One of the most famous ancient images of the Lord Jesus, a Coptic icon of the 6th century, kept in the Louvre, shows us a very rare image of the Savior. Our Lord is depicted next to a saint of the same height as himself, on whose shoulder He quite visibly lays His hand in a brotherly manner.
This saint is the Martyr Menas of Egypt, whose memory the Church celebrates on November 24. One of the most revered saints of Christian antiquity and the entire Middle Ages, now Menas is almost completely forgotten in Orthodoxy.
The evidence of Menas' suffering is very laconic. According to his life, he was a high-ranking military dignitary. An Egyptian by birth, he was serving in Phrygia, the interior of western Asia Minor, when the Diocletian Persecution broke out in the Empire. Let us remember that at the same time Saint George suffered for Christ in Palestine.
Menas was already a Christian. He did not want to be a participant in this great pagan persecution and resigned. Then he retired to remote places in solitude. Since the practice of the Ancient Church and even the canons ordered Christians not to seek martyrdom themselves and, if possible, to withdraw and even flee in case of persecution, there was nothing unusual in this.
However, the saint soon changed his mind and returned from his place of solitude: he openly preferred open public testimony of his confession of faith in Christ to resignation and flight.
So Menas arrived in the city. At this time, a pagan performance was performed in a huge amphitheater, a kind of analogue of modern sports stadiums.
The powers that be still remembered the former dignitary well but did not know that he was a Christian. They gave him a place of honor from which he could not only watch the spectacle, but also be visible to everyone. At this moment, the saint finally chose the path of public confession.
It is extremely important to understand that the short doxologies familiar to us - “Glory to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit”, “Christ is Risen”, “Amen” and many others - originally had a very special meaning.
After all, Christians used to suddenly appear among pagan festivities, publicly proclaim with a loud voice the Truth of the Faith in a short saying and immediately disappear, because staying after the Christian confession meant deliberately exposing themselves to bloody reprisals. But, as already mentioned, provoking persecutors, that is, one’s potential murderers, was prohibited by the canon rules of the Ancient Church.
So Menas publicly proclaimed his Christian confession. He was captured and sent to prison. Apparently, the pagans hoped that this very authoritative man, whose testimony was very strong, would change his decision. But Menas remained true to his conviction, was interrogated in detail, tortured, tried, and beheaded the next day.
His body was taken by Christian witnesses who were in the city to the birthday celebration - as Christians then called the days of martyrdom - and secretly transferred to the saint’s homeland in Egypt, where it rested until the complete cessation of persecution. Then the Lord showed the memory of St Menas with an abundance of miracles.
The veneration of Menas soon spread throughout the Empire and even beyond its borders. Images of the saint discovered by archaeologists indicate his veneration, in addition to Egypt and Asia Minor, in Greece, Italy, the south of France and even in Carthaginian Roman Africa. Pilgrims flocked from everywhere to the saint’s tomb in Egypt.
The shrine of Saint Menas was located near the great Egyptian city of Alexandria. Together with the Tomb of the Apostle Mark, it was the center of worldwide Christian veneration until the Arab conquest of Egypt in the 640s.
As a sign of universal canonization outside his native Egypt, many churches were dedicated to Menas. One of the first was built in Constantinople by Emperor Constantine the Great, who, through the prayers of Menas, was also granted healing from an illness.
In the Holy Spirit, by the power of the given grace of martyrdom, God brought Menas closer to Jesus. He Introduced him into the Glory of the Kingdom. The Lord Jesus made him His and our brother, friend, and helper of people. The Church called Mina a great martyr for his great testimony, which became universal for the entire world.
For us, Menas’ testimony is also important because it gives an example of grace-filled inconstancy in Christ. Usually, the saints stood their ground like stones. But we, in trying to imitate them not, only commit the sin of stubbornness. Menas gained the gift of holiness through a change in his firm decision. He decided, according to the canons, to evade persecution, but then, by inspiration from above, he returned to the world and bore testimony of martyrdom. This is the way, or better yet, the Method of Grace. This is how Christ Himself sometimes unexpectedly meets us, persuades us to goodness, and makes us His Brothers.