June 18, 2010

Holy Martyrs Leontios, Hypatios and Theodoulos at Tripoli in Syria

Holy Martyrs Leontios, Hypatios, and Theodoulos (Feast Day - June 18)


To Leontios.
The body of Leontios was like an anvil,
An iron anvil taking the assaults of a hammer.
On the eighteenth Leontios wounded gave up his spirit.

To Hypatios and Theodoulos.
Free-minded Theodoulos to the sword,
Sees also Hypatios doing the same.

The Holy Martyrs Leontios, Hypatios, and Theodoulos were Roman soldiers. The holy Martyr Leontios, a Greek by origin "of great physical stature, powerful, strong and brave in battles", served as a military-chief in the imperial army in the Phoenician city of Tripoli during the reign of Vespasian (70-79)*. Leontios was distinguished for his bravery and good sense, and the people of Tripoli held him in deep respect because of his virtue.

The emperor appointed the Roman senator Hadrian as governor of the Phoenician district, with full powers to hunt out Christians, and in case of their refusal to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods, to give them over to torture and death. And on his way to Phoenicia Hadrian received a report that Leontios had turned many away from worshiping the pagan gods. The governor sent the tribune Hypatios with a detachment of soldiers to Tripoli so as to find and arrest the Christian Leontios. Along the way the tribune Hypatios fell seriously ill, and being near death, he saw in a dream an angel, which said: "If you wish to be healed, you and your soldiers should say three times: 'God of Leontios, help me.'"

Opening his eyes Hypatios beheld the angel and said: "I was sent to arrest Leontios, how is it that I should appeal to his God?" At this moment the angel became invisible. Hypatios told his dream to the soldiers, among whom was his friend Theodoulos, and all of them together asked for help from the God Whom Leontios confessed. Hypatios was immediately healed to the great joy of his soldiers, but only Theodoulos sat aside, pondering the miracle. His soul was filled with love for God, and he told Hypatios to proceed twice as quickly as the other soldiers to the city in search of Leontios.

Upon their arrival in the city, a stranger met them and invited them to his house, where he lavishly hosted the travelers. Learning that their hospitable host was Leontios, they fell on their knees and asked him to enlighten them with faith in the true God. When he expounded his faith in Christ to them, their hearts burned with love for Christ and, at that moment, a bright cloud descended upon Hypatios and Theodoulos and dew from a cloud descended upon them. That was the Holy Spirit of God Himself baptizing these converted souls and Leontios, who at that moment, spoke these words: "In the name of the All-Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

The remaining soldiers in search of their commander arrived in Tripoli, where the governor Hadrian had also arrived. Learning what had happened, he ordered Leontios, Hypatios, and Theodoulos to be brought to him. After threatening them with torture and death, he demanded that they renounce Christ and offer sacrifice to the Roman gods.

All the Martyrs firmly confessed their faith in Christ. Hypatios was put under a column and raked with iron claws, and Theodoulos was mercilessly beaten with rods. Seeing the steadfastness of the Saints, they beheaded them with an axe. And after torture, they sent Leontios to prison. In the morning he came before the governor. Hadrian tried to entice the holy Martyr with honors and rewards, and accomplishing nothing, he gave him over to new tortures. His entire body was covered with wounds but he diligently prayed to God not to abandon him. In the midst of the cruelest torments, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, encouraged and comforted him. The holy Martyr was then suspended head downwards from a pillar with a heavy stone about his neck, but nothing could make him renounce Christ. The governor then gave orders to beat the sufferer with rods until he died. The death of the holy Martyrs occurred between 70-79.

The accusation against Saint Leontios, and his sufferings and death are recorded on tin tablets prepared by the court scribe [commentarisius] Notarios. These tablets were placed at the grave of the holy Martyr.

Following the martyrdom of Saint Leontios, the soldiers then threw his body outside the city, but Christians reverently gave it burial near Tripoli. Leontios was buried in the yard of a woman by the name of Joanna who had given money to the soldiers to take the body. She was the wife of a great nobleman and prominent army commander named Maurus. She had wrapped the body in expensive cloth and also made a icon of him and she hung a lighted lamp before it.

It happened that Emperor Diocletian became angry with Maurus and shut him up in prison in the city of Antioch. She became sad, and prayed to God, interceding with His saint Leontios, to save her husband from prison. God accepted her prayers. Saint Leontios appeared to her husband in prison and told him, "Do not grieve or be sorrowful, for you shall be delivered tomorrow, you shall eat with the emperor at his table, and you shall return safely to your house." The Saint, then, went to the emperor, and woke him up. When the emperor saw the Saint, he became terrified. The Saint told the emperor, "I have come to you, O Emperor, to order the release of the army commander. Honor him, and let him go to his house, lest you be destroyed." The emperor, who was trembling, replied saying, "Whatever you command me, O my lord, I will do." The next morning, the emperor brought the commander out of prison, honored him, and dined with him at his own table. The emperor told him about the horseman that appeared to him, then dismissed him to return to his home town.

When he arrived in Tripoli, his home town, he told his wife and his family what had happened to him. His wife told him, "The good that happened to you was through the blessings of Saint Leontios." Then she uncovered the body of the Saint, and he took the blessing of the Saint. When he saw his face in the icon, he realized that he was the one that had appeared to him in prison.

After the perishing of Diocletian, they built a church in his name, and relocated the body to it with great veneration. Many miracles occurred and were attributed to him.

Many other churches were dedicated to him. A cathedral at Bosra, Syria was consecrated to him, along with Saints Sergius and Baccus in 513. He was formerly the patron saint of Syria.

Severus of Antioch, after studying law in Alexandria and Beirut, was converted from paganism and baptized at Saint Leontios' shrine in Tripoli in 488. In a homily on Saint Leontios delivered in 513 or 514 which recounts his life and various miracles which occurred at his famous shrine, Severus writes of his own experience that is valuable in knowing the importance of this shrine to the conversion of local pagans:

"And I know many of the young men who devoted themselves to Roman law in that turbulent city, that is Beirut, and they went off to his city (i.e. Tripoli) to pray, and speedily left their vain education and way of life, and purified their minds of Hellenic myths. They were changed for the better and were converted from those (myths) to a life full of wisdom and to conversation with the blessed monks. And I was one of them. For I was still at that time in that city. I heard of many miracles and cures that the blessed martyr made. My heart was moved in me, or rather the philanthropic God moved my rational faculty that I should run to the Martyrion of Saint Leontios and pray. So I went out from the city of Beirut, I and a friend of mine who was a scholastikos, and we went to the martyr's holy place and prayed. Moreover, I prayed separately because I was still a pagan. I prayed thus: 'Saint Leontios, holy martyr, pray to your God on my behalf that He would save me from the cult of the Hellenes and from the customs of my fathers.' That night a great mystery was revealed to me of which I am not worthy and of which I dare not speak. And so the God of all, Christ Jesus, converted me from the seduction of the Hellenes through the prayers of the martyr Saint Leontios and called me to the morally pure life of monasticism" (Laudatio 4.1-6).


* More likely this occurred during the reign of Maximian or Diocletian. Different narratives give different names to the emperors and judges and slight differences in the story. The association with Vespasian may have its origin to the foundation of a church of Saint Leontios at Daphne in 507, following the destruction of a synagogue. Daphne received its theater under Vespasian, and the veneration of Leontios must have replaced an older cult.

Apolytikion in the Third Tone
Girded with divine strength you triumphed in your contest, O Leontios, the Savior’s trophybearer. You sprang into the contest like a lion, and destroyed the enemy’s might. O glorious martyr, entreat Christ our God to grant us his great mercy.

Another Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Thy Martyrs Leontios, Hypatios, and Theodoulos, O Lord, in their courageous contest for Thee received the prize of the crowns of incorruption and life from Thee, our immortal God. For since they possessed Thy strength, they cast down the tyrants and wholly destroyed the demons' strengthless presumption. O Christ God, by their prayers, save our souls, since Thou art merciful.

Kontakion in the Third Tone
Thou didst wholly put to shame the tyrants' wicked opinions and didst mightily rebuke the Greeks' ungodly religion; with the doctrines of true rev'rence, thou madest shine forth godly knowledge for all men, O wise Leontios, thou most godly-minded Martyr; wherefore with longing we keep thy mem'ry today.