They traveled the roads together – the ancient, cobblestone roads of a region that would one day include such countries as "Austria" and "Hungary" and "Slovakia." On horseback and on foot, they moved endlessly back and forth among the mud-walled towns and the tiny farm villages of their immense region, located to the south and the west of the Danube River.
On the hot days of summer, they sweated profusely as they climbed the steep hills of the Balkans; in the dead of winter they shivered their way across the windswept, snowy wastes of the vast Pannonian plain.
The region was known as "Pannonia," and the two men – Andronicus and Junia, both disciples who belonged to the large group of Evangelizers known as The Seventy – had been sent here from the Holy Land to risk their lives for the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ. Pannonia in those days was a wilderness of swampy bogs and fog-covered flatlands where fierce Celtic tribesmen on horseback could emerge at any moment from the swirling mists to kill defenseless travelers without a second thought.
Yet the two missionaries had agreed to take the risks. They hazarded the roads and slogged their way through the swamps, because both of them had earlier taken oaths of loyalty to a power greater than any on earth. Chosen by the Original Twelve Apostles during the decades immediately after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, The Seventy were charged with bringing the saving message of Jesus Christ to every country ... from the distant heaths and rolling hills of Northumberland in far-off Britain to the burning deserts of North Africa.
They went. Both were kinsmen of the Great Apostle St. Paul, and both had shared with him the inspiring story of the Savior who had come to earth in order to free men from sin and death. Full of zeal and full of courage, they had been eager to join The Seventy upon Paul's request … and he had been just as pleased to welcome them, a fact that he carefully noted in his great Epistle to the Romans: Greet Andronicus [sic] and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. (Romans 16:7)
After undergoing many struggles with Paul in Rome, where he would eventually be imprisoned and then martyred, both men had been dispatched as members of The Seventy from the Holy Land to one of the harshest and most threatening landscapes in the world of 70 A.D.
Andronicus, for his part, had been appointed Bishop of the entire sprawling region of Pannonia; the endlessly energetic and zealous Junia would serve with him there as his assistant. Together, they took to the roads, which were often nothing more than mud-choked paths hacked out of swamps that were crawling with malaria and typhoid. But they would spend nearly twenty years here, preaching as best they could, and winning many converts to Christ. They also managed to destroy their share of pagan temples; they fought such idolatry wherever it was possible to fight.
The battle was long and hard – but historians of the period tell us that both men had been given powerful weapons through the grace of God. Both possessed the ability to heal the sick through prayer, and they knew how to drive out the demons that so often tormented the struggling souls of this dark, murky region.
But there was a price to pay, and in the end they would pay it. The details are sketchy, because their heroic actions occurred so far from the civilized world of the Middle East – but history tells us that they were martyred by enraged pagans who resented their idol-smashing, probably around the Year of Our Lord 90. According to the historians, they were almost certainly beheaded by the sword, a common fate for those who ran afoul of the pagan priests in this region during the first few centuries after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
The degree of privation and discomfort endured by these two saints is difficult to imagine today. Existing at the farthest edge of the Roman Empire in the First Century A.D., the population huddled down in flimsy dwellings that were erected, whenever possible, in the shadows of the Roman forts that stood like sentinels along the banks of the Danube. These forts, along with the patrolling Roman Legions of this distant province, were the only protection against the Celtic barbarians – to say nothing of the swarms of brigands and thieves who were everywhere on the prowl.
Rome was a palace of luxury – even for the poorest of her citizens – during this era, but the two members of The Seventy went to Pannonia, and they never complained. When they died under the cold steel of their attackers, probably in some muddy bog beside a pagan temple where they had dared to preach against idolatry, they were quickly flung to the earth by the barbarians. Then their bodies were left to rot in the swampy bracken.
They were great heroes of Christ. Four hundred years after they perished in service to the Holy Gospel, their relics would be discovered near the Gate of Eugenius at Constantinople, under the reign of the Emperors Arcadius and Honorius. In loving memory, their remains would be preserved for posterity in the capital of Byzantium, along with those of many another Christian who still wears the crown of martyrdom.
The lives of the Martyrs Andronicus and Junia tell us a great deal about the dangers and the discomforts that many of The Seventy were quite willing to endure. They also inspire us with hope. If these two saint-martyrs could face up to the challenges of their stark, violent world – with the help of Almighty God – surely we can also endure the struggles and storms of life without losing our faith in the beneficence of Jesus Christ!
Tropar Tone 3
O Holy Apostles, intercede with the merciful God that He grant unto our souls forgiveness of offenses.
by Bishop Demetri (Matta) Khoury