(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. Patrick and his companions, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
Saints Patrikios, Akakios, Memandros and Polyainos
A fourth-century bishop and his staff were philosophers and thinkers, as well as theologians, to a degree achieved by only the brightest of minds; but to these talents were added a dedication to the Savior and defense of the Faith for which they paid with their lives. The name of this exalted bishop was Patrikios, who surrounded himself with men of rare intelligence whose names were Akakios, Memandros and Polyainos. This brain trust applied itself mainly to God, but was equally at home in debate on philosophical, as well as other subjects which call for cerebral depth seldom found in ordinary scholars.
At an age when most young men were more interested in fun and games, Patrikios had become bishop of Prusa, mainly interested in promoting the Prince of Peace while finding time to acquire the knowledge which made him one of the most highly-regarded philosophers and scholars of his time. In furthering the Christian cause, he selected three assistants in his bishopric who not only offered the most in terms of devotion to the Savior, but also as intellectuals capable of meeting any challenge to Christianity and intelligent thought. At the core of these mental superiors was a piety which left no doubt that they were primarily four men of God whose secular debates were expeditions of the mind.
Patrikios and his friends were an answer to the Emperor Julian the Apostate, the perfidious monarch who foolishly returned to pagan idolatry. Not content with this blackest profanity, he proceeded to make life most miserable for Christians in an expression of his diabolical malevolence. Just when Christianity was making great strides, unimpeded by witless rulers, Julian appeared on the scene to deal a cruel blow to the Christian cause. This blow could have marked its demise were it not for men of the caliber of the courageous bishop of Prusa and those who aligned themselves with him against the enemies of Christendom.
For quite some time the pagans had looked upon the warm water issuing from the earth as manifestations of gods stirring a cauldron beneath the earth’s surface; and although they could attach no significance to it, they attributed these waters to their gods. It was to the site of one of these springs that Patrikios was summoned to prove that the gods were at work. Patrikios lost no time in ridiculing this rationale as the fancy of idiots who looked upon their god as stewing something that never appeared to be cooked, and reminded them that it was simply a work of nature created by the one true God. If, indeed, their gods were brewing anything, it was a culinary figment of their own uninventive imagination, the same imagination which fashioned the gods who never tired of boiling water. Other wonders of nature throughout the world were cited by Patrikios in capsule form deriving from the Old and New Testaments, all of which served to confuse the pagans who turned to their high priest for a rebuttal.
The high priest cited distant Mt. Etna whose sporadic volcanic eruptions signified the anger of the gods. If the wrath belonged to anyone, argued Patrikios, it belonged to Him who created the earth. He went on to remind one and all that a pagan philospher named Empedokles had plunged into the boiling crater of Mt. Etna anticipating a warm reception from the gods, but instead got a scalding death. This prompted the ironic jingle of the day which said: “Empedokles was a merry old soul; he jumped into Mt. Etna and was roasted whole.”
In a burst of oratorical eloquence added to by his aides, Patrikios embarked on a stirring appeal to those in a endance to heed the word of God. Before he had completed his outpouring of biblical accounts from Genesis to the life of Christ, the pagan priests retired to plan another strategy to discredit their Christian opponents who had made a shambles of their idolatry. No amount of headscratching could produce a shred of logic to counter the Christian philosophy. Thus thwarted, they conceived the only reason left to them, the reason of violence.
By the time that the fearless foursome of Christianity could be brought to pagan justice, the wrath of idolatrous priests and officials knew no bounds. Not bothering with a trial, the puppets of Julian the Apostate dragged Partrikios, Akakios, Memandros and Polyainos to a public square, where they were beheaded on May 19.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from GOArch.org.