St. Sebastian – WYD2013 Patron of the Week

31 Jul 2012

Saint Sebastian died in the year 288. He was a Christian saint and martyr, who is said to have been killed during the Roman emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians. He is commonly depicted in art and literature as tied to a tree and shot with arrows. This is the most common artistic depiction of Sebastian; however, he did not die from this event he lived to tell the tale and was nursed back to health by Irene of Rome, when he was back to full health he was clubbed to death sometime later for criticising the emperor. Saint Sebastian is venerated in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

Saint Sebastian was known for having encouraged the faith of two Christian prisoners due for martyrdom, Mark and Marcellian, who were being persuaded by their family to forswear Christ and offer token sacrifice to the Roman gods.

According to tradition, Mark and Marcellian were twin brothers and were deacons. They were from a distinguished family and were both married, living in Rome with their wives and children. The brothers refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods and were arrested. They were visited by their father and mother, who attempted to persuade them to renounce Christianity.

Sebastian ended up converting both the mother and father, as well as Saint Tiburtius, the son of Chromatius, the local prefect. Nicostratus, another official, and his wife Zoe were also converted. It has been said that Zoe had been a mute for 6 years. However, she made known to Sebastian her desire to be converted to Christianity. As soon as she had, her speech returned to her. Nicostratus then brought the rest of the prisoners; these 16 persons were also converted by Sebastian.

Diocletian reproached Sebastian for his supposed betrayal, and he commanded him to be led to a field and there to be bound to a stake to be shot at. “And the archers shot at him till he was as full of arrows as an urchin,” leaving him there for dead. Miraculously, the arrows did not kill him. The widow of Castulus, Irene of Rome, went to retrieve his body to bury it, and found he was still alive. She brought him back to her house and nursed him back to health. The other residents of the house doubted he was a Christian. One of those was a girl who was blind. Sebastian asked her “Do you wish to be with God?”, and made the sign of the Cross on her head. “Yes”, she replied, and immediately regained her sight. Sebastian then stood on a step and harangued Diocletian as he passed by; the emperor had him beaten to death and his body thrown into a privy. But in an apparition Sebastian told a Christian widow where they might find his body undefiled and bury it “at the catacombs by the apostles.”

Because Sebastian had been thought to have been killed by the arrows, and yet was not, he is sometimes known as the saint who was martyred twice.

In the Roman Catholic Church, Sebastian is commemorated by an optional memorial on the 20th of January. In the Church of Greece, Sebastian’s feast day is on 18 December.

Saint Sebastian was also known as the protector from the bubonic plague, and Sebastian was formerly one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. The connection of the martyr shot with arrows and the plague seems a bit strange however In Greco-Roman myth, Apollo, the archer god is the deliverer of pestilence; the figure of Sebastian Christianizes this folkloric association.

Sebastian, like Saint George, was one of a class of military martyrs and soldier saints of the Early Christian Church whose cults originated in the 4th century and culminated at the end of the Middle Ages, in the 14th and 15th centuries both in the East and the West. In Roman Catholicism, Sebastian is the patron saint of archers and of a holy death.

Saint Sebastian also happens to be the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil!

May your intercession me the grace to obey God more than man and to be a soldier of Christ. Amen.