St Apollonius and Philemon

Martyrs (entered heaven around the year 311)

Dear Phil,

I will not pray that God remove all those bothersome obstacles you keep encountering.  I don’t want you to become a spiritual and apostolic wimp.  That is exactly what would happen if you didn’t have to fight to keep and spread the faith. Rather, I will pray that God give you the strength and wisdom to overcome every obstacle and conquer every enemy you run across, much as it happened with today’s saints.

Apollonius was one of those exemplary hermits who spent his years dedicated to prayer and penance in the deserts of Egypt.  His holiness became famous, and he was often consulted by Christians and pagans alike.  When the Emperor Diocletian initiated his gruesome efforts to rid the Roman Empire of Christianity once and for all, government officials all over the world began rounding up Christians and forcing them to worship the Roman gods or be executed as traitors.  Apollonius was one of the first Christians in his area to be arrested, since he was so well known.  He was imprisoned, and to break down his resistance pagan citizens were permitted to visit him in order to mock and intimidate him.  One of these visitors was named Philemon, a popular actor and musician.  Apollonius reacted to his taunts as he reacted to all of them, with prayer and humility, allowing himself no more comment than simply, “My son, may God have mercy on you, and not lay these reproaches to your charge.”

Philemon was struck dumb by this meekness.  It moved him so much that he began questioning the saint about his faith.  Soon Philemon himself embraced Christ, and so when Apollonius was put on trial for treason, Philemon was too.  They both refused to renounce their faith in Christ by adoring the pagan idols, and so were sentenced to death by burning.  As the fire was kindled, they prayed for the deliverance of their souls, and a miraculous dew fell upon them and the wood, extinguishing the blaze.  The bystanders were filled with awe, and the judge didn’t know what to do except send the prisoners on to a higher authority in the great city of Alexandria.  During the journey, Apollonius and Philemon spoke with their guards about Christ, and showed such meekness, courage, and wisdom in their demeanor and speech that by the time they were brought to trial, the guards joined them as professed Christians.  Since none of them could be moved to worship the pagan gods, all of them were thrown into the river to drown.

Certainly the injustice of it all is tragic.  But the peace of mind and zeal for the faith shown by Apollonius and Philemon is glorious.  If you take it as a model amidst your own struggles and difficulties, you may end up sharing the tragedy (no life is immune from the cross), but if so, you will certainly also share the glory.

Your loving uncle,


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