian as co-rulers of the Roman Empire from 284 to 305 mark a twenty-year period in history which for political intrigue remains unequaled in cunning and for the cruel persecution of Christians remains unparalleled in horror. The very name Diocletian struck terror into the hearts of even those pagans loyal to him because of the assassinations which were committed on mere suspicion as part of the routine power play of the day. To be a Christian in this period was to live in constant dread and to remain one was equivalent to being put to the test every moment with death as imminent as the sword of Damocles.
It is little wonder that the unrelenting persecution of Christians produced so many saints in this span of two decades, but greater wonder still that one of these saints should come from the inner circle of friends of the heartless Diocletian. This intimate companion destined for sainthood was a man named Pancharios, a complex person whose Christian beginnings had given way to a misdirected loyalty, only to rise again in a declaration for Jesus Christ.
Pancharios was born in what is now Germany of extremely devout Christian parents whose love and devotion to their son was not enough to direct his restless spirit, which was forever thrusting him toward the glory of Rome. While a mere youth, he obeyed the impulse to leave the land of his birth and made his way to Rome, where he enlisted in the army. Able and intelligent, his rise through the ranks was meteoric, and only a few years after leaving his home he found himself appointed captain of the Royal Guard. He soon found favor with the emperor Diocletian himself, who looked kindly on members of the military because he had been an army commander prior to succeeding the murdered Numerian and had risen from humble station like his trusted captain of the guard. Their mutual admiration ripened into a strong friendship and, like one who cannot see the forest for the trees, Pancharios could not see the merciless persecution of Christians for his attachment t to Diocletian, the emperor to whom he was loyal and who could do no wrong.
The true loyalty to Jesus Christ lay dormant in the heart of Pancharios until he received a letter from his sister in which he was admonished for clinging to a murderer who was annihilating Christians with a cruel vengeance. The sister quoted two passages from the Bible which read, “For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36), and the quotation from Matthew 10:33 which reads, “Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”
Pancharios read the letter of his sister, especially the passages from the Bible, over and over again until at last, in full realization of his transgression, he wept in contrition and his lament was cried out aloud as he begged for the Lord’s forgiveness. Other members of the guard looked on in disbelief and reported what they had heard to the emperor. Diocletian could scarcely believe what he heard and asked that Pancharios be brought to him at once. The emperor reminded Pancharios that he was one of his few trusted friends and asked him to deny Christ and reassert his loyalty to the emperor. When Pancharios adamantly refused to deny Christ, reminding one and all he had been born a Christian and was now willing to die one, the emperor even in his cruel heart could not condemn his captain and directed him to another tribunal for sentencing.
Pancharios was taken to Nikomedia to be tried before a prefect who was unaccustomed to seeing a military man of high rank accused of being a Christian but who nevertheless ordered the customary punishment for the offender. Pancharios, the man who had rubbed elbows with the mighty, now found himself in prison, where he was tortured unmercifully and at last, with the name of the Lord on his lips, was put to death on March 19, 303.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.