Pionius of Smyrna
Hieromartyr Saint Pionius was a presbyter of the Church of Smyrna who was a true heir of the spirit of Saint Polycarp of Smyrna. He was executed in 250 AD during the Decian persecution, along with Hieromartyr Limnus, and the Holy Martyrs Sabina, Macedonia, and Asclepiades. His feast day is on March 11.
Hieromartyr Pionius witnessed to the Jews and Gentiles from the Holy Scriptures to convince them that there is only one true God, the Creator of all things, and of His only begotten Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and preached that all sinners and unbelievers will be punished and will be delivered to the eternal fire.[note 1]
Thus he was arrested by the pagans along with the other Christians. St Pionius knew that he and his companions would be arrested on February 23, the anniversary of St Polycarp's martyrdom, and a feast day for the Christians of Smyrna. Therefore on the day before they were arrested, they passed the night in prayer and fasting. In addition, St Pionius fastened chains around the necks of himself and his companions Asclepiades and Sabina, to show that they were all determined to be led off to prison rather than eat food sacrificed to idols.
The holy confessors were indeed arrested on February 23. After a brief interrogation they were dragged off by Polemon, the chief priest of the pagans, in order to sacrifice to the idols and eat forbidden foods.
Early in the morning, after they had partaken of the Holy Bread (probably the Eucharist) and of water, they were conducted to the forum. The place was thronged with Greeks and Jews, for it was a great Sabbath and therefore a general holiday in the city — an indication of the importance of the Jews in Smyrna.
St Pionius addressed the people, chiding them for laughing and rejoicing at those Christians who had agreed to offer sacrifice. He quoted Homer to the pagans (Odyssey 22, 412) and said that it was shameful to gloat over those who were about to die. He reminded the Jews in the audience of the words of Solomon: "If your enemy falls, do not rejoice over him, and do not be glad when he stumbles" (Proverbs 24:17).
Polemon attempted once again to persuade Pionius to obey the law and offer sacrifice to the idols. "If only I could persuade you to become Christians," he replied. The men laughed at him, saying that he did not have the power to do that, because they knew they would be burned alive if they converted. St Pionius replied, "It is far worse to burn after death." St Sabina laughed when she heard this. Then Polemon threatened to put her in a brothel, but she said she believed that God would protect her.
Under questioning, St Pionius stated repeatedly that he was a Christian, and could not sacrifice to the emperor or to the idols.
Before Polemon came to Sabina to question her, St Pionius told her to say that her name was Theodote. This he did so that she would not be returned to her former mistress Politta, an immoral woman. In an effort to turn her from Christ, Politta bound St Sabina and cast her out on the mountains. She was secretly helped by the brethren, and hid in St Pionius's house most of the time. That is how she came to be arrested.
When Saints Sabina and Asclepiades were questioned, and they said they were Christians who worshiped Jesus Christ, they were thrown into jail.
In prison St Pionius and his companions met Limnus, a priest of the Church of Smyrna, and his wife Macedonia from the village of Karine. They had also been imprisoned for confessing Christ.
Many believers visited the holy confessors in prison, offering them whatever they could, but the saints did not accept it. The jailers were angry, because they used to keep a portion of the gifts given to prisoners for themselves.
The holy martyrs were brought to the marketplace, and were urged to offer sacrifice. All manner of violence was used to compel them to sacrifice, hoever Pionius tore the impious garlands which were put upon his head, and they resisted with all their might. Their constancy repaired the scandal given by Eudæmon, the bishop of Smyrna, there present, who had impiously apostatized and offered sacrifice. As they refused, they were taken back to prison. On the way, they were beaten and mocked by the crowd. Someone said to St Sabina, "Why couldn't you have died in your own city?" St Sabina retorted, "What is my native city?"
Terentius, who was in charge of the gladiatorial games, said to Asclepiades, "After you are condemned, I shall ask that you compete in the games given by my son." Asclepiades replied "that does not scare me."
Later they led St Pionius to the ruler of the country, the Proconsul Quintilian, who gave the order to have him tortured. They beat him mercilessly to the point of death. After many torments, the holy martyr was brought to the amphitheatre on March 11, 250.
Since he still refused to offer sacrifice to the idols, St Pionius was sentenced to be burned alive. Metrodorus, a Marcionite priest, underwent the same punishment with him. He was nailed to a cross, then they stacked wood around him and lit the fire, with the Saint continuing to pray all along. When the fire subsided, everyone saw that the body of the saint was unharmed, and not even the hairs of his head had been singed. His face was radiant, and shone with divine grace.
After his martyric victory in the contest, St Pionius received an incorruptible crown of glory from the Savior Christ, and rejoices in the heavenly Kingdom, glorifying the Life-Creating Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, throughout all ages.
St Pionius transcribed the "Martyrdom of St Polycarp" (Martyrium Polycarpi) from an older copy made by Isocrates (or Socrates) in Corinth.[note 2] This document in turn was transcribed from an earlier manuscript written by Gaius, and was based on the recollections of St Irenaeus of Lyons, who knew Saint Polycarp.
Saint Polycarp appeared to Pionius in a vision, telling him to search for the text of Isocrates. Saint Pionius collected the material which was nearly worn out with age, thus preserving the account for later generations.
- (Greek) "Ἔλεγχε τοὺς Ἰουδαίους καὶ τοὺς Ἐθνικοὺς καὶ τοὺς ἔπειθε ἀπὸ τὶς θεῖες Γραφὲς ὅτι ἕνας μόνο εἶναι ὁ Θεὸς ὁ ἀληθινός, ὁ Δημιουργὸς τῶν πάντων καὶ ὁ μονογενής Του Υἱὸς Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς καὶ τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον καὶ κήρυττε ὅτι ὅλοι οἱ ἁμαρτωλοὶ καὶ οἱ ἄπιστοι θὰ τιμωρηθοῦν καὶ θὰ παραδοθοῦν στὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιο."
- Eusebius claims to have received the "Martyrdom of Polycarp" through a letter addressed to the Church of Philomelium by the Church of Smyrna.
- Great Synaxaristes: (Greek) Ὁ Ἅγιος Πιόνιος ὁ Μάρτυρας ὁ Πρεσβύτερος. 11 Μαρτίου. ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ.
- Hieromartyr Pionius of Smyrna and those with him. Orthodox Church in America (OCA).
- Francis Joseph Bacchus. St. Pionius. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911.
- Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). St. Pionius, Priest and Martyr. Volume II: February. The Lives of the Saints. 1866. (Bartleby.com).
- E. Leigh Gibson. Jewish Antagonism or Christian Polemic: The Case of the Martyrdom of Pionius. Journal of Early Christian Studies, Volume 9, Number 3, Fall 2001. pp.339-358.