The Holy Great Martyr Eustathius before Baptism had the name “Placidus” [meaning “placid” or “calm” in Latin]. He was a military commander under the emperors Titus (79-81) and Trajan (98-117). Even before he came to know Christ, Placidus did acts of charity, helping the poor and destitute. And the Lord deigned not to leave the virtuous pagan remain within the darkness of idol-worship.
One time while hunting he chased upon his speedy mount after a stag, which halted its run atop an high hill, and Placidus suddenly saw amidst its antler-rack a radiant Cross, and upon it the Crucified Son of God. In surprise Placidus heard a voice saying: “Why dost thou pursue Me, Placidus?” “Who art Thou, Master, Who dost speak with me?” in fright asked Placidus. In reply he heard: “I am Jesus Christ, God, Who wast incarnated for the salvation of mankind and didst endure voluntary suffering and death by the Cross. Thou honourest Me even without knowing Me, since thy good deeds and abundant alms art come to Me. I have appeared here, to convert and to conjoin thee unto Mine true servants. For I want that the man working righteous deeds, shouldst not perish in the snares of enemies.”
Placidus cried out: “Lord, I do believe that Thou art the God of Heaven and earth, the Creator of all creatures. I beseech Thee, O Master, teach me what I should do.” And again resounded the Divine voice: “Go thou unto the Christian priest, receive from him Baptism, and he wilt instruct thee unto salvation.”
With joy Placidus returned home, and told everything to his wife. She in turn told him, how the evening before in a mysterious dream-vision she had been told: “Thou, thy husband, and thy sons on the morrow shalt come unto Me and know Me – Christ Jesus, the True God, sent unto the salvation of those that do love Me.” The spouses then proceeded to do as they had been bidden.
They hastened to the Christian presbyter, who baptised all their family, and communed all with the Holy Mysteries.
On the following day Saint Eustathius set out to the place of his miraculous conversion and in fervent prayer he offered up thanks to the Lord, for having called him onto the path of salvation.
And again Saint Eustathius was vouchsafed a miraculous revelation – the Lord Himself foretold him about impending tribulations: “Eustathius, thou must needs prove thine faith in deeds. Before thee, like unto Job, art many a sorrow, so that being put to the test like gold in the forge, thou be shewn worthy of Me and receive the crown from My hands.” Saint Eustathius humbly answered: “Thy will be done, O Lord. I am prepared to accept all things at Thine hands with gratitude, but let Thine almighty help be with me.”
Soon Saint Eustathius was plunged into misfortune: all his servants died and his cattle perished. Brought to ruin, but not despairing in spirit, Saint Eustathius with his family secretly abandoned their home, to live unknown, humble and in poverty. He set off on a ship to Egypt. During the time of sailing a new woe beset the saint. The ship owner, enchanted by the beauty of the wife of Eustathius, cruelly set him ashore with his children, keeping the wife for himself. In great grief the saint continued on his way, and new woe beset him. Crossing a tempestuous river ford, he went to carry in turn his two sons, but when he had carried across the one, the other on shore was seized by a lion and carried off into the wilderness, and while he returned towards the other, a wolf dragged that one off into the forest.
Having lost everything, Saint Eustathius wept bitterly. But he realised that Divine Providence had sent him these misfortunes to test his endurance and devotion to the will of God. In prayer lifting up to God his inconsolable grief, Saint Eustathius went on further, prepared for new tribulations. In the village of Badiss he found work and spent five years in unremitting toil. But Saint Eustathius did not then know that through the mercy of God shepherds and farmers had saved his sons, and they lived right nearby him. He also did not know, that the impudent shipowner was soon struck down – he died from a terrible disease, and the wife of Saint Eustathius had been left untouched, and she lived at peaceful work.
During this time period it had become difficult for the emperor Trajan to levy an army for Rome. He then remembered the valiant regimental commander Placidus and dispatched Antiochus and Acacius, friends of Placidus, to find him.
Having gone round a multitude of places, finally they arrived in the village, where Saint Eustathius lived. The soldiers came upon Eustathius in a field, where he was guarding the bread-grain, but they did not recognise him and they began to tell him about the one whom they sought, asking his help and promising a large reward. But Saint Eustathius, immediately recognising his friends, did not reveal to them his identity. He brought them to the home of his master and fed them. Gazing at him, the travellers noted that he very much resembled their regimental commander, and when they saw on his knee a peculiar mark – the scar from a deep war wound – they realised that in front of them was their friend. They hugged him with tears and said why they were seeking him. Saint Eustathius returned to Rome and again became an imperial commandant. Many a new recruit entered the army for him, and he did not know, that the two young soldier-friends, to whom he often gave orders and whom he loved for their skill and daring, were actually his own sons. And they did not know that they were serving under the command of their own father, nor that they each the other were brothers by birth.
One time while on campaign the army, led by Eustathius, halted at a certain settlement. The soldier-brothers were talking in their tent. The elder one spoke about his lot: how he had lost his mother and hapless brother, and how in a terrifying way he had been parted from his father. And the younger brother with joy realised that in front of him was his very own brother, and told him so and also about himself.
A woman overheard the soldiers’ conversation – their tent was pitched right next to her house – and this woman was their mother! She realised that these were her sons. Still not yet identifying herself to them, and not wanting to be separated from them, she went to their commander, Saint Eustathius, to ask permission to follow along with his army. And this commander she recognised as her husband, and with tears she told him about herself and about the two soldiers, who were actually their sons. Thus, through the great mercy of the Lord, the whole family was happily reunited.
Soon thereafter the war ended in victory. Saint Eustathius returned to Rome with honours and glory. The emperor Trajan had since died, and his successor Adrian (117‑138) wanted to celebrate the event of victory with a solemn offering of sacrifice to the gods. To the astonishment of everyone Saint Eustathius did not show up at the pagan temple. By order of the emperor they searched frantically for him.
“Why wishest thou not to worship the gods?” enquired the emperor, -“It becometh thee before all others to offer up thanks unto them. They not only preserved thee in war and granted thee victory, but also they did help thee find thy wife and children.” Saint Eustathius replied: “I am a Christian and I know as the One God Christ Jesus, I revere and give thanks to Him, and I worship Him. He hath given me everything: health, victory, He returned my family and hath sent down His help unto the overcoming of tribulations.”
In a rage the emperor stripped him of his rank and summoned him with his family to trial. But there also they did not succeed in swaying the steadfast confessors of Christ into offering sacrifice to idols. The whole family of Saint Eustathius was sentenced to be torn apart by wild beasts. But the beasts would not touch the holy martyrs. Then the cruel emperor in his wrath gave orders to throw them all alive into a red-hot copper ox, and here Saint Eustathius, his wife Theopistia, and their sons Agapius and Theopistus accepted a martyr’s end. Three days later they opened the fiery grave, and the bodies of the holy martyrs were found unscathed – not one hair on their heads was singed, and their faces shone with an unearthly beauty. Many seeing this miracle came to believe in Christ. Christians then gave burial to the bodies of the saints.