Martyrs Gurias, Samonas and Aviv (3rd – early 4th centuries) are the most famous Syrian saints. Literary tradition and liturgical veneration merged the martyrs who died in different times. Their death dates are dated in various hagiographic sources from 293 to 322. Gurias and Samonas suffered in Edessa during the perscecutions of Christians by Emperor Diocletian (284 – 305 AD).
Years later lived in Edessa a deacon named Aviv. During the reign of Emperor Lycinius (320 – 324 AD) he was accused of spreading Christianity and arrested. According to his hagiography, Aviv reported himself to the executioners not wishing to get other Christians into trouble. City governor Licanius urged the saint to make sacrifices to pagan gods but, seeing the saint was adamant, ordered to have him burnt alive. After the execution Christians, among whom were Aviv’s mother and other relatives, found his body uncorrupted by fire and buried him beside the earlier executed Sts. Gurias and Samonas. The martyrdom of these saints fell on the same day with several years’ difference.
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 were widespread in Eastern Christian art in monumental paintings, icons and illuminated manuscripts. The saints are traditionally depicted together. Aviv is usually portrayed as a young and beardless man, sometimes with a tonsure. On icons Aviv, in accordance with his deacon rank is dressed in tunic, holding a censer or a cross with a censer. In Byzantine and post-Byzantine art the images of the saints are often encountered in wall-paintings. On Byzantine icons they were commonly portrayed among other 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 in 1411 built a stone church of Sts. Gurias, Samonas and Aviv in a courtyard, 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 an 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: “Aviv resembles George the Martyr, looks like the first martyr Stephan , in his lowered right hand he holds a censer and a spoon in his right.”
Sts. Gurias, Samonas and Aviv is 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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