Saint of the Day: St. Lucian

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. Lucian, whose account is found in Volume 4 of the series.)

Saint (Lucian) Loukianos

In the Lenten season the Orthodox Christian observes a period of fasting or abstinence from certain food until the joyous day of Easter, when, following midnight services, he sits at a table teeming with all the delights from which he has abstained and feasts with his family to celebrate the Resurrection. An ascetic Syrian priest observed a lifetime of Lent, eating sparingly of bread and water, eventually being referred to as the man “who never ate” and glorified in the name of the Savior a spiritual table that served him the virtues that nourish the soul. His name was Loukianos.

Loukianos was orphaned at the age of twelve and was raised by family friends, who encouraged this precocious orphan to serious study and watched him develop into an outstanding linguist, the master of several languages by the time he was eighteen. He was particularly proficient in Greek and Hebrew and translated many of the ancient Hebrew Scriptures into his native Syrian, a work which influenced him in his decision to become a priest. He completed his theological studies with the highest honors and entered the service of Christ as the priest of a church in Antioch. From the pulpit, he exuded an abiding love of the Savior and a deep concern for the welfare of his fellow man.

Shortly after becoming a priest, Loukianos decided that food for the soul could be derived only through a denial of food for the body, and through a regimen of the strictest diet and training brought himself to the point where he could subsist on meager rations of bread and water. He may not have been a physical brute as a result, but he certainly was in the heavyweight division of the champions for Christ. He lived on the Savior’s love, together with less nourishment than the human body usually requires. Like another great Syrian, St. Symeon, who drew world attention with his ascension of a pillar, Loukianos made himself famous with his exacting diet, but unlike St. Symeon of another year, he also drew the envious wrath of a ruthless emperor, the depraved Maximian, who had a seething hartred for Christians.

The glory of the pious priest of Syria so infuriated the demented emperor that he decided to preside personally over the trial which would condemn Loukianos to death, and orders were immediately issued for the priest’s arrest. En route to Nikomedia, where he was to be tried, Loukianos so impressed the soldiers escorting him to his doom that they were convinced of the truth of Jesus and became converts, a triumph of God which enraged the emperor all the more. Another troop of soldiers was dispatched to bring in this holy man, and they were given strict instructions to bind and gag him and not so much as look at him, lest they fall under his power of persuasion.

At the trial, Maximian took care that his gaze did not meet that of Loukianos, for fear a spell would be cast over him. It was not a trial but an ordeal during which Loukianos was subjected to all manner of derision, scorn and contempt in a tirade of abuse that ended when the emperor roared that the priest was guilty of treason. It was decided, however, in view of the fact that the accused man had the reputation of being able to do with little food and water, that he should be cast into prison to languish there without nourishment of any kind until he denounced Christ.

When it was evident that starvation would not make an apostate out of Loukianos, he was ordered to be tortured on the rack, and after enduring forty days of torture, the gallant priest of Syria died. Fearing that the body might manifest some mystic power if returned to the Christian community for burial, Maximian ordered that it be tossed into the sea. Tradition has it that thirteen days after his body had been tossed into the deep, it was seen to be borne by a dolphin, which carried it to a sandy shore and deposited it there for proper burial.

It was further related that St. Helen, the mother of Constantine the Great, emperor and saint, was returning from one of her many visits to the Holy Land, and when shown the site of Loukianos’ burial, she had a beautiful chapel erected there in his memory.

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