The holy martyr Eustratius of Sebastia (Arabrak) was a saint who suffered for Christ in the 4th century together with other martyrs Eugene, Mardarius and Orestes and Auxentius during the reign of emperors Diocletian and Maximian in the city of Sebastia, Cappadocia (contemporary Sivas, Turkey).
The accounts of Blaise’s martyrdom survived only in the hagiographic literature. There are several versions of his Martyrdom, one of which was written by Symeon the Metaphrast in the late 10th century. This version is believed to be based on an earlier redaction of the saint’s life which Symeon the Metaphrast had left unchanged.
According to this account, Eustratius of Sebastia was born in Arabrak, Cappadocia, into a noble and wealthy family. For many years he was a government official in the city of Satalonius (contemporary Sadak, Turkey). Eustratius was a secret Christian. During the persecutions of Christians under emperors Diocletian and Maximian, Eustratius, after some doubts, began to openly profess Christianity. He was subjected to torture but his wounds miraculously healed up.
Eustratius, along with other Christians, was sent to the city of Sebastia to stand trial. Governor Agricolaus, not wishing to execute the former official, began to persuade him to worship pagan gods. Estratius, who had received good education and was versed in antique philosophy and literature, began to denounce paganism. He cited long quotations stating that many Antique thinkers and poets did not believe in pagan gods. At the request of Agricolaus he told him about the Christian faith. The confused governor attempted to frighten Eustratius by threatening to torture other Christians but the saint was adamant. He made a will in which he instructed to have him buried along with Auxentius, Eugene, Mardarius and Orestes in Arabrak. The proceeds from the sale of his property he bequeathed to people who promised to look after his grave, leaving his money to the poor. The next morning he was executed in a heated furnace.
According to Eustratius’s will, he and other martyrs were buried in Arabrak. Eustratius, Auxentius, Mardarius and Orestes became the most venerated saints in Cappodocia. Many pilgrims traveled to Arabrak to worship the holy martyrs, their tombs worked wonders and healings.
The iconography of Estratius of Sebastia in Byzantine and medieval Russian art is not consistent in style. The saint was commonly depicted as a middle-aged man dressed in a dalmatic and cloak. In a like manner the saint is featured on a miniature of the 976 – 1025 Menologion of St. Basil II (Vat. gr 1613. Fol. 238) depicting the scenes of tortures of the Sebastian saints. The five Sebastian martyrs were particularly venerated in the St. Catherine Monastery on Mount Sinai, at a church built in their honor. From this church possibly came the early 13th century icon with the Deesis in the upper field and the five Sebastian saints in the bottom margin.
The images of St. Eustratius are rarely encountered in Russian medieval art. He is depicted both individually and commonly – together with Auxentius, Eugene, Mardarius and Orestes of Sebastia or other selected saints. The earliest known depiction of St. Eustratius is an image of the saint from the Deesis tier of a 1497 iconostasis at the Dormition Cathedral at the Cyril of Belozersk Monastery. In Russian icons the saint is depicted either wearing martyr’s vestments or as a warrior with a cross and sword in hands. This is exactly how the saint is shown on an icon frame with border scenes depicting torments of the five Sebastian martyrs from the Church of the Beheaded John the Baptist at Starokonyushenny lane in Moscow (now located at the Kolomenskoe Museum). There are also depictions of St. Eustratius as an old man or youth.
The holy martyr Eustratius of Sebastia is commemorated on December 26 (December 13, 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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