December 7, 2015

The Holy Martyrs of the North African Persecution by the Arian Vandals in 484

Commemorated on December 7th (Gr.) or 8th (Slav.)



For the Three Hundred Martyrs of Africa.
For your glory O Trinity they were beheaded,
Receive the three hundred with the sixty.

For the Martyrs Burned in the Temple.
Truly a Temple was found in the midst of the Temple,
The multitude burned for their correct reverence.

For the Two Hieromartyrs.
Two excellent Priests were also burned,
Seized or rather anointed to be slain for their reverence.

For the Sixty Hieromartyrs.
Sixty who are tongueless speak again,
Proclaiming to all the truth in a strange manner.

For the Female Martyr in Rome.
The woman hated the doctrine of the wicked-minded,
Strangely she endured burning. O what manliness!

These Holy Martyrs lived during the reign of Emperor Zeno (474-491). Huneric (477–484), the ruler of the Vandals in North Africa, and successor of his father Genseric (428–477), was an Arian. This Huneric persuaded two Arian Bishops, Cyril and Vilinardis, to begin a great persecution against the Orthodox Christians. Thus they did it. And it was so fearsome and great, that it exceeded the persecution that took place in the years of Diocletian and Maximian. This fierce tyrant ordered the persecution of all Priests in the fifteen cities of North Africa, having first set on the churches of the Orthodox and all the sacred vestments and treasures. Then the Orthodox took hold of one church, and there gathered to celebrate the Divine Mystagogy. When the barbaric Arians learned of this, they circled it and brought wood and other dried material, and lit it. Thus they burned the church with all those Christians who prayed therein. Huneric praised this deed of the barbarians, and gave orders that all Christians who are not rebaptized into the cacodox baptism of the Arians should immediately be killed. Wherefore all those Orthodox who were too weak to face the fearsome torments, departed and gained their lives, leaving behind their homeland and homes. Those who were firm in their Orthodox faith, immediately gave themselves over to martyrdom. For this reason three hundred Orthodox in Carthage, because they refused to willingly agree with the Arians, received punishment by decapitation.

The impious gave worse punishments to the Priests. Wherefore two of them they burned, and sixty of the most eloquent they cut off their tongues from the root. These men were dispersed throughout the land of the Romans, and they preached without a tongue, which was a magnificent miracle done by God through them. Opening their mouths and appearing without tongues, with precision and clearness they delivered words. Thus they amazed those who saw them and heard them. One of them, because he fell into a sin of the flesh, caused divine grace to depart from his speech. As a result he was not able to articulate as before. This history is referred to by many authors.1 Such things Huneric dared to do in Africa against the Orthodox, who confessed as consubstantial the Father with His Son and Word.

At this time in Old Rome wicked things were being done against the Orthodox by the Arians. The wife of the patrician of Rome Odoacer, called Sunigilda, because she was minded towards the heresy of Arius, for this reason she tried to persuade an Orthodox Roman woman2 to be baptized a second time into the cacodox baptism of Arius. Unable to persuade her, she ordered that the baptism take place against her will by the Bishop of Milan, who was also an Arian. When this Orthodox woman emerged from the font, she asked for two coins from her servant, and gave them to the Bishop saying: "Receive your payment for the public bath that you washed me with," thus reviling with these words the Arian baptism. When Sunigilda learned of this, she immediately ordered for this blessed woman to be burned. Hence her husband, afraid of the torment of burning, went of his own accord and was baptized a second time with the baptism of Arius. Afterwards, when he was sitting on a horse, and was going to a house of prayer, and was found to be before the city, the wretch was struck by lightning, that came down from the sky. Wherefore by this trial he learned, that the rage and judgment of God more powerfully came against him than the temporal fire by which his wife was burned.


1. Below are three trustworthy eye-witness accounts:

Victor Vitensis, a trustworthy authority on these circumstances soon after they took place, narrates the following:

"But let us hasten to make known, to the praise of God, what occurred at Tipasa, a city of the greater Mauritania. When the inhabitants saw that an Arian bishop had been appointed to their city by the notary of Cyril for the destruction of their souls, all of them embarked on board a ship and took refuge in Spain, leaving only a very few behind, who could find no vessels to carry them away. These last the Arian bishop endeavored to convert to Arianism, at first by blandishments, and afterwards by the compulsion of threats. They, however, remaining strong in the Lord, not only laughed to scorn the madness of their adviser, but likewise, having assembled in one house, began to celebrate publicly the Divine Mysteries. When this became known to the bishop, he secretly sent a report of their proceedings to Carthage. Huneric, on being informed of what had occurred, sent in anger a certain count to Tipasa, with a command that in the presence of the whole province he should cut off by the roots the tongues and right hands of the offenders in the middle of the Forum. The command was executed, but through the working of the Holy Spirit, they spoke and still speak just as they used to speak before. But if any one chooses to be incredulous, let him now repair to Constantinople, and there he will find one of them, the subdeacon Reparatus, conversing in polite discourse without any impediment. For which cause he is deemed peculiarly venerable, and the empress in particular regards him with the highest reverence."

Pope Gregory the Great writes in his Dialogues (Book 3, Ch. 32) of certain Bishops of Africa, who had their tongues cut out by the Vandals, that were Arian heretics, for the defense of the Orthodox faith; and yet spake still as perfectly as they did before:

"GREGORY: Likewise, in the time of Justinian the Emperor, when as the Vandals, that were Arian heretics, did grievously persecute the Catholic faith, certain Bishops, continuing constant, were openly examined: whom when the king of the Vandals saw that he could neither by any words or rewards draw to embrace his heretical religion, yet he thought that by torments he might do it: and therefore, when he commanded them not to speak in defense of truth, and they refused to obey his precept, lest by silence they might seem to give consent unto wicked heresy, in a great fury he commanded their tongues to be cut out by the roots. A miraculous thing, and yet known to many old men: they did as perfectly afterward speak in defense of true religion, as they did before, when they had their tongues safe and sound.

PETER: You tell me of a marvelous strange thing, and greatly to be admired.

GREGORY: It is written, Peter, of the only Son of the eternal Father: 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.' Of whose virtue and power it straightway follows: 'All things were made by him.' Why then should we marvel, if that eternal Word could speak without a tongue, which made the tongue?

PETER: What you say pleases me very well.

GREGORY: These Bishops, therefore, fleeing at that time from the persecution, came unto the city of Constantinople, and at such time as myself, about the affairs of the Church, was sent there unto the Emperor, I found there a Bishop of good years, who told me that he saw them himself speak without tongues: for they opened their mouths, and said: 'Behold and see how we have no tongues, and yet do speak;' for, as he said, their tongues being cut off by the roots, there seemed as it were a deep hole in their throat, and yet, though their mouths were empty, they pronounced their words very plain and distinctly. One of which, falling afterward in that place into carnal sin, was forthwith deprived of that supernatural gift, and that by the just judgment of almighty God, seeing reason requires that he which was careless to preserve the continency of his body which he had, should not any longer utter the words of truth without the tongue of his body which he had not."

Aeneas of Gaza, a Platonic philosopher, has accurately described his own observations of the African sufferers:

"I saw them myself; I heard them speak. I diligently inquired by what means such an articulate voice could be formed without any organ of speech. I used my eyes to examine the report of my ears. I opened their mouth, and saw that the whole tongue had been completely torn away by the roots, an operation which the physicians generally supposed to be mortal."

The testimony of Aeneas of Gaza might be confirmed by the superfluous evidence of the Emperor Justinian, in a perpetual edict, and of Count Marcellinus, in his chronicle of the times. These all lived within the compass of a century, and they all appeal to their personal knowledge or the public notoriety for the truth of a miracle, which was repeated in several instances, displayed to the world, and submitted during a series of years to the calm examination of the senses. This has generally been considered not only a miracle, but the most remarkable one on record after apostolic times. The variety of the witnesses and the consistency of their testimony on all material points give it claims to belief, such as few apparently preternatural events possess.

2. Tradition says she was named Anthusa and was originally baptized by St. Ambrose of Milan.