The monastic martyrs Epictetus and Astion lived in Bithynia on the southwest coast of the Black Sea during the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian (284-305). From his youth, St Epictetus had dedicated his life to God, and studied to acquire knowledge of the Gospel. He entered a monastery, and later was found worthy to be ordained to the holy priesthood. Proclaiming the Gospel of Christ, the saint converted many people to Christianity. God granted Epictetus the gift of wonderworking, and he healed many people troubled by unclean spirits, or afflicted with other maladies.
One day while out for a stroll, the illustrious youth Astion met St Epictetus. During a long conversation St Epictetus enlightened Astion, sowing the seed of God’s Word in the young man’s soul. He spoke to him about the only true God, about the great value of the immortal human soul, and about fleeting worldly pleasures.
Astion came to believe in Christ and was baptized. Soon after this, he also became a monk. Since Christians were being persecuted in Bithynia, he asked St Epictetus if they might travel together to some distant land where they could dedicate their lives completely to God. Boarding a ship, Sts Epictetus and Astion journeyed to Scythia and settled among the pagan Slavs near the Roman outpost of Halmyris in the province of Histria south of the mouth of the Danube. The city was the site of a military fort and a base for the Roman fleet which patrolled the Danube and the Black Sea.
When they arrived at Halmyris in 273, St Epictetus was forty-seven years old, and St Astion was only eighteen. During the next seventeen years, the saints spent their lives in prayer and fasting, and performed many miracles.
The God-pleasing lives of the monks could not remain hidden from others for very long. People afflicted by various illnesses or oppressed by evil spirits came to the saints seeking relief. Even pagans asked the holy ascetics for help, and after being healed of their afflictions, they embraced Christianity.
St Epictetus once healed a fifteen-year-old deaf and dumb boy by praying and breathing on him three times. More than a thousand people became Christians after witnessing this miracle. St Astion once cured a man whose legs and toes were crushed when he fell from a building.
Latronianus, the military commander of the district, arrived in Halmyris in 290 on an official visit of inspection. The pagan priests wasted no time in complaining to him about Sts Epictetus and Astion. They denounced the two men from Bithynia, accusing them of converting people to Christianity through sorcery, and persuading them not to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods.
The saints were arrested and interrogated by Latronianus, who tried to find out their names and where they were from. Their only reply was, “We are Christians.” Latronianus had them tortured in an effort to make them abandon their Christian beliefs.
After thirty days in prison without food and water, the holy martyrs Epictetus and Astion were once again brought before Latronianus. They remained steadfast and ready to endure even more suffering for Christ. The commander declared that Epictetus and Astion were traitors, and ordered them to be tortured and beheaded.
Sts Epictetus and Astion received the crown of martyrdom on July 8, 290. At first, they were buried in an unknown spot. Later, their holy relics were transferred into the basilica built in the fourth century by St Constantine the Great (May 21) at Halmyris.
Archaeologists discovered the holy relics of Sts Epictetus and Astion at Halmyris in 2001. The bones were scattered about in two rooms of a burial crypt, indicating that the tomb had been vandalized, perhaps in the sixth century. Scientific tests on the bones revealed that one of the men was approximately sixty-four years old, and the other about thirty-five. This is consistent with the ages of the two saints as given in the written accounts of their martyrdom. The bones also indicate that the two had been beheaded.
The holy relics of Sts Epictetus and Astion were reburied in 2001 by Archbishop Theodosius of Tomis (Romania).