(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. Leontis and his companions, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
Saints Leontis, Hypatios and Theodoulos
Three young Greek warriors in the legions of Rome in the first century carried the weapons of war for the state, but in their hearts they carried the love of Jesus Christ, so bearing themselves as Christians, when put to the test, that they are honored as saints. Their names are Leontis, Hypatios and Theodoulos, whose collective commemoration suggests that they were comrades-in-arms whose Christian courage came to the fore after years of close comradeship, but that is hardly the case. The fact that, not as cowled churchmen, but as armed soldiers, they achieved the ultimate in spiritual attainment makes more remarkable their story, which bears out Cowper’s familiar line that “God moves in a mysterious way; his wonders to perform.”
The most prominent of the three, Leontios, was a career officer whose Greek heritage so asserted itself that he rose from the ranks to become one of the youngest generals in Roman history. Cast in the classic mold of the “Golden Greek,” he had the keen intellect which led him to embrace Jesus Christ as his true commander-in-chief. The same loyalty he expected from his troops, he felt for his Savior, subordinating his military duty to his greater duty to the Messiah, while managing to serve both as one can serve God and country. He strongly believed that serving God and country was no different than serving Christ and mankind.
In one of the provincial areas where he had assumed military command he was appalled at the poverty of a virtually starving people whose crying needs were being ignored by a provincial governor named Hypatios, who had transferred out of the service to serve as chief Roman magistrate. With granaries fairly bulging with a food supply far exceeding military requirements, Leontios ordered that grain be meted out to those in need, in spite of the heated protest of Hypatios. When challenged by the magistrate, Leontios asserted himself by saying that in this case he was answerable to a higher authority. The pagan official realized that this was an act of Christian charity and lost no time in contacting Rome to bring charges of treason against Leontios for having given away Roman property without authorization.
In view of the seriousness of the charge brought against an officer of such high rank, Hypatios was instructed to bring the accused before a military tribunal himself. For this task Hypatios selected a ranking officer named Theodoulos to serve the summons, and together they struck out for the campsite of Leontis, which was a two-day journey, obliging them to pause for a night’s rest. When he awoke the next day, Hypatios was burning with fever and was so weak from a sudden malady he could go no further; as the day wore on, he felt his life slipping away so that by evening it appeared that he would surely die.
As Theodoulos sat helplessly watching his agonized friend, the stillness was broken by a voice heard by both men – that if their supplications were directed to the one God of Leontios instead of their many false gods, the Lord would listen to their plea. The awe-struck pair joined in begging for God’s help, and within minutes the fever vanished as mysteriously as it had come. Hypatios resumed his journey with renewed vigor and with a different opinion, shared by his companion, of what they had blindly accepted in utter waste of their lives.
Leontis welcomed the pair, delighted that they had found the Savior; and all three spent the next several days together as the two converts learned about Christianity and were baptized during a gentle rain which served as waters of the river Jordan. The days ran into weeks, with none of the three in a hurry to decide what to do next. But in Rome the news had come of this transformation; the decision the three had yet to reach was made for them by an incensed military command now faced with not one, but three men they looked upon as traitors.
Leontios, Hypatios and Theodoulos were brought before a tribunal presided over by a magistrate named Hadrian who demanded that they disavow Christ and resume their old ways. The resolute trio refused to recant and were put to death on June 18, 72. They gave their last full measure of devotion not with military, but with Christian courage.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.