07 August 2016

Remembering two Persian saints: Ražden the Protomartyr and Dometius the Martyr

Two Iranian saints are commemorated this week - one of them martyred by his own people, and the other martyred by the heretical emperor Julian the Apostate of Rome.

The first of them, Saint Ražden the Protomartyr of Georgia, displays all of the martial virtues in the tale of his martyrdom, and in addition he displays an archetypically-Iranian faithfulness to his given word even unto certain death, which he shares with Saint Eustace of Mtskheta who came after him. The following is the excerpt for the feast-day of Ražden the Protomartyr, from Fr Zakaria Machitadze’s Lives of the Georgian Saints:
Saint Ražden the Protomartyr was descended from a noble Persian family. When Holy King Vakhtang Gorgasali married the daughter of the Persian king Hormuzd III Balundoxt, the queen took Ražden with her to Georgia. In Kartli Ražden converted to the Christian Faith, and King Vakhtang presented him with an estate and appointed him as a military adviser and commander.

At that time Georgia was under heavy political pressure from Persia. Enraged at King Vakhtang’s clearly Christian convictions, the Persian king Peroz (457-484) attacked Georgia with an enormous army. His accomplishments in this battle earned Ražden his distinction as a brave and virtuous warrior.

Before long the furious King Peroz ordered that ‘a certain Persian aristocrat who had converted to Christianity and survived the battle’ be taken captive. The Persians surrounded Ražden, bound his hands and feet, and delivered him to their king. Peroz received him with feigned tenderness, saying, ‘Greetings, my virtuous Ražden! Peace be to you! Where have you been all this time, and for what reason have you turned from the faith of your fathers to confess a creed in which your fathers did not instruct you?’

Ražden fearlessly asserted that Christianity is the only true faith and that Christ is the only true Saviour of mankind. King Peroz tried to conceal his anger and cunningly lure Ražden to his side, but his attempt was in vain. Convinced that his efforts were futile, Peroz finally ordered that the saint be beaten without mercy. The expert executioners trampled Saint Ražden, battered him, knocked out his teeth, dragged him across jagged cliffs, then chained him in heavy irons and cast him into prison.

When the news of Ražden’s suffering and captivity spread to Mtskheta, the Georgian nobility came to Peroz and requested that he free the holy man. Peroz consented to their request, but made Ražden vow to return.

Ražden arrived in Mtskheta, bade farewell to his family and the beloved king Vakhtang Gorgasali and, despite his loved ones’ admonitions to the contrary, returned to Peroz. The Persian king tried again to return Ražden to the religion of the fire-worshippers. But seeing that he would not be broken, Peroz instead ordered his exile to a military camp at Tsromi in central Georgia. He then secretly ordered the chief of the Persian camp to turn him away from Christianity and to execute him if he refused. ‘Your flattery and bribes are insulting to me. With joy I am prepared to endure every suffering for the sake of Christ!’ Ražden replied to his appeals.

‘If he hopes in the Crucified One, then he also is fit to suffer crucifixion!’ Such was the Persians’ verdict. They erected a cross, crucified Christ’s humble servant, and prepared to shoot at the pious man with bow and arrow.

‘Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commit my spirit!’ were the last words of Saint Ražden.

That night a group of Christians stole the Persians’ cross, took the holy martyr’s body down from it, and buried his holy relics in secret.

A few years later Vakhtang Gorgasali translated Saint Ražden’s relics from Tsromi to Nikozi (in central Georgia) and interred them in a cathedral that he had built there not long before. Holy King Vakhtang later erected churches in honour of Georgia’s first martyr in Ujarma and Samgori in eastern Georgia.

O radiant star and Greatmartyr Ražden,
Thou who didst turn from godlessness to walk in the way of the righteous,
Suffer trials for Christ, and stand out among the saints,
We believers glorify thee with divine praise.
Through thine intercessions deliver us from every temptation!
And this very day we commemorate also the holy martyr Dometius.

Dometius was a monk and hermit who was converted by a Christian of his own nation named Uaros, and who took the tonsure at the see of Nisibis, where he withdrew into silence. Fleeing several jealous monks at Nisibis, he found his way to Theodosioupolis (present-day Erzurum) and entered the monastery of Saints Sergius and Bacchus. The head of this monastery, Archimandrite Urbelos, was a strict ascetic of whom it was said he had not tasted cooked food for sixty years, nor did he lie down to sleep, but instead rested upon his staff.

Urbelos, impressed with the piety of the young monk, ordained him a deacon, which he accepted. The abbot further wanted to make him a priest; but when Blessed Dometius heard of this, believing himself to be unworthy, he fled the monastery and took refuge in a cave on a distant mountainside, where he lived an eremitical life devoted to fasting and prayer. He attained such a high degree of spiritual perfection in humility that the men of the surrounding countryside would bring him their sick, and he would heal them by his prayers. Many converts came to Christ on account of Saint Dometius’s works and humble life.

When Julian the Apostate made his last march against the Sasanid Empire in 363, he heard about the wonders wrought by Dometius, and came upon the cave where Dometius and his disciples lived. While Dometius and his two disciple-monks were praying the Sixth Hour, Julian the Apostate had his men wall them up alive inside the cave. Julian the Apostate would march to his doom against the Persian emperor Ardashir the Beneficent, but the men he had killed were delivered at once into the hands of their Saviour.
Despising corruption and degrading philosophies,
O venerable martyr Dometius,
You became a great guide of monks.
You did not fear the wrath of the king,
Who did not wish to honor Christ the true God.
Therefore in death You did raise the hymn:
God is with me, and no one will be against me.

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