Chaptert XXI (continued) Life of Sts Epictetus and Astion, Book Ib
(Also St Macarius of Rome further down page)
So Vigilantius opened his mouth, and beginning from the Scriptures, told them about the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, about how everything was made by him from the beginning of the world, and how he had made a man in his own image and likeness, and placed him in the most delightful garden, and took a rib from his side and fashioned it into a woman, and how Adam because of the serpent was expelled from the garden of delights and sent into this mortal world, and how Eve, because she preferred to listen to the serpent rather than the Lord God was condemned to bear children in grief and suffering, and how the holy prophets were sent to prepare the way for the coming of the Son of God, and preached and were not listened to, and how the Lord God Jesus Christ, who alone is the Word and Wisdom of the Father, the power and the splendour of glory, came down in the latter days and was born into this world by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and how he made disciples of those who followed him, and sent them to preach the word of salvation to the gentiles, giving them the name of Apostles, and how he made them inheritors of the kingdom of heaven because they despised the vanities of this world and loved him alone above their love for anyone else.
When Vigilantius had said all this and much more, they turned to the place in the Scriptures where Jesus said:
"Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who confesses me before other people I will confess in the presence of my Father in heaven. But whosoever denies me before other people I will deny in the presence of my Father in heaven. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the world. I come not to being peace but a sword. I am come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man's enemies are those of his own household. Anyone who loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me. And whosoever will not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me (Matthew 10.32-38). He who would save his soul shall lose it, and he who would lose his soul for my sake and the Gospel shall save it"(Mark 6.35).
And again: "They shall bring you before kings and rulers, but take no thought for what you shall say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father who will speak in you. The brother will deliver up the brother unto death, and the father the son, children shall rise up against their parents and deliver them up to death, and you shall be hated by all for my name's sake. But whosoever perseveres to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 10 18-22).
He then turned to the last of the four Evangelists, and read to them from the Gospel of St John:
"Father, I will that those whom you have given me should be with me where I am, that they might see my glory, which you have given me, for you have loved me before the foundation of the world (John 17.24). May they be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that you have sent me. And the glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as you and I are one, I in them, and you in me, that they all may be made perfect in one, that the world may know that you have sent me, and that you have loved them even as you love me" (John 17, passim).
When the father had read these things and much more, he turned to Vigilantius.
"I beg you, dearest brother," he said, "Can you explain thoroughly to us what we have just read, for we can hardly understand any of it."
"When our Lord Jesus says", replied Vigilantius, "that he will confess in the presence of his Father in heaven those who confess him among people, and that he will deny in the presence of his Father in heaven those who deny him among other people, he is talking about those of us who believe in him and who put our trust in his holy name. So if there comes a time when the rulers of this world say to us: 'Deny your God and worship these idols which are our great gods', and we refuse for the sake of his name, we shall suffer the threats and torments of the tyrants, but we shall ever be acknowledged in that blissful country of the Father and his holy Angels, where he has made us his most dearly beloved friends.
"And among that number your only most dearly beloved and most holy Astion now stands. For just a few days ago, Latronianus, the ruler of this province, demanded that he deny Jesus Christ, whom we truly believe to be the Emperor in heaven, and that he should obey his command to show respect to the demons. But he would in no way consent to obey. He was strong in his faith, and strong in spirit against those who wished him evil. There was another venerable old Christian man with him called Epictetus who persevered steadfast to the end in his holy confession of faith. And the heavenly Emperor looked with approval on the sincerity of their love for him, and sent his servants, the holy Angels, to take them up with great honour to that country where he dwells, that he might bestow upon them that eternal reward which he has promised to all who strive bravely against his adversaries.
"And so to your Astion, as to all like him, has been given the fulfilment of the promise that you have just been reading about, 'that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that you have sent me. And the glory you have given me I have given them, that they all may be one in us'. Most respected father, we call them the Martyrs of the Saviour, those among whom are numbered your Astion."
"So he's dead, then," cried the mother, "and you didn't know how to tell us!"
"We are all dead," replied Vigilantius, "who live in this mortal flesh and in this vain world, if we exist without any knowledge of our maker. For with him only is there true life, and true food and drink, and unending dignity for those who are worthy of receiving it. Deathless, they reign for ever, and dwell in perpetual joy."
"I would like to see him dwelling in glory," said the mother. "Do you think he would still recognise me, who once gave him birth? Living ins such glory as you say he is, perhaps he might look upon me with some distaste, now that mourning for him has made the beauty fade away from my face?"
"If you will do what is written in this book that the holy Astion and Epictetus left me," replied Vigilantius, "and believe in your heart on Jesus Christ, the king in whom he believed, you shall be able to see him. If you won't believe, it would be impossible for you to see him or for him to call you his mother, inasmuch as you remain unwilling to keep the commandments of his Father."
"Look," she said, "this is his father here."
"His true Father is the Lord," said Vigilantius, " with whom he now dwells, and who has given him such great gifts in the blessed world to come. This man here is mortal, and his children are mortal, and when he thinks to stand, suddenly he falls, and when he thinks he is alive, suddenly he dies, for he does not know the true Father whom Astion knows, of whom it is written, 'Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name'."
They discussed these matters for the rest of the week, and spoke to each other about Christ's miracles, which they were happy to hear about, and by the time Sunday came they both believed in Christ. Vigilantius took them to a certain presbyter called Bonosus, who had so far avoided persecution by living in hiding. He prayed with them and questioned them, and enrolled them that same hour among the catechumens.
"See now," they said to Vigilantius, "we have done what was written in that book you gave us. Show us now the treasure which you said our Astion entrusted to your keeping."
"Come with me without any more delay", he replied, "and I will show him to you. But I have, however, put him in a hidden place, and I am not sure whether I can get him out of it. But if you will, let us go to the place and spend all night there, and perhaps we shall be able to persuade him to come out of the place where I hid him. "
They went to the tomb where he told them that they must spend the whole night in vigil. At dawn, just as it was beginning to get light, behold, a brilliant light shining all around them, together with a wonderfully sweet perfume, and they saw the holy Martyrs, who up till then had been asleep, standing there in their own bodies and praising God. The holy Astion rushed into his mother's arms and kissed her, saying, "You have done well to come from the East, O disciple of Christ, my mother Marcellina!"
Likewise the most blessed Epictetus clasped the husband's cheeks and kissed him, saying, "Rejoice in the Lord, my dearest brother Alexander, for now that you have been numbered in the company of the faithful, you have won the promise of eternal blessedness."
To Vigilantius he said, "Rejoice also in the Lord, my dearest brother Vigilantius, for you have been found worthy of having fulfilled in you what is written in the Scripture, 'He who converts a sinner from the error of his ways shall save his soul from death and shall cover a multitude of sins' (James 5.20)."
"O my dearest and blessed lady mother," said Astion, "everything written in the sacrosanct Gospel of Christ our Lord is true. Hasten therefore to live by it, that you may be found worthy to enjoy its promises. So put together a portion of your wealth for me, divide it up and distribute it to the poor, for the sake of your own salvation and my eternal satisfaction, that so you may deserve to come to us adorned with the crown of righteousness and good works."
"Are you being well treated," asked his mother, "by your king and his company, my dear son?"
"So well that I could not find the words to describe it to you," he replied, "for the Lord God has taken me from slavery and adopted me as his son. He has granted a mansion to me in his city, he has brought me to serve in his household, he has showered the greatest honour upon me among his senators and brought me into the delights of paradise. And his servants also count me worthy to be one of them and love me. Every day, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, I go with them to visit the sick, to bring back the lost, to enlighten the blind, to save those in peril on the sea, to fight against the prowling bands of barbarians on the earth, to console the mourners, to defend the weak, and to drive out the demons from the bodies of the possessed. Even today they have given me some good advice about you: 'Counsel your father and mother well, so that they too may come hither'"
"Do you mean to say that they know all about us?" asked his mother.
"They know you well and love you dearly, mother," replied Astion, "if only it is your will to know them, and are able to arrive at that same blessedness as theirs."
His mother felt a great joy spreading through her breast.
"Do you really think a miserable wretch like me can get to that place?" she asked.
"If you put your trust completely in Jesus Christ our Lord and God, just as Vigilantius trusted, and distribute all your goods to the poor, you too without fail shall live and rejoice with me where I am now in eternal blessedness."
And having encouraged them in these words and much more, the blessed athletes of Christ departed from them.
On the fortieth day after the martyrdom the bishop Evangelicus visited the region of the Almiridenses, so Vigilantius and the holy presbyter Bonosus took them to see him. They told him in detail all that had happened and asked that they might be consecrated to Christ in the number of the faithful. He rejoiced greatly in the Lord, welcomed them, prayed for them, and gave them the sacrament of Baptism. He went back with them into a neighbouring city and celebrated with them for the next eight days. After he had gone away again, Alexander and Marcellina expressed their thanks to Vigilantius.
"You have given us so many blessings, dearest and most loving brother," they said. "Your saving teaching has enabled us to escape from the snares of the devil and come to the knowledge of Christ our Saviour. You have a glorious part to play in the wisdom of the holy church, you are brilliant in your teaching, your love for the religion of the holy Gospel is perfect. You have showed such great love in taking strangers into your care, indescribable kindness in defending the defenceless and assisting the weak. With burning faith you have worked for the destruction of idols and promoted love for the holy Martyrs. You have lived up to the meaning of your name by your vigilance in all the good works you have done for love of the Lord. No greater praise can be given you but to say that you are held to be the most intimate friend of God."
They took Vigilantius and the holy and venerable presbyter Bonosus back to their own city, where they remained, joyful in spirit, and perfect in the sight of the Lord. They gave all their possessions to the poor, and glorified God the Father Almighty, who had led them out of darkness into the light of his knowledge.
The martyrdom of the holy athletes of Christ, Epictetus the presbyter and Astion the monk, took place in the city of the Almiridenses, on the eighth day of July, at the time of the tyrant Diocletian and the governor Latronianus. But according to us it took place during the reign in heaven of Jesus Christ our Saviour, to whom with the Father and the holy Spirit be all honour and glory, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Life No 13
The Life of Saint Macarius of Rome,
a servant of God who was found
to be near Paradise.
by Theophilus, Sergius and Hyginus
Glory and magnificence be to the only most blessed God, who through innumerable miraculous examples daily beckons us towards the heavenly joys of blessed life, unworthy and lukewarm though we are. We three wretched and humble monks, Theophilus, Sergius and Hyginus, beseech all you most holy fathers and brothers that you lend your ears to what we shall tell you about the pathways through life of the most holy Macarius of Rome, who appeared to us at the twentieth milestone from Paradise. We only ask that you should place credence in what we say, for it would have been much easier for us to have avoided giving offence by remaining silent, than to be accused of giving false witness.
We three brothers, Theophilus, Sergius and Hyginus, renounced the world for God's sake, and joined the monastery of the hegumen Asclepion, a most famous father of many monks, in Syrian Mesopotamia between the two rivers Tigris and Euphrates. Together, the three of us were thankfully accepted by the father and the gathered community of the brothers; we gladly submitted ourselves to the yoke of the Rule, and began to share in the common life.
Quite a long time after that, one day when the synaxis of the ninth hour was finished, we went out to the banks of the river Euphrates and sat down to talk for a while about how servants of God should persevere in their labour and way of life. And I, Theophilus, had a thought come into my mind which I expressed to my brothers, Sergius and Hyginus.
"Beloved brothers," I said, "I hope you will be willing to stay with me all the days of my life, and I wonder if you would be willing to go with me to the place where the sky meets the earth."
"We have always held you to be first and foremost our spiritual brother, Theophilus," they said, "and nothing will be able to separate us. We like your idea very much, so don't delay to go off to where your heart's desire is fixed. And we shall be with you in life or in death."
We got up from the riverbank and went back to the monastery, and after vespers, when all the work of the monastery was completed and all was quiet, we secretly left. We walked for seventeen days and arrived at Jerusalem, where we worshipped at the shrines of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. We went to Bethlehem where we saw and reverenced the holy Manger where Christ was born, and where the Magi brought gifts to Christ, guided by a star. We saw the wonderful place, about two miles from Bethlehem, where an Angel with a multitude of the heavenly hosts sang glory to God in the highest. We went up the Mount of Olives and worshipped in that holy place where Christ's feet had rested before being lifted up and hidden in a cloud as he ascended into heaven. Returning to Jerusalem we worshipped God again, and signing ourselves with the cross we commended ourselves to God and the Saints before commencing our journey, in a spirit of complete detachment from the concerns of this world.
We journeyed steadily with Christ as our companion, until on the fiftieth day we crossed the river Tigris into a vast level plain in the country of Persia. We arrived at Assia, where Mercurius, the martyr of Christ, killed Julian the Apostate. We next came to the city of Kitissifodo, not far from Babylon, and worshipped where the three children, Ananias, Azarias and Misael, were laid to rest (Daniel 3). We stayed there a few days, offering hymns of praise to God.
We continued our journey for another four months, crossing the whole of Persia, and arrived at the land of India, where we found a house, quite empty, and rested there for two days. On the third day we saw a man and a woman, both carrying arms, coming towards us. We were terrified, but decided we would go out to meet them. When they saw us they thought we were spies and hastily went back the way they had come. They gathered together about three thousand Ethiopians, and after a while came back with them. They hurried up to the house in which we were praying, dug a ditch around it and set fire to each of the four corners of it, eager to burn us alive.
When we realised what was happening we were even more terrified, but calling upon Christ the Saviour of all, we ran out into the midst of them. They began to talk to each other excitedly in their own tongue, surrounding us with threatening looks, but we could not understand them nor they us. Finally they took us and shut us up inside a very dark prison. Nobody brought us any food or water. We never ceased calling with tears upon the mercy of almighty God the creator of us all. After a time when they thought that we would have died of hunger and thirst they came back and crowded round the prison and were surprised to see us at our prayers. They opened the door and brought us out with a great deal of talk among themselves, bound us tightly again with sharp untreated fibres and drove us out of their territory. As God is my witness we had been eighty days without food.
After being driven out from their lands we travelled for quite a long time towards the East, and arrived at a wonderful place, consisting of a glorious plain full of tall trees laden with delicious fruit. Praising and glorifying God we ate these sweet-tasting fruits till we could eat no more. From there we entered the land of the Chananaeans, whom some people call Cynocephali, and we were quite amazed at what they looked like. They lived in caves in the rock with their wives and children, but with the grace of Christ protecting us they offered us no harm.
We journeyed still further East for a hundred and ten days, till we arrived at the land of a people called Pichiti. They were extremely small, being no more than one cubit high, and when they saw us, they were convulsed with terror and fled. We praised God who had delivered us out of their hands and pressed on with our journey.
After this we came to a fearsome, mountainous country, into which the sun was scarcely able to penetrate. Neither grass nor tree grew there, but we saw great numbers of serpents, dragons, asps, basilisks, vipers, unicorns and other horned animals, besides many other death-dealing beasts and poisonous creatures, of whose names and nature we were completely ignorant. But with the right hand of God protecting us we passed through them completely unharmed, with the hissing of the dragons and serpents continually in our ears for twenty days, to the extent that we could hardly get any sleep unless we blocked up our ears.
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