Orthodox icon of Saint Sebastian Martyr of Rome.
Commemorated December 18th.
The Holy Martyr Sebastian was a valued soldier having the position of head of the imperial guards. He was a secret Christian, not out of fear, but so that he could provide help to the brethren in a time of persecution. The noble Christian brothers Marcellinus and Mark had been locked up in prison, and at first they firmly confessed the true Faith. But under the influence of the tearful entreaties of their pagan parents (Tranquillinus and Marcia), and also their own wives and children, they began to waver in their intent to suffer for Christ.
So St Sebastian persuaded the brothers to go through with their act of martyrdom. He healed Zoe, the wife of the jailer Nicostratus, had lost her ability to speak six years previousl. Then all who saw the miracle also came to believe in the Savior of the world. Nicostratus removed the chains from Marcellinus and Mark and offered to hide them, but the brothers refused. Then Claudius informed Nicostratus that the Roman eparch Arestius Chromatus wanted to know why the prisoners were gathered at his house.
Nicostratus told Claudius about the healing of his wife, and Claudius brought his own sick sons, Symphorian and Felix to St Sebastian. In the evening the priest Polycarp baptized Tranquillinus with his relatives and friends, and Nicostratus and all his family, Claudius and his sons, and also sixteen condemned prisoners.
The newly-baptized numbered 64 in all. Nicostratus was called to account before the eparch Chromatus and told him how St Sebastian had converted them to Christianity and healed many from sickness. The words of Nicostratus persuaded the eparch. He summoned St Sebastian and the presbyter Polycarp, and was enlightened by them, and became a believer in Christ. Nicostratus and Chromatus, his son Tiburtius and all his household accepted holy Baptism.
The number of the newly-enlightened increased to 1400. Upon becoming a Christian, Chromatus resigned his office of eparch. Tiburtius, the son of Chromatus, desired to accept martyrdom and he remained in Rome with St Sebastian. Of those remaining, St Gaius ordained Tranquillinus as a presbyter, and his sons Marcellinus and Mark were ordained deacons. Nicostratus, his wife Zoe and brother Castorius, and Claudius, his son Symphorian and brother Victorinus also remained in Rome. They gathered for divine services at the court of the emperor together with a secret Christian named Castulus, but soon the time came for them to suffer for the Faith.
The pagans arrested St Zoe first, praying at the grave of the Apostle Peter. At the trial she bravely confessed her faith in Christ. She died, hung by her hair. The priest Tranquillinus was the next to suffer: pagans pelted him with stones at the grave of the holy Apostle Peter, and his body was also thrown into the Tiber. Sts Nicostratus, Castorius, Claudius, Victorinus and Symphorian were seized at the riverbank, when they were searching for the bodies of the martyrs. They were led to the eparch, and the saints refused his command to offer sacrifice to idols. They tied stones to the necks of the martyrs and then drowned them in the sea. The false Christian Torquatus betrayed St Tiburtius.
When the saint refused to sacrifice to the idols, the judge ordered Tiburtius to walk barefoot on red-hot coals, but the Lord preserved him. Tiburtius walked through the burning coals without feeling the heat. The torturers then beheaded St Tiburtius, and his body was buried by unknown Christians. Torquatus also betrayed the holy Deacons Marcellinus and Mark, and St Castulus (March 26). After torture, they threw Castulus into a pit and buried him alive, but Marcellinus and Mark had their feet nailed to the same tree stump.
They stood all night in prayer, and in the morning they were stabbed with spears. St Sebastian was the last one to be tortured. The emperor Diocletian personally interrogated him, and seeing the determination of the holy martyr, he ordered him taken out of the city, tied to a tree and shot with arrows. Irene, the wife of St Castulus, went at night in order to bury St Sebastian, but found him alive and took him to her home.
St Sebastian soon recovered from his wounds. Christians urged him to leave Rome, but he refused. Coming near a pagan temple, the saint saw the emperors approaching and he publicly denounced them for their impiety. Diocletian ordered the holy martyr to be taken to the Circus Maximus to be executed.
They clubbed St Sebastian to death, and cast his body into the sewer. The holy martyr appeared to a pious woman named Lucina in a vision, and told her to take his body and bury it in the catacombs. This she did with the help of her slaves. Today his basilica stands on the site of his tomb.
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