Augustin Sokolovski

Pionius was a presbyter in Smyrna. Now it is the Turkish city of Izmir. Christianity came to Smyrna along with the apostolic preaching. According to Tradition, the founder of the local Church was the Apostle John the Evangelist. This means that the episcopal see in Smyrna had an apostolic origin, and therefore had a special authority in the Ancient Church. The fate of Christianity throughout the universe depended to a great extent on how firm in faith the Community in Smyrna was.

Saint Pionius suffered for Christ during the persecution of Emperor Decius (249-251). Decius carried out the persecution under the auspices of a return to traditional values. Under Roman law, Christianity was considered a "new religion" and therefore was banned. However, the authorities, as a rule, turned a blind eye to its existence. Moreover, many representatives of the nobility themselves became Christians. However, and the persecution of Decius showed this, this could not always continue.

The persecution of Decius came after a long break, a visible absence of persecution and peace in the Churches. It seemed sudden and unexpected. By that time, Christianity had spread, and the number of Christians had increased. Enjoying, as the Church has always prayed about during the liturgy, "times of peace", many Christians were completely unprepared for the sudden outbreak of bloody persecution.

At the same time, all of them - those who made a sacrifice in practice or simply acquired the appropriate certificate - were considered in the eyes of the Church to have renounced the faith. Early Christianity demanded of its followers impeccability in the image of Christ. All of them were called fallen. Indeed, at that time, among many in the Church, the conviction prevailed that renouncing the faith was not subject to forgiveness. The fact that the sin of renunciation cannot be forgiven even by the Church, in particular, was taught by an authoritative ancient author, the Carthaginian presbyter Tertullian (+220). Many ancient canonical rules testify to the extreme severity of the Church towards those who renounce the faith.

A century before the persecution of Decius, on February 23, 155, a disciple of John, Bishop Polycarp, was burned alive in Smyrna for confessing his faith. This day of his memory has become a special celebration for all Smyrna Christians.

It was Pionius who preserved for the Church the description of the suffering of Polycarp. The Saints were bound by a special spiritual brotherhood. According to the life, Polycarp appeared to Pionius in visions. Knowing in the Holy Spirit that it was on February 23 that the pagans would deal a decisive blow to the Church of Smyrna, Pionius and his disciples celebrated the Eucharist the day before.

In the manner of the Book of Acts, on the eve of parting and the great test, they spent the night in prayer and meditation. Then, like Paul (Acts 20:23) and the Christian prophet Agave (21:11), who bound himself with bonds as a sign of what was soon awaiting the Apostle, Pionius also put bonds on himself and predicted that all of them, he and his disciples will be caught. The next morning the saints were arrested. For refusing to renounce the faith, Pionius, like Polycarp, was burned. His disciples suffered along with him, some of whom are mentioned by name in the Vita.

This account gives us an image of how much the Christians of the third century were people of the Scripture, and, in their words, deeds and gestures, to the smallest detail, were inspired by his words. The Vita of Pionius is rich in details. The time of Great Lent is a commandment to reread it.

The first Christians called the days of the death of the martyrs "birthdays". So, shortly before his birth, in prison and beyond, Pionius met many Christians. Those who faced torment for their faith, and, most importantly, those who, out of fear of torment, had already renounced. The latter suffered especially. In the face of a mocking pagan crowd, they realized themselves completely alone, for they had fallen away from the Church. They were dead before they were born. On the one hand, they were ridiculed by the Gentiles and Jews for their renunciation. The Vita testifies to this. On the other hand, the renunciates faced the Church, which seemed inexorable in its severity.

Pionius comforted the fallen, hugged them and wept with them. Not possessing the episcopal authority to return them to Communion, he, as a living confessor of the faith, interceded for their return to everyone. He admonished not to succumb to despondency and to hope for divine forgiveness. He wept and prayed with the fallen. Like a living icon of Christ, a sacrifice prepared for burnt offering, Pionius closed the mouths of the pagans, and commanded Christians to believe that the Church is only where everything is forgiven.