Today, 12 Mar 2012, is the memorial of St Pionius, valiant priest and martyr of Smyrna, who gave his clear witness for Jesus about the year 250. In the accounts of his martyrdom the most striking thing is his joy at being given the opportunity to publicly witness to his love for Jesus.
While there seems to be a little confusion as to the date of his memoral (1 Feb vs. 12 Mar ), I am going with my 1999 edition of Butler’s Lives of the Saints which gives 12 March.
Pionius served as priest in the same place that St Polycarp did, and had great veneration for this early martyr. When the imperial edict of Decius was announced, that all should sacrifice to the gods of the empire or face punishment, Pionius knew that his days were numbered. What did he do? He didn’t run and hide. He stayed, redoubled his prayers seeking God’s aid and continued to minister to his flock. When God warned him in a dream that his arrest was imminent, he informed the Christians of his household, led them in prayer and to show how willingly they embraced this particular will of God for them they placed chains around their necks.
After a short public interrogation, Pionius and his two companions were sent to prison. There they greatly encouraged other Christians who had been arrested. Then Pionius and his companions were forcibly dragged into the temple, but could not be persuaded to renounce the one true God. Back to prison they went. While in prison many people came to visit Pionius. Among them were those ashamed because they had given in and sacrifced to idlos. Pionius advised them to do penance and to hope for pardon from the immense Mercy of God. So many came to visit the martyrs-to-be that the guards transferred them to a more remote place.This did not phase Pionius and his little band, they were happy to devote more time to prayer in preparation for the spiritual battle to come.
Soon enough the proconsul arrived and took charge of what to do next with them. Firstly, Pionius was interrogated again, and then tortured, but his faith in the one true God and in the Catholic Church could not be broken, so he and his companions were condemned to execution. The punishment, much like Polycarp’s, was to be burned at the stake. When taken to the place of execution, Pionius quickly and joyously disrobed and willingly permitted himself to be nailed to the stake. Despite last ditch efforts of people to get him to save himself by sacrificing to idols, Pionius remained firm. As the pyre was lit, he closed his eyes in prayer and only opened them again to pray like Jesus did, ‘Amen. Lord Jesus, receive my soul.’, before surrendering his soul to God.
May St Pionius help us to remain firm in our Lenten commitments and to be willing to stand up for God’s holy laws rather than take the easy way out of conformity to the public (im)morality of the day.
St Pionius, pray for us.