Chapter IX.—Sapor King of Persia is Excited against the Christians. Symeon, Bishop of Persia, and Usthazanes, a Eunuch, Suffer the Agony of Martyrdom.
When, in course of time, the Christians increased in number, and began to form churches, and appointed priests and deacons, the Magi, who as a priestly tribe had from the beginning in successive generations acted as the guardians of the Persian religion, became deeply incensed against them. 1159 The Jews, who through envy are in some way naturally opposed to the Christian religion, were likewise offended. They therefore brought accusations before Sapor, the reigning sovereign, against Symeon, who was then archbishop of Seleucia and Ctesiphon, royal cities of Persia, and charged him with being a friend of the Cæsar of the Romans, and with communicating the affairs of the Persians to him. Sapor believed these accusations, and at first, ground the Christians with excessive taxes, although he knew that the generality of them had voluntarily embraced poverty. He entrusted the exaction to cruel men, hoping that, by the want of necessaries, and the atrocity of the exactors, they might be compelled to abjure their religion; for this was his aim. Afterwards, however, he commanded that the priests and conductors of the worship of God should be slain with the sword. The churches were demolished, their vessels were deposited in the treasury, and Symeon was arrested as a traitor to the kingdom and the religion of the Persians. Thus the Magi, with the co-operation of the Jews, quickly destroyed the houses of prayer. Symeon, on his apprehension, was bound with chains, and brought before the king. There the man evinced his excellence and courage; for when Sapor commanded that he should be led away to the torture, he did not fear, and would not prostrate himself. The king, greatly exasperated, demanded why he did not prostrate himself as he had done formerly. Symeon replied, “Formerly I was not led away bound in order that I might abjure the truth of God, and therep. 265 fore I did not then object to pay the customary respect to royalty; but now it would not be proper for me to do so; for I stand here in defense of godliness and of our opinion.” When he ceased speaking, the king commanded him to worship the sun, promising, as an inducement, to bestow gifts upon him, and to hold him in honor; but on the other hand, threatening, in case of non-compliance, to visit him and the whole body of Christians with destruction. When the king found that he neither frightened him by menaces, nor caused him to relax by promises, and that Symeon remained firm and refused to worship the sun, or to betray his religion, he commanded him to be put in bonds for a while, probably imagining that he would change his mind.
When Symeon was being conducted to prison, Usthazanes, an aged eunuch, the foster-father of Sapor and superintendent of the palace, who happened to be sitting at the gates of the palace, arose to do him reverence. Symeon reproachfully forbade him in a loud and haughty voice, averted his countenance, and passed by; for the eunuch had been formerly a Christian, but had recently yielded to authority, and had worshiped the sun. This conduct so affected the eunuch that he wept aloud, laid aside the white garment with which he was robed, and clothed himself, as a mourner, in black. He then seated himself in front of the palace, crying and groaning, and saying, “Woe is me! What must not await me since I have denied God; and on this account Symeon, formerly my familiar friend, does not think me worthy of being spoken to, but turns away and hastens from me.” When Sapor heard of what had occurred, he called the eunuch to him, and inquired into the cause of his grief, and asked him whether any calamity had befallen his family. Usthazanes replied and said, “O king, nothing has occurred to my family; but I would rather have suffered any other affliction whatsoever than that which has befallen me, and it would have been easy to bear. Now I mourn because I am alive, and ought to have been dead long ago; yet I still see the sun which, not voluntarily, but to please thee, I professed to worship. Therefore, on both accounts, it is just that I should die, for I have been a betrayer of Christ, and a deceiver of thee.” He then swore by the Maker of heaven and earth, that he would never swerve from his convictions. Sapor, astonished at the wonderful conversion of the eunuch, was still more enraged against the Christians, as if they had effected it by enchantments. Still, he spared the old man, and strove with all his strength, by alternate gentleness and harshness, to bring him over to his own sentiments. But finding that his efforts were useless, and that Usthazanes persisted in declaring that he would never be so foolish as to worship the creature instead of the creator, he became inflamed with passion, and commanded that the eunuchs head should be struck off with a sword. When the executioners came forward to perform their office, Usthazanes requested them to wait a little, that he might communicate something to the king. He then called one of the most faithful eunuchs, and bade him say to Sapor, “From my youth until now I have been well affected, O king, to your house, and have ministered with fitting diligence to your father and yourself. I need no witnesses to corroborate my statements; these facts are well established. For all the matters wherein at divers times I have gladly served you, grant me this reward; let it not be imagined by those who are ignorant of the circumstances, that I have incurred this punishment by acts of unfaithfulness against the kingdom, or by the commission of any other crime; but let it be published and proclaimed abroad by a herald, that Usthazanes loses his head for no knavery that he has ever committed in the palaces, but for being a Christian, and for refusing to obey the king in denying his own God.” The eunuch delivered this message, and Sapor, according to the request of Usthazanes, commanded a herald to make the desired proclamation; for the king imagined that others would be easily deterred from embracing Christianity, by reflecting that he who sacrificed his aged foster-father and esteemed household servant, would assuredly spare no other Christian. Usthazanes, however, believed that as by his timidity in consenting to worship the sun, he had caused many Christians to fear, so now, by the diligent proclamation of the cause of his sufferings, many might be edified by learning that he died for the sake of religion, and so became imitators of his fortitude.
The source for chaps. 9–14 must be some early translation of Acta Persarum, which the Syrians, especially those of Edessa, made; cf. chap. 14. Soz. is independent. The persecution began under Shapur II. a.d. 343.