Upon the publication of the edict for persecuting the Christians under Decius, by the activity of a barbarous governor in seeing it rigorously executed, the isle of Crete, now called Candia, soon became one large field of blood. Among the martyrs who triumphed over the world, the devil and sin, none were more conspicuous than Theodulus, Saturninus, Euporus, Gelasius, Eunicianus, Zoticus, Cleomenes, Agathopus, Basilides, and Evarestus, commonly called the Ten Soldier-Martyrs of Crete.
The three first were citizens of Gortyna, the metropolis, where they had probably been grounded in the faith by St. Cyril, bishop of that city, who was beheaded for the faith in the same persecution, and is honoured in the martyrology on the 9th of July. The rest were brought from other towns of the same island; Zoticus (called by some Zeticus) from Gnossus, Pontius from Epinium, Agathopus from Panormus, Basilides from Cydonia, and Evarestus from Heracleum.
Their zeal had united them in their confession of Christ; they were apprehended, insulted, dragged on the ground, beaten, stoned, covered with phlegm and spittle, and at length presented to the governor of the island at Gortyna, and the 23d of December was appointed for their trial. As soon as they appeared in court, they were ordered to sacrifice to Jupiter, who was particularly worshipped in Crete, and on that very day their countrymen celebrated a festival in his honour with all manner of pleasures, diversions, and sacrifices.
The martyrs answered, they could never offer sacrifice to idols. The president said: “You shall know the power of the great gods. Neither do you show respect to this illustrious assembly, which adores the great Jupiter, Juno, Rhea, and the rest. The martyrs replied, “Mention not Jupiter, O president: nor his mother Rhea. We are no strangers to his pedigree, or to the history of his life and actions. We can show you his grave: he was a native of this island, the tyrant of his country, and a man abandoned to every kind of lust, even with his own sex: with these crimes he defiled himself every hour, and made use of spells and enchantments to debauch others. Those who look upon him as a god, must look upon it as a divine thing to imitate his lust and intemperance.”
The proconsul not being able to deny or confute what they alleged, swelled with rage, and the people were ready to tear them to pieces upon the spot, if he had not restrained them, and commanded the martyrs to be inhumanly tormented several ways. Some of them were hoisted on the rack, and torn with iron nails, so that the ground underneath was covered with great morsels of their flesh; others were pierced on their sides, and in almost every other part with sharp stones, reeds, and pointed sticks; others were beaten with heavy plummets of lead with such cruelty, that their very bones were in some parts broken, and in others disjointed, and their flesh was bruised and torn.
The martyrs endured all with joy, and often repeated to the outcries of the judge and mob, who pressed them to spare themselves by obeying the prince and sacrificing to their gods: “We are Christians: were a thousand deaths prepared for us, we would receive them with joy.” The whole city thronged about them, and many cried out to the judge against them; nor did he cease stirring up the executioners to exert their whole strength in tormenting them. The saints stood like meek lambs in the midst of so many raging tigers, and only raised their voices to praise God, and declare their constant adherence to his law. The proconsul at length seeing himself vanquished, condemned them to die by the sword.
The soldiers of Christ went forth triumphant to the place of execution outside the city, praying to their last breath that God would have mercy on them, and on all mankind, and would deliver their countrymen from the blindness of spiritual ignorance, and bring them to see him in his true light. They were ambitious who should first receive his crown. When their heads were struck off, and the crowds retired, certain Christians interred their bodies, which were afterwards conveyed to Rome. The fathers who composed the council of Crete in 558, writing to the emperor Leo, say, that through the intercession of these holy martyrs, their island had been till that time preserved from heresy. The Greeks, Latins, and Russians commemorate them on this day.
O holy Soldier-Martyrs of Crete, you gave your all for your belief in Christ the Savior. You did not count the cost, but persisted in your resolve to hold fast to the faith. Pray for us, that we too may give what Christ asks of us with a free and open heart. Like you, may we hold nothing back from Him but have the courage of the holy faith to follow Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. O holy martyrs pray to God for us!