June 25, 2021

The Divine Eros of Saint Eros and his Six Brothers


In the West, Saint Valentine has come to be known as the patron saint of love, a day on which couples everywhere celebrate the love they share for one another. It is so popular that despite the fact that Saint Valentine is not officially among the saints of the Orthodox Church, since he was martyred in Rome and only honored as a local saint there without spreading eastward, still he is acknowledged even by Orthodox, especially in Greece, as the patron saint of love. Unbeknownst to the majority of Orthodox in Greece, however, they already long had a patron saint of love, though he was mostly only known locally in Crete until the 1990's when he became more well known with the rise of Saint Valentine, and his name is Saint Hyacinth, or Saint Yakinthos, and his feast day is July 3rd. Yet there is really no good reason, based on the lives of these two saints, for them to be patron saints of love for loving couples. However, in the Orthodox Church there is one saint whose name alone would justify him being the patron saint of love, but he is almost completely unknown.

Eros is the Greek word used to describe passionate love and desire. In ancient Greek mythology, Eros was the god who emerged from the union of Aphrodite and Ares. He would carry a bow and arrow in his hands, and with the slightest touch from his arrow the recipient would burn with such passion that even if another god was touched by it, that god would come down from Mount Olympus and dwell on earth to satisfy their desire. In ancient Rome, Cupid, whose name in Latin means "desire", became the equivalent of Eros. According to Hesiod, however, Eros was the fourth god to come into existence, while Seneca says he was the first. The origins of the word "eros" is so obscure, that it leaves scholars baffled, and all they can say is that it precedes even the most ancient form of Greek. In Orthodox theology, eros is a word used by Saint Ignatius the God-bearer to describe the love Christ had for humanity to become incarnate and sacrifice Himself on the Cross. Saint Dionysius the Areopagite, among many Church Fathers, uses the word eros also to describe the highest form of love the Church as the Bride of Christ should share for their Bridegroom, Christ. Little do Orthodox Christians know that we have a Saint Eros, and he is commemorated by the Orthodox Church on June 25th. It is on this day we say the following iambic verses in his honor, which links his desire (eron) for the beauty of heaven with his name:

You possessed desire for the beauty of heaven Eros,
To which you have gone up rejoicing.

Just as the ancient god Eros was one of the seven so-called Erotes, who were gods of love and desire that accompanied Aphrodite, so also the Holy Martyr Eros was one of seven brothers who was martyred during the reign of Emperor Maximian in the year 301. The names of his brothers were Orentios, Pharnakios, Firmus, Firminus, Kyriakos and Longinus. All seven brothers were among a legion of Roman soldiers in Thrace. At that time Thrace was being pirated by Scythians, and their leader, Marathom, who exceeded everyone else in physical stature, beauty and courage, challenged the Roman soldiers to produce one from among them to fight him one on one, and the winner would win the subjection of the opposing army. The closest Roman soldier that had a chance against Marathom was Orentios, who was courageous, experienced in warfare, versatile and quick. When the two soldiers entered the stadium, Orentios struck Marathom with his spear and then decapitated his opponent, gaining victory for the Romans.

Emperor Maximian heaped praises upon Orentios, and bid him to offer the customary sacrifices to the idols on behalf of his victory. Orentios however confessed to the emperor that his victory came with the help of Jesus Christ, who he worshiped as the one true God, and not any of the false gods of the Greeks. His brothers stood by him and confessed the same thing. After this, being unable to persuade him to deny his faith in Christ, the emperor sent him together with his six brothers to the city of Satala in Armenia, having written to the ruler there to punish the Saints until he persuaded them to sacrifice to the gods, and then to send them back. He did not persuade them to sacrifice to the idols, but they remained steadfast in the faith of Christ. For this reason, according to the order of the emperor, the Saints were exiled to the lands of Abkhazia and Circassia.

The first brother, Eros, departed to the Lord when they arrived at a place called New Parembole, and this took place on June 22nd. Orentios received a blessed end, when they arrived at a place called Riza, after the Greeks tied a rock around his neck and cast him into the sea. The Archangel Raphael then appeared, took him up and removed him from the sea, leaving him on dry ground unharmed, and placing him on a rock; there he prayed, delivering his spirit to God, and he was buried there on June 24th. Pharnakios, when on the way to Kordila, departed to the Lord on July 3rd. Firmus and Firminus arrived in Aspara, and there their transitory life came to an end, on July 7th. On his way to Ziganeia, Kyriakos rested in the Lord, on July 14th. Blessed Longinus, when he was on his way by sea from Ziganeia to Libyka, a great storm appeared on the path, and having prayed, he delivered his soul into the hands of God, and was buried in Pitsunda, since after four days the ship crashed there.

Thus these seven brothers, filled with divine eros, contested on behalf of the Lord courageously, and departed to their desired Lord, who rewarded them with unfading crowns of glory.