Saturday, June 18, 2016
By the order of the emperor Vespasian, the Roman senator Adrian was declared governor of Phonecia. Adrian was given the charge of discovering and punishing the rapidly growing contingent of Christians in the area. Further, Adrian knew the ways of death and punishment that Rome taught to be used on those who resisted the imperial way. Knowing that Tripoli was the cornerstone of any potential control of Phonecia, he gathered intelligence on the Christians of Tripoli while he journeyed there from Rome. What he learned was that there was one Christian in particular who was practicing and encouraging the practice of hospitality in Christian homes throughout the city and the larger region. This kind of radical hospitality revealed a void at the base of the imperial values of self-obsession and angered an empire that had no time for the naive love of the Christians.Especially maddening was Leontius' occupation: Roman soldier and military chief. So, Adrian sent one of his prized tribunes, Hypatius, along with a contingent of soldiers ahead of him to arrest and hold Leontius so that when Adrian arrived, he could try and execute a leader among the Christians as an example to the others on his first day in Phonecia. Adrian wanted to set a precedent for Rome's way of death and punishment.
Hypatius knew his orders very well and so he led his group of soldiers--including his dear friend Theodulus--in executing the governor's will in Tripoli. But, as they approached Tripoli, Hypatius became very ill. The soldiers stopped and set up camp to care for their dying leader. Voices were hushed as Hypatius languished alone in his tent and drew nearer and nearer to death by the second. Though the empire claimed to control death, they could do nothing to protect themselves from its power when disease and tragedy crept through their camps and homes. As Hypatius drifted between fitful sleep and awakened agony he had a vision of an angel standing before him. The angel said to Hypatius: "If you wish to be healed, you and your soldiers should say three times: 'God of Leontius, help me.'" Hypatius refused to do so but told his dear friend Theodulus what he had seen. The soldiers were eager to save the life of their commander and so they prayed what the angel had taught and Hypatius was miraculously healed. The soldiers were astounded and Theodulus himself was converted to the faith of Leontius in the wake of such a miracle. Hypatius was left with questions but he still had his duties and so he and his soldiers continued on to Tripoli. When they arrived, they were hungry and tired and a hospitable person took them in for the night. Unbeknownst to the soldiers, their host was Leontius and, though they were unaware of the identity of their host, Leontius knew who they were and why they had come.
In the morning he revealed his identity to the men and they were awestruck that he knew they had come to arrest him so that he might be executed for his faith. His audacious hospitality purchased their attention and they listened to him explain the Christian faith and the way of love and redemption. Theodulus had already converted and so he not only professed his faith in front of his friends and peers but, also, preached the same gospel to them that Leontius confessed. Hypatius soon became a Christian, as well, and the three men prepared for the arrival of Adrian.They knew that Adrian's arrival likely meant their deaths and so they prayed one with another and tried to ready their minds and hearts for the challenge of their martyrdom.The converts among them were baptized shortly before Adrian arrived and sent yet more soldiers to arrest them when he found out what had happened to his tribune and soldiers. Leontius was forced to watch as both Hypatius and Theodulus first refused to renounce their new found faith and then were beaten and executed. He was returned to his cell and left to think about the brutality he had witnessed but when Adrian brought him out again Leontius was still unwilling to renounce his faith. So Adrian had Leontius hung upside down by his feet and a heavy weight tied around his neck. This did not kill him at first but it slowly stretched him to death. While he suffered, he was beaten on the chest, stomach, and back with wooden rods. Eventually, they beat him to death and tossed his body outside of the city along with the bodies of Hypatius and Theodulus. The local Christians who had learned hospitality from Leontius sneaked out to the bodies that night and buried them with a Christian funeral.
Posted by Joshua Hearne at 7:00 AM