[ABOVE—Coin of Shapur II, who appears as Saporis in the account below. Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons]
In Persia, about the middle of the fourth century, many Christians suffered under King Sapores. The idolatrous magicians of Persia had put their heads together to come up with a plan to stamp out Christianity. They accused Simeon and Ctesiphon to Sapores, saying the two were secretly in touch with the Roman emperor (who was then at war with Persia), and that they betrayed information to him about the kingdom. Angered, Sapores came down hard on all Christians, oppressing them with taxes and tributes until they were completely impoverished, and killing their priests.
From Christ to Constantine; Trial and Testimony of the Early Church. The first three centuries were decisive for Christianity. The existence of the church was threatened by powerful opponents. These programs bring you close to the early believers.
After that, he summoned Simeon the archbishop, who proved himself a worthy and valiant captain of Christ’s church. For when Sapores commanded he be tortured, he neither shrank from the ordeal with any show of fear, nor grovelled for mercy. At this the king, partly marveling and partly offended, asked why he did not kneel down as he was accustomed to do before. Simeon replied that on earlier occasions he had not been brought to the king in chains and ordered to betray the true God. While free, he readily bowed to the king, but now he could not, for now he was defending religion and true doctrine.
The king offered Simeon a choice: either worship the Persian gods with him and receive great gifts or refuse to worship, and suffer death himself and the destruction of all other Persian Christians. But Simeon, neither allured by promises, nor terrified by threats, continued steadfast in doctrine, and could not be induced to worship idols, or to betray the truth of his religion. Therefore the king committed him to prison, ordering that he be kept there until a decision was made as to what to do with him.
Simeon’s story as adapted from Foxe’s Actes and Monuments.
As he [Simeon] was going to prison, there was sitting at the king’s gate a certain eunuch, an old tutor or schoolmaster of the king’s, named Usthazares, who had once been a Christian, but afterward, falling from his profession of faith, had joined with the heathen multitude in their idolatry. This Usthazares, sitting at the door of the king’s palace, saw Simeon led past him to the prison, and rose up in respect to the bishop. Simeon, rebuked him with sharp words (as much as the moment would allow), and in great anger cried out against him, because, having once been a Christian, he had so cowardly revolted from his profession of faith, and returned to heathen idolatry.
At hearing these words, the eunuch immediately burst into tears; he stripped off his courtly apparel, which was sumptuous and costly, and put on a black mourning cloth, sitting before the palace gates weeping and wailing, saying to himself: “Woe is me! With what hope, with what face shall I look for my God after this, since I have denied my God, considering that Simeon, my familiar acquaintance, passing by me, disdains me so much that he refuses with a single gentle word to salute me!”
The eunuch’s words being brought to the ears of the king, (tale-bearers are never lacking at court,) roused against him no little indignation. Sapores sent for him, and with gentle words and courtly promises spoke to him, asking him why he had to mourn this way, and whether there was anything in his house which was denied him, or which he could not have merely for asking. To this, Usthazares replied that he lacked nothing in his earthly house, nor desired anything.
“I would to God, O king, any other grief or calamity in all the world, whatever it were, had happened to me rather than this, for which I do most rightly mourn and sorrow. For it fills me with sorrow, that I am alive today, who should rather have died long ago, and that I see this sun, which, against my better judgment, to please you I pretended to worship; and because of this I am doubly worthy of death: first, that I denied Christ; and secondly, because I played the hypocrite with you.” Adding to these words, and swearing by the One who made both heaven and earth, he asserted in the strongest terms, that although he had played the fool before, he would never be so insane again as to worship the creatures which God had made and created rather than the Creator Himself.
King Sapores was astonished at the sudden change in this man, and questioned within himself whether to be angry with the enchanters or with him, and whether to treat him with gentleness or with rigor. At length he ordered that Usthazares, his ancient servant, and first tutor and trainer of his youth, be taken away, and beheaded. As Usthazares was being led to the place of execution, he asked the executioners to grant him a short stay, in order that he might send a message to the king, which was this, (sent in by certain of the king’s most trusty eunuchs) desiring him, that, for all the old and faithful service he had done to his father and to him, he would now requite him with one favor only: to order a public crier to proclaim these words: That Usthazares was beheaded, not for any treachery or crime committed against the king or the realm, but only because he was a Christian, and would not at the king’s pleasure deny his God.
His request was granted and carried out. Usthazares strongly desired that the cause of his death to be published because just as his earlier shrinking back from Christ was the occasion for many Christians to do the same, so now, hearing that Usthazares died for no other cause but for the religion of Christ, he hoped they would learn by his example to be fervent and constant in that which they professed. And that was how the blessed eunuch consummated his martyrdom.
Simeon, in prison, hearing of Usthazares death, was joyful, and thanked God. The following day, he too was brought before the king, and still refusing to yield to Sapor’s demand that he worship visible creatures, was beheaded in the same manner as the tutor by command of the king, along with a great number of other Christians, who also suffered the same fate that day. The total number is said to have been a hundred or more; all of whom were put to death before Simeon, who stood by and exhorted them with comforting words, admonishing them to stand firm and stedfast in the Lord; preaching and teaching them concerning death, resurrection, and true piety; and proving by the Scriptures that what he said was true: declaring also that true life was to die for Christ, and real death was to deny or betray God for fear of punishment; and adding that there was not a man alive but must die once.
[Here follows an example of his exhortation, which emphasizes the differing eternal destinies of the good and the bad, and calls martydom the greatest act one can render God.] With these words of comforting exhortation, the holy martyrs, being prepared, willingly yielded up their lives to death.
After they were all dispatched, Simeon was also executed with two other priests or ministers of his church, Abedecalaas and Ananias, who shared with him the same martyrdom.