The Church commemorates Hieromartyr Apollinaris, Bishop of Ravenna as well as Hieromartyrs Vitalius and Valeria.
Today the Church also commemorates the translation of the relics of Phocas the Holy Martyr, Bishop of Sinope. St Phocas was known for the many miracles he worked and for his apostolic zeal in shepherding the flock of Sinope. He contested for the Faith during the reign of Emperor Trajan, in the year 102, when he was burned to death in a bath-house. A homily in his honor was composed by Saint John Chrysostom. The translation of his holy relics is celebrated on July 23.
Saint Apollinaris was a disciple of the Apostle Peter, whom he followed from Antioch to Rome sometime during the reign of the Roman emperor Claudius (41-54). Saint Peter appointed Apollinaris as Bishop of Ravenna. Arriving in Ravenna as a stranger, Saint Apollinaris asked shelter of a local inhabitant, the soldier Irenaeus, and during their conversation, he revealed the purpose for which he had come.
Irenaeus had a blind son, whom Saint Apollinaris healed after he had prayed to the Lord. The soldier Irenaeus and his family were the first people in Ravenna to believe in Christ. The saint stayed at the house of Irenaeus and preached about Christ to everyone who wished to hear his words. One of the miracles that Saint Apollinaris performed was the healing of Thekla, the incurably sick wife of the tribune. Through the prayers of the saint, she got up from her bed completely healthy. Not only did she believe in Christ, but so did her husband the tribune. In their house, Saint Apollinaris set up a small church, where he celebrated the Divine Liturgy. Saint Apollinaris ordained two presbyters, Aderetus and Calocyrus, and also two deacons for the newly-baptized people of Ravenna.
Saint Apollinaris labored with great zeal, preaching the Gospel at Ravenna for twelve years, and the number of Christians steadily increased. Pagan priests complained about the bishop to the governor Saturninus. The hierarch was brought to trial and subjected to grievous tortures. Thinking that he had died, the torturers took him out of the city to the seacoast and threw him into the water. The saint, however, was still alive. A certain pious Christian widow helped him and gave him shelter in her home. Saint Apollinaris stayed with her for six months, and secretly continued to preach about Christ. The saint’s whereabouts became known when he restored the power of speech to an illustrious resident of the city named Boniface, whose wife had requested the saint to help her husband.
After this miracle, many pagans were converted to Christ, and once again Saint Apollinaris was brought to trial and tortured. His bare feet were placed on red-hot coals. They expelled him from the city a second time, but the Lord again kept him alive. The saint did not cease preaching until he left the city. For a certain time, Saint Apollinaris found himself elsewhere in Italy, where he continued to preach the Gospel as before. Returning to his flock in Ravenna, Saint Apollinaris went on trial yet again and was sentenced to banishment.
In heavy fetters, he was placed on a ship bound for Illyrica and the Danube River. Two soldiers were responsible for escorting him to his place of exile. Three of the clergy voluntarily followed their bishop into exile. Along the way, the vessel was wrecked and everyone drowned, except for Saint Apollinaris, his clergy and the two soldiers. The soldiers, listening to Saint Apollinaris, believed in the Lord and were baptized. Not finding any shelter, the travelers came to Moisia in Thrace, where Saint Apollinaris healed a certain illustrious inhabitant from leprosy. Both he and his companions were given shelter at the man’s home. In this land Saint Apollinaris preached tirelessly about Christ and he converted many of the pagans to Christianity, for which he was subjected to persecution by the unbelievers. They beat the saint mercilessly, then they sent him back to Italy aboard a ship.
After a three year absence, Saint Apollinaris returned to Ravenna and was joyfully received by his flock. The pagans, however, entered the church where the saint was serving the Divine Liturgy, scattered those at prayer, and dragged the saint before the idolatrous priests at the pagan temple of Apollo. The idol fell and shattered to pieces just as the saint was brought in. The pagan priests brought Saint Apollinaris to Taurus, the new governor of the district for trial. Apollinaris performed a new miracle, healing the son of the governor, who had been blind from birth. In gratitude for the healing of his son, Taurus tried to protect Saint Apollinaris from the angry crowd. He sent him to his own estate outside the city. Although Taurus’s wife and son were baptized, he feared the anger of the emperor, and did not receive Baptism. However, he was filled with gratitude and love toward his benefactor.
Saint Apollinaris lived for five years at Taurus’s estate and preached without hindrance. During this time pagan priests sent letters of denunciation to Emperor Vespasian requesting a sentence of death or exile for the Christian “sorcerer” Apollinaris. But the emperor told the pagan priests that the gods were sufficiently powerful to take revenge for themselves if they felt insulted. All the wrath of the pagans fell upon Saint Apollinaris: they seized him and beat him fiercely as he was leaving the city for a nearby settlement. Christians found him barely alive and took him to the settlement, where he lived for seven days. During his final illness, the saint did not cease to teach his flock. He predicted that after the persecutions ended, Christians would enter upon better times when they could openly and freely confess their faith.
After bestowing his archpastoral blessing upon those present, the hieromartyr Apollinaris fell asleep in the Lord. Saint Apollinaris was Bishop of Ravenna for twenty-eight years, and he reposed in the year 75.