On the twenty-seventh of this month, we commemorate the Holy Martyr Kallistratos, and the Forty-Nine Martyrs with him.
The head of Kallistratos was cut off by a sword,
Joining the army of triumphant Martyrs.
To the 49 Martyrs*
Ten times four Martyrs joined with nine,
Through the contest of the sword contested honorably.
On the twenty-seventh Kallistratos from here was taken.
Kallistratos was born in the middle of the third century to Christian parents living in Chalcedon,** an ancient town on the opposite shore from Byzantium (present day Kadiköy). Okorus, one of his forefathers who was also a soldier in the Roman army under Pontius Pilate, was in Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Having witnessed these events first hand, and hearing the preaching of the apostles he believed and was baptized on Pentecost. Okorus returned home and instructed his family, and anyone who would listen, in the Christian faith. Each generation taught and followed Christ and His teachings, which Kallistratos also embraced.
Volunteering to serve in the Roman army, Kallistratos found himself to be the only Christian in the Chalcedon unit. Secretly, he would arise late at night to pray, and, secretly, he would teach other soldiers about Christ. After serving for several years, his unit was stationed at Rome in 288. This occurred during the reign of Diocletian (284-305) who spent his first fifteen years as emperor purging his military and government of Christians, which was followed by his “Great Persecution” of Christians in 303.
One night, while in Rome, some of his fellow-soldiers overheard him praying to Jesus and tried to persuade him to offer incense and blood to Zeus, but to no avail. Being under orders from the emperor, they reported him to Captain Presentinus the following morning. Immediately, Presentinus had Kallistratos brought before him, questioned him, and commanded that he be obedient, comply with Diocletian’s edict, and make a sacrifice to Zeus, lest he, the captain, be compelled to cruelly destroy him. Remaining steadfast, Kallistratos responded that if he denied Christ, then Christ would deny him, and he would be shut out of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 10:33) and suffer eternal torment. The captain promptly ordered Kallistratos to be held down and beaten with clubs. While eight men took turns beating him, Kallistratos prayed to Christ that He would strengthen him and that he would remain faithful against the evil one.
Seeing blood gushing forth in rivulets, Presentinus commanded his soldiers to cease beating Kallistratos and, once again, gave him the opportunity to worship the Roman gods lest he suffer more grievously. Kallistratos refused and prayed that others from his unit would also rise up and praise God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Infuriated by his answer, Captain Presentinus had his men shatter potsherds, scatter them on the ground, and stretch Kallistratos over the sharp pieces so that the back side of him would be further lacerated. Then he ordered a funnel to be placed in his mouth and water to be poured down his throat until he swelled up like a full wineskin. Continually praying to remain indomitable in his faith, Kallistratos admonished the captain as a shameless combatant for Satan and prophesied that Christ would call forth men from his own unit, illuminate them in the True Faith, and build a Christian church in the city. Presentinus flung these words back at Kallistratos, informing him that he ludicrously thought that he could lead others to his God and found a church while he himself was the one who was impious and faced death.
Having received orders to drown Kallistratos, the captain had him sewn up in a large, linen sack, loaded onto a boat, carried far offshore, and thrown into the sea. Captain Presentinus and his soldiers watched from the shore as the men rowed back to land. All the while, Kallistratos prayed fervently. He was caught between some sharp rocks which tore the sack apart. At that moment, by the command of God, two dolphins flanked him and bore him to shore. Kallistratos began to sing a psalm of thanksgiving, but the soldiers with their captain observed everything with astonishment.
Upon reaching Kallistratos, forty-nine of the soldiers fell down before him and professed their faith in Jesus Christ. Thereupon, Kallistratos prayed that the Lord would preserve and strengthen them. Nevertheless, Presentinus swore by his gods and accused Kallistratos of using sorcery to bewitch these men. Ordering all fifty of these soldiers to be bound and taken back to their military base, Presentinus sat down upon his judgement seat, commanded that each one of the forty-nine be brutally beaten with rods and cast into prison. That night, Captain Presentinus pondered what to do, for losing fifty soldiers under his command was a considerable reduction of men in his unit.
In prison, the forty-nine men entreated Kallistratos to make them Christians and to teach them the word of God. After praying over them, Kallistratos began instructing them and answering their questions. A law-court scribe who was near the prison listened to and recorded their words in court shorthand. When, at last, he finished, and everyone grew silent, Kallistratos spent the remainder of the night in prayer.
At dawn, Captain Presentinus sat upon the judgement seat in a great hall where statues of the various Roman gods had been set up. The soldiers from the Chalcedon unit and a good number of soldiers with their captains were assembled there. Presentinus commanded that the fifty be brought before him. Whereupon, the captain asked Kallistratos where he had learned to inveigle his soldiers, and was he ready to instruct them to sacrifice to the Roman gods and save themselves. Kallistratos responded that he had already given his answer and would not deny Christ, but, as for the others, they were adults and could answer for themselves. Asserting that they had been deceived, Presentinus inquired whether they wanted to cease following this sorcerer or not. With one voice, they professed their faith in the Triune God.
Again, Captain Presentinus ordered them to be scourged with green switches, bound hand and foot, and dragged to the edge of a lake. There Presentinus allowed them one last chance to sacrifice to the Roman gods or be drowned. Each confessed their faith in Christ and their willingness to die for Him. Just before they were to be cast into the lake, Kallistratos entreated the true God that this would be their baptism and entry into His Kingdom that they may become fellow-workers with the Holy Spirit. Having simultaneously said, "Amen", they were thrown into the lake.
Immediately, upon entering the water, their bonds were loosed, they rose to the surface, walked upon the shore, and were resplendent with the grace of the Holy Spirit. As they came out of the water, a light shown over their heads and a voice from Heaven spoke, saying, “Be of good cheer, My loved ones, for I am with you; be ye glad, for, behold I have made ready for you a place in My kingdom. Rejoice, for I have written your names in My record in the Book of Life.” At the same time, there was thunder and a great earthquake which cause the idols to fall and break into pieces. Upon witnessing these wonders, one hundred and five more soldiers believed in Christ Jesus.***
Remaining steadfastly callous and unbelieving, the fearful Presentinus ordered the fifty returned to prison where they prayed and, once again, Kallistratos taught them.
Meanwhile, Captain Presentinus sought the counsel of a vir ducenarius, a commander of two hundred men. Acting upon his advice, Presentinus sent soldiers into the prison with orders to behead all fifty. Thus, on the 27th day of September, they became martyrs for Christ and received crowns of glory and everlasting life.
The hundred and five were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Secretly by night, they gathered the relics of the fifty Saints and gave them a proper burial at the place where they later built a church dedicated to Saint Kallistratos. Many healings of both soul and body have poured forth from his shrine.
It was reported that the one hundred and five soldiers were later beheaded.
This account is based on The Armenian Apology and Acts of Apollonius and Other Monuments of Early Christianity, “Armenian Passion of St. Kallistratos”, translated by F. C. Conybeare, London 1896.
* The names of the forty-nine soldiers are recorded in this document. They are as follows: Acacius, Domnasius, Bibianus, Basiliscus, Bemarchus, Dorotheus, Gerontes, Alpius, Anthimus, Aragseos, Anictus, Bitalius, Grigorius, Georgius, Gigandius, Genadius, Domninus, Dulcimius, Dometianus, Dedalius, Dalmatius, Eusebius, Evagrius, Elsiidius, Eutolius, Evarestus, Evagrius, Tharasimides, Theodorus, Therasius, Lysimachus, Lambliricus, Liminus, Constantinus, Canditianus, Heliages, Hysicus, Heliodorus, Memnus, Milinus, Madrinus, Marcianus, Nicatius, Nicolaius, Olombrius, Utripeus, Olipeus, Xanthius and Heladorus.
** Other sources say he was from Carthage.
*** Other sources say they were one hundred and thirty-five soldiers.
Apolytikion in the Third Tone
Strengthened by the Holy Spirit thou wast glorious in contest, and didst cast down the enemy, O Martyr Kallistratos. And thou dost offer a noble army of athletes, as incense to Christ. With them pray for us who praise thee with hymns.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Like stars you have shone upon the world, and shed the light of contests and miracles on all who cry to you: Rejoice Kallistratos with your company of fellow Martyrs.