The Holy Martyr Aiphalus of Persia (died in 379) was a deacon who died a martyr’s death in the Persian town of Arbil (known today as Erbil, Iraq) during the reign of king of Persia Shapur II. Failing to win back border lands from the Roman Empire, Shapur II launched in the 340s AD a mass persecution campaign against Christians after a Christian co-governor of the Eastern part of the Roman Empire Constatius II had come to power. As a result of the persecutions, many Christians died, including Aiphalus, Akepsimus, the bishop of Naesson and the presbyter Joseph.
The accounts of Aiphalus’ martyr’s death survived only in the hagiographic literature. The torments of St. Aiphalus, included in the mid-16th century by Metropolitan Macarius in the Great Menaion Reader tells us that Aiphalus was a deacon in Vithendra. Together with the presbyter Joseph from Bythlathev he was brought to trial of the Zoroastrian priest who ordered that they worship the sun and the governor. When Aiphalus and Joseph refused to do so, the priest ordered to have them beaten with sticks. The tormentors broke Aiphalus’ bones and joints and threw them into a cell, in which had already sat the bishop Akepsimus of Naesson. The prison guards, on penalty of having their noses and ears cut off, were forbidden to feed the prisoners and offer them any assistance. Hoping that the torments broke Aiphalus’ will, the priest ordered him to worship pagan idols and the governor. Having heard the refusal, the priest again ordered to beat the martyr with sticks and eventually sent him to the high priest in the city of Arbil where the saint was subjected to new torments. Aiphalus was hanged upside down and beaten with sticks to death.
In Byzantine and Russian medieval art, the holy martyr Aiphalus of Persia is portrayed as a deacon, wearing a dolmatic and holding a censer, such as in the Menaion of liturgical Gospel dating back to the third quarter of the 11th century (Vat. Gr. 1156. Fol. 248v). St. Aiphalus is often portrayed together with the holy martyrs Akepsimus and Joseph of Persia.
Aiphalus of Persia is commemorated on September 14 (September 1, O.S.) and November 16 (November 3, 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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