April 18 – John of Ioannina; Apollonius the Apologist

John of Ioannina the New Martyr (1522–1546) was born of pious but short-lived parents, and as an orphan removed to Constantinople by way of Trikala, where he was accused of apostasy by some “Turks from Islam,” whoever exactly that might be (as opposed to those other sixteenth century Turks, one supposes). Once in the big city, he spent his inheritance to buy a stall in the bazaar, and set about making clothes. An honest tailor he was, too, and a staunch defender of steadfast Christians, if something of a gadfly to Christians who defected to the other side. The latter were not his biggest fans, as you might expect. When the troublemakers from Trikala trickled into town, they once again made their accusations. Things looked bad for young John.

On Holy Friday he went to his confessor and asked for permission to die, and was told to prepare himself by prayer and fasting. “Gotta make sure you won’t recant under pressure,” his priest said. On Holy Saturday he had a vision in which he played the starring role; the supporting cast included a fiery furnace. Whipping out his Protofreud’s Book of Common Dreams, he concluded that he was destined for martyrdom. He went to communion one last time, and once again asked his priest for permission to be martyred. This time the priest gave his permission.

Returning to the marketplace on Pascha, John was once again accused of apostasy, and once again vehemently declared he was a Christian and had not ever nor would ever denounce his faith. To emphasize his point he climbed a minaret and began shouting, “Christ is risen!” to the crowd, which although liturgically correct was perhaps ill-advised. We are told his voice was heard throughout the city, which feat wouldn’t be repeated until the invention of the electric muezzin in the 20th century. Needless to say, he was quickly apprehended and sentenced to be burned alive.

Once the fire was lit, John said, “I’ve got this,” and walked calmly into the flames. The fire looked to be getting out of control and the neighbors, fearing for their homes, called for the fire department to douse the flames. John was pulled out, done only on one side, and led to another fire, into which he leaped enthusiastically. Other Christians asked that he be beheaded to reduce his suffering, so he was. After the fire burned out his bones were gathered, and then scattered again to various monasteries, as (sometimes) is the wont of martyrs’ bones.

Apollonius the Apologist (d. ca. 185–190) was a Roman scholar and perhaps senator who converted himself by reading the Old Testament and whatever Christian writings he could get his hands on. One of his slaves ratted him out to the authorities, and though the authorities broke the slave’s legs and killed him for being a traitor, they nevertheless felt compelled to bring Apollonius to trial.

Apollnonius ended up on the Senate floor, defending his faith before the entirety of that august body. He was grilled by the praetorian prefect Perennis, who asked him if he was keen on dying. “No,” the saint said, “I like life as much as the next guy, but I’m not afraid of death, and something better is waiting on the other side.” He went on to sermonize about the universality of death, the futility of worshiping idols made by human hands, the superiority of Christianity over paganism on account of Christ dying for the faithful, and so on. He added that our Lord’s death was prophesied by both Scripture and Plato, although my sources don’t indicate where in Plato this particular prophecy is located. Apparently he went on at some length, and Eusebius recorded the whole thing in a work which is now, tragically, lost. (One of my sources says a version in Armenian turned up in 1874, but doesn’t link to it.) In the end they tired of his speechifying and cut him off, along with his head. He is also (supposedly) celebrated in the east, but I could not verify this.