Chapter XVIII.—The Persecution which occurred at Antioch, on the Orontes. The Place of Prayer in Edessa, called after the Apostle Thomas; the Assembly there, and Confession of the Inhabitants of Edessa.
The emperor went to Antioch, and entirely ejected from the churches of that city and of the neighboring cities all those who adhered to the Nicene doctrines; 1461 moreover, he oppressed them with manifold punishments; as some affirm, he commanded many to be put to death in various ways, and caused others to be cast into the river Orontes. Having heard that there was a magnificent oratory at Edessa, named after p. 357 the Apostle Thomas, he went to see it. He beheld the members of the Catholic Church assembled for worship in the plain before the walls of the city; for there, too, they had been deprived of their houses of prayer. It is said that the emperor reproached the prefect thoroughly and struck him on the jaw with his fist for having permitted these congregations contrary to his edict. Modestus (for this was the name of the prefect), although he was himself a heretic, secretly warned the people of Edessa not to meet for prayer on the accustomed spot the next day; for he had received orders from the emperor to punish all who should be seized. He uttered such threats with the forethought that none, or at least but a few, would incur danger, and with the desire to appease the wrath of the monarch. But the people of Edessa, totally disregarding the threat, ran together with more than their customary zeal, and filled the usual place of meeting.
Modestus, on being apprised of their proceedings, was undecided as to what measures ought to be adopted, and repaired in embarrassment to the plain with the throng. A woman, leading a child by the hand, and trailing her mantle in a way unbefitting the decency of women, forced her way through the files of the soldiers who were conducted by the prefect, as if bent upon some affair of importance. Modestus remarked her conduct, ordered her to be arrested, and summoned her into his presence, to inquire the cause of her running. She replied that she was hastening to the plain where the members of the Catholic Church were assembled. “Know you not,” replied Modestus, “that the prefect is on his way thither for the purpose of condemning to death all who are found on the spot?” “I have heard so,” replied she, “and this is the very reason of my haste; for I am fearful of arriving too late, and thus losing the honor of martyrdom for God.” The governor having asked her why she took her child with her, she replied, “In order that he may share in the common suffering, and participate in the same reward.” Modestus, struck with astonishment at the courage of this woman, went to the emperor, and, acquainting him with what had occurred, persuaded him not to carry out a design which he showed to be disgraceful and disastrous. Thus was the Christian faith confessed by the whole city of Edessa.
Ruf. ii. 5; Soc. iv. 17, 18. Soz. resembles Soc. in both incidents. Soc. resembles Ruf. in the Edessa story; neither mention the prefects name, as does Soz. Philost. ix. 11; Theodoret, H. E. iv. 17.