St. Askitrea, Persian Martyr
The Hieromartyr Simeon, Bishop of Persia, suffered during the persecution against Christians under Emperor Sapor II. The saint was accused of collaborating with the Roman Empire and of subversive activities against the Persian emperor.
In 344 the emperor issued an edict which imposed a heavy tax upon Christians. When some of them refused to pay it, this was regarded as an act of rebellion, so the emperor began a fierce persecution against them.
St Simeon was brought to trial in iron fetters as a supposed enemy of the Persian realm, together with the two hieromartyrs, Habdelai and Ananias. The holy bishop would not even bow to the emperor, who asked why he would not show him the proper respect. The saint answered, “Formerly, I bowed because of your rank, but now, when you ask me to renounce my God and abandon my faith, it is not proper for me to bow to you.”
The emperor urged him to worship the sun, and he threatened to eradicate Christianity if Simeon refused. However, neither urgings nor threats could shake the steadfast saint, and he was led off to prison. Along the way the eunuch Usphazanes, a counselor of the emperor, saw Simeon. He stood up and bowed to the bishop, but the saint turned away from him because he, a former Christian, out of fear of the emperor, now worshipped the sun.
The eunuch repented with all his heart, exchanged his fine attire for coarse garb, and sitting at the doors of the court, he cried out bitterly, “Woe to me, when I stand before my God, from Whom I am cut off. Here was Simeon, and he has turned his back on me!”
Emperor Sapor learned about the grief of his beloved tutor and asked him what had happened. He told the emperor that he bitterly regretted his apostasy and would no more worship the sun, but only the one true God. The emperor was surprised at the old man’s sudden decision, and he urged him not to anger the gods whom their fathers had reverenced. However, Usphazanes was unyielding, and he was condemned to death. St. Usphazanes asked that the city heralds report that he died not for crimes against the emperor, but for being a Christian. The emperor granted his request.
St. Simeon also learned about the death of Usphazanes and gave thanks to the Lord. When they brought him before the emperor a second time, St. Simeon again refused to worship the pagan gods and confessed his faith in Christ. The enraged emperor gave orders to behead all the Christians in the prison before the saint’s eyes.
Without fear, the Christians went to their execution, blessed by the holy hierarch, and bent their heads beneath the sword. St. Simeon’s companion, the Priest Habdelai, was also beheaded. When they came to the Priest Ananias, he suddenly trembled. One of the dignitaries, St Phusicus, a secret Christian, was afraid that Ananias would renounce Christ, and he cried out, “Do not fear the sword, Elder, and you will see the divine light of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
St. Phusicus betrayed himself by this outburst. The emperor gave orders to pluck out his tongue and to flay the skin off him. Along with St. Phusicus, his daughter Askitrea was also martyred. St Simeon was the last to go before the executioner, and he placed his head on the chopping-block. Executions continued all during Bright Week until April 23.
St. Azates the Eunuch, a close official to the emperor, also received the crown of martyrdom. Sources indicate that 1,150 martyrs perished because they refused to accept the Persian emperor’s religion.
Troparion (Tone 4) –
As an instructor of divinely inspired doctrines
you trained martyrs for contest by your words and deeds.
You suffered with them, holy hierarch Simeon,
crying out to Christ while hastening to Him:
“We are counted as sheep for the slaughter out of love for You, O Savior.”
Kontakion (Tone 4) –
With your holy band of martyrs
you shone forth from Persia like radiant stars.
With them we praise you, O Simeon.
By permission of the Orthodox Church in America (www.oca.org)