Saints Montanus the priest and his wife Maxima from Singidunum, on Danube, are martyr saints of the harsh persecution times during Diocletian. They are celebrated as saints in the Western Church among the monastic order odf the Poor Clares nuns, but also in the East, especially in the Romanian and Serbian Churches.
On 24 February 303, the Roman co-emperors Diocletian (284-505), Galerius, his son-in-law (293-311), Maximian Hercules (286-305) and Constantius Chlorus (293-306), the father of Emperor St. Constantine the Great signed an edict against the Christians. Another two edicts were signed in the same year (april and 27 september) and the fourth in January-February 304. These imperial decisions implied the destruction of the Christian places of worship, the burning of the Christian books and archives, loss of the properties, privileges and state functions for the Christians, the punishment of the Christians who do not abjure their faith even by death and forbade the Christian assemblies. As it is to see, these decisions suggest already the specific of the Christian faith. Differently of the first centuries, they were already organized, have had worship places and privileges in some regions.
The Roman Empire was already led by the assembly of the two Augusti and two Caesars – the so-called “tetrarchy”. Of course, the laws, edicts and common decisions were respected differently in the regions led by one or another of the emperors. In any case, the eastern regions, led by Diocletian (who had his capital city in Nicomedia, in Asia Minor) and by Galerius (who leaded the Illyricum from Sirmium), the edicts were strictly applied, so that this period, the ending of the 3rd century, and the beginning of the 4th , gave the most of the Christian martyrs in the whole 2000-years history of our faith.
The martyrs celebrated today, Montanus and Maxima lived in Singidunum (the today Belgrade), in the province called Pannonia Inferior, under the leading of Galerius. St. Montanus was the priest of the Christian community here. The Romanian historians try to demonstrate the Dacian-roman ancestry of the martyrs, based on the fact that the Pannonia Inferior was strongly populated at the time by romanized Dacians. The hypothesis has in fact no real basis. The possibility that the two have been Dacians or Romans is the same as for another nationality. Their names are coming surely from the Roman tradition. In any case, they were citizens of God’s city.
Immediately after the proclamation of the edicts, its decisions were applied by the Roman leader of Singidunum. In this conditions, Montanus fled in Sirmium, the capital of the province (today Mitrovica, about 60 kilometers west of Belgrade), after Christ’s urge “But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another” (Mt. 10,23). There he was caught by the persecutors, who brought him to Probus, the Roman governor of the province. The interrogatory started immediately and St. Montanus confessed his faith in Christ and that he is a priest. After the classical process, Probus asked him to sacrifice to the Roman gods and Montanus refused. During the tortures, Probus ordained the calling of the priest’s wife, Maxima. He believed that she, as weaker being a woman, will see the harsh pains of her husband and will beg him to sacrifice. Maxima didn’t do as the governor believed; moreover she asked to be tortured too with her husband, in order to become a martyr for Christ as well. Finally, Probus ordained the both to be thrown in the river Sava. The Serbian versions speak about the beheading of the two martyrs who were later thrown in the river. After the Romanian versions, the soldiers have bound stones on their necks and so the two saints, Montanus and Maxima, were drowned. It was the day of 26 March 304.
The Veneration of the Saints
The hieronymian martyrology mentions them on 26 March and 26 April. Also the martyrical act of Montanus and Maxima are mentioned in the life of St. Pollion, the lector of the church from Cibalae (died on 28 april 304). Their original martyrical acts were not kept. But in the modern times, a Romanian priest and professor of Church History, Nicolae M. Popescu tried to reconstitute the story, following the similar act of martyrdom of St. Irenaios of Syrmium who died a few days later (on 6 April 304) in the same conditions. This text is today read with piety in the Romanian churches during their days of celebration, 26 March.
|Catacomb of St. Priscilla from Rome|
|Catacomb of St. Priscilla|
|Celebration of the Saints in the Romanian parish of Isacova, Serbia|
“Thy Martyrs Montanus the priest and Maxima, 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!”