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March 26, 2017

Holy Hieromartyr Montanus and Maxima his Wife

Sts. Montanus and Maxima (Feast Day - March 26)

The Holy Martyrs Montanus and Maxima were a married priestly couple who lived in Singidunum (present-day Belgrade in Serbia) in the fourth century during the time of Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians. The Emperor’s deputy, Galerius, issued an edict requiring Christians to offer sacrifices to the idols. The pious couple refused, and continued to conduct their lives according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They traveled to Sirmium (west of Belgrade) in order to distance themselves from the seat of power. However, in the year 304, they were seized by Roman soldiers and brought to stand trial before Governor Probus.

As they stood before the governor on a bridge overlooking the Sava River, the captives were given the choice of sacrifice to the idols or death. The holy presbyter Montanus showed great heroism and explained that if he were to sacrifice to the idols, it would be tantamount to rejecting Jesus Christ as God and Lord of heaven and earth, and he refused to comply.

Frustrated and intending to take advantage of her “weaker” sex, Probus tried to persuade St. Maxima to deny Christ. Much to the surprise of the crowd, her fidelity and apostolic courage proved to be as great, if not greater, than her husband’s. St. Maxima defended her faith so convincingly and with such eloquent zeal that Probus cut the trial short, fearing mass conversions to Christianity.

Sts. Maxima and Montanus were beheaded by the sword, and their remains were thrown into the Sava River. The faithful, and those converted by the zeal of the holy couple, willingly endangered their lives in order to rescue the bodies and heads of the martyrs from the river. The relics were transported to Rome and interred in the Catacombs of St. Priscilla on the Salarian Way where they remained for 1,500 years.

The Veneration of the Saints

The Hieronymian Martyrology mentions them on 26 March and 26 April. Also the martyrical Acts of Montanus and Maxima are mentioned in the life of St. Pollion, the lector of the church from Cibalae (died on 28 April 304). Their original martyrical Acts were not kept. But in modern times, a Romanian priest and professor of Church History, Nicolae M. Popescu, tried to reconstruct the story, following the similar act of martyrdom of St. Irenaios of Syrmium who died a few days later (on 6 April 304) in the same conditions. This text is today read with piety in the Romanian churches during their days of celebration, 26 March.

In 1804, certain tombs in the Catacombs of St. Priscilla were opened. The many relics that were discovered were presented to various Roman Catholic churches and to notable families in Rome. St. Maxima’s relics were found to be in a remarkable state of preservation. With the special permission of Pope Pius VII, they were presented to the influential Sinibaldi family along with a phial of her blood, and for over a hundred years, her relics were venerated at the altar of their private chapel in Rome.

In 1927, the Sinibaldi family presented St. Maxima’s relics to the Poor Clares of San Lorenzo Monastery in Rome who, in turn, presented them to the Poor Clares Monastery in Chicago, Illinois, where they remained for forty years. For the next few decades, St. Maxima’s relics were transported from one monastery or priest to another, including Father Joseph Louro, a Roman Catholic missionary in South America. However, because of the illness of Fr. Louro, the relics were given into the custody of Fr. Leo McNamara, of St. Adrian's Parish in Chicago. Fr. McNamara rightly felt that St. Maxima provided a much needed example, and he did all in his power to make her known. After Father Louro’s death in 1971, St. Maxima’s relics found a permanent home with the Byzantine Poor Clares in North Royalton, Ohio.

Although St. Maxima suffered martyrdom more than 1700 years ago, and her relics have been removed to various places, all the bones of the entire skeleton are in a remarkable state of preservation. They have been clothed in magnificent garments, richly studded with jewels and gold braid, while the skull, hands and feet are encased in wax forms, so arranged, however, that the bones of the hands and feet can be seen. Next to her relic is a phial of her blood.

In modern Serbia St. Maxima has a special devotion. Her intercession was asked especially for the peace in Kosovo, and the protection of Orthodox families and especially for priests’ wives. In Romania the Monastery of Halmyris (the place of discovery of Saints Epictetus and Astion) has as its second protectors Saints Montanus and Maxima. A Romanian community in Serbia, in the village of Isacova, the Tchupria community on the Valley of Morava has as its protectors Saints Montanus and Maxima.