January 1, 2017

Holy Martyr Telemachus, Who Put an End to Gladitorial Games (+ 404)

St. Telemachus the Martyr (Feast Day - January 1)

The last known gladiator fight in Rome was on 1 January 404, during the reign of Emperor Honorius (393-423). Bishop Theodoret of Cyrus informs us how this took place (Eccl. Hist. Bk. 5, Ch. 26):

Honorius, who inherited the empire of Europe, put a stop to the gladiatorial combats which had long been held at Rome. The occasion of his doing so arose from the following circumstance. A certain man by the name of Telemachus had embraced the ascetic life. He had set out from the East and for this reason had repaired to Rome. There, when the abominable spectacle was being exhibited, he went himself into the stadium, and, stepping down into the arena, endeavored to stop the men who were wielding their weapons against one another. The spectators of the slaughter were indignant, and inspired by the mad fury of the demon who delights in those bloody deeds, stoned the peacemaker to death. When the admirable emperor was informed of this he numbered Telemachus in the array of victorious martyrs, and put an end to that impious spectacle.

The Roman Martyrology adds the following:

At Rome, Saint Almachius, martyr, who, by the command of Alipius, governor of the city, was killed by the gladiators for saying, 'Today is the Octave of our Lord's birth; put an end to the worship of idols, and abstain from unclean sacrifices.'

Thus Saint Telemachus, who is also known as Almachius, was stoned to death in Rome eight days after the Nativity of Christ, which is January 1st, in the year 404. This tragedy fueled the emperor to ban this spectacle in the Roman Empire for good.

It is true that Constantine the Great, many years previously, had issued decrees making illegal such great evils as abortion, infanticide, crucifixion, and gladiatorial games. But many of these great evils are very difficult to extirpate, and often their demonic heads pop up again and again in history. The great Orthodox Christian poet and Latin hymn writer, Aurelius Prudentius Clemens, in his work, “Contra Symmachi Orationem”, delivered against the influence of the Pagan Senator and Magistrate Symmachus (who was well-known for representing the forces of Pagan tradition, including the bloody gladiatorial games), castigates these great evils, saying:

What ravages other to itself doth the impious art of the game will,
What deaths of young men, what pleasure by blood nourished?

Prudentius, however, much later, shows praise for the Emperor Honorius:

He forbade the City to be stained by the blood of bulls,
Thou shalt prohibit to be offered the deaths of unhappy men,
Not one in the City may fall, the pleasure of which may be pain,
Nor may its own maidenhood delight countenances by slaughters,
Now the infamous arena contented by alone wild beasts,
Let no more homicides entertain in bloodstained arms.

Thus for nearly eighty years Christian rulers, hierarchs and clergy could not put an end to this bloody spectacle, until a foreign ascetic came to Rome and put his life on the line and lost it in the name of Christ and the peace He brought to the world. Saint Telemachus could have truly spoken the words of the Apostle James (2:8):

Truly, a man may say, 'You have faith, and I have works.' Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.