Great-martyr Mercurius (224 – 250) was a Christian saint and martyr. Born Philopateer in the city of Rome, his original name means "lover of the Father". Saint Mercurius is also known by the name Abu-Seifein, which in Arabic means, "the holder of two swords", referring to a second sword given to him by Archangel Michael.
Philopateer was the son of a Scythian officer in the Roman army. One day his father, Yares, was hunting in the forest with his grandfather, where they were attacked by a wild beast. The animal jumped on the grandfather, causing Yares to faint. While Yares was unconscious, he had a vision. He saw a brilliant light and heard a voice saying: "Yares, I am your God Who loves you. I know that you have a good heart and that you hate the pagan idols. I want to inform you that your son, Philopateer, will become like a tree bearing good fruits, and because of him, I will bless you and your wife. Philopateer will be My witness and will defy all prejudice in My Name."
Shortly after, Yares, his wife, and his son were baptized, and they were given new names. Yares became Noah, his wife became Saphina, and Philopateer became Mercurius. The news of their baptism spread quickly in the city and the prince ordered them to be arrested and thrown to the wild animals. However, the animals did not harm them, and the prince decided to release Noah and his family.
When the Berbers attacked Eskentos, Noah went to fight them. He was taken prisoner and was brought to their country, where he was kept for seventeen months. When the war finally ended, he went back to his city and joined his family, but died shortly after. St. Philopateer Mercurius is also said to be the cousin of St. George the Cappadocian.
Military career of Saint Mercurius
After the death of Noah, the pagan Roman Emperor Decius chose Mercurius to replace his father. Described as very strong and highly courageous, he managed to earn the respect of his fellow soldiers. When the Berbers attacked Rome, Decius went out to fight them, but when he saw how many they were, he became afraid. Mercurius then came to him and told him, "Do not be afraid, because God will destroy our enemies and will bring us victory."
After several days of fighting, the Archangel Michael appeared to Mercurius holding a shining sword. He said:
"Mercurius, servant of Jesus Christ, don't be afraid. Take this sword from my hand and fight the Berbers with it. Don't forget your God when you come back victoriously. I am Michael the Archangel, whom God sent to inform you that you should suffer for the Lord's name. I shall be with you and support you until you complete your testimony. The name of our Lord Jesus Christ will be glorified in you".
The saint took the sword from the archangel, hence the name Abu-Seifein - "the holder of two swords", a military sword and a divine sword. He conquered the Berbers, feeling the assurance of divine strength. When Decius heard the news about the triumphant victory, he appointed Mercurius prince.
Martyrdom of Saint Mercurius
Nonetheless, in 249, Decius began his persecution of Christians, compelling everyone to offer sacrifices to his pagan gods. The Archangel Michael appeared to Mercurius and told him to remember God and not be fearful of the persecution. The saint was encouraged and spent the whole night praying fervently, and confessing his weakness to God.
The next morning, the Emperor sent some messengers to summon Mercurius to the palace, but he excused himself, saying that he was tired. The day after, the Emperor sent for Mercurius again. He told him: "Dear Mercurius, let us go offer incense to the gods who helped us attain victory in the war." Mercurius did not say anything, but as they were leaving he slipped through the crowd and went away. However, one of the guards reported his absence, and the Emperor called Mercurius and asked him, "Is it true that you refused to worship the idols who helped us during the war?"
Mercurius answered with courage:
"Your Majesty, the victory was not due to dumb idols made by human hands. It was accomplished by the grace of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who sent His archangel to give me a sword and strengthened me. I cannot deny my God and worship statues."
The Emperor was infuriated, and tried to persuade him to no avail. Mercurius' faith was unshaken. He stripped him of his ranks and ordered him to be thrown in jail.
That did not stop the saint from praying and singing hymns in prison. During the night, Michael the Archangel appeared to him and told him: "Do not be afraid of the tortures. Confess your faith in Jesus publicly because He is the only One able to save you".
The next morning, Decius' soldiers hung the saint between two poles so that they could hit him with sharp nails. They tried also to cut his body with sharp blades and burn it, but Mercurius endured all these tortures in silence. Back in jail, the archangel appeared and touched Mercurius' body. He was instantly healed. When the king saw that the saint was in perfect health, he attributed it to witchcraft. Mercurius told him that it was Jesus who is the true healer of the soul and the body.
Fearing a revolt because the people loved him, the emperor had him bound in iron fetters, and sent him to Caesarea.
After Decius tried many different tortures without success, he decided to have him beheaded. Mercurius lifted up his arms and prayed fervently, asking the Lord to accept him in paradise. Then, suddenly, he saw Jesus Christ in a glorified vision, surrounded by many angels, saying:
"My chosen son, Mercurius, come to your eternal rest with the saints. Your prayers have risen up to Me like the aroma of good-smelling incense. Miracles will be performed in any church bearing your name. And I will save those who ask Me through your intercession. Whoever writes or reads the story of your life will have their names written in the Book of Life".
Then, after he was blessed, Mercurius was so happy that he ran to his executioners, begging them to carry out the king's orders immediately. Then he knelt down and said, "Lord, do not count this sin against them." Mercurius was beheaded on 4 December 250 (by Coptic calender 25 Hator). He was only 25 years old.
After the end of the first persecution, the place of the saint's burial was revealed. Mercurius appeared to a poor man in the city, and told him that he was Mercurius, the Martyr of the Lord. "My body is buried in Cappadocia Gardens, under the old house on the way to the royal palace. My body looks as white as snow, because Jesus was present at the time of my martyrdom," said the saint.
The next morning, the man went to dig under the old house. He began to smell the scent of perfume, seeing the body of the saint. The news spread quickly and many people came to take a look at the blessed body. They moved it to the local church until they built a new church bearing his name, and Mercurius' body was buried there with respect and devotion.
A few years later, the Catholicos of Armenia, the Chief bishop of the Armenian Apostolic Church, visited Egypt and met with the Patriarch of Alexandria, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The latter asked him if Egypt could have part of the relics of Saint Mercurius to be placed in the church that bears his name in Cairo:
On the 9th of Baona (June 16) part of the blessed body was offered to Egypt.
According to one tradition, Saint Basil was imprisoned in 363 by his old school-mate, the Emperor Julian the Apostate, upon the beginning of Julian's Sassanid campaign. Basil prayed to Saint Mercurius to help him, and the saint appeared in vision to Basil, claiming to have speared Julian to death.