The martyrs Gurias, Samonas and Aviv (3rd – early 4th century) are the most famous Syrian saints. Literary tradition and liturgical veneration merged the martyrs who had suffered in different times. The time of their deaths is dated from 239 to 322 in various hagiographic sources. Gurias and Samonas suffered in Edessa during the persecution of Christians under Emperor Diocletian.
Gurias was nicknamed “abstainer” for his asceticism. With the beginning of the persecutions in Edessa (known today as Urfa, Turkey) Gurias and his friend Samonas left the native town but were captured together with other Christians by the centurions of the Roman governor of Edessa Antonin and thrown into jail. When offered to make a sacrifice to Jupiter, the saints refused to do so. The Roman governor Musonius ordered to torment the saints: they were beaten and hanged by the arms with a heavy stone attached to their feet, and than thrown to a narrow cell where the saints spent about three months (or several years, according to other account, for which they are named “confessors”) The imprisonment exhausted Gurias who was much older than Samonas. The saints were once again taken to Musonius. Samonas was subjected to torture again by hanging him upside down. Next day, the saints were led out of the city and decapitated. Christians buried their bodies. Many years later, there lived in Edessa deacon Aviv who fell victim of a persecution campaign launched by Emperor Lycinius (320 – 324 AD). After the execution Christians found his body intact and buried him in one grave together with the earlier executed martyrs Gurias and Samonas. The martyrdom of these saints fell on the same day with several years’ difference. They are named confessors or priests (in the Menologion of Basil II),
There is legend of Gurias, Samonas and Aviv who, through prayers, miraculously transferred Euphimia from the land of Goths back to Edessa.
The best known was a story about the miracle of Gurias, Samonas and Aviv that occurred assumingly in 395: through the saints’ prayer Euphemia was miraculously transferred to Edessa from the land of the Goths. Euphemia married a foreigner who, as it turned out later, had a family in his native town. Having gone through tragic experiences in a strange land, she fervently prayed to the martyrs who appeared before her as horsemen and transferred her to their church in Edessa. There she was discovered by a priest, who listened to Euphemea’s story and returned her to her mother.
The images of Gurias, Samonas and Aviv are widespread in Eastern Christian monumental art, icons and illuminated manuscripts. The saints are commonly portrayed together. Gurias is traditionally depicted as a gray-haired man with a long beard, he is dressed in a chiton and himation, in his right hand he holds a cross. In Byzantine and post-Byzantine art, the images of the saints are most commonly encountered in wall-paintings. On Byzantine icons they were traditionally shown among selected saints.
Sts. Gurias, Samonas and Aviv came to be venerated in Veliky Novgorod in the early 15th century. On December 21, 1410, the martyrs’ icon performed a miracle. In commemoration of this event, the Archbishop of Novgorod John built in 1411 in the courtyard a stone church of Sts. Gurias, Samonas and Aviv with a separate entrance adjoining the southwestern corner of the cathedral. Side-altars named in honor of Gurias, Samonas and Aviv were also built in the Church of St. John the Warrior in Moscow, in which have survived two 17th century icons of the saints, and the Church of the Prophet Elijah in Yaroslavl with unique paintings of their hagiographic cycle dating back to the 17th century. By clients’ will, Sts. Gurias, Samonas and Aviv were frequently portrayed on inset and home icons and painted among selected saints, such as, for example, on a icon of St. Gurias, Samonas and Aviv dating back to the first half – mid-16th century from the collections of the Andrei Rublev Museum. A 18th century icon-painter’s guide gives the following description of the saints: (“Gurias’ beard is as long as John the Baptist’s or even longer, not bold, hair covers his ears, his robe is [painted] in sankir and white [colors], medium ochre, cinnabar with white, dark green underwear, a cross in his hand, his right is raised in prayers, fingers up.”)
Gurias, Samonas and Aviv are commemorated on November 28 (November 15, O.S.).
Zhanna G. Belik,
Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.
Olga E. Savchenko,
research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.
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