On the 6th of the month, we celebrate the Memory of
the FORTY-TWO Holy Martyrs of AMORION: THEODORE, CONSTANTINE, THEOPHILUS, BASOES and their companions
Ye who contended on earth for Christ’s glory, and were shown forth as godly crown-bearing Martyrs, have been vouchsafed to dwell in Heaven joyously; for since ye brake all the snares of the enemy’s cunning by your suff’rings and the blood of your tortures and woundings, ye ever send down freely from on high loosing of sins unto all them that honour you.
In the year 838, God turned His wrath against the iconoclast Emperor Theophilus (829-42), when the Caliph of Baghdad, at the head of a powerful Saracen army, won an outstanding victory against the Byzantines and laid siege to the town of Amorion
in Upper Phrygia (near modern day Turkey). After thirteen days, he overcame it through an act of betrayal, and put all the inhabitants to the sword whether they were bearing arms or not, as well as numerous peasants of the region who had sought refuge in the town. He spared only the town’s forty-two highest officials, all illustrious and valiant men of noble birth, and shut them up in a dark and noisome prison.
Tears were their only drink, and for food they had to try to survive on the few bits of mouldy bread that their jailers deigned to toss to them from time to time, and on what one of their number was authorised to beg for in the street. Their bodies and clothes devoured by vermin, unable to see each other in the permanent darkness and reduced to the most extreme weakness they did not however lose their courage and nobility of soul, and resisted all attempts of those sent from the Caliph to make them apostasize from the love of Christ.
He, counting as nothing the conquest of a town in comparison with that of human souls, promised them their lives if they simply pretended to be converted by presenting themselves with him at public prayer. The Martyrs replied to his emissaries: ‘Would you
agree to do the same if you were in our place?’ ‘Certainly’, the Muslims replied, ‘for nothing is more important than liberty.’ The Christians then replied: ‘We do not take counsel in religious matters from those who are not stable in their own!’
Some days later, others were sent and presented themselves, pretending to have brought alms. Feigning tears of compassion, they tried to win them to the
religion of Mohammed, which promises all sorts of fie silly pleasures in this life and in the
next. Raising their eyes towards heaven and thus arming themselves with words inspired by Scripture, the valiant combatants for the Faith then replied that such
promises were indeed the proof of the falsity of that religion, which subjects our reasonable soul, created in the image of God, to the tyranny of the flesh. They replied in
the same manner and with the same assurance to the fakirs -the ‘religious’ of Islam who give themselves to ascetic practices and ecstatic prayers – reminding them that no prophet had ever announced the coming of Mohammed, whereas the whole of the Old Testament bore witness to the coming Jesus Christ.
The holy martyrs remained in that state for seven whole years, keeping the Faith without fault, nourishing it each day by the recitation of the Psalms of David and the divine Offices of the Church at the prescribed hours, giving thanks to God for having
judged them worthy to endure such trials for Him. On 5 March 845, Baditzes, the traitor who had handed over the town of Amorion and had then denied Christ, came secretly to the prison.
Calling Constantine, the secretary of the Patricius Theophilus, he informed
him that sentence of death had finally been announced against them tor the following day, and suggested that they should pretend to pray with the Caliph in order to escape death, while not truly abandoning their convictions of faith. Constantine dismissed the apostate with the Sign of the Cross and, returning to the prison, informed
his master that their last hour was approaching. The latter gathered his companions and they passed the night singing God’s praises. The next morning, an officer came with a large escort to take them from the prison, and tried a last time to make them resolve
to attend prayers with tile Caliph. They replied that they would certainly pray for their enemies, but in the manner Christ taught us, imploring God to enlighten their hardened consciences and to lead them to the knowledge of the Truth. They finished by pronouncing an anathema on Mohammed and on all those who confessed him as a prophet. Hearing this, the soldiers bound their hands behind their backs and dragged them, like sheep to the slaughter, to the banks of the Euphrates, where a large number of Saracens were assembled to watch the execution.
The officer then summoned Theodore Craterius and, proclaiming aloud that, being a priest Theodore had nevertheless abandoned the priesthood and joined the army, where he had been appointed to the much envied position of protospatharius, said to him: ‘You who have
borne arms and killed men, why do you wish to appear now as a Christian? Would it not be better to implore Mohammed’s help, since you have no more hope in Jesus Christ whom you denied?’ Theodore replied: ‘On the contrary, precisely because of all this, I
must shed my blood now for Him, that He may forgive my sins!’ And with these words, receiving the blessing of the Patricius Theophilus, he uttered a short prayer and presented his head to the executioner. All the others followed in their turn, showing neither fear nor hesitation, carrying off the crown of victory and leaving the Saracens admiring and impressed by their courage. Afterwards, the Caliph called the traitor Baditzes before him and said: ‘If you had been an honourable man, you would not have handed over your city, and if you had been a good Christian, you would not have
apostatised after having betrayed it.’ And he put him to death.
THE SYNAXARION, The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church
By HIEROMONK MAKARIOS OF SIMONOS PETRA
Translated from the French by Mother Maria (Rule)
and Mother Joanna (Burton)
Kontakion courtesy of Holy Transfiguration Monastery