Augustin Sokolovski

On November 13, the Churches that follow the Julian calendar honor the memory of the Alexandrian martyr Epimachus the New. The saint suffered for Christ under Diocletian (284-305). He is one of the few ancient Egyptian martyrs whose names have been preserved in the liturgical calendar.

According to the surviving ancient narratives, Epimachus was a resident of the Egyptian province. There, being a Christian, he enjoyed the respect of his fellow citizens, for which he was elected head of the nome - the administrative unit of that time. This is an amazing testimony to how Christianity then spread despite persecution, prejudice, and general fear.

If in other times Christians were not systematically persecuted for their faith by the state, then the Persecution of Diocletian was universal. Unable, or unwilling to hide from the persecutors, as, however, the ancient canons allowed, Epimachus himself came to the local ruler to publicly confess the name of Christ.

After persuasion, the powers that be failed to convince the saint to make a sacrifice to the pagan gods. Seeing how local people openly supported the Christian confessor, he sent him to the capital Alexandria.

There, while awaiting trial, Epimachus preached in prison. A large number of conversions to faith in Christ as a result of his preaching plunged the pagans into superstitious fear. Then they sent him to Upper Egypt, from where, in their opinion, as a kind of omen, he himself came to “destroy them” (cf. Mark 1:24).

In addition, by directing him to the pagan religious centers of that time, they hoped that the gods themselves would avenge themselves. Finally, like Pilate and Herod, who interrogated the Lord Jesus and handed Him over to each other in turn (cf. Luke 23:12), the Egyptians did not dare to carry out the trial and destroy Epimachus. Thus, like the Jewish and Roman authorities during the Lord's earthly life, they expected from each other that someone would take the decision.

As a result, arriving at his destination, the martyr publicly crushed the idol of Apollo and, like the ancient apologists, denounced the power of Emperor Diocletian for the lawless persecution of Christians. For this he was beheaded. The Egyptian pagans sought to destroy the remains of the saints out of revenge, but the Lord preserved the shrine from desecration. Subsequently, the relics of the martyr rested in the church of one of the ancient ascetics. This place of pilgrimage remained for many centuries, until traces of the Christian presence in those places were erased.

The example of Epimachus the New, an ancient forgotten saint, teaches Christians to preach Christ in the most difficult circumstances and not to be afraid of idols, of which there are a lot in our last times.

Saint Epimachus should be distinguished from another martyr of the same name, killed for his faith in the persecution of Decius (249–251), that is, half a century earlier in Alexandria. About him, quoting the message of St. Dionysius of Alexandria to Bishop Fabius of Antioch regarding the persecution of Decius, Eusebius of Caesarea wrote in his “Ecclesiastical History”: “Epimachus and Alexander, who had spent a long time in prison, endured “claws” and scourging, were doused with quicklime” (6.41, 17).

Subsequently, the relics of Saint Epimachus of Alexandria were transferred to Rome, where he was venerated along with the martyr Gordian. His memory is celebrated on March 11 (24).

In the system of administrative division of the Roman Empire, Egypt and Alexandria were two independent units, which subsequently greatly affected the events of church history and even the names of saints.

Nevertheless, both holy martyrs, who bore the same name, were often identified with each other. At the same time, different dates of memory, the history of veneration, as well as the name of the saint who suffered under Diocletian, “Epimachus the New”, which is characteristic of the calendar, indicated that these were different martyrs.

Let us remember that when applied to the calendar, the name “new” literally means one who lived or suffered for Christ at a later time than his “elder” brother.

The very distinction and veneration of the saints of the same name, the memory of them is an active virtue. For a long time, hagiographical tales about “Epimachus the New” were not clear. By the will of God, the story of his exploit, like a mysterious apocalyptic book (cf. Rev. 20:12), was revealed in our Last Times.