Soldier Saints: Sergius and Bacchus
Resurrection is counting down to Veteran's Day by featuring Soldier Saints. Logan Isaac created this countdown as a way for churches to support and welcome veterans. The excerpt below is reposted by permission from Logan's book For God and Country [in that order], © 2013 Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Va.
Today's featured Soldier Saints are Sergius and Bacchus.
Many soldiers are known not just for their bravery, but for their commitment to others, especially those who fight alongside them in battle. A common refrain in modern armies is that infantrymen do not fight for much else than “the man or woman on your right and your left.”
Within one’s unit, it is common to find another person to whom one connects more deeply than others, one’s “battle buddy.” The camaraderie of soldiers is a long tradition that includes the Roman era.
Sergius and Bacchus were as close as David and Jonathan in the Bible. They served under Emperor Galerius in the imperial security force, the Praetorian Guard.1 Like many other soldier saints, they were likely converted only after they became soldiers.
For Christians to serve in the military, which often carried out the executions of Christians, they were required to do so “in the closet,” so to speak. Furthermore, only the best soldiers rose in the ranks to the Praetorium, so for Christian soldiers like Sergius and Bacchus, their esteem was gained by keeping their Christian life secret.
Their prestigious reputation came crashing down, however, one day when the emperors court was visiting a pagan shrine. At the entrance, the two soldiers stalled, knowing they would be expected to worship false gods should they follow their peers inside. Tragically, their hesitation did not go unnoticed, and they were told to come and make sacrifice. When they partnered together in refusing, they were outed as secret Christians and were subjected to ridicule and derision.
A favorite tactic of the emperor was to parade disgraced soldiers in women’s clothes. Sergius and Bacchus were not deterred, however, and steadfastly insisted upon their loyalty to God. Seeing their determination, the emperor had them beaten severely. The abuse was so harsh that Bacchus perished while reciting the 23rd Psalm, calling on God to “lead [him] beside still waters … in the valley of the shadow of death.”
Sergius was not so lucky. Bacchus is said to have appeared to him to encourage him in the faith and to persevere, forever a faithful battle buddy. For days, Sergius remained faithful, despite such tortures as having to run eighteen miles in shoes of nails, before finally being beheaded in Syria, where there is a church dedicated to him.
Much has been said about the close relationship of these two saints. Like David and Jonathan before them, speculation runs wild that their union represented the earliest gay Christian couple. Of that we cannot be certain, but what we can be sure of is that their close trust made possible their uniform insistence that they were followers of Christ. Their partnership is not uncommon in the heritage of soldier saints, and several other pairs are worthy of examination, including Ammonius and Moseus, Nereus and Achilleus, Emeterius and Chelidonius, Juventinus and Maximinus; the list goes on. (2)
For most of the early church, there was no “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in place when it came to being public about their faith. Rome did not make concessions-it made martyrs. Soldier saints of this era had particular strength and courage, not only keeping their secret hidden while encouraging others facing death, but living in constant fear of being exposed and having their reputations and their lives taken violently from them.
God in three, we give thanks for your glorious martyrs, Sergius and Bacchus; their love for and dedication to each other is an inspiration and joy. These servants of the Lord, whose trust in the one God, and Holy Trinity, was so great, that neither public humiliation, nor torture, nor threat of death swayed, their devotion to Jesus, the Son of the Father. We pray for those in the military and armed forces throughout the world that they may always see as their authority and obey his orders Amen.(3)
1. David Woods has a lot of great material on Sergius and Bacchus on his website, http://www.ucc.ie/milmart/Sergius.html.
2. If you read ahead, you might even speculate that I would add to this list the spiritual union of T. Bennett and J. LaPointe, as well as the Hofer and Perkins brothers.
3. Adapted from http://www.catholicdoors.com/prayers/novenas/p00086.htm, retrieved May 21,2013.