HEROES AND HEROINES OF THE FAITH
ST. SIMEON, ARCHBISHOP OF SELEUCIA* AND COMPANIONS
Ecclesiastical history informs us that the Faith of Jesus Christ was preached in Persia by the Apostles themselves, and the number of Christians in that kingdom was consequently very considerable during the reign of Sapor, about the middle of the fourth century. The Magians, or priests of the Persian religion, became alarmed at the spread of Christianity, and, together with the Jews, induced Sapor to persecute the faithful.
*He is also styled Bishop of Ctesiphon, a city built by the Parthians, on the bank of the river Tigris, opposite to that upon which the ancient Seleucia, now Bagdad, stood.
St. Simeon was, at that time, Archbishop of Seleucia, and his zealous solicitude for his flock caused him to be regarded as the principal defender of the Christian Faith. In order to effect his ruin, his enemies represented to Sapor that he was in continual correspondence with the Roman emperor, to whom, they said, he revealed the most important concerns of the state. Sapor lent a willing ear to these calumnies, and, regarding Simeon as his enemy, resolved not only upon his death, but upon the total extermination of the Christians in his dominions. He began by confiscating their property; and finding that they bore this with patience, he ordered that the clergy who would not abjure Jesus Christ should be beheaded, and that all Christian churches should be levelled to the ground.
The holy bishop was arrested and brought before the tyrant; but, lest it should be thought that he was about to ask pardon for having preached the Christian religion, he did not comply with the Persian custom of prostration, although he had frequently done so on former occasions. Sapor, enraged at this omission, asked him why he refused to render him the homage to which his rank entitled him. The Saint answered: “When I, on former occasions, appeared in thy presence, I was not led to deny the true God, and therefore refused not to comply with the usual ceremonies; but now I cannot do so, as being called upon to defend my God and my religion.” The king exhorted him to adore the sun, declaring that great riches and honours would be the reward of his obedience; while his own death, and the extermination of the Christians, would inevitably be the consequence of non-compliance. The Saint, having given the most decided refusal, was sent to prison in the hope that he would be thus induced to change his resolution.
While St. Simeon was being led to prison, Usthazades, the aged Lord chamberlain, prostrated himself before him. But the holy prelate, despising this mark of veneration, and turning his back upon him, reprimanded him because though being a Christian he had adored the sun. The apostate wept bitterly at this rebuke, and throwing off his white robes, dressed himself in mourning. Thus clothed he sat at the king’s gate, and, with many tears, frequently exclaimed: “Wretch that I am! If Simeon my friend, treats me thus harshly for my fault, and turns away his face from me, what am I to expect from that God Whom I have denied?”
Sapor, being informed of the affliction of the courtier, sent for him, and inquired whether any calamity had befallen him. The other replied: “Ah! would to God that all calamities had befallen me, and not that which is the cause of my grief! I weep because I did not die long ago, but live to behold that sun, which, to please thee, I have adored. I deserve a double death–one for having denied Jesus Christ, and another for having deceived thee.” He then protested in the most solemn manner that he would never, henceforward, deny his God. The king became infuriated at these words, and believing that the Christians had turned his head, swore that he would put them all to death; entertaining, however, some compassion for the poor old man, he did all he could to gain him over. Usthazades, notwithstanding, continued to protest that he never again would be so foolish as to give to creatures the honour due to the Creator; and Sapor, finding that his constancy was invincible, ordered him to be beheaded.
While he was being led to execution, he asked a friend to request of Sapor, that, in consideration of his past services, he would order him to be preceeded by a crier, who would proclaim to the people that Usthazades had not been condemned for any crime, but merely for being a Christian, and having refused to abandon his God.* Sapor the more willingly acceded to his wish as he was anxious to terrify the Christians by showing them that he would not tolerate the profession of their religion, even in an old man who had served him so faithfully.
*The happy penitent was too much afflicted at his apostasy to be solicitous for his honour, and seems to have made this request in order that the real cause of his death being made public, the scandal which he had given might be repaired. –Ed.
The king then turned his thoughts towards St. Simeon, and again endeavoured to gain him over; but seeing that all his arts were ineffectual, he commanded him to be beheaded. As a last resource, however, he ordered the heads of one hundred Christians be first struck off in presence of the Saint, who, far from being intimidated, exhorted the sufferers to constancy by telling them how glorious was their lot in acquiring the rewards of eternal life by dying for their Saviour. After the Martyrdom of these hundred Christians, the holy bishop was beheaded on Good Friday, and thus united his death to that of Jesus Christ.
Together with the bishop were beheaded two venerable priests of his church, Ananias and Abdechalas. Pusicius, the prefect of the king’s workmen, seeing that Ananias, in preparing to receive the stroke, was trembling, exclaimed: Father, shut thy eyes for one moment, and thou shalt instantly see the light of Christ.”
These words proclaimed Pusicius to be a Christian; he was accordingly arrested and brought before the king, whom he upbraided with his cruelty towards the Christians. Sapor, enraged at his freedom of speech, caused him to be put to death in a strange and most cruel manner–his tongue was pulled out, not from his mouth, but through an incision made in his neck. His virgin daughter, who had consecrated herself to God, was also arrested and put to death.
All these holy Martyrs died about the year 344.