St. Artemios the Great Martyr
What history is capable of recalling about the early life of St Artemios is somewhat scant. All that has survived to our own times is that Artemios came from a noble family, and that he had served as one of Emperor Constantine’s generals. The account of his own conversion simply cites that when he saw the Cross he pledged himself to Jesus Christ and was baptized. Beyond this account we do not have anything more substantial that has survived down to our own times.
Nevertheless it seems clear that he was a man who was highly respected within government and military circles because of his integrity, honesty, self discipline and his moderate lifestyle. As a consequence of these particular virtues which marked him out as a reliable and dependable commander, the Emperor Constantine promoted him to the rank of Patrician and then appointed him as Military Governor of Egypt, based at Alexandria c. 330AD. Within this particular role it became evident that Artemios was not one to suffer fools or flattery, but remained sober minded and thorough. He did not allow his immense responsibilities to cloud his judgement, nor give himself over to putting on airs about his own worth or position. Yet more importantly for us as members of the Church, was his refusal to allow his commitments to weaken his dedication to his faith and his resolve to spread the Christian message of Salvation wherever he went.
Upon the death of Emperor Constantine (337AD), the Empire was divided amongst his three sons. Constantius inherited all the East, and resided at Constantinople. In time Constantius would place Artemios in charge of various missions, one of these particular responsibilities was the task of bringing the relics of Apostle Andrew from Patras in the Peloponnese and St Luke from Thebes in Boetia to the Imperial Capital, so that they could be placed in the Church of the Holy Apostles. Such tasks took place alongside his other official military and political missions, because we know that he had been one of the commanding military authorities responsible for developing the defences of the empire’s eastern perimeter.
However this effective arrangement was not to last, because some years later, when Constantius was preparing his army for war against the Persians at Antioch, political intrigues were occurring in Constantinople, whereby his cousin Julian took the opportunity to seize the western part of the empire. Constantius had assumed responsibility for the governance of the western part of the empire in 351AD and had served as its Emperor since. Naturally Constantius set out to confront his cousin, who had assumed the imperial title for himself, in a pitched battle. However Constantius did not live long enough to execute his plans because he died along his journey in Cilicia, with only enough time for baptism.
With the chaos created by this event and the continual intrigues within the Imperial Capital, Julian seized the opportunity to confirm himself as Emperor and immediately put into action the reinstatement of state sponsored pagan worship. Julian perceived himself as a new prophet chosen by the pagan gods to herald in a new age of regeneration by returning to past glories emulating the golden ages of Athens and Rome. In line with this mission, Julian issued numerous decrees which demanded the restoration to idolatry the temples which had been converted into churches under Constantine’s reign.
He then turned his attention to restricting Christian academics in their freedom to teach, ordering the sprinkling of lustral waters over marketplaces so that every citizen was obliged to consume food which had received consecration according to idolatrous rites. Furthermore a new programme of systematic persecution was instituted empire-wide, witnessing a vast number of martyrdoms. Within all these events, Julian had based himself at Antioch in order to draw up plans and coordinate his campaign against the Persians. He commanded that all provincial governors meet him in Antioch with their chosen armed forces in order for military consultation about the impending campaign.
Naturally when the order was received by Artemios he responded promptly by summoning his choice forces for the expedition and proceeded immediately towards Antioch, knowing fully well the possibility for a fall out with Julian over his personal faith, but Artemios was also aware that the powers that be, are ordained by God (Rom. 13:1-2). Thus, after a long a journey, Artemios and his force arrived at the city where the disciples were first called Christians(Acts 11:26), just as the Emperor was intent on forcing the priests Evgenios and Macarios to recant their faith in Christ and turn to the worship of senseless idols. These two priests courageously countered all of Julian’s arguments which entreated them towards pagan worship, by proclaiming clearly the doctrine of God’s Redemption which was wrought for all peoples. Dissatisfied with his own failing, Julian put an end to the dialogue and ordered that the priests be struck five hundred times with rods.
Incensed and disgusted with Julian’s behaviour, Artemios confronted the Emperor by asking him, “Why are you so ruthlessly torturing these innocent and dedicated men, and why are you putting pressure on them to turn back from the Orthodox Faith?” Thus the Apostate’s attention turned from the priests to Artemios, who was requested to give an explanation for his outburst. Artemios proceeded to state that the policy against the Christians was the work of the Devil, and would come to nothing because the arrogant power of the demons had been destroyed by the Cross of Christ; whereas the worship of Hermes and Apollo was counter-productive and amounted to nothing more than the worship of wood and metal that the lifeless statues were made of.
The Apostate’s surprise at Artemios’ assertion gave way to fury, particularly given the fact that Artemios was the Governor of Egypt and had addressed him in such a bold manner. Yet Julian’s fury was also kindled by the falsely held belief that Artemios was suspected of being involved in the death of his brother, Gaius Constantine, the Caesar of the East, who had been assassinated on the orders of Emperor Constantius.
Thus Artemios was seized by soldiers who tore off his badges of office, while the Apostate gave commands that he will be court-marshalled before his presence the next day, in order that appropriate punishment will be meted out for his offences. Then Artemios was bound hand and foot, and systematically lashed by soldiers before being thrown into prison with serious injuries, together with the two priests. Despite this ill-treatment Artemios was full of joy and sent up prayers to God saying, “I thank You, Lord, for accounting me worthy to suffer torture for Your love and numbering me in the choir of Saints”.
The following day, Evgenios and Macarios were exiled to the inhospitable confines of Arabia, where, after some time, were beheaded (20 December). Meanwhile the Apostate had Artemios brought before him, and realising the importance, influence and high esteem in which Artemios was held by many, decided to flatter him and make promises by installing him within high office in the imperial household, and even to install him as high priest of the pagan gods. The condition for his promise, was simply that Artemios should give up the foolish beliefs of those whom he called “Galileans”.
Yet this attempt to bait the Saint with such hollow offers held no attraction to a man who was already dead with Christ to the vanities of this world, let alone the cunning effort to counter any defence of Artemios’ case by others of authority, by presenting a false clause of freedom and reward, provided the Saint recanted. Naturally the Apostate knew that Artemios would never recant given his character and the boldness in which he had addressed him at the torture of the priests the previous day. In any case Artemios thought it was pointless to enter upon an extended defence of Christianity before the Emperor, who, as a youth, had been brought up within the Faith. Nor did he bother answering the false accusations levelled at him about his so-called connection to the murder of Gaius Constantine, but he assured the Apostate that he would not abandon the rock of the Faith.
Of course the tyrant could do nothing, to either prove his false accusations or to break Artemios’ religious convictions, and so the only thing left was to vent his rage through imposing tortures upon the Saint. Amongst the “novelties” imposed upon the Saint, was the piercing of the Saint’s body with red-hot skewers and left within it. Thankfully, Artemios did not utter any cries or moans of pain, much to the tyrant’s chagrin. That evening in his cell, Christ appeared before Artemios and miraculously healed his wounds. Strengthened by this vision and gift of healing, Artemios spent fifteen days on his feet, neither eating nor drinking, within deep prayer and contemplation of the heavenly mysteries both day and night.
In the meantime, Julian went to Daphni, on the outskirts of Antioch, where he had the relics of Saint Babylas (commemorated on 4th September) removed to one of the city cemeteries, so that he could restore the cult of Apollo. Interestingly, one night, as the pagan priests were busy making sacrifices and prayers to please their so-called god, so that his wood-metal mouth would open to deliver his oracle, a fire came down from heaven which completely destroyed the statue and temple without harming anyone. As a consequence of this event, Julian blamed the Christians and stepped up his persecutions throughout the empire. More churches were closed; at Sebaste in Samaria the relics of Prophets Elisha and John the Baptist were consigned to flames; at Caesarea Philippi, the statue of Christ set up by the woman that had an issue of blood, was overturned. Furthermore to disprove Christ’s prophecy of the end of the sacrifices of the Old Law, the Apostate gave the Jews a grant of public money to rebuild the Temple, destroyed in 70AD, yet a series of earthquakes kept on destroying the building project many times until it was abandoned.
Amid all these widespread persecutions, Julian had Artemios brought out of prison to be put to death. A large rock, lying near the theatre was split in two to serve as the means of death and torture. Hence the Saint was laid out on one half while the other was brought down upon his body. As the stone fell, everyone who was witnessing the event could hear Artemios’ bones break. Nonetheless he was left for dead wedged between the rocks until the next day. However, when the executioners lifted the top stone, they, and the tyrant were astonished to see that in spite of Artemios being broken-boned, disembowelled and eyeless, was still alive and scorning idols, while glorifying in the Cross of Christ. Rather than repenting or feeling any sort of shame or mercy at the sight of this marvel, Julian wanted to make a swift end of Artemios, and so he ordered that the Saint be beheaded.
The Glorious Martyr upon hearing the sentence, received the order with joy and raised his hands towards Heaven in thanksgiving and prayer for the well-being of the Church. Yet as a testimony of his endurance, the Martyr made his way to the place of execution on his own strength. Upon his arrival he bowed three times towards the east and then offered his neck with joy to the executioner’s sword on 20 October 362AD. A pious noblewoman was able to gain possession of the Martyr’s body and took it back to Constantinople, where for centuries it was venerated with much fervour by the faithful and wrought an infinite number of miracles. Of particular interest, St Artemios is particularly known as a healer of infirmities and sicknesses, especially those who suffer from stomach problems and internal dysfunctions.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Thy Martyr, O Lord, in his courageous contest for Thee received the prize of the crowns of incorruption and life from Thee, our immortal God. For since he possessed Thy strength, he cast down the tyrants and wholly destroyed the demons’ strengthless presumption. O Christ God, by his prayers, save our souls, since Thou art merciful.
Kontakion in the Second Tone
Let us now gather and worthily acclaim with hymns the pious and crowned Martyr Artemius, the greatest among Martyrs and richest bestower of miracles, who raised the trophies of victory over the enemy; for he intercedeth with the Lord for us all.
Dedicated to Fr. Nicholas Karipoff, a spiritual father whose loving humility and charismatic gifts has given strength, hope and patience to many Melbournians, irrespective of their background – V.M.