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October 2, 2023

Holy Martyr Eleutherios of Nicomedia and Those With Him

Though Saint Eleutherios of Nicomedia is not commemorated in any Orthodox calendar and there is no historical record of his existence that is known to us, he is listed in in the Roman Martyrology to be commemorated on October 2nd.

According to the Roman Martyrology, Saint Eleutherios was a Roman soldier who was falsely accused of having set fire to the palace of Diocletian in Nicomedia and, by order of this most cruel emperor, he and a number of others were massacred in groups. Some were put to the sword, some consumed by fire, while others were cast into the sea. Eleutherios himself, having endured long tortures, and being found stronger after each one, was finally burned alive and became like "well-tried gold."

Historical Background

Nicomedia was at the center of the Diocletianic Persecution of Christians which occurred under Diocletian and his Caesar Galerius. On 23 February 303 AD, the pagan festival of the Terminalia, Diocletian ordered that the newly built Christian church at Nicomedia be razed, its scriptures burnt, and its precious stones seized. The next day he issued his "First Edict Against the Christians," which ordered similar measures to be taken at churches across the Empire.

The destruction of the Nicomedia church incited panic in the city, and at the end of the month a fire destroyed part of Diocletian's palace, followed 16 days later by another fire. Although an investigation was made into the cause of the fires, no party was officially charged, but Galerius placed the blame on the Christians. He oversaw the execution of two palace eunuchs, who he claimed conspired with the Christians to start the fire, followed by six more executions through the end of April 303. Soon after Galerius declared Nicomedia to be unsafe and ostentatiously departed the city for Rome, followed soon after by Diocletian.

Saint Eleutherios in Popular Culture

The Reverend Timothy Lovejoy, Jr. had a vision of "Eleutherius of Nicomedia" in an episode of season eight of The Simpsons, "I Believe in Marge". He appears as a stained-glass icon come to life to banter with the town pastor during the latter’s crisis of faith, where he shames Lovejoy for his lack of effort to make Christianity meaningful to other people. He appears alongside the actual martyrs Saint Lucian and Saint Bartholomew, while there’s a fictitious “Saint Donickus” who is simply a tribute to the episode’s writer, Donick Cary.

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