The Twentieth Day
of the Month of September
The Life and Passion of the Holy Great-martyr
Eustathius [Eustace] Placidas,
and of His Wife and Children
From The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, Volume 1: September,
compiled by St. Demetrius of Rostov
of the Month of September
The Life and Passion of the Holy Great-martyr
Eustathius [Eustace] Placidas,
and of His Wife and Children
From The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, Volume 1: September,
compiled by St. Demetrius of Rostov
During the reign of the Emperor Trajan, there lived in Rome a general named Placidas who was of noble birth, renowned, and possessed of great wealth. So valiant was he in battle that his very name was feared by every foe. At the time when the Roman Emperor Titus conquered the land of Judea, Placidas distinguished himself as the most eminent of the Roman officers, and he displayed much bravery in combat.
Even though by faith Placidas was an idolater, he showed himself to be a Christian in his manner of life: he fed the hungry, clothed the naked, helped those who had fallen into misfortune, and freed many who were fettered or imprisoned. He rejoiced more when he had occasion to do good to someone or to extend a helping hand to someone in distress than when he triumphed over his adversaries. He was like another Cornelius, of whom mention is made in the Acts of the Apostles.He was lacking only in the holy faith which is in our Lord Jesus Christ, without which every good work is dead. His virtuous wife, who had borne him two sons, was like him in all things. Placidas and his wife were kind and merciful to all, and they only lacked the knowledge of the one true God, Whom they honored unknowingly by their good deeds. God, however, Who loves mankind and desires that all be saved and Who looks upon those who do good, did not disregard this virtuous man and did not allow him to perish in the darkness of the deception of idolatry. Inasmuch as in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him, the Lord was pleased to accept Placidas and to reveal to him the path to salvation. This occurred in the following manner. One day, as Placidas was hunting together with his servants, as was his custom, he came upon a herd of deer. Having pointed them out to the horsemen accompanying him, he set out in pursuit. Picking out the largest deer in the group, he chased after it, and the deer became separated from the herd. The servants followed Placidas, but their horses became exhausted, and they were left behind. Placidas, whose horse was the fastest, pursued the deer alone far into the wilderness. After he chased the deer for a long time, it climbed atop a great rock and stood there. Placidas drew near and looked at it, considering how he might take the deer. But the compassionate God, Who in various ways effects a man’s salvation and by means which He alone knows sets him upon the true path, ensnared the hunter. He manifested Himself, not through the agency of another as He did to Cornelius through Peter, but directly, as He did to Paul. Placidas remained for a long time gazing at the deer, and Christ the Lord appeared to him in a vision. A most radiant cross appeared between the deer’s antlers, and as Placidas gazed upon it, he beheld the likeness of Jesus Christ, Who was crucified for us. He was astonished by this strange vision, and he heard a voice saying to him, "Why do you pursue Me, 0 Placidas?"
As soon as he heard this divine voice, Placidas was stricken with fear, and he fell from his steed to the ground and lay as though dead. When he came to himself somewhat, he said, "Who art Thou, 0 Lord, that speakest to me?"
The Lord said unto him, "I am Jesus Christ, Who being God, clothed Myself in flesh for the salvation of man, underwent suffering willingly, and bore crucifixion. Even though you do not know Me, you honor Me by your good works, and your many alms are like a fragrant sacrifice coming up before Me, and I wish to save you. Therefore, I have appeared to you from above this beast, that I might bring you to know Me and unite you to My faithful servants. I do not desire that a man who works deeds of righteousness should perish in the snares of the foe."
Placidas arose from the ground, but he saw no one. He cried out, "Now, 0 Lord, do I believe that Thou art the God of heaven and earth and the Maker of all creation. Thee alone do I worship, and henceforth I desire to know no God other than Thee. Wherefore, I pray Thee, 0 Lord, show me what I am to do."
And again he heard a voice, saying, "Go to a Christian priest and be baptized, and he shall indicate to you the path to salvation."
When Placidas heard these things, he was filled with joy and compunction, and he fell to the ground in tears and worshipped the Lord Who had appeared to him. He was sorrowful that until now he had not perceived the truth and had not known the true God, but he rejoiced in spirit that he had been deemed worthy of grace and had been brought to the knowledge of the truth and set upon the path of righteousness. Mounting his steed, he returned to his company, his spirit joyful, but he told no one what had occurred.
When Placidas returned from the chase, he took his wife aside and related to her all that he had seen and heard. She said, "Last night, I heard someone say to me, ’In the morning you, your husband, and your sons will come to know Me, Jesus Christ, the true God, Who bestows salvation upon those who love Me.’ Therefore, let us not wait but rather hasten to do that which we have been commanded."
That night, Placidas ordered that the house be found where the Christian priest lived. Having learned where this house was, Placidas took his wife and children and several of his devoted servants and went to the priest, whose name was John. He related in detail everything concerning how the Lord had appeared to him, and he asked to be baptized. When the priest heard these things, he glorified God, Who calls from among the nations those who are pleasing to Him. He instructed them in the holy faith and told them of all God’s commandments. When he had taught them sufficiently and prayed, he baptized them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Placidas was given the name Eustathius in Holy Baptism, and his wife the name Theopiste, and to their sons the names Agapius and Theopistus were given. The priest communed them of the divine Mysteries and dismissed them in peace, saying to them, "May God be with you, and may He enlighten you with divine knowledge. He has summoned you to the inheritance of life eternal; therefore, when you are deemed worthy to behold Him, remember me, your spiritual father."
Thus, having been born again in the font of Baptism and filled with unutterable joy, they departed to their home. The grace of God illumined their souls and filled their hearts with such sweetness that it seemed to them that they were not on earth but in heaven.
The next morning, Eustathius mounted his horse, and having taken a few of his servants, he made as though he were setting out on a hunt. He went to the place where he had seen the Lord, that he might render thanks there to Him for his inexpressible benefactions. When he arrived at that place, he sent forth his servants, saying, "Go in search of game." He then dismounted, fell upon his face on the ground, and prayed, weeping and thanking God for His unutterable mercy, in that He chose to enlighten him and his family with the light of faith. He committed himself to his Lord and cast himself upon His good and perfect will, trusting that according to God’s goodness, in a way known to Him and pleasing to Him, He would dispose all things in a profitable manner. There it was revealed to him what misfortunes and sorrows should befall him, for he heard the Lord say unto him, "Eustathius, it behooves you to make manifest your faith and undoubting hope and the fervor of your love for Me. These things are proven not in circumstances of fleeting wealth and vain prosperity but in poverty and tribulation. Therefore, many sorrows shall befall you, and you shall be tested by misfortunes like another Job, that, having been tried like gold in a crucible, you might prove worthy of Me and receive a crown from My hand."
Eustathius said, "0 Lord, I stand before Thee; do Thou with me as Thou willest. I am prepared to accept all things thankfully from Thy hand, for good and gracious art Thou. As a Father, Thou dost temper punishment with mercy. Wherefore, shall I not accept chastisement at Thy merciful and fatherly hands? Yea, as a bondsman am I ready to bear and to suffer all that is laid upon me; only let Thine almighty help be with me."
Then he heard the voice say again, "Do you wish to undergo suffering now or in the final days of your life?"
Eustathius replied, "Lord, if it be not possible that temptation should pass me by, then let me bear these misfortunes now. Only send Thine aid, that evil might not overcome me and separate me from Thy love."
The Lord said, "Take courage, Eustathius; My grace shall be with you and shall preserve you. When you are plunged into the abyss of humiliation, I will raise you up and will glorify you before My angels in heaven. Likewise will I exalt you before men, and after you have borne many sorrows, I will comfort you once more and return to you your former rank. However, do not rejoice in fleeting honors but only in that your name is written in the Book of life."
Thus did Saint Eustathius invisibly converse with God, receiving of Him this divine revelation. Having been filled with spiritual joy and the grace of God, he returned to his home, aflame with divine love. He did not hide these things from his honorable wife but told her all that God had disclosed in the revelation: how many misfortunes and sorrows would befall them, which they must needs bear manfully for the Lord’s sake, and how, if they would suffer all these things patiently, the Lord would grant them eternal joy and rejoicing.
When his noble wife heard these things, she said, "May the Lord’s will guide us! Only let us fervently pray that in His compassion He grant us patience." And so they began to live honorably in piety, patiently abiding in fasting and prayer, giving alms more abundantly than before to the poor, and exercising themselves in every virtue more zealously than they had in their previous life of excellence.
After a few days, by God’s allowance, sickness and death came to Eustathius’ home, and all his household, men and beasts alike, were stricken with illness. Within a short time, almost all his servants, men and women, and even his animals, died. Thieves stole his possessions by night, for even though a few of the servants remained alive, they were confined to their beds by sickness, and there was no one to keep watch over the master’s valuables. In a short time the wealthy officer was impoverished, but he was not troubled nor was he sorrowful. Eustathius did not fall into the sin of despair as all these things came to pass, but he gave thanks to God like another Job, saying, The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away. As the Lord hath willed, so let it be; blessed be the name of the Lord unto the ages.
Eustathius comforted his wife so that she would not be saddened by that which had occurred, and she in turn consoled him. Thus, they both bore these things patiently, trusting in the will of their Lord and being consoled by hope in God’s mercy. Seeing himself reduced to poverty, Eustathius determined to hide himself in a far-off country from all his acquaintances and to conceal his high rank and nobifity amid commoners, living humbly and in poverty so that, far from every hindrance and all tumult, he might labor for Christ our Lord, Who impoverished and humbled Himself for the sake of our salvation. He took counsel with his wife, and they resolved to depart by night. Leaving behind their few remaining servants, all of whom were ill, they took their two sons, and removing their costly apparel, they clothed themselves in rags. Having taken what small portion of their possessions they could carry, they left their home at night, forsaking all for God’s sake: glory, honor, and wealth. For even though Eustathius had suffered the loss of these things, he could easily have acquired them again, for he was a great noble and a man of high rank, beloved of the Emperor and respected by all; but he counted all the passing things of this world as dung in order that he might have God alone as his Helper. He wandered through distant and unfamiliar lands, concealing his identity, dwelling among the lowliest peasants. Thus, having abandoned the beautiful chambers of his home, this emulator of Christ wandered about, having no place to lay his head. Soon it became known to the Emperor and to all the nobles that their beloved General Placidas had disappeared. They wondered what had become of him: had he been murdered by some foe, or had he somehow perished? So they questioned themselves concerning him and were greatly saddened. They searched for him, but they could not penetrate the mysteries of God which were wrought in Eustathius. For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counsellor?
At that time, as Eustathius dwelt in a hidden place, his wife said to him, "Shall we remain in this place for a long time, my lord? Let us go away into a country even further away so that we will not be recognized by anyone and become a reproach to them that know us."
And so they departed, together with their children, and took the road leading to Egypt. When they had travelled for a few days, they came to the sea and found a boat there, which was about to set sail for Egypt. They boarded it and departed. The master of the ship was a most violent barbarian. Seeing that Eustathius’ wife was exceedingly fair, he was wounded with lust for her, and he pondered evil in his heart, thinking that he would take her from her husband. When they had arrived at the point along the coast where Eustathius was to disembark and continue along his way, the ship’s captain demanded Eustathius’ wife in place of the fare. Eustathius refused and would not agree to surrender her. He was unable to thwart the captain, however, for that violent and inhuman barbarian drew his sword and attempted to kill Eustathius and cast him into the sea. There was no one to help Eustathius, who fell at the feet of that wicked man, weeping and beseeching him that he not separate him from his beloved wife, but without success. Finally the captain said, "Either depart from here in silence if you wish to live, or you shall straightway perish by this sword, and the sea will be your tomb!"
Then Eustathius, together with his two sons, departed from the ship lamenting. The captain cast the boat off from the shore and set sail. How grievous was the separation of that God-pleasing man from his chaste and honorable wife! They gazed upon each other as they were parted: Eustathius and his children wept as they stood upon the shore, and his wife wailed in the ship as it sailed away, separating her from her husband and taking her to a land she knew not. Who can describe their sorrow, weeping, and lamentation! Eustathius stood upon the shore gazing at the boat until it could no longer be seen. Then, he departed weeping, leading along his young sons. The husband wept for his wife, and the children wept for their mother. That blessed soul could only comfort herself by reflecting on how this misfortune had visited them at the hand of the Lord, contrary to Whose will nothing can come to pass, and how she had been called to the holy faith, that by patience she might attain the heavenly homeland.
But Eustathius’ misfortunes had not yet come to an end, for sorrows were to befall him yet greater than those which had already come to pass. He had not yet recovered from the tribulations which had occurred when other trials beset him. A short time after he was parted from his wife, he was also to be deprived of his children.
Across the path they were travelling there lay a deep and swiftly flowing river, over which there was no bridge. Since Eustathius had to cross the river and it was not possible for him to carry both of his children at the same time to the other shore, he left one child on the bank and put the other upon his shoulder, taking him across the river. When he reached the far shore, he set him down and was returning to bring the other child across the river. When he was in the middle of the river, one of the children cried out, and when Eustathius looked up, he saw a lion approach and snatch the child and then run off into the wilderness. Eustathius stood there looking on and lamenting pitifully until the lion had run so far with the child he had seized that he could no longer be seen. Then he turned around and started toward the other child. However, even before he had ceased weeping for one son, he was compelled to lament for the other. As he was returning toward the other child, a wolf suddenly appeared which seized that child and carried him off into the woods. Overtaken from every side by misfortunes, Eustathius stood in the river, drowning, as it were in the sea of his tears. Who can tell of his heart’s sufferings, of his lamentations and much weeping? He was deprived of his holy and chaste wife, who shared his faith and comforted him in his woes, and he was deprived of his children, from whom he derived consolation in his sorrows. Truly, it was a wonder that he remained alive and did not slip beneath the waters, spent as he was by his tribulations! Undoubtedly, the strong right hand of the Most High strengthened him in patience, for only He Who permitted such temptations to come upon him could bestow such fortitude.
Emerging from the river, Eustathius remained on the bank weeping for a long time, and then he went on his way sorrowing, having as his only consolation God, in Whom he believed and for Whose sake he bore all these things. He did not murmur against God nor did he say, "Hast Thou called me to know Thee, 0 Lord, that I might be deprived of my wife and children? Of what profit to me is faith, if I am become the most wretched of all men? Is Thy love for Thy faithful such that they must perish, sundered from one another?" That righteous and patient man said nothing of the sort: he only bowed his head and in humility fell down before God, thanking Him for these visitations and thanking Him that it pleased Him that His servants should not enjoy worldly prosperity and vain diversions. Eustathius thanked Him, too, that they should abide in sorrows and misfortunes in order that He might console them with eternal joy in the age to come. God, Who works all things to our benefit and Who allows tribulations to befall the righteous man, does not seek to inflict punishment through this means but, rather, tries one’s faith and courage. His desire is not that a man should suffer but that he should display good courage and that he give thanks to God for every circumstance.
As the Lord once kept Jonah unharmed in the belly of the whale, so did He preserve whole both of Eustathius’ children, who had been snatched away in the mouths of the beasts. When the lion crossed over the river upstream, carrying unharmed the child it had taken into the wilderness, shepherds caught sight of it, and crying out, began to chase after it. The lion dropped the child uninjured and fled. Likewise, the wolf, which was carrying the other child, who was still alive, was seen by farmers, who chased after it shouting, and so it left the child to them unharmed. The shepherds and the farmers, who were from the same village, took the children and cared for them. But Eustathius knew nothing of their deliverance and continued along his way, now in patience giving thanks to God, now overcome by nature, weeping and saying, "Woe is me, who once basked in glory but now am abased! Woe is me, who was once the master of a great household but am now homeless! Once I was as a tree having many leaves, which bore much fruit, but now am I but a withered branch. In my home was I surrounded by friends; when in the streets, by my servants; in battle, by my soldiers: but now am I left alone in the wilderness. But forsake me not, 0 Lord! Do not disdain me, Thou Who beholdest all things! Forget me not, 0 All-good One! 0 Lord, forsake me not until the end! I remember, 0 Lord, the words which Thou spakest at the place where Thou didst appear unto me, saying, ’Like Job shalt thou undergo misfortunes’; but lo, I have been subjected to more than Job. For although he was deprived of his possessions and honours, he, nevertheless, sat upon his own dunghill; but I find myself in a strange land and know not where to turn. He had friends to comfort him, but my consolation, my beloved children, have been seized by wild beasts to be consumed in the wilderness. Although Job was deprived of his children, he could obtain from his wife some comfort and care, but my good companion hath fallen into the iniquitous hands of a barbarian, and I, like a reed in the wilderness, am shaken by the storms of my bitter woes. But be not angered with Thy servant, who voiceth the sorrow of his heart, 0 Lord; as a man do I speak. In Thee am I established, 0 Thou Who carest for me and dost guide me. In Thee do I hope, and by Thy love, as though by a cool dew and a breath of wind, do I quench the fire of my sorrows. By the sweetness of my desire for Thee the bitterness of my misfortunes is made sweet!"
Thus spoke Eustathius, sighing and weeping. He arrived at a certain village named Badessos, where he settled and began to labor, hiring himself out to those that lived there, that by the work of his own hands he might feed himself. He toiled at such tasks as were unfamiliar to him and labored at chores which he had never undertaken before. Later, he requested the villagers to permit him to guard their granary, for which they paid him a very small sum. And so he lived in that village for fifteen years in great poverty and humility, laboring much and eating his bread by the sweat of his brow. Who can tell of his virtues and struggles? They may be imagined, should one consider how, while homeless and living in poverty, he exercised himself in nothing but prayer, fasting, weeping, and vigils, with sighings of the heart, lifting up his eyes, hands, and heart unto God and awaiting mercy from His compassion. His children were being reared nearby in another village, but he knew nothing of them, neither did the children know anything of one another, even though they lived in the same village. His wife, like another Sarah, was preserved by God from the lusts of that barbarian, for in the hour when he took her from her righteous husband, he was stricken with illness; whereupon he returned to his own land and died, leaving his captive untouched and undefiled. Thus did God preserve His faithful handmaiden, so that finding herself among snares, she was not entrapped, but like a bird was delivered from the nets of the hunters. The snare was broken, and she was delivered with the help of the Most High. After the barbarian’s death, that honorable woman was free, and she lived untroubled and in peace, obtaining her food by the labor of her own hands.
At that time foreign tribes made war against Rome and wrought much havoc, overrunning a number of cities and provinces. The Emperor Trajan was greatly saddened, and he remembered his valiant General Placidas and said, "If Placidas were with us, our enemies would not mock us, for he was frightful to our foes. Our adversaries feared his very name, since he was courageous and fortunate in battle."
The Emperor and all his nobles still wondered as to how Placidas, together with his wife and children, could have disappeared, and they resolved to search throughout the Empire for him. The Emperor said to his suite, "I will bestow great honor and numerous gifts upon the man who finds Placidas."
And lo, two good soldiers, Antiochus and Acacius, who were once devoted friends of Placidas and had lived in his palace, stepped forth and said, "0 Emperor, supreme in power, give the command that we make a search for that man, without whom the Empire will be lost. Even if we must go to the ends of the earth to find him, we will do so with all haste!"
The Emperor rejoiced at their eagerness, and he immediately dispatched them in search of Placidas. They passed through many lands, cities, and towns, searching for the beloved General; and they asked all whom they met whether they had seen such a man anywhere. Finally, they drew near to the village where Eustathius lived. At that time Eustathius was in the fields, watching over the granary. When he saw the soldiers approaching, he looked carefully at them and recognized them from afar as his friends. He rejoiced and wept out of joy, and he cried out to God, sighing in the depths of his heart. He went and stood alongside the road on the which the soldiers were to pass. When they drew near to Eustathius, they greeted him in the usual manner and asked him the name of the village and who was lord over it. Likewise, they inquired whether there was a certain man living there who was a stranger, whose height was such and his countenance of this sort, whose name was Placidas. Eustathius asked them, "Why do you seek him?"
They answered, "He is our friend, and for a long time we have not seen him, and we do not know where he or his wife and two children are to be found. If someone would apprise us concerning him, we would give him much gold."
Eustathius said, "I do not know him, neither have I heard of this Placidas. Nevertheless, my lords, I pray you, come to the village and rest in my hut. I see that you and your horses have been wearied by your journey. Therefore, rest in my dwelling place, and later you may inquire concerning him whom you seek."
The soldiers agreed and went with the saint into the village, but they did not recognize him. Eustathius, however, certainly knew them, and tears began to flow from his eyes. Nevertheless, he restrained himself so that they might not perceive who he was.
Now there lived in that village a certain good man on whose property Eustathius lived. Eustathius took the soldiers to that man, and he asked him to offer them hospitality and to feed them.
"I will recompense you by my labor for whatever you spend on them," he said, "for they are my friends."
Out of the goodness of his heart, and because he was moved by Eustathius’ entreaties, and also since he had work to give the saint, he provided abundant hospitality for the strangers. Eustathius served them and brought in the food, and he placed it before them. He remembered how in his previous life those whom he now waited upon served him, and overcome by nature, he wished to weep, but he restrained himself so that he would not be discovered. He left the room, and having wept somewhat and then wiped away his tears, he immediately returned and continued to serve like a slave or the simplest peasant. The soldiers, who had looked frequently at him, gradually came to recognize him, and they said quietly to one another, "This man is like Placidas; perhaps he is actually Placidas himself."
They likewise said, "We remember that Placidas bore a deep scar upon his neck from a wound suffered in battle. If this man has such a scar, then he truly must be Placidas."
When they beheld that scar, they immediately arose from the table and fell at his feet. They wept much out of joy and said, "You are Placidas, whom we seek! You are the favorite of the Emperor, concerning whom he has long been grieved! You are the commander of the Romans, on account of whose absence the whole army has not ceased to lament!"
Eustathius then perceived that the time had come when, as the Lord had promised him, his former rank and estate should be restored; and he said, "Brethren, I am he whom you seek. I am Placidas, together with whom you long campaigned. I am he who was once the glory of Rome, fearful to aliens, and beloved of you. Now am I poor, however, useless, and utterly obscure."
Eustathius and the soldiers rejoiced greatly and wept for joy. They clothed him in the costly vesture of a general and gave him the Emperor’s letter, and they earnestly entreated him to come without delay to the Emperor, saying, "Lo, our enemies have lifted up their horn, for there is no one of valor like you, who might overcome and scatter our adversaries."
Hearing these things, the master of that household and all the domestics were amazed and perplexed, and it was noised throughout the village that the presence of a great man had been revealed in that house. And all went forth as if to behold a mighty wonder, and they marvelled, seeing Eustathius arrayed as a general and receiving honor from the soldiers. Antiochus and Acacius told the people of Eustathius’ deeds and bravery and of his glory and noble birth. Hearing that Eustathius was a Roman general, the people were astonished and said, "How is it that this great man labored for us as a hired servant?" And falling down before him, they did reverence to him, saying, "Why, 0 master, did you not tell us of your great estate and rank?"
Likewise, Eustathius’ lord, with whom he had dwelt, fell down before him and entreated him that he be not angry with him for not having held him in high esteem. And all the men of that village were put to shame inasmuch as they had employed such a man as a hired servant. The soldiers seated Eustathius upon a horse, and with all the people of that village escorting them off in great honor, they set forth to return to Rome.
Along the way, Eustathius conversed with the soldiers, and they made inquiry concerning his wife and children. He related to them everything as it had occurred, and they wept upon hearing of his ill fortune. Likewise, they told him how the Emperor had been cast into grief on his account. "Not only the Emperor," said they, "but the entire court and army were saddened by your disappearance."
Conversing thus, within a few days they arrived in Rome. The soldiers informed the Emperor that they had found Placidas, and they told Trajan of the circumstances in which they had discovered him. The Emperor, together with all his nobles, received him with honor and joyfully kissed him, asking him how it was that he had left his home. Eustathius related all that had come to pass and the things concerning his wife and children, and all who heard were moved to pity. Then the Emperor restored Eustathius to his former rank and bestowed upon him wealth greater than that which he had previously enjoyed. All Rome rejoiced at Eustathius’ return, and the Emperor entreated him to take up arms against the barbarians, to defend Rome by his valor against their attacks, and to punish them for having subdued a number of cities. Eustathius collected all his forces and saw that they were insufficient for a campaign such as that which he was compelled to undertake, and so he asked the Emperor to send forth a decree throughout his dominions, ordering that suitable youths be impressed in every city and town and that they be dispatched to Rome for military training. And so it came to pass: the Emperor issued the ordinance, and a multitude of young and strong men, fit to be soldiers, were brought to Rome. Among them were Eustathius’ two sons, Agapius and Theopistus, who had already reached manhood and who were fair of countenance, as well as of great stature and strength. When these young men were brought to Rome, the General beheld them and loved them greatly, for nature itself draws a father to his children; therefore, he was overcome by love for them. Eustathius did not know that they were his children, however, even though he loved them as sons. He kept them always in his presence and shared his table with them, and they were pleasing in his sight. Thereafter, Eustathius went forth to do battle, and having engaged the barbarians, by the power of Christ he emerged victorious. Not only did he liberate the cities and lands overrun by them; he conquered the entire country of the barbarians and utterly overwhelmed their forces. Strengthened by his Lord, he displayed much valor and won a victory greater than any of his previous triumphs.
When the war was concluded and Eustathius was returning home in peace, he chanced upon a certain village which was situated on a beautiful spot by a river. It was a pleasant place, conducive to repose. Therefore, Eustathius rested there with his troops for three days, for it was pleasing to God that His faithful servant be reunited with his wife and children and that the flock which had been scattered be gathered together. It was in that village that his wife lived. She had a garden from which she obtained her food with much labor. By God’s providence, Agapius and Theopistus, knowing nothing of their mother, pitched their tent alongside her garden, for inasmuch as they hailed from the same village, they determined to share the same tent and to stay together. They loved one another as brothers, even though they did not know that they were brothers, and although they did not suspect the fraternal bond between them, they shared a fraternal love for each other. Therefore, they took their rest together by the garden of the one who had borne them, not far from their commander’s camp.
At noontime one day, while Eustathius was encamped with his troops in that village, the mother of Agapius and Theopistus was working in her garden, and she heard the two young men talking as they rested nearby in their tent. They were asking each other about their origin, and the elder of the two said, "I remember that my father was a general in Rome, but I do not know why he left Rome with my mother, taking me and my younger brother (for there were two of us). We went to the sea and boarded a ship. We then set sail, and when we reached our destination, my father left the ship with me and my brother, but my mother remained on the ship although I do not know why. I remember only that my father wept much over her, and we wept also and continued to lament as we went along our way. When we came to a river, my father left me on the bank, put my younger brother on his shoulder, and took him to the other side of the river. After he had carried him to the opposite bank, and as he was returning for me, a lion came, snatched me up, and took me into the wilderness. However, shepherds rescued me from him, and thus I came to be reared in the village that you know."
Then the younger brother arose quickly and embraced him joyfully, and weeping, he said, "Truly you are my brother, for I remember all that you have recounted. I saw with my own eyes how the lion seized you. At the same time, a wolf snatched me away, but farmers delivered me from him."
And so the brothers recognized one another, and they rejoiced exceedingly, embracing and kissing one another, weeping copiously out of joy. Their mother, hearing their conversation, marvelled and lifted up her eyes to God, sighing and shedding tears. She was convinced that they were truly her children, and her heart, after so many bitter woes, was refreshed. Nevertheless, being a prudent woman, she did not venture without indubitable proof to reveal her identity to them, for she was impoverished and clad in vile raiment while they were eminent and distinguished soldiers. She decided to go to the General and to ask him to be allowed to return to Rome with his troops, that there she might more conveniently disclose who she was to her sons and might also learn of her husband, whether he was alive or not. She went to the General and was brought into his presence, and bowing down before him, she said, "I entreat you, sir, to permit me to accompany your forces into Rome, for I am a Roman and was taken captive by barbarians in this land sixteen years ago. Now am I free, but I wander about a strange country and suffer from great want."
The compassionate Eustathius immediately granted her request and commanded that she be allowed to return untroubled to her native land. As she stood before the General and gazed upon him, she clearly perceived that he was her husband. In astonishment she remained standing there, as though in a stupor, but Eustathius did not recognize his wife. Thus, she was granted joy upon joy even as once she had known sorrow upon sorrow. Within she cried out unto God with sighing, but she feared to tell her husband that she was his wife, for she saw that he was most majestic and of a dread countenance and that he was surrounded by a multitude of attendants while she was reduced to a state of extreme poverty. She departed from his presence and prayed to God her Master that He would Himself cause her to be recognized by her husband and children. At a convenient time she returned to the General and was ushered into his presence. He looked upon her and said, "What else do you require of me, aged woman?"
She prostrated herself to the ground before him and said, "I entreat you, my lord, be not angry with me, your handmaiden. I wish to inquire of your lordship about a certain matter. Only be patient, my lord, and hear out your handmaid."
He said to her, "Very well; speak."
And so she began, saying, "Are you not Placidas, who in Holy Baptism was named Eustathius? Did you not see Christ on the Cross between the deer’s antlers? Did you not depart from Rome with your wife and two children, Agapius and Theopistus, for God’s sake? Was your wife not taken from you by a barbarian while you were on a ship? Christ the Lord Himself, for Whose sake I have suffered many tribulations, is my sure Witness in heaven that I am truly your wife and that I have been preserved by His grace from defilement. That barbarian perished in the same hour in which he took me from you, punished by the wrath of God; therefore, I remained unsullied and until now wander about in want."
When Eustathius heard her, it was as though he had been awakened from sleep. He straightway recognized his wife, arose, and embraced her, and out of joy they shed abundant tears. Then Eustathius said, "Praise and gratitude do we render unto Christ our Saviour, Who in His mercy has not forsaken us, but even as He promised that He would grant us consolation after we had undergone tribulations, so has He caused it to be."
And thus they rejoiced and wept much, giving thanks unto God. When Eustathius had ceased weeping, his wife asked him, "And where are our children?"
He sighed from the depths of his heart and said, "They were eaten by beasts."
His wife replied, "Be no longer sorrowful, my lord, for as God has unexpectedly granted us to encounter one another, so will He enable us to find our children."
Eustathius said, "Did I not tell you that they were consumed by beasts?"
Theopiste then began to relate to him all that she had heard the day before as she labored in her garden, what she had heard said by the two soldiers as they conversed with each other, and how she had perceived that they were her sons. Eustathius immediately summoned them and asked them, "Who were your parents? Where were you born? Where were you reared?"
Then the elder brother began to tell him of their childhood, saying, "We, sir, were very young when we were separated from our parents, and we remember very little. We do recall, however, that our father was a Roman general, like your lordship, but we do not know what happened to him. We left Rome together by night, but when we took ship across the sea, our mother remained on the ship although we do not know why. Weeping for her, our father came with us to a certain river, across which he decided to carry us one at a time. When he was in the midst of the river, beasts snatched us up; a lion took me, and a wolf seized my brother. However, we were both delivered from being eaten by the beasts--I by shepherds and my brother by farmers, who took us and reared us."
When Eustathius and his wife heard these thing, they realized that these were their children. They embraced them and wept for a long time, and there was great joy in the soldiers’ camp even as once there had been in Egypt when Joseph was made known to his brethren. Every cohort learned that its General had found his wife and sons. All joined together in rejoicing, and there was a celebration exceeding that which had ensued following the troops’ great victory. Thus did God grant consolation to his faithful servants, for He puts to death and makes alive, makes poor and makes rich, casts down into sorrows and lifts up to joy and jubilation. Then could Eustathius have said with David, Come and hear, and I willdeclare unto you, all ye that fear God, what things He hath done for my soul.I will remember Thee, 0 Thou Who hast shewn mercy unto me. The right hand of the Lord hath wrought strength, the right hand of the Lord hath exalted me.
And so Eustathius returned from battle, rejoicing both over his victory and because he had found his wife and sons. Before he arrived in Rome, the Emperor Trajan died. He was succeeded by Hadrian, who was exceedingly wicked and who hated the good and persecuted the pious. Eustathius entered the city in great pomp, as was the custom with Roman generals, bringing with him many captives and countless valuable spoils. He was received with honor by the Emperor and by all the Romans. They praised his valor yet more than they had before, and he was held in still greater esteem than he had been previously. Nevertheless, God, Who does not wish that His servants be honored and glorified overmuch in this perverted and inconstant world, Who has prepared eternal and immutable honor and glory for them in the heavens, and Who had restored Eustathius to his former exalted estate, transforming his sorrow into joy, ordained that martyrdom be his path to heaven. In but a short while He returned Eustathius to a state of dishonor and sorrow, which he gladly accepted for Christ’s sake. When the impious Hadrian wished to worship and to sacrifice to the demons in gratitude for the victory over his enemies, he went into the temple of the idols, together with his nobles. Only Eustathius did not enter the temple, but remained without. The Emperor asked him, "Why do you not wish to enter the temple with us and worship the gods? You should be the first to render thanksgiving to the gods inasmuch as they not only preserved you whole and hale and have granted you victory over your enemies but have restored your wife and sons to you."
Eustathius answered, "I am a Christian, and I know Jesus Christ alone to be my God. Him do I honor and thank, and I worship Him, for He has granted me every blessing: health, victory, my wife, and my children. I will not worship the idols, which are deaf, dumb, and powerless." And so Eustathius returned to his own home.
The Emperor was enraged and considered how he might punish the saint for the disrespect he had shown toward his gods. First, he stripped Eustathius of his rank and commanded that he be brought into his presence as a commoner. Likewise, he had Eustathius’ wife and sons brought before him. He enjoined them to sacrifice to the idols, but since he was unable to separate them from Christ, he sentenced them to be eaten by beasts. Thus Saint Eustathius, the glorious and valorous soldier, together with his family, was sentenced to be put to death in the arena. He was not ashamed to be subjected to such dishonor, neither did he fear death for the sake of Christ, Whom he zealously served, but instead he finished his course eagerly, faithfully, and well, confessing Christ’s holy name openly before all. He exhorted his honorable wife and beloved children not to fear death for the Lord, Who grants life unto all, and they likewise strengthened one another by their words and hope for rewards to come so that they went forth to their deaths as though to a feast. The beasts were loosed upon them, but they did not harm them, for whenever one of the beasts began to approach them, it would immediately turn about and retreat with its head bowed down. Thus the beasts were made calm, but the Emperor became yet more enraged. He ordered that they be led out of the arena and cast into prison. In the morning he commanded that a brass ox be heated and that Saint Eustathius, his wife, and two sons be placed therein. That blazing ox was cooled with dew for the holy martyrs, as once the Chaldean furnace was cooled for the Three Youths. Therein the holy martyrs prayed, and they surrendered their sacred souls into the hands of God, being translated unto the heavenly kingdom.
Three days later, Hadrian returned to the ox, wishing to see the ashes of the martyrs, but when he opened its doors, he found the saints’ bodies whole and unharmed. Not a hair of their heads had been burnt; they seemed, rather, to be alive and but sleeping, radiant with a most wondrous and supernatural beauty. All the people cried out, "Great is the God of the Christians!" Thus the Emperor returned in humiliation to his palace, and all the people reviled him for his cruelty and for having needlessly put to death a general so indispensable to Rome. The bodies of the saints were then buried with fitting reverence.