Blog / soldier
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...
In the fifteen hundred years since the prayers were introduced by the Holy Fathers in the marriage ceremony, those who have taken the trouble to ask why the Forty Martyrs are invoked in this sacrament hear a sacred story which is both tragic and beautiful and gives added meaning to the occasion.
He is said to have made a striking figure, a six-footer whose military prowess and straightforward manner caused him to be selected for service in what was known as the “Terian Legion,” an elite group noted for integrity and courage. The word Terian means “chosen” and Theodore was just that, except that at the time neither he nor his friends knew that he was chosen of God.
(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, Sts. Demetrios and Nestor, come from Volume 4 of the series.)
Saints of the Day: Sts. Demetrios and Nestor
The names of Demetrios and Nestor are so linked in the annals of Christianity that it would be almost sacrilegious to mention one without the other in any account of the story of these two beloved men of God, who are now as inseparable in church archives as they were in life. It was their combined defiance of early fourth-century tyranny which brought them to martyrdom, which individually they might not have attained, but which places them on equal footing in the final judgment. While Demetrios was the better known of the two, it was the quiet courage of his friend, Nestor, added to the complete piety of Demetrios, that assured their immortality.
Demetrios was a native of the city of Thessaloniki, the city founded by Alexander the Great, who named it for a sister very dear to him. In the tradition of the great thinkers of ancient Greece, Demetrios honed his keen oratorical power in the public forum, where the debates of the great minds of the day drew the spirited Christians as much as the gladiatorial games attracted the pagans. As the second leading city of the empire, Thessaloniki had a reputation for providing the brightest intellectuals on the public platform and the most fearsome gladiators in the arena, strange bedfellows, indeed, and oddly enough, in both of which the power of Demetrios was to find expression.
Demetrios was in the military service as well as a devout Christian, a study in contrast that was countenanced in Thessaloniki, but when it came to the attention of the Emperor Maximianus, who had come for an annual exhibition of gladiatorial prowess in the arena, the dual nature met with royal displeasure. For his part in the Christian cause, Demetrios was stripped of his military rank and cast into prison to await an uncertain fate. It was at this point that the friendship of Nestor came to light. At great personal risk Nestor visited his friend in prison regularly and sought to intercede in his behalf, a move which availed him little but the aroused suspicions of those who surrounded the emperor. This provided the setting for one of the finest displays of the power of God through the friendship of two gallant Christians.
It seems that one of the favorites of the arena, admired particularly by the emperor, was a giant man named Lyaios, a seven-foot brute who destroyed every hapless gladiator he ever faced, and for whom the pagans sought an opponent who at least had the courage to walk up to Lyaios and give a good account of himself before succumbing to the inevitable.
It was during one of his visits that Nestor heard from Demetrios that the power of the Lord could be transmitted through him to any man and make him invincible against any foe in the arena. The youthful Nestor, with the spirit of the true believer welling within him, agreed to hurl a challenge to the best of the gladiators with a declaration that the power of God would, thanks to his friend Demetrios, prevail against all comers. Buoyed by the assurance of Demetrios, he stepped into the arena and shouted his defiance in the name of the Lord.
The pagan crowd, thinking this some practical joke, roared with laughter, but when Nestor strode to the royal box where Maximianus had looked on with amusement and heard the young man invoke the name of Demetrios and the awesome power of God, his smile turned to a snarl and the audience joined him in derison, whereupon the scowling Lyaios was brought into the pit. The crowd settled back to witness the anticipated cat-and-mouse match, which the giant would conclude when it pleased him. But they were brought to their feet in disbelief when the supposed victim withstood the withering attack of the gladiator who had never tasted defeat, and, in due course, turned the tables and soundly defeated the greatest of the gladiators. Nestor scorned the thumbs-down signal of the mob who now screamed for death, and the young Christian walked away from his prostrated foe.
The frustrated emperor now ordered the deaths of both Christian companions, and they were executed without delay by the Roman soldiers. Not all who left the arena that day remained pagans.
As could have been predicted, the venerable Artemios, the most highly respected figure in Egypt, went directly to the emperor to protest the persecution of his friends in Christ.
Saint Uaros of Egypt
Any man branded with the strange-sounding name of Uaros would not have been faulted if he changed it and ran away from home. But in the case of this man who was to become a saint, it was a challenge to make his name respected rather than ridiculed. In this he was eminently successful, albeit in a somewhat unusual fashion. The best place for displaying one’s mettle was in the army, which is quite conceivably the only reason he had for enlisting, proving in the end that he vacillated between bravery and cowardice in a behavior as strange as his name.
Enlisting as a young man in one of the legions stationed in Egypt, Uaros turned the ripple of laughter, as his name was called out, into a torrent of praise for his heroism in battle. The harassed legions of Egypt were constantly called upon to repel the thrusts of marauders who skirted the border. Uaros had numerous occasions to be tested, and he was never found wanting. A skilled swordsman, he was more than a match for any single one of the undisciplined and untrained hordes that dared engage the legion in combat, and on more than one occasion he put not one, but a number of confused enemies to rout.
When the garrison was at peace, Uaros showed another side of his character with his sympathy towards Christians, which no soldier sought to question lest they feel the point of his sword. What no one knew was that this sympathy masked the truth. He was not merely the good-natured soldier his comrades pictured him to be, but a devout Christian who was determined to use whatever influence he had in the military to ease the suffering of his fellow Christians. He was able to bribe many a guard in effecting the escape of some condemned prisoner scheduled for the arena, but he would not admit his Christianity even to the Christians he was helping.
Uaros knew in his heart that the instinct of self-preservation was strong enough to make him fearless in the face of an armed foe, but the prospect of suffering persecution in helpless agony made him shudder and brought to him the realization that, in this sense, he was both a coward and a hero.
In a rotation of duty, Uaros found himself posted in the prison as one of the guards, free to pause at the gates of every cell and talk to the condemned wretches within. Some of them were felons, but the majority were Christians to be put to death for their faith in Jesus Christ. In one of the cells he looked with horror at the sight of seven monks, one of whom had died and was being cradled in the arms of another. It was then that he was torn between what was clearly his Christian duty, which would place him in a torture chamber, and his duty to Rome, which meant he could walk away with the terrible secret in his heart that he lacked the courage of men who had never served anything but the cause of peace.
Uaros decided that the least he could do was assist the remaining six as best he could, but the release of six condemned men was out of the question. As he pondered the problem, he went to the larder to bring them food and drink in such quantity that it could scarcely go unnoticed by other guards. One of them approached to question him but, upon recognizing the fearless fighter, hastily withdrew. The sight of the condemned men eating what might be their last meal so moved Uaros that he confessed to the gathering that he was a Christian, but was afraid to reveal it because he feared the dreaded rack and other tortures more than an enemy sword.
Uaros was assured by one of the monks that his kindness had proven him Christian enough, and there was no need for him to die to prove his faith in Jesus Christ. This brought a degree of comfort to the tormented soldier, who said he should have proved himself not to eliminate the ridicule of his name, but for the sake of the Savior who had died for him and all mankind. The captain of the guard overheard a portion of this overly extended conversation and approached with a demand for an explanation of such behavior. It was the last demand he ever made. Shouting for all to hear that he was a Christian, Uaros drew his sword and dispatched the captain and killed or wounded several others before being finally subdued.
The most fiendish tortures were reserved for Uaros, who found the Christian courage to endure them all. He is remembered by the Church on October 19.
After careful scrutiny it was finally concluded that this icon of Phanurios had indeed been one of a group that had been exhumed after untold centuries and that its freshness was a divine manifestation of the complete saintliness of this man about whom they were now determined to learn more...
There is so much legend attached to his holy name that there are Christians who have in exasperation dismissed him as the product of some storyteller’s imagination which somehow got into the record of saints and has been allowed to cling there out of sentiment, if nothing else.