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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity


from its origins to circa AD 700, across the entire Christian world


The Greek Martyrdom of *Anastasios the Persian (monk and martyr of Persia, ob. 628, S02052) recounts the conversion of a young Persian soldier to Christianity and his martyrdom in the reign of Khusro II. Anastasios learned about Christianity when the True Cross was transferred to Persia following the conquest of Jerusalem [in 614], and was baptised soon thereafter in the Holy City, where he also became a monk. His wish to suffer martyrdom led him to Caesarea in Palestine, where he revealed his Christian identity, was apprehended, interrogated, imprisoned and tortured. He was then transferred to Persia, where he was tried and executed by strangulation. His body was buried by a monastery of St Sergios (soldier and martyr of Rusafa, S00023) in Persia, where his tunic effected a posthumous miracle. Written shortly after the martyrdom [in 628], by an anonymous monk of the lavra of St Sabas (Mar Saba) in the Holy Land.

Evidence ID

E06606

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom

Martyrdom of Anastasios the Persian (BHG 84)

Summary

§ 1-3: Through Christ’s death and resurrection, God had provided a means of atonement for human sin and eternal life in heaven, and the apostles preached the Word of God all over the world. However, the sly and wicked Devil devised a plan to harm the pious people: he implanted the idea to persecute the Christian church in the Roman emperors’ minds. But just as the apostles did in the past, the victorious martyrs also managed to cast out the Devil through their endurance, and the Christian church continued to flourish.

§ 4-5: Still, people completely forgot all the gifts given by God and began committing various sins, to such an extent that they provoked His anger. Therefore, He abandoned them into the hands of an impious enemy; but in the end, He, the good and beneficent God, also gave them renewed hope through being glorified by the achievements of His true servants and martyrs. To this purpose, God decided to give to His [Christian] children the chance to improve themselves, and handed them over to the Persians. Yet, by God’s will, Persian men and women converted to Christianity and died a martyr’s death for the Christian faith. One of these martyrs is our Anastasios, whose life and martyrdom I [the author] have been called on to recount.

§ 6-10: Anastasios, originally named Magoundat, hailed from a region of Persian called Razech, specifically from the village Rasnouni; he was the son of a magus, from whom he learned the magical arts. The young man became a soldier in the army of Khusro II. After the conquest of Jerusalem, the True Cross was transferred to Persia, which caused many Persians to convert to Christianity. Anastasios also learned about Christianity, the importance of the Cross and the crucifixion of Christ, and began detaching himself from the religion of his fathers. He then participated in an expedition that reached as far as Chalcedon, but deserted the Persian army and went to live in Hierapolis [Syria] for a while. From there, he managed to go to Jerusalem and was baptised with the help of the priest Elias.

§ 11-12: Anastasios expressed his wish to become a monk to the priest Elias, who immediately delivered him to the monastery of Abba Anastasios near the walls of the Holy City, where the monks of St Sabas had found refuge. There he learned the Greek language and the Christian psalms and also fulfilled his wish to become a monk. During his seven-year stay at the monastery, he undertook various tasks, listened to the Holy Scriptures, and read the accounts of Christian martyrs, whose example he wished to follow.

§ 13-14: The devil kept attacking his mind by invading his thoughts and reminding him of his previous life. Anastasios confessed his temptations to the abbot, who helped him with advice and prayer to be freed from this inner struggle. Some days later, he had a dream vision indicating that he would die soon, and hastened to share this information with the abbot.

§ 15-19: That very night, he secretly abandoned the monastery and went to Caesarea in Palestine, where he lived for two days in the church of Mary, the Mother of God [S00033]. There Anastasios challenged the abilities of some Persian magi and defied the local authorities, while calling himself ‘a servant of Jesus Christ’. As a result, he was arrested, interrogated and imprisoned for three days until the marzban [Persian commander] arrived at Caesarea. When Anastasios was brought before him, he revealed his Christian identity and his Persian origin. Anastasios did not renounce his faith even when faced with threats of violence.

§ 20: The marzban then became indignant and sent this Christian man to the fortress where he was assigned compulsory labour, namely, to carry stones without respite. He also suffered violence and abuse from Persian passers-by.

§ 21-23: The marzban ordered that Anastasios again be brought before him and threatened to send a letter to the king, Khusro II, informing him of Anastasios’ conversion to Christianity, so that Khusro could decide his punishment. However, Anastasios insisted that he was a Christian, and the marzban commanded he be beaten. Anastasios accepted this torture with pleasure and made it clear that he had nothing to fear from the Persian king. Then the marzban sent Anastasios back to the fortress. The whole procedure of interrogation was repeated a third time.

§ 24-26: The abbot of the monastery of Abba Anastasios was delighted to learn of Anastasios’ steadfastness in faith and sent two monks to Caesarea to deliver to him an encouraging letter. While imprisoned in the fortress, Anastasios never ceased to pray and sing psalms day and night. One night, a Jew, who was also confined in the same jail, saw this Christian man while he was at prayer; at a certain moment, Anastasios was surrounded by angels dressed in white.

§ 27-28: The marzban announced the Persian king's answer to Anastasios: he must declare himself to be a non-Christian, to then be allowed to lead a solitary life (μοναχός), or be allowed to recover his previous position in the Persian army. Anastasios rejected this offer, and so was to be sent in chains to the king in Persia. Until the preparations for his transfer to Persia were completed, Anastasios, along with two other Christian men, was imprisoned in the public prison for five days.

§ 29-30: When the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross came, Anastasios, along with the two fellow Christian prisoners and the two monks who had come to visit and encourage him, held a vigil in prison. Through the agency of a pious
commerciarius, Anastasios was even permitted to go to church, where he attended the service and was venerated by men and women. Before bringing him back to prison, the commerciarius invited him and the two monks to a meal at his home.

§ 31-35: During his transfer from Caesarea to Persia, one of the above-mentioned two monks, as well as a crowd of Christians, Persians and other people, accompanied Anastasios and the other two Christian prisoners. Upon arrival in Persia, he was detained in a village named Bethsaloe near Dastagerd until the Persian king assigned his trial to one of the local governors. The trial, which took place inside the jail, and the torment which was inflicted on Anastasios outside the jail, did not manage to make him disavow his Christian faith. Thus, the Christian hero was taken again to prison.

§ 36-37: While in prison, Anastasios was visited by many Christians, who venerated him and asked for his blessing. The monk also visited and encouraged him every day. Some days later, the governor came again to the prison to interrogate and torture this Christian man because of his steadfastness in the Christian faith.

§ 38: Finally, the Persian king ordered that Anastasios and many other Christian prisoners be executed outside the village. Anastasios witnessed beside a river the execution by strangulation of around seventy Christian men; his two fellow prisoners were among them. In the end, the executioner also killed Anastasios in the same way and then severed his head to bring it to the king.

§ 39-40: While the dead bodies of all the other Christian men were devoured by wild dogs, that of Anastasios was left untouched. The monk with some other pious men found the body of the martyr and transferred it to the monastery of Saint Sergios [the soldier and martyr of Rusafa, S00023] near the afore-mentioned village. Anastasios died a martyr’s death on 22 January 628, during the reign of the emperor Herakleios.

§ 41-45: Two of the prison guards recognised – even after the death of the martyr – the holiness of his body and shared this observation with others. After the overthrow of Khusro II by the army of Herakleios, some of Anastasios’ fellow prisoners fulfilled the promise they had made him before his death and went to the monastery of Abba Anastasios to recount the events to the abbot and to all of us [i.e., the monks of the monastery] in person (§42: ἰδίῳ στόματι ταῦτα ἡμῖν διηγησάμενοι). The monk who had accompanied Anastasios at his martyrdom, buried the body of the martyr and returned with the army of Herakleios to Constantinople and from there to his monastery at Jerusalem. The monk related all the events in detail to the abbot and showed him the tunic of the martyr which he had brought with him, and also recounted that this tunic had miraculously helped a young monk of the monastery of Saint Sergios to be released from evil spirits. All this happened by the grace of God who deserves every glory and honour.

Text: Flusin 1992: I, 41-91. Summary: C. Papavarnavas.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Miracles

Miracle after death
Miracle during lifetime
Apparition, vision, dream, revelation
Exorcism
Bodily incorruptibility

Relics

Contact relic - saint’s possession and clothes

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits
Zoroastrians
Foreigners (including Barbarians)

Source

For the manuscript tradition, see:

http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/14490/

For the edition, see Bibliography.


Discussion


The martyrdom account of Anastasios the Persian was composed shortly after 628 (i.e., the year of the martyr’s execution), specifically between 629 and 630, by an anonymous monk of the lavra of Saint Sabas (Mar Saba) in the Holy Land (Flusin 1992: II.192; Flusin 2011: 214; Detoraki 2014: 77). This narrative is based on historical events, especially the conquest of Palestine by Khusro II (r. 590/591-628): Jerusalem, along with the relic of the True Cross, was seized in 614 by the Persian army (cf. Flusin 1992: I.9; Detoraki 2014: 76-77). Thus, the cult of the martyr Anastasios was initiated by the Sabaites in Palestine, and this martyrdom account belongs to the Persian
Passions and specifically to Sabaite hagiography. In fact, this text functions as a hagiographical response to the scandal caused by the seizure of the True Cross: the Persians had captured Jerusalem, but the relic of the Cross that was transferred to Persia also managed to 'capture' a number of Persians (including Anastasios) by converting them to Christianity (§6; cf. Flusin 2011: 214; Detoraki 2014: 77).

The cult of St Anastasios was not limited to the composition of the Greek martyrdom account presented here. It further developed through the circulation of additional stories devoted to him: a tale about the translation of his relics (BHG 88) and a collection of his miracles (BHG 89g-90) decisively contributed to the diffusion of his cult (Flusin 2011: 214; Detoraki 2014: 77). The monk who had accompanied Anastasios in his ordeal returned to Persia once peace had been established and succeeded in stealing the relic of Anastasios and bringing it back to Jerusalem – this is the story told in the account of the translation of the relic, which is set at the time when Herakleios arrived in Jerusalem to restore the True Cross. As far as the collection of miracles is concerned, the story is primarily set in Caesarea and the area surrounding Jerusalem, but sometimes Constantinople is also the setting. The fact that all these texts related to St Anastasios were produced in Palestine leaves no doubt that the cult of Anastasios was encouraged and supported by the religious authorities of that region (Flusin 2011: 214).

But the cult of Anastasios extended to Constantinople and Rome as well. In the 7th century, George Pisides, a poet and deacon in Constantinople, wrote an enkomion (BHG 86) devoted to him. Furthermore, the Greek
Martyrdom of Anastasios was translated into Latin in Rome in the second half of 7th century, possibly by Theodore of Tarsus. This Latin translation (BHL 410b) was used shortly afterwards by Bede (Detoraki 2014: 77; for the Latin translation, see Vircillo Franklin 1995: 175–203; Vircillo Franklin 2004). For an account of these Latin versions, see E07037.

The monastery of Aquae Salviae just outside Rome claimed to hold the head of St Anastasios, transferred to Italy by Cilician monks from the Near East already in the 640s (E06989 and E07894; Flusin 1992: II.354-356).


Bibliography

Text and French translation:
Flusin, B., Saint Anastase le Perse et l'histoire de la Palestine au début du VIIe siècle (Paris 1992), vol. I, 41-91.

Further reading:
Detoraki, M., "Greek Passions of the Martyrs in Byzantium," in: S. Efthymiadis (ed.), The Ashgate Research Companion to Byzantine Hagiography, II: Genres and Contexts (Farnham 2014), 76-77.

Flusin, B., "Palestinian Hagiography (Fourth-Eighth Centuries)," in: S. Efthymiadis (ed.), T
he Ashgate Research Companion to Byzantine Hagiography, I: Periods and Places (Farnham 2011), 214.

Flusin, B.,
Saint Anastase le Perse et l'histoire de la Palestine au début du VIIe siècle (Paris 1992) 2 vols.

Papavarnavas, C.,
Gefängnis als Schwellenraum in der byzantinischen Hagiographie: Eine Untersuchung früh- und mittelbyzantinischer Märtyrerakten (Millennium Studies, 90; Berlin, Boston, 2021), passim (with literary analysis of relevant passages).

Vircillo Franklin, C., "Theodore and the Passio S. Anastasii (BHL 410b)," in M. Lapidge (ed.),
Archbishop Theodore. Commemorative Studies on His Life and Influence (Cambridge, 1995), 175-203.

Vircillo Franklin, C.,
The Latin Dossier of Anastasius the Persian: Hagiographic Translations and Transformations (Pontifical Institute for Medieval Studies. Studies and Texts, 147; Toronto, 2004).


Record Created By

Christodoulos Papavarnavas

Date Last Modified

12/02/2021

Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00023Sergios, soldier and martyr of RusafaCertain
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristCertain
S02052Anastasios, monk and martyr of Persia, ob. 628ἈναστάσιοςCertain


Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Christodoulos Papavarnavas, Cult of Saints, E06606 - http://csla.history.ox.ac.uk/record.php?recid=E06606