Saturday, April 5, 2014

April 5 - Agathopodes and Theodulus, Martyrs, Preachers, Unafraid

The year 303 AD brought with it an edict of persecution against Christians within the boundaries of the Roman empire. Diocletian was confident that such an edict would not only restrict but reduce the practice of Christianity within the empire. In many ways, he was correct. Many Christians left their faith behind when confronted with the harsh reality of imperial expectations. Others would not deny their faith but fled from Roman scrutiny at every turn--in effect, they hid their faith away so that it might not cost them their lives. Others, like Agathopodes and Theodulus, were unafraid of what imperial Rome could do but well aware of the cost associated with ceasing to preach the message and story their faith had infused into their lives.Theodulus, who once woke with a ring in his hand from a dream where an angel gave him a sign of his calling, was a young man associated with the Church in Thessalonica. Agathopodes was an elder and respected deacon in the same congregation as Theodulus. While others denied their faith and hid it away, Agathopodes and Theodulus boldly proclaimed the story to all who would listen. Thus, it comes as no surprise that they were eventually arrested, beaten, and dragged before the governor of Thessalonica--Faustinus.

Faustinus had interrogated and tortured Christians before and was familiar with what methods seemed to be most effective. So, first he spoke with Theodulus alone while Agathopodes was held in a cell away from the proceedings. Faustinus tried to flatter Theodulus at first but was surprised to see that Theodulus was unswayed by the governor's words. Typically, a young man would jump at the chance to be highly regarded by those in power--Theodulus was the exception. Then, Faustinus presented Theodulus with a choice: wealth and influence within the embrace of imperial Rome or death at the hands of the same. Theodulus responded without hesitation that he'd much rather die than to make sacrifice to Rome and forfeit his soul for momentary material gain. Faustinus tried to reason with Theodulus by saying, "Theodulus, do not choose death!"

Theodulus responded, "I don't! I choose life in a way that you don't seem to understand. It is you who daily choose death by following after yourself and your sin."

When Faustinus had decided that Theodulus was unlikely to be swayed, he sent him away to another cell and brought Agathopodes in for questioning. He assured Agathopodes that Theodulus had already denied his faith and he encouraged Agathopodes to do the same. Agathopodes shook his head and called Faustinus a liar. Agathopodes knew Theodulus well and knew what that miraculous ring meant about his calling--Theodulus would be a martyr and now Agathopodes knew he would join him in that baptism of blood. Having convinced neither of the two men, he had them beaten once again and jailed. The next day they were forced to listen to a crowd of former Christians who urged them to deny their faith yet they were once again unswayed by Faustinus' methods. Theodulus insisted, "Yes, you have conquered some of the weak but you will never conquer Christ's strong warriors--no matter what tortures you devise." In response, Faustinus determined to test their faith by immediately taking them to the place of execution and raising a blade above their necks. Theodulus cried out, "Glory to you, O God, the Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, who deigned to suffer for us. Here, by His grace, I am coming to You, and with joy I die for You!" Faustinus' bluff failed and the faith of Agathopodes and Theodulus remained steady. They were once again beaten and jailed.

That night they prayed for quite some time before eventually falling asleep and having the same dream. In the dream they were on a ship in a vicious storm that threatened to capsize the vessel and eventually to beat them against the rocks of the nearby island. When they awoke, they conferred and gave thanks for what they expected to be their impending martyrdom. Finally, they were condemned by Faustinus to die for their faith. So, they were cast into the sea and brought by the waves against the jagged rocks of the shore. Shortly before dying, Agathopodes yelled to the assembled crowd, "This is our second baptism, which will wash away our sins. We shall come to Christ in purity." The two men died as martyrs and their bodies were eventually recovered by Christians on the shore and buried.

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