Saint Mercurius

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Saint Mercurius
Saint Mercurius killing Iulian.jpg
Coptic icon portraying a vision of Saint Basil, with Saint Mercurius killing the Pagan Roman Emperor Julian.
Great-martyr. Philopater "lover of the Father". Abu-Seifein, Arabic for "the holder of two swords"
Born 224
Died 250
Honored in
Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Churches
Feast 11 November in the West; 24 November in the East (25 Hathor)

Great-martyr Mercurius (224–250) was a Christian saint and martyr. Born Philopater in the city of Eskentos in Cappadocia, Eastern Asia Minor, his original name means "lover of the Father". Saint Mercurius is also known by the name Abu-Seifein, which in Arabic means, "the holder [literally, father] of two swords", referring to a second sword given to him by Archangel Michael.

Biography according to tradition[edit]

Family[edit]

Some accounts state that Philopater was born in Eskentos in Cappadocia; others give Rome as his place of his birth.[1] Philopater was the son of a Scythian officer in the Roman army. One day his father, Yares, was hunting in the forest with his grandfather, when they were attacked by an animal. The animal jumped on the grandfather, causing Yares to faint. While Yares was unconscious, he had a vision. He saw a brilliant light and heard a voice saying:

Yares, I am your God Who loves you. I know that you have a good heart and that you hate the pagan idols. I want to inform you that your son, Philopatyr, will become like a tree bearing good fruits, and because of him, I will bless you and your wife. Philopatyr will be My witness and will defy all prejudice in My Name.

Icon of St. Philopater Mercurius

Shortly after, Yares, his wife, and his son were baptized, and they were given new names. Yares became Noah, his wife became Saphina, and Philopater became Mercurius. The news of their baptism spread quickly in the city and the prince ordered them to be arrested and thrown to the wild animals. However, the animals did not harm them, and the prince decided to release Noah and his family.

When the Berbers attacked Eskentos, Noah went to fight them. He was taken prisoner and was brought to their country, where he was kept for seventeen months. When the war finally ended, he went back to his city and joined his family, but died shortly after.

St. Philopater Mercurius is also said to be the cousin of St. George the Cappadocian.

Byzantine fresco from 1295. Ohrid, Macedonia

Military career of Saint Mercurius[edit]

After the death of Noah, the pagan Roman Emperor Decius chose Mercurius to replace his father. Described as very strong and highly courageous, he managed to earn the respect of his fellow soldiers. When the Berbers attacked Rome, Decius went out to fight them, but when he saw how many they were, he became afraid. Mercurius then came to him and told him, "Do not be afraid, because God will destroy our enemies and will bring us victory."[2]

After several days of fighting, the Archangel Michael appeared to Mercurius holding a shining sword. The saint took the sword from the archangel, hence the name Abu-Seifein - "the holder of two swords", a military sword and a divine sword.[2] He conquered the Berbers, feeling the assurance of divine strength. When Decius heard the news about the triumphant victory, he appointed Mercurius prince.

Martyrdom of Saint Mercurius[edit]

Coptic Icon of St Mercurius by Yuhanna al-Armani in The Hanging Church, Cairo.

Nonetheless, in 249, Decius began his persecution of Christians, compelling everyone to offer sacrifices to his pagan gods. The Archangel Michael appeared to Mercurius and told him to remember God and not be fearful of the persecution. The saint was encouraged and spent the whole night praying fervently, and confessing his weakness to God.

The Emperor sent some messengers to summon Mercurius to the palace, but he excused himself, saying that he was tired. The day after, the Emperor sent for Mercurius again. He told him: "Dear Mercurius, let us go offer incense to the gods who helped us attain victory in the war." Mercurius did not say anything, but as they were leaving he slipped through the crowd and went away. However, one of the guards reported his absence, and the Emperor called Mercurius and asked him, "Is it true that you refused to worship the idols who helped us during the war?"[3]

Mercurius declared himself a Christian, saying, "I do not worship anyone except my Lord and my God Jesus Christ."[2]

The Emperor tried to persuade him, and failing this, ordered Mercurius to be stripped him of his rank and tortured.[3] Fearing a revolt because the people loved Mercurius, the emperor had him bound in iron fetters, and sent him to Caesarea. Mercurius was beheaded on 4 December 250.[3] He was only 25 years old.

Other traditions[edit]

St. Arethas with Saint Eustratius. In the roundels, Mercurius and Thomas the Apostle. From the Harbaville Tryptych.

After the end of the first persecution, the place of the saint's burial was revealed. Mercurius appeared to a poor man in the city, and told him that he was Mercurius, the Martyr of the Lord. "My body is buried in Cappadocia Gardens, under the old house on the way to the royal palace. My body looks as white as snow, because Jesus was present at the time of my martyrdom," said the saint.

The next morning, the man went to dig under the old house. He began to smell the scent of perfume, seeing the body of the saint. The news spread quickly and many people came to take a look at the blessed body. They moved it to the local church until they built a new church bearing his name, and Mercurius' body was buried there with respect and devotion.

A few years later, the Catholicos of Armenia, the Chief bishop of the Armenian Apostolic Church, visited Egypt and met with the Patriarch of Alexandria, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The latter asked him if Egypt could have part of the relics of Saint Mercurius to be placed in the church that bears his name in Egypt. On 9 Paoni (16 June), part of the blessed relics of Saint Mercurius were transferred to Egypt.

According to one tradition, Saint Basil once prayed before an icon on which Mercurius was portrayed as a soldier carrying a spear. He asked God not to permit the emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363) to return from his war against the Persians and resume his oppression of Christians. The image of the holy Great Martyr Mercurius, depicted on the icon became invisible, only to reappear later with a bloodied spear. Julian the Apostate, on his Persian campaign, was mortally wounded by the spear of an unknown soldier.[4]

References[edit]

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