Martyrs Marinus the Soldier
and Asterius the Senator
August 20 (August 7 old calendar)
In the first three centuries, there was an almost constant persecution of Christians. It did happen, however, that some emperors, more benevolent than others, revoked the severe decrees against Christians, but this did not prevent local governors from bringing them to trial - if not directly for their faith, then for insubordination. For example, when a soldier entered the army or received a promotion, he had to take an oath, invoking the names of pagan gods, and sometimes he had to take part in pagan rituals. Christians could not agree to this, and they were given over to punishment for disobedience. There were many such cases under Emperor Gallienus (ruled 260-268), who forbade persecuting Christians for their faith.
In Caesarea of Palestine there was a soldier by the name of Marinus. He was respected by all, even the pagans, for his valor and his noble character. Gallienus' decree had not yet reached Caesarea when Marinus was to be promoted to the rank of centurion in his regiment. As a Christian, he refused to take the pagan oath. Then the commander demanded that he perform a certain pagan ritual. When Marinus refused this, too, the commander threatened him with death. Marinus remained steadfast. "I'll give you three hours to think this over," said the commander. "Either you agree to the ritual, or face execution."
As soon as Marinus left the court, he was approached by Bishop Theotekne, who took the soldier by the hand and led him into a nearby church. There, he pointed to a Gospel and to the sword fastened at Marinus' belt. "Choose," said the bishop, "either the book of life, in which your name will be written as a soldier of the Heavenly King, or the sword, by which you serve an earthly king."
Without a moment's hesitation, Marinus pointed to the holy Gospel. Then the bishop said to him, "In attaching yourself to God, attach yourself with all your soul, and, strengthened with His might, accept that which you have chosen."
Marinus began to pray, preparing himself for death. Then, after receiving the bishop's blessing, he left the church. He was immediately seized and taken to trial. There he repeated his confession of faith, and was beheaded with a sword.
It happened that a senator, a Christian by the name of Asterius, was present at the proceedings. As soon as Marinus was executed, Asterius removed his expensive cloak, wrapped in it the martyr's bloodied body and severed head, and took them home in order to give them worthy burial. He, too, was seized and executed.
Translated from Selected Lives of Saints compiled by A.N. Bakhmetiev, Moscow, 1872.
In reading the lives of martyrs from the early centuries of Christianity, we are awed and edified, but the stories seem rather remote from us, living as we do in 20th-century America, where freedom of religion is inscribed in our Bill of Rights. But let us consider: in this century, more than 35 million Christians have died for their faith. The overwhelming majority have been in communist or Muslim countries, but we have a recent example here at home. In the shooting rampage at Columbine High School just weeks ago, 17-year-old Cassie Bernall was asked by one of the teenage gunmen if she believed in God. She hesitated briefly, then answered, "Yes, I believe in God." And she was shot. What a brave and glorious witness. Here is another teenage martyr. The young Russian Orthodox soldier, Evgeni Rodionov, was a border guard in Chechnya when, in February 1996, at the height of the war, he and three other guards were taken prisoner. Their Muslim captors told the young soldiers that their lives would be spared if they removed their crosses, renounced Christ, and became Muslim. Evgeni refused - and was shot. It was his nineteenth birthday.
Let us learn from the lives of the martyrs, that in the hour of the trial of our faith we may likewise prove to be faithful and courageous soldiers of Christ.
O faithful, let our prayers be with the martyrs
and we shall participate in their inheritance,
praising and exalting Christ to the ages.
Ode 8, Canon to Martyrs (general).
Holy Protection Russian Orthodox Church
2049 Argyle Ave. Los Angeles, California 90068