Monday, October 3, 2016
Sergius and Bacchus were brothers--not of blood but of volition. They had formed a strong friendship and relationship while serving with each other within the Roman army ruled over by Maximian. Both were officers and commanders within the army and unknown to most of the soldiers, they were both Christians, as well. Their lives had become entwined as they further devoted themselves to their Lord and Savior. They had been appointed leaders and called to lead within the Roman Empire and yet they had also been called to serve as witnesses and confessors of the Faith that they held and cherished. Their conversion away from the things of old and toward the new creation at work in the Kingdom required certain things of them that they gave willingly. Their greatest test loomed ahead of them as their service and leadership attracted even more attention to them.
Some had observed Sergius and Bacchus and suspected that they might be members of that hated group--the Christians. They had noticed that Sergius and Bacchus never seemed to make sacrifice to the Roman gods and values and this aroused their suspicion. Perhaps realizing that they stood to gain from their supervisor's falling, they turned in Sergius and Bacchus as suspected Christians. This was unacceptable for Maximian who ordered the two men to appear before him. Their hearts must have raced as they walked through the doors knowing what would be asked and what would be expected. Perhaps they feared that the Faith that had carried them this far might be consumed in fear. However, when they were asked to make sacrifice to prove their loyalty they refused. They insisted that they were good soldiers but that they worshiped and served the One, True God. Maximian was outraged and furious. He ordered Sergius and Bacchus to be stripped of the symbols of their rank and importance. Their rings, belts, and pendants were taken from them but they maintained their faith. Seeing that this hadn't had the crippling effect he was hoping for, he had them stripped of their clothing as well. They continued to profess and share the Faith that inspired and guided them. Maximian, in fit of rage, ordered them dressed in women's clothing and paraded through the streets. With chains around their neck, they were dragged in front of the masses to be stripped of their dignity and self-respect. Yet, they were not converted to the cult of the Emperor. Humiliation and denigration were painful but not persuasive. Even the pleas of the Emperor and promises of the return of their power were unproductive.
They were branded traitors and rebels and sent to Syria for their punishment. There, they were handed over to the governor: Antiochus--a man notorious for his brutality to Christians. Antiochus had not forgotten, however, that Sergius and Bacchus had been the ones who had helped him receive his placement as Governor of Syria. He begged them to give up their Faith so that he would not have to kill them but they refused and instead proclaimed the Faith that irritated Antiochus. He promised them power and a return to Imperial influence but they remained unconverted to the Imperial gospel. Enraged by their attempts to preach to him and his failure to convince them, he had Bacchus beaten repeatedly until he died from his injuries. Questioning Bacchus as he laid dying, he asked "Where is your God, now?" Bacchus smiled lovingly and gave up his spirit into the hands of the God that Antiochus couldn't see. Having forced Sergius to watch his dear brother die, he then nailed metal plates to the bottoms of Sergius' feet and forced him to run nine miles to another city. When Sergius arrived--already in great pain--he was beheaded. The story goes that Antiochus and Maximian were outraged that they could inflict such terrible tortures and pains upon these two and only receive their love and forgiveness back. In the face of true conversion and redemption, the Empire could not then--and cannot now--comprehend what was going on. Even still, the love of God is deeper than any hatred or curse.
Posted by Joshua Hearne at 7:00 AM