When the phrase "child prodigy" is mentioned it may bring to mind the name of Mozart, who composed music before he was twelve that is still extant, or Alexander Pope, who wrote the classic poem "Solitude" when he was but eleven years old. It would be difficult to recall any boy genius of religion, but the one who comes closest to this was a Roman lad of the second century. His name was Eleftherios and he was among the first and youngest to carve a niche for himself in Christianity in the eternal city of Rome, where he astounded his elders with his prodigious intellect and early development.
Had his father, a high public official of pagan Rome, lived to guide his immensely talented son, things might have taken a different turn for the boy and for Christianity, but his widowed mother, the beautiful Anthia, had accepted Christianity with all her heart. It followed, therefore, that the boy's talents would be applied to Christian endeavor, and he was as quick to embrace the Messiah as he was quick to acquire knowledge. His enormous capacity for learning so accelerated his intellectual pace that he outdistanced his teachers, one of whom suggested to Anthia that she take this marvelous boy to the bishop of Rome, Aniketos, who after witnessing the boy's intellectual display took him under his personal supervision.
Evincing a desire to serve the Savior that was as profound as his learning, Eleftherios embarked on a meteoric career as a man of the cloth, acquiring before he was twelve the equivalent of a college education and with such impressive credentials was tonsured a reader at the age of thirteen. When he was fifteen years old he was ordained a deacon and at the age of seventeen was ordained a priest of the Christian Church. With such early momentum propelling him and with an ever-increasing hope to serve Christ in the highest tradition of the apostles, he was elevated to the episcopacy at the age of twenty, the youngest bishop ever to reach that pinnacle through his own efforts.
St Eleftherios with his mother st Anthia (from here)
As bishop in Illyricum, Eleftherios promoted the cause of Christianity with the adroitness of a seasoned campaigner, giving added impetus to the Christian movement at a time when the merciless persecutions not only made it difficult to win and hold converts, but also at a time when the gravest danger was in being a high-ranking prelate of the Church. Oblivious to this threat, he was acclaimed in the inner circle of Christianity as the brightest luminary of Christian Rome since the apostles. Even those whom he failed to convert held him in the highest esteem, and with this immense popularity he grew bolder and thereby more offensive to the state. This outstanding theologian, orator and benefactor of Christian and pagan alike was finally mentioned to Emperor Hadrian, who ordered his arrest.
Ordinarily the emperor would have questioned him personally because of his high station, but fearing a reprisal because of the prelate's popularity, Hadrian dispatched his most trusted centurion, a man named Felix, to bring the bishop before the prefect of Rome for trial and punishment. The centurion decided that rather than run the risk of seizing Eleftherios publicly he would seek out his place of worship and arrest him there. After some time Felix found the well-hidden church and crept in just as the bishop was commencing a sermon. The oratory of the brilliant Eleftherios was spellbinding, and when the sermon was over Felix came forth and asked to be converted to Christianity.
This done, Felix exposed his purpose and apologized for having come to the house of God with treachery in his heart. He was easily forgiven by Eleftherios, who thereafter instructed the centurion to return him to the prefect lest judgment be passed on both of them. With a great deal of reluctance Felix took the bishop to what appeared to be a sealed fate, offering along the way to help Eleftherios escape. But the proud prelate would not hear of it.
With the emperor conspicuous by his absence, Eleftherios went on trial before the prefect, but not even his oratorical power could save him. The bishop was cast into prison, tortured, and put to death. He died for Christ on December 15.
Sts. Eleutherios the Hieromartyr and his mother Anthia
Full of Grace & Truth
Here is from today's reading (December 15th) of the Prologue by St. Nikolai (taken from: here):
Icon of Sts. Eleutherios the Hieromartyr and his mother Anthia (taken from: here)
"From a good tree comes good fruit. This wonderful saint had noble and greatly eminent parents. Eleutherius was born in Rome, where his father was an imperial proconsul. His mother Anthia heard the Gospel from the great Apostle Paul and was baptized by him. Having been left a widow early, she entrusted her only son for study and service to Anicetus the Bishop of Rome.
St. Anthia, the mother of St. Eleutherios (source)
Seeing how Eleutherius was gifted by God and illumined by the grace of God, the bishop ordained him a deacon at the age of fifteen, a priest at the age of eighteen, and a bishop at the age of twenty. Eleutherius's God-given wisdom made up for what he lacked in years, and this chosen one of God was appointed Bishop of Illyria with his seat in Valona (Avlona), Albania. The good shepherd guarded his flock well and increased their number day by day. Emperor Hadrian, a persecutor of Christians, sent the commander Felix with soldiers to seize Eleutherius and bring him to Rome. When the raging Felix arrived in Valona and entered the church, he saw and heard the holy hierarch of God; suddenly his heart changed, and he became a Christian. Eleutherius baptized Felix and departed for Rome with him, returning joyfully as if he were going to a feast and not to trial and torture.
St. Eleutherios the Hieromartyr (source)
The emperor subjected the noble Eleutherius to harsh torture: flogging, roasting on an iron bed, boiling in pitch, and burning in a fiery furnace. But Eleutherius was delivered from all these deadly tortures by God's power. Seeing all this, Caribus the Roman eparch declared that he also was a Christian. Caribus was tortured and then beheaded, and so was Blessed Felix. Finally, the imperial executioners cut off the honorable head of St. Eleutherius.
The Martyrdom of Sts. Eleutherios and Anthia (source)
When his mother, the holy Anthia, came and stood over the dead body of her son, she also was beheaded. Their bodies were translated to Valona, where even today St. Eleutherius glorifies the name of Christ by his many miracles. He suffered during the reign of Hadrian in the year 120."
Another icon of St. Eleutherios the Hieromartyr and Wonderworker (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)
And some other interesting information about Sts. Eleutherios and Anthia and their veneration (from: here):
"Orthodox Christians solemnly commemorate [Sts. Eleutherios and Anthia] on December 15, the day of the dedication of a great church to the Saints in Constantinople during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Arkadios. This was in the fifth century and the church dominated the Xerolophos district of Constantinople. Ever since many others have been erected in their honour, particularly in Greece. In the West the Saints are honoured on April 18, traditionally the day of their martyrdom in Rome. A portion of their relics are still treasured in Reati, in Italy. In the Nea Ionia area of Athens, inhabited mainly by refugees from Asia Minor, other relics of the Saints are venerated by pilgrims from across Greece and Cyprus. A twelfth century church dedicated to St. Eleutherios served as the Athenian cathedral during the centuries of "Turkocratia" or Ottoman rule. This small church is dwarfed by the neighboring large cathedral, built in the nineteenth century, but it continues to draw many more visitors and tourists.
For centuries Orthodox believers have considered Saints Eleutherios and Anthia to be the patrons of expectant mothers and of childbirth. Their fame as wonder workers, the fact that they were mother and son and the implications of their names contributed to this.
St. Eleutherios the Hieromartyr (here)
[Note: "Eleutherios" is a variant of "Freedom" in Greek, thus, mothers pray that they might safely be free of their pregnancies by giving birth to healthy children. "Anthia" resembles "anthos" meaning flower, and as mentioned above, she was the mother of St. Eleutherios.]
Furthermore St Eleutherios is held to be the protector of the oppressed, prisoners and all those undergoing any kind of trial. It is believed that these two Saints, like Kyprianos and Justina, dispel all demonic influences. Orthodox Christians living in the Ottoman Empire thought of St. Eleutherios as their helper in the movement for independence. In Albania where the previous Communist regime had banned the Orthodox faith and all religion, the Saints became a focus for Orthodox Christian resistance -particularly amongst the Greek Epirote minority in the south.
Picture of the Holy Skull of St. Eleutherios visiting his church in Gkyze. It is treasured by the Holy Metropolis of Elassonos after previously being in the Monastery of St. Eleutherios Klimadon near Olympus (taken from: here)
The standard life of the Saints was recorded by St. Symeon Metaphrastes in the tenth century, this was translated into Modern Greek by Agapios the Cretan in the book "the New Paradise". The office of the Saints was published by Athanasios Parios in Leipzig in 1784. In 1987 Archimandrite Nicolas Protopapas published a study titled "Saint Eleutherios the Hieromartyr". St. Eleutherios of Avlona is not to be confused with the Byzantine St. Eleutherios or a number of other saints bearing the same name. Better known in the West is another St. Eleutherios, the Pope of Rome who succeeded St. Soter in 175 A.D. He was a Greek by origin but other than this very little is known about him. It is thought that this Pope sent missionaries to the British Isles; Phaganos (or Fugatius) and Deruvian (or Damian) are the names given to two of these missionary Saints. They are commemorated on May 26 with St. Eleutherios the Pope. "
Icon of St. Eleutherios the Hieromartyr (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)
Apolytikion of St. Eleutherios the Hieromartyr in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone Adorned with flowing priestly vesture and with dripping streams of blood you at once went to your Lord Christ, O blessed wise Eleftherios, annihilator of Satan. Wherefore, do not cease to intercede for those who honor your blessed struggles in faith.
Kontakion in the Second Tone
O venerable One, we all praise and entreat you, Eleftherios, Priest-Martyr, comeliness of Priests and exaltation of champions. Deliver from diverse dangers those fervently honoring your memory, interceding unceasingly for us all.(taken from: here)
St. Eleutherios the Hieromartyr (here)
Sts. Eleutherios and Anthia, intercede for us!
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!
The Orthodox Church in Angola, st. Eleftherios (the "Man of Freedom") & st. Paisios of Holy Mount