Saint of the Day: St. Laurentios

(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.Laurentios, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)

Saint Laurentios (Laurence)

The Eastern and Western parts of the Church share the pride of commemorating a saint whose ironic humor thoroughly unnerved an assemblage of Romans gathered to witness his heinous torture and ultimate death for having served Jesus Christ. Each part of the Church could call this astounding saint their own because of his close association with a Roman pope who was originally an Athenian but who also gave his life for the Savior several centuries before the final schism between East and West. Prior to his death, this saint named Laurentios had given evidence of his scorn for the enemies of the Savior by yet another expression of his figurative humor, offensive to Rome but not to heaven.

Laurentios served as one of the seven archdeacons under Pope Sixtus II in 258, a time when Christianity was fragile and subject to waves of persecution under Roman tyrants. As administrator of projects to assist the poor and afflicted of the Eternal City, Laurentios became attached to the people, who respected him for his earnestness and piety. He was also a compelling presence who never left a wealthy Roman household without taking with him a substantial contribution for the underprivileged.

When Emperor Valerian returned from a prolonged military campaign, he was given exaggerated stories about the proliferation of Christians whose ever-increasing churches fairly bulged with the riches of silver chalices and other valuables. There immediately ensued a new wave of persecution of Christians commencing with Pope Sixtus, who was given a sham trial and promptly executed to show that Valerian was determined to wipe out Christianity. On learning of the activities of the archdeacon, Valerian summoned Laurentios before him and ordered Laurentios to bring him all the treasures of the church of which he seemed to be in charge.

Laurentios went about gathering every sick and poor Christian he could round up and led this sorry-looking array of humanity in a bedraggled parade that ended on the steps of the palace. When the prefect emerged to gaze out over this sea of suffering humanity, he demanded to know why Laurentios had assembled this shabbily attired mass of wretched looking people. Laurentios answered in a loud and clear voice, “I have done as you instructed. You asked me to bring you the treasures of the Christian Church and here before you is assembled the wealth of the Savior.” The enraged prefect did not appreciate this euphemistic gesture, ordering the crowd to disperse and dragging the archdeacon before the emperor.

The execution of the pope had been swift, yet Laurentios was assured that he would not be so fortunate as to meet an instant death but would suffer a torture hitherto never inflicted on a victim. To ensure the agony of the archdeacon, he was lashed to a large gridiron and placed over a fire to be roasted like a slaughtered lamb without the benefit of first being slaughtered. By special invitation a group of special friends of the tyrant had assembled to witness the roasting of this human being, but to a man they stood transfixed when Laurentios uttered no sound as the flames licked his flesh until he turned to the prefect and said, “Let my body be turned; one side is broiled enough.”

The grace which rendered the archdeacon numb to pain was seen by the prefect as some mystical power and he proceeded to turn the condemned over to the side that had not been exposed to the fire. After some minutes Laurentios, not once showing any sign of pain, then spoke his last words aloud as he said, “It is cooked enough; you may eat.” Then as he lay dying over the hot coals he prayed for the conversion of Rome. Divine intervention made it impossible to inflict pain on this pious man who was martyred for Christ, expiring before pagan Romans who gave second thoughts as to the useless powers of their false idols and went away not as they would have from the arena but solemn in their determination to find out more about the kind of religion for which this obviously harmless man had willingly died.

The death of St. Laurentios reversed its original purpose, and instead of discouraging Christians, it led pagans to the Messiah. Laurentios was buried at the cemetery of Cyriaca in Agro Verano, and is portrayed in icons of the Church together with St. Stephen, the first martyr of Christianity. East and West celebrate the feastday of Laurentios on August 10.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia

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