Before his Baptism, the Holy Great Martyr Eustáthios was named Plakidas (Πλακίδας). He was a Roman General in the reigns of Emperors Titus (79-81) and Trajan (98-117). Even before he came to know Christ, Plakidas devoted himself to charitable endeavors, helping the poor and destitute. Therefore, the Lord did not allow this virtuous pagan to continue in the darkness of idolatry.
One day, while hunting in a forest, he saw a remarkable stag which stopped now and then to stare at him. Plakidas pursued it on horseback, but could not catch up. The stag jumped over a chasm and stood on the other side facing him. Suddenly, Plakidas saw a radiant Cross between its antlers. The General was astonished to hear a voice coming from the Cross saying, “Why do you pursue me, Plakidas?”
“Who are You, Master?” asked Plakidas. The voice replied, “I am Jesus Christ, Whom you do not know, but by your good deeds, you honor me. I have appeared here on this creature for your sake, to draw you into the net of my love for mankind. It is not fitting that one as righteous as you should worship idols and remain ignorant of the truth. It was to save mankind that I came into the world.”
Plakidas cried out, “Lord, I believe that You are the God of Heaven and earth, the Creator of all things. Master, teach me what I should do.” Again the Lord replied, “Go to the bishop of your country and receive Baptism from him, and he will instruct you.”
Plakidas returned home and joyfully recounted everything to his wife Tatiana. She in turn told him of a strange dream she had the evening before, in which she had been told, “Tomorrow you, your husband and your sons shall come to me and know that I am the true God.” The couple then proceeded to do as they had been told.
They hastened to the Christian bishop, who baptized all their family, and then communed them with the Holy Mysteries. Plakidas was renamed Eustáthios, his wife was called Theopistē, and their children, Agapios and Theopistos.
On the following day, Saint Eustáthios went to the place of his miraculous conversion and there he gave thanks to the Lord for having called him to the path of salvation.
Saint Eustáthios received another a miraculous revelation. The Lord Himself predicted his impending tribulations: “Eustáthios, you shall suffer many misfortunes, as did Job, but in the end you will conquer the devil.”
Soon Saint Eustáthios was afflicted with misfortune: all of his servants died of the plague, and his cattle perished. Brought to ruin, but not despairing in spirit, Saint Eustáthios and his family secretly abandoned their home, to live in poverty unknown, humble, and poor.
They went to Egypt to board a ship bound for Jerusalem. During the voyage the Saint experienced more sorrow. Captivated by Theopistē's beauty, the ship owner cruelly set Eustáthios and his children ashore, keeping the wife for himself.
With great sadness the Saint continued on his way, and new calamity befell him. Coming to a tempestuous river, he went to carry his two sons across in turn. When he brought the first one across, the other was seized by a lion and was carried off into the wilderness. As he turned back to shore, a wolf dragged the other child into the forest.
Saint Eustáthios wept bitterly, but he realized that Divine Providence had sent him these misfortunes in order to test his endurance and devotion to God. Saint Eustáthios prepared himself for even more sorrows, knowing that one who endures temptations and has been tested will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him (James 1:12).
In the village of Badessos he found work and spent five years in ceaseless toil. Saint Eustáthios did not know at the time that by God's mercy, shepherds and farmers had rescued his sons, and they were living near him. He was also unaware that the impudent shipowner had been struck down with a terrible disease and died, leaving Saint Theopistē untouched. She lived in peace and freedom at the place where the ship landed.
During this time it had become difficult for Emperor Trajan to raise an army for Rome to deal with a rebellion, for the soldiers refused to go into battle without Plakidas. They advised Trajan to send men out to all the cities to search for him.
Antiochos and Akakios, who were friends of Plakidas, sought him in various places. Finally, they arrived in the village where Saint Eustáthios lived. The soldiers found him, but they did not recognize him. They began telling him about the person they sought, asking for his help and promising him a large reward. Saint Eustáthios recognized his friends right away, but he did not disclose his identity to them.
Borrowing money from one of his friends, he prepared a meal for his visitors. As they looked at him, they noticed that he resembled their former commander. When they saw a scar on his shoulder from a deep wound made by a sword, they realized that it was their friend who stood before them. They embraced him with tears and told him why they had been looking for him.
Saint Eustáthios returned to Rome with them and was restored to his former rank. Many new recruits were drafted into the army from all over the Empire. He did not know that the two young soldiers who served him, and whom he loved for their skill and daring, were actually his own sons. They did not realize that they were serving under the command of their own father, nor that they were brothers by birth.
While on campaign, the army led by Eustáthios halted at a certain place. One night, the brothers were talking in their tent. The elder spoke about his life, how he had lost his mother and brother, and how he had been parted from his father. The younger brother then realized that the other man was his own brother, and revealed how he had been rescued from the wolf.
A woman overheard their conversation, since their tent was pitched right next to her house, and she realized that these were her sons. Without identifying herself to them, but not wishing to be separated from them, she went to their general, Saint Eustáthios, and asked that he take her to Rome with him. She said she had been a prisoner, and wanted to go home. Then she came to recognize the general as her husband, and with tears she told him about herself, and about the two soldiers who were their sons. Thus, through God's great mercy, the entire family was reunited.
Soon thereafter, the rebellion was crushed, and Saint Eustáthios returned to Rome with honor and glory. Emperor Trajan had died in the meantime, and his successor Hadrian (117-138) wanted to celebrate the victory with a solemn sacrifice to their "gods." To everyone's amazement, Saint Eustáthios did not go to the pagan temple. The Emperor ordered them to find him and bring him to the temple.
“Why don’t you want to worship the gods?” the Emperor inquired. “You, above all others, should offer thanks to them. Not only did they preserve you in war and grant you victory, but they also helped you to find your wife and children.” Saint Eustáthios replied: “I am a Christian and I glorify and give thanks to Christ, and I offer sacrifice to Him. I owe my life to Him. I do not know or believe in any other God.”
Outraged, the Emperor ordered him to remove his military belt and brought Eustáthios and his family before him. They did not succeed in persuading the steadfast confessors of Christ to offer sacrifice to idols. The Saint's family was sentenced to be torn to pieces by wild beasts, but the animals would not touch the holy martyrs.
Then the cruel Emperor ordered that they be thrown alive into a red-hot brass bull, and Saint Eustáthios, his wife Theopistē, and their sons Agapios and Theopistos suffered martyrdom. Before being placed inside the bull, Saint Eustathios prayed, “Grant, O Lord, Thy grace to our relics, and grant a place in Thy Kingdom to all who call upon us, Though they call upon us when in danger on a river, or on the sea, we entreat Thee to come to their aid.”
Three days later, they opened the brass bull, and the bodies of the holy martyrs were found unscathed. Not one hair of their heads was singed, and their faces shone with an unearthly beauty. Many who witnessed this miracle came to believe in Christ. Some pious Christians buried the bodies of the Saints with all honor and reverence.