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A History Of The Church In Five Books by Theodoret

ATHANASIUS having thus escaped from the cruelty of his sanguinary adversaries, George, who was truly another wolf, was entrusted with the superintendence of the flock. He inflicted on the sheep cruelties more atrocious than would have been perpetrated by a wolf, a bear, or a leopard. He compelled young women who had vowed perpetual virginity, not only to disown the communion of Athanasius, but also to condemn the faith of the fathers. The agent in his cruelty was Sebastian the military chief. He ordered a fire to be kindled in the centre of the city, and placed the virgins, who were stripped entirely naked, close to it, commanding them to deny the faith. Although they formed a most sorrowful and pitiable spectacle for believers as well as for unbelievers, they considered that all these dishonours conferred the highest honour on them; and they joyfully received the blows inflicted on them on account of their faith. All these facts are more clearly narrated by their own pastor.

About the period of the year termed Quadragesima, George returned from Cappadocia, and greatly added to the evils which had been already perpetrated. After the Easter week virgins were cast into prison, bishops were bound and dragged away by the soldiers, the houses of widows and of orphans were pillaged, and the Christians were, during the darkness of night, seized and torn away from their dwellings. Seals were fixed on many houses. The brethren of the clergy became uneasy on their account. These cruelties were very atrocious, but still more so were those which were subsequently perpetrated. The week following the holy festival of Pentecost, the people who were keeping a fast assembled in the churchyard to pray that they might be delivered from all communion with George. This wicked man was informed of this circumstance, and he excited Sebastian, the military commander belonging to the Manichean sect, to attack the people; and, accordingly, on the Lord’s day he rushed upon them with a large body of armed soldiers wielding naked swords, bows and arrows. He found but a few Christians in the act of praying, for most of them had retired on account of the lateness of the hour. He committed such cruelties as might be expected from one who was acting under the direction of such employers. He ordered a large fire to be lighted, and the virgins to be brought close to it, and then commanded them to declare themselves of the Arian persuasion. When he perceived that they were invincible, he ordered them to be stripped naked, and to be beaten until they became scarcely recognisable. He then seized forty men, and inflicted on them a new species of torture. He ordered them to be scourged with branches of palm trees; and the thorns were driven so deeply into their flesh, that it was long before they could be extracted by the surgical operations which were afterwards resorted to; and those who were not able to bear the agony died under it. He banished all those who survived, and also the virgins, to the Greater Oasis. He refused to give up the bodies of those who had been killed to their relations for sepulture; his partisans concealed some of these corpses, and others they flung away without a tomb, in order to show that they were unconcerned in these cruel transactions, and ignorant of them. But they were deceived in this foolish expectation: for the friends of the slain, while they rejoiced at the faithfulness of the deceased, deeply lamented the loss of the corpses, and spread abroad a full account of the cruelty that had been perpetrated.

The following bishops were banished from Egypt and from Lybia:—Ammon, Muïus, Caius, Philo, Hermes, Pliny, Psinosis, Nilammon, Agapius, Anagamphus, Mark, Draco, Adelphus, another Ammon, another Mark, and Athenodorus; and also the presbyters, Hierax and Dioscorus. They were all driven into exile in so cruel a manner that many died on the road, and others at the place of their banishment. The persecutors caused the death of more than thirty bishops. For, like Achab, they were actuated by no other zeal than that of banishing the truth, had it been possible.

Athanasius, in a letter addressed to the virgins who were treated with so much barbarity, uses the following words: “Let none of you be grieved on account of these impious heretics having prohibited the honours of sepulture from being rendered to you. The impiety of the Arians has reached such a height, that they block up the entrances, and sit like so many demons around the places of sepulture in order to prevent the dead from being interred.” These and many other similar atrocities, were perpetrated by George in Alexandria.

The holy Athanasius was well aware that there was no place which could be considered as one of safety for him; for the emperor had promised a very large reward to whoever should bring him alive or dead into his presence.








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