On the 28th April, we commemorate the memories of Thaumasius, Theognes, Rufus, Antipater, Theostichus, Artemas, Magnus, Theodotus, and Philemon.
The city of Cyzicus which presently lies in ruins next to the modern town of Panormos (Bandirma) is located on the southern shore of the Marmara Sea in Asia Minor (Turkey). In its heyday it was a major centre of agriculture, trade and finance, and with the rise of Rome, became the administrative centre for the region of Mysia and the Hellespont (Dardanelles).
Its Christian heritage as local tradition relates, has its origins within the missionary activity and preaching of St Paul of Tarsus (Commemorated on June 29). Nevertheless, Cyzicus remained as a predominately Pagan city for most of its history, however the local inhabitants were not hostile towards the Christian message or to Christians, and so many of the faithful had found asylum there and settled there taking advantage of Cyzicus’ good employment and economic prospects.
According to historical accounts, it is known that the Christian community had a church in Cyzicus and continued to live in peace until the end of the third century. Unfortunately around this time circumstances within the city began to deteriorate with imperial decrees being issued and enforced against the Christians, who were persecuted and compelled to renounce their faith. The situation distressed many of the local and foreign Christians who dwelt within the city, who sought to uphold Christianity as best they could whether in secret, martyrdom, or seeking asylum elsewhere.
From the surviving records we have from both Roman and Christian sources which relate that the Nine holy Martyrs we commemorate here were: Thaumasius, Theognes, Rufus, Antipater, Theostichus, Artemas, Magnus, Theodotus, and Philemon. Some of these men were local inhabitants of Cyzicus and others had come from elsewhere in order to secure employment. Of these nine we also know that they were drawn from many different strata within society, ranging from soldiers, country-folk, town-dwellers and clergy. Furthermore we also know that there was a great variance between their ages, like the young St Antipater, and the elderly St Rufus.
Nonetheless, in spite of their numerous differences, all of them were united within their Christian Faith, and in their prayers for the spread of Christianity. As the account of the Martyrdom relates, all nine were arrested in Cyzicus on suspicion of being Christians, and in accordance with imperial decree, to declare what their faith was. Naturally being men of conviction and faith, they boldly confessed Christ and fearlessly denounced the shameful illegality and unrighteous laws which were promulgated against the faithful, then citing that this was a sign of pagan impiety. They then began to mock the idolatrous superstitions of the pagans, pouring scorn and vile upon their unjust practices.
Hence in being arrested, they were subsequently brought to trial before the ruler of the city, but as we can imagine, the trial was nothing more than a matter for giving the appearance of justice and legality being exercised. The imperial decrees were clear-cut and so an example had to be made of these confessors of Christ, either through breaking their spirits or by other means. Over a series of days the Martyrs were systematically tortured, locked in prison and then brought out again for continued examination by the city’s ruler. During these examinations, prior to being subjected to more torture, they were promised their freedom if they renounced Christ.
Yet the civil authorities had not understood that the nine holy men were not willing to submit to their request, but were more willing to submit themselves to torture so as to offer themselves as sacrifices to the One True God. Thus the valiant martyrs of Christ continued to glorify the Lord, knowing fully well the time of execution approached. Hence the order was finally given on the 28th April, and all nine martyrs were beheaded by the sword that day, (ca. 286-299AD), after the execution their bodies were buried near the city.
However the story of these nine valiant Martyrs of Christ does not end with their unjust execution. In the year 324 AD, when the Eastern half of the Roman Empire was ruled by St Constantine the Great (May 21), and the persecutions against Christians ended. The Christians of Cyzicus removed the incorrupt bodies of the martyrs from the ground and placed them in a church built in their honour.
Various miracles were wrought from the holy relics, for the sick were healed, and the mentally deranged were brought to their senses. The faith of Christ grew within the city through the intercession of the holy martyrs, and many of the pagans found the inner peace that they sought, thus converting to Christianity.
During the reign of Julian the Apostate (361-363AD) the Christians hid the relics of the Nine Martyrs, taking some of the remains to Palestine to avoid destruction by Julian’s minions who were executing his orders for a renewed persecution against the Christians. Meanwhile the pagans of Cyzicus falsely accused the Christians of destroying their temples, before Julian. Empowered with this pretext, Julian gave orders to rebuild the pagan temples and to jail Bishop Eleusius. However, after Julian’s death, Bishop Eleusius was set free and the light of the Christian Faith shone anew through the assistance of the holy martyrs.
Around 1687, within the Russian city of Kazan a great pestilence took grip of the region subjecting many inhabitants to numerous illnesses, particularly an unidentified fever of fatal proportions. Not far from Kazan, a monastery was constructed in honour of the Nine Martyrs of Cyzicus, in the hope that through their presence and prayers, the region’s inhabitants could be delivered from their sicknesses. The Hierodeacon Stephen began building this monastery after returning from a sojourn within Palestine, whereby he brought back part of the relics to place within the monastery. This monastery project succeeded with the Martyrs’ intercessory prayers in healing the region’s inhabitants.
St Demetrius of Rostov (September 21), who composed the service to the Nine Martyrs, writes, “through the intercession of these saints, abundant grace was given to dispel fevers and trembling sicknesses.” St Demetrius also helped preserve the account of the sufferings of the holy martyrs and wrote a sermon for their Feast day.
Troparion – Tone 4
Your holy nine martyrs of Cyzicus, O Lord, for their sufferings
Have received incorruptible crowns from You, our God.
For strengthened by Your might,
They overthrew tyrants and destroyed the powerless boldness of demons.
Through their supplications save our souls.
Kontakion – Tone 1
Let us praise the nine–fold choir of martyrs:
Renown Theognes, and Antipater, Magnus and Theostichus,
Artemas and Theodotus, Thaumasius, Philemon and Rufus;
For they exude divine grace for us from the well–spring of life, our Saviour!
Dedicated to my forefathers who came from this land of Cyzicus and its environs, and like so many of the faithful, suffered and were buried in the same land in which the Nine Holy Martyrs shed their blood. May Greek and Turkish Orthodox Christians never forget the memory of this blessed land or the men that made it shine before the whole world. May our churches and holy sites be rebuilt to become places of strength and guidance to the youth of today, rather than memories of genocide and hatred that witnessed the uprooting of the region’s faithful by nationalists and religious fanatics. – V.M.