This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

September 20 -- Feast of Saint Eustathius and Family

Second Century General Riding the Wheel of Fortune

On the door to my classroom today is a saying by G.K. Chesterton: "The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen." 

If the parallels between the life of Saint Eustathius and the Book of Job seem implausible, see the quote above.  If the coincidences that restored Eustathius' greatest losses to him seem unbelievable, see the quote above. 

Eustathius was a hot shot Roman general during the imperial reigns of Titus and Trajan.  Given what a bastard Domitian was, it is not surprising that he didn't hold command under him or under Nerva, but it speaks well of Trajan that Eustathius was called back under the eagle. 

 Called to the Faith
Saved, but no deer
Eustathius was apparently a kind man, a good husband and father, and a wise commander.  He was out hunting one day and spotted one of those trophy stags that hunters lust after.  The animal would pause and wait for him, only to bolt to a safe though visible distance again.  After the chase had gone on some time, a shining cross appeared between the antlers of the motionless quarry.  A voice quickly persuaded the general that he had been chosen by God to be saved because of his virtues.  Eustathius believed and returned home to tell his wife.  She revealed a dream in which God told her that the family was to be saved, so they packed up the boys and went to find a bishop to baptize them.  General Placidas (his old named) was christened Eustathius.  His wife Tatiana was christened Theopiste, and the two boys were renamed Agapius and Theopistus.  Only when they were all locked down in the faith did God reveal to Eustathius how much suffering He had in store for him, promising that in the end, the general would overcome the Devil himself. 

Woe upon Woe
 If he thought the new faith would bring him good fortune, the Lord's warning should have gotten him ready for what would follow.  First he lost his estates.  One plague took the cattle and another took the slaves.  Getting out of town seemed like a good idea, so Eustathius packed up the family and took a boat to Jerusalem.  Unfortunately, Theopiste caught the captain's eye.  He put the general and his sons ashore and sailed off with the wife.  The general tried to trudge on as best he could, but he came to the bank of a river and realized he couldn't carry both boys across at once.   He got to the far bank with one but turned to see a lion racing off with the other.  In terror, he flung himself into the river to rescue his son, but once across, he turned to see a wolf carrying the other away. 

Had it been me, I might have found pitched myself into the river in the hopes of floating down to some rapids that would dash my brains, but he must have recalled God's message about defeating the Devil.  He found a job on a farm and worked hard for five years or so. 

Meanwhile, back in Rome, Trajan is in need of a top-notch military strategist.  He puts the word out that he's looking for General Placidas.  A few veterans set out to find him, and a couple actually wind up in his vicinity.  Eustathius tries to keep his identity secret, but his scars are distinctive and unforgettable.  Thus exposed, he returns to Rome with them and takes up command.  Among the troops he conscripts are two young men who both happen to be adopted.  They're hanging around quarters talking one night and learn that each one was taken from his family by a predatory animal but then subsequently (miraculously) rescued by a farmer. 

As it happens, their story is overheard by Theopiste.  The sea captain who had abducted her was struck dead of a sudden violent fit before he could ever violate her, and she was turned loose when the ship reached port.  There she stayed until the Roman army showed up and her sons happened to be discussing their fortunes within earshot.  She hastened off to beg permission to travel with the army back to Rome, but when she got to the commander's tent, she immediately recognized her husband.  His family reunited and his military victory secure, Eustathius sets out for Rome to report to the Emperor. 

Hadrian, rather than Trajan, held imperium by this point.  He was an odd, theatrical emperor, but he was decisive, smart, and effective.  Glad of the victory and impressed by the tale of his general's fortunes, he planned a massive sacrifice to offer thanks to the gods.  Eustathius, of course, didn't show up.  Summoned for questioning ("You, of all people, should be thanking the gods..."), the general explained his Christianity.  Hadrian, in turn, explained the death penalty. 
Roman Barbeque -- the bull's the grill and the people are well-done

With the preliminaries out of the way, a large bronze bull was built and the family closed up inside it.  Then a fire was kindled underneath it and the saints were roasted alive.  Three days cooking ought to have done it, but when the bull was cooled and opened, the bodies were not burned in the slightest.  Dead, yes, but unblemished. 

Job was luckier and yet less lucky than Eustathius.  In Job 42:12-13 we read, "So the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses. He had also seven sons and three daughters."  He didn't get his own kids back, but he got new ones (apparently at least one new wife).  For my part, I'd rather have my own wife and kid(s) back.  Then again, Job lived to be 140 years old and saw his great-grandchildren.  Eustathius got to see his family prematurely extinguished with him in a slow, uncomfortable death. 

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