Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Holy Hieromartyrs Mark the Bishop of Arethusa, Cyril the Deacon and the Priests and Virgins of Ashkalon and Gaza

Sts. Mark and Cyril the Martyrs (Feast Day - March 29)

Verses

To Mark.
At first vigilant with much injurious treatment,
Mark awoke from the divine sleep of peace.

To Cyril.
Cyril the Levite takes the sword in his belly,
As one plows the earth, said David, and breaks it up.

To the Virgins.
Women outstretched in a trough like meat for swine,
Their bellies suffered bursting by the swine-minded.

On the twenty-ninth the Athletes went to the heavens.

Saint Mark was Bishop of Arethusa in Syria. In the days of Saint Constantine the Great, Saint Mark, moved with divine zeal, destroyed a temple of the idols and raised up a church in its stead. When Julian the Apostate reigned, in 361, as the pagans were now able to avenge the destruction of their temple, Saint Mark, giving way to wrath, hid himself; but when he saw that others were being taken on his account, he gave himself up. Having no regard to his old age, they stripped him and beat his whole body, cast him into filthy sewers, and pulling him out, had children prick him with their iron writing-pens. Then they put him into a basket, smeared him with honey and a kind of relish of pickled fish, and hung him up under the burning sun to be devoured by bees and wasps. But because he bore this so nobly, his enemies repented, and unloosed him.

Saint Cyril was a deacon from Heliopolis in Phoenicia. During the reign of the Emperor Constantius, son of Saint Constantine, he had also broken the idols in pieces. When Julian came to power, Saint Cyril was seized by the idolaters and his belly was ripped open. The other holy Martyrs celebrated today, martyred in Gaza and Ascalon during the reign of Julian, were men of priestly rank and consecrated virgins; they were disemboweled, filled with barley, and set before swine to be eaten.

The account of all the above Saints is given in Book III, Chapter 3, of Theodoret of Cyrrhus' "Ecclesiastical History."


The text of Theodoret is below:

When Julian had made his impiety openly known the cities were filled with dissensions. Men enthralled by the deceits of idolatry took heart, opened the idols' shrines, and began to perform those foul rites which ought to have died out from the memory of man. Once more they kindled the fire on the altars, befouled the ground with victims' gore, and defiled the air with the smoke of their burnt sacrifices. Maddened by the demons they served they ran in corybantic frenzy round about the streets, attacked the saints with low stage jests, and with all the outrage and ribaldry of their impure processions.

On the other hand the partizans of piety could not brook their blasphemies, returned insult for insult, and tried to confute the error which their opponents honored. In their turn the workers of iniquity took it ill; the liberty allowed them by the sovereign was an encouragement to audacity and they dealt deadly blows among the Christians.

It was indeed the duty of the emperor to consult for the peace of his subjects, but he in the depth of his iniquity himself maddened his peoples with mutual rage. The deeds dared by the brutal against the peaceable he overlooked and entrusted civil and military offices of importance to savage and impious men, who though they hesitated publicly to force the lovers of true piety to offer sacrifice treated them nevertheless with all kinds of indignity. All the honors moreover conferred on the sacred ministry by the great Constantine Julian took away.

To tell all the deeds dared by the slaves of idolatrous deceit at that time would require a history of these crimes alone, but out of the vast number of them I shall select a few instances. At Ashkalon and at Gaza, cities of Palestine, men of priestly rank and women who had lived all their lives in virginity were disemboweled, filled with barley, and given for food to swine. At Sebaste, which belongs to the same people, the coffin of John the Baptist was opened, his bones burnt, and the ashes scattered abroad.

Who too could tell without a tear the vile deed done in Phoenicia? At Heliopolis by Lebanon there lived a certain deacon of the name of Cyril. In the reign of Constantine, fired by divine zeal, he had broken in pieces many of the idols there worshiped. Now men of infamous name, bearing this deed in mind, not only slew him, but cut open his belly and devoured his liver. Their crime was not, however, hidden from the all-seeing eye, and they suffered the just reward of their deeds; for all who had taken part in this abominable wickedness lost their teeth, which all fell out at once, and lost, too, their tongues, which rotted away and dropped from them: they were moreover deprived of sight, and by their sufferings proclaimed the power of holiness.

At the neighboring city of Emesa they dedicated to Dionysus, the woman-formed, the newly erected church, and set up in it his ridiculous androgynous image. At Dorystolum, a famous city of Thrace, the victorious athlete Aemilianus was thrown upon a flaming pyre, by Capitolinus, governor of all Thrace. To relate the tragic fate of Mark, however, bishop of Arethusa, with true dramatic dignity, would require the eloquence of an Aeschylus or a Sophocles. In the days of Constantius he had destroyed a certain idol-shrine and built a church in its place; and no sooner did the Arethusians learn the mind of Julian than they made an open display of their hostility. At first, according to the precept of the Gospel, Mark endeavored to make his escape; but when he became aware that some of his own people were apprehended in his stead, he returned and gave himself up to the men of blood. After they had seized him they neither pitied his old age nor reverenced his deep regard for virtue; but, conspicuous as he was for the beauty alike of his teaching and of his life, first of all they stripped and smote him, laying strokes on every limb, then they flung him into filthy sewers, and, when they had dragged him out again, delivered him to a crowd of lads whom they charged to prick him without mercy with their pens. After this they put him into a basket, smeared him with pickle and honey, and hung him up in the open air in the height of summer, inviting wasps and bees to a feast. Their object in doing this was to compel him either to restore the shrine which he had destroyed, or to defray the expense of its erection. Mark, however, endured all these grievous sufferings and affirmed that he would consent to none of their demands. His enemies, with the idea that he could not afford the money from poverty, remitted half their demand, and bade him pay the rest; but Mark hung on high, pricked with pens, and devoured by wasps and bees, yet not only showed no signs of pain, but derided his impious tormentors with the repeated taunt, “You are groundlings and of the earth; I, sublime and exalted.” At last they begged for only a small portion of the money; but, said he, “it is as impious to give an obole as to give all.” So discomfited they let him go, and could not refrain from admiring his constancy, for his words had taught them a new lesson of holiness.



Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Since they had slain through their abstinence and struggles the fiery ragings and fierce motions of the passions, the staunch Martyrs of Christ God laid hold on the graces to drive off the pains and illnesses of the sick and work wonders both while living and after death. Strange indeed is the miracle! That these bare bones should pour forth such overflowing streams of cures. Glory be to our only God.

Another Apolytikion in the Third Tone
In preparation for the contest, O glorious Mark, you anointed an assembly of martyrs and strengthened them by your steadfastness. You finished your course with them. And you were all found worthy of the joys of heaven. O Venerable Father, pray to Christ our God to grant us his great mercy.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Having been illumined by the grace of truth, you radiantly instruct the ends of the earth in piety, O glorious Hieromartyrs. Therefore we bless you in faith.

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