Was it worth it?

Saints with Funny Names

"Storm in the Strait of Dover," by Louis Meijer. Photo: Everett-Art/Shutterstock

This is the tale of two holy lives and two … not so holy ones.

Sts. Theodulus and Agathopodes (died 303, feast day April 5) were members of the clergy in the church at Thessalonica (aka Salonica) in Greece. The bustling city was part of the Roman Empire, under the dominion of the unholy Emperor Diocletian and his governor Faustinus.

Before the year 50, St. Paul had traveled there and preached in the synagogue. OK, the people threw him out. But he did make a few believers among both the Jews and the Greeks. For more than two centuries, these early Christians tried to “co-exist” but the Romans still viewed them as part of a weird and dangerous cult.

In 303, Diocletian issued an edict of persecution, the news of which drove many Christians into hiding. Not Theodulus or Agathopodes. They continued their ministries just as they had before. Theodulus was an ordained reader who chanted during the Divine Liturgy. Agathopodes was an ordained deacon. They did as they had always done, not just in church and among their own, but boldly preaching the Gospel on street corners and public squares.

“The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer,” Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1883. Photo: Walters Art Museum/Public Domain

The danger did not escape their notice. But just in case, there was any doubt, Theodulus received a heavenly visitor in a dream who presented him with a ring with a cross on it. When he woke up with the actual ring in his hand, he knew that he was called to martyrdom. He used the time he had left to cure the sick through the power of that same miraculous cross.

The gifts of St. Theodulus and the ministry of St. Agathopodes could easily have led people to question, as they once did of Christ himself, why God would call them to risk their lives. Was it worth it? The people depended on them. They could do so much good if only they could live.

And that wasn’t the only temptation. The governor, Faustinus, whose job it was to carry out the persecution on a local level, tried to reason with them. Theodulus was still very young and had much to live for. A lifetime of fortune could be his if he would only offer sacrifice to the gods. Why waste your life? Was it worth it? Theodulus turned it around on him. He said he pitied Faustinus for choosing this fleeting life, and rejecting an eternal one.

Seeing as that failed, the governor took the aged Agathopodes aside and with lies tried to play on the fears of the old man. Your young friend gave in, you know. Why would you hold out and die alone? Was it worth it? Agathopodes answered that he simply did not believe him. The Theodulus he knew would sacrifice his life for Christ.

Thus having failed, the governor ordered the two dragged off to prison. While there, they preached as boldly as ever and converted many more souls to Christ. The governor sent for them again. This time he showed them some Christians who had been induced to give up the faith and had gone their way unharmed. Why are you so stubborn? The least you can do, he told Theodulus, is hand over the holy liturgical books, or death would be slow and painful.

Count on it. Theodulus refused to hand them over to be desecrated by the Romans no matter what tortures they had in store for him. Again the two were cast into prison and their execution time was set. But at the last minute, just as the sword was poised over their heads, the execution was called off and the two were trundled back to prison. Was that one more tactic? Bring them to the point of death, then remove the danger, and see if they’ll crack?

That night Agathopodes dreamt that they were in a boat, tossed in a storm, and in danger of crashing into the rocks. He woke and told the dream to Theodulus, who related that he had had the same dream. They now knew what sort of martyrdom they would receive. When Faustinus again called them forth for one last chance to save their lives, they made their third and final pronouncement. “We are Christians and we are prepared to undergo any suffering for Christ.” As they were cast into sea, Agathopodes thanked God for the opportunity for a second “Baptism.”

Laureate head of Diocletian. Photo: G.dallorto/Public Domain

What became of Diocletian and Faustinus? Diocletian reigned for about two more years, then retired and planted cabbages. Life as a brutal Caesar had taken its toll. All he wanted was peace. He died in 311 of possible suicide, his name forever synonymous with tyrant. No information was available about Faustinus, who in life had so much power and now appears only to be known in connection with the saints who dared to pity him.

These will pay the penalty of eternal ruin, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power, when he comes to be glorified among his holy ones and to be marveled at on that day among all who have believed, for our testimony to you was believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:9-10)

One thing they all know now is the answer to the question: Was it worth it?

Sources and to learn more:

Orthodox Church in America


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