(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 saint, St. Maruthas, comes from Volume 1 of the series.)
Physician, diplomat, scholar and, above all, theologian, St. Maruthas was a man for all seasons and a man for all reasons, the most noble being his dedication to the service of Jesus Christ, expressing the will of God and man in various ways. In his lifetime, he assumed a variety of roles and was successful in every endeavor he undertook. His loyalty in the service of the Savior was his number one priority, always at the center of whatever responsibility he was assigned.
Born in the city of Sophia, Asia Minor, which bordered on the country of Persia, he became acquainted with the villages and customs of Persia. An excellent theologian, he paired his theological studies with those of medicine so that as a physician he could minister to the physical and spiritual needs of his fellow Christians. After some time, he was chosen to be bishop of Marjferqat, whose odd-sounding name was of Persian origin. Later, Maruthas was selected to serve as a goodwill ambassador to the Persian King Sapor II by Emperor Theodosios. As a man of the Church, a physician and diplomat, Maruthas was well-known to the Persian king and thus was eminently qualified to bring peace and understanding between two nations with such disparate cultures and religious beliefs.
The first task of Maruthas was to convince a skeptical Persian king that the mighty Byzantine Empire had no design for conquest and that Persia would never be invaded by its superior neighbor. Thus reassured, Sapor II was most cordial and flung open the doors of his country for any who cared to visit for exchange of ideas and improvement in relations. The tranquility brought about helped to keep the peace, something shattered from time to time by bandits. There were those in the Persian kingdom who looked upon the Christian kingdom with loathing, but they were forced to keep the peace.
Conditions vastly improved when Maruthas proved the good intentions of the Christian Empire. The daughter of Sapor II became gravely ill and when all hope for her recovery seemed futile, the bishop-physician-diplomat went to her side and, after prayer and care, he brought about her complete recovery. The king was so grateful that he ferreted out the pagans who had held Christians captive and saw to it that the Christians were restored to their families.
In 403, Maruthas appeared at the infamous trial of St. John Chrysostom, who had been toppled from his patriarchal throne by sinister enemies from within. Maruthas was only one of the many voices that were raised in defense of the wrongly-accused Patriarch, but to no avail. The gentle Chrysostom was forced into exile but kept in constant touch with Maruthas. They even wrote to each other about the prospects of inducing the pagans of Persia to convert to Christianity.
Maruthas returned to his diplomatic post in Persia and convinced the Persian king that his subjects should be given a choice, after hearing Christian missionaries. Seeing no harm in this, and knowing that Maruthas represented good rather than evil, Sapor II issued a decree permitting Persians to listen to Christian missionaries if they so chose. He further decreed that there would be no intimidation of Christians by anyone.
But, as always, there were those who were determined to rid themselves of the increasing Christian population and the most direct way was to discredit Maruthas. They
tunneled under the floor of the temple which the king attended and smuggled one of their conspirators under the spot where the king was sure to kneel. When he appeared for his usual ritual, he was greeted by a voice which seemed to come from the bowels of the earth. Transfixed, the king listened to the mysterious voice as it denounced Maruthas and exhorted him to rid himself of this hypocritical diplomat. The bewildered king went to Maruthas, who was waiting for him to emerge, but Maruthas had known of the plot and the infuriated king ordered the imprisonment of those who would have made a fool of him.
After this sorry event, the conspirators who managed to escape disbanded and normalcy was restored. Returning to Marjferqat, renamed Martyropolis, Maruthas died suddenly on February 16, 420.