Leo and Paregorius MM (AC)
Died c. 260. Saint Leo witnessed the martyrdom of Saint Paregorius at Patara, Lycia, and found his heart divided between joy for his friend's glorious victory, and sorrow to see himself deprived of the happiness of sharing in it. In the absence of the proconsul of Asia, the governor of Lycia demonstrated his piety to the gods by publishing an order obliging all citizens to offer sacrifice to Serapis. Leo, sad to see both the pagans and some Christians going to adore the idol, went to the tomb of Saint Paregorius and passed the temple of Serapis en route.
The heathens that saw him knew that his was a Christian because of his modesty. From his youth, Leo had practiced austerity and the devotions of an ascetic life. Returning home he fell asleep and dreamed that God was calling him to martyrdom, too.
The next time he visited Paregorius's tomb he walked boldly through the market place and passed the temple of Fortune, which he saw illumined by lanterns. He pitied their blindness and, moved with zeal for the living God, broke many of the lanterns and trampled on the tapers, saying, "Let your gods revenge the injury if they are able to do it." The priest of the temple cried out, "Unless this impiety be punished, the goddess Fortune will withdraw her protection from the city."
An account of the affair soon reached the governor's ears. He ordered the saint brought before him, and said: "Wicked wretch, your sacrilegious action surely bespeaks that you are either ignorant of the immortal gods, or downright mad, in flying in the face of our most divine emperors, whom we justly regard as secondary deities and saviors."
The martyr replied, "You are under a great mistake, in supposing a plurality of gods; there is but one, who is the God of heaven and earth, and who does not stand in need of being worshipped after that gross manner that men worship idols. The most acceptable sacrifice we can offer him is that of a contrite and humble heart."
Offered the choice of sacrificing or dying, Leo chose the narrow way rather than the broad, commodious path offered by the governor. "When I called it narrow," said the martyr, "this was only because it is not entered without difficulty, and that its beginnings are often attended with afflictions and persecutions for justice' sake. But being once entered, it is not difficult to keep in it by the practice of virtue, which helps to widen it and render it easy to those that persevere in it, which has been done by many."
After continued debate, the saint was mercilessly scourged. The governor relented because of Leo's venerable age and told him he would only have to acknowledge the gods and not sacrifice, but still Leo refused. He was then dragged by his feet to his place of execution. After his death his executioners threw his body over a precipice into a deep pit, but it received only a few bruises. The Christians recovered Leo's body and found it of a lively color, and entire, and his face appeared comely and smiling, and they buried it in the most honorable manner they could (Benedictines, Husenbeth).
SS. Leo and Paregorius, Martyrs
From their ancient authentic acts in Ruinart, Bollandus, &c
ST. PAREGORIUS having spilt his blood for the faith at Patara, in Lycia, St. Leo, who had been a witness of his conflict, found his heart divided between joy for his friend’s glorious victory and sorrow to see himself deprived of the happiness of sharing in it. The proconsul of Asia being absent in order to wait on the emperors, probably Valerian and Galien, the governor of Lycia, residing at Patara, to show his zeal for the idols, published an order on the festival of Serapis, to oblige all to offer sacrifice to that false god. Leo seeing the heathens out of superstition, and some Christians out of fear, going in crowds to adore the idol, sighed within himself, and went to offer up his prayers to the true God, on the tomb of St. Paregorius, to which he passed before the temple of Serapis, it lying in his way to the martyr’s tomb. The heathens that were sacrificing in it knew him to be a Christian by his modesty. He had exercised himself from his childhood in the austerities and devotions of an ascetic life, and possessed, in an eminent degree, chastity, temperance, and all other virtues. His clothes were of a coarse cloth made of camel’s hair. Not long after his return home from the tomb of the martyr, with his mind full of the glorious exit of his friend, he fell asleep, and from a dream he had on that occasion, understood, when he awaked, that God called him to a conflict of the same kind with that of St. Paregorius, which filled him with inexpressible joy and comfort.
Wherefore the next time he visited the martyr’s tomb, instead of going to the place through by-roads, he went boldly through the market-place, and by the Tychæum, or temple of Fortune, which he saw illuminated with lanterns. He pitied their blindness; and, being moved with zeal for the honour of the true God, he made no scruple to break as many of the lanterns as were within reach, and trampled on the tapers in open view, saying: “Let your gods revenge the injury if they are able to do it.” The priest of the idol having raised the populace, cried out: “Unless this impiety be punished, the goddess Fortune will withdraw her protection from the city.” An account of this affair soon reached the ears of the governor, who ordered the saint to be brought before him, and on his appearance addressed him in this manner: “Wicked wretch, thy sacrilegious action surely bespeaks thee either ignorant of the immortal gods, or downright mad, in flying in the face of our most divine emperors, whom we justly regard as secondary deities and saviours.” The martyr replied with great calmness: “You are under a great mistake, in supposing a plurality of gods: there is but one, who is the God of heaven and earth, and who does not stand in need of being worshipped after that gross manner that men worship idols. The most acceptable sacrifice we can offer him is that of a contrite and humble heart.” “Answer to your indictment,” said the governor, “and don’t preach your Christianity. I thank the gods, however, that they have riot suffered you to lie concealed after such a sacrilegious attempt. Choose therefore either to sacrifice to them, with those that are here present, or to suffer the punishment due to your impiety.” The martyr said: “The fear of torments shall never draw me from my duty. I am ready to suffer all you shall inflict. All your tortures cannot reach beyond death. Eternal life is not to be attained but by the way of tribulations; the scripture accordingly informs us, that narrow is the way that leadeth to life.” Since you own the way you walk in is narrow,” said the governor, “exchange it for ours, which is broad and commodious.” “When I called it narrow,” said the martyr, “this was only because it is not entered without difficulty, and that its beginnings are often, attended with afflictions and persecutions for justice sake. But being once entered, it is not difficult to keep in it by the practice of virtue, which helps to widen it and render it easy to those that persevere in it, which has been done by many.”
The multitude of Jews and Gentiles cried out to the judge to silence him. But he said, he allowed him liberty of speech, and even offered him his friendship if he would but sacrifice. The confessor answered: “You seem to have forgotten what I just before told you, or you would not have urged me again to sacrifice. Would you have me acknowledge for a deity that which has nothing divine in its nature?” These last words put the governor in a rage, and he ordered the saint to be scourged. Whilst the executioners were tearing his body unmercifully, the judge said to him: “This is nothing to the torments I am preparing for you. If you would have me stop here, you must sacrifice.” Leo said: “O judge, I will repeat to you again what I have so often told you: I own not your gods, nor will I ever sacrifice to them.” The judge said: “Only say the gods are great, and I will discharge you. I really pity your old age.” Leo answered: “If I allow them that title, it can only be with regard to their power of destroying their worshippers.” The judge in a fury said: “I will cause you to be dragged over rocks and stones, till you are torn to pieces.” Leo said: “Any kind of death is welcome to me, that procures me the kingdom of heaven, and introduces me into the company of the blessed.” The judge said: “Obey the edict, and say, the gods are the preservers of the world, or you shall die.” The martyr answered: “You do nothing but threaten: why don’t you proceed to effects?” The mob began to be clamorous, and the governor, to appease them, was forced to pronounce sentence on the saint, which was, that he should be tied by the feet, and dragged to the torrent, and there executed; and his orders were immediately obeyed in a most cruel manner. The martyr being upon the point of consummating his sacrifice, and obtaining the accomplishment of all his desires, with his eyes lifted up to heaven, prayed thus aloud: “I thank thee, O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for not suffering me to be long separated from thy servant Paregorius. I rejoice in what has befallen me as the means of expiating my past sins. I commend my soul to the care of thy holy angels, to be placed by them where it will have nothing to fear from the judgments of the wicked. But thou, O Lord, who willest not the death of a sinner, but his repentance, grant them to know thee, and to find pardon for their crimes, through the merits of thy only son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” He no sooner repeated the word Amen, together with an act of thanksgiving, but he expired. His executioners then took the body and cast it down a great precipice into a deep pit; and notwithstanding the fall, it seemed only to have received a few slight bruises. The very place which was before a frightful precipice, seemed to have changed its nature; and the act says, no more dangers or accidents happened in it to travellers. The Christians took up the martyr’s body, and found it of a lively colour, and entire, and his face appeared comely and smiling; and they buried it in the most honourable manner they could. The Greeks keep his festival on the 18th of February.
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume II: February. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
Saint Leo of Patara
At Patara, in Lycia, a great festival was once being celebrated in honor of a certain idol, at which a great concourse assembled; some having gone willingly, and many through fear, as an edict had been published to that effect. Saint Leo, who was a good Christian, departed from the city, and went to perform his devotions before the relics of Saint Paregorius, who had died for the faith some short time previously. Upon his return home, Saint Paregorius appeared to him in a vision, standing at the opposite side of a torrent, and inviting him to pass over.
Saint Leo hence conceived a great hope that he would be honored with martyrdom; and going, some days after, to make a second visit to the tomb of Saint Paregorius, he passed by the temple of Fortune, where many lanterns burned before the idol. Impelled by a special impulse of the Holy Ghost, he entered the temple and threw down the lights: but the idolaters, enraged at the insult offered to their idol, raised such a clamor, that the governor heard of the affair, and ordered that the saint should be brought before him.
When Leo made his appearance, the governor rebuked him for the outrage he had committed against the gods, in violation of the commands of the sovereign.
Saint Leo, animated with holy zeal, replied: “Thou speakest to me of the gods, as if there were many: there is but one God, and Jesus Christ is his only begotten Son. Since statues of stone and wood are devoid of sense and feeling, of what use can lanterns be to them? If thou hadst the knowledge of the true God, thou wouldst not worship these false deities. Oh, do abandon this vain superstition, and adore our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!”
The governor said: “Thou dost then exhort me to become a Christian? Better it were for thee to conform to the general practice, lest thy rashness be punished as it deserves.”
Saint Leo with increased ardor replied: “I see about me a multitude of those who, blindly persevering in error, despise the true God; but I am a Christian notwithstanding, and follow the instructions of the apostles. If this deserve chastisement, award it; for I am determined to suffer every torture, rather than become the slave of the devil. Others may do as they please, since they are solicitous merely for the present, and are reckless of the future life, which is to be obtained only by sufferings. The Scripture tells us that narrow is the way which leadeth to life.”
The governor observed: “Since, then, the way of the Christians is narrow; exchange it for ours, which is wide and commodious.”
Saint Leo answered: “I have said that the way is narrow, because it is one of affliction, and of persecutions suffered for justice sake; but it is wide enough for those who walk therein, because their faith, and the hope of an eternal reward, make it so to them. The love of virtue maketh that easy which to thee seemeth difficult. On the contrary, the road of vice is in reality narrow, and leads to an eternal precipice.”
This discourse was most unpalatable to the pagans, who accordingly exclaimed that the impious man, who had spoken against their religion, should be silenced.
The governor then asked Saint Leo whether he would sacrifice; and being answered that his compliance was totally impossible, he ordered him to be scourged.
Although this command was most cruelly executed, the saint suffered without a groan; whereupon the governor threatened still greater torments, but the saint answered:
“I know not these gods, and will never sacrifice to them.”
“At least,” said the governor, “say that our gods are great, and I will dismiss thee, for I have compassion upon thy old age.”
Saint Leo replied: “They are great for the destruction of those souls that believe in them.”
The governor, infuriated at this reply, said: “I will order thee to be dragged over stones till thou art torn to pieces.” The saint replied: “I shall welcome any kind of death that procures me the kingdom of heaven, and that blessed life which I shall enjoy in company with the saints, upon my departure from this world.”
The tyrant continued to importune him to sacrifice, or at least to acknowledge that the gods could save him from death.
The saint replied: “Thou art very weak, since thou dost nothing but threaten, without putting thy threats into execution.”
The populace, being enraged at this reply, obliged the judge to condemn the saint to be tied by the feet and dragged through a torrent.
Saint Leo, finding himself about to obtain the accomplishment of his desire to die for Jesus Christ, raised his eyes to heaven, and prayed after the following manner: “I thank Thee, O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for granting me the grace to follow Thy servant Paregorius. I praise Thee, because Thou hast enabled me, by martyrdom, to cancel my past sins. I commend my soul to the care of Thy holy angels, that it may be saved from the perdition prepared for the wicked. I beseech Thee, by that which it is my blessed lot to suffer, to have mercy on those who are the cause thereof; and since Thou desirest not the death of the sinner, grant them the grace to recognize Thee as the Lord of the universe. May all that which I suffer in the name of Jesus Christ thy Son redound to Thy glory forever and ever. Amen.”
As soon as he pronounced the word Amen, he rendered up his soul to God, and went to enjoy the crown to which Saint Paregorius had invited him.
The executioners cast the body into a deep pit, in order to break it to pieces; but it was taken thence and found entire, with only a few slight bruises, and the face appeared comely and smiling.
*from Victories of the Martyrs, by St. Alphonsus de Liguori