(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. Peter and his companions, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
Saints Peter of Lampsakos, Dionysios, Christina, Andrew, Paul, Benedimos, Paulinos and Herakleitos
In the first act of Donizetti’s Lucia de Lammermoor appears grand opera’s most celebrated sextet. On May 18 in the Christian calendar there is celebrated an octet who made the supreme sacrifice for Jesus Christ. Their names, led by Peter of Lampsakos, are Dionysios, Christina, Andrew, Paul, Benedimos, Paulinos and Herakleitos, all of whom are cloaked in virtual obscurity. Scattered throughout the Roman Empire, their individual lives were varied, save for their common purposes, chief of which was not only to serve the Lord most admirably but ultimately to give their lives for him willingly. Now only indistinct religious figures, they once trod the earth as vibrant human beings who knew joy, pain and sorrow as any other human beings, but who in the end so distinguished themselves in rising above untold suffering in the cause of Christianity that a day is set aside in their memory.
Peter of Lampsakos is so named because he hailed from a town of that name which bordered on the Hellespont. He was of noble lineage and one of the few of the aristocracy who embraced Jesus Christ in spite of the scorn and ridicule heaped upon him by his peers, most of whom clung to ancient but false beliefs. Peter, however, sought to reverse the scorn of his class into a reverence for the Messiah. But he ultimately incurred the displeasure of his lofty Sybarites to the degree that charges were brought against him.
Matters were not taken too seriously because of Peter’s popularity. But when he denounced his accusers and their idol worship as an affront to the Savior and true God, the mood quickly changed. Taken aback by this assault, the proconsul Olympios ordered Peter to be punished severely, confident that a few lashes of the whip would make him recant. This failing, the gallant Peter was put to unrelenting physical torture that stopped only when Peter finally succumbed.
Destined to follow Peter in death were two men from the ancient land of Mesopotamia, a pair of Christians concerned with the spreading of the Word of the Savior. Decius’ hostility towards Christians marked him for all time as an enemy not only of Christians but of all mankind in general. Selected as personal guards to the haughty ruler of the Roman Empire, these hardy men of the military, known as Paul and Andrew of Mesopotamia, accompanied Decius to Athens, where their position afforded them considerable latitude. While Decius regaled himself in the city, Paul and Andrew took advantage of their freedom to visit the prisons, slowly being crowded by men and women whose only crime was that they had chosen to follow Christ.
While making the rounds of the various jail cells, they came across a saintly pair named Christina and Dionysios who prevailed upon them to stand openly for Christ. As warriors for Rome they had secretly converted countless numbers to be warriors for Christ. Their dual nature assured a continuance of their singular purpose, but after a few moments with Christina and Dionysios, they discarded their cloak of secrecy and openly avowed themselves, at long last happy to align themselves with true Christians.
An ill-humored tribunal of Athens lost no time in condemning all four to a swift execution, particularly since two of their number had, in their estimation, made a mockery of the military for which only the harshest of punishment could be meted out. Paul, Andrew and Dionysios were put to the rack to die in agony while Christina was beheaded. However inglorious their deaths, they live in honored glory in the House of the Lord.
The final three of this honorable octet were Athenians from birth whose names have come down to us as Herakleitos, Paulinos and Benedimos. Gifted orators all, and Christians from early childhood, these three used every forum of Athens on which they could stand to preach the Gospel and spread the faith of Jesus Christ. Customarily, sentinels were posted at all the gatherings to warn of approaching danger, but the persecutors were relentless, and when they were finally apprehended a furiously frustrated collection of officials clamored for immediate death. The gallant three were forthwith beheaded, becoming a part of the eight sweet martyrs whose sacrifices are commemorated on May 18.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from GOArch.org.