20 November 2020

Holy Martyr Dasios of Durostorum

Saint Dasios of Durostorum

The twentieth of November is the feast-day in the Orthodox Church of the holy martyr Saint Dasios of Durostorum, a young and handsome Roman soldier of the Legio XI Claudiana, stationed on the Danube River, who was martyred in the early fourth century. He was the first of the martyrs to be slain at Durostorum during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian. The centre of his cultus is in Italy, in the city of Ancona whence his relics were moved for protection against the marauding Avars. But he is also reverenced among Orthodox Christians particularly in the Balkans.

Dasios [Gk. Δάσιος, L. Dasius, CS Дазий] was a youthful and vigorous soldier of the Roman legions, who was openly allowed to have been a Christian under prior Roman Imperial administrations. With Diocletian’s ascent to power, however, the Christians among the Roman soldiery were faced with a difficult choice: to keep their positions by denying Christ and swearing fealty to the Emperor as a living god; or else to face ritual humiliation, torture and execution. Pagan festivities were often used as pretexts for detecting and persecuting Christians, and Dasios was no exception to this. Because his features were so fine, he was chosen by lot to be the sacrificial ‘king’ of the festival of Saturnalia. He refused this honour, and told his fellow-officers that: ‘Since I am fated to die, it is better that I die for Christ as a Christian.’

He was apprehended and interrogated by his commanding officer, a man named Bassos, before whom Dasios openly denied the divinity of the Roman Emperor. For this act, as was supposed, of lèse-majesté, Dasios was hauled before the co-emperors Diocletian and Maximian themselves. Again and again he confessed Christ before them, refused to acknowledge them as gods, and moreover openly denounced the impiety and error of the whole of the festival. Many who were there at Durostorum thereafter came to believe in Christ. For this, Saint Dasios was cruelly tortured and given over to be beheaded by the sword. The execution took place on the twentieth day of November – the twenty-fourth day of the lunar cycle – at the fourth hour; his executioner was a man named Aniketos, also called Iōannēs. In this way, the holy martyr of God received the crown of his victory and was welcomed into the company of the saints.

His relics were buried in Durostorum – later Silistra in Bulgaria – by local Christians. They were popularly venerated even shortly after his death, and a Vita was written in the fourth century not long after his martyrdom. When the Turco-Mongolic Avars invaded Thrace in the 500s, however, the relics of Saint Dasios were moved to Ancona in Italy for safer keeping. They were enshrined in the Chiesa di San Ciriaco there, in an exquisite marble sarcophagus, and continued to receive the adulation of faithful Christians at that resting place. In 2002, in a gesture of goodwill toward Orthodox Christians, Pope John Paul II on a visit to Silistra in Bulgaria made a gift of Saint Dasios’s right upper arm to the Metropolia of Dorostol, in a marble sarcophagus which was a careful replica in miniature of the one in Ancona. Holy martyr Dasios, bold confessor of Christ before the pagans, pray unto Christ our God for the salvation of our souls!

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