A CHRISTIAN ICONOCLAST

This  image by Emmanuel Panselenos/Panselinos looks like an icon of Jesus, doesn’t it?

It is not Jesus, however.  We might have suspected so, given the Roman armor he wears and his spear and sword, but of course the definitive identifier is the Greek inscription, which reads:

Ὁ ἉΓ[ΙΟC] ΑΡΤΕΜΙΟC
HO HAGIOS ARTEMIOS
“[The] Holy Artemios”

Artemios is another of the warrior saints, which accounts for the armor and weapons.  Officially, he is a Μεγαομαρτυς/Megalomartys — a “Great Martyr.”  The hagiographies of great martyrs frequently credit them with undergoing severe suffering under persecution for their beliefs, along with miracles and the often the conversion of others.  Though it is said that Great martyrs are generally from the time before the legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire, Artemios was killed after that.  He is said to have been born in Egypt, and was a general under Emperor Constantine.

Constantine’s successor and son — Constantius II — sent Artemios to retrieve the relics of three famous saints —  first those of St. Timothy in 356, and the following year those of the Apostle Andrew and the Evangelist Luke.  Having brought these to Constantinople, he was rewarded in 360 by being made Imperial Prefect of Egypt (Dux Aegypti).

Artemios was a fanatical Christian iconoclast, with a reputation for the destruction of statues of the gods.  He entered the Temple of Serapis in Alexandria and destroyed the images and offerings.  When Julian became Emperor, he listened to the complaints of the people about Artemios, who was accused of badly administering the province under his control.  Having been called to Antioch and found guilty, Artemios was condemned to death, and is said to have been beheaded there in 362, which accounts for why he is known as Artemios of Antioch.

The hagiography of Artemios, however, gives another view.  It relates that he was beheaded for questioning the Emperor’s torturing of two Christian priests, Eugenios and Makarios, saying the Emperor was being guided by a devil.   Artemios was stripped of his office and beaten, and told to sacrifice to Apollo and be made a praetorian prefect, or else be killed.  Artemios refused and was tortured.  Being asked then to sacrifice to Zeus and Asklepios, Artemios again refused and reviled the Emperor.  He was squeezed between two large quarry stones, again refused to sacrifice, and  and was beheaded.  His body is said to have been claimed by a Christian deaconess named Ariste, who sent it to Constantinople as that of a martyr.

Artemios seems to have been an Arian Christian — one of those who denied the equality in divinity of Father and Son as God, and it is possible the tale of the martyrdom of Artemios was originally an Arian document that underwent later development.  By the 5th century, he had gained a reputation for healing — with a specialty in the cure of hernias, and the site where his relics were kept became a noted healing shrine.  When adopted into Eastern Orthodox hagiography, his Arian connections were not mentioned, and so he became a famous “Orthodox” warrior saint in iconography.

In the Maronite Church, Artemios is known as Mar Shalita.

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