Lives of Saints

 

SAINT PROKOPIOS

His memory is celebrated on July 8

From the year 283 AD to 305 AD Diocletian and Maximian co-ruled the Roman Empire. Both Emperors were intent on wiping out Christianity. One of the Church’s greatest martyrs lived during this reign of terror. His Christian name was Prokopios. His father, Christopher was a very pious Christian, while his mother, Theodotie, was an idolatress. When the Saint was born, she named him Neanian, and raised him in her faith, for Christopher died when his son was very young. While in Antioch, she educated him in philosophy. When he had completed his education, Theodotie took Neanian to Diocletian, deposited a large sum of money in the Emperor’s treasury and begged him to give her son a position in government.

Diocletian accepted Neanian for he had proven his faithfulness to the pagan gods. He planned to have Neanian help him in the persecutions of the Christians. Appointing him Duke of all Egypt, with headquarters in Alexandria, he was given soldiers with which to carry out his task. Neanian departed for Alexandria, but fearing pirates, they sailed only at night. One of these nights, Neanian saw a brilliant cross and a voice asking him where he was going. He replied that he was going to Alexandria to persecute the Christians. The voice then said, that he, Neanian, had come to fight Him. Bewildered, Neanian asked who He was. The voice responded, saying that He was Jesus Christ the Son of God, who was crucified to save mankind, and that he, Neanian, was one of His chosen subjects.

When Neanian arrived in the city of Skethopolis, he found a jeweller named Mark. He ordered him to make a cross of gold, a copy of the one he had seen in his vision. The jeweller knew that if Diocletian discovered what he was making he would have him executed, but Neanian gave him courage. When the cross was finished, something odd happened. The figure of Christ appeared in the centre and the Archangels Michael and Gabriel appeared on the arms of the cross. Mark tried to rub the figures off, but it was impossible. Neanian accepted the cross with the figures on it and he venerated it with great faith.

Neanian wrote to his mother, Theodotie, about his talk with Christ. This staunch believer in idolatry became very disturbed about her son’s belief in Christianity. She therefore left Nicomedia for Alexandria to persuade him to remain an idolater. Theodotie was unsuccessful in her mission. Neanian took the golden statues which his mother had brought with her, broke them and distributed the gold among the poor people. Theodotie was enraged and returning to Nicomedia, she betrayed her son to Diocletian.

The Emperor immediately sent a dispatch to the ruler of Syria, Oukliona, instructing him to capture Neanian and force him to sacrifice to the idols. If Neanian refused, he was to be executed. Oukliona, however, failed. Neanian took off his armour, saying that he would not make a sacrifice to the false gods. The ruler took the Saint to Caesarea, where he was tortured and then placed in prison, in the hope that Neanian would have a change of heart. While in prison, the prison guard treated the Saint well and looked after him with love and respect. One night, the Saint saw a vision. Angels threw water on him and told him to stand up straight. Then he saw Christ who healed his wounds and told him that he would no longer be called Neanian, but Prokopios (one who never ties).

The next day, OukIiona sent one of his servants to see if the Saint had died in prison. The servant returned to the Ruler and told him that the Saint was in perfect health. Oukliona ordered the Saint to be brought to him so that they could go to the temple and give thanks to the gods for curing him. Prokopios went to the temple and because of his prayers, many statues in the temple were destroyed. The soldiers who accompanied the Saint to Alexandria immediately wanted to be baptised. When Prokopios was returned to prison, he asked his friend, the prison guard, to allow him to accompany these soldiers to the Bishop of Caesarea, Leontius, so that they could be baptised, as Leontius had baptised him. The Bishop baptised the soldiers, spoke to them about Christianity and then gave them Holy Communion.

The Ruler summoned the soldiers and the Saint to appear before him and seeing that the soldiers were staunch in their beliefs, he had them put to death. Prokopios was then imprisoned with 12 women. While in prison, he taught the women about Christianity and gave them courage to face the tortures which they would undergo. He instructed these 12 women to go to their death of martyrdom as if they were going to a marriage feast. It is for this reason that Saint Prokopios is invoked in the benediction at the end of wedding ceremonies in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The women were eventually tortured and all 12 martyred for Christ on the same day. Theodotie witnessed the martyrdom and after conferring with her son, she was also baptised by Bishop Leontius. She too was tortured and martyred for the Christ whom she once despised.

Subsequently, Oukliona became extremely ill with high fever and died. The Ruler Flavianos replaced him. He put Saint Prokopios through many tortures, all of which the Saint faced with great courage. Flavianos, being well-educated, tried to convince the Saint of the superiority of Paganism over Christianity. However, Prokopios’ arguments were much stronger than Flavianos’, and the ruler admired him for this.

The tortures, though, continued. They tied Prokopios to the base of an idol and placed incense around him. They then placed hot coals in his hands. If the Saint dropped them, it would symbolise sacrificing to the idols since the coals would fall on the incense. Prokopios held the flaming coals in his hand until they died.

The Saint survived many tortures. Finally, Flavianos decided to behead him. He was taken to the place of his execution and there Saint Prokopios prayed to Christ to save the city from Satan and to help the people see the true light. He heard a voice tell him that his prayers would be answered. The executioner raised his axe and beheaded Saint Prokopios. His body was taken by several Christians who anointed it with myrrh and then buried it with other martyrs.

On 8 July, the feast days of the following martyrs are also celebrated:

Theodotie, the mother of Saint Prokopios and the twelve women who were imprisoned with Saint Prokopios.

 

STS. BASIL THE ELDER AND EMMELIA

Celebrated on May 30

They were noble Cappadocians. Basil was a teacher of rhetoric, and the first instructor of the great Father of the Church, his son, St. Basil the Great. He was distinguished for his great virtue. According to St. Gregory the Theologian, he would have held the primacy in virtue, had not his son taken it from him. The elder Basil’s mother, Macrina, was a disciple of St. Gregory of Neocaesarea, the Wonderworker. Together with her husband, the pious and virtuous Macrina lived for three years in the forest during the persecution of Maximin. St. Emmelia’s father received martyrdom in the last persecutions. How could such a brilliant family fail to raise up dedicated souls to the service of the Church?

The marriage of Basil and Emmelia was a "union of souls and bodies," according to St. Gregory the Theologian. God blessed their marriage, and they had many and good children: four sons and five daughters. Three of the sons became bishops: Basil the Great of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Peter of Sebaste; and one monk, Naucratius. One of their daughters, Macrina, 14 became a nun.

St. Gregory of Nyssa, in a letter to the monk Olympius on the life of his sister Macrina, writes about his parents: "Our mother was very virtuous and desired to preserve her virginity and pass through life blameless; but as she was orphaned of her father and mother and was very beautiful, and the fame of her beauty incited many to marry her; and as, if she did not wed some man willingly, she was in danger of suffering some satanic thing and being carried off by one of those who were stung by her beauty, she therefore consented to take as husband the one who was most modest in his life, Basil, I say, our father, in order to have him as the guardian of her life and wisdom.... Our father was virtuous and worthy of the good opinion of men.... Our mother ... was subject to three different authorities, since she had properties in three countries.... After our mother was finished with the cares of raising her children and the concerns of establishing them in life, and after the properties were distributed to her children, then the life of her daughter Macrina became a good counsel and example for her in the ascetic way of life. Terefore she left her old habits and arrived at the same measure of humility of wisdom as Macrina. She lived in the same way as the other nuns.... Our mother came to deep old age and departed to the Lord.... After blessing her other children, who were grieving, she spread out her hands upon Macrina and Peter, who sat next to her, the one on her right hand and the other on her left, and said to God: ‘To Thee, O Lord, I dedicate both the first and the tenth part of the fruits of my womb; my first-fruits is this my firstborn daughter, and the tenth part is this my last son. To Thee is dedicated by the Law both the first and the tenth part (tithe) of all fruits, and they are Thine own offerings and consecrations. Therefore, let Thy sanctification and Thy grace come upon both this my first-fruits, and this my tenth part.’"

With her hands she indicated Macrina and Peter. And saying these things, she ended her prayer and her life together, after commanding her children to bury her body in the tomb of their father.

 

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