Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Saint Theonas: From Pagan Magician to Martyr of Christ

Sts. Theopemtos and Theonas (Feast Day - January 5)

Theonas was a magician who lived during the reign of Emperor Diocletian (284-305). When Diocletian initiated his Great Persecution against the Christians, the first to be martyred was a Bishop named Theopemptos. Theopemptos was arrested and brought before Diocletian, and confessed before him his faith in Christ. He underwent several tortures, such as being thrown in flames, suffering from hunger and thirst, and having one of his eyes removed, but after emerging from these unharmed and miraculously restored, it was believed by Diocletian that he did so by means of magic. For this reason Diocletian sought for a magician who could overcome the magic of Theopemptos, by dispatching letters throughout the Roman Empire for a sorcerer to come to Nicomedia and overcome Christian sorcery, and in return he would receive costs gifts and high honor.

This is when Theonas answered the emperor's call to challenge the Christian Bishop. Theonas assured the emperor that he could revoke any Christian spell or charm, causing the emperor malignant joy at the prospect. First, Diocletian put Theonas to the test, to assure he was not merely a braggart. Theonas therefore asked for a wild bull, and claimed that he could slay it by his word. When a wild bull was brought, the magician Theonas went to it and whispered in its ear. The bull immediately died, and all those present, including the emperor, were impressed. Thus Theopemptos was brought from prison to be humiliated.

Theopemptos was brought forward, and Theonas announced that he would prepare two trials, and said that he would embrace the faith of the Bishop if he remained unharmed after both, so confident was he in his powers. Theonas therefore prepared two poisonous pastries, over which he pronounced some incantation. They were then offered to the Bishop. When he made the sign of the Cross, Theopemptos put the deadly cake to his mouth, and it became sweet as honey. This surprised Theonas, but he collected himself and prepared for the second trial. This time he concocted a deadly drink for the Bishop and pronounced an incantation. Again Theopemptos made the sign of the Cross over the deadly mixture and swallowed it. All expected the Bishop to collapse and die. When no such effect took place, it was Theonas who fell to his knees at the Bishop's feet, exclaiming: "Christ is the true God!" Theonas then said to Diocletian: "The gods are impotent. I confess the crucified Jesus as God." This disgusted Diocletian, and sent both Theopemptos and Theonas to prison.

While in prison Bishop Theopemptos catechized Theonas, then baptized him and renamed him Synesios, which bespoke one filled with understanding. After this, the Bishop was brought forward for further torments and was eventually beheaded, remaining steadfast till the end for his faith in Christ. Then Theonas, now named Synesios, was brought forward, and after being threatened by Diocletian and then flattered and offered gifts in order to return to his former way of life, he spurned all earthly things and confessed Christ. It was then ordered that Theonas be cast into a deep pit and buried alive. By this means he was covered by the earth and suffocated, thereby gaining the heavenly crown of a martyr.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Arrayed in the robes of the Priesthood, thou dost put the enemy to flight by thy contest, O inspired Hierarch Theopemptos. Wherefore thou didst bring glorious Theonas to the knowledge of the Truth when he turned to the Lord. Pray together with him for those who honour thy contest.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
As priest of the Mysteries and God-like minister of grace, thou didst guide Theonas in martyrdom and bring him to the Faith, O Theopemptos. Together with him thou didst cry out in the stadium: Christ is the strength of the Martyrs.

Shining with the radiance of your contest, blessed Theopemptos, you illumined the divine Theonas towards life, through the power of a miracle, and having contested together, remember us.