13. PERSECUTIONS IN PERSIA
In the same country of Persia, about this time suffered, under Sapores the king, (as recordeth Simeon Metasthenes,) divers valiant and constant martyrs; as Acindimus, Pegasius, Anempodistus, Epidephorus, also Simeon, archbishop of Seleucia, with Ctesiphon, another bishop in Persia, with other ministers and religious men of that region, to the number of one hundred and twenty-eight. Of this Simeon and Ctesiphon thus writeth Sozomen That the idolatrous magicians in Persia, taking counsel together against the Christians, accused Simeon and Ctesiphon to Sapores the king, for that they were grateful and accepted unto the Roman emperor, and bewrayed to him such things as were done in the land of Persia. Whereupon Sapores, being moved, took great displeasure against the Christians, oppressing them with taxes and tributes unto their utter impoverishing, killing all their priests with the sword; after that calleth for Simeon the archbishop, who there before the king declared himself a worthy and a valiant captain of Christ's church. For when Sapores had commanded him to be led to suffer torments, he neither shrunk for any fear, nor showed any great humble suit of submission for any pardon; whereat the king partly marvelling, partly offended, asked why he did not kneel down as he was wont before to do. Simeon to this answered:. For that, saith he, before this time I was not brought unto you in bonds to betray the true God, as I am now; and so long I refused not to accomplish that which the order and custom of the realm of me required; but now it is not lawful for me so to do, for now I come to stand in defence of our religion and true doctrine. When Simeon thus had answered, the king, persisting in his purpose, offereth to him the choice, either to worship with him after his manner, (promising to him many great gifts if he would so do,) or, if he would not, threateneth to him, and to all the other Christians within his land, destruction. But Simeon, neither allured with his promises, nor terrified with his threatenings, continued constant in his doctrine professed, so as neither he could be induced to idolatrous worship, nor yet to betray the truth of his religion. For the which cause he was committed into bonds, and there commanded to be kept to the king's pleasure further known.
It befell in the way, as he was going to the prison, there was sitting at the king's gate a certain eunuch, an old tutor or schoolmaster of the king's, named Usthazares, who had been once a Christian, and afterward, falling from his profession, fell with the heathenish multitude to their idolatry. This Usthazares, sitting at the door of the kings palace, and seeing Simeon passing by led to the prison, rose up and reverenced the bishop. Simeon again with sharp words (as the time would suffer) rebuked him, and in great anger cried out against him, which, being once a Christian, would so cowardly revolt from his profession, and to return again to the heathenish idolatry. At the hearing of these words the eunuch, forthwith bursting out into tears, laying away his courtly apparel, which was sumptuous and costly, and putting upon him a black and mourning weed, sitteth before the court gates weeping and bewailing, thus saying with himself: Woe is me! with what hope, with what face shall I look hereafter for my God, which have denied my God, whenas this Simeon, my familiar acquaintance, thus passing by me, so much disdaineth me, that he refuseth with one gentle word to salute me!
These words being brought to the ears of the king, (as such tale-carriers never lack in princes' courts,) procured against him no little indignation. Whereupon Sapores the king sending for him, first with gentle words and courtly promises began to speak him fair, asking him what cause he had so to mourn, and whether there was any thing in his house which was denied him, or which he had not at his own will and asking. Whereunto Usthazares answering again, said, that there was no thing in that earthly house which was to him lacking, or whereunto his desire stood. Yea, would God, (said he.) O king, any other grief or calamity in all the world, whatsoever it were, had happened to me rather than this, for the which I do most justly mourn and sorrow. For this sorroweth me, that I am this day alive, who should rather have died long since, and that I see this sun, which, against my heart and mind, for your pleasure dissemblingly I appeared to worship; for which cause double wise I am worthy of death: first, for that I have denied Christ; secondly, because I did dissemble with you. And continuing upon these words, and swearing by Him that made both heaven and earth, he affirmed most certainly, that although he had played the fool before, he would never be so mad again, as, instead of the Creator and Maker of all things, to worship the creatures which he had made and created. Sapores the king being astonied at the so sudden alteration of this man, and doubting with himself whether to be angry with those enehanters or with him, whether to entreat him with gentleness or with rigour, at length in this mode commanded the said Usthazares, his old ancient servant, and first tutor and bringer up of his youth, to be had away, and to be beheaded. As he was going to the place of execution, he desired of the executioners a little to stay, while he might send a message unto the king, which was this, (sent in by certain of the king's most trusty eunuchs,) desiring him, that, for all the old and faithful service he had done to his father and to him, he would now requite him with this one office again, to cause to be cried openly by a public crier in these words following; That Usthazares was beheaded, not for any treachery or crime committed against the king or the realm, but only for that he was a Christian, and would not at the king's pleasure deny his God. And so according unto his request it was performed and granted. For this cause did Usthazares so much desire the cause of his death to be published, because that as his shrinking back from Christ was a great occasion to many Christians to do the like; so now the same, hearing that Usthazares died for no other cause but only for the religion of Christ, should learn likewise by his example to be fervent and constant in that which they profess. And thus this blessed eunuch did consummate his martyrdom. Of the which his said martyrdom Simeon, being in prison, hearing, was very joyful, and gave God thanks; who, in the next day following, being brought forth before the king, and constantly refusing to condescend unto the king's request, to worship visible creatures, was likewise by the commandment of the king beheaded, with a great number more, which the same day also did suffer, to the number (as is said) of a hundred and more; all which were put to death before Simeon, he standing by and exhorting them with comfortable words; admonishing them to stand firm and stedfast in the Lord; preaching and teaching them concerning death, resurrection, and true piety; and proved by the Scriptures that to be true which he had said: declaring moreover that to be true life indeed so to die, and that to be death indeed to deny or betray God for fear of punishment; and added, further, that there was no man alive but needs once must die; "Forsomuch as to all men is appointed necessarily here to have an end; but those things which after this life follow hereafter to be eternal, which neither shall come to all men after one sort. But as the condition and trade of life in divers men doth differ, and is not in all men like; so the time shall come when all men in a moment shall render and receive according to their doings in this present life immortal rewards; such as have here done well, of life and glory; such as have done contrary, of perpetual punishment. As touching therefore our well-doing, here is no doubt but, of all other our holy actions and virtuous deeds, there is no higher or greater deed than if a man here lose his life for his Lord God." With these words of comfortable exhortation the holy martyrs, being prepared, willingly yielded up their lives to death. After whom at last followed Simeon, with two other priests or ministers of his church, Abedecalaas and Ananias, which also with him were partakers of the same martyrdom.
At the suffering of those above mentioned, it happened that Pusices, one of the king's officers, and overseer of his artificers, was there present, who seeing Ananias, being an aged old father, somewhat to shake and tremble at the sight of them that suffered, O father, (said he,) a little moment shut thine eyes, and be strong, and shortly thou shalt see the sight of God. Upon these words thus spoken, Pusices immediately was apprehended and brought unto the king, who there confessing himself constantly to be a Christian, and for that he was very bold and hardy before the king in the cause of Christ's faith, was extremely and most cruelly handled in the execution of his martyrdom. For in the upper part of his neck they made a hole to thrust in their hand, and plucked out his tongue out of his mouth; and so he was put to death. At the which time also the daughter of Pusices, a godly virgin, by the malicious accusation of the wicked, was apprehended and put to death.
The next year following, upon the same day, when the Christians did celebrate the remembrance of the Lord's passion, which we call Good Friday, before Easter, (as witnesseth the said Sozomenus,) Sapores the king directed out a cruel and sharp edict throughout all his land, condemning to death all them whosoever confessed themselves to be Christians. By reason whereof an innumerable multitude of Christians, through the wicked procuring of the malignant magicians, suffered the same time by the sword, both in city and in town; some being sought for, some offering themselves willingly, lest they should seem by their silence to deny Christ. Thus all the Christians that could be found without pity were slain, and divers also of the king's own court and household. Amongst whom was also Azades, a eunuch, one whom the king did entirely love and favour; which Azades, after that the king understood to be put to death, being greatly moved with the sorrow thereof, commanded after that no Christians to be slain but them only which were the doctors and teachers of Christian religion.
In the same time it happened that the queen fell into a certain disease; upon the occasion whereof the cruel Jews, with the wicked magicians, falsely and maliciously accused Trabula, the sister of Simeon the martyr, a godly virgin, with another sister also of hers, that they had wrought privy charms to hurt the queen, for the revenging of the death of Simeon. This accusation being received and believed, innocent Trabula, with the others, were condenmed, and with a saw cut in sunder by the middle; whose quarters were then hanged upon stakes, the queen going between them, thinking thereby to be delivered of her sickness. This Trabula was a maid of a right comely beauty, and very amiable, to whom one of the magicians cast great love, much desiring and labouring by gifts and rewards sent into the prison to win her to his pleasure, promising that if she would apply to his request, she should be delivered and set at liberty. But she utterly refusing to consent unto him, or rather rebuking him for his incontinent attempt, did choose rather to die, than to betray either the religion of her mind, or the virginity of her body.
Now forsomuch as the king had commanded that no Christians should be put to death, but only such as were the teachers and leaders of the flock, the magicians and arch-magicians left no diligence untried to set forward the matter. Whereby great affliction and persecution was among the bishops and teachers of the church, which in all places went to slaughter, especially in the country of Diobenor; for that part of Persia above all other was most Christian. Where Acepsimas the bishop, with a great number of his flock and clergy, were apprehended and taken; upon the apprehension of whom the magicians, to satisfy the king's commandment, dismissed all the rest, only depriving them of their living and goods. Only Acepsimas, the bishop, they retained, with whom one Jacobus, a minister or priest of the church, was also joined; not of any compulsion, but only as himself so desired and obtained of those magicians that he might follow him, and be coupled in the same bonds, to serve the aged bishop, and to relieve (so much as he might) his calamities, and heal his wounds. For he had been sore scourged before of the magicians, after they had apprehended him, and brought him to worship the sun; which thing, because he would not do, they cast him into prison again, where this Jacobus was waiting upon him. At the same time likewise Athalas, a priest or minister, also Azadanes and Abdiesus, deacons, were imprisoned and miserably scourged for the testimony of the Lord Jesus. After this the archimagus, espying his time, complaineth unto the king of them, having authority and commission given him (unless they would worship the sun) to punish them as he pleased. This commandment received of the king the master magus doth declare to them in prison. But they answered again plainly, that they would never be either betrayers of Christ, or worshippers of the sun; whereupon without mercy they were put to bitter torments; where Acepsimas, strongly persisting in the confession of Christ, endured to death. The other being no less rent and wounded with scourges, yet continued marvellously alive; and because they would in no case turn from their constant sentence, were turned again into prison. Of whom Athalas, in the time of his whipping, was so drawn and racked with pulling, that both his arms, being loosed out of the joints, hanged down from his body; which he so carried about, without use of any hand to feed himself but as he was fed of others.
Miserable, and almost innumerable, were the slaughters under the reign of this Sapores, of bishops, ministers, deacons, religious men, holy virgins, and other ecclesiastical persons, such as did then cleave to the doctrine of Christ, and suffered for the same. The names of the bishops, besides the other multitude taken in the persecution, are recited in this order following: Barbasimes, Faulus, Gaddiabes, Sabinus, Mareas, Mocius, Johannes, Hormisdas, Papas, Jacobus, Romas, Maares, Agas, Bochres, Abdas, Abiesus, Joannes, Abramius, Agdelas, Sabores, Isaac, Dausas; Bicor also, with Maureanda his fellow bishop, and the rest of his churches under him, to the number of two hundred and fifty persons, which were the same time apprehended of the Persians, &c. Briefly, to comprehend the whole multitude of them that suffered in that persecution, the manner of their apprehension, the cruelness of their torments, how and where they suffered, and in what places, it is not possible for any history to discharge. Neither are the Persians themselves (as Sozomenus recordeth) able to recite them. In sum, the multitude and number of them whom they are able to recite by name cometh to the sum of sixteen thousand men and women.
The rumour and noise of this so miserable affliction of the Christians in the kingdom of Persia, coming to the ears of Constantine the emperor, put him in great heaviness, studying and revolving with himself how to help the matter, which indeed was very hard for him to do. It so befell the same time that certain ambassadors were then at Rome from Sapores king of Persia, to whom Constantine did easily grant and consent, satisfying all their requests and demands; thinking thereby to obtain the more friendship at the king's hands, that at his request he would be good to the Christians, to whom he writeth his epistle in their behalf, and sendeth the same by his messengers, beginning thus:
The contents whereof briefly do tend to this effect. Declaring unto him how he should stand much beholden to him, if, at his request, he would show some quiet and rest to the Christians, in whose religion there was nothing which he could justly blame. "Forsomuch as in their sacrifices they use to kill nothing, nor to shed blood, but only to offer up unbloody sacrifices, to make their prayers unto God, who delighteth not in blood-shedding, but only in the soul that loveth virtue, and followeth such doctrine and knowledge which is agreeing unto true piety. And therefore such men as do lead him, and lean so to believe and to worship God, are more to be commended. Moreover, he assureth him to find God more merciful unto him, if he would embrace the godly piety and truth of the Christians. And for example thereof bringeth in the stories of Galienus and Valerianus, who, so long as they were favourers of the Christians, did prosper and flourish. But as soon as they moved any persecution against them, it happened to them, as it did to all other emperors before them, that all went backward with them; as especially might appear by Valerianus, who, after he had raged so cruelly against the Christians, was eftsoons overcome of the Persians, the revenging hand of God falling upon him, where he led ever a miserable life in wretched captivity. Further also, for the more evidence of the same, he inferreth the examples of those emperors and tyrants in his time whom he vanquished and subdued only by his faith in Christ, for the which faith God was his helper, and gave him the victory in many battles, and triumph over great tyrants; whereby he hath so enlarged the dominion of the Roman monarchy, from the west ocean unto the uttermost parts well near of all the east. To the doing and working whereof he neither called to him the help of any charmer or divination of soothsayer, nor used the killing of any sacrifice; but only the following of the cross, and prayer made to Almighty God, without any other bloody sacrifice, was the armour wherewith he overcame," &c. And in the end of the epistle addeth these words: "What joy, (saith he,) what gladness would it be to my heart, to hear the state also of the Persians to flourish, as I wish it to do, by embracing this sort of men, the Christians I mean! So that both you with them, and they with you, in long prosperity may enjoy much felicity together, as your hearts would desire; and in so doing no doubt ye shall. For so shall you have God, which is the Author and Creator of all this universal world, to be merciful and gracious to you. These men therefore I commend unto you upon your kingly honour; and upon your clemency and piety, wherewith you are endued, I commit them unto you, desiring you to embrace and receive them according to your humanity and benignity, agreeing and convenient to your estate; who, in so doing, shall now both procure to yourself grace through your faith, and also shall declare to me a great pleasure and benefit worthy of thanks."
This example wrote Constantine to king Sapores; such care had this godly prince for them that believed in Christ, not only in his own monarchy, but also in all places of the world: neither is it to be doubted but this intercession of the emperor did something mitigate the heat of the Persians' persecution, although thereof we read no certain thing in our histories.
Of other troubles and persecutions we read, which happened afterward in the said country of Persia, under Isdigerdes the king; but these followed long after, about the time of the emperor Theodosius. At which time suffered Andas, their bishop, and Hormisda, a great nobleman's son, and of great reputation among the Persians; whom when the king understood to be a Christian, and to deny to turn from his religion, condemned him to keep his elephants naked. In process of time, the king looking out, and seeing him all swarthy and tanned in the sun, commanded him to have a shirt put on, and to be brought before him; whom then the king asked if he would deny Christ. Hormisda, hearing this, tore off his shirt from his body, and cast it from him, saying, If ye think that I will deny my faith to Christ for a shirt, have here your gift again, &c. And so was upon that expelled the country.
Another there was that same time, named Suenes, which had under him a hundred servants. The king taking displeasure with him for that he would not alter from his religion and godly truth, asked who was the worst of all his servants, and him the king made ruler of all the rest, and coupling him with his master's wife, brought also Suenes under his subjection, thinking thereby to subdue also the faith of Suenes; but it was builded upon a sure foundation.
Of Benjamin the deacon thus writeth the said Theodoret in his first book: that after two years of his imprisonment, at the request of the Roman legate, he was delivered; who afterward, contrary to the king's commandment, preached and taught the gospel of Christ, and was most miserably excruciated, having twenty sharp pricks of reeds thrust under his nails; but when he did laugh at that, he had a sharp reed thrust into another part with horrible pain. After that a certain long stalk, ragged and thorny, being thrust into his body by the nether part, was forced into him; with the horribleness of the pain whereof the valiant and invincible soldier of the Lord gave over his life. And thus much concerning the martyrs and persecutions among the Persians, although these persecutions belong not to this time, which came (as it is said) long after the days of Constantine, about the year of our Lord four hundred and twenty-five.