The Hieromartyrs Basil, Ephraim, Eugene, Elpidius, Agathodorus, Aetherius, and Capiton carried the Gospel of Christ into the North Black Sea region from the Danube to the Dniper, including the Crimea. They were bishops of Cherson at different times during the fourth century, and they sealed their apostolic activity with martyrdom. Only Aetherius died in peace.
Long before the Baptism of Rus under Saint Vladimir, the Christian Faith had already spread into the Crimea, which in antiquity was called Tauridia and was ruled by the Roman Emperor. The beginning of the enlightenment of Tauridia is attributed to the holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called (November 30).
The Church’s enemies unwillingly contributed to the further spread of Christianity. The Roman emperors often banished traitors to this area. During the first three centuries, Christians were regarded as traitors because they would not follow the state religion. In the reign of Trajan (98-117), Saint Clement, Bishop of Rome (November 25), was sent to work in a stone quarry near Cherson. There he continued his preaching, and suffered martyrdom.
The pagans inhabiting the Crimea stubbornly resisted the spread of Christianity. But the faith of Christ, through its self-sacrificing preachers, grew strong and was affirmed. Many missionaries gave their lives in this struggle.
At the beginning of the fourth century a bishop’s See was established at Cherson. This was a critical period when Cherson served as a base for the Roman armies which constantly passed through the area. During the reign of Diocletian (284-305), the Patriarch of Jerusalem sent many bishops to preach the Gospel in various lands. Two of them, Ephraim and Basil, arrived in Cherson and planted the Word of God there.
Later on, Saint Ephraim went to the peoples living along the Danube, where he underwent many tribulations and sorrows. He was beheaded at the start of the persecution. The preaching at Cherson was continued by Saint Basil, Saint Ephraim’s companion. He set many idol-worshippers on the path of truth. Other wayward inhabitants of the city, enraged at his activity, rose up against him. The saint was arrested, mercilessly beaten and expelled from the city.
He went to a mountain and settled in a cave, where he unceasingly prayed to God for those who had driven him out, asking that He might illumine them with the light of true knowledge. And the Lord provided the unbelievers with a miracle. The only son of an important citizen of Cherson died. The dead child appeared to his parents in a dream and said that a certain man named Basil could resurrect him from the dead by his prayers.
When the parents had found the saint and entreated him to work the miracle, Saint Basil replied that he himself was a sinful man and had not the power to raise the dead, but the Lord Almighty could fulfill their request if they were to believe in Him. For a long time the saint prayed, invoking the Name of the Holy Trinity. Then he blessed water, and sprinkled it on the dead one, who was restored to life. The saint returned to the city with honor, and many believed and were baptized.
Soon, by order of the emperor Maximian Galerius (305-311), the persecution against Christians spread with renewed force. The Christ-haters rose up also against Saint Basil. On March 7, 309 he was dragged from his house during the night. They tied him up, dragged him along the streets and beat him to death with stones and rods. The body of the saint was thrown out of the city to be eaten by dogs and birds, and for many days it was left unburied, but remained untouched. Then Christians secretly buried the body of the holy martyr in a cave.
A year after the martyrdom of Saint Basil, three of his companions, Bishops Eugene, Elpidius and Agathodorus, ceased their preaching in the Hellespont, and arrived at Cherson to continue his holy work. They endured many hardships for the salvation of human souls. All three bishops shared the fate of their predecessor: they were stoned to death by the pagans on March 7, 311.
When Constantine the Great (May 21) took the throne, Bishop Aetherius was sent by emperor Constantine to Cherson from Jerusalem. At first he also encountered hostility on the part of the pagans, but the holy emperor would not tolerate acts of violence against the preacher. He issued a decree permitting the Christians of Cherson to have church services without hindrance. Through the efforts of Saint Aetherius a church was built in the city, where the saint peacefully governed his flock.
Saint Aetherius journeyed to Constantinople to thank the emperor for protecting the Christians. He fell ill and died on the return trip.
The holy emperor Constantine then sent Bishop Capiton to Cherson to replace Saint Aetherius. The Christians met him with joy, but the pagans demanded a sign from the new bishop, so they might believe in the God Whom he preached. Placing all his hope on the Lord, Saint Capiton put on his omophorion and went into a burning furnace. He prayed in the fire for about an hour, and emerged from it unharmed. “Shall anyone bind fire in his bosom, and not burn his garments?” Solomon asks (Prov. 6:27). Saint Capiton carried red-hot coals in his phelonion, yet neither his body nor his garments were scorched. Many of the unbelievers were then persuaded in the power of the Christian God.
This miracle and the great faith of Saint Capiton were reported to Saint Constantine and the holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council (325), and they all glorified God.
After several years Saint Capiton journeyed to Constantinople on business, but the ship encountered a storm at the mouth of the Dniepr River. The local people (pagans) seized the ship and drowned all those on board, including Saint Capiton. Although this occurred on December 21, Saint Capiton is commemorated with the other hieromartyrs of Cherson on March 7.