Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Holy Martyrs Zotikos, Attalos, Kamasis, Philippos from Niculiţel and other Martyrs from Scythia Minor

The Land of Scythia Minor, the actual Romanian region of Dobrogea, situated between the Danube and the Black Sea was one of the first Christianized regions in the world.

The popular traditions say that St. Andrew the Apostle, in his way from Greece to Scytia (the today Ukraine) went through this region, where he would have stayed a few years, preaching the Gospel to the Dacians, Scythians and the Greek colonists from the cities here.

The attestation of the early Christianity here is also recognized through the archeological discoveries. A few dozens of churches from the 2nd-4th century show the intensity of the Christian activity here. Beyond the rich traditions about the Andrew’s preaching here, there is not much known. It is possible, that the Christianity would be preached here peacefully, also because the Dacians, the ancestors of the Romanians, the dwellers here were already monotheists.

Anyway, at the end of the 3rd century and the beginning of the 4th there are registered some strong actions of persecutions in the area, in the periods of the Emperors Diocletianus (284/305), Licinius (319-324) and later in the times of Julian the Apostate (361-363), respectively of the King Athanaric of Gothia (about 370-372). More than a dozen of soldiers, priests or simple citizens were killed because they confessed their faith in Jesus Christ.

About those saints martyrs there was not very much to know, only a few notes in some Synaxaries. At 4th of June, the Syriac Martyrologium indicates only the Feast of St. Philip, but the “hieronimian” Martirologium, adds here the names Zoticus, Atalus, Eutichius, Camasis, Quirinus and other 28, unnamed.

These saints were almost forgotten, but they came one more time in the attention after an event which passed about 40 years ago.

In the summer of 1971, after some rich rainfalls, some locals from the small village of Niculitel, known much more because of its vineyards, discovered in a landslide some ruins. After more digging, it was obvious that there are not only some ruins, but an entire crypt built like a small chapel. Inside of it were the bones of 4 men, put into a wooden coffin, and above it were on the walls 2 inscriptions in Greek, painted in red colour: “Martyrs of Christ”, respectively “Martyrs Zotikos, Attalos, Kamasis, Philippos”. Both inscriptions were accompanied by the sign of Chrismon (XP), an old Christian symbol.

Even if the discovery occurred in the middle of the communist era, it made sensation between the archaeologists, historians and theologians. The crypt confirms the notation about some martyrs with those names, included in the synaxaries mentioned above and into an extended Greek synaxarion, together with other 32 more Christians who died in Scythia Minor, in the Old Noviodunum, a port at the Danube, not far away from the Danube Delta (the actual Isaccea). The historians believe that they died during the persecution of Licinius (319-324), or Julian the Apostate (361-363).

About the other 32 there is no more informations. Only the 4 Saints Zotikos, Attalos, Kamasis, Philippos were buried here. Because of the barbarian migration that occurred beginning with the 4th century, probably the church, which was initially built over the crypt, was destroyed, and the crypt itself, situated under the altar, was covered with rests which protected it for more than 1500 years.

The archaeological researches discovered 2 more rooms, under this crypt, where there were found the bones of 2 more martyrs. The way those bones were found, made the specialists to believe that also these were martyrs. In the earth found, there were 2 offering vessels and a piece of sandstone with the inscription: “here and there the blood of the martyrs”. The 2 martyrs may be some earlier, maybe from the persecution under Decius (249-251).

On 17 January 1973, the Archbishop Antim Nica of the Lower Danube (from Galaţi) decided the holy relics to be moved in the Monastery of Cocoş from nearby. They are still in this monastery, being venerated by the all Orthodox Romanians. Over the martyrikon ther it has been later in the ‘80s a building which covers both the crypt itself and the ruins of the church, together with some findings from here.

Together with the 4 Holy Martyrs of Niculitel, celebrated in the Romanian Orthodox Church on 4th of June, we mention some other Saints from the same period in the region between Danube and the Sea:

Bishop Ephrem of Tomis (the province’s metropolis), killed in on March 7, 304, was the first Christian martyr of this region, persecuted and killed during the repression ordered by emperor Diocletian. His feast is made on 7th March, together with the Martyrs in Chersones, where all died as martyrs.

Deacon Ermil and his friend Stratonic, drowned in Danube during the persecution of Licinius (307-324). Feast on 13th January

Saint Sava from Buzău, even if he died in the region occupied at this time by the Goths, in the actual central-eastern Romania, may be mentioned here. He was drowned in the waters of the Mousaios river (Buzău) by the orders of the gothic king Athanaric. His relics were asked by St. Basil the Great through a letter from St. Bretanion, the bishop of Tomis. He is celebrated in the Eastern Churches on 12th April, and in the West, on 28th April. He is important also because of the attestation of the Christian faith in the “pagan” regions beyond the Danube, so not in the Roman Empire.

Soldiers Pasicratus and Valentinus, died by beheading during the persecution of Diocletian in the city of Durostorum (today Silistra, in Bulgaria), in 298. Their Feast is on 24th April.

Soldiers Cyril († 20 nov. 303), Kindeas /Candea (20 nov. 303) and Tasios/Dasius (20 nov. 303) from Durostorum (today Silistra), are together celebrated on 26th April. About Dasius we know that he died during the feast of the Roman Saturnalia, because he refused to play the role of Saturn at the feast celebrated here by the Legion XI Claudia.

Maximus, Quintilianus and Dadas from the village of Ozovia (Ozobia) were probably Romans by name, only Dadas maybe Dacian. Maximus was lecturer in the Church. They were brought to Durostorum, beaten and finally beheaded on 28th April 204.

Iulius the Veteran was contemporary with Pasicratus and Valentinus and died by beheading during the same persecution on 27 May 304, also in Durostorum.

Nicander and Marcianus, also soldiers in Durostorum, were strongly tortured and finally beheaded on 8 June 298

Epictetus, the priest and his apprentice, Astion the hermit, originals from the Small Asia, are celebrated on 8 July. They died as martyrs about in 290 BC, being from several years missionaries in Scythia Minor, in the City of Halmyris (today the village Dunavăţul de Jos), on the shore of Danubius. The Governor Latronianus tortured them terribly and finally ordered the beheading of them. They may be the first martyrs in Scythia Minor known today. In the Martyric Act of them (which is today to be found only in a copy from the 15th century in the Church of the Saviour from Utrecht), there are described the bodies of the two beheaded saints, as snow-white. The sick people used to kiss their relics and were sometimes healed. The Basilica from Halmyris was discovered in 2001 and also the Holy Relics of the Saints here, which are today in the monastery built here. Part of their relics can be found also in the Cathedral Church of the Archdiocese of Tomis, in Constanţa.

Emilianus from Durostorum, son of the Roman prefect Sabbatianus, was killed because he destroyed with a hammer the idols that he found in the city. Finally he died being threown in the fire, on 18 July 362.

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