Today, 29 Mar 2012, is the feast day of two martyrs, St Jonas and St Barachisius, who gave extraordinary witness to Christian faith before the leaders of the Persian empire in the year 327. Throughout almost 17 centuries the Church has preserved the eye-witness account of their martyrdom provided by an Armenian member of a troop of royal horsemen. Their story lives on because it has much to teach us.
St Jonas and St Barachisius were brothers, either siblings or monks or both. They definitely shared deep faith in God and a remarkable friendship. When news reached them that a persecution had broken out in a city of Persia (modern day Iran) under the leadership of King Sapor II, these two holy men set out from their homeland, Beth Asa, in eastern Syria to assist the persecuted. To get from one place to the other required a journey of around 1000 kms. That is a huge commitment. In undertaking this journey they hoped to bring encouragement to those facing martyrdom, so that they would not fall into the grave sin of apostasy. Even with modern transportation a journey of 1000kms is not taken lightly.
Our duo, already conspicuous as foreigners, were able to assist 9 Persian companions to face martyrdom worthily. Their own arrests followed swiftly, an expected result for all those who refused to worship sun, moon, fire and water. Clearly the easiest way to break the resolve of these two holy ones, was to separate them. It didn’t work. They knew each other too well to fall for the lie that the other had apostacised. Quite rightly they both refused to worship any created thing and desired only to worship the Creator of heaven and earth. Tortures of great inventiveness followed for Jonas and for Barachisius, and throughout each test of their faith they prayed continually and assiduously – winning the victory for God each time. Meditating upon the Passion of Jesus spurred them on.
After a full day and full night of tortures, through which Jonas and Barachisius refused to give in to the threats and bribes, they were taken to be executed. For Jonas it was decided that each finger and toe be cut off and flung away. Next the skin on his head was removed and his tongue cut out before he was thrown into a container of burning pitch. God arranged that the pitch would not operate according to nature. Only after he was squeezed to death via a wooden press and his bones broken did Jonas’s soul wing its flight to God. Afterwards his body was hacked to pieces and guarded lest anyone seek to obtain relics. For Barachisius his preparations consisted of beatings and piercing of the flesh of his body. When his persecutors tired of this, they immobilised him in a press and then suffocated him by pouring burning pitch down his throat. Then he, too, joined Jonas in heavenly glory.
What zeal for God’s truth, and what faith they had in God’s power to remake their bodies at the resurrection! Their lives encouraged believers in 327, and continue to encourage and inspire with zeal all those who hear of their of the ardour of their faith.
When our time comes, and we face some of the myriad forms of persecution in our modern world, may the memory of these two valiant martyrs inspire us to remain strong in the Lord.
St Jonas and St Barachisius, pray for us