(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. Eusignios, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)
The lives of most saints seem to follow a certain pattern, a radical departure from which is to be found in one of history’s greatest generals, who served the state to the end of his days in the military’s highest station, yet in the end was to lay down his life for Christ at an age seldom reached by the healthiest of men. This notable soldier, who bore the name of Eusignios, was a highly intelligent campaigner who was in no small way responsible for the victories that won the empire for Constantine. It can be said that he was at the right hand of Constantine and succeeding emperors and that in his time he wielded a mighty sword and an even mightier influence over king and commoner alike.
Eusignios was instrumental in bringing Constantine the Great to the decision that Christianity be recognized as the religion of the realm rather than the badgered worship of Jesus Christ that had to be observed in secrecy. A Christian from birth, Eusignios applied his energies to the cause of Christianity with even greater resolve than he had his military strategies, a combination whose incompatibility might arch an eyebrow, but only among those who never became aware of the compromising skills that were blended into all the others with which this man of God was endowed. He was brilliant in victory and merciful in his treatment of his vanquished enemies, keeping in mind at all times that he was a servant of the state under God.
Eusignios began his illustrious career under Constantios Chloros and served succeeding emperors all the way to Julian the Apostate, who assumed power in 361. Eusignios had then attained the ripe old age of 100 but was still in military service, amazing all those about him with his mental alertness and physical stamina. Too old for active campaigning in the field, he remained in the city as a strategist and personal consultant to the reigning monarch. The venerable general had long since earned a rest, but he preferred to remain active as a patriot and a loyal servant of God. He was to follow what in those years seemed to be a dual standard of living until Julian came to power, at which time his Christian faith was for the first time in all his years put to the test.
Julian the Apostate had been born and raised in the Christian faith but, as his name implies, he disavowed Jesus Christ and turned to the old Roman gods and the hedonism that was to erode the moral fiber of the Roman Empire and lead to its decline in the Western sector. Not content to assume this traitorous posture as his own whim, the perfidious ruler set up an active campaign to have Christians follow his wretched example, and when this failed, he applied royal pressure and intimidation, each with similar failure. The royal displeasure in seeing the common people fail to comply with his wishes soon turned into a rage with which he launched a campaign of Christian persecution that was worthy of the pagan Nero. It is hard to find a favorable comparison between the two but not difficult to determine who was the worse. Nero had never been a Christian, which does not condone his cruelty, but he was a traitor only to decency and justice.
Eusignios had the ear of the fiendish Julian but could never reach his heart, such as it was, and as persecutions increased, so did the protests of the aging Eusignios. It is doubtful that the calloused ruler had any regard for the old soldier’s honorable service, but he held his temper when the voice of Eusignios was raised in righteous indignation. Aware that the old soldier had the respect not only of the army but of the populace as well, Julian parried the verbal thrusts of Eusignios with praise for his long and faithful service which had earned him a well-deserved rest. Offers of handsome pensions and a life of restful ease at the villa of his choosing brought only a scornful refusal and the departure from the royal chamber by a thoroughly incensed old warhorse.
Eusignios took to the forum in public condemnation of Julian the Apostate in a display of raw courage which enhanced his already immense popularity, but it brought a summons to the palace where Julian said that he would tolerate no further attack upon his person nor on his authority, irrespective of the age and reputation of the gallant soldier who refused to be silent. Thus, by order regarding a traitor, Eusignios was executed at the age of 110, going to his death still defying the emperor and praising the Lord.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.