Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Nicephorus, Martyr

Article

A.D. 260.

There dwelt in Antioch a priest called Sapricius, and a layman, named Nicephorus, who had been linked together for many years by the strictest friendship. But the enemy of mankind sowing between them the seeds of discord, this their friendship was succeeded by the most implacable hatred, and they declined meeting each other in the streets. Thus it continued a considerable time. At length, Nicephorus, entering into himself, and reflecting on the grievousness of the sin of hatred, resolved on seeking a reconciliation. He accordingly deputed some friends to go to Sapricius to beg his pardon, promising him all reasonable satisfaction for the injury done him. But the priest refused to forgive him. Nicephorus sent other friends to him on the same errand, but though they pressed and entreated him to be reconciled, Sapricius was inflexible. Nicephorus sent a third time, but to no purpose; Sapricius having shut his ears not to men only but to Christ himself, who commands us to forgive as we ourselves hope to be forgiven. Nicephorus, finding him deaf to the remonstrances of their common friends, went in person to his house, and casting himself at his feet owned his fault, and begged pardon for Christ’s sake; but all in vain.

The persecution suddenly began to rage under Valerian and Gallien in the year 260. Sapricius was apprehended and brought before the governor, who asked him his name.

“It is Sapricius,” answered he.

Governor. “Of what profession are you?”

Sapricius. “I am a Christian.”

Governor. “Are you of the clergy?”

Sapricius. “I have the honour to be a priest.” He added: “We Christians acknowledge one Lord and Master Jesus Christ, who is God; the only and true God, who created heaven and earth. The gods of nations are devils.”

The president, exasperated at his answer, gave orders for him to be put into an engine, like a screw-press, which the tyrants had invented to torment the faithful. The excessive pain of this torture did not shake Sapricius’s constancy, and he said to the judges: “My body is in your power; but my soul you cannot touch. Only my Saviour Jesus Christ is master of this.” The president seeing him so resolute, pronounced this sentence: “Sapricius, priest of the Christians, who is ridiculously persuaded that he shall rise again, shall be delivered over to the executioner of public justice to have his head severed from his body, because he has contemned the edict of the emperors.”

Sapricius seemed to receive the sentence with great cheerfulness, and was in haste to arrive at the place of execution in hopes of his crown. Nicephorus ran out to meet him, and casting himself at his feet, said: “Martyr of Jesus Christ, forgive me my offence.” But Sapricius made him no answer.

Nicephorus waited for him in another street which he was to pass through, and as soon as he saw him coming up, broke through the crowd, and falling again at his feet, conjured him to pardon the fault he had committed against him, through frailty rather than design. This he begged by the glorious confession he had made of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Sapricius’s heart was more and more hardened, and now he would not so much as look on him. The soldiers laughed at Nicephorus, saying: “A greater fool than thee was never seen, in being so solicitous for a man’s pardon who is upon the point of being executed.” Being arrived at the place of execution, Nicephorus redoubled his humble entreaties and supplications: but all in vain; for Sapricius continued as obstinate as ever, in refusing to forgive.

The executioners said to Sapricius: “Kneel down that we may cut off your head.”

Sapricius said: “Upon what account?” They answered: “Because you will not sacrifice to the gods, nor obey the emperor’s orders, for the love of that man that is called Christ.” The unfortunate Sapricius cried out: “Stop, my friends; do not put me to death; I will do what you desire; I am ready to sacrifice.”

Nicephorus, sensibly afflicted at his apostasy, cried aloud to him: “Brother, what are you doing? renounce not Jesus Christ our good master. Forfeit not a crown you have already gained by tortures and sufferings.”

But Sapricius would give no manner of attention to what he said. Whereupon, Nicephorus, with tears of bitter anguish for the fall of Sapricius, said to the executioners: “I am a Christian, and believe in Jesus Christ, whom this wretch has renounced; behold me here ready to die in his stead.” All present were astonished at such an unexpected declaration. The officers of justice being under an uncertainty how to proceed, despatched a lictor or beadle, to the governor with this message: “Sapricius promiseth to sacrifice, but here is another desirous to die for the same Christ, saying: “I am a Christian, and refuse to sacrifice to your gods, and comply with the edicts of the emperors.”

The governor on hearing this, dictated the following sentence: “If this man persist in refusing to sacrifice to the immortal gods, let him die by the sword:” which was accordingly put in execution. Thus Nicephorus received three immortal crowns, namely, of faith, humility, and charity, triumphs which Sapricius had made himself unworthy of. The Greek and the Roman Martyrologies mention him on this day.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Nicephorus, Martyr”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 8 February 2013. Web. 2 October 2014. <>