Augustin Sokolovski

On August 20, on the second day of the Transfiguration, the Churches following the Julian calendar celebrate the memory of the martyr Dometius of Persia. The saint was a physician and an ascetic. Together with two disciples, he suffered for faith in Christ during the reign of Emperor Julian the Apostate (331-363). Dometius is one of the very few ancient Persian martyrs whose names, like precious stones of the Apocalypse (cf. Rev. 21:19), are kept in the liturgical calendar of the orthodox Church.

Information about the saint was preserved in one of the sermons of the Bishop of the Severus of Antioch (465-538), as well as in the "Chronography", of the Byzantine scholar John Malala (491-578). Both authors were representatives of Syrian Antiochian Christianity, which, unlike Greco-Roman Christianity, maintained a living connection with the Christians of Persia. The suffering of the martyr, written in Greek, belongs to a later time. All this information is very brief and not without contradictions. Only the knowledge about the circumstances of that time available to us thanks to the development of science makes it possible to understand the relationship between the life and suffering of the Persian martyr.

The reign of Emperor Julian was very short and lasted only two years (361-363). However, its consequences for Christians were significant. Julian was the nephew of Constantine the Great. In his youth he was considered a catechumen, and even studied philosophy in Athens together with the future Saint Gregory the Theologian (320-390). He also considered himself a student of the orator Libanius (314–393), from whom Chrysostom (344–407) studied. These amazing coincidences show that faith is not inherited, is not always conditioned by example, and even apostasy is a matter of persuasion.

Having come to power, Julian proclaimed religious tolerance. At the same time, he canceled the decrees against the Jews and supporters of Nicene Orthodoxy, who had previously been persecuted by the descendants of Constantine, who were supporters of Arianism. At the same time, he secretly renounced Christianity and was a convinced pagan, although he kept it secret until his accession to the throne.

The future emperor was always deeply impressed by Christianity. In everything he tried to borrow his life-giving sides, and, at the same time, to overthrow Christ. In the image of the cherubic song from the liturgy, the army proclaimed him emperor in Paris and solemnly hoisted him on a shield.

It is important to note that Julian did not introduce bloody persecution against Christians but tried to quarrel them among themselves. Like the politicians of today, he had the goal of making Christianity marginal, making it ridiculous and ridiculous. By his decree, he removed Christians from holding positions and teaching scientific disciplines.

According to his life, Dometius was a doctor. Apparently excluded from teaching medical science because of Julian's repressive policy towards educated Christians, he retired to the vicinity of Nisibis. This ancient metropolis on the border of the Roman and Persian Empires was the home of many Christians. From here the evangelization of remote areas of Mesopotamia and Iran took place.

It was in Nisibis that the great wonderworker of that time, Bishop James (+350), labored shortly before, Ephraim the Syrian (306–373) was born and preached, and a famous theological school was founded, which brought up many theologians and saints. But, apparently, Dometius was indifferent not only to earthly glory, but also to spiritual one, and therefore he soon withdrew with two disciples towards the Syrian city of Cyrus.

In 363, not compelled by any circumstances of the time and driven solely by ambition, Julian went to war with Persia. He did not hide his ambitions.

Being an ardent admirer of ancient pagan cults, he was inspired by ideas about the great Hellenistic rulers. In his dreams, he planned to soon reach the eastern borders of Persia and add the title of Emperor of the Parthians to his name. Christians predicted his quick death. Julian himself certainly knew this. He scornfully called Christ the Galilean and tried his best to "defeat" Him.

In such circumstances, Julian met Dometius on the way, who by that time was living the solitary life of an ascetic in one of the caves. At the sight of Persian ascetics, and Julian always revered philosophers, scientists, and physicians, he became interested in them and entered a dialogue. Like the philosophers of the Areopagus in Paul's time, he was willing to talk about religion and liked to hear something new (Acts 17:21).

Learning that before him are Christians who limit themselves in everything exclusively in search of the gospel ideal, Julian was furiously disappointed. The fact that Dometius and his disciples were Persians added drama to the situation. Shortly before this, he executed three Persian ambassadors who, being Christians, refused to argue with him on religious topics during the games in Chalcedon. Their names are Manuel, Savel and Ismail, and the memory takes place on June 17 (30). The emperor wanted to accuse the ascetic Dometius of espionage, but this was meaningless. So, he decided to delay.

Remembering that it was the Christians who predicted his quick death, he ordered to block the entrance to the cave with stones. With his usual malicious irony, Julian decided to help Christians in temperance. However, he believed that ascetics, like the Indian yogis he adored, could live for a long time without food and drink.

Moreover, he promised to return soon with victory, bring Dometius to court and prove to the Christians the righteousness of the gods. On March 6, 363, he walled up the saints. The Persian campaign was initially very successful. But on June 26, “launched by an unknown hand,” according to the chronicle, the spear hit Julian right in the heart. The emperor was killed.

As a result of the peace treaty, the Roman Empire lost its territories, Nisibis passed to Persia, the inhabitants of the city were expelled within three days. The decision taken not long before by Dometius to leave Nisibis then turned out to be a biblical prophecy about the fate of the city (cf. Is. 19:1-14). The Christians of that time, as evidenced by the life of Basil of Caesarea, believed that the death of Julian came through the prayers of the Churches.

“To the one who overcomes I will give a white stone, and on the stone a new name is written, which no one knows except the one who receives,” it is written in the Apocalypse (cf. Rev. 2:17). Until the time, Saint Dometius and his disciples remained in their cave in obscurity. They soon died of exhaustion. “The Kingdom of God is not in food and drink,” Paul wrote (Rom. 14:17). But the Kingdom is not about rejecting them. Two years later, the relics of the saints were found among the stones and laid in one of the churches. The names of the companions of Saint Dometius have not come down to us. This means that even before the glorious Second Coming Jesus, the Lord gave them new, unique names.