Saint Mercurius (225–250) is a Christian saint and martyr. Born in the city of Eskentos in Cappadocia, Eastern Asia Minor, he was given the name Philopateer, a Greek name which literally means ‘Lover of the Father’. Saint Mercurius is also known as Abu Seifein, which in Arabic means, "the holder of two swords", referring to a second divine sword given to him by Archangel Michael.
Philopateer was the son of a Scythian officer in the Roman army. One day his father, Gordianus, and his grandfather went hunting in the forest and were attacked by wild beasts. The beasts killed the grandfather, causing Gordianus to faint. While he was unconscious, he saw a vision. He saw a brilliant light and heard a voice saying:
Gordianuss, I am your God Who loves you. I know that you have a good heart and that you hate the pagan idols. I want to tell you that your son, Philopateer, will become like a tree bearing good fruits, and because of him, I will bless you and your wife. Philopateer will be My witness and will defy all prejudice in My Name.
Thus, Gordianous and his family were baptized by the local bishop and were given new names: Gordianus was named Noah, and his wife Kibotos, a Greek name that means: Ark. These names were chosen (Noah and Ark) to signify that God has saved them from the seas of darkness.
Reaching the age of seventeen, Philopateer had already joined the Roman army. Intrepid on the field, a bold and efficient leader of men in the campaigns, he was the best swordsman in his regiment; in battle he was a tactician that assured victory in every encounter with the enemy. He carried out his duties in exemplary manner, and was the delight of the high command of his regiment. Bravery and military powers, soon led Philopateer to be promoted to the rank of command and given the name «Mercurius».
When war broke out between the barbarians and the Romans. Decius, the emperor, ordered all regiments from all over the empire to come and fight against the barbarians.
One day, at the peak of battle, Mercurius, a commander in a regiment then, had a vision. He saw St Michael the Archangel surrounded by great light. Holding a drawn sword in his right hand, he said:
«Mercurius, servant of Jesus Christ, fear not, nor be cast down, for I have been sent to help you and lead you to victory. Take this sword from my hand and go to fight the barbarians and when you overcome and conquer them, remember the Lord, your God.»
After recovering from his surprise, he held the sword in his hand and felt the Holy Spirit and Godly power overwhelm him. Thus, and at the height of conflict, Mercurius dashed with his sword into the midst of the barbarians. He displayed wonderful courage, mowing the enemy down like grass. He attacked with such violence that he was able to slay their king, his company and many others. The success of Mercurius so terrified the barbarians that they broke down and fled and victory lay with the Romans.
Thereafter, Mercurius was given a triumphant reception by all the Roman armies. When Decius learned of Mercurius’ bravery, he sent for him and made him supreme commander of all the Roman army.
Nonetheless, in 249, Decius began his persecution of Christians, compelling everyone to offer sacrifices to his pagan gods. Again, St. Michael the Archangel appeared to Mercurius and told him not to forget what he had told him in the battlefield and not to fear persecution. The saint was encouraged and spent the whole night praying fervently. Next day, the Emperor sent messengers to summon Mercurius to the palace, but he apologized and said: “My body has no strength.” The day after, the Emperor sent for Mercurius again. After counseling with his commander, Decius addressed him saying:
«Let us go, O Mercurius, to the great temple of Artemis and carry incense and offer sacrifice to our idols. They have helped us in our war and achieved victory for us.»
Mercurius gave no answer. When the emperor and his company, rose up heading to the idols, Mercurius quietly withdrew and disappeared from the great crowd that followed the emperor. One of the officers of Mercurius’ regiment, in jealousy of the supreme commander and eager to seize any chance to discredit him, noticed that at the feast of honouring the Roman gods, Mercurius was absent. Wishing to stir up the anger in the emperor’s breast against him, he hastened to inform Decius. That said, Decius ordered that Mercurius be brought to his presence. Upon his arrival, Decius addressed him saying:
«Mercurius, was it not I who bestowed upon you this great honour and promotion? Did I not make you supreme general over all governors because of your intelligence and the victory that the gods bestowed upon us in the war? Why should you change this great affection into bitter hatred? Is it true that you refused to worship the gods who gave you victory in the war?»
Mercurius answered bravely:
Your Majesty, the victory was not due to dumb idols, the work of men’s hands. It was accomplished by the grace of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who sent His Archangel to give me a sword and strengthened me. I cannot deny my God and worship statues.
The Emperor was infuriated, and tried to persuade him but to no avail. Mercurius' faith was unshaken. He stripped him from his ranks and ordered that he be thrown into prison. That did not stop the saint from praying. One night, St. Michael the Archangel appeared to him and said:
«Rejoice, Mercurius, and do not fear the tortures of this tyrant. Trust in the Christ God, to whom you have testified openly, for He will save you from every tribulation.»
The following day, Decius, took his seat at the tribune and sent messengers for the Saint. When Mercurius stood before him, he tried to persuade him, once by coaxing, another time by threats. The Saint remained unmoved and replied:
«I do not fear the tortures and am not worried by death because Jesus, our Lord, taught us in His Holy Scriptures, saying:
'Do not to be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more they can do. But I will show you of whom to be afraid; of him who after he has killed has the power to throw into hell.’ (Luke 12:4-5)
You have no power except over my body; you can do with it whatever you please.”
When Decius ran out of tricks to make Mercurius yield and having realized his failure to make him change his mind and worship idols, he furiously cried out:
“How dare you, Mercurius, utter such words and disobey my orders?”
Immediately, the emperor, filled with wrath, gave orders to his soldiers to strip off Mercurius from his clothes and fix four posts on the ground between which he is to be tied at the height of one cubit from the ground.
Further still, the emperor commanded them to strike him all over his body with long sharp nails instead of scourges, but Mercurius endured all these tortures in silence.
Back in prison, the Archangel appeared to him and healed all his wounds. When the emperor saw that the Mercurius was in perfect health, he attributed it to witchcraft. Mercurius told him that it was Jesus, the true healer of the soul and the body, who healed him. Fearing revolt in the army because many admired him, the emperor sent him to Caesarea to be beheaded.
Arriving at the spot of execution, the Saint asked to be left for a while to pray. While praying, a great light shone and he saw the Lord Jesus Christ, in glory, together with his archangels and angels, in front of him. The Lord Jesus, with sweet gentleness, addressed him saying:
“Peace be to you, my beloved Mercurius.
Your prayers and pleadings have ascended before me as good incense.
Come and rest with me in my Kingdom, for you have struggled well and kept your faith and finished your course.
Come now to receive the crown of glory that has been appointed to you.
I will let your name be known in every part of the world and great miracles will be performed in churches that bear your name.
Whoever writes down the story of your testimony and suffering, I will write his name in the book of eternal life.
I will save whoever calls me in your name from all his suffering.
Whoever gives your name for his child, I will bless, keep and preserve him all the days of his life on earth.”
Mercurius was beheaded on December 4th 250 AD. He was only 25 years old.
May the blessing and prayers of this great martyr and saint Mercurius Abu Sifein be with us all. Amen.