31 October 2007

Zenobia, Martyr Saint of Cilicia and her brother

Today the Orthodox church calendar (give or take a day or two*) commemorates the martyrdom of Zenobia and her brother Zenobius. A Russian Orthodox hymn, a kontakion ( © by Alex Ledkovsky), celebrates the martyred siblings.

Let us honor with inspired hymns the two martyrs for truth:
the preachers of true devotion, Zenóbius and Zenobía;
as brother and sister they lived and suffered together and through martyrdom received their incorruptible crowns.

Everything about Zenobius (naturally, he gets top billing) and Zenobia is obscure. And that is an understatement.

The story, most of which we know from a 10th C Byzantine monk, Symeon Metaphrastes [for good reason, dubbed 'the re-writer'] goes like this -- slightly abbreviated, but I've left in the bits of gore.

The Blessed Martyr Zenobius, Bishop of Aegea, and his sister Zenobia suffered a martyr's death in the year 285 in Cilicia. From childhood they were raised in the holy Christian Faith by their parents, and they led pious and chaste lives. In their mature years, they distributed away their inherited wealth giving it to the poor. For his beneficence and holy life the Lord rewarded Zenobius with the gift of healing various maladies. [He] was able to heal the sick of every sort of infirmity simply by the touch of his hand.

As bishop, Saint Zenobius zealously spread the Christian Faith among the pagans. When the emperor Diocletian (284-305) began a persecution against Christians, Bishop Zenobius was the first one arrested and brought to trial to the governor Licius. "I shall only speak briefly with you," said Licius to the saint, "for I propose to grant you life if you worship our gods, or death, if you do not." The saint answered, "This present life without Christ is death. It is better that I prepare to endure the present torment for my Creator ... then be tormented eternally in Hades." By order of Licius, they nailed him to a cross and began the torture. The bishop's sister, seeing him suffering, wanted to stop it. She bravely confessed her own faith in Christ before the governor, therefore, she also was tortured. By the power of the Lord they remained alive after being placed on a red-hot iron bed, and then in a kettle of boiling pitch. The saints were then beheaded.

That did it. At least they didn't walk about afterwards, with their heads tucked underneath their arms, but were buried in a grave together. This all happened in about 285 AD (or perhaps in 304). Or perhaps not?

In 310 AD, we are told by Bishop Eusebius, writing not long after the events :
that St. Tyrannio, Bishop of Tyre, when, being conducted from Tyre to Antioch, with St. Zenobius, a holy priest and physician of Sidon, after many torments [Tyrannio] was thrown into the sea. Zenobius expired on the rack, whilst his sides and body were furrowed and laid open with iron hooks and nails.
So this Zenobius, too, was a doctor ( "that best of physicians", says Eusebius) as well as a priest. And his martyrdom took place, as Eusebius clearly says, on 29 October, whereas the saint of Cilicia is celebrated by the Orthodox on 30 October. Thus, it seems quite possible that the two Zenobii have been confused -- after all, Aegae (modern Ayash) is but a hop across the Gulf of Alexandretta from Antioch.

If so, what happened to Zenobia?

I just wonder if she is not the saintly lady described (but not named) in Eusebius, "admirable for strength of soul yet in body a woman and famed as well by all that were at Antioch for wealth, birth and sound judgment" -- who, with her two daughters, threw herself into the Orontes River rather than suffer a fate worse than death (the threat of fornication!) having fallen into the hands of soldiers. Her name is given by St John Chrysostom, half a century or so later, as Domnina -- but we already have a martyred Domnina who was said to have suffered death at Aegaea in 285 (or 305) in Lycia. And there is no Aegaea, or Aegae, or even Aegea, in Lycia. So this must refer to Aegae in Cilicia, where (and when) Zenobia met her end. And we're not finished yet. There's yet another Domnina or Domnica waiting in the wings:
The Holy Martyress Domnica suffered for confessing Christianity in the year 286. Domnica lived in the region of Cilicia. By order of the governor Licius they beat her for a long time, and burnt her with fire. All tormented, Saint Domnica was thrown into prison, where she died.
Licius, of course, was the evil "praeses provinciae Lyciae" who tortured Zenobia and Zenobius to death ... in Cilicia.

What are we to make of all this?

Oh, I don't know.

But Zenobia is always worth a hymn or two.

Alex Ledkovsky wrote a Zenobian Troparion as well as the Kontakion reproduced above.

[If readers despair of my ever getting back to the main subject of this blog (the life and times of Queen Zenobia), be of good heart: Sassanian Stuff II is coming up next.]

* a poor excuse for being a day late (31 Oct.) with this post. It was due on the saints' day, 30 Oct.

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