In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

In our Epistle reading this morning, St. Paul makes what the Orthodox Study Bible calls “a plea for holiness.” He exhorts the Christians of Corinth to have nothing to do with false gods or idols, because they are the temples of the living God. He reminds them of the words of the Old Testament, that the people of God are to “come out from among them and be separate…do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:17). And so St. Paul calls on us to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). We’re to be different, we’re not to be of the world, rather we’re to concern ourselves with the things of God.

This morning we have a magnificent example provided for us by the Church of three men who did exactly this—they were separated from the people of the world, and they lived (and died) in the fear of God. Today we celebrate the memory of the Martyrs Probus, Tarachus, and Andronicus. These are not what we might call well-known Saints to most American Orthodox Christians. I’m sure some of you are hearing of them for the first time in this homily. But for our local parish community, these three martyrs are incredibly important because their relics are in the antimens that lies on our altar. A consecrated Orthodox altar always contains relics of martyrs, and a consecrated antimens also always contains relics of martyrs. And you have to have an antimens to serve the Divine Liturgy.

The martyrs have always been regarded in the Church with the highest respect and love. These men and women laid down their lives for Christ. Most often they had a choice—to renounce Christ and live, or to admit that they were believers, and face certain torment and torture and death. The martyrs laid aside everything of this world, and clung only to Christ—they were separated from the world in the most extreme degree. And their reward for their faith are great in heaven. There is a saying in the Church, that the blood of the martyrs waters the ground of the Church. As the Church was persecuted, and many were killed, she continued to grow and to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some people converted simply because they saw the faith of the martyrs (example: 40 martyrs of Sebaste). And the faithful were strengthened in their faith when they saw what their brothers and sisters underwent in martyrdom for the sake of Christ and the Gospel.

So from the earliest days of the Church, the Liturgies were offered on the tombs of the martyrs.
And when Churches were built (once the faith was legalized), the bones of the martyrs were carried into the Churches and placed in the altars and in the antimens. [FYI—the antimens is a cloth that stays on the altar, folded up until the second half of Liturgy. On the antimens is an image of Christ being removed from the Cross (the Sacrifice we re-member with every Liturgy), and the bishop signs the antimens and writes the Church’s name on it, as a blessing that this place is an Orthodox Church, and she functions within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.] So now I’d like us to hear the lives of the three men whose bones are sewn into our antimens, since their feast is celebrated today.

The Martyrs Tarachus, Probus, and Andronicus were martyred for Christ in the year 304 under the Emperor Diocletian. Tarachus was advanced in years, of Roman birth, and had been a soldier; Probus was from Pamphylia, and Andronicus from Ephesus. They were discovered to be Christians, and were taken together to Cilicia and subjected to exceedingly cruel tortures. When the pagans ordered him to offer sacrifice to idols, the old soldier Tarachus replied that he would offer a pure heart to the one true God instead of sacrifices of blood. Seeing the firmness of the saint’s confession the true Faith, the proconsul gave them all over to torture. The three were tried and horribly tortured three times in three different cities of Cilicia. Tarachus was beaten on his cheeks and neck with stones, his hands were burned, he was hanged on a post and smoke was put underneath him to choke him; vinegar was forced down his nostrils and into his wounds. Probus was thrashed with whips, his feet were burned with red hot irons, his back and sides were pierced with heated spits; “When my body suffers,” St Probus said to the idol worshippers, “then my soul is healed and invigorated.” Andronicus suffered similar tortures, all the while praising God and refusing to give in to the demands of worshipping the pagan gods. They were then condemned to death by wild beasts, and when the animals would not touch them in the amphitheatre they were put to death with the sword, the Tradition saying that even in their deaths the torture didn’t stop, but they were carved to pieces by soldiers in the amphitheatre. Three Christian men, named Marcian, Felix, and Verus, witnessed their martyrdom. They retrieved the bodies of the three saints, buried them, and watched over them the rest of their lives, requesting that they be buried in the same vault as the martyrs at the end of theirs.

The lives of the Martyrs are often re-told in a graphic way, like this one. This is to remind us that they were real men, who suffered incredible torments, all the while praising Christ, and teaching the people by their examples. In one version of the life of these martyrs, it’s even said that many watching the torture were converted, and the soldiers were sent into the crowd to kill these people as well. And for us, when we struggle to do simple things for the sake of the Gospel, we should look back on these three martyrs that we should have a relationship with (because their relics are here), remember their separation from the ways of the world, and this will give us some perspective in our own struggles in Christ.

Holy Martyrs Probus, Tarachus, and Andronicus, pray to God for us, and for the spread of the Gospel of your Saviour in this place.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!