Do you remember Merkurios Abu-Seifein — Merkurios of the two swords, the one whom Mary, mother of Jesus supposedly sent to assassinate the Emperor Julian?
Well, in his traditional story the father of Merkurios had a couple of very interesting buddies. He made their acquaintance when they ate his own father, the grandfather of Merkurios/Mercurius. Now of course most saints — even before their conversion — do not go about eating people’s relatives, but these two were an unusual pair. We find them in Egyptian Christianity, as in this icon from the Museum of Coptic Art in Cairo, said to have been painted in the last quarter of the 18th century by Ibrahim al-Nassikh:
They appear also in the Ethiopian Synaxarium, which has a good account of them and how they met the father of Merkurios. Remember that St. Merkurios was also called Philopater. Here is how the story goes in Budge’s translation of the account for his day of commemoration — Hedar 25 — December 4th. The English of Budge is a bit archaic, but understandable nonetheless:
On this day became a martyr Philopator (which is being interpreted “lover of the Father”)
Mercurius, and this name also being interpreted is “servant of Jesus Christ.” This holy
man was a native of the city of ‘Asletes, which was also the city of his father, and his
grandfather who were born therein, and he was brought up in the city of Rome.
Now the occupation of his father, and grandfather, and his kinsmen was that of hunters of wild
beasts. One day they went out hunting, according to their custom, and they found two men
with the faces of dogs, and they ate his grandfather, and they also wanted to eat his father,
but the angel of the Lord prevented them from doing so. And the angel said unto them,
“Touch him not, for from him shall go forth good fruit.” Then the angel of the Lord
surrounded them with fire, and being in tribulation, the two Dog-faces came to the father
of Saint Mercurius, and they bowed low before him. And straightway God changed their
[savage] nature to one of gentleness, and they became like sheep and went with him to the
And after he had begotten the holy man Mercurius, and called his name “Philopator,”
the Dog-faces lived with them for many days, and then they became Christians; now the
ancestors of the holy man had been in days of old pagans. And when they received the gift
of Christian baptism, they called the father of the holy man “Noah,” and his mother
“Tabot,” and Philopator “Mercurius.”
And the Dog-faces, according to what the angel ofthe Lord said unto them when he appeared unto them, were in subjection to the holy man Mercurius, and his father. And when the king heard the story of the Dog-faces and how God had changed their savage natures, [he ordered his soldiers to bring in wild beasts]before the king, and the Dog-faces destroyed all the wild beasts, which the king broughtbefore them. When the king saw this he was afraid of them exceedingly, and he asked the father of Saint Mercurius to entreat God to remove from them their savage nature, and to
make them to possess the nature of men; and he asked God, and God changed their nature
and they became like men.
Then the king took the holy father Mercurius and appointed him governor and captain of the army, and these Dog-faces were subject unto him, and all the people were afraid of them. After this a certain wicked king rose up and he wished to make war upon another king, and the king sent his soldiers to entice those Dog-faces and to bring them to him. And that wicked king, who wished to make war on the king of the city wherein the father of Saint Mercurius lived, enticed them. And straightway he was angry at the Dog-faces, and he punished one of them, who became a martyr thereby, and the other fled.
When the father of Saint Mercurius returned to the city he sought for his
son and his mother and found them not. Now the king, having heard that the father of
Saint Mercurius was killed in battle, decided to take the mother of Saint Mercurius and
marry her. And one of the soldiers of the king knowing what the king intended to do, went
and told the mother of Saint Mercurius what the king had decided concerning her. When
she heard this she asked him to take [her] out secretly, and she went out with her son the
blessed Mercurius. And his father having sought for his wife and his son, and found them
not, knew not in the least what had become of them.
And the king was afraid because he thought that the Dog-faces lived with him, and that he would become angry and would turn them loose, and they would destroy all the city. And the king commanded his servants not to tell him that he intended to marry his wife.
After this war broke out against the king, and the father of Saint Mercurius went out to fight, and the king took him prisoner. Now by the Will of God the king of Rome was a Christian. And when he knew that the father of Saint Mercurius was a Christian, he spared him and did not kill him, and he made him governor of all the city of the Mardosaweyan. And by the Will of God Saint Mercurius
and his mother were in the city of Rome, and when his father came into the church the
mother of Saint Mercurius saw him and knew that he was her husband.
One day when they were sitting in the guest house the father of Mercurius and his soldiers rode out, and the mother of the blessed Mercurius dressed her son in the fine raiment which he used to
wear in the royal city, and commanded him to go and mount the horse of the governor, that
is to say of his father. And having mounted the governor’s horse, the soldiers seized him
and brought him before the governor, that is to say his father, who did not know that he
was his son, and he was angry with him. And the mother of Mercurius came to her
husband, now he did not know that she was his wife, and she said unto him, “We are
strangers, and when I knew that thou was a stranger I thought that my son might be with
thee”; and when he asked her questions and enquired concerning her journey she told him
that she was his wife.
And straightway he knew her and he knew his son Mercurius, and
he placed [him] in the church, and they lived there together. When the father and mother
of Saint Mercurius died, the king took him and made him governor of the city of the
Mardosaweyan in his father’s stead; and the one Dog-face that had remained with him up
to the time he was appointed governor, used to go forth with Mercurius in battle. When
they wanted to fight God used to restore to the Dog-face his original savage nature, and
there was none who could stand before him. And there were given to this Saint Mercurius
power, and great strength, and he was more renowned and more exalted than all the other
officers of the kingdom.
So you can add these two fellows to the ranks of dog-headed saints. Their names by tradition are given variously as Akhrax and Augani or Ahrauqas and Augani.
I hope you have realized by now how full of myth and legend Eastern Christianity is, whether Slavic, Greek, or in regions farther south. Christianity itself is largely based on myth, but that is something seldom told to the laity. It will, however, eventually become obvious to the serious student of the iconography of the Eastern Church.