(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's saints come from Volume 4 of the series.)
Saints Akindynos, Pegasios, Anembodistos, Aphthonios and Elpidophoros
An early church historian, in the course of examining some fourth-century church papers for a biography of the well-known St. Akindynos, found that this noble martyr had not been alone in his final days, but with four others who had died with him for the sake of Jesus Christ. The names of the four were brought to light, but either because Akindynos was the most prominent, or because the names of his companions were too cumbersome, the records focus on Akindynos. Almost lost from sight are the four brave martyrs whose names were Pegasios, Anembodistos, Aphthonios and Elpidophoros, the too frequent mention of which put a strain on the minds and quills of ancient scriveners.
The strangeness of the names of the companions of Akindynos stems in part from the fact that all came from that strange land known in ancient times as Persia during the reign of the bestial King Shapur II (311-380). The name “Akindynos” means fearless, an adjective which applies to his four companions, as well as any who dared to call himself a Christian. If there could have been a seventeenth-century Christian society in America that burned witches at the stake, it can be imagined what a fourth-century land of cultists and sorcerers did to countless Christians, each of whom was an “Akindynos” in his own right by virtue of his religious conviction.
Akindynos was more than fearless when he decided that his mission for Jesus Christ be carried beyond the meager bands of listeners with the courage to listen. When he announced he was going to the very top, to the dreaded Shapur himself, there were two who stepped forward and expressed a desire to go along for whatever help they could offer. Their names were Pegasios and Anembodistos, two intrepid missionaries who had been with Akindynos all along and were not about to abandon him in a solemn purpose which even their closest friends considered ill-advised and foolhardy.
Even the three Christian missionaries could not have anticipated the horrors that were to come in a succession of atrocities that make seventeenth-century witch-burning a comparitive slap on the wrist. With confidence in the Lord, Akindynos and his two friends arranged for a meeting with the king, who made certain that his court would be filled to capacity to witness his treatment of the upstarts who dared to seek to convert him. The three Christians were not even given the courtesy of an opening statement, let alone an explanation of Christianity, and were immediately taken to a courtyard where they were ordered to bow to the gods. Refusing, they were tied to stakes and flogged. When the three Christians not only survived these merciless beatings, but sang praises of their Lord for sustaining them, a member of the royal party named Aphthonios took his place alongside the whipped men to announce his conversion to Christ. The consequence was that he was forthwith beheaded.
There ensued a series of tortures which would have taken the life of any mortal, but were miraculously survived by Akindynos and his two fellow Christians. This so impressed another of the onlookers named Elpidophoros that he rushed forward to declare himself for Jesus Christ. He was then bound together with the battered trio to be led to a place of public execution in a manner which the king declared these sorcerers could not survive.
Flanked by soldiers, the condemned men were en route to the execution scene when a group of Christians, numbering about three hundred, formed a human wall to halt the proceedings. On order of the king, the entire group was slaughtered. With calloused indifference the bodies were piled around the fiery pit that was ablaze in anticipation of the condemned Christians.
Not until they had again been beaten unmercifully were the three missionaries and their convert cast into the inferno, wherein they perished for Jesus Christ. The bodies of the unnamed Christians were to follow in an afternoon of atrocity unsurpassed in history. When the last of the Christians has been consumed in the fire, refueled at intervals to keep it ablaze, the heartless numbers that had remained to the bitter end were reminded that theirs would be the same fate if they turned to Christianity. A chapel in memory of Akindynos, who died with his companions on November 2, was built on the island of Lesvos.