There are a few saints that stand out above others and are revered specially by the Armenian people. One of them is St. Sarkis, who has a unique following among the Armenians. Parents name their boys Sarkis, and as a family name, it is among the most common. Sarkis is a 4th century saint, a Roman by birth and was appointed by Constantine the Great as Prince of Cappadocia, (next to Armenia, today’s Kayseri).
While his story contains unpleasant and gruesome details, I offer it today for a reason.
With the conversion of Constantine to Christianity and the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire, Sarkis went throughout the kingdom tearing down pagan altars and constructing Christian churches. When he arrived in Persia he served as a Captain in King Shaboo’s military. When the king learned that Sarkis was converting his soldiers, he demanded that Sarkis worship before a statue of his pagan god and fire. Sarkis’ reply was definite, “I believe in one God, the All Holy Trinity, who has created heaven and earth. As a man, who is made of the earth, I can destroy your pagan statues and the fire you worship.”
This proclamation against the religion of the day infuriated the people and they began beating Sarkis with stones and clubs. They finally imprisoned him in the hopes that he would deny Christ, but he remained loyal to his faith. His punishment for converting people to Christianity was beheading. As he was about to be executed, he prayed a prayer for his followers, “O Lord, Christ our God, all those who remember my name during their trials and tribulations, and who remember this event with prayers and fasting, hear their prayers and grant to them all their desires.”
A voice was heard from heaven saying, “I will give you what you have requested, as for you, come home to enjoy the goodness that has been prepared for you.”
When he was beheaded, 14 Persian soldiers who followed Sarkis, tended to his remains, wrapping his body in preparation for burial. The King was infuriated and had them killed as well.
To this day, even among the Persians, Sarkis is referred to as “The invincible witness and grantor of all requests.” Every year, on this day following the Fast of the Catechumens St. Sarkis, his son Mardiros, and the 14 followers are remembered in the Church, and even more, among the people who approach the feast with fasting and prayer. Often, because of the Fast of the Catechumens is just before St. Sarkis’ day, the lessons of the day are forgotten and the physical disciplines (e.g. fasting) have replaced those important reasons for the fasting, namely the message of Jesus Christ. Even today, some folk myths still circulate among the people with seeing St. Sarkis in dreams, eating salt and water (from the fast) as signals for falling in love and betrothal.
The story of St. Sarkis should inspire us to stay firm in our belief. As gruesome as it is, I share it today so we understand that the greatest gift of life has been given for this faith. Also, as a warning that religion can get out of hand. What St. Sarkis did was a sacrifice and true bravery to stand up for his beliefs in the face of physical danger. On the other hand it can, and has for many, turned into a simple exercise to acquire their desires, rather than an opportunity to center their life around Christ, as was the desire of St. Sarkis.
Let us pray, “O Christ, director of life and eternity, as your servant St. Sarkis demonstrated with his life, let your message and glory be reflected in my life. May I honor St. Sarkis, and all the saints, by living with you centered in my life, today and always. Amen.”