Comments to: David Woods
Last Updated: September 1999

The Passion of St. Mercurius (BHG 1274)

The Martyrdom of the Holy Martyr Mercurius

1. At that time, when Decius and Vallerianus reigned in the great city of Rome, they decreed that everyone everywhere should offer sacrifice and libations to the gods. Therefore, they summoned the whole Senate and referred to them the matters which had been decided by them in harmony. And discovering that they were in agreement with their plan, they were exceedingly pleased. So they immediately ordered their common decisions to be set up in imperial letters, together with the Senate's subscription, and they posted up a letter of this type in the Capitol.

2. "The imperial, triumphant, victorious, venerable and pious emperors Decius and Vallerianus, with the agreement of the Senate which is of like mind, have decreed the following: In recognition of the benefits and gifts of the gods, and in enjoyment at the same time of the victory over the enemy which was furnished to us by them, notwithstanding as well the mildness of the breezes and the abundance of every kind of fruit, and in recognition that they are the benefactors of the common profit, for this sake we decree in one vote that every class of freedman and slave, of soldier and private citizen, should pay favourable sacrifices to the gods, prostrating themselves before them and making supplications. If anyone wants to depart from our divine letter published in harmony by us, we order him to be bound in chains and then to be subjected to various tortures in this condition. And if he is persuaded [to obey], he will not recover the honours received from us, but if he declares his opposition, he will suffer punishment by the sword after many assaults, or be thrown into the sea or be given as food to birds and dogs. Exceptionally, if any followers of the religion of the Christians are discovered, let them be subjected to this penalty. Those who obey our divine ordinances will enjoy the greatest honours and gifts. Farewell, most fortunate people."

3. So when the imperial letter had been posted up, the whole city was filled with confusion because of the posting of this impious letter up throughout the whole city. Now it happened at this time that, since barbarians had risen in war against the Romans, the emperors were readying an army suitable to stand in battle with them, and ordered even those units stationed in all the cities to join their alliance. Among those who arrived first from each city and land in preparation for this war, there also chanced the unit of those called the Martenses who were from Armenia Prima and were under the command of a tribune by the name of Saturninus.

4. Now when Decius set out for the war, Vallerianus delayed at Rome, and a long time passed while war thundered on between the barbarians and the Romans. While they continued in engagement, a vision appeared to one of the Martenses from Armenia Prima by the name of Mercurius, a certain immensely great, white-clad man. He held a sword in his right hand and said to him, "Do not fear or be afraid. For I have been sent in order to help you and make you victorious. So take this sword and attack the barbarians and, when you have triumphed, do not forget the Lord your God." And taking the sword and a fresh breath, he charged against the barbarians. He broke through them, and slew their king and many others so that his arm was worn out and his sword stuck in his hand as a result of the blood. And in this way the barbarians took flight and were driven away by the Romans.

5. Then Decius, learning about the man's single-combat, summoned him, gave him the rank of general and placed him in charge of the army. And Decius, thinking that he had triumphed in the war because of the providence of the gods, rejoiced greatly. And having rewarded the soldiers with a lot of money, he sent each off home. He himself offered great prayers of thanks as he entered every city during his journey back to Rome. And one night while the general was sleeping, there appeared to him an angel of the Lord in the first rank. And nudging his side, [the angel] woke him up. [Mercurius] was afraid when he saw him, and remained quiet. And the angel said to him, "Mercurius, do you remember what I said to you during the clash of battle ? See, do not forget the Lord your God. For you must compete in the customary manner on his behalf and gain the crown of victory in the heavenly kingdom together with all the saints." And having said these things, the angel departed from him. [Mercurius] withdrew into himself, remembered, and gave thanks to God. He knew the faith of the Christians from his ancestors. For his father Gordianus, who had happened to be a primicerius in the same unit, had often used to say, "Blessed is he who serves the heavenly king, since he offers him the heavenly kingdom. For that king created everything through [His] Word and it is He who will judge the living and the dead and reward each according to his works." So coming to himself and remembering the words of his father and the vision seen by him, he began to confess with tears and to speak thus, "Alas for [me] a sinner, since, starting off as a branch of a blooming tree, I have become withered with no shoot of knowledge of God."

6. And while he was saying these things, a silentiarius was sent to him from the king, with several others also, in order to summon him to the king. While he was being asked [to come], Decius postponed a council-meeting, and summoned it for the following day. When [Mercurius] was present and the council was full, the king said, "Let us proceed together to the temple of Artemis and make an offering to her." The saint turned about and went away to his praetorium. And one of the nobles informed against him to king, saying, "O most sacred, triumphant, victorious one, you who have been judged worthy by the gods to govern the kingdom, deign to listen to me in calm. He who was honoured by your imperial right-hand and was thought worthy by your calmly governing kingship [of managing] the affairs of the Romans, this man was not present with us in the temple of the great Artemis in order to make an offering on behalf of your rule." The king said, "Who is this man ?" Catellus, a former consul, said, "Mercurius, he whom you made great and distinguished with various honours. He even discourages others from honouring the gods, but his answer to you will reveal his aim." Decius said, "Perhaps you are consumed with envy of the man against whom you have said such things. I will not listen to you unless I learn the truth in a face-to-face discussion. For I believe that eyes make more trustworthy witnesses than ears. So be quiet and say nothing about this man. And if you you have said such things against him with slanderous intent, you will suffer the appropriate penalty. But if what you have said is shown to be true, you will meet with honours and gifts from me as one who is well-disposed towards the gods and me." And he ordered [Mercurius] to come in the dignity befitting him.

7. When he was present, Decius said to him, "Mercurius, did I not set you in this position of honour and make you commander of the army in the presence of all my governors because your victory in the war happened by the will of the gods ? How can it be that, miscalculating the value of this honour, you have adopted an evil way of life and are willing to set my honours at naught by not worshipping the gods, as I have recently heard from some ?" The noble soldier of Christ, putting off the old man and his affairs in accordance with the apostle, donned the new man founded by God's favour through baptism, and said to him in a brave tone, "Take this honour of yours away from me. For as I see it, as far as debt is concerned, I have reached this position by having conquered the barbarians through my Lord Jesus Christ. Take the things given to me by you, as you said. For naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart for the next world." And taking off his cloak and releasing his belt, he threw them at the king's feet, shouting and saying, "I am a Christian and hear you all that I am a Christian." Then Decius, greatly angered, while at the same time amazed at his outspokenness and astonished by his beauty and greatness, ordered him to be thrown into prison, saying, "This man did not deserve the honour, even if he will not appreciate its loss", in the hope of changing his righteous belief. While he was being led away to prison, the martyr rejoiced and delighted to glorify God, and that night there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, saying, "Take courage, Mercurius, and do not be afraid. Trust in him whom you have confessed as Lord. For he can release you from every affliction." And he was strengthened further by the vision of the angel.

8. On the following day, the king seated himself upon the tribunal and ordered him to be set before him and said to him, "Such treatment in this way suits you because of your most wicked resolve." The martyr said, "This treatment does suit me. For you have received the transient things [of this world], but I will receive the everlasting things [of the next world] in their stead." The king said, "Tell me your race and your homeland." Mercurius said, "If you want to learn my race and my nativeland, I will tell you". My father was called Gordianus, a Scythian by race. He served in the unit of the Martenses. My homeland, that towards which I strive, is the heavenly Jerusalem. It is the city of the heavenly king." The king said, "Were you called this name by you parents, or were you called Mercurius in the army ?" The martyr said, "I was called Mercurius by the tribune in the army. My father called me Philopater." The king said, "Why do you not obey the commands given to all men, worship the gods, and receive back your former honour ? Or do you prefer rather to die amidst tortures ?" Mercurius said, "As you said, I have come to this [place] in order to defeat you and the devil, the inventor of all evil, and to win the crown of victory from the judge, Jesus Christ the Lord. So do not slow or delay [me], but fulfil upon me whatever occurs to you. For I have the breastplate and shield of faith through which I will conquer every scheme wrought against me."

9. Then, filled with rage, the king said, "Since you say that you have the breastplate and shield of faith, although you are naked, I order you to be stretched between four stakes and to be suspended about the ground." When this was done, the king said to him, "Where is your battle-armour ? By Zeus, the greatest of the gods, you have been stretched out !" But saint Mercurius looked up to heaven and said, "Lord Jesus Christ, help your servant." And, in turn, the king ordered his body to be stabbed with sharp swords and for a fire to be set beneath him in order to burn him for a short period. The fire was put out as a result of the quantity of his blood, and the saint suffered this torture nobly. Decius ordered him to be released, so that he would not die too quickly, and to be locked up securely in a certain dark chamber. So they carried him off and threw him into the chamber barely drawing breath. But an angel of the Lord appeared to him that night, saying, "Peace be with you, noble athlete," and he restored him to health, healing his body's wounds, so that he stood up and gave praise to God who had shown himself to him.

10. So Decius again ordered him to be set before him, and when he saw him, he said, "Although you ought to be dead, you are walking about in front of us now of your own agency, and you probably do not have a bruise on your body !" And he ordered his bodyguards to examine him. They said to him, "By your sacred divinity, his body is perfect, without a mark, like someone who has not received a touch." Decius said, "He can certainly say, "My Christ healed me." Do not ever bring anyone in to heal him in prison." They said to him, "By your power which governs the whole civilised world, no-one at all saw him. For we expected that he would die after a short while. How he was restored to health, we do not know." The king said, "See the magic of the Christians, what type it is ! How was he thought dead beforehand, but has his health now ?" And filled with anger, he said, "Who healed you ? Tell me the whole truth. For I do not believe that you could have been healed without help." Saint Mercurius said, "As you unwillingly proclaimed, my Lord Jesus Christ himself, the true doctor of bodies and souls, healed me. He forbids sorcerers, charmers, interpreters of omens, and idolaters, and binding them in unbreakable bonds, dismisses them to the fire of hell because they did not acknowledge the true God who made them." The king said, "I will destroy your body with torture once more and I will see if this Christ of yours whom you name, will heal you." Saint Mercurius said, "I will trust in my Lord Jesus Christ that howsoever many penalties you inflict me, you will do me no harm at all. For He said "Do not fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul. But fear Him rather who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell." He will raise me again after death at the time of His fearful judgement."

11. And angered, the king ordered burning awls to be applied to his cheeks. When this was done, instead of a stench [of burned flesh], a sweet smell of spices rose from his body towards those standing about. Decius said, "Where is your doctor ? Let him come and heal you now. For you said that "He is able raise me up again even after death."" Saint Mercurius said, "Do what you will. You have power over my body. But God has power over my soul. The more my body is destroyed, the more my soul remains unharmed." Again the king ordered him to be hung up upside down and for a very large stone to be suspended about his neck so that, being strangled by the stone, he would surrender his soul during this terrible punishment. The martyr remained in this condition for a long time. The king, seeing that he was nobly enduring the punishments being inflicted upon him and that none of the tortures were affecting him ordered the stone to be released from his neck, and for him to be scourged with a bronze scourge until his blood saturated the ground. Truly unconquerable, he endured all these afflictions giving thanks to God and saying, "Glory to You, O God, that you have counted me worthy to be scourged on account of your name."

12. The king, recognising that he possessed an unalterable resolve not to be persuaded, formed a decision, and since he was also eager to be back in Rome, imposed a sentence of death by the sword upon him, saying, "My authority orders Mercurius who has set the gods at nought and counted as nothing the revered doctrine of our kindness to be taken to the country of the Cappadocians and his head to be chopped off there as an example to others. For whoever acts against the king will be subjected to punishment by the sword after many tortures, even if honoured and held in high esteem by him." And those to whom the order had been given took him and led him away, having bandaged the martyr on each side of his person because his body had been torn to pieces by the extremity of the tortures. Arriving at a stopping-place, they gently stowed him away, and rested so. And having travelled the long journey in a few days in this way, they arrived at the city of Caesarea. And appearing to him, the Lord said, "Mercurius, you have guarded the faith and completed your journey. Stop the rest here, and receive the crown of your contest." And the martyr, having been strengthened by the vision of the Saviour, said to those with him, "Come on, brothers, carry out the rest of your order here. My Lord who wants all men to be saved will even deem you worthy of His grace and will grant you to discover His mercy along with all the just." And when he had said these things, his head was chopped off. He completed his confession of God our Saviour on 25 November.

13. An incredible miracle occurred which deserves to be remembered. For after his death, the body of the martyr became white like snow and emitted a sweet smell of myrrh and incense. And because of this sign, many believed in Christ. His holy body was buried at the place where he died, and where cures are also worked to the glory of God the Father and of the Lord Jesus Christ, together with the Holy and Lifegiving Spirit, now and for all the ages without end, one after another. Amen.

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