Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Holy Hieromartyr Symeon the Bishop of Persia and Those With Him (+ 343)

St. Symeon of Persia and Those With Him (Feast Day - April 17)

Verses

To Symeon.
You are indeed great Symeon the Bishop,
By the sword you are perceived to be a great athlete.

To Audella.
You entered into the mouth of the fearsome bear Audella,
Escaping the insatiable mouth of Satan's abominations.

To Gothazat.
Given the choice between sacrificing and death,
Gothazat seized death by beheading through a sword.

To Fousik.
"Flay my skin" said Fousik,
The garment woven with the cloth of Satan.

To the One Hundred and Fifty.
Three times fifty men were beheaded,
Who venerated the Essence in three Persons.

To the Thousand.
A thousand Persians fell by the sword,
Declaring what you had seen Paul - a cloud of Martyrs.

On the seventeenth Symeon was decapitated at the neck.

By Sozomen

(Ecclesiastical History, Bk. 2, Chs. 9-11)

When, in course of time, the Christians increased in number, and began to form churches, and appointed priests and deacons, the Magi, who as a priestly tribe had from the beginning in successive generations acted as the guardians of the Persian religion, became deeply incensed against them. The Jews, who through envy are in some way naturally opposed to the Christian religion, were likewise offended. They therefore brought accusations before Shapur, the reigning sovereign, against Symeon, who was then archbishop of Seleucia and Ctesiphon, royal cities of Persia, and charged him with being a friend of the Caesar of the Romans, and with communicating the affairs of the Persians to him. Shapur believed these accusations, and at first, punished the Christians with excessive taxes, although he knew that the generality of them had voluntarily embraced poverty. He entrusted the exaction to cruel men, hoping that, by the want of necessities, and the atrocity of the exactors, they might be compelled to abjure their religion; for this was his aim. Afterwards, however, he commanded that the priests and conductors of the worship of God should be slain with the sword. The churches were demolished, their vessels were deposited in the treasury, and Symeon was arrested as a traitor to the kingdom and the religion of the Persians. Thus the Magi, with the cooperation of the Jews, quickly destroyed the houses of prayer. Symeon, on his apprehension, was bound with chains, and brought before the king. There the man evinced his excellence and courage; for when Shapur commanded that he should be led away to the torture, he did not fear, and would not prostrate himself. The king, greatly exasperated, demanded why he did not prostrate himself as he had done formerly. Symeon replied, “Formerly I was not led away bound in order that I might abjure the truth of God, and therefore I did not then object to pay the customary respect to royalty; but now it would not be proper for me to do so; for I stand here in defense of godliness and of our opinion.” When he ceased speaking, the king commanded him to worship the sun, promising, as an inducement, to bestow gifts upon him, and to hold him in honor; but on the other hand, threatening, in case of non-compliance, to visit him and the whole body of Christians with destruction. When the king found that he neither frightened him by menaces, nor caused him to relax by promises, and that Symeon remained firm and refused to worship the sun, or to betray his religion, he commanded him to be put in bonds for a while, probably imagining that he would change his mind.

When Symeon was being conducted to prison, Usthazanes,* an aged eunuch, the foster-father of Shapur and superintendent of the palace, who happened to be sitting at the gates of the palace, arose to do him reverence. Symeon reproachfully forbade him in a loud and haughty voice, averted his countenance, and passed by; for the eunuch had been formerly a Christian, but had recently yielded to authority, and had worshiped the sun. This conduct so affected the eunuch that he wept aloud, laid aside the white garment with which he was robed, and clothed himself, as a mourner, in black. He then seated himself in front of the palace, crying and groaning, and saying, “Woe is me! What must not await me since I have denied God; and on this account Symeon, formerly my familiar friend, does not think me worthy of being spoken to, but turns away and hastens from me.” When Shapur heard of what had occurred, he called the eunuch to him, and inquired into the cause of his grief, and asked him whether any calamity had befallen his family. Usthazanes replied and said, “O king, nothing has occurred to my family; but I would rather have suffered any other affliction whatsoever than that which has befallen me, and it would have been easy to bear. Now I mourn because I am alive, and ought to have been dead long ago; yet I still see the sun which, not voluntarily, but to please you, I professed to worship. Therefore, on both accounts, it is just that I should die, for I have been a betrayer of Christ, and a deceiver to you.” He then swore by the Maker of heaven and earth, that he would never swerve from his convictions. Shapur, astonished at the wonderful conversion of the eunuch, was still more enraged against the Christians, as if they had effected it by enchantments. Still, he spared the old man, and strove with all his strength, by alternate gentleness and harshness, to bring him over to his own sentiments. But finding that his efforts were useless, and that Usthazanes persisted in declaring that he would never be so foolish as to worship the creature instead of the Creator, he became inflamed with passion, and commanded that the eunuch’s head should be struck off with a sword. When the executioners came forward to perform their office, Usthazanes requested them to wait a little, that he might communicate something to the king. He then called one of the most faithful eunuchs, and bade him say to Shapur, “From my youth until now I have been well affected, O king, to your house, and have ministered with fitting diligence to your father and yourself. I need no witnesses to corroborate my statements; these facts are well established. For all the matters wherein at diverse times I have gladly served you, grant me this reward; let it not be imagined by those who are ignorant of the circumstances, that I have incurred this punishment by acts of unfaithfulness against the kingdom, or by the commission of any other crime; but let it be published and proclaimed abroad by a herald, that Usthazanes loses his head for no knavery that he has ever committed in the palaces, but for being a Christian, and for refusing to obey the king in denying his own God.” The eunuch delivered this message, and Shapur, according to the request of Usthazanes, commanded a herald to make the desired proclamation; for the king imagined that others would be easily deterred from embracing Christianity, by reflecting that he who sacrificed his aged foster-father and esteemed household servant, would assuredly spare no other Christian. Usthazanes, however, believed that as by his timidity in consenting to worship the sun, he had caused many Christians to fear, so now, by the diligent proclamation of the cause of his sufferings, many might be edified by learning that he died for the sake of piety, and so became imitators of his fortitude.


In this manner the honorable life of Usthazanes was terminated, and when the intelligence was brought to Symeon in the prison, he offered thanksgiving to God on his account. The following day, which happened to be the sixth day of the week, and likewise the day on which, as immediately preceding the festival of the Resurrection, the annual memorial of the Passion of the Savior is celebrated, the king issued orders for the decapitation of Symeon; for he had again been conducted to the palace from the prison, had reasoned most nobly with Shapur on points of doctrine, and had expressed a determination never to worship either the king or the sun. On the same day a hundred other prisoners were ordered to be slain. Symeon beheld their execution, and last of all he was put to death. Among these victims were bishops, presbyters, and other clergy of different grades. As they were being led out to execution, the chief of the Magi approached them, and asked them whether they would preserve their lives by conforming to the religion of the king and by worshiping the sun. As none of them would comply with this condition, they were conducted to the place of execution, and the executioners applied themselves to the task of slaying these martyrs. Symeon, standing by those who were to be slain, exhorted them to constancy, and reasoned concerning death, and the resurrection, and piety, and showed them from the sacred Scriptures that a death like theirs is true life; whereas to live, and through fear to deny God, is as truly death. He told them, too, that even if no one were to slay them, death would inevitably overtake them; for our death is a natural consequence of our birth. The things after those of this life are perpetual, and do not happen alike to all men; but as if measured by some rule, they must give an accurate account of the course of life here. Each one who did well, will receive immortal rewards and will escape the punishments of those who did the opposite. He likewise told them that the greatest and happiest of all good actions is to die for the cause of God. While Symeon was pursuing such themes, and like a household attendant, was exhorting them about the manner in which they were to go into the conflicts, each one listened and spiritedly went to the slaughter. After the executioner had dispatched a hundred, Symeon himself was slain; and Abedechalaas** and Ananias, two aged presbyters of his own church, who had been his fellow-prisoners, suffered with him.

Pusices,*** the superintendent of the king’s artisans, was present at the execution; perceiving that Ananias trembled as the necessary preparations for his death were being made, he said to him, “O old man, close your eyes for a little while and be of good courage, for you will soon behold the light of Christ.” No sooner had he uttered these words than he was arrested and conducted before the king; and as he frankly avowed himself a Christian, and spoke with great freedom to the king concerning his opinion and the martyrs, he was condemned to an extraordinary and most cruel death, because it was not lawful to address the king with such boldness. The executioners pierced the muscles of his neck in such a manner as to extract his tongue. On the charge of some persons, his daughter, who had devoted herself to a life of holy virginity, was arraigned and executed at the same time. The following year, on the day on which the Passion of Christ was commemorated, and when preparations were being made for the celebration of the festival commemorative of his Resurrection from the dead, Shapur issued a most cruel edict throughout Persia, condemning to death all those who should confess themselves to be Christians. It is said that a greater number of Christians suffered by the sword; for the Magi sought diligently in the cities and villages for those who had concealed themselves; and many voluntarily surrendered themselves, lest they should appear, by their silence, to deny Christ. Of the Christians who were thus unsparingly sacrificed, many who were attached to the palace were slain, and amongst these was Azades, a eunuch, who was especially beloved by the king. On hearing of his death, Shapur was overwhelmed with grief, and put a stop to the general slaughter of the Christians; and he directed that the teachers of piety should alone be slain.

Notes:

* In the Greek, his name is Gothazat.

** In Greek, his name is Audella.

*** In Greek, his name is Fousik.


Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
As instructor of the divinely inspired doctrines, thou didst train martyrs for contest by thy words and deeds. O holy Hierarch Symeon, thou didst suffer with them and cry out to Christ while hastening to Him: We are counted as sheep for the slaughter for love of thee, O Saviour.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
O Symeon, thou didst shine forth from Persia, with thy holy band of martyrs like radiant stars from the East. We praise thee with them.


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