August 19, 2015

Saints Timothy, Thekla and Agapios of Gaza

Sts. Timothy, Thekla and Agapios (Feast Day - August 19);
Aerial photo of the Hippodrome in Caesarea


To Timothy.
Brought in the midst of the fiery furnace,
Timothy became an exceedingly fragrant aroma.

To Thekla.
You Thekla were called, from your fatherland in Vize,
To the theatre of Gaza, contesting against the bite of a beast.

To Agapios.*
Agapios bore the bite of the beast,
And the soul-biter bites the beast of the heart.

History of the Martyrs of Palestine

By Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea

The Confession of Timothy, in the City of Gaza

In the Second Year of the Persecution of our Days (304 A.D.)

It was the second year of the persecution, and the hostility against us was more violent than the first; and Urbanus, who at that same time had superseded the governor Flavianus in his office, was governor over the people of Palestine.

There came then again the second time edicts from the emperor, in addition to the former, threatening persecution to all persons. For, in the former, he had given orders respecting the rulers of the Church of God only, to compel them to sacrifice; but, in the second edicts there was a strict ordinance, which compelled all persons equally, that the entire population in every city, both men and women, should sacrifice to dead idols, and a law was imposed upon them to offer libations to devils; for such were the commands of the tyrants who, in their folly, desired to wage war against God, the Supreme King.

And when these commands of the emperor were put into effect, the blessed Timothy, in the city of Gaza, was delivered up to Urbanus while he was there, and was unjustly bound in fetters, like a murderer, for indeed he was not bound in fetters on account of any thing deserving of blame, because he had been blameless in all his conduct, and during the whole of his life. When, therefore, he did not comply with the law as to the worship of idols, nor bow down to dead images without life, for he was a man perfect in every thing, and was in his soul acquainted with his God, and because of his piety and his conduct and his virtues, even before he was delivered up to the governor, he had already endured severe sufferings from the inhabitants of his own city, having lived there under insults and frequent blows and contumely, for the people of the city of Gaza were accursed in the heathenism; and when they were present in the judgment hall of the governor, this champion of righteousness came off victorious in all the excellence of his patience.

And the judge cruelly employed against him severe tortures, and showered upon his body terrible scourgings without number, inflicting on his sides horrible lacerations, such as it is impossible to describe; but, under all these things this brave martyr of God sustained the conflict like a hero, and at last obtained the victory in the struggle, by enduring death by means of a slow fire: for it was a weak and slow fire by which he was burned, so that his soul could not easily make her escape from the body, and be at rest. And there was he tried like pure gold in the furnace of a slow fire, manifesting the perfection and the sincerity of his religion towards his God, and obtaining the crown of victory which belongs to the glorious conquerors of righteousness. And because he loved God, he received, as the meet recompense of his will, that perfect life which he longed for in the presence of God the sovereign of all.

The Confession of Thekla

And together with this brave confessor, at the same time of the trial of his confession, and in the same city, the martyr Agapios, and the admirable Thekla (she of our days) were condemned by the governor to suffer punishment and to be devoured by wild beasts.

It was the festival at which all the people assembled themselves together in their cities. The same festival also was held in Caesarea. And in the circus there was an exhibition of horse races, and a representation was performed in the theatre, and it was customary for impious and barbarous spectacles to take place in the Stadium: and there was a rumor and a report generally current, that Agapios, whose name we have mentioned above, and Thekla with him, together with the rest of the Phrygians, were to be sent into the theatre in the form of martyrs, in order that they might be devoured by the wild beasts; for the governor Urbanus would present this gift to the spectators.

The Confession of Agapios

In the Fourth Year of the Persecution of our Days (306 A.D.)

It was in the fourth year of the persecution in our days, and on Friday the twentieth of the latter Teshri [November]: it was on this same day that the chief of tyrants, Maximinus, came to the city of Caesarea. And he made a boast that he would exhibit some novel sight to all the spectators that were assembled together on his account; for that was the same day on which he celebrated the anniversary of his birthday. And it was requisite upon the arrival of the tyrant that he should exhibit something more than what had ordinarily been done. What then was this new spectacle, but that a martyr of God should be cast to wild beasts to be devoured by them? While of old it had been the practice upon the arrival of the emperor that he should set before the spectators competitive exhibitions of various forms and different kinds, such as recitation of speeches, and listening to new and strange songs and music, and also spectacles of all sorts of wild beasts, and likewise that the spectators might have much delight and amusement in a show of gladiators.

It was therefore requisite that the emperor at this festival of his birthday should also do something great and extraordinary, for at all the previous exhibitions which he had furnished for them he had not done anything new. So that, what was at once a thing desired by himself, and acceptable to the wicked tyrant, a martyr of God was brought forth into the midst, adorned with all righteousness, and remarkable for the meekness of his life; and he was cast into the theatre in order that he might be devoured by the wild beasts. His name was Agapios, respecting whom, together with Thekla, an order had been given that they should be devoured by wild beasts. The fair name of Thekla has been already mentioned in another chapter. They therefore dragged the blessed Agapios forward, and took him round about in mockery in the midst of the Stadium. And a tablet, with an inscription upon it, was carried about before him, on which no other accusation was exhibited against him, but this only -- that he was a Christian.

And the same time also a slave, a murderer, that had killed his master, was brought forward, together with the martyr of God, and they both received equally one and the same sentence. And very closely did this passion resemble that of our Saviour; for while the one was to suffer martyrdom for the sake of the God of all, the other also was to be put to death for the murder of his master; and one and the same sentence of evil went forth against both of them without any distinction. And the judge in this case was the governor Urbanus, for he was still governor in Palestine, but when Maximinus came to be present at this spectacle which has been described above, as if on account of the promptitude of Urbanus, he increased his power of evil, and liberated from death that murderer which had slain his master, and put him beyond all torture; but as for the martyr of God, he took delight in looking on with his own eyes while he was being devoured by the savage beasts.

When therefore they had led the martyr Agapios round about in the Stadium, they asked him in the first place if he would deny his God, but he cried out with a loud voice and said to all those who were assembled together: "Oh ye that are looking on at this trial in which I am now placed, know that it is not for any evil crime which I have committed that I am brought to this trial, for I am a witness of the true doctrine of God, and I bear testimony to you all, in order that ye may have knowledge of the one only God, and of that Light which he has caused to arise, that ye may know and adore Him who is the Creator of the heavens and of the earth. And all this which is come upon me for His name's sake, I receive with joy in my mind; for they have not brought me to this place against my will, but I desire this of my own free choice, by which I stand even unto death. Moreover, I am contending for the sake of my faith, that I may afford encouragement to those who are younger than myself, that they too may despise death while they follow after their true life, and may disregard the grave in order to obtain a kingdom; that they should make light of that which is mortal, and keep in their recollection the life of the Giver of life, nor have any dread of punishment which is momentary, but be in fear of those flames of fire which are never quenched."

When therefore this martyr of God had cried with a loud voice and said these things, and stood erect in the midst of the stadium, like one who felt confident that there was no danger, the wicked tyrant was filled with rage and fury, and gave orders for the wild beasts to be let loose upon him, but he, being full of courage and despising death, turned not aside to the right hand or to the left, but with lightness of feet and courage of heart advanced to meet the savage beasts. And a fierce bear rushed upon him and tore him with her teeth. He was then remanded to prison, while life was still left in him, and there he lived one day. After this, stones were tied about him, and his body was thrown into the sea; but the soul of the blessed Agapios winged her flight through the air to the kingdom of heaven, whither she was previously hastening, and was received together with the angels and the holy company of martyrs. So far then was the contest and the valor of Agapios victorious.


* The Holy Martyr Agapios is also commemorated on November 19.