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SAINT MAURICE AND THE THEBAN LEGION

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  • Salem Voice Ministries
    (St. Maurice, a great saint of the Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates Tout 25 on 5 October 2008. His blood and the blood of his companions were the seeds of
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 5, 2008
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      (St. Maurice, a great saint of the Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates
      Tout 25 on 5 October 2008. His blood and the blood of his companions
      were the seeds of Christianity in Europe).

      A traveler, on the highway that leads from Geneva to Rome, will
      notice a small and very old Swiss town called Saint Maurice. This
      town was known in Roman times as Aguanum, an important communication
      centre. It was there that a Coptic officer named Maurice and his
      fellow soldiers died for the sake of Christ at the hands of the
      impious Emperor Maximian (285-305 AD). The story of these martyrs,
      commonly known as the Theban Legion, has been preserved for us by
      Saint Eucher, bishop of Lyons, who died in 494 A.D. The bishop
      starts the account of the martyrdom of these valiant soldiers by the
      following introduction:

      "Here is the story of the passion of the Holy Martyrs who have
      made Aguanum illustrious with their blood. It is in honour of this
      heroic martyrdom that we narrate with our pen the order of events as
      it has come to our ears. We often hear, do we not, how a particular
      locality or city is held in high honour because of one single martyr
      who died there, and quite rightly, because in each case the saint
      gave his precious soul to the most high God. How much more should
      this sacred place, Aguanum, be reverenced, where so many thousands
      of martyrs have been slain with the sword for the sake of
      Christ."

      Under Maximian, who was an Emperor of the Roman Commonwealth,
      with Diocletian as his colleague, an uprising of the Gauls known
      as "Bagaudae" forced Maximian to march against them with an army of
      which one unit was the Theban Legion. This unit of 6600 men had
      been recruited from Upper Egypt and consisted entirely of
      Christians. They were good men and excellent soldiers who, even
      under arms, did not forget to render to God the things of God, and
      to Caesar the things of Caesar.

      After the revolt was quelled, the Emperor Maximian issued an
      order that the whole army should join in offering sacrifices to the
      gods for the success of their mission. The order included killing
      Christians (probably as a sacrifice to the Roman gods.) Only the
      Theban Legion dared to refuse to comply with these orders. The
      legion withdrew itself, encamped near Aguanum and refused to take
      part in these rites.

      Maximian was then resting in a nearby place called Octudurum.
      When the news came to him, he repeatedly commanded them to obey his
      orders, and upon their constant and unanimous refusals, sentenced
      them to be decimated. Accordingly, every tenth man was put to
      death. A second decimation was ordered unless the men obeyed the
      order given, but there was a great shout through the camp: they all
      declared that they would never allow themselves to carry out such a
      sacrilegious order. They had always had a horror of idolatry, they
      had been brought up as Christians and were instructed in the One
      Eternal God and were ready to suffer extreme penalties rather than
      do anything contrary to their religion.

      When Maximian heard this, he became even angrier than before. Like
      a savage beast, he ordered the second decimation to be carried out,
      hoping that the remainder should be compelled to do what they had
      hitherto refused. Yet, they still maintained their resolve. After
      the second decimation, Maximian warned the remainder that it was of
      no use for them to trust in their number, for if they persisted in
      their disobedience, not a man among them would escape death.

      The greatest mainstay of their faith in this crisis was
      undoubtedly their captain Maurice, with his lieutenants Candid, the
      first commanding officer, and Exuperius the "campidoctor." He fired
      the hearts of the soldiers with fervor by his encouragement.
      Maurice, calling attention to the example of their faithful fellow
      soldiers, already martyred, persuaded them all to be ready to die in
      their turn for the sake of their baptismal vow (the promise one
      makes at his baptism to renounce Satan and his abominable service
      and to worship only God.) He reminded them of their comrades who
      had gone to heaven before them. Due to his words, a glorious
      eagerness for martyrdom burned in the hearts of those most blessed
      men.

      Fired thus by the lead of their officers, the Thebans sent to
      Maximian who was still enraged, a reply as loyal as it was brave:
      "Emperor, we are your soldiers, but also, the soldiers of the
      True God. We owe you military service and obedience, however, we
      cannot renounce Him who is our Creator and Master, and also yours,
      even though you reject Him. In all things which are not against His
      law, we most willingly obey you, as we have done hitherto. We
      readily oppose your enemies whoever they are, but we cannot stain
      our hands with the blood of innocent people (Christians). We have
      taken an oath to God before we took one to you, you cannot place any
      confidence in our second oath if we violate the first. You commanded
      us to execute Christians, behold we are such. We confess God the
      Father, Creator of all things and His Son Jesus Christ, our God. We
      have seen our comrades slain with the sword, we do not weep for them
      but rather rejoice at their honour. Neither this, nor any other
      provocation has tempted us to revolt. Behold, we have arms in our
      hands, but we do not resist, because we would rather die innocent
      than live by any sin."

      When Maximian heard this, he realized that these men were
      obstinately determined to remain in their Christian faith, and he
      despaired of being able to turn them from their constancy. He
      therefore decreed, in a final sentence, that they should be rounded
      up, and the slaughter completed. The troops sent to execute this
      order came to the blessed legion and drew their swords upon those
      holy men who, for love of Life, did not refuse to die.

      They were all slain with the sword. They never resisted in any way.
      Putting aside their weapons, they offered their necks to the
      executioners. Neither their numbers nor the strength of arms
      tempted them to uphold the justice of their cause by force. They
      kept just one thing in their minds, that they were bearing witness
      to Him who was lead to death without protest, and, Who, like a lamb,
      opened not his mouth; and that now, they themselves, sheep of the
      Lord's flock, were to be massacred as if by ravaging wolves. Thus,
      by the savage cruelty of this tyrant, that fellowship of the saints
      was perfected. For they despised things present in hope of things
      to come. So was slain that truly angelic legion of men who, we
      trust, now praise the Lord God of Hosts, together with the legions
      of Angels, in heaven forever.

      Not all of the members of the legion were at Aguanum at the time
      of the massacre. Others were posted along a military highway linking
      Switzerland with Germany and Italy. These were progressively and
      methodically martyred wherever they were found.

      Some of the most celebrated saints who were martyred in
      Switzerland include the following names: Maurice, Exuperius, Candid,
      Innocent and Vitalis with the rest of their cohort, were martyred at
      Aguanum (Saint Maurice en Valais). Saints Ursus, Victor and 66
      companions were found at Solothurn, Saints Felix, Regula and
      Exuperantius at Zurich, and Saint Verena of Zurzach.

      In Italy, Saint Alexander was killed at Bergamo, the three
      Saints Octavius, Adventor and Solutor at Turin, Saint Antonius of
      Piacenza, Saints Constantius, Alverius, Sebastianus and Magius from
      the Cottian Alps, Saints Maurelius, Georgius and Tiberius in
      Pinerolo, Saints Maximius, Cassius, Secundus, Severinus and Licinius
      in Milan, and Saint Secundus of Ventimilia, together with a host of
      names of lesser saints.

      In Germany, we have Saints Tyrsus, Palmatius, Bonifatius and
      their comrades in Terier, Saints Cassius, Florentius and their
      cohort in Bonn, Saint Gereon and 318 others at Cologne and Saints
      Victor, Mallosius with 330 companions at Xanten.

      During their martyrdom, numerous miracles happened, which
      undoubtedly largely contributed to the massive conversion of the
      inhabitants of these regions to Christianity. In Zurich for
      instance, the three beheaded Saints, Felix, Regula and Exuperantius
      miraculously rose, carried their heads on their own hands, walked to
      the top of a hill, where they knelt, prayed and at last lay down.
      On the same spot, a large cathedral was later erected. The three
      saints carrying their heads on their hands appear on the coat of
      arms and seal of Zurich until today.

      Saints Victor, Orsus and their comrades were barbarously
      tortured by Hirtacus, the Roman governor of Solothurn. During this
      torture several miracles occurred, e.g. the shackles suddenly broke
      open, the fire was instantaneously extinguished, etc. The lookers-
      on were thus filled with wonder and began to admire and venerate the
      Theban legionaires, upon which the furious Hirtacus ordered their
      immediate beheading. Without the slightest resistance they offered
      the executors their necks. The bodies of the beheaded saints then
      shone in glaring brightness. The bodies of the saints which were
      thrown in the river Aar, advanced to the bank, stepped out, walked
      heads on hands, then knelt and prayed at the spot where the Basilica
      of St. Peter later arose.

      The bodies of the martyrs of Aguanum were discovered and
      identified by Saint Theodore the Bishop of Octudurm, who was in
      office at 350 A.D. He built a Basilica in their honour at Aguanum,
      the remains of which are visible even now. This later became the
      centre of a monastery built about the year 515 AD on land donated by
      King Sigismund of Burgundy.

      Saint Eucher (died 494 A.D.) mentions that in his time, many
      came from diverse provinces of the empire devoutly to honour these
      saints, and to offer presents of gold, silver and other things. He
      mentions that many miracles were performed at their shrine such as
      casting out of devils and other kinds of healings "which the might
      of the Lord works there every day through the intercession of His
      saints."

      In the middle ages Saint Maurice was the patron saint of several
      of the ruling dynasties in Europe, and later on, of the Holy Roman
      Emperors. In 926, Henry I (919-936) even ceded the present Swiss
      Canton (province) of Aargau in return for the lance of the Saint.
      Some emperors were also anointed before the Altar of Saint Maurice
      in St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome. The Sword of Saint Maurice, was
      last used in the coronation of the Austrian Emperor Charles as King
      of Hungary in 1916.

      Kings, noblemen and church leaders vied to obtain even small
      portions of the relics of the saints in order to build churches in
      their honour. King Louis of France offered the monastery one of the
      treasured thorns that came from the crown of thorns of our Saviour
      in return for a small portion of the sacred relics. He later built a
      church in honour of the martyrs inside the court of his palace.

      Saint Maurice has always been one of the most popular saints in
      Western Europe, with more than 650 foundations in his name in France
      alone. Five cathedrals, innumerable churches, chapels and altars
      are consecrated in his name all over Europe. In the monastery
      that bears his name at Saint Maurice en Valais, the monks perform a
      special devotion to the Saints every day, and celebrate their feast
      on September 22 of each year. An all-night vigil, on the night
      before the feast is attended by nearly 1000 people. On the feast
      day (which is a province holiday ,) Swiss guards in their beautiful
      traditional attire, carry the relics of the martyrs in ancient
      silver caskets, in a procession around the town, preceded by the
      Mayor, the city officials and the monks and priests in the Monastery
      of St. Maurice. Over seventy towns all over the world bear the
      name of Saint Maurice, including one in Canada.

      In 1991, the Christian world celebrated the seventeenth
      centennial of the martyrdom of these saints. H.H. Pope Shenouda
      delegated His Grace Bishop Serapion to represent the Coptic Church
      in these celebrations. On that occasion, parts of the relics of
      Saint Maurice, St. Cassius and St. Florentius were returned to the
      Coptic Church. They are now in a small chapel in the Patriarchate
      in Anba Reweiss complex.

      (Reproduced by Coptic Evangelism in North America from
      PAROUSIA,October, 2000: publication of St. Mary's Coptic Orthodox
      Church, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada).

      Posted by
      Paul Ciniraj
      Salem Voice Ministries
      Kottayam-686038, India
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