Saturday, March 26, 2016

Holy 26 Martyrs of Gothia in the Crimea

Holy 26 Martyrs of Gothia (Feast Day - March 26)


So vast a throng of Martyrs were burned in the fire,
As is prescribed for the day today.

In around 376 A.D. the Gothic King Athanaric was enraged to see his subjects embracing Christianity because of the preaching of the Arian bishop Ulfilas. So, he ordered many of them to be tortured and executed, often without a trial. As the historian Sozomen records:

"Because they had abandoned the cult of their fathers, Athanaric subjected many individuals to many punishments; some he put to death after they had been dragged before tribunals and had nobly confessed the doctrine, and others were slain without being permitted to utter a single word in their own defense. It is said that the officers appointed by Athanaric to execute his cruel mandates, caused a statue to be constructed, which they placed on a chariot, and had it conveyed to the tents of those who were suspected of having embraced Christianity, and who were therefore commanded to worship the statue and offer sacrifice; if they refused to do so, the men and the tents were burnt together. But I have heard that an outrage of still greater atrocity was perpetrated at this period. Many refused to obey those who were compelling them by force to sacrifice. Among them were men and women; of the latter some were leading their little children, others were nourishing their new-born infants at the breast; they fled to their church, which was a tent. The pagans set fire to it, and all were destroyed."

In the fiery inferno 308 people perished, of whom only twenty-one are known by name, 2 presbyters, 1 monk and 18 laypeople (11 men, 7 women). To this are added the five children of the presbyters Wereka and Batwin (two sons and three daughters). This took place in Gothia in the Crimea.

Among these was a certain Christian man who was bringing the offering breads to the church to be used for the eucharistic sacrifice in the Divine Liturgy, but he was captured by the soldiers. Therefore, instead of a soulless offering, he himself became a living offering to God, by becoming a burnt offering for his confession to Christ, and was numbered among the twenty-six Martyrs.

The names of the Martyrs vary by source, but of those known they are: Werekas (or Ouerkas, Vercus) and Batwin (or Bathouses, Bathusius) the presbyters, Arpulas (Arpilus) the monk, the eleven laymen Abippas (Abibus), Hagias (Agnus), Ruias (Reas), Egathrax (Igathrax), Eskoes (Iscous), Silas, Sigetzas (Signicus), Swerilas (Sonerilas), Swemblas (Suimbalus), Therthas (Thermus), and Philgas (Phillus), and the seven laywomen Anna, Alas (Alla), Baren (Beride, also recorded as Larissa), Moiko (Monco), Kamika (Mamika), Oneko (Virko), and Anemais (Animais, Animaida).

A few years later, during the reign of Valentinian and Theodosius (383–392), Gaatha, the widow of the tribal leader Winguric, who had been appointed by Athanaric to carry out the persecution of the Christians, and her daughter Duclida (or Dulcilla, Duklida), both Christians, gathered the remains of the twenty-six Martyrs and with the help of some priests and a layman named Thyellas transferred them to Syria. Gaatha later returned to her native land, where she was stoned and died as a martyr, along with her son Agathon. The relics of the holy martyrs were left to Duclida, who went to Cyzicus in Asia Minor and gave some of the relics for the founding of a church. Duclida died in peace. In some calendars Gaatha, Duclida and Agathon are also commemorated with the twenty-six Martyrs.

The Gothic calendar celebrates these Holy Martyrs on October 23rd, while they are listed in the Greek calendar under March 26th.

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