Augustine Sokolovski

On September 3, the Church celebrates the memory of the holy martyrs Theognius, Agapius, Pistus, and their mother Bassa. The Saints suffered for Christ during the reign of Emperor Maximian Galerius (305–311) in Greek Macedonia. Like Faith, Hope, Love and Sophia, the Macedonian saints are a great example of the joint martyrdom of parents and children.

The name Theognius means "knowing God", and Agapius and Pistus - "beloved" and "faithful". In fact, these are the same names as the names of the holy Roman martyrs. In the identity of the names of the Macedonian and Roman saints, as well as in the similarity of the biography of their suffering, the spiritual communion of Bassa, and her children, with the martyrs Faith, Hope and Love is revealed.

The ancient world did not consider children to be full-fledged people, so even the fact that Christians used to baptize them caused indignation among the pagans. Moreover, the participation of children in the Eucharistic assembly of the Church, their communion with the Body and Blood of Christ, gave rise to the absurd accusation that Christians feed on the blood of babies. Among the ancient martyrs there were many sufferers of a very young age. Their testimony of faith was the strongest refutation of pagan slanders and absurdities.

The example of the martyrs of Maccabees became a biblical prototype of the joint suffering for the faith of different generations. Then in 166 BC, seven brothers suffered for observing the laws, together with their mother Solomonia and the teacher Eleazar (2 Mac. 6:18-7:42). However, unlike the Maccabees, Sophia, and her daughters, Bassa and her sons are much less known among believers in Christ today. It wasn't always like this. After all, in the 5th century, a church in Chalcedon was dedicated to these saints. This suburb of Constantinople was very significant.

The saints suffered for Christ during the reign of the successors of the emperor Diocletian (284-305). This time was marked by the most cruel persecutions in the entire previous history of Christianity. Reforming the structures of the Roman Empire, Diocletian began the systematic destruction of the Church and those who belonged to it. Apparently, he wanted the Empire to enter the new period of its history without the name of Christ.

The pagans believed that in the few peaceful decades that had passed since the last severe persecution, Christians had become spiritually weak. But the steadfastness of Christians in enduring torments for their faith was surprising. Indeed, among the pagans themselves, renunciation under the influence of circumstances and under the threat of life was not considered shameful. The willingness of Christians to die for their beliefs seemed completely incomprehensible to them. Subjecting parents and children to joint suffering, they were sure that the renunciation of the faith would be inevitable since nothing could resist the power of family ties.

There is very little information about the holy martyrs. According to the life, Bassa was the wife of a pagan priest. “A wife who has an unbelieving husband, and he agrees to live with her, must not leave him,” writes the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 7:13). Giving evidence how literally these words of the Apostle Paul were then fulfilled by Christians, this biographical detail from the lives of the saints speaks of the power of evangelization of that time. It turns out that the preaching of the Christian faith penetrated all layers of the then society.

According to the life, the pagan priest himself denounced his wife Bassa. Perhaps he was guided by human malice, but it is also possible that in this way he hoped that after renouncing the faith of his wife, he would be able to maintain his reputation and protect the well-being of the family. Bassa was brought in for interrogation and offered to renounce his faith in the temple of Zeus. There she crushed the idol. In response to this desecration of the sanctuary, the pagans began to torture her children. Theognius, Agapius and Pistus were cruelly tortured. Strengthened by the power of grace, they did not renounce their faith and were beheaded. The pagans threw Bassa into the sea.

Fishermen passing by in a boat picked her up, and the saint was saved. It seemed to the contemporaries of those events that the fishermen who saved her were the Angels of God, and St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite (1749-1809), close to us in time, in his reflection on the fate of these saints, believed that Bassa was saved by her sons, who already received a martyr's crown and were sent for her salvation by Christ Himself.

Such interpretations are very instructive, but what happened after exceeds ordinary edification. In the life of St. Bassa, the ending is surprising. It has a genuine theological content and reveals the story of the saints as a new interpretation of the Paschal mystery. So, Saint Bassa escaped death from torment. The pagans believed they had killed her and made no search. From the point of view of the society of that time, she was completely free, and a new life was open before her.

“I believe in the resurrection of the flesh,” says the Creed of the Holy Apostles. Knowing about this conviction of Christians, the pagans subjected them to special bodily torments. In addition to trying to achieve their renunciation, they wanted to disfigure and, if possible, destroy their bodies, in order to thereby bring down their hope for a bodily resurrection. Before the appearance of Christianity in the world, the pagans despised the body. As the world became more and more Christianized, they became afraid of the bodies of saints.

“After eight days His disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came when the doors were closed, stood in the midst of them, and said to Thomas, give your hand and put it in my side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:26-27). This Gospel story about the appearance of the Resurrected Jesus to Thomas, the result of which was the assurance of the bodily Resurrection of Jesus, and the confession of His Lordship and Divinity, was miraculously reproduced in the life of Saint Bassa.

On the eighth day after the pagans drowned her in the sea and were sure of her death, she, knowingly and in good health, appeared at the judgment of her persecutors. This voluntary evidence of victory over death and neglect of the most favorable circumstances was very great. Believing that they were seeing a ghost in front of them, seeing that any rituals were powerless in the face of the appearance of the saint, the pagans in fear began to beat her with sticks. Thus, in freely returning to her persecutors and murderers for the sake of witnessing to the Lord of Truth (cf. John 14:6), Saint Bassa completed her path to Christ.