The Great-Martyr Saint Eustathios Placidas and his family

 

 

At the  time of the reign of Emperor Trajan, there lived in Rome a general named Placidas who was of noble birth, renowned, and possessed of great wealth.  He was so courageous and valiant in battle, his very name was feared by every foe. At the time when the Roman Emperor Titus conquered the land of Judea, Placidas distinguished himself as the most eminent of the Roman officers, and he was very brave in combat.

 

By faith Placidas was an idolater,  but he was like a Christian in his manner of life: he fed the hungry, clothed the naked, helped those who had fallen into misfortune, and freed many who were fettered or imprisoned. He rejoiced more when he had occasion to do good to someone or to extend a helping hand to someone in distress than when he triumphed over his adversaries. He was like another Cornelius, of whom mention is made in the Acts of the Apostles.He was lacking only in the holy faith which is in our Lord Jesus Christ, without which every good work is dead.  Saint Theopiste, his wife, had bore him two sons, who were like him in every way.  Placidas and his wife were kind and merciful to everyone.   They only lacked the knowledge of the one true God, Whom they honored unknowingly by their good deeds.  God, however, Who loves mankind and desires that all be saved and Who looks upon those who do good, did not overlook this virtuous man and did not allow him to perish in the darkness of idolatry.   So in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him, the Lord was pleased to accept Placidas and to reveal to him the path to  life and salvation.

At on time when Placidas was hunting with his servants,  he came upon a herd of deer.  Having pointed them out to the horsemen accompanying him, he chased after them.   He went aftert he largest deer in the group when the deer became separated from the herd. The servants followed Placidas, but their horses became exhausted, and they were left behind.  Placidas, whose horse was the fastest, ran after the deer far into the wilderness. After he chased the deer for a long time, it climbed on top of a big rock and stood there.  Placidas went close to look at it, thinking how he was going to take the deer. But the compassionate God, Who in various ways effects a man’s salvation and by means which He alone knows sets him upon the true path, ensnared the hunter.  He manifested Himself, not through the agency of another as He did to Cornelius through Peter, but directly, as He did to Paul. Placidas remained for a long time staring at the deer, and the Lord  Jesus appeared to him in a vision. A most brilliant cross appeared between the deer’s antlers, and as Placidas gazed upon it, he beheld the likeness of Jesus Christ, Who was crucified for us. He was astonished by this strange vision, and he heard a voice saying to him, “Why do you pursue Me, 0 Placidas?”

 

When he heard this divine voice, Placidas was stricken with fear, and he fell from his horse to the ground and lay as though he were dead. When he came to himself somewhat, he said, “Who art Thou, 0 Lord, that speakest to me?”

 

The Lord told him, “I am Jesus Christ, Who being God, clothed Myself in flesh for the salvation of man, underwent suffering willingly, and bore crucifixion. Even though you do not know Me, you honor Me by your good works, and your many alms are like a fragrant sacrifice coming up before Me, and I wish to save you. Therefore, I have appeared to you from above this beast, that I might bring you to know Me and unite you to My faithful servants. I do not desire that a man who works deeds of righteousness should perish in the snares of the foe.”

Placidas got up from the ground, but he did not see anyone. He cried out, “Now, 0 Lord, do I believe that Thou art the God of heaven and earth and the Maker of all creation. Thee alone do I worship, and henceforth I desire to know no God other than Thee. Wherefore, I pray Thee, 0 Lord, show me what I am to do.”

Again he heard the same voice, saying, “Go to a Christian priest and be baptized, and he shall indicate to you the path to salvation.”

 

As soon as Placidas heard these things, he was filled with  great joy and compunction.  He fell to the ground with  tears and worshipped the Lord Who had appeared to him. He was sad that until now he had not known the truth and did not know the true God, but he rejoiced in spirit that he had been deemed worthy of grace and had been brought to the knowledge of the truth and set upon the path of righteousness.  He then mounted his horse and  returned to his servants.  His spirit joyful, but he did not tell anyone what had happened.

 

Placidas  then returned home and told his wife all that he had seen and heard.  She told him, “Last night, I heard someone say to me, ’In the morning you, your husband, and your sons will come to know Me, Jesus Christ, the true God, Who bestows salvation upon those who love Me.’ Therefore, let us not wait but rather hasten to do that which we have been commanded.”

 

Placidas  then ordered his servants to find the house  where the Christian priest lived.  When they found the priest, Placidas took his wife and children and several of his servants and went to the priest, whose name was John.  Saint Placidas told  him everything about the Lord appearing to him, and he asked to be baptized. When Father John heard these things, he glorified God, Who calls from among the nations those who are pleasing to Him.  He taught Saint Placidas and his family and servants about the Holy Orthodox Faith and told them of all God’s commandments.  As soon as he thought they were taught sufficiently he prayed and baptized them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Placidas received the name Eustathius in Holy Baptism, and his wife the name Theopiste, and their sons  were given the names Agapius and Theopistus.   Father John communed them of the divine Mysteries and dismissed them in peace and told them, “May God be with you, and may He enlighten you with divine knowledge. He has summoned you to the inheritance of life eternal; therefore, when you are deemed worthy to behold Him, remember me, your spiritual father.”

Having been born again through holy Baptism and filled with unutterable joy, they went back to their home. The grace of God illumined their souls and filled their hearts with such sweetness, they felt like they were not on earth but in heaven.

 

The next day,  Eustathius got on his horse, and having taken a few of his servants, he made as though he were setting out on a hunt. He went to the place where he had seen the Lord, that he might give thanks there to Him for His great blessings.  When he arrived at that same place, he told his servants,  “Go and search for some game.” He then got down from his horse, fell upon his face on the ground, and prayed, weeping and thanking God for His unutterable mercy, in that He chose to enlighten him and his family with the light of faith. He committed himself to his Lord and cast himself upon His good and perfect will, trusting that according to God’s goodness, in a way known only to Him and pleasing to Him, He would dispose all things in a profitable manner.   It was then revealed to Placidas what misfortunes and sorrows would happen to him, for he heard the Lord say to him, “Eustathius, it behooves you to make manifest your faith and undoubting hope and the fervor of your love for Me. These things are proven not in circumstances of fleeting wealth and vain prosperity but in poverty and tribulation. Therefore, many sorrows shall befall you, and you shall be tested by misfortunes like another Job, that, having been tried like gold in a crucible, you might prove worthy of Me and receive a crown from My hand.”

Then Saint Eustathius said, “0 Lord, I stand before Thee; do Thou with me as Thou willest. I am prepared to accept all things thankfully from Thy hand, for good and gracious art Thou. As a Father, Thou dost temper punishment with mercy. Wherefore, shall I not accept chastisement at Thy merciful and fatherly hands? Yea, as a bondsman am I ready to bear and to suffer all that is laid upon me; only let Thine almighty help be with me.”

The Lord then said, “Do you wish to undergo suffering now or in the final days of your life?”

Eustathius replied, “Lord, if it be not possible that temptation should pass me by, then let me bear these misfortunes now. Only send Thine aid, that evil might not overcome me and separate me from Thy love.”

The Lord said, “Take courage, Eustathius; My grace shall be with you and shall preserve you. When you are plunged into the abyss of humiliation, I will raise you up and will glorify you before My angels in heaven. Likewise will I exalt you before men, and after you have borne many sorrows, I will comfort you once more and return to you your former rank. However, do not rejoice in fleeting honors but only in that your name is written in the Book of life.”

Receiving from Him this divine revelation and being filled with spiritual joy and the grace from the Lord, he returned to his home, aflame with divine love. He did not hide these things from Saint Theopiste, but told her all that God had disclosed in the revelation: how many misfortunes and sorrows would befall them, which they must endure manfully for the Lord’s sake, and how, if they would suffer all these things patiently, the Lord would grant them Eternal Life.

Then his noble wife said, “May the Lord’s will guide us! Only let us fervently pray that in His compassion He grant us patience.” And so they began to live honorably in piety, patiently abiding in fasting and prayer, giving alms more abundantly than before to the poor, and exercising themselves in every virtue more zealously than they had in their previously.

 

A few days later, by God’s allowance, sickness and death came to Eustathius’ home, and all his household, men and beasts alike, were stricken with illness. Within a short time, almost all his servants, men and women, and even his animals, died. Thieves stole his possessions by night, for even though a few of the servants remained alive, they were confined to their beds by sickness, and there was no one to keep watch over his valuables. In a short time Saint Placidas and his family became quite poor, but he was not troubled nor was he sorrowful. Eustathius did not fall into the sin of despair as all these things came to pass, but he gave thanks to God like another Job, saying, The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away. As the Lord hath willed, so let it be; blessed be the name of the Lord unto the ages.

Saint Eustathius comforted his wife so that she would not be saddened by what happened to them, and she also consoled him.  Together they bore these things patiently, trusting in the will of our Lord, and were consoled by hope in God’s mercy.  Seeing himself reduced to poverty, Eustathius determined to hide himself in a far-off country from all his acquaintances and to conceal his high rank and nobility amid commoners, living humbly and in poverty so that, far from every hindrance and all tumult, he might labor for Christ our Lord, Who impoverished and humbled Himself for the sake of our salvation. He and his wife decided to leave by night.   They left behind their few remaining servants, all of whom were ill.   They took their two sons, and removing their costly apparel, they clothed themselves in rags.  Having taken a small portion of their possessions they could carry, they left their home forsaking all for God’s sake:  glory, honor, and wealth.   Even though Eustathius lost everything, he could easily have acquired them again, for he was a great noble and a man of high rank, beloved of the Emperor and respected by all; but he counted all the passing things of this world as dung in order that he might have God alone as his Helper. They wandered through distant and unfamiliar lands, concealing their identity, living among the lowliest peasants.   After having abandoned the beautiful chambers of his home, this emulator of Christ wandered about, having no place to lay his head.   Soon there after it became known to the Emperor and to all the nobles that their beloved General Placidas was nowhere to be found.   They wondered what had become of him: had he been murdered by some enemy, or did he die?   So they questioned themselves concerning him and were greatly saddened. They searched for him, but they could not penetrate the mysteries of God which were wrought in Eustathius. For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counsellor?

 

At that time, as Eustathius lived in this manner, his wife said to him, “Shall we remain in this place for a long time, my lord? Let us go away into a country even further away so that we will not be recognized by anyone and become a reproach to them that know us.”

 

So they left together with their children, and went to Egypt.   After travelling for a few days, they came to the sea and found a boat there, which was ready to sail to Egypt. They boarded it and departed. The master of the ship was a very violent barbarian.   When he saw that Eustathius’ wife was very beautiful, he lusted for her, and he pondered evil in his heart, thinking that he would take her from her husband. When they arrived at the place where Eustathius was to get off the boat and continue along his way, the ship’s captain demanded Eustathius’ wife in place of the fare.   Eustathius refused and would not agree to give her up.   He was unable to thwart the captain, for that violent and inhuman barbarian drew his sword and attempted to kill Eustathius and cast him into the sea.  There was no one to help Eustathius, who fell at the feet of that wicked man, weeping and pleading with him that he not separate him from his beloved wife.  But that evil captain would not listen to him.   Finally the captain said, “Either depart from here in silence if you wish to live, or you shall straightway perish by this sword, and the sea will be your tomb!”

So Eustathius, together with his two sons, left the ship lamenting.  The captain cast the boat off from the shore and set sail. How grievous was the separation of that God-pleasing man from his chaste and honorable wife! They gazed upon each other as they were parted: Eustathius and his children wept as they stood upon the shore, and his wife wailed in the ship as it sailed away, separating her from her husband and taking her to a land she did not know.   Eustathius stood by the shore gazing at the boat until it could no longer be seen.  Then, he left weeping along with his young sons. The husband wept for his wife, and the children wept for their mother.   Saint Theopiste could only console herself by reflecting on how this misfortune had visited them at the hand of the Lord, contrary to Whose will nothing can come to pass, and how she had been called to the holy faith, that by patience she might attain the heavenly homeland.

But Eustathius’ misfortunes had not yet come to an end, for sorrows were to befall him yet greater than those which had already come to pass. He had not yet recovered from the tribulations which had occurred when other trials beset him.  For after he was parted from his wife, his children were also taken from him.

 

As they were walking there was a deep and swiftly flowing river.   There was no bridge. so they could cross over to the other side.   And since Eustathius had to cross the river, it was not possible for him to carry both of his children at the same time to the other shore.   So he left one child on the bank and put the other upon his shoulder, taking him across the river.   When he reached the other side, he set him down and returned to bring the other child across the river. When he was in the middle of the river, one of the children cried out, and when Eustathius looked up, he saw a lion approach and snatch the child and then run off into the wilderness.   Eustathius stood there looking on and lamenting pitifully until the lion had run so far with the child he had seized that he could no longer be seen. Then he turned around and started toward the other child.  But  before he had stopped weeping for one son, he was compelled to lament for the other. As he was returning toward the other child, a wolf suddenly appeared and took that child and carried him off into the woods. Overtaken from every side by misfortunes, Eustathius stood in the river, drowning, as it were in his tears.   Who can tell of his heart’s sufferings, of his lamentations and much weeping? He was deprived of his holy and chaste wife, who shared his faith and comforted him in his woes, and he was deprived of his children, from whom he derived consolation in his sorrows.   Truly, it was a wonder that he remained alive and did not slip beneath the waters.   The good Lord had strengthened him in patience, for only He Who permitted such temptations to come upon him could bestow such fortitude.

Coming up from the river, Eustathius stayed there by the bank weeping for a long time, and then he went on his way sorrowing, having as his only consolation God, in Whom he believed and for Whose sake he bore all these things. He did not murmur against God nor did he say, “Hast Thou called me to know Thee, 0 Lord, that I might be deprived of my wife and children? Of what profit to me is faith, if I am become the most wretched of all men? Is Thy love for Thy faithful such that they must perish, sundered from one another?” That righteous and patient man said nothing of the sort: he only bowed his head and in humility fell down before God, thanking Him for these visitations and thanking Him that it pleased Him that His servants should not enjoy worldly prosperity and vain diversions. Eustathius thanked Him, too, that they should abide in sorrows and misfortunes in order that He might console them with eternal joy in the age to come. God, Who works all things to our benefit and Who allows tribulations to befall the righteous man, does not seek to inflict punishment through this means but, rather, tries one’s faith and courage. His desire is not that a man should suffer but that he should display good courage and that he give thanks to God in all things.

As the Lord once kept Jonah unharmed in the belly of the whale, so did He preserve whole both of Eustathius’ children, who had been snatched away in the mouths of the beasts. When the lion crossed over the river upstream, carrying unharmed the child it had taken into the wilderness, shepherds caught sight of it, and crying out, began to chase after it. The lion dropped the child uninjured and fled. Likewise, the wolf, which was carrying the other child, who was still alive, was seen by farmers, who chased after it shouting, and so it left the child to them unharmed. The shepherds and the farmers, who were from the same village, took the children and cared for them. But Eustathius knew nothing of their deliverance and continued along his way, now in patience giving thanks to God, now overcome by nature, weeping and saying, “Woe is me, who once basked in glory but now am abased! Woe is me, who was once the master of a great household but am now homeless! Once I was as a tree having many leaves, which bore much fruit, but now am I but a withered branch. In my home was I surrounded by friends; when in the streets, by my servants; in battle, by my soldiers: but now am I left alone in the wilderness. But forsake me not, 0 Lord! Do not disdain me, Thou Who beholdest all things! Forget me not, 0 All-good One! 0 Lord, forsake me not until the end! I remember, 0 Lord, the words which Thou spakest at the place where Thou didst appear unto me, saying, ’Like Job shalt thou undergo misfortunes’; but lo, I have been subjected to more than Job. For although he was deprived of his possessions and honours, he, nevertheless, sat upon his own dunghill; but I find myself in a strange land and know not where to turn. He had friends to comfort him, but my consolation, my beloved children, have been seized by wild beasts to be consumed in the wilderness. Although Job was deprived of his children, he could obtain from his wife some comfort and care, but my good companion hath fallen into the iniquitous hands of a barbarian, and I, like a reed in the wilderness, am shaken by the storms of my bitter woes. But be not angered with Thy servant, who voiceth the sorrow of his heart, 0 Lord; as a man do I speak. In Thee am I established, 0 Thou Who carest for me and dost guide me. In Thee do I hope, and by Thy love, as though by a cool dew and a breath of wind, do I quench the fire of my sorrows. By the sweetness of my desire for Thee the bitterness of my misfortunes is made sweet!”

This is how Eustathius prayed sighing and weeping.  He  then arrived at a place called Badessos, where he settled and began to labor, hiring himself out to those that lived there, that by the work of his own hands he might feed himself. He toiled at such tasks as were unfamiliar to him and labored at chores which he had never undertaken before. Later, he requested the villagers to permit him to guard their granary, for which they paid him a very small sum. And so he lived in that village for fifteen years in great poverty and humility, laboring much and eating his bread by the sweat of his brow. Who can tell of his virtues and struggles? They may be imagined, should one consider how, while homeless and living in poverty, he exercised himself in nothing but prayer, fasting, weeping, and vigils, with sighings of the heart, lifting up his eyes, hands, and heart unto God and awaiting mercy from His compassion. His children were being reared nearby in another village, but he knew nothing of them, neither did the children know anything of one another, even though they lived in the same village. His wife was preserved by God from the lusts of that barbarian, for in the hour when he took her from her righteous husband, he was stricken with illness; whereupon he returned to his own land and died, leaving his captive untouched and undefiled. Thus did God preserve His faithful handmaiden, so that finding herself among snares, she was not entrapped, but like a bird was delivered from the nets of the hunters. The snare was broken, and she was delivered with the help of the Most High. After the barbarian’s death, that honorable woman was free, and she lived untroubled and in peace, obtaining her food by the labor of her own hands.

During this time some foreign tribes made war against Rome and wrought much havoc, overrunning a number of cities and provinces. The Emperor Trajan was greatly saddened, and he remembered his valiant General Placidas and said, “If Placidas were with us, our enemies would not mock us, for he was frightful to our foes. Our adversaries feared his very name, since he was courageous and fortunate in battle.”

 

The Emperor and all his nobles still wondered as to how Placidas, together with his wife and children, could have disappeared, and they resolved to search throughout the Empire for him. The Emperor said to his suite, “I will bestow great honor and numerous gifts upon the man who finds Placidas.”

And lo, two good soldiers, Antiochus and Acacius, who were once devoted friends of Placidas and had lived in his palace, stepped forth and said, “0 Emperor, supreme in power, give the command that we make a search for that man, without whom the Empire will be lost. Even if we must go to the ends of the earth to find him, we will do so with all haste!”

The Emperor rejoiced at their eagerness, and he immediately dispatched them in search of Placidas. They passed through many lands, cities, and towns, searching for the beloved General; and they asked all whom they met whether they had seen such a man anywhere. Finally, they drew near to the village where Eustathius lived. At that time Eustathius was in the fields, watching over the granary. When he saw the soldiers approaching, he looked carefully at them and recognized them from afar as his friends. He rejoiced and wept out of joy, and he cried out to God, sighing in the depths of his heart. He went and stood alongside the road on the which the soldiers were to pass. When they drew near to Eustathius, they greeted him in the usual manner and asked him the name of the village and who was lord over it. Likewise, they inquired whether there was a certain man living there who was a stranger, whose height was such and his countenance of this sort, whose name was Placidas. Eustathius asked them, “Why do you seek him?”

They answered, “He is our friend, and for a long time we have not seen him, and we do not know where he or his wife and two children are to be found. If someone would apprise us concerning him, we would give him much gold.”

Eustathius said, “I do not know him, neither have I heard of this Placidas. Nevertheless, my lords, I pray you, come to the village and rest in my hut. I see that you and your horses have been wearied by your journey. Therefore, rest in my dwelling place, and later you may inquire concerning him whom you seek.”

The soldiers agreed and went with the saint into the village, but they did not recognize him. Eustathius, however, certainly knew them, and tears began to flow from his eyes. Nevertheless, he restrained himself so that they might not perceive who he was.

Now there lived in that village a certain good man on whose property Eustathius lived. Eustathius took the soldiers to that man, and he asked him to offer them hospitality and to feed them.

“I will recompense you by my labor for whatever you spend on them,” he said, “for they are my friends.”

Out of the goodness of his heart, and because he was moved by Eustathius’ entreaties, and also since he had work to give the saint, he provided abundant hospitality for the strangers. Eustathius served them and brought in the food, and he placed it before them. He remembered how in his previous life those whom he now waited upon served him, and overcome by nature, he wished to weep, but he restrained himself so that he would not be discovered. He left the room, and having wept somewhat and then wiped away his tears, he immediately returned and continued to serve like a slave or the simplest peasant. The soldiers, who had looked frequently at him, gradually came to recognize him, and they said quietly to one another, “This man is like Placidas; perhaps he is actually Placidas himself.”

 

They likewise said, “We remember that Placidas bore a deep scar upon his neck from a wound suffered in battle. If this man has such a scar, then he truly must be Placidas.”

 


When they beheld that scar, they immediately arose from the table and fell at his feet. They wept much out of joy and said, “You are Placidas, whom we seek! You are the favorite of the Emperor, concerning whom he has long been grieved! You are the commander of the Romans, on account of whose absence the whole army has not ceased to lament!”

Eustathius then perceived that the time had come when, as the Lord had promised him, his former rank and estate should be restored; and he said, “Brethren, I am he whom you seek. I am Placidas, together with whom you long campaigned. I am he who was once the glory of Rome, fearful to aliens, and beloved of you. Now am I poor, however, useless, and utterly obscure.”

Eustathius and the soldiers rejoiced greatly and wept for joy. They clothed him in the costly vesture of a general and gave him the Emperor’s letter, and they earnestly entreated him to come without delay to the Emperor, saying, “Lo, our enemies have lifted up their horn, for there is no one of valor like you, who might overcome and scatter our adversaries.”

Hearing these things, the master of that household and all the domestics were amazed and perplexed, and it was noised throughout the village that the presence of a great man had been revealed in that house. And all went forth as if to behold a mighty wonder, and they marvelled, seeing Eustathius arrayed as a general and receiving honor from the soldiers. Antiochus and Acacius told the people of Eustathius’ deeds and bravery and of his glory and noble birth. Hearing that Eustathius was a Roman general, the people were astonished and said, “How is it that this great man labored for us as a hired servant?” And falling down before him, they did reverence to him, saying, “Why, 0 master, did you not tell us of your great estate and rank?”

Likewise, Eustathius’ lord, with whom he had dwelt, fell down before him and entreated him that he be not angry with him for not having held him in high esteem. And all the men of that village were put to shame inasmuch as they had employed such a man as a hired servant. The soldiers seated Eustathius upon a horse, and with all the people of that village escorting them off in great honor, they set forth to return to Rome.

Along the way, Eustathius conversed with the soldiers, and they made inquiry concerning his wife and children. He related to them everything as it had occurred, and they wept upon hearing of his ill fortune. Likewise, they told him how the Emperor had been cast into grief on his account. “Not only the Emperor,” said they, “but the entire court and army were saddened by your disappearance.”

Conversing thus, within a few days they arrived in Rome. The soldiers informed the Emperor that they had found Placidas, and they told Trajan of the circumstances in which they had discovered him. The Emperor, together with all his nobles, received him with honor and joyfully kissed him, asking him how it was that he had left his home. Eustathius related all that had come to pass and the things concerning his wife and children, and all who heard were moved to pity. Then the Emperor restored Eustathius to his former rank and bestowed upon him wealth greater than that which he had previously enjoyed. All Rome rejoiced at Eustathius’ return, and the Emperor entreated him to take up arms against the barbarians, to defend Rome by his valor against their attacks, and to punish them for having subdued a number of cities. Eustathius collected all his forces and saw that they were insufficient for a campaign such as that which he was compelled to undertake, and so he asked the Emperor to send forth a decree throughout his dominions, ordering that suitable youths be impressed in every city and town and that they be dispatched to Rome for military training. And so it came to pass: the Emperor issued the ordinance, and a multitude of young and strong men, fit to be soldiers, were brought to Rome. Among them were Eustathius’ two sons, Agapius and Theopistus, who had already reached manhood and who were fair of countenance, as well as of great stature and strength. When these young men were brought to Rome, the General beheld them and loved them greatly, for nature itself draws a father to his children; therefore, he was overcome by love for them. Eustathius did not know that they were his children, however, even though he loved them as sons. He kept them always in his presence and shared his table with them, and they were pleasing in his sight. Thereafter, Eustathius went forth to do battle, and having engaged the barbarians, by the power of Christ he emerged victorious. Not only did he liberate the cities and lands overrun by them; he conquered the entire country of the barbarians and utterly overwhelmed their forces. Strengthened by his Lord, he displayed much valor and won a victory greater than any of his previous triumphs.

When the war was concluded and Eustathius was returning home in peace, he chanced upon a certain village which was situated on a beautiful spot by a river. It was a pleasant place, conducive to repose. Therefore, Eustathius rested there with his troops for three days, for it was pleasing to God that His faithful servant be reunited with his wife and children and that the flock which had been scattered be gathered together. It was in that village that his wife lived. She had a garden from which she obtained her food with much labor. By God’s providence, Agapius and Theopistus, knowing nothing of their mother, pitched their tent alongside her garden, for inasmuch as they hailed from the same village, they determined to share the same tent and to stay together. They loved one another as brothers, even though they did not know that they were brothers, and although they did not suspect the fraternal bond between them, they shared a fraternal love for each other. Therefore, they took their rest together by the garden of the one who had borne them, not far from their commander’s camp.

At noontime one day, while Eustathius was encamped with his troops in that village, the mother of Agapius and Theopistus was working in her garden, and she heard the two young men talking as they rested nearby in their tent. They were asking each other about their origin, and the elder of the two said, “I remember that my father was a general in Rome, but I do not know why he left Rome with my mother, taking me and my younger brother (for there were two of us). We went to the sea and boarded a ship. We then set sail, and when we reached our destination, my father left the ship with me and my brother, but my mother remained on the ship although I do not know why. I remember only that my father wept much over her, and we wept also and continued to lament as we went along our way. When we came to a river, my father left me on the bank, put my younger brother on his shoulder, and took him to the other side of the river. After he had carried him to the opposite bank, and as he was returning for me, a lion came, snatched me up, and took me into the wilderness. However, shepherds rescued me from him, and thus I came to be reared in the village that you know.”

Then the younger brother arose quickly and embraced him joyfully, and weeping, he said, “Truly you are my brother, for I remember all that you have recounted. I saw with my own eyes how the lion seized you. At the same time, a wolf snatched me away, but farmers delivered me from him.”

And so the brothers recognized one another, and they rejoiced exceedingly, embracing and kissing one another, weeping copiously out of joy. Their mother, hearing their conversation, marvelled and lifted up her eyes to God, sighing and shedding tears. She was convinced that they were truly her children, and her heart, after so many bitter woes, was refreshed. Nevertheless, being a prudent woman, she did not venture without indubitable proof to reveal her identity to them, for she was impoverished and clad in vile raiment while they were eminent and distinguished soldiers. She decided to go to the General and to ask him to be allowed to return to Rome with his troops, that there she might more conveniently disclose who she was to her sons and might also learn of her husband, whether he was alive or not. She went to the General and was brought into his presence, and bowing down before him, she said, “I entreat you, sir, to permit me to accompany your forces into Rome, for I am a Roman and was taken captive by barbarians in this land sixteen years ago. Now am I free, but I wander about a strange country and suffer from great want.”

The compassionate Eustathius immediately granted her request and commanded that she be allowed to return untroubled to her native land. As she stood before the General and gazed upon him, she clearly perceived that he was her husband. In astonishment she remained standing there, as though in a stupor, but Eustathius did not recognize his wife. Thus, she was granted joy upon joy even as once she had known sorrow upon sorrow. Within she cried out unto God with sighing, but she feared to tell her husband that she was his wife, for she saw that he was most majestic and of a dread countenance and that he was surrounded by a multitude of attendants while she was reduced to a state of extreme poverty. She departed from his presence and prayed to God her Master that He would Himself cause her to be recognized by her husband and children. At a convenient time she returned to the General and was ushered into his presence. He looked upon her and said, “What else do you require of me, aged woman?”

She prostrated herself to the ground before him and said, “I entreat you, my lord, be not angry with me, your handmaiden. I wish to inquire of your lordship about a certain matter. Only be patient, my lord, and hear out your handmaid.”

He said to her, “Very well; speak.”

And so she began, saying, “Are you not Placidas, who in Holy Baptism was named Eustathius? Did you not see Christ on the Cross between the deer’s antlers? Did you not depart from Rome with your wife and two children, Agapius and Theopistus, for God’s sake? Was your wife not taken from you by a barbarian while you were on a ship? Christ the Lord Himself, for Whose sake I have suffered many tribulations, is my sure Witness in heaven that I am truly your wife and that I have been preserved by His grace from defilement. That barbarian perished in the same hour in which he took me from you, punished by the wrath of God; therefore, I remained unsullied and until now wander about in want.”

When Eustathius heard her, it was as though he had been awakened from sleep. He straightway recognized his wife, arose, and embraced her, and out of joy they shed abundant tears. Then Eustathius said, “Praise and gratitude do we render unto Christ our Saviour, Who in His mercy has not forsaken us, but even as He promised that He would grant us consolation after we had undergone tribulations, so has He caused it to be.”

And thus they rejoiced and wept much, giving thanks unto God. When Eustathius had ceased weeping, his wife asked him, “And where are our children?”

He sighed from the depths of his heart and said, “They were eaten by beasts.”

His wife replied, “Be no longer sorrowful, my lord, for as God has unexpectedly granted us to encounter one another, so will He enable us to find our children.”

Eustathius said, “Did I not tell you that they were consumed by beasts?”

Theopiste then began to relate to him all that she had heard the day before as she labored in her garden, what she had heard said by the two soldiers as they conversed with each other, and how she had perceived that they were her sons. Eustathius immediately summoned them and asked them, “Who were your parents? Where were you born? Where were you reared?”

Then the elder brother began to tell him of their childhood, saying, “We, sir, were very young when we were separated from our parents, and we remember very little. We do recall, however, that our father was a Roman general, like your lordship, but we do not know what happened to him. We left Rome together by night, but when we took ship across the sea, our mother remained on the ship although we do not know why. Weeping for her, our father came with us to a certain river, across which he decided to carry us one at a time. When he was in the midst of the river, beasts snatched us up; a lion took me, and a wolf seized my brother. However, we were both delivered from being eaten by the beasts–I by shepherds and my brother by farmers, who took us and reared us.”

When Eustathius and his wife heard these thing, they realized that these were their children. They embraced them and wept for a long time, and there was great joy in the soldiers’ camp even as once there had been in Egypt when Joseph was made known to his brethren. Every cohort learned that its General had found his wife and sons. All joined together in rejoicing, and there was a celebration exceeding that which had ensued following the troops’ great victory. Thus did God grant consolation to his faithful servants, for He puts to death and makes alive, makes poor and makes rich, casts down into sorrows and lifts up to joy and jubilation. Then could Eustathius have said with David, Come and hear, and I willdeclare unto you, all ye that fear God, what things He hath done for my soul.I will remember Thee, 0 Thou Who hast shewn mercy unto me. The right hand of the Lord hath wrought strength, the right hand of the Lord hath exalted me.

And so Eustathius returned from battle, rejoicing both over his victory and because he had found his wife and sons. Before he arrived in Rome, the Emperor Trajan died. He was succeeded by Hadrian, who was exceedingly wicked and who hated the good and persecuted the pious. Eustathius entered the city in great pomp, as was the custom with Roman generals, bringing with him many captives and countless valuable spoils. He was received with honor by the Emperor and by all the Romans. They praised his valor yet more than they had before, and he was held in still greater esteem than he had been previously. Nevertheless, God, Who does not wish that His servants be honored and glorified overmuch in this perverted and inconstant world, Who has prepared eternal and immutable honor and glory for them in the heavens, and Who had restored Eustathius to his former exalted estate, transforming his sorrow into joy, ordained that martyrdom be his path to heaven. In but a short while He returned Eustathius to a state of dishonor and sorrow, which he gladly accepted for Christ’s sake. When the impious Hadrian wished to worship and to sacrifice to the demons in gratitude for the victory over his enemies, he went into the temple of the idols, together with his nobles. Only Eustathius did not enter the temple, but remained without. The Emperor asked him, “Why do you not wish to enter the temple with us and worship the gods? You should be the first to render thanksgiving to the gods inasmuch as they not only preserved you whole and hale and have granted you victory over your enemies but have restored your wife and sons to you.”

Eustathius answered, “I am a Christian, and I know Jesus Christ alone to be my God. Him do I honor and thank, and I worship Him, for He has granted me every blessing: health, victory, my wife, and my children. I will not worship the idols, which are deaf, dumb, and powerless.” And so Eustathius returned to his own home.

The Emperor was enraged and considered how he might punish the saint for the disrespect he had shown toward his gods. First, he stripped Eustathius of his rank and commanded that he be brought into his presence as a commoner. Likewise, he had Eustathius’ wife and sons brought before him. He enjoined them to sacrifice to the idols, but since he was unable to separate them from Christ, he sentenced them to be eaten by beasts. Thus Saint Eustathius, the glorious and valorous soldier, together with his family, was sentenced to be put to death in the arena. He was not ashamed to be subjected to such dishonor, neither did he fear death for the sake of Christ, Whom he zealously served, but instead he finished his course eagerly, faithfully, and well, confessing Christ’s holy name openly before all. He exhorted his honorable wife and beloved children not to fear death for the Lord, Who grants life unto all, and they likewise strengthened one another by their words and hope for rewards to come so that they went forth to their deaths as though to a feast. The beasts were loosed upon them, but they did not harm them, for whenever one of the beasts began to approach them, it would immediately turn about and retreat with its head bowed down. Thus the beasts were made calm, but the Emperor became yet more enraged. He ordered that they be led out of the arena and cast into prison. In the morning he commanded that a brass ox be heated and that Saint Eustathius, his wife, and two sons be placed therein. That blazing ox was cooled with dew for the holy martyrs, as once the Chaldean furnace was cooled for the Three Youths. Therein the holy martyrs prayed, and they surrendered their sacred souls into the hands of God, being translated unto the heavenly kingdom.

 

After three had passed, Hadrian went to the ox, wanting to see the ashes of the martyrs, but when he opened the doors, he saw that the saints’ bodies  were whole and unharmed.   Not a hair of their heads had been burnt; they seemed, rather, to be alive and but sleeping, radiant with a most wondrous and supernatural beauty. All the people cried out, “Great is the God of the Christians!” Thus the Emperor returned in humiliation to his palace, and all the people reviled him for his cruelty and for having needlessly put to death a general so indispensable to Rome. The holy relics of the saints were then buried with much  reverence.

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