January 3, 2016

Saint Gordius the Martyr of Ceasarea

St. Gordius the Martyr (Feast Day - January 3)


Who can surpass the armed-soldier Gordius,
A man who firmly approached the fearsome blade?
On the third Gordius was beheaded and fell to the dust surrounded.

Saint Gordius, a native of Ceasarea in Cappadocia, was a centurion in the Roman army during the reign of Licinius (308-324), and upon seeing the cruelties inflicted on the Christians by the Greek pagans and hearing their blasphemies against Christ, he removed himself from the army and distanced himself from the city. He withdrew to a mountain, and there lived with the wild beasts and irrational animals. Here he lived in quietude as an anchorite praying and fasting, and in return Christ filled him with longing and eros. Strengthened by God and receiving courage to face the errors of the Greeks, he left the wilderness and entered the city once again, this time as a strong lion (cf. Prov. 28:1) ready to face the Governor who became known for his fierce cruelty against Christians.

In the city there was a festival in honor of the god of war Ares, and the whole population of Ceasarea gathered in the theater to witness the games and horse races. Gordius entered the theater at this time in the year 314, with his wild and savage look from his long sojourn in the wilderness, having a long beard, filthy clothes, squalid hair, hardened body, and carrying a stick fitted with a pouch, yet full of grace he began to openly preach Christ. Because of how he looked, everyone turned their ears to him and listened to him. The Governor of the city was amazed by his boldness, and became enraged when he inquired and learned of his former rank. For this reason he ordered the execution of the Saint, having failed to persuade him with threats and flatteries to deny Christ. Friends and relatives also tried to persuade the Saint to save his life by denying Christ, but he refused to listen, informing them that it would be foolish to add to earthly life and be deprived of eternal life if he was to heed their advice. Therefore the whole city went out to the execution site, and after the Martyr fortified himself with the sign of the Cross, he gave himself to beheading, and through this received the crown of martyrdom.

A portion of his holy relics can be venerated today in the Holy Monastery of Saint Panteleimon at the Holy Mountain, and Saint Basil the Great preached an encomium in his honor on the day of his festival a few decades after his martyric contest. It seems that the date of his festival at that time was March 2nd, but later the Synaxarion of Constantinople assigned his feast for January 3rd.

Saint Basil writes the following beautiful words about the withdrawal of Saint Gordius into the wilderness and his emerging in the city armed for the contest:

"He considered life with wild beasts to be more civilized than mixing with idol-worshipers, in the manner of the zealot Elias, who, when he saw that idol-worship was prevailing over Sidon, ran off to Mount Horeb and lived in a cave, seeking out God until he saw the object of his desire - as much as it is possible for a human being to see (cf. 1 Kings 19:1-18). So Gordius was like that too, turning his back on political turmoils, the crowd in the marketplace, the vanity of magistrates, the law courts, the back-biters, the vendors, the buyers, the swearers, the liars, the foul language, the frivolous talk, all the rest, which like burdensome appendages, populous cities drag after them. Purifying his ears, purifying his eyes, and above all having purified his heart, so that he would be able to see God and become blessed, he saw through revelations, he learnt the mysteries, not from human beings nor through human beings but because he had the Spirit of truth as his great teacher. This is why, when he reflected on how unprofitable and vain life was, how it was more feeble than every dream and shadow, he was aroused more keenly to the desire of the heavenly calling. And he was like an athlete, realizing that he was sufficiently trained and oiled for the contest by means of fasting, vigils, prayers, the continuous and incessant meditation of the sayings of the Spirit, with his eyes fixed on that day on which the entire city in a body, celebrating a feast in honor of a demon who is fond of war, occupied the theater to view a horse race."

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Inflamed with zeal for the faith, of thine own free will thou didst hasten to the stadium and rejoice in the contest there. Thou didst quench the flames of evil in the streams of thy blood by beheading, O Champion; wherefore the Life-giver has glorified thee, O Gordius.

Kontakion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
The whole earth hast thou watered with thy sweat and toils, O glorious one, and hast made all the world glad with thy precious blood, O godly-minded Gordius. By thine earnest entreaties, O famed Martyr, save all them that sing thy praise in faith and worthily revere thee as one that hath truly suffered much.

Having quite the material army, and being mightily armed in a heavenly way, you overpowered the opposition in battle, as an armed soldier of Christ, glorious Gordius.