The Martyrs Archdeacon Laurence, Pope Sixtus, Deacons Felicissimus and Agapitus, and the soldier Romanus were citizens of Rome, and suffered in the year 258 during the reign of Emperor Valerian (253-260). Saint Sixtus was born in the city of Athens, and at first he was a philosopher, but later he became a follower of Christ. When he arrived in Rome, he showed himself to be a wise and devout member of the Church. Over a period of time, he passed through the various ranks of the clergy, and became the Bishop of Rome following the martyric death of Saint Stephen (August 2). Several Roman Hierarchs preferred to die rather than offer sacrifice to idols. Soon, Saint Sixtus was also arrested and imprisoned together with his deacons Felicissimus and Agapitus.
When Archdeacon Laurence visited Saint Sixtus in prison, he cried out with tears, "Where are you going, Father, without your son? Where do you hasten without your Archdeacon? Never have you offered the Bloodless Sacrifice without me. Take me with you, so that I may join you in shedding our blood for Christ!”
Saint Sixtus teplied, "I am not forsaking you, my son. I am old and I accept the lesser battle, but greater suffering awaits you. You must achieve the greater victory and triumph over your tormentors. Three days after my death, you shall follow after me."
Then he entrusted Archdeacon Laurence with the Church's treasures and sacred vessels, telling him to distribute these to the poor. He gathered them up and went around the city on foot, to the clergy and impoverished Christians who were in hiding, helping them according to their needs.
When he heard that Saint Sixtus had been brought to trial with his deacons, Saint Laurence went there in order to witness the outcome. Seeing that the martyrs were obstinate in their refusal to offer sacrifice to the idols, Valerian ordered them to be taken to the temple of Mars outside the city walls, and put to death if they did not offer incense to the idols. When he saw the pagan temple, Saint Sixtus prayed for it to be destroyed. There was an earthquake which caused part of the temple to collapse, and the statue of Mars was shattered to pieces. Saint Laurence cried out, “Father, I have fulfilled your command, and have distributed the treasures of the Church which you entrusted to me."
After hearing about treasure, the soldiers placed him under guard. Saint Sixtus and the other martyrs were beheaded in front of the temple on August 6, 258. Afterward, the soldiers brought Saint Laurence to the Emperor, informing him that they had heard the Archdeacon mention something about the Church's hidden treasures. The Emperor ordered him to reveal where the treasures were, and the Archdeacon asked for three days in order to collect them. Then Saint Laurence gathered all the poor and the needy, and brought them to the Prefect, saying, "Behold the treasures of the Church."
The ruler became very angry at this and ordered Hippolytos (Iππόλυτος) who was in charge of the prison, to throw the Archdeacon into the dungeon with other prisoners. There the Saint restored the sight of a man named Lucillus. Hippolytos was amazed at this, and asked to see the Church's treasures. Saint Laurence told him that if he believed in Christ and was baptized, he would find true wealth and everlasting life. Hippolytos said that if this was true, he would do as he asked.
Hippolytos took Saint Laurence to his home, where he instructed and baptized the jailer and all his household, consisting of nineteen persons. Soon afterward, Hippolytos was ordered to bring the Archdeacon to Emperor Valerian. Seeing that the Saint had not agreed to offer sacrifice, he ordered that Saint Laurence be tortured. Still, the Archdeacon refused to sacrifice to the idols. As the Martyr endured these torments, a soldier named Romanus cried, "Laurence, I see a radiant youth standing by you, and wiping your wounds. Entreat Christ, Who has sent His Angel to you, not to abandon me."
Then Valerian commanded Hippolytos to return the Saint to prison. Romanus brought a pitcher of water and asked the Martyr to baptize him. Immediately after the soldier was baptized, he was seized by other soldiers and taken to the Emperor. Before anyone could question him, Romanus shouted, "I am a Christian."
The Emperor ordered him to be taken outside the city and beheaded on August 9. The next day, Saint Laurence was placed on a rack, scourged with whips with sharp iron points attached to them, and then was stretched out naked on a red-hot iron gridiron with burning coals underneath it. The Holy Martyr glanced at the ruler and said, “You have already roasted one side of my body, now turn me over turn over the other side so you may taste what you have roasted." Then he glorified God, saying, “I thank You, Lord Jesus Christ, that You have found me worthy to enter Your gates."
Saint Laurence received the unfading crown of martyrdom on August 10, 258.
That night, Saint Hippolytos took the Saint's body he wrapped it in a shroud with spices. Then he and the priest Justin brought the relics to the home of a widow named Kyriake, where it remained until evening. Later, many Christians escorted the Saint's body to a cave on the widow's property. After praying all night, they buried the Martyr there with honor. Then Father Justin served the Divine Liturgy, and everyone partook of the Holy Mysteries.
Saint Hippolytos and the other Christians suffered martyrdom three days after the death of Saint Laurence, on August 13. A large part of Saint Laurence's relics are located in the church of Saint Laurence "outside the walls" in Rome. Other pieces of the holy relics are to be found in the Monasteries of Saint Panteleimon on Mount Athos, and at Kykkos, Cyprus.
PRAYER TO THE HOLY MARTYR AND ARCHDEACON LAURENCE
O Lord, we thank You for giving us St. Lawrence as an example of holiness. Help us to imitate the devotion to You he showed through his committed service to Your Church.
O Holy Archdeacon, St. Lawrence, you were ordained a deacon when you were a young man. Until your martyrdom, you served the Church faithfully in your vocation as a deacon. Please bring my petitions before the throne of God with such faithfulness! You refused to renounce your Faith or to betray the Church by turning over the Church’s treasury to the government. Because of your commitment to God, you were sentenced to a painful death. Pray for us, that we may be as devoted a servant of God and His Church as you were. Pray that we may grow in our love for God and His Church each day. We make our prayer through Jesus the Lord. Amen!