Comments to: David Woods
Last Updated: April 1999

The Passion of St. Menas of Cotyaeum (BHG 1250)

1. During the reigns of Diocletian and Maximian, the hostile enemies of the king of truth, instructions were sent about the whole world which ordered the performance of unholy religious rites and threatened death as the penalty for those not obeying their instructions, those souls unchanging in their solid faith in Christ. What suffering did not afflict thereafter those who loved the Lord ? The prisons were packed with the crowds who were caught daily. Those places which had once abounded in inhabitants showed themselves deserted, and the deserts were changed into cities by the multitude of refugees. The friends of truth were surrendered to punishment as if they had witnessed the foullest deeds. Their possessions were plundered. The laws of nature were upturned, with father surrendering son to death, and son receiving father in return with similar ambitions. Dark night fell upon everything, the faithful were driven out everywhere, and the defenders of impiety grew stronger at every hand. Even the air itself was defiled by the blood and steam of the sacrifices. Then, then shone forth this man, the wonderful Menas, famous for his virtue. He had Egypt as his native-land, and a father and ancestors who were not unshakeable in their faithfulness, but were unsecure in their steadfastness. His career was the military, and he was assigned to a commander by the name of Firmilianus. He himself was in command of the cohors Rutilliacorum, and in presence of mind, size, looks and the other qualities which physical prime and nobility usually display, he surpassed all the others.

2. When he arrived with his commander at the metropolis of Cotyaeum he heard the impious command of the rulers, threw off his military-belt, and betook himself abroad to desert regions, preferring to pass his life with wild-beasts rather than with idolators. He purified his senses, and enlightened his mind, by means of fasts, vigils, and careful attention to the words of God. He was initiated through revelation into the secrets of piety. Thinking that this was the right-time which had been long delayed, having waited for the day on which the whole city of Cotyaeum conducted a public festival of racing and athletics and gathered at the theatre, when it held the whole people watching- down, people of every race, Jews and Greeks, and christians likewise, and all were already intent with all their eyes upon the horse-racing, he left his way of life in the mountains, and descended to the city. When he was in the middle of the theatre, disregarding all those who were about the stadium, he climbed to the raised part from where he could be seen by all and he shouted out loudly, "I have been found by those who were not seeking me, I have become present to those who were not asking for me." By these words he revealed that he had come willingly, and not by force, to the contests, stripped naked as it were. Thus the martyr turned their attention upon himself. The goings-on in the theatre were disregarded. The horse-race was spat upon. Nothing was more important to anyone than this alone, to see who had displayed such daring. Those of like zeal for piety wondered at the martyr for his outspokeness and revealed themselves by jumping for joy, but those who were enemies of the truth incited the judge to his murder.

3. When the cry of the heralds announced silence, and quitened the clamour of the people and the noise of the flutes, Menas was immediately grabbed and led to the governor Pyrrhus, who was then sitting on high as a spectator of the games. In pretence of fairness Pyrrhus first made a welcoming address, and in a gentle and mild voice asked him who he was and where he came from. The martyr stated in reply his native-land, race, military service, and the manner of his flight, and proclaimed in front of all that he was a slave of Jesus Christ. Immediately the judged dropped his pretence of mildness for his natural viciousness, and reserving the interrogation for the following day he sent him to prison in chains. He himself, having spent the whole day at the completion of the spectacle, began the interrogation on the following day seething with anger. Therefore, dismissing all other matters, he accused him of reckless daring. For this roused him all the more to fury, that he thought his outspokeness was contempt for him personally. He, as if he took all the more pride in this, responded more boldly still, saying, "It is fitting to confess God in this manner, since He is light, and there is no darkness in Him. Paul taught us this, saying, "He who hopes in his heart for righteousness, confesses for salvation with his lips.""

4. Thus the boldness of his reply astounded the judge, and again he concealed his anger, and again he pretended mildness, in order to relax the martyr's courage by means of flattery. He said, "Do not throw away this most sweet life, Menas, nor exchange the light desired by all men for a premature death; but take my advice that you might lead a happy and prosperous life, and acquire gifts and honours from the emperors, and be admired by all and thought worthy of emulation." However the martyr laughed loudly and pleasantly at these things, seeing that he thought them clearly worthless and the bait for children rather than intelligent men, and answered him with these words from his treasury: "Nothing is worth as much to me as the kingdom of Heaven," he said, "for the whole universe is not worth one soul. But if you want to please me, begin rather the trial by torture, for in that way you will gain for me true happiness."

5. Thus when Pyrrhus heard these words, he could be restrained no longer, but rushed to torture him at that spot. Watching the servants crossly, he ordered that the martyr be spreadeagled and brutally beaten with leather thongs. When he was suffering greatly in this way, and the blood running from his wounds was reddening the earth, one of the bystanders, a certain Pegasius, surnamed Princeps, feigning concern, said to him: " Now you see, sir, the danger of disobedience, consider the action suited to the circumstance, and offer sacrifice before your flesh is completely destroyed by the whips. For perhaps your god will forgive you for this action because of the unbearable nature of the tortures." When he had spoken thus, the martyr gave him a piercing stare, hurt more by his words than the whips. He cried out publicly, "Get away from me all you workers of evil. For I have offered, and will continue to offer, the sacrifice of praise to my God, He who is my helper and has made me think of these whips of yours more as delights than tortures."

6.When the judge saw that his endurance was not the least shaken by the torture, but rather that his outspokeness was the more eloquent, he turned to another punishment. Ordering first that he be suspended from a stake, he commanded that his body be torn to shreds with iron hooks. Then the judge, as if mocking, addressed the holy man ironically, "Did you feel any pain," he said, "or do you want us to lavish you with greater pleasure ?" But the martyr, even though he was being torn said, "Why do you delay ? Do you think that I am at all affected by this brief torture, or that the unshaken tower of faith which is in me can be moved by this ?" When the governor heard this he commanded that he be torn even more violently, and ordered that he should not confess as king anyone except the real king. But the martyr replied, "Since you do not know who he is whom I confess as king, because of this blasphemy which you speak against him, when you compare him to the perishable and earth-born; He is rather he who established them in his rule, the Lord of all flesh and spirit." Then the judge, who did not want to learn, but acted ignorant, replied, "Who is this who gives power to all kings, and is Lord of all ?"

7. When remembrance of him who had been suspended on a cross for our sake refreshed the wearied and suffering body of the martyr who had hung for such a long time, the governor was all the more violently smitten with madness therefore, and he ordered that his raw flesh be dressed with ragged clothes. When this was being done the martyr said, "I remove today the the tunic of my skin, but I don the garment of salvation." Then the judge ordered that fire-brands be set to them, but these seemed to burn weakly in comparison with the eternal flame. For by the power of Christ the martyr was seen to scorn all that was inflicted upon him. By the same source also he boldly addressed those who were punishing him, "I have been persuaded by my Lord and King not to be fearful of those who slay the body, but are unable to kill the soul, but to fear rather he who is able to destroy both the soul and the body in Hell."

8. When the judge saw that the great outspokeness of the martyr was unchecked, turning over in his mind also the most suitable response to his answers, he abandoned the tortures, turned to persuasion, and said, "Tell me, good sir, where did you get your elegant speech, you being a soldier and as yet unversed in literature yesterday and the day before, knowing more about wars than the practice and rules of disputation ?" When the martyr said that these were the words of Christ who said, "When you are brought before governors and kings for my sake, do not think how or what to say: for it will be given to you at that hour what to say," the governor replied, "So it was foreknown to your Christ that you would suffer such things ?" The martyr said," Since he is the true God, it follows that he also knows the events of the future. For he is the cause and sustenance of all, and knows all things before they come into being." Thus, being at a loss as to the proper reply to this, the judge said, "I want you, leaving aside these superfluous words of persuasion, to choose one of these two options, either doing what is right and living with us, or confessing on behalf of Christ." When with great outspokenes the martyr said, "I have been, am, and will remain with Christ," the governor answered that he was patient with him even still, and he ordered some time for thought to be granted to him. For in admiration both of his endurance and his intelligence, he was eager to win him over by persuasion so that the world did not loose such a man.

9. When after these things the martyr addressed him in words even more courageous, explicitly confessing that Christ was God, calling the gods whom he worshipped foul demons, the governor, greatly incensed with anger again, ordered that iron spikes be scattered over the ground, and that he be dragged over them in the cruellest manner, bound both hand and foot. He, as if he were being drawn through a meadow of soft flowers, continued with a free tongue insulting the gods and demons of the other. For these things the judge ordered that the holy man be brutally beaten again about the neck and jaws. "Do not in your contempt of the gods shamelessly strike them with your insults also," he said. When the martyr had been beaten for several hours, one of those from the unit, a certain Heliodorus, came forward, and "Lord governor," he said, "I do not think that it escapes your notice that it is the madness of those called christians to endure tortures more stubbornly than a statue even, and to regard death as some sort of sweet drink. Therefore to release yourself from useless toil in respect of this man, you should be eager rather to pass swifter sentence upon him." Thus, since the governor had given up and was considering imposing the ultimate sentence upon him, some former mess-mates and friends came forward. They wiped him clean, clothed and embraced him. They begged and entreated him, and thinking to persuade him to do the expedient thing they said: "Do not disregard, O Menas, the friendship of your companions and the honour of your military career, the enjoyment of pleasures and life which is by its nature prized by all. Do not prefer disgrace to honour, death to life." The martyr, avoiding their demands like snake venom, replied, "Stop, you enemies of God, and with better effect advise yourselves rather to cease from this madness so great. For after a short time this temporary life so beloved of you will pass by, but eternal and everlasting punishment awaits you, which punishment will rightly be your lot along with the governor and his emperors."

10. When the judge had seen how strongly the martyr was resisting everything which was being said and done to him, he readied not for further interrogation but for the final sentence. Having consulted with those who were of one mind with him in his impiety, he passed the death penalty upon Menas. He set by his side a guard with a drawn sword, and indicated the place outside of the city. When the place had been reached, and the second lap [of his contest] was revealed to the martyr as more glorious than the first, he met some people whom he knew a little and with a prayer he blessed them with the sign of the cross. He appeared full of joy, as one who bears in mind the happiness which has been laid aside for him, so that he advanced in thanksgiving to the happiness which he had not yet received. He said, "I thank you, Lord Jesus, that you have counted me worthy to be seen to share in your suffering, and have not given me as food to the wild beasts, but have brought it about that I will preserve my faith in you pure until the end." When he had said these things and kneeled down, he bent forward to receive the blow of the sword. And after the blow the holy body was burned on a fire. Thus the martyr's perishable corpse was destroyed, but his soul was carried away by angels to his blessed lot. Then some pious men became concerned for the remains of the martyr, so that they gathered them up from the fire and stored them in well-known locations. When they had gathered them up and wrapped them in fine cloth, had annointed them with oils and perfumes, and had done everything for them which it was right for them to do, a little later they returned each to his own nativeland, just as the martyr had instructed them before his death. For it was right that that land which had both given birth to and nourished him should receive him perfected by his martyrdom, that none should take the place of the mother, and no land except this enjoy the grace of the martyr's relics. This was wisely accomplished by the providence of Christ, to whom belongs all glory, honour, power, greatness and magnificence, now and always and until the end of time. Amen.

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Copyright © 1999, David Woods. This translation may be copied for the purpose of private research only.