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E07128: The first Greek 'epic' Martyrdom of *Prokopios from Scythopolis (martyr of Palestine, S00118) expands the brief mention of Prokopios' martyrdom by Eusebius of Caesarea into a longer account of his trial and execution in Caesarea (Palestine). Written possibly in Caesarea, possibly in the late 4th to 5th century.

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posted on 22.11.2018, 00:00 by Nikolaos
Martyrdom of Prokopios (BHG 1576)

Summary:

§ 1: Prologue, in which the hagiographer expresses his conviction that the acts of the martyrs are a necessary aid for Christians and that they show how Christ assists the faithful.

§ 2: In the reign of Diokletianos there is a persecution of Christians, as the emperor sends orders by letter to the provincial governors.

§ 3: The letter is quoted. In it Diokletianos expresses his displeasure that there are certain people in the empire who renounce the gods and worship a dead mortal man. For this reason he commands all the inhabitants of the empire to placate the gods and receive the additional reward of 50,000 silver pieces, or else suffer capital punishment.

§ 4: Having received the letter, the governors begin persecuting Christians. In Caesarea there arrives as governor Flavianos, an inhumanly cruel and evil man.

§ 5: Blessed Prokopios hails from the city of Aelia [Capitolina, i.e. Jerusalem]. Due to his angelic life he holds the office both of reader (ἀναγνώστης) and exorcist (ἐπορκιστῆς) and is also a honey-tongued preacher. His holiness is such that he is able to banish demons by a word and the sign of the Cross alone. Because he brings numerous people into the faith, he attracts the attention of Flavianos who orders him captured. Prokopios is brought to Caesarea, where Flavianos is supervising the construction of a temple.

§ 6: The pagan crowd reacts angrily at the sight of Prokopios. Flavianos asks for his name and attempts to persuade him to reject Christianity and sacrifice to the gods.

§ 7: Prokopios expresses his wish that the governor too could reject the idols and embrace Christ. He refers to the testimony of assorted pagan wise men (Hermes Trismegistos, Homeros, Platon, Aristoteles, Sokrates, Galenos and Skamandros) who proclaimed a single god, whereas the shameful nature of the manifold gods venerated by men was exposed, especially by Homeros in his poetry. In contrast, Christ is truly a God, as the genuine consubstantial (ὁμοούσιος) Son of the Father, and by invoking his name Prokopios [as an exorcist] drives away the demons whom the pagans worship.

§ 8: Flavianos attempts once more to win Prokopios over to paganism, urging him to enjoy the virtues of the hellenic life, threatening him with torture and death if he should fail to comply.

§§ 9-10: Prokopios declares that a servant of God is undaunted by torture and mocks the governor as a worshipper of mere stone and wood and other matter: since iron prevails over stone, why not worship iron; since iron is melted by fire, why not fire; since fire is quenched by water, why not water? Why worship materials which destroy and reduce each other?

§ 11: Prokopios anticipates his interlocutor's probable reply that he does not worship stone but the gods depicted by means of stone. Since God is ineffable and incorporeal, how can they strive to attribute to him a bodily appearance, instead of worshipping him in action and prayer alone? Prokopios himself prefers the God who saved humanity from death, and will not exchange him for a small and passing pleasure.

§ 12: Prokopios is tortured by scraping his body with rough cloth made of hair (τριχῶν ὑφάσμασιν) and iron scrapers, and his bones are crushed with lead instruments.

§ 13: The governor orders the spekoulator Archelaos to kill the saint with a sword. When Archelaos draws his weapon, his hand is at once paralysed and he falls to the ground and expires. Flavianos orders the saint thrown in prison in irons and kept in isolation, so that the pain from his wounds and the loneliness will force him to comply.

§ 14: In prison, the martyr gives an extended prayer of thanks to God for the salvation of humanity, and for his help in times of need. He prays for God to fulfil his contest, safeguarding him from the wiles of the devil. After his prayer, the Lord appears in the form of an angel and heals Prokopios.

§ 15: On the third day, Flavianos has Prokopios brought before him and expresses his hope that the time spent in prison has changed his mind.

§ 16: Prokopios suggests that if the governor can see how he has been miraculously healed of his wounds, he should stop trying to convert him to paganism. Flavianos, however, attributes the sudden death of the executioner and the apparent disappearance of the martyr's wounds to sorcery. He orders Prokopios to be tortured with whips and burning charcoal.

§ 17: While being tortured, Prokopios declares he is content to bear witness to Christ and continuously mocks the governor, who gives orders for him to be tortured additionally with heated irons.

§ 18: When Prokopios continues to speak against the pagan gods, Flavianos devises a new cruel device: an altar is set up and the martyr's hand [held over the altar] is filled with burning coal, topped with incense. The governor declares that if he turns his hand around, he will have sacrificed to the gods. Prokopios, however, with the strength of his faith holds fast and keeps his hand still, to the amazement of the onlookers.

§ 19: Flavianos, frustrated, asks why Prokopios weeps and groans if he indeed pays no heed to the torture; the martyr, however, affirms that his body is of clay, and clay, in contact with fire, expels the liquid within it; at the same time, he says, he weeps for the governor's soul. Flavianos and his torturers have by now been worn out, and he finally decrees that Prokopios must suffer the death penalty. The martyr is taken outside the city.

§ 20: Prokopios requests that he be given a single hour in order to pray. In an extended prayer, he praises God for His benefactions and asks Him to rescue people from a variety of afflictions and tribulations.

§ 21: Prokopios makes the sign of the cross and is beheaded. Christians take his body and deposit it in a solemn place. The martyrdom took place in Caesarea, eight days before the Ides of July (i.e. on 8 July).

Text: Delehaye 1909, 214-227.
Summary: N. Kälviäinen.

History

Evidence ID

E07128

Saint Name

Prokopios from Scythopolis, martyr of Palestine : S00118

Saint Name in Source

Προκόπιος

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

380

Evidence not after

500

Activity not before

303

Activity not after

306

Place of Evidence - Region

Palestine with Sinai

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Caesarea Maritima

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Caesarea Maritima Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Transmission, copying and reading saint-related texts

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Rejection of the cult of images

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracles experienced by the saint Healing diseases and disabilities Exorcism

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Pagans Monarchs and their family Torturers/Executioners Officials Prisoners Crowds Angels

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Transfer, translation and deposition of relics

Source

The Martyrdom of Prokopios survives in a number of different recensions, due to the text having been successively reworked by various hagiographers seeking to adjust it to the expectations and sensibilities of their time. The story of Prokopios is first known from the brief account by Eusebius of Caesarea (E00296). The present text (BHG 1576) represents an expansion of the saint's story into a full-blown hagiography, using as a starting point the basic elements available in Eusebius' account. The next stage in the evolutional history of the text is represented by BHG 1577 (E07129), which for the first time establishes Prokopios as a military saint, and which probably also dates from Late Antiquity, although it is clearly somewhat later than BHG 1576. The Martyrdom BHG 1576 is known at present to be preserved in a single manuscript, Parisinus graecus 1470, dating to the year 890: http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/17641/ (BHG 1576)

Discussion

As pointed out by Delehaye (1909, 81-82), the 'epic' martyrdom accounts of Prokopios probably do not contain any historically reliable information except for the details shared with Eusebius' account (Prokopios as a reader and an exorcist; the name of the governor Flavianus; however, the mention of Scythopolis as the saint's place of residence is omitted). They are, however, important as literary documents showcasing the way hagiographic legends could develop over time (Delehaye 1955, 119-120), presumably in close association with the spread of the martyr's cult. The dating of both texts is uncertain, but BHG 1576 is clearly earlier than BHG 1577, which is based on it and which must have been in circulation by the 8th century (see E07129). Although not as strikingly fairy-tale as BHG 1577, the earlier BHG 1576 is nevertheless an 'epic' account owing more to the literary freedom of the hagiographer than to historical documentation (in contrast to Eusebius' contemporary testimony), including literary borrowings (Delehaye 1909, 79-82) such as the prologue, which is partly based on that of the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas (E01667), and the episode with the burning coals placed in the saint's hand, a borrowing from the Martyrdom of Barlaam of Antioch (E02573). As such, it will have been composed some time after the death of the historical Prokopios, thus probably not earlier than the late 4th or 5th century. It clearly belongs to the context of the cult of the saints which at that time was undergoing a period of rapid development, and it is not unlikely that it was in existence by the end of the 5th century, just like the saint's cult site in Caesarea in Palestine (which is reported as having been restored by the emperor Zeno in 484 after its destruction by Samaritan rebels: see E05727). Caesarea (Maritima), the well-known centre of Prokopios' cult, is also the most likely candidate for the locus of the composition of BHG 1576, which mentions the saint's relics as having been buried in that city. On the other hand, Scythopolis, according to Eusebius the dwelling place of the historical Prokopios and another locus of cult in later times, can probably be ruled out, since a hagiographer working there would not have been likely to omit mention of his own city! Nevertheless, as is usual for martyrdom accounts of this period, certainty is impossible to attain.

Bibliography

Text: Delehaye, H., Les légendes grecques des saints militaires (Paris, 1909), 214-227. Further reading: Delehaye, H., Les légendes grecques des saints militaires (Paris, 1909), 77-89 (esp. 79-82). Delehaye, H., Les légendes hagiographiques (4th ed.; Paris, 1955), 119-139.

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