When the Roman Emperor Diocletian launched the last and most ruthless of the ten Roman persecutions against Christians, his first victim in Palestine was a young man named Procopius. Eusebius was alive at the time. The Christian author, who became bishop of Caesarea and wrote the most famous history of the early church, left an account of the martyr:
"The first of all the martyrs who appeared in Palestine was named Procopius. In truth he was a godly man, for even before his confession he had given up his life to great endurance: and from the time that he was a little boy had been of pure habits, and of strict morals: and by the vigor of his mind he had so brought his body into subjection, that, even before his death, his soul seemed to dwell in a body completely mortified, and he had so strengthened his soul by the word of God that his body also was sustained by the power of God. His food was bread only, and his drink water; and he took nothing else besides these two. Occasionally he took food every second day only, and sometimes every third day; oftentimes too he passed a whole week without food.
"But he never ceased day nor night from the study of the word of God: and at the same time he was careful as to his manners and modesty of conduct, so that he edified by his meekness and piety all those of his own standing. And while his chief application was devoted to divine subjects, he was acquainted also in no slight degree with natural science. His family was from Baishan; and he ministered in the orders of the Church in three things: First, he had been a Reader; and in the second order he translated from Greek into Aramaic; and in the last, which is even more excellent than the preceding, he opposed the powers of the evil one, and the devils trembled before him.
"Now it happened that he was sent from Baishan to our city Caesarea, together with his brother confessors. And at the very moment that he passed the gates of the city they brought him before the Governor: and immediately upon his first entrance the judge, whose name was Flavianus, said to him: 'It is necessary that thou shouldest sacrifice to the gods': but he replied with a loud voice, 'There is no God but one only, the Maker and Creator of all things.'
"And when the judge felt himself smitten by the blow of the martyr's words, he furnished himself with arms of another kind against the doctrine of truth, and, abandoning his former order, commanded him to sacrifice to the emperors, who were four in number; but the holy martyr of God laughed still more at this saying, and repeated the words of the greatest of poets of the Greeks [Homer], which he said that 'the rule of many is not good: let there be one ruler and one sovereign.'
"And on account of his answer, which was insulting to the emperors, he, though alive in his conduct, was delivered over to death, and forthwith the head of this blessed man was struck off, and an easy transit afforded him along the way to heaven. And this took place on the seventh day of the month Heziran, in the first year of the persecution in our days. This confessor was the first who was consummated in our city Caesarea."
Over time, Eusebius' simple account became greatly exaggerated. So many conflicting details were added that the makers of church calendars became confused and honored three different men named Procopius! His feast is on this day, July 8.
- Barnes, Timothy D. Constantine and Eusebius. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1981.
- Eusebius of Caeserea. "The Confession of Procopius," in On the Martyrs in Palestine. [the public domain source of our quotation.] http://www.ccel.org/p/pearse/morefathers/ eusebius_martyrs.htm
- "Procopius of Scythopilis." Saints O' the Day. http://users.erols.com/saintpat/ss/0708.htm
Last updated July, 2007