Thursday, April 14, 2011

April 14 - Anthony, John, and Eustathius, Martyrs, Teachers, Prisoners

Prince Olgerd had not expected his prison to become an impromptu school for Christians but he couldn't say that he had nothing to do with it, either. He had been a Christian when his wife, the princess, had been alive but he returned to his non-Christian ways after her untimely death. As the prince he wielded much power and as his wrath turned upon the Christians it became increasingly difficult for Anthony and his two brothers--John and Eustathius--to stay out of trouble. Though they had once been friends of the prince, they were now outlaws and unwelcome in their former circles. When they refused to be quiet about their faith they were arrested and held in prison for over a year. Eventually, the prison became a place of pilgrimage for Lithuanian Christians and the hallways were full of students who listened to the brothers as they preached their faith. This infuriated Olgerd but he couldn't get away with such massive slaughter so he determined that he would make clear to the Christians and the non-Christians who were finding their way to faith the consequences of that faith. After giving Anthony one more chance to deny his faith Olgerd had Anthony hung from an oak tree that was sacred to the pagans. He hung him as an example of what happened to those who opposed Olgerd's power and will. Regrettably, he was only the first. Olgerd's efforts to intimidate the people failed even though Anthony died because those who had listened to him at the prison now gathered in a service of worship around the tree.

John's story is similar as he was arrested at the same time and ended up hanging from the same oak tree because of his faith. But the middle was a drastically different story of reconciliation. After nearly a year in prison, John became frightened by the increasing threats of torture and death. When he was given a chance to deny his faith and escape his fate he took the chance and was set free. Brothers Anthony and Eustathius were saddened by John's apostasy but they continued in their work of preaching and teaching without him. John only fully realized what he had done when he was free. He found that his freedom was more like being adrift and alone. After some time he went to his priest and asked how he might be reconciled to the Church. His priest suggested that he needed the forgiveness of his brothers and so his priest asked on his behalf what he might to be reconciled with Anthony and Eustathius. He was told that he must willingly confess his faith before Olgerd. John found Olgerd at a public bath and confessed his faith to him in private but found this to be insufficient because Olgerd was willing to allow him to be Christian as long as he never talked about it. So he did the ridiculous and faithful thing: he loudly proclaimed his faith to all of the prince's attendants and guards. He was beaten and taken to prison. He was the second to die on the tree and the second to occasion a worship service at the tree because of his martyrdom. The crowds remained unafraid of Olgerd and Olgerd's power.

Eustathius was the only one left in the prison cell but he continued his brothers' work of preaching and teaching. He had been the dear friend of Olgerd and so Olgerd had chosen to kill both of his brothers first so as to try to "save his life." He was unaware that Eustathius was ready to join his brothers in their martyrdom. Finally, Olgerd decided that he must do everything within his power to assert his dominance and convince one of the brothers to renounce their faith before the students and crowds so that he might regain the power he had lost and been unable to regain through death and sin. He had Olgerd slowly tortured in public view of the crowds. Olgerd's soldiers stripped him of his clothing and beat him severely with iron rods hoping that he would lose his faith or, at least, the crowds would lose their courage in the face of such brutality. When this proved unsuccessful and Eustathius refused even to cry out in pain the soldiers broke both of his ankles and forced him to walk some distance. They tore out his hair and through it all he continued to smile and offer his forgiveness. He even took the time to preach a little until he was no longer physically able. Finally, he was hung from the same tree as his brothers. After this third martyrdom the tree became better known as a Christian place of pilgrimage instead of a pagan place. Olgerd's efforts were ultimately fruitless as the Christian community only continued to grow in the near future.

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