Saint Procope d'Antioche
Martyr en Palestine (✝ 303)
Procope est né à Jérusalem. Dès sa jeunesse, nous dit-on, il se consacra à Dieu, vivant de pain et d'eau et méditant les Saintes Écritures. Il va se fixer à Scythopolis où il s'agrège au clergé de la ville comme lecteur, interprète de syriaque et exorciste. Arrive la persécution ordonnée contre les chrétiens par l'empereur romain Dioclétien. Il refuse de sacrifier aux idoles. Bon bougre, le gouverneur, à la place de l'encens, se contenterait de libations partagées avec Procope, en l'honneur des quatre empereurs qui alors gouvernaient l'empire. Procope refuse également en citant avec humour une parole du poète Homère: "Il n'est pas bon qu'il y ait plusieurs chefs. Qu'il y ait donc un seul chef, un seul roi." Et il ajouta: "le Christ." Il fut décapité.
À Césarée de Palestine, saint Procope, martyr. Conduit de Scythopolis à Césarée, vers 303, sous l’empereur Dioclétien, il y fut décapité sur l’ordre du juge Fabien, quand celui-ci eut constaté la fermeté de sa première réponse.
"Le premier des martyrs en Palestine fut Procope. Avant de faire l’expérience de la prison, immédiatement dès son arrivée, il fut amené au tribunal du gouverneur et reçut l’ordre de sacrifier aux soi-disant dieux. Il dit qu’il ne connaissait qu’un seul Dieu."
(Eusèbe de Césarée – Les martyrs de Palestine)
La ville de Césarée de Palestine reçut pendant la persécution un grand nombre de membres appartenant à tous les rangs de la hiérarchie et amenés de tous les points de la province. Parmi eux se trouvait le lecteur Procope, de l'Eglise de Scythopolis, dont Eusèbe a dit quelques mots dans son livre sur les martyrs de Palestine, et dont les actes complets faisaient partie du recueil original d'Eusèbe. Ces actes sont certainement contemporains.
BOLL., Act. SS., 8/VII, Julii II, 551-576. — RUINART, Acta sinc., p. 372 et suiv. — P. ALLARD; Hist. des perséc., t. IV, p. 230 et suiv. [Cf. la bibliographie du livre d'Eusèbe t Sur les martyrs de Palestine.]
Procope fut le premier des martyrs de Palestine. C'était un homme d'une grâce toute céleste. Dès sa première enfance jusqu'au martyre il avait recherché toute sa vie la chasteté et toutes les vertus. Son corps était tellement émacié qu'on l'eût cru sans vie ; mais son âme si vaillante sous l'action des paroles divines qu'on eût pensé qu'elle soutenait seule la vie du corps. Il vivait de pain et d'eau, encore ne mangeait-il que tous les deux ou trois jours, quelquefois même une fois par semaine. Sa contemplation se prolongeait jour et nuit.
Toute son étude était celle des Livres saints. En dehors de là il savait peu. Né à Jérusalem, il s'était fixé à Scythopolis, où il remplissait l'office de lecteur, d'exorciste et de traducteur officiel des Écritures, ce qu'il faisait en récitant au peuple en langue vulgaire le passage des Livres saints lu en grec dans la liturgie.
Transféré avec ses collègues de Scythopolis à Césarée, il fut pris à la porte de la ville et conduit directement devant le gouverneur Flavien, qui lui commanda de sacrifier aux dieux : « Il n'y a pas plusieurs dieux, mais un seul, créateur de toutes choses. »
Le gouverneur, touché, se contenta de la réponse et chercha autre chose; il demanda à Procope d'offrir de l'encens aux empereurs.
« Écoute, dit Procope, ce vers d'Homère :
Il n'est pas bon d'avoir tant de maîtres
Qu'il y ait un seul seigneur, un seul roi. »
A ces paroles, le juge crut voir quelque intention désobligeante pour les empereurs et prononça la peine de mort. Ainsi Procope pénétra dans la gloire. On était au 7 du mois de juillet, le jour des Nones, comme disent les Latins, de la première année de la persécution.
Ce fut le premier martyre à Césarée. Jésus-Christ règne. A Lui soit honneur et gloire dans tous les siècles. Amen.
LES MARTYRS, TOME II : LE TROISIÈME SIÈCLE – DIOCLÉTIEN. Recueil de pièces authentiques sur les martre depuis les origines du christianisme jusqu'au XXe siècle. Traduites et publiées par le B. P. DOM H. LECLERCQ, Moine bénédictin de Saint-Michel de Farnborough. Imprimi potest FR. FERDINANDUS CABROL, Abbas Sancti Michaelis Farnborough. Die 15 Martii 1903.
Procopius of Scythopolis M (RM)
Born in Jerusalem; died at Sycthopolis (Bethshan), July 7, 303. Saint Procopius was one of the first victims of Emperor Diocletian's persecution of the Christians in Palestine. The church historian Eusebius was bishop of Caesarea, where Procopius suffered, at the time of the martyrdom. Eusebius left this simple account of Procopius's martyrdom:
"The first of the martyrs of Palestine was Procopius, a man filled with divine grace, who form his childhood had devoted himself to chastity and the practice of all virtues. He had mortified his flesh until his body seemed to be like that of one who was dead, but his soul drew such strength from the word of God that the body itself was refreshed by it. He lived on bread and water, and ate only every second or third day, and sometimes prolonged his fast for a whole week.
"Meditation on the divine work so filled his being that he remained absorbed in it day and night without fatigue. Filled with gentleness and goodness, holding himself to be the least of men, he edified all who heard him by his discourses. The word of God was his only study, and of other matters he had but little knowledge.
"He was born at Jerusalem, but had gone to live in Scythopolis, where he held three ecclesiastical offices. He was reader and interpreter in the Syriac language, and cured those possessed of evil spirits.
"Sent with his companions from Scythopolis to Caesarea [Maritima], he had barely passed through the city gates when he was brought before the governor; and even before being put in chains and taken to the prison he was urged by the judge Flavian to sacrifice to the gods. But in a loud voice Procopius said that there are not several gods, but One only, the creator and author of all things.
"Finding nothing to say in answer, the judge tried to persuade him at least to sacrifice to the emperors, but the martyr of God scorned his pleas. 'Listen,' he said, 'to this verse from Homer: It is not good to have several masters; let there be only one ruler and one king.'
"At these words, as though he had spoken threats against the emperors, the judge ordered him to be executed. His head was cut off, and he passed happily to eternal life by the shortest road. This was the first martyrdom that took place at Caesarea."
This simple, reliable account was not enough to satisfy the legend makers. In later stories Procopius is made a soldier, then an ascetic, then a Persian, and then a prince of Alexandria--sometimes he was said to be all four of these at once. In each case, his conversion was made to bear a remarkable resemblance to that of Saint Paul.
When he was imprisoned in these legends, he is supposed to have converted his guards. When brought before the judges, he was said to have astounded them with a string of quotations from Plato, Aristotle, Galen, Homer, and Socrates. When subjected to the most horrible and fantastic tortures, he emerged unscathed. And when approached by his would-be executioners, he is said to have paralyzed them on the spot. At some point in the story, he is reputed to have slain no fewer than 6,000 barbarian invaders simply by confronting them with a wonder-working cross.
In the most popular of these legends, Procopius was originally named Neanias. He was born at Jerusalem, then made duke of Alexandria by Diocletian, who sent him to proceed against the Christians there. On the way from Antioch Neanias experiences a vision similar to that of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus, as a consequence of which he declares himself a Christian.
He is taken in chains to Caesarea, where the governor Oulcion has him tortured and imprisoned. He is then baptized in a vision by Christ himself, and given the name Procopius. Oulcion dies suddenly, and is succeeded by Flavian, with whom Procopius has long arguments, interspersed with bouts of unbelievable torture. At last Flavian pronounces sentence, and Procopius is executed. The narrative is decorated with marvels throughout the tale: the miraculous cross mentioned above; his mother, Theodosia, and 12 other noble ladies suddenly converted and martyred; etc.
Notice that of Eusebius's historical particulars only the names of some persons and places survives in the legends. Even the hero himself is no longer a humble cleric but a young heathen officer. The legends are sheer invention, and such was the confusion engendered by them that some compilers of calendars produced three martyrs named Procopius--the cleric, the officer, and the unexplained Saint Procopius of Persia.
That the martyr described by Eusebius was publicly venerated is proven by the existence of shrines in his honor at Caesarea and Scythopolis from at least the 5th and 6th centuries. Thank God that we have a contemporary account of what actually happened! (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Delehaye, Encyclopedia).
St. Procopius, Martyr
HE was a native of Jerusalem, but lived at Bethsan, otherwise called Scythopolis, where he was reader in the church, and also performed the function of exorcist, in dispossessing demoniacs, and that of interpreter of the Greek tongue into the Syro-Chaldaic. 1 He was a divine man, say his acts, and had always lived in the practice of great austerity, and patience, and in perpetual chastity. He took no other sustenance than bread and water, and usually abstained from all food two or three days together. He was well skilled in the sciences of the Greeks, but much more in that of the holy scriptures; the assiduous meditation on which nourished his soul, and seemed also to give vigour and strength to his emaciated body. He was admirable in all virtues, particularly in a heavenly meekness and humility. Dioclesian’s bloody edicts against the Christians reached Palestine in April, 303, and Procopius was the first person who received the crown of martyrdom in that country, in the aforesaid persecution. He was apprehended at Bethsan, and led, with several others, bound to Cæsarea, our city, say the acts, and was hurried straight before Paulinus, prefect of the province. 2 The judge commanded the martyr to sacrifice to the gods. The servant of Christ answered he never could do it; and this he declared with a firmness and resolution that seemed to wound the heart of the prefect as if it had been pierced with a dagger. The martyr added, there is no God but one, who is the author and preserver of the world. The prefect then bade him sacrifice to the four emperors, namely Dioclesian, Herculius, Galerius, and Constantius. This the saint again refused to do, and had scarcely returned his answer than the judge passed sentence upon him, and he was immediately led to execution and beheaded. He is honoured by the Greeks with the title of The Great Martyr. See his original Chaldaic Acts, published by Steph. Assemani, t. 2, p. 166, and a less accurate old Latin translation, given by Ruinart, and by Henry Valois, Not. in Euseb. l. 8. The author of these acts was Eusebius of Cæsarea, an eye-witness.
Note 1. Grotius and others demonstrate the Greek language to have been, in the first ages of Christianity, common in Palestine; but this cannot be extended to all the country people, as this passage and other proofs clearly show. Hence Eusebius wrote his Acts of the Martyrs of Palestine in Syro-Chaldaic; but abridged the same in Greek, in the eighth book of his Church History. [back]
Note 2. The old Latin Acts write his name Flavian, and some Fabian, by mistaking the Syriac name, which is written without vowels. [back]
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume VII: July. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
Greatmartyr Procopius of Caesarea, in Palestine
The Holy Great Martyr Procopius, in the world Neanius, a native of Jerusalem, lived and suffered during the reign of the emperor Diocletian (284-305). His father, an eminent Roman by the name of Christopher, was a Christian, but the mother of the saint, Theodosia, remained a pagan. He was early deprived of his father, and the young child was raised by his mother. Having received an excellent secular education, he was introduced to Diocletian in the very first year of the emperor’s accession to the throne, and he quickly advanced in government service. Towards the year 303, when open persecution against Christians began, Neanius was sent as a proconsul to Alexandria with orders to mercilessly persecute the Church of God.
On the way to Egypt, near the Syrian city of Apamea, Neanius had a vision of the Lord Jesus, similar to the vision of Saul on the road to Damascus. A divine voice exclaimed, “Neanius, why do you persecute Me?”
Neanius asked, “Who are you, Lord?”
“I am the crucified Jesus, the Son of God.”
At that moment a radiant Cross appeared in the air. Neanius felt an inexpressible joy and spiritual happiness in his heart and he was transformed from being a persecutor into a zealous follower of Christ. From this point in time Neanius became favorably disposed towards Christians and fought victoriously against the barbarians.
The words of the Savior came true for the saint, “A man’s foes shall be those of his own household” (Mt. 10:36). His mother, a pagan herself, went to the emperor to complain that her son did not worship the ancestral gods. Neanius was summoned to the procurator Judaeus Justus, where he was solemnly handed the decree of Diocletian. Having read through the blasphemous directive, Neanius quietly tore it up before the eyes of everyone. This was a crime, which the Romans regarded as an “insult to authority.” Neanius was held under guard and in chains sent to Caesarea of Palestine, where the Apostle Paul once languished. After terrible torments, they threw the saint into a dank prison. That night, a light shone in the prison, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself baptized the suffering confessor, and gave him the name Procopius.
Repeatedly they led St Procopius to the courtroom, demanding that he renounce Christ, and they subjected him to more tortures. The stolidity of the martyr and his fiery faith brought down God’s abundant grace on those who witnessed the execution.
Inspired by the example of Procopius, many of the holy martyr’s former guards and Roman soldiers went beneath the executioner’s sword together with their tribunes Nikostrates and Antiochus. Twelve Christian women received martyr’s crowns, after they came to the gates of the Caesarea Praetorium.
Struck by the great faith and courage of the Christians, and seeing the firmness of her son in bearing terrible sufferings, Theodosia became repentant and stood in the line of confessors and was executed. Finally the new procurator, Flavian, convinced of the futility of the tortures, sentenced the holy Great Martyr Procopius to beheading by the sword. By night Christians took up his much-tortured body, and with tears and prayers, they committed it to the earth. This was the first martyrdom at Caesarea (303).