The Saints of Antioch

IN THE BYZANTINE CHURCHES the Sunday after Pentecost is observed as the Feast of All Saints. This is to proclaim that the presence of saints in the Church points to the presence of the Spirit who enlivens the Church and transforms those who cherish its life. On this day all the saints – those whose names we know and those we do not – are celebrated, for the state of hearts is truly known only to God.

It is also the custom in many places that the next two Sundays after Pentecost honor all the saints of a particular nation or region (e.g. All Saints of Russia, Romania, etc.) or of a particular category (e.g. New Martyrs of the Turkish Yoke).

The Church of Antioch, “where the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26), can point to almost two thousand years of saints in its heritage from the first days of Christianity until today. A few of them whose names are known are celebrated in all the Churches. They include:

Saints of the Apostolic Age: During the first century the Greek-speaking Christian community in Antioch became the center for ministry to the Gentiles. Among its saints are:

  • The Chief Apostles Peter and Paul (June 29, which is the throne feast of the patriarchate)
  • Their companions Barnabas, who founded the Church in Cyprus (June 11)
  • Luke the Evangelist, author of the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles (October 18)
  • Others from that era include St Ananias, who baptized St Paul in Damascus (October 1) and St Thekla, the first woman martyr (September 24)

Martyrs of the Roman Persecutions: Throughout the second, third and early fourth centuries local governors, military commanders and Roman emperors called for the persecution of Christians. Some of their victims were Saints:

  • Ignatius of Antioch, the God-bearer, killed in Rome c. ad 107 (December 20)
  • Sergios and Bacchos in the fourth century (October 7)
  • The Great Martyr Artemios (October 20) , martyred under Julian the Apostate
  • Babylas, third century Bishop of Antioch (September 4)
  • The Great Martyr Barbara (December 4), sometimes said to have suffered in Nicomedia, Asia Minor or in Heliopolis (Baalbek)
  • Christina of Tyre (July 24)
  • Febronia of Nisibis (June 25)
  • Galacteon and Episteme, his wife, martyred at Homs (November 5)
  • Gurias, Samonas and Habib (November 15), martyred in Edessa
  • Julian of Homs the Unmercenary Healer (February 6)
  • Lucian of Antioch (October 15)
  • Terence and Neonilla and their children, Syrians martyred in Carthage (October 28)
  • Zenobius of Aegae beheaded with his sister Zenobia in Cilicia (October 30)

Fathers of the First Millennium: The life of the Greek-speaking Churches of the Christian East was enhanced by the theological writings and poetic hymns of a number of Fathers including Saints:

  • Andrew of Damascus, Bishop of Crete (July 4)
  • Cosmas the Melodist (October 12)
  • Eustathios of Antioch (September 20)
  • John Chrysostom (November 13)
  • John of Damascus (December 4)
  • Meletios of Antioch (February 12)
  • Romanos the Melodist (October 1)
  • Sophronios, Patriarch of Jerusalem (March 11).

Ascetics and Monastics: Monasticism began in Syria a few years after it originated in Egypt and Palestine. Both Greek and Syriac-speaking Syrians were drawn to it, some of them becoming highly revered by people in the region. We remember to this day Saints:

  • Ephrem the Syrian and Isaac the Syrian from Nisibis on the border with the Persian Empire, (January 28)
  • Eudokia of Baalbek (March 1)
  • Maron the Hermit (February 14) and his disciples Marana, Kyra and Domnina (February 28), mentioned in Theodoret’s History of the Monks
  • Martha of Antioch, mother of St. Simeon of the Wonderful Mountain (July 4)
  • Peter of Damascus, whose writings are found in the Philokalia (February 9)
  • Simeon the Stylite (September 1) and his disciple Daniel the Stylite (December 11)
  • Andronikos and Athanasia (October 9), a fifth century Egyptian craftsman and his wife who lived an ascetic life in Antioch

The Syrian Popes: Several Syrians became Pope of Rome, particularly in the seventh and eighth centuries when many Syrians, fleeing the Arab invasion, took refuge in Sicily and Italy. These popes were:

  • St Anacetus of Homs (April 20) who reigned from 157-168
  • John V who served only one year, from 685 to 686
  • Sergius I, who was pope from 687 to 701
  • Sissinius, who died after twenty days as pope in 708
  • Constantine, pope from 708 to 715
  • St Gregory III (November 28), who reigned from 731 to 741 and was the last non-European Pope of Rome before Francis.

Missionaries: When Christianity spread beyond the Mediterranean, most Greek missionaries were from Constantinople and went north to the Slavic lands. Most Syriac missionaries went east from the Persian Empire. Thus much of the world was evangelized by those who had been Christianized from Antioch. Still we note:

  • The Syrian missionary to England, St. Theodore of Tarsus, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in the seventh century (September 10)
  • Contemporary Orthodox reverence St. Raphael Hawaweeny, +1915, who was the first Antiochian bishop in America (February 27)
  • Melkites recall the Servant of God Beshara Abou Murad, +1930, who walked from village to village in the Saida eparchy, re-evangelizing the neglected poor

Martyrs under Islam: The recent horrors by the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” are not the first inflicted on Middle Eastern Christians in that name. Among the countless Middle Easterners who have died for Christ we remember:

  • St. Peter the Confessor (October 4) whose tongue was cut out in the eighth century for censuring the errors of the Arabs
  • St. Jacob of Hamatoura and his companions (October 13) beheaded in the fourteenth century by the Mamelukes for refusing to become Muslims
  • St. Joseph of Damascus, martyred for bringing the holy mysteries to Christians during the Druze uprising in the 1860s (July 10). 3000 other Christians were slain during this revolt
  • Although neither has been canonized there is considerable popular veneration for the Orthodox priest Habeeb Khishy of Damascus, tortured and killed by Muslim hoodlums in 1948, and for the Melkite passion-bearer Fathi Baladi, slain in Beirut in 1980, declared a Servant of God by Pope John Paul II