EUSTATHIUS THE GREAT MARTYR, HIS WIFE AND TWO CHILDREN
Eustathius the Great Martyr, his wife and two children, Our Righteous Father Eustathius, Archbishop of Thessolonica, John the Foreigner, Hilarion the New Martyr of Crete, Afterfeast of the Holy Cross
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE EPHESIANS 6:10-17
Brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand, therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
The Lord said to his disciples, "Beware of men who will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony. Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.
From September 15 until the Leavetaking, we sing “O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ. O son of God crucified in the flesh, save us who sing to Thee: Alleluia” at weekday Liturgies following the Little Entrance.
Before his Baptism, the Holy Great Martyr Eustáthios was named Plakidas (Πλακίδας). He was a Roman General in the reigns of Emperors Titus (79-81) and Trajan (98-117). Even before he came to know Christ, Plakidas devoted himself to charitable endeavors, helping the poor and destitute. Therefore, the Lord did not allow this virtuous pagan to continue in the darkness of idolatry.
One day, while hunting in a forest, he saw a remarkable stag which stopped now and then to stare at him. Plakidas pursued it on horseback, but could not catch up. The stag jumped over a chasm and stood on the other side facing him. Suddenly, Plakidas saw a radiant Cross between its antlers. The General was astonished to hear a voice coming from the Cross saying, “Why do you pursue me, Plakidas?”
“Who are You, Master?” asked Plakidas. The voice replied, “I am Jesus Christ, Whom you do not know, but by your good deeds, you honor me. I have appeared here on this creature for your sake, to draw you into the net of my love for mankind. It is not fitting that one as righteous as you should worship idols and remain ignorant of the truth. It was to save mankind that I came into the world.”
Plakidas cried out, “Lord, I believe that You are the God of Heaven and earth, the Creator of all things. Master, teach me what I should do.” Again the Lord replied, “Go to the bishop of your country and receive Baptism from him, and he will instruct you.”
Plakidas returned home and joyfully recounted everything to his wife Tatiana. She in turn told him of a strange dream she had the evening before, in which she had been told, “Tomorrow you, your husband and your sons shall come to me and know that I am the true God.” The couple then proceeded to do as they had been told.
They hastened to the Christian bishop, who baptized all their family, and then communed them with the Holy Mysteries. Plakidas was renamed Eustáthios, his wife was called Theopistē, and their children, Agapios and Theopistos.
On the following day, Saint Eustáthios went to the place of his miraculous conversion and there he gave thanks to the Lord for having called him to the path of salvation.
Saint Eustáthios received another a miraculous revelation. The Lord Himself predicted his impending tribulations: “Eustáthios, you shall suffer many misfortunes, as did Job, but in the end you will conquer the devil.”
Soon Saint Eustáthios was afflicted with misfortune: all of his servants died of the plague, and his cattle perished. Brought to ruin, but not despairing in spirit, Saint Eustáthios and his family secretly abandoned their home, to live in poverty unknown, humble, and poor.
They went to Egypt to board a ship bound for Jerusalem. During the voyage the Saint experienced more sorrow. Captivated by Theopistē's beauty, the ship owner cruelly set Eustáthios and his children ashore, keeping the wife for himself.
With great sadness the Saint continued on his way, and new calamity befell him. Coming to a tempestuous river, he went to carry his two sons across in turn. When he brought the first one across, the other was seized by a lion and was carried off into the wilderness. As he turned back to shore, a wolf dragged the other child into the forest.
Saint Eustáthios wept bitterly, but he realized that Divine Providence had sent him these misfortunes in order to test his endurance and devotion to God. Saint Eustáthios prepared himself for even more sorrows, knowing that one who endures temptations and has been tested will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him (James 1:12).
In the village of Badessos he found work and spent five years in ceaseless toil. Saint Eustáthios did not know at the time that by God's mercy, shepherds and farmers had rescued his sons, and they were living near him. He was also unaware that the impudent shipowner had been struck down with a terrible disease and died, leaving Saint Theopistē untouched. She lived in peace and freedom at the place where the ship landed.
During this time it had become difficult for Emperor Trajan to raise an army for Rome to deal with a rebellion, for the soldiers refused to go into battle without Plakidas. They advised Trajan to send men out to all the cities to search for him.
Antiochos and Akakios, who were friends of Plakidas, sought him in various places. Finally, they arrived in the village where Saint Eustáthios lived. The soldiers found him, but they did not recognize him. They began telling him about the person they sought, asking for his help and promising him a large reward. Saint Eustáthios recognized his friends right away, but he did not disclose his identity to them.
Borrowing money from one of his friends, he prepared a meal for his visitors. As they looked at him, they noticed that he resembled their former commander. When they saw a scar on his shoulder from a deep wound made by a sword, they realized that it was their friend who stood before them. They embraced him with tears and told him why they had been looking for him.
Saint Eustáthios returned to Rome with them and was restored to his former rank. Many new recruits were drafted into the army from all over the Empire. He did not know that the two young soldiers who served him, and whom he loved for their skill and daring, were actually his own sons. They did not realize that they were serving under the command of their own father, nor that they were brothers by birth.
While on campaign, the army led by Eustáthios halted at a certain place. One night, the brothers were talking in their tent. The elder spoke about his life, how he had lost his mother and brother, and how he had been parted from his father. The younger brother then realized that the other man was his own brother, and revealed how he had been rescued from the wolf.
A woman overheard their conversation, since their tent was pitched right next to her house, and she realized that these were her sons. Without identifying herself to them, but not wishing to be separated from them, she went to their general, Saint Eustáthios, and asked that he take her to Rome with him. She said she had been a prisoner, and wanted to go home. Then she came to recognize the general as her husband, and with tears she told him about herself, and about the two soldiers who were their sons. Thus, through God's great mercy, the entire family was reunited.
Soon thereafter, the rebellion was crushed, and Saint Eustáthios returned to Rome with honor and glory. Emperor Trajan had died in the meantime, and his successor Hadrian (117-138) wanted to celebrate the victory with a solemn sacrifice to their "gods." To everyone's amazement, Saint Eustáthios did not go to the pagan temple. The Emperor ordered them to find him and bring him to the temple.
“Why don’t you want to worship the gods?” the Emperor inquired. “You, above all others, should offer thanks to them. Not only did they preserve you in war and grant you victory, but they also helped you to find your wife and children.” Saint Eustáthios replied: “I am a Christian and I glorify and give thanks to Christ, and I offer sacrifice to Him. I owe my life to Him. I do not know or believe in any other God.”
Outraged, the Emperor ordered him to remove his military belt and brought Eustáthios and his family before him. They did not succeed in persuading the steadfast confessors of Christ to offer sacrifice to idols. The Saint's family was sentenced to be torn to pieces by wild beasts, but the animals would not touch the holy martyrs.
Then the cruel Emperor ordered that they be thrown alive into a red-hot brass bull, and Saint Eustáthios, his wife Theopistē, and their sons Agapios and Theopistos suffered martyrdom. Before being placed inside the bull, Saint Eustathios prayed, “Grant, O Lord, Thy grace to our relics, and grant a place in Thy Kingdom to all who call upon us, Though they call upon us when in danger on a river, or on the sea, we entreat Thee to come to their aid.”
Three days later, they opened the brass bull, and the bodies of the holy martyrs were found unscathed. Not one hair of their heads was singed, and their faces shone with an unearthly beauty. Many who witnessed this miracle came to believe in Christ. Some pious Christians buried the bodies of the Saints with all honor and reverence.
The Holy Prince Michael of Chernigov, son of Vsevolod Ol’govich the Dark-Red (+ 1212), was noted from childhood for his piety and mildness. His health was very poor, but in 1186, trusting in the mercy of God, the young prince asked for the holy prayers of Saint Nikḗtas the Stylite of Pereyaslavl (May 24), who during these years received renown by his prayerful intercession before the Lord.
After he received a wooden staff from the holy ascetic, the prince was healed at once. In 1223 Prince Michael took part in a council of Russian princes at Kiev, debating whether to aid the Polovetsians against the approaching Mongol-Tatar hordes. With the death of his uncle, Mstislav of Chernigov in the Battle at the Kalka River in 1223, Saint Michael became Prince of Chernigov.
In 1225 he was invited to be prince of the Novgorod people. Through his sense of justice, compassion and firmness he gained the love and respect of Old Novgorod. This was particularly important for the Novgorodians, since the accession of Michael as prince signified a reconciliation of Novgorod with the city of Vladimir’s holy Great Prince George Vsevolodovich (March 4), whose wife was the holy princess Agatha, sister of Prince Michael.
But Saint Michael did not long remain prince at Novgorod. He soon returned to his native Chernigov. To the stipulations and requests of the Novgorodians to remain prince he answered that Chernigov and Novgorod ought to become kindred lands, and their inhabitants like brothers, and he would forge the bonds of friendship of these cities.
The noble prince assiduously concerned himself with the building up of his appenage realm. But it was difficult for him in these troubled times. His activity provoked unease in the Kursk Prince Oleg, and in 1227 internecine strife nearly erupted, but Metropolitan Cyril of Kiev reconciled them. And in this same year Prince Michael peacefully resolved a dispute between the Kiev Great Prince Vladimir Rurikovich and the Galich prince. In 1235 Prince Michael occupied the throne of Kiev.
Troublesome times ensued. In 1238 the Tatars (Mongols) laid waste to Ryazan, Suzdal, and Vladimir. In 1239 they moved against South Russia, and ravaged the left bank of the Dniepr River, and the lands of Chernigov and Pereyaslavl. By the autumn of 1240 the Mongols were coming close to Kiev. The khan’s emissaries proposed that Kiev surrender voluntarily, but the prince would not negotiate with them.
Prince Michael rode urgently to Hungary, to persuade the Hungarian king Bela to organize allied forces to resist the common enemy. Saint Michael tired to recruit both Poland, and the German emperor into the struggle against the Mongols, but the moment for a combined resistance was lost. Rus was devastated, and later Hungary and Poland. With no foreign support, Prince Michael returned to the ruins of Kiev and for a certain time he lived near the city on an island, and then he resettled in Chernigov.
The prince did not abandon hope in the possibility of an united Christian Europe against the Asiatic nomads. In 1245, at the Council of Lyons in France, his co-worker Metropolitan Peter (Akerovich) was sent as emissary by Saint Michael, calling for a crusade to march against the pagan Horde. Catholic Europe in the persons of its chief spiritual leaders, the Roman Pope and the German emperor, betrayed the interests of Christianity. The Pope was involved in a war with the German emperor, and the Germans took advantage of the Mongol invasion to attack Rus themselves.
In these circumstances affecting Christianity in general, there is a universal significance to the confessor’s deed of the martyred Orthodox Prince Saint Michael of Chernigov in the midst of the pagan Horde. In Rus emissaries of the khan soon appeared, in order to conduct a census of the Russian population and to impose taxes upon it.
The prince was ordered to make full submission to the Tatar khan, and for his princely realm, the khan would grant a special charter. The emissaries informed Prince Michael that it was necessary for him to journey to the Horde for an affirmation of rights to rule the princedom under the khan’s charter. Seeing the woeful plight of Rus, Prince Michael recognized the need to obey the khan, but as a fervent Christian he knew that he would not deny his faith before the pagans. From his spiritual Father, Bishop John, he received a blessing to journey to the Horde and be a true confessor of the Name of Christ.
With the holy Prince Michael on the journey to the Horde went his faithful friend and companion, the noble Theodore. At the Horde they knew about Prince Michael’s attempts to organize an uprising against the Tatars in concert with Hungary and the other European powers. His enemies had long sought the opportunity to destroy him.
In 1246 when Prince Michael and the boyar Theodore arrived at the Horde, they were instructed on how to go to the khan, to proceed through a fire to cleanse them of their evil intents, and to worship the primal elements considered gods by the Mongols: the sun and fire. In answer to the pagan priests commanding them to perform the pagan rituals, the holy Prince replied, “A Christian worships only God, the Creator of the world, and not creatures.”
They reported to the khan about the firmness of the Russian Prince. Batu’s attendant El’deg delivered the conditions: either fulfill the demands of the pagan priests, or die in torments. But this also was followed by the resolute answer of holy Prince Michael, “I am prepared to submit to the emperor, since that God has entrusted him with the destiny of the earthly kingdoms, but as a Christian, I cannot worship idols.” The fate of the brave Christians was sealed.
Taking courage in the words of the Lord: “Whoever would save his life, shall lose it, and whoever will lose his life for My sake shall save it” (Mt.16:25), the holy prince and his devoted boyar prepared for a martyr’s death and received the Holy Mysteries, which their spiritual Father gave them, foreseeing this possibility. The Tatar executioners seized the prince and for a long time they beat him fiercely, until the ground ran crimson with blood. Finally, Domanus, an apostate from the faith in Christ, cut off the head of the holy martyr.
The Tatars deceitfully promised Saint Theodore great honor and his lord’s princely rank if he would fulfill the pagan ritual. But Saint Theodore was not swayed by this, and he followed in the path of his prince. After quite vicious torments they beheaded him. The bodies of the holy passion-bearers were thrown to be eaten by dogs, but the Lord miraculously guarded them for several days, until faithful Christians could secretly bury them with reverence. Later on, the relics of the holy martyrs were transferred to Chernigov.
The confessor’s act of Saint Theodore amazed even his executioners. Persuaded of the Russian people’s steadfast fidelity to the Orthodox Faith , and their readiness to die for Christ with joy, the Tatar khans decided not to try the patience of God as before, and ceased demanding that Russians at the Horde perform any pagan rituals. But the struggle of the Russian nation and the Russian Church against the Mongol Yoke continued for yet a long time. The Orthodox Church was adorned in this struggle by new martyrs and confessors. Great Prince Theodore was poisoned by the Mongols. Also martyred were Saint Roman of Ryazan (+ 1270), Saint Michael of Tver (+ 1318), his sons Demetrius (+ 1325) and Alexander (+ 1339). All of these took courage from the example and holy prayers of the Russian Protomartyr of the Horde, Saint Michael of Chernigov.
On February 14, 1572, at the wish of Tsar Ivan Vasilievich the Terrible, and with the blessing of Metropolitan Anthony, the relics of the holy martyrs were transferred to Moscow, to the temple dedicated to them. From there in 1770 they were transferred to the Visitation cathedral, and on November 21, 1774 to the Archangel cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin.
The Lives and service to Saints Michael and Theodore were compiled in the mid-sixteenth century by the renowned church writer, Saint Zenobios of Otonsk.
“The generation of the upright shall be blessed,” says the holy Psalmodist David (Ps. 111/112:2). This occurred in full measure for Saint Michael. He is at the head of many famous families in Russian history. His children and grandchildren continued the holy Christian service of Saint Michael. The Church also numbers his daughter Saint Euphrosyne of Suzdal (September 25), and his grandson Saint Oleg of Briansk (September 20) among the saints.
Holy Prince Oleg Romanovich of Briansk (in Baptism Leontius) was grandson of the holy martyr Prince Michael of Chernigov. According to the chronicle histories, Prince Oleg together with his father, Prince Roman Mikhailovich of Briansk, participated in a war against Lithuania in 1274.
After 1274, he resigned as prince and became a monk with the name Basil at the Briansk monastery of Saints Peter and Paul, built through his generosity. The holy prince died at this monastery as a strict ascetic in the year 1285, and was buried in the monastery church.
Saint Hilarion was from Heraklion in Crete and his secular name was John. He had five other siblings, John, Polyzoes, George, and two sisters, whose names are unknown. His parents, Francis and Katherine, had raised him with diligence, and he had learned to read and write. When he was a young man, his uncle took him to Constantinople, promising to train him for some occupation.
Although John stayed with him for ten years, his uncle neglected to train him and did little else for him. That is why John was forced to leave his uncle’s house and get a job as the clerk of a merchant from the island of Chios, who came to trust John. One day, the merchant was obliged to leave his shop and travel back to Chios, placing John and another Orthodox Christian employee in charge of the business.
When he returned, the two employees gave their boss an accounting for the time that he was away. The merchant said that he had been cheated, because the money they collected did not correspond to the value of the goods that were sold. Although the merchant did not make an inventory before going to Chios, he estimated that the two clerks were short by thirty grosia. The other employee had been with the merchant for many years, and so all suspicion fell on John. He was told that there would be severe consequences if he did not return the money at once.
Knowing that he was innocent, John asked his uncle to help him, but his uncle refused to see him. In his despair he went to the palace, hoping to see the valide sultana, the Sultan’s mother. First, however, he met the Ethiopian eunuch, Mertzan Aga. It appears that John knew him and told him what had happened. The evil Aga seized this opportunity and told him that if he converted to Islam, he would not be liable to any punishment; moreover, he would receive many riches and honors.
In his fear and anxiety, John accepted. Then he was presented to the Sultan’s mother, who introduced him to the Sultan. Right away, John was circumcised, and was given Muslim clothing and other gifts. In addition, a certain hodja was appointed to instruct him in Islamic teachings.
Three days later, the young man came to himself and repented from his heart when he realized the gravity of his sin. He waited for an opportunity to escape, and after twelve days he managed to board a ship for the Crimea, where he remained for ten months. He knew no peace there because his conscience tormented him for his betrayal of Christ. Therefore, he decided that the only way he could atone for his sin was by the path of martyrdom. Returning to Constantinople, he consulted the renowned Spiritual Fathers, Elder Symeon and Elder Jeremiah. He told them of his intention to confess Christ in the place where he had denied Him. Instead, the Elders advised him to go to Mount Athos for a time.
John did exactly as he was told, and entered Ivḗron Monastery. The Fathers there sent him to the Skete of St. Anna to place himself under the guidance of Hieromonk Bessarion, who had prepared the New Martyr Luke (March 23) for his martyrdom the previous year. The Elder accepted him and gave him a Rule of strict asceticism and fasting. Soon he received the monastic tonsure with the name Hilarion.
One morning, Father Hilarion told his Elder that he was ready to confess Christ, Whom he had denied. The Elder blessed his good intention, and the Saint received the Holy Mysteries. They left for Constantinople together, and then Father Hilarion presented himself to the Aga at the palace.
“Three days after becoming a Muslim,” he said, “I repented of what I had done, and I abandoned the darkness of error and returned to the light of truth, so I curse your religion. I was a Christian, and now I am once more.”
Throwing his turban on the ground, he put on the black monastic skoufia he had concealed under his coat. Seeing the Saint’s resolve, the Aga ordered that he be tortured without mercy. His torments were so severe that all his bones were broken.
Saint Hilarion was beheaded on September 20, 1804, and received two incorruptible crowns from Christ: that of asceticism, and that of martyrdom.
Elder Bessarion was once invited to a Christian home and the children were brought to receive his blessing. One child, a little girl about eight years old, had been possessed by a demon. She turned black, made some erratic movements, and eventually she fell down as if she were dead.The Elder had some of the Saint’s blood with him, but before he could even anoint the girl with it, the demon came out of her, and the child stood up.