15 October 2020

Holy Priestmartyr Loukianos of Antioch

Saint Loukianos of Antioch
القدّيس لوكيانوس الشهيد في الكهنة المعلّم الأنطاكي

Today in the Orthodox Church, the fifteenth of October, we celebrate the memory of the priestmartyr Saint Loukianos of Antioch. Saint Loukianos was a priest, a scholar and a brilliant – perhaps even a bit too brilliant – intellect of his age, having interests in the recension of Scripture and in the controversies over the substance of the Son. However, much more important from the Church’s perspective of him was his truly heroic and even prophetic witness to Christ, for which the Roman authorities tortured and killed him. His final proclamation of ‘the unity of God announced to us in Christ Jesus’ more than assures him a place among the hallowed martyrs.

Saint Loukianos [Gk. Λουκιανός, L. Lucian, Ar. Lûkyânûs لوكيانوس] was born in Samosata – that is to say, modern-day Samsat – around the year 240. His parents were Christian, and probably quite well-to-do, given that he was given a thorough education in the liberal arts, rhetoric and philosophy from a young age. When he was twelve, both of his parents passed away and he was left orphaned. Being both charitable and of a serious turn of mind, he left all of his parents’ fortune to the poor, and went to enrol in the School in Edessa in Mesopotamia. His schoolmaster, the confessor Makarios, taught him the Hebrew language and the art of Scriptural exegesis as well as the principles of the ascetic life.

Loukianos left the academy and at once took to intellectual arguments against Jews and pagans in the Levant. He made his way to Antioch where he became famous for his public oratory and skill in philosophical debate. The Christians of Antioch asked that he be ordained a priest. Soon after his ordination Loukianos founded his own school in Antioch where he began teaching pupils by the same precepts as Makarios had taught him. He taught the Scriptures, and also instructed children and youths in both the classical and the theological virtues. Loukianos was known in particular for his scepticism toward the allegorical method of biblical interpretation that characterised the exegetes of Alexandria, in Ægypt. Thus, certain modern theologians have speculated that his school was the basis for the Exegetical School of Antioch to which belonged Diodoros of Tarsos, Theodore of Mopsuestia, John Chrysostom and Gennadios of Constantinople; however, the evidence for this assertion is mostly circumstantial.

It was here that he began his project of embarking on a recension of Scripture. As a student of Hebrew, he wished to produce from the originals a functioning Greek version of the Old Testament that had not suffered the corruptions and additions – many of these often being hæretical in nature and inserted for gain by unscrupulous redactors – that contemporary versions were often riddled with. The recension of Loukianos was hidden in a wall in his school in Antioch, and was not found until many years after his death, during the reign of Emperor Saint Constantine.

Saint Loukianos suffered persecution, along with many other Christians of Antioch, under the reign of Diocletian. He was placed under arrest and marched to Nikomēdeia, where he was thrown into prison for nine years. During his time in prison, he gave counsel and spiritual strength to his fellow-prisoners of conscience, urging them not to fear persecution, tortures, hunger or death, but to remain steadfast to the end. ‘Look at how the pagans fear us that they must lead us before consuls and governors as bound victims,’ he famously told his fellow-prisoners. ‘But let them look in the histories, and they will see the wonders which inevitably follow our deaths at their hand!

It must be remembered that the Romans under Diocletian could be pitiless to confessed Christians or even those suspected of being Christians. Two young boys held at Nikomēdeia, who refused to eat meat that had been sacrificed to pagan idols, were martyred when the guards threw them into a vat of boiling pitch. One of Loukianos’s students, a certain fifteen-year-old Pelagia – in fact, the virgin-martyr who shares a feast-day with Saint Pelagia the Penitent – threw herself from a rooftop to preserve herself from rape at the hands of the Roman soldiery.

Saint Loukianos himself was martyred under the torture by the Roman guards, who deliberately starved him. Hunger, beatings and even more ruthless tortures could not, however, break his spirit. He was chained down to a bed which was made of broken shards of glass. When he wished to offer the Holy Gifts, Christians had to bring him the Eucharistic bread and wine in secret, and placed them upon his chest where he could say the Divine Liturgy, bless them and offer them to his fellow-prisoners.

But it is the confession of Saint Loukianos that has survived and inspired Christians, from Saint John Chrysostom all the way down to the present. During his interrogation, he was asked what manner of man he was. His reply? ‘I am a Christian.’ He was asked his profession. ‘I am a Christian.’ He was asked his name. ‘I am a Christian.’ He was asked his origin. ‘Christian.’ His lineage. ‘Christian.

In the end, when it could be plainly seen that torture would not work on Saint Loukianos, his tormentors ran him through with a sword. In this way he became a victorious martyr for the Christ he confessed. The date of his death has been traditionally fixed at the seventh of January – and this date is still observed in the Latin Church. However, in the Orthodox Church, this date is preserved for the Synaxis of Saint John the Forerunner and for Theophany. The feast of Saint Loukianos was thus moved to the fifteenth of October, which is said to be the date on which the saintly Empress Helena of Constantinople dedicated a church in Antioch over the relics of the holy martyr.

Saint Loukianos is recorded as having been a presbyter – that is, a priest. In the Russian school of iconography, however, he is often portrayed as wearing a bishop’s robes and omophor. This is to reflect his importance to the Church in the days of the early persecutions under pagan Rome. Holy priestmartyr Loukianos, fearless and bold confessor of Christ before the pagans, pray unto Christ our God that our souls may be saved!
Apolytikion of Saint Loukianos of Antioch, Tone 3:

Radiant with the Spirit,
You taught true knowledge of the true faith;
A trainer of martyrs, O Loukianos,
You were glorified in contest.
Intercede with Christ our God that he may grant us great mercy!
Ruins of Nikomēdeia, near İzmit in Turkey

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