20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia
Commemorated on December 28
At the beginning of the fourth century, Emperor Maximian (284-305) gave orders to destroy Christian churches, to burn service books, and to deprive all Christians of rights and privileges of citizenship. At this time, the bishop of the city of Nicomedia was St. Cyril, who by his preaching and life contributed to the spread of Christianity, so that many members of the emperor’s court secretly became Christians.
The pagan priestess, Domna, was living in the palace at that time, but was able to obtain a copy of the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of St. Paul. Her heart burned with the desire to learn more about Christianity. With the help of a young Christian girl, Domna secretly went to Bishop Anthimus with her faithful servant, the eunuch Indes. St. Anthimus catechized them, and both received holy Baptism.
Domna began to help the poor – she gave away her valuables with the assistance of Indes, and she also distributed food from the imperial kitchen. The chief eunuch, who was in charge of provisions for the imperial household, discovered that Domna and Indes were not eating the food sent them from the emperor’s table. He had them beaten in order to find out why they did not partake of the food, but they remained silent. Another eunuch informed him that the saints were distributing all the emperor’s gifts to the poor. He locked them up in prison to exhaust them with hunger, but an angel supported them and they did not suffer. St. Domna feigned insanity so she wouldn’t have to live among the pagans. Then she and Indes managed to leave the court, and she went to a women’s monastery. The abbess of the monastery, Agatha, quickly dressed Domna in men’s clothing, cut her hair and sent her off from the monastery.
During this time, the emperor returned from battle and ordered that a search be made for the former pagan priestess Domna. The soldiers found the monastery where Domna had stayed and destroyed it. The sisters were thrown into prison and subjected to torture and abuse, but none o them suffered defilement. Sent to a house of iniquity, St. Theophila was able to preserve her virginity with the help of an angel of the Lord. The angel led her from the brothel and brought her to the cathedral.
Shortly thereafter, the emperor cleared the city square to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. When they began sprinkling the crowd with the blood of the sacrificial animals, the Christians started to leave the square. Seeing this, the emperor became enraged, but in the middle of his ranting, a great thunderstorm sprang up. People fled in panic, and the emperor had to hide in his palace for his own safety.
Later, the emperor went to the cathedral with his soldiers and told the faithful that they could escape punishment if they renounced Christ. Otherwise, he promised to burn the church and those in it. The presbyter Glycerius told the emperor that the Christians would never renounce their faith, even under the threat of torture. Hiding his anger, the emperor left the church, but commanded that Glycerius be arrested. The executioners tortured the martyr, who did not cease to pray and to call on the Name of the Lord. Unable to force St. Glycerius to renounce Christ, Maximian ordered that he be burned to death.
In 302, on the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, about 20,000 Christians assembled at the cathedral in Nicomedia. The emperor sent a herald into the church, told the faithful that soldiers were surrounding the building, and that those who wished to leave had to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. Anyone who defied the emperor would perish when the soldiers set fire to the church. All those present refused to renounce Christ.
As the pagans prepared to set fire to the church, Bishop Anthimus baptized all the catechumens and communed everyone with the Holy Mysteries. All 20,000 died in the fire. Among them were the abbess Agatha and St. Theophila. Bishop Anthimus, however, managed to escape.
Emperor Maximian thought that he had exterminated the Christians of Nicomedia. However, he soon learned that there were many more, and that they were willing to confess their faith and die for Christ. The emperor commanded that the regimental commander, Zeno, be arrested, as he was openly criticizing the emperor for his impiety and cruelty. Zeno was fiercely beaten and finally beheaded.
They also jailed the eunuch Indes for refusing to participate in a pagan festival.
The persecution against the Christians continued. Dorotheus, Mardonius, Deacon Migdonius, and others were thrown into prison. Bishop Anthimus sent them encouraging letters, but one of the messengers, the Deacon Theophilus, was captured. They tortured him, trying to learn where the bishop was hiding, but the holy martyr endured everything, while revealing nothing. They executed him and also those whom the bishop had addressed in his letters. Though they were executed in different ways, they all showed the same courage and received their martyr’s crowns from God.
For weeks, St. Domna concealed herself within a cave and sustained herself by eating plants. When she returned to the city, she wept before the ruins of the cathedral, regretting that she was not found worthy to die with the others. That night she went to the seashore, and, at that moment, fishermen pulled the bodies of the martyrs Indes, Gorgonius and Peter from the water in their nets.
St. Domna was still dressed in men’s clothing, and she helped the fishermen to draw in their nets. They left the bodies of the martyrs with her, and, with reverence, she looked after the holy relics and wept over them, especially over the body of her spiritual friend, the Martyr Indes.
After giving them an honorable burial, she refused to leave the graves so dear to her heart. Each day she burned incense before them, sprinkling them with fragrant oils. When the emperor was told of an unknown youth who offered incense at the graves of executed Christians, he gave orders to behead him. The Martyr Euthymius was also executed along with Domna.
Troparion (Tone 2) –
Blessed is the earth that received your blood, Agape, passion-bearer of the Lord,
and holy is the dwelling place which received your spirits.
You triumphed over the enemy in the stadium
and you preached Christ with boldness.
Since He is good, we pray that you beseech Him to save our souls.
Kontakion (Tone 1) –
Their souls strengthened by faith, the twenty thousand martyrs accepted their suffering by fire,
and cried out to You, the One born of the Virgin:
“Like gold, myrrh, and frankincense, the gifts of the Persian kings,
receive our whole burnt offering, O Eternal God.”
By permission of the Orthodox Church in America (www.oca.org)