The Holy Martyrs Antonii, John and Eustathii

Commemorated on April 14

      The Holy Martyrs Antonii, John and Eustathii suffered for Christ under the Lithuanian GreatPrince Ol'gerd (1345-1377). The prince was married to the Vitebsk Orthodox princess Maria Yaroslavna (+ 1346). He himself was baptised and during the lifetime of his spouse he allowed the preaching of Christianity. Two brothers by birth, Nezhilo and Kumets, received holy Baptism from the clergy of the princess the priest Nestor, and they received the names Antonii and John. And at the request of Maria Yaroslavna there was even built at Vilna an Orthodox church.
      But after the death of his spouse, prince Ol'gerd began openly to support the pagan priests of the fire-worshippers, who started a persecution against Christians. Saints John and Antonii endeavoured not to display their belonging to the Christians, but still they did not observe the pagan customs, they did not cut their hair as the pagans did, and on fastdays they did not eat forbidden foods.
      The prince soon became suspicious of the brothers in the renunciation of faith, so he interrogated them and they confessed themselves Christians. Then they demanded them to eat meat (it was a fast day). The holy brothers refused, and the prince locked them up in prison. The brothers spent an entire year incarcerated. John took fright at the impending tortures and declared, that he would fulfill all the demands of the GreatPrince. The delighted Ol'gerd released both brothers and drew them near to himself.
      But Antonii did not betray Christ. When he again refused to eat meat on a fast day, the prince again locked him up in prison and subjected him to brutal tortures. The renouncing brother remained free, but as a traitor not only did the Christians not associate with him, but neither did the pagans. Repenting of his sin, John went to the priest Nestor and asked him to intercede before his brother, so that he would forgive him and consort with him. "When he openly confesses Christ, everything betwixt us wilt be reconciled", answered the martyr Antonii. Once, serving the prince at the bath, Saint John spoke privately with him about his reconciliation with the Church. Ol'gerd did not display any anger and gave him to understand, that this was his personal matter and that he could believe in Christ, but conduct himself like all the pagans. Then Saint John confessed himself a Christian in the presence of numerous courtiers. They beat him fiercely with canes and dispatched him to his brother in prison. The martyrs met with joy in prison and on that day did partake of the Holy Mysteries.
      A throng of the people approached the prison so as to view the new confessor. By their preaching the brothers converted many to Christ. The prison was transformed into a Christian teaching-place. The frightened pagan-priests demanded the execution of the brothers, but now already they did not fear temporal parting. On the morning of 14 April 1347 the Martyr Antonii after receiving the Holy Mysteries was hung on a tree. This oak, considered by the pagans as sacred, became from that time truly sacred for Orthodox Christians.
      The hopes of the pagan priests, that with the death of Saint Antonii the preaching about Christ would stop, were not justified. A multitude of the people as before gathered at the walls of the prison, where Saint John was situated. On 24 April 1347 they strangled and hung him dead upon the same oak. The venerable bodies of both martyrs were buried by Christians in a church of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker.
      A third sufferer for faith in Christ was Kruglets. At Baptism the priest Nestor gave him the name Eustathii. He was a relative of the holy brothers. Within the retinue of the GreatPrince of Lithuania, Kruglets stood out by his comeliness, valour and bravery, but even moreso in mind and virtue of soul. A favourite of Ol'gerd, he could count on an excellent future. But one time he also like the martyred brothers refused to eat meat at the festal table. Saint Eustathii openly declared, that he was a Christian and would not eat meat because of the Nativity fast. Hereupon they began to beat him with iron rods, but the youth let out not a groan. The prince tried refining the torture. There was a bitter frost. Ol'gerd gave orders to strip the martyr naked, take him out on the street and to pour icy water in his mouth. But this did not break the spirit of the saint. Then they broke his ankle-bones, and tore off from his head the hair with the skin and cut off his ears and nose. Saint Eustathii endured the torments with such gladness and courage, that the very torturers themselves were astounded by this Divine power, which strengthened him. After the torture the martyr Eustathii was sentenced to death and hung on that oak (+ 13 December 1347), where earlier Saints John and Antonii received a martyr's death.
      During the course of 3 days it was not permitted to take down the body of the martyr, and a column of cloud protected it from birds and beasts of prey. A church was afterwards built on the hill where the holy martyrs suffered. The trinity of venerable passion-bearers glorified the True God worshipped in the Holy Trinity, Father and Son and Holy Spirit wherefore the church was consecrated in the Name of the MostHoly Trinity. The prestol' (altar-table) was secured on the base of the sacred oak, on which the martyrs accepted death. Soon their relics were uncovered undecayed. Already in the year 1364 the Constantinople Patriarch Philotheos (1354-1355, 1362-1376) sent to the Monk Sergei of Radonezh (+ 1392, Comm. 25 September) a cross with the relics of the holy martyrs. The Church established the celebration of memory of all three martyrs on a single day, 14 April.
      The act of the holy martyrs held immense significance for all the Western frontier. Vilensk monastery in the Name of the Holy Trinity, at which the holy relics are kept, became a stronghold of Orthodoxy and peace on this frontier. In the year 1915 during the invasion of the Germans, these relics as very precious in the Baltic frontier were taken to the heart of Russia Moscow.
      Within the memory of believers at Vilnius and to this day there live sorrowful recollections about parting from the holy martyrs and joyful memories about the solemn meeting of the relics of the holy passion-bearers in 1946 at the Vilensk Holy-Spirit monastery. The date of their return 13 (26) July from that time is solemnly noted annually at the monastery.

1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.

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The Holy Martyrs
Antonii, John and Eustathii

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