Saints Nereus & Achilleus ~ Miracles of Faith
“Outside the Church no one can be a martyr.“ ~ Saint Pacian
May 12th marks the Feast Day of Saints Nereus and Achilleus, two early martyrs of our Church about whom, in actuality, very little is known. Devotion to these two saints however goes all the way back to the fourth century.
We do know that they were Praetorian Soldiers of the Roman Army who, by way of a divine epiphany, converted to Christianity. Legend has it that they were baptized by none other than Saint Peter himself. Upon being discovered and outed for their newfound faith, Nereus and Achilleus were removed to the Island of Terracina where they were martyred by way of a direct order from Emperor Trajan for betraying their duties, those of a soldier-of-fortune hired to persecute and execute Christians.
In an epitaph written shortly after their execution, Pope Damasus had this to say about their legendary redemption story: "Nereus and Achilleus the Martyrs joined the army and carried out the cruel orders of the tyrant, obeying his will continually out of fear. Then came a miracle of faith. They suddenly gave up their savagery, they were converted, they fled the camp of their evil leader, throwing away their shields, armor, and bloody spears. Professing the faith of Christ, they are happy to witness to its triumph.”
These remarks by the legendary Pope Damasus, a saint in his own right, sheds light on what great deeds can be brought about by Christ's glory. The conversion of Nereus and Achilleus can indeed only be described as a pure miracle of faith, especially in light of the fact that they knew better than anyone the fate that awaited those who were caught practicing their Christian beliefs. This would be the fate that they too would one day succumb to.
The story of Saints Nereus and Achilleus reminds us yet again that with God, all things are possible. Much like Saint Paul, a Christian Terrorist who went on to become one of the most prolific prophets of all time, anyone at anytime can hear the call of God, a God who is patient, one who always desires the return of his wayward children. A God who through his Son Jesus entered the world in order to save the world, leaving the flock of 99 in search of the 1.
God’s plan for us can be mysterious and unpredictable, but it is always rooted in his larger plan for those who have placed their trust in him. As we approach the Feast of the Pentecost, Saints Nereus and Achilleus are a powerful reminder of the Holy Spirit, alive in each and every one of us, moving as it will in support of the mystical Body of Christ, our Lord’s one, holy, and apostolic church. Those who remain open to the call of the Spirit, regardless of their past or current plight, can change the world.
Saint Cyprian once said “He who is not armed by the Church for battle cannot be fit for martyrdom.” In Saints Nereus and Achilleus we see two men who laid down the blunt instruments of oppression, intimidation and death for the Armor of Christ, their names forever etched in the glorious history of the Catholic Church, their Souls residing in the Heavenly Kingdom interceding for all those who invoke their names. Let us not waste the opportunity to do just that on this their Feast Day as we the faithful continually strive for repentance and conversion in our lives.
“Saints Nereus and Achilleus, you courageously abandoned your old lives, leaving behind the hatred of Christian oppression, to instead pursue a life rooted in the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we pray for all those who are persecuted for their faith, that they may be filled with the gift of fortitude in the face of their persecutors. We pray for their safety, particularly those whose lives are literally in danger by virtue of their resolute faith. Let us also pray for the conversion of their persecutors; that their eyes may be opened and their hearts softened to God’s call for their conversion.” ~ Amen