The Holy 20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia: At the beginning of the fourth century the emperor Maximian (284-305) gave orders to destroy Christian churches, to burn Divine service books, and to deprive all Christians of rights and offices of citizenship. At this time the bishop of the city of Nicomedia was Saint Cyril, who by his preaching and life contributed to the spread of the Christian faith, such that many of the dignitaries of the emperor were themselves secretly Christian.
At the Nicomedia court of the emperor lived the pagan priestess, Domna. In the absence of Maximian she read through the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of the Apostle Paul. Her heart burned with the desire to become acquainted with the Christian teaching. With the help of some young Christians, Domna went secretly to the bishop, Cyril, in the company of a faithful servant, the eunuch Indysos. Saint Cyril catechised them, and afterwards both received holy Baptism. Domna began to help the poor: she distributed her valuables with the assistance of Indysos, and she distributed also food from the imperial kitchen. Having learned about the unusual manner of life of Domna and Indysos, the head of the eunuchs, who was in charge of the imperial table, locked up both of them to exhaust them with hunger, but they received support from an Angel and did not suffer. In order to no longer live amidst the pagans, Saint Domna feigned insanity. Then she and Indysos managed to leave the court, and she went to the women’s monastery of the hegumeness Agathia. The hegumeness quickly dressed her in men’s clothing, cut her hair and sent her off from the monastery.
During this time the emperor happened to return and gave orders to seek out everywhere for the former pagan priestess Domna. The soldiers dispatched for this purpose found the monastery and destroyed it. The sisters were thrown into prison, subjected to torture and abuse, but not one of them suffered violation. Sent off to an house of iniquity, Saint Theophila with the help of an Angel of the Lord there also preserved her virginity: the Angel removed her from the profligacy.
At this time the emperor set up in the city square an offering of sacrifice to the pagan gods. When they began sprinkling the crowd with the blood of the sacrificial animals, Christians started to leave the square. Seeing this, the emperor became enraged, but he did not give vent to his anger, since suddenly the earth quaked. A certain while later Maximian having located the church entered it and demanded a renunciation of Christ from all; for refusal he promised to burn the church and kill its Christians. The Christian presbyter Glykerios answered him that Christians never renounce their faith, even under the threat of torture. Hiding his anger, the emperor exited the church, and after a certain while commanded the presbyter Glykerios be arrested for trial. The executioners tortured the martyr, who ceased not to pray and to call on the Name of the Lord. Not being able to wring a renunciation of Christ out of Saint Glykerios, Maximian ordered him to be burned to death.
On the feastday of the Nativity of Christ in the year 302, when about 20,000 Christians had assembled at the Nicomedia cathedral church, the emperor sent into the church an herald, who proclaimed the emperor’s command to exit the church and offer sacrifice to idols; otherwise, he threatened to burn the church together with those praying in it. But all those present refused to worship idols. While the tormentors prepared to set fire to the church, Bishop Anthymos, having completed Divine services, baptised all the catechumens and communed all with the Holy Mysteries. All 20,000 of those praying died in the fire. Among them were the hegumeness Agathia and Saint Theophila who had been saved by a miracle from the den of iniquity. Bishop Anthymos however managed to escape the fire.
Maximian reckoned that he had finished off all the Christians of Nicomedia. But he soon learned that there were many more, and that they all as before would confess their faith and were prepared to die for Christ. The emperor pondered over how to deal with them. By his command they arrested the regimental commander Zinon, who openly before the people was criticising the emperor for impiety and cruelty. Zinon was fiercely beaten and finally beheaded. They locked up in prison the eunuch Indysos, formerly a priest to idols, for his refusal to participate in a pagan feastday.
Amidst all this, Saint Domna concealed herself within a cave and nourished herself eating plants. The persecution against Christians continued. Elsewhere, in Italy, there were thrown into prison Dorotheus, Mardonius, Migdonius the Deacon and some dignitaries. Bishop Anthymos encouraged them, sending epistles to them. One of the messengers, the deacon Theophilos, was captured. Interrogating him about the bishop, they subjected him to torture, but the holy martyr endured all the tortures, revealing nothing. Then together with him they executed those, whom the bishop had addressed in his letter.
When Saint Domna returned to the city, she cried for a long time at the burnt-out ruins, regretting that she was not found worthy to die with her sisters. Then she went along the sea shore. At that moment fishermen pulled out of the water with their nets the bodies of the martyrs Indysos, Gorgonios, and Peter. Saint Domna was still dressed in men’s clothing, and she helped the fishermen to draw in their nets. They left her the bodies of the martyrs. With reverence she looked after the holy remains; in particular, she was gladdened that she saw the body of her spiritual friend, the Martyr Indysos. After the burial, she did not depart these graves so dear to her heart, but daily made incensing before them. When the emperor was told about an unknown youth who paid respects at the graves of executed Christians, he gave orders to behead the youth. Together with Domna was executed also the Martyr Euthymios.