July 23, 2018

Holy Hieromartyr Apollinaris, Bishop of Ravenna

St. Apollinaris of Ravenna (Feast Day - July 23)


Apollinaris was cut down,
Vitale hastened at once to arrive.

Saint Apollinaris was a disciple of the Apostle Peter, whom he followed from Antioch to Rome sometime during the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius (41-54). Saint Peter appointed Apollinaris as Bishop of Ravenna. Arriving in Ravenna as a stranger, Apollinaris asked shelter of a local inhabitant, the soldier Irenaeus, and during their conversation he revealed the purpose for which he had come.

Irenaeus had a blind son, whom Apollinaris healed, after he had prayed to the Lord. The soldier Irenaeus and his family were the first people in Ravenna to believe in Christ. The Saint stayed at the house of Irenaeus and preached about Christ to everyone who wished to hear his words. One of the miracles that Saint Apollinaris performed was the healing of Thekla, the incurably sick wife of the tribune. Through the prayers of the Saint, she got up from her bed completely healthy. Not only did she believe in Christ, but so did her husband the tribune. In their house Apollinaris set up a small church, where he celebrated the Divine Liturgy. Saint Apollinaris ordained two presbyters, Aderetus and Calocyrus, and also two deacons for the newly-baptized people of Ravenna.

Saint Apollinaris labored with great zeal, preaching the gospel at Ravenna for twelve years, and the number of Christians steadily increased. Pagan priests complained about the Bishop to the governor Saturninus. The hierarch was brought to trial and subjected to grievous tortures. Thinking that he had died, the torturers took him out of the city to the seacoast and threw him into the water. The Saint, however, was still alive. A certain pious Christian widow helped him and gave him shelter in her home. Saint Apollinaris stayed with her for six months, and secretly continued to preach about Christ. The Saint’s whereabouts became known when he restored the power of speech to an illustrious resident of the city named Boniface, whose wife had requested the Saint to help her husband.

After this miracle many pagans were converted to Christ, and once again Apollinaris was brought to trial and tortured. His bare feet were placed on red-hot coals. They expelled him from the city a second time, but the Lord again kept him alive. He did not cease preaching until he left the city. For a certain time Apollinaris found himself elsewhere in Italy, where he continued to preach the gospel as before. Returning to his flock in Ravenna, Apollinaris went on trial yet again and was sentenced to banishment.

In heavy fetters, he was placed on a ship bound for Illyrica and the Danube River. Two soldiers were responsible for escorting him to his place of exile. Three of the clergy voluntarily followed their bishop into exile. Along the way the vessel was wrecked and everyone drowned, except for Apollinaris, his clergy and the two soldiers. The soldiers, listening to Apollinaris, believed in the Lord and were baptized. Not finding any shelter, the travelers came to Moisia in Thrace, where Saint Apollinaris healed a certain illustrious inhabitant from leprosy. Both he and his companions were given shelter at the man’s home. In this land Apollinaris preached tirelessly about Christ and he converted many of the pagans to Christianity, for which he was subjected to persecution by the unbelievers. They beat the Saint mercilessly, then they sent him back to Italy aboard a ship.

After a three year absence, Apollinaris returned to Ravenna and was joyfully received by his flock. The pagans, however, entered the church where the Saint was serving the Divine Liturgy, scattered those at prayer, and dragged the Bishop before the idolatrous priests at the pagan temple of Apollo. The idol fell and shattered to pieces just as the Bishop was brought in. The pagan priests brought Saint Apollinaris to Taurus, the new governor of the district for trial. Apollinaris performed a new miracle, healing the son of the governor, who had been blind from birth. In gratitude for the healing of his son, Taurus tried to protect Apollinaris from the angry crowd. He sent him to his own estate outside the city. Although Taurus’s wife and son were baptized, he feared the anger of the emperor, and did not receive Baptism. However, he was filled with gratitude and love toward his benefactor.

Saint Apollinaris lived for five years at Taurus’s estate and preached without hindrance. During this time pagan priests sent letters of denunciation to Emperor Vespasian requesting a sentence of death or exile for the Christian “sorcerer” Apollinaris. But the emperor told the pagan priests that the gods were sufficiently powerful to take revenge for themselves, if they felt insulted. All the wrath of the pagans fell upon Saint Apollinaris: they seized him and beat him fiercely as he was leaving the city for a nearby settlement. Christians found him barely alive and took him to the settlement, where he lived for seven days. During his final illness the Saint did not cease to teach his flock. He predicted that after the persecutions ended, Christians would enter upon better times when they could openly and freely confess their faith. After bestowing his archpastoral blessing upon those present, the hieromartyr Apollinaris fell asleep in the Lord. Saint Apollinaris was Bishop of Ravenna for twenty-eight years, and he reposed in the year 75.

Saint Peter Chrysologus, the most illustrious among his successors, has left us a sermon (128) in honor of our Saint, in which he often styles him a martyr; but adds, that though he frequently spilt portions of his blood for the faith, and ardently desired to lay down his life for Christ, yet God preserved him a long time to his church, and did not suffer the persecutors to take away his life. So he seems to have only been a martyr by the torments he endured for Christ, which he survived at least some days.

His body lay first at Classis, four miles from Ravenna, a kind of suburb to that city, and its seaport, till it was choked up by the sands. In the year 549 his relics were removed into a more secret vault in the same church, as an inscription still extant there testifies. Saint Fortunatus exhorted his friends to make pilgrimages to his tomb, and Saint Gregory the Great ordered parties in doubtful suits at law to be sworn before it. Pope Honorius built a church under his name in Rome about the year 630. He occurs in all Martyrologies, and the high veneration which the Church paid early to his memory is a sufficient testimony of his eminent sanctity and apostolic spirit.