Above: Exaltation of the Cross
SAINT SIMEON BARSABAE (DIED 341)
Bishop of Seleucia and Ctesiphon
The account of the martyrdom of St. Simeon Barsabae and his companions requires contextualization. Relations between the Roman Empire and the revived Persian Empire under the Sasanid Dynasty were difficult, punctuated by wars. The Sasanids governed from 226 to 651, thus the beginning of their tenure coincided with a difficult century for the Roman Empire. Rome stabilized somewhat in the late 200s yet experienced civil war in the early 300s. Constantine I “the Great” (reigned jointly from 306 to 323 and alone from 323 to 337) legalized Christianity. This was a political move, an attempt to stabilize the empire and extend its lifespan by grafting onto it the hierarchy and organization of the Church.
Meanwhile, in Persia, King Shapur/Sapor II (reigned 310-379) perceived his Christian population as disloyal. Persian policy had been to persecute heterodox populations, but religious toleration had taken its place. Then Constantine I legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire. Acting on the premise of guilt by association, Shapur II resumed persecution of Christians and other non-Zoroastrians. Attempting to use Zoroastrianism to unify his realm by force if deemed necessary, Shapur II declared heresy (as he defined it) a death penalty offense.
St. Simeon Barsabae (died 341), Bishop in Ctesiphon, capital city of Persia, refused to betray his faith. And many of his fellow Christians likewise refused. The persecution during which these valiant people died was notoriously harsh and violent. St. Simeon had to witness the beheading of about a hundred of his fellow Christians. Among them were the following:
- Usthazanes, the royal tutor, whom the saint had led back to Christ after apostasy;
- Abdechalas and Ananias, two priests;
- and Pusicius, a layman who had encouraged Ananias.
Finally, on Good Friday, St. Simeon and his daughter, Askitrea, went to Jesus.
The persecution of Persian Christians persisted after Shapur II’s death. I refer you, O reader, to the case of St. James Intercisus. Yet, as the 1968 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica tells me,
Nonetheless, substantial Christian communities survived in parts of Iran long after the close of the Sasanian dynasty.–Volume 17, page 672
Persecutors, I suppose, think that they are doing what is necessary for the greater good. Yet they are mistaken, of course. An immoral or amoral monster probably does not look at his reflection and recognize evil, or at least bad behavior. He probably justifies his actions to himself. I find it ironic that one would commit murder in the name of Zoroastrianism, a faith tradition which affirms life. Yet people have killed in the name of Christ, love incarnate. God, save us from your alleged followers!
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
FEBRUARY 21, 2012 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF STEVE DE GRUCHY, SOUTH AFRICAN CONGREGATIONALIST THEOLOGIAN
THE FEAST OF SAINT ARNULF OF METZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP, AND SAINT GERMANUS OF GRANFEL, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND MARTYR
THE FEAST OF SAINT ETHELBERT OF KENT, KING
THE FEAST OF SAINT ROBERT SOUTHWELL, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR
by your grace and power
your holy martyrs Saint Simeon Barsabae and his companions triumphed over suffering
and were faithful even to death;
strengthen us with your grace
that we may faithfully witness
to Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
2 Chronicles 24:17-21
Psalm 3 or 116
–Adapted from A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989), pages 680-681
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