Saturday, July 5, 2014

July 5 - Zoe and Nicostratus of Rome, Martyrs, Complicit in Conversion, Guilty by Association


Guilt by association is a peculiar thing because it criminalizes not an action but a state of being. In the days that Diocletian persecuted and pursued the Church at every opportunity and every turn, Zoe of Rome was guilty by association in the eyes of the empire and Diocletian. Her husband was a man by the name of Nicostratus who was a jailer and officer within Dicoletian's empire. Zoe, however, was mute and could not speak no matter how hard she tried and no matter how much she desperately wanted to do so. Then, one day, Zoe and Nicostratus heard that Sebastian was preaching nearby and that he had been known to heal and cure the people whom he touched and for whom he prayed. So, they went seeking life and the one who seemed to carry it with him in his words and actions.When they found Sebastian Zoe knelt before him and indicated her muteness with signals and the help of Nicostratus. Sebastian looked upon her for only a moment before making the sign of the cross over her and offering a short prayer to God on her behalf. She was healed and both she and Nicostratus became convinced of the truth behind Sebastian's preaching. After all, the wonders Sebastian worked made it apparent that he spoke holy words of life in opposition to an empire bent on destruction and the threat of death. By taking the Faith of Sebastian as their own faith they both became guilty by association since the empire already despised Sebastian's words and works.

Zoe and Nicostratus were soon baptized and asked Sebastian and the other Christian leaders what they should do with their new found faith. They sensed that their faith made demands of them--in fact, they wanted it to do so--but could not readily identify what it was that they should do. Since Nicostratus was a jailer and there were many Christians in prison, Sebastian insisted that he had an obligation to share his faith with them. Nicostratus sent his clerk to the prison to fetch the prisoners and bring them to the home he shared with Zoe and where they were resting currently. The prisoners arrived and listened to the preaching of Sebastian. The unbaptized Christians among them were soon baptized at the hands of the priest Polycarp. Among those who were not Christian there were numerous converts. But this audacious act of evangelism and love did not go unnoticed even though the prisoners soon returned to the prison in which Nicostratus served. The powers of the empire soon found out what Nicostratus had done and with whom he and Zoe were associating. So, they decided to arrest them and apply the pressure of their own faith to them.

They found and arrested Nicostratus with ease because he was an official within the empire. All they had to do was wait for him to show up to the prison and place him in chains to await his trial. Zoe, however, was much harder to track down. It wasn't that she was avoiding the people she must have known would soon come to arrest her but she was not as easily known as her husband. Zoe was arrested at the grave of Peter. She had gone there to connect with the man who had been called by Jesus to feed and care for the sheep of God. She must have wanted to connect to a tradition older than herself and a man much beloved and admired by the Church of which she was now a part. When they found Zoe praying at that sacred site they knew it was her and so they took her from the grave of Peter to her own grave with a short detour for a sham of a trial. At the trial, they both bravely confessed their faith even when promised forgiveness in return for their apostasy and threatened death if they refused. Though Nicostratus was only beheaded because of his former service to the empire, Zoe was hung by her hair from a tree branch and slowly roasted over a fire. Both died with forgiveness and mercy on their lips and both bodies were thrown into the river so that the empire could try to forget about yet another couple who had chased after life even if it meant walking through imperial death.

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