March 11, 2010

Saint Pionius the Hieromartyr and Those With Him

St. Pionius the Hieromartyr and Those With Him (Feast Day - March 11)


As bread burnt in the ashes is taken out roasted,
Pionius approached the Lord scorched.

The Hieromartyrs Pionius and Limnus, the Holy Martyrs Sabina, Macedonia, and Asclepiades suffered during the persecution of Christians in the reign of Decius (249-251). They suffered at Smyrna, a mercantile city on the eastern shores of the Aegean Sea. The Church in Smyrna was founded by the holy Apostle John the Theologian (May 8 and September 26), and was made glorious by its martyrs and confessors.

Pionius knew that he and his companions would be arrested on February 23, the anniversary of Saint Polycarp's martyrdom, and a feastday for the Christians of Smyrna. The day before they were arrested, Pionius entertained Asclepiades and Sabina in his house. Taking three lengths of woven chains, Pionius placed them around his neck, and around the necks of the other two. He did this to show that they were all determined to be led off to prison rather than eat food sacrificed to idols.

The holy confessors were indeed arrested on February 23. After a brief interrogation they were dragged off by Polemon the verger in order to sacrifice to the idols and eat forbidden foods. They were brought to the forum, where a great crowd had gathered.

Pionius addressed the people, chiding them for laughing and rejoicing at those Christians who had agreed to offer sacrifice. He quoted Homer to the pagans (Odyssey 22, 412) and said that it was shameful to gloat over those who were about to die. He reminded the Jews in the audience of the words of Solomon: "If your enemy falls, do not rejoice over him, and do not be glad when he stumbles" (Proverbs 24:17).

Polemon attempted once again to persuade Pionius to obey the law and offer sacrifice to the idols.

"If only I could persuade you to become Christians," he replied.

The men laughed at him, saying that he did not have the power to do that, because they knew they would be burned alive if they converted.

Pionius said, "It is far worse to burn after death."

Sabina laughed when she heard this. Then Polemon threatened to put her in a brothel, but she said she believed that God would protect her.

Under questioning, Pionius stated repeatedly that he was a Christian, and could not sacrifice to the emperor or to the idols.

Before Polemon came to Sabina to question her, Pionus told her to say that her name was Theodote. This he did so that she would not be returned to her former mistress Politta, an immoral woman. In an effort to turn her from Christ, Politta bound Sabina and cast her out on the mountains. She was secretly helped by the brethren, and hid in Pionus's house most of the time. That is how she came to be arrested.

Sabina and Asclepiades were questioned, and they said they were Christians who worshiped Jesus Christ. Then they were thrown into jail.

In prison Pionius and his companions met Limnus, a priest of the Church of Smyrna, and his wife Macedonia from the village of Karine. They had also been imprisoned for confessing Christ.

Many believers visited the holy confessors in prison, offering them whatever they could, but the saints did not accept it. The jailers were angry, because they used to keep a portion of the gifts given to prisoners for themselves.

The holy martyrs were brought to the marketplace, and were urged to offer sacrifice. When they refused, they were taken back to prison. On the way, they were beaten and mocked by the crowd. Someone said to Sabina, "Why couldn't you have died in your own city?"

Sabina retorted, "What is my native city?"

Terentius, who was in charge of the gladiatorial games, said to Asclepiades, "After you are condemned, I shall ask that you compete in the games given by my son."

"That does not scare me," he said.

After many torments, the holy martyr was brought to the amphitheatre on March 11, 250. Since he still refused to offer sacrifice to the idols, Pionius was sentenced to be burned alive. He was nailed to a cross upside down, then they stacked wood around him and lit the fire under his head. When the fire subsided, everyone saw the body of the saint was unharmed. Not even the hairs of his head had been singed. His face was radiant, and shone with divine grace. When, at last, the fire was extinguished and when everyone thought that Pionius was dead, he opened his eyes and cried out rejoicing, "O God, receive my soul," and expired. After his victory in the contest, Pionius received an incorruptible crown of glory from the Savior Christ.

Pionius transcribed the Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp of Smyrna (February 23) from an older copy made by Isocrates (or Socrates) in Corinth. This document in turn was transcribed from an earlier manuscript written by Gaius, and was based on the recollections of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (August 23), who knew Saint Polycarp. Saint Polycarp appeared to Pionius in a vision, telling him to search for the text of Isocrates. Saint Pionius collected the material which was nearly worn out with age, thus preserving the account for later generations. Now Saint Pionius rejoices in the heavenly Kingdom, glorifying the Life-Creating Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, throughout all ages.



By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Pionius speaks while being tortured:
O, citizens of famous Smyrna,
Fellow townsmen of Omar, the well known,
I know that which all of you know,
Not one of you know, that, what I know:
The sweet pleasure of dying, I know
And sweeter yet, hoping in Christ.
I know that death will destroy me not
But just the body, to separate from the soul;
For me, I know that the angels are waiting
In the mansions of the Heavenly King,
And angels, prophets and saints,
Many armies of those chosen by God,
And the wonderful martyrs for Christ.
I know that I am returning to my homeland,
From whence I came here.
The goal of my suffering, I do know,
(You know not why you are torturing me!)
Seethe, O malice, and against me rage!
With outstretched arms, the Savior awaits me,
Strike me, all of you, with greater tortures.
The more difficult the suffering, the sooner the dawn,
The quicker the death, the more joyful the soul.