St. Martyrs Ermil (Ermilus) and Stratonicus

serbian modern depiction

Church of Serbia – 29/1/18

The Martyr Saints Ermil and Stratonicus, in Greek ῞Ερμυλος and Στρατόνικος, or in Serbian Свети мученици, Eрмил и Cтратонjк бэлгрaдски (Sts. Martyrs Ermil and Stratonic of Belgrade) lived in 3rd – 4th centuries in the Roman province Illyricum, located on the middle course of the Danube, and received their martyrdom at Singidunum (the today Belgrade), being celebrated on January 13, their day of passage to the Lord.

Their life and martyrdom are found in three variants, the earlier probably released in the late sixth century (according to a study published in the introduction to their lives in Analecta Bollandiana, vol 30, pp. 156 ff., and in Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca, N. 744 – 745b). Anyway the five manuscripts of this version are, perhaps from the 10th century. Another biography, which is the current used in the Orthodox churches was processed by Simeon Metaphrastes in his Vitae Sanctorum in the 9th century in Constantinople. It is found in volume 114 of JP Migne’s Patrologia Graeca, cols. 554-566. A major study on the three different versions of the biography wrote F. Halkin in Trois textes grecs inédits sur les SS. Hermyle et Stratonice martyrs à Singidunum in Analecta Bollandiana vol 89, 1971, pp. 5-45.

Their martyrdom

The life and martyrdom of saints Ermil and Stratonicus and is closely related to the changing social and political situation of the early fourth century. Diocletian (384-305) is considered one of the fiercest persecutors of the Christians, but even after his death, the fate of the Christians did not change for the better. The coming in charge of Licinius (307-324) in Illyricum, province which included the regions on the middle Danube and the Western Balkans, has brought a new persecution against the Christians. Licinius was together with Constantine the Great, one of the signatories of the Edict of Tolerance (Milan, 313), but he suddenly began a new wave of persecution against Christians. Shortly after taking his office, he asked his officials to denounce the people who respected the „law of Christ” and to bring them before the judgment seat.

Ermil, a Christian deacon from Singidunum (a city on the Danube), was denounced by a soldier to the local authorities, that he was a Christian, being accused that he was despising the Roman gods and the official cult of the Empire. St. Simeon Metaphrastes reports that Ermil was brought before the Caesar, at his command. Ermil received the accusation with joy and said he would come to the court without opposition, so there was no need to be bound. Brought to the emperor and asked why he do not serve the pagan gods, Ermil replied that he serves „only the invisible God who made the world and not some dull and lifeless gods made with hands from wood or stone”. Hearing this, Licinius ordered that Ermil to be beaten on his face with a metal whip. Asked repeatedly to sacrifice to the Roman gods, the saint ignored the torments and refused the offer, confessing God as his savior.

After heavier tortures, the Caesar commanded that the saint to be taken to prison, where he would have three days as time to think on his final position. But here it came to him an angel of the Lord who comforted him, saying „Dare, Ermil and not be fear, for you will soon overcome the tyrant and you will receive the bright crown of martyrdom!”

After three days of prison, Ermil was brought back to the court and asked if he changed his mind. But he again confessed his Christian faith. Then he was beaten and tortured even more terrible, but he endured all without uttering a single groan. Instead he praised incessantly his Lord. At one point it was heard a voice from heaven and the soldiers who tortured him told this to Licinius. The voice announced that over three days Ermil would be free from pain. Licinius was frightened by the news came from the soldiers, but he still ordered the deacon to be taken back into the prison.

All these facts witnessed Stratonicus the prison warden where Ermil was closed. He was also secretly a Christian and knew the deacon already since long ago. He looked stealthily the wounds of the deacon.

St. Ermil was brought for the third time to trial and again he refused to deny his faith. Of course, the emperor ordered the soldiers to tear deep the deacon’s body and especially his womb with iron nails. But the saint remained steadfast in the faith.

One of the soldiers has seen that Stratonicus was crying and cared the injuries of the deacon, and defeated him to Licinius. This fact made the Caesar to ask Stratonicus to sacrifice to idols, but he also confessed that he was an old friend of Ermil and a hidden Christian who refuses the sacrifice to the fake idols. For this confession, Stratonicus was stripped of his clothes and beaten with sticks. During the beating he turned to Ermil, asking him to pray to God, in order to be kept in his faith and to be able to endure the torments.

After this torture, the two were taken back into prison and later Licinius tried once more to persuade them to deny the faith, but without success. Finally, the emperor decided Ermil to be hung in a tree and his body to be chopped with knives, and thrown into the Danube.

Brought to trial, Stratonicus didn’t accept the last proposal.  He confessed that he doesn’t know a happier death than enduring martyrdom for the faith in Christ and that the greatest joy for him would be to accompany in the eternal life his good friend, Ermil. So he was also killed.

The martyrdom of Ermil and Stratonicus happened on January 13, 314 or 315 (according to the Russian Orthodox encyclopedia Православнуя энциклопедия), 18 stages (about 3 km) away from Singidunum (Belgrade today). Their bodies were recovered from the waters of the Danube three days later, by the local Christians. They have put the two saints together in one coffin, in order that they would be together remembered, because they were joined in their faith in Christ and friendship.

According to some other sources, the two saints died in 303, that means before the Great Persecution of Diocletian and Galerius. This date cannot be accepted, because in this way the events would have been occurred before Licinius (307 -324).

Worship

In the old Byzantine synaxaries the celebrations of the two saints were on January 13 and June 1st. But this date is not always remembered the same. In a Palestinian-Georgian calendar from the 10th century (Sinaiticus Georgian manuscris no. 34) the memory of the saints is on January 14. The Martyrology of Jerome remembers a martyr named Hermilus on August 3, without mentioning the place of the martyrdom. In some other Western Martyrologies from the 9th century (Florus, Usuard, Adon from Vienna) the name of the martyr is written as Hermellus,and his place of death is Constantinople. Baronius, based on the Byzantine synaxarion introduced in the Roman Martyrology the memory of Ermil and Stratonicus on January 13, but also on August 3 (the memory of Hermellus from Constantinople alone).

The nationality of the two saints is uncertain. The Romanian synaxaries attest that they would have been Daco-Romans (local Romans, maybe Romanized Dacians or Thracians), but in the meantime the Serbian ones attest a supposedly Slavic origin, which is totally improbable, because there were no Slavs in the Area at the time.

Their skulls were located in the Cathedral of Saint Sophia from Constantinople by a Russian pilgrim named Anthony, about in 1200. Today there is no mention about their relics, as far I have researched.

Today the Holy Martyrs Ermil and Stratonicus are the patron saints of the Serbian capital – Belgrade. The Museum of Belgrade celebrate Sts. Ermil and Stratonicus as patrons of the institution and a paraklis (chapel) of the Cathedral of St. Sava in Belgrade) is dedicate to these Holy Martyrs.

Troparion (hymn) of the martyrs:

Thy Martyrs, O Lord, in their struggles received crowns of incorruptibility from Thee our God: for with Thy strength they wiped out tyrants, and overcame demons, rendering them powerless. By their intercessions, O Christ our God, save our souls!

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