(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. Lucillianus and his companions, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
Saints Lucillianus and Claudius, Hypatios,
Dionysios, Paul and Paula
The mighty Roman Empire was a well-oiled machine whose engineers were highly-trained experts in its maintenance, riding roughly over all obstacles, one of which was the early Christian faith. Perhaps the empire’s greatest flaw was paganism, the intangible that caused the machine to sputter and led to its ultimate disintegration in spite of the efforts of the experts to keep it operational. That Christianity was to be born and to grow in this extremely hostile environment like some flower sprouting out of the desert sand is yet another proof of the reality and truth of Jesus Christ.
A leading figure in the idolatrous expression that eroded the Roman way of life was a high priest of the temple named Lucillianus who was a dedicated but misguided man of influence in the reign of the Emperor Autelanius. He officiated at pagan rites with mechanical and uninspired celebration before the stone idols, sustained only by the years of tradition which he accepted methodically until he was well into the autumn of his years. After a lifetime steeped in pagan beliefs to which he had clung out of a sense of obligation and nothing more, he finally yielded to that urge within him that directed him to the light of the Savior and brought him the serenity he had unsuccessfully sought.
Once he had found the truth of Jesus Christ, he rejoiced with the gratitude of a man who had stepped out of the shadows into bright daylight. As if to make up for the wasted years that lay behind him, he proudly displayed his transformation before all, pagan and Christian alike, in his home city of Nikomedia and pledged what was left of his life to the Messiah. This conversion brought heart to the Christians, but as was to be expected, it earned him only the wrath of the pagans whom he now discredited.
There was little compassion for offenders of the state, but in what passed for justice, there was a total lack of compassion for a pagan defector. Lucillianus stood his ground in opposition to those with whom he had blindly sided for many years and he was cast into a prison to await his execution. He shared a dungeon cell with four teenaged youths whose combined years barely totaled his own and whose sole offense was their Christianity. Their names were Claudius, Dionysios, Hypatios and Paul, all of whom had refused to deny Christ even after severe torture. The five were transported to Byzantium to be held up to the pagan public ridicule prior to execution in the open, where it was felt the spectacle would discourage conversion to Christianity.
The first to go was Lucillianus, who stood on a scaffold in full view of a scornful mob before he was hanged. Then the four youths were marched out to the derisive howling of the pagans who called for a bloodletting death, in answer to which each innocent youth was beheaded. In the tradition of defilement after death, the bodies were tossed into a ditch to remain unburied, left to the vultures in a final gesture of degradation.
In defiance of orders that the bodies remain untouched, a young girl named Paula arranged for their removal and interment, an act which brought the inevitable search which was not long in exposing Paula as the party responsible. The greater part of young Paula’s life had been dedicated to Christianity to the degree that she had attained eminence as a tireless worker in the name of Jesus Christ and was looked upon even by some pagans as one whose intimacy with God was very real.
The seizure and trial of the pious Paula brought cries of protest from every corner of the city whose streets she had trod in charitable pursuits. There ensued a hue and cry that, in view of the fact that she had acted in response to the dictates of her Christian conscience, she should suffer no more than a reprimand and be released. The authorities therefore hesitated for a time until the proconsul Silvanus intervened and demanded that she be put to death. He badgered the hesitant officials into submission to his will and not the will of the people on the grounds that public intimidation had no place in pagan justice.Charged with high treason, Paula joined Lucillianus and the four youths in death. All five of these martyrs were interred in the church of the Archangel Michael just outside the city and are commemorated as a group on June 3.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from GOArch.org.