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Home > Fathers of the Church > The Acts of Sharbil

The Acts of Sharbil

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Acts of Sharbil, Who Was a Priest of Idols, and Was Converted to the Confession of Christianity in Christ.

In the fifteenth year of the Sovereign Ruler Trajan Cæsar, and in the third year of King Abgar the Seventh, which is the year 416 of the kingdom of Alexander king of the Greeks, and in the priesthood of Sharbil and Barsamya, Trajan Cæsar commanded the governors of the countries under his dominion that sacrifices and libations should be increased in all the cities of their administration, and that those who did not sacrifice should be seized and delivered over to stripes, and to the tearing of combs, and to bitter inflictions of all kinds of tortures, and should afterwards receive the punishment of the sword.

Now, when the command arrived at the town of Edessa of the Parthians, there was a great festival, on the eighth of Nisan, on the third day of the week: the whole city was gathered together by the great altar which was in the middle of the town, opposite the Record office, all the gods having been brought together, and decorated, and sitting in honour, both Nebu and Bel together with their fellows. And all the priests were offering incense of spices and libations, and an odour of sweetness was diffusing itself around, and sheep and oxen were being slaughtered, and the sound of the harp and the drum was heard in the whole town. And Sharbil was chief and ruler of all the priests; and he was honoured above all his fellows, and was clad in splendid and magnificent vestments; and a headband embossed with figures of gold was set upon his head; and at the bidding of his word everything that he ordered was done. And Abgar the king, son of the gods, was standing at the head of the people. And they obeyed Sharbil, because he drew nearer to all the gods than any of his fellows, and as being the one who according to that which he had heard from the gods returned an answer to every man.

And, while these things were being done by the command of the king, Barsamya, the bishop of the Christians, went up to Sharbil, he and Tiridath the elder and Shalula the deacon; and he said to Sharbil, the high priest: The King Christ, to whom belong heaven and earth, will demand an account at your hands of all these souls against whom you are sinning, and whom you are misleading, and turning away from the God of verity and of truth to idols that are made and deceitful, which are not able to do anything with their hands — moreover also you have no pity on your own soul, which is destitute of the true life of God; and you declare to this people that the dumb idols talk with you; and, as if you were listening to something from them, you put your ear near to one and another of them, and sayest to this people: The god Nebu bade me say to you, On account of your sacrifices and oblations I cause peace in this your country; and: Bel says, I cause great plenty in your land; and those who hear this from you do not discern that you are greatly deceiving them — because they have a mouth and speak not, and they have eyes and see not with them; it is ye who bear up them, and not they who bear up standest.}}--> you, as you suppose; and it is ye who set tables before them, and not they who feed you. And now be persuaded by me touching that which I say to you and advise you. If you be willing to hearken to me, abandon idols made, and worship God the Maker of all things, and His Son Jesus Christ. Do not, because He put on a body and became man and was stretched out on the cross of death, be ashamed of Him and refuse to worship Him: for, all these things which He endured — it was for the salvation of men and for their deliverance. For this One who put on a body is God, the Son of God, Son of the essence of His Father, and Son of the nature of Him who begot Him: for He is the adorable brightness of His Godhead, and is the glorious manifestation of His majesty, and together with His Father He existed from eternity and from everlasting, His arm, and His right hand, and His power, and His wisdom, and His strength, and the living Spirit which is from Him, the Expiator and Sanctifier of all His worshippers. These are the things which Palut taught us, with whom your venerable self was acquainted; and you know that Palut was the disciple of Addæus the apostle. Abgar the king also, who was older than this Abgar, who himself worships idols as well as you, he too believed in the King Christ, the Son of Him whom you call Lord of all the gods. For it is forbidden to Christians to worship anything that is made, and is a creature, and in its nature is not God: even as ye worship idols made by men, who themselves also are made and created. Be persuaded, therefore, by these things which I have said to you, which things are the belief of the Church: for I know that all this population are looking to you, and I am well assured that, if you be persuaded, many also will persuaded with you.

Sharbil said to him: Very acceptable to me are these your words which you have spoken before me; yea, exceedingly acceptable are they to me. But, as for me, I know that I am outcast from all these things, and there is no longer any remedy for me. And, now that hope is cut off from me, why weariest you yourself about a man dead and buried, for whose death there is no hope of resuscitation? For I am slain by paganism, and have become a dead man, the property of the Evil One: in sacrifices and libations of imposture have I consumed all the days of my life.

And, when Barsamya the bishop heard these things, he fell down before his feet, and said to him: There is hope for those who turn, and healing for those that are wounded. I myself will be surety to you for the abundant mercies of the Son Christ: that He will pardon you all the sins which you have committed against Him, in that you have worshipped and honoured His creatures instead of Himself. For that Gracious One, who extended Himself on the cross of death, will not withhold His grace from the souls that comply with His precepts and take refuge in His kindness which has been displayed towards us. Like as He did towards the robber, so is He able to do to you, and also to those who are like you.

Sharbil said to him: You, like a skilful physician, who suffers pain from the pain of the afflicted, hast done well in that you have been concerned about me. But at present, because it is the festival today of this people, of every one of them, I cannot go down with you today to the church. Depart, and go down with honour; and tomorrow at night I will come down to you: I too have henceforth renounced for myself the gods made with hands, and I will confess the Lord Christ, the Maker of all men.

And the next day Sharbil arose and went down to Barsamya by night, he and Babai his sister; and he was received by the whole church. And he said to them: Offer for me prayer and supplication, that Christ may forgive me all the sins that I have committed against Him in all this long course of years. And, because they were in dread of the persecutors, they arose and gave him the seal of salvation, while he confessed the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

And, when all the city had heard that he had gone down to the church, there began to be a consternation among the multitude; and they arose and went down to him, and saw him clad in the fashion of the Christians. And he said to them: May the Son Christ forgive me all the sins that I have committed against you, and all in which I made you think that the gods talked with me, whereas they did not talk; and, forasmuch as I have been to you a cause of abomination, may I now be to you a cause of good: instead of worshipping, as formerly, idols made with hands, may you henceforth worship God the Maker. And, when they had heard these things, there remained with him a great congregation of men and of women; and Labu also, and Hafsai, and Barcalba, and Avida, chief persons of the city. They all said to Sharbil: Henceforth we also renounce that which you have renounced, and we confess the King Christ, whom you have confessed.

But Lysanias, the judge of the country, when he heard that Sharbil had done this, sent by night and carried him off from the church. And there went up with him many Christians. And he sat down, to hear him and to judge him, before the altar which is in the middle of the town, where he used to sacrifice to the gods. And he said to him: Wherefore have you renounced the gods, whom you worshipped, and to whom you sacrificed, and to whom you were made chief of the priests, and lo! Dost today confess Christ, whom you formerly denied? For see how those Christians, to whom you are gone, renounce not that which they have held, like as you have renounced that in which you were born. If you are assured of the gods, how is it that you have renounced them this day? But, if on the contrary you are not assured, as you declare concerning them, how is it that you once sacrificed to them and worshipped them?

Sharbil said: When I was blinded in my mind, I worshipped that which I knew not; but today, inasmuch as I have obtained the clear eyes of the mind, it is henceforth impossible that I should stumble at carved stones, or that I should any longer be the cause of stumbling to others. For it is a great disgrace to him whose eyes are open, if he goes and falls into the pit of destruction.

The judge said: Because you have been priest of the venerable gods, and hast been partaker of the mystery of those whom the mighty emperors worship, I will have patience with you, in order that you may be persuaded by me, and not turn away from the service of the gods; but, if on the contrary you shall not be persuaded by me, by those same gods whom you have renounced I swear that, even as on a man that is a murderer, so will I inflict tortures on you, and will avenge on you the wrong done to the gods, whom you have rebelled against and renounced, and also the insult which you have poured upon them; nor will I leave untried any kind of tortures which I will not inflict on you; and, like as your honour formerly was great, so will I make your ignominy great this day.

Sharbil said: I too, on my part, am not content that you should look upon me as formerly, when I worshipped gods made with hands; but look upon me today and question me as a Christian man renouncing idols and confessing the King Christ.

The judge said: How is it that you are not afraid of the emperors, nor moved to shame by those who are listening to your trial, that you say, I am a Christian? But promise that you will sacrifice to the gods, according to your former custom, so that your honour may be great, as formerly — lest I make to tremble at you all those who have believed like yourself.

Sharbil said: Of the King of kings I am afraid, but at any king of earth I tremble not, nor yet at your threats towards me, which lo! You utter against the worshippers of Christ: whom I confessed yesterday, and lo! I am brought to trial for His sake today, like as He Himself was brought to trial for the sake of sinners like me.

The judge said: Although you have no pity on yourself, still I will have pity on you, and refrain from cutting off those hands of yours with which you have placed incense before the gods, and from stopping with your blood those ears of yours which have heard their mysteries, and your tongue which has interpreted and explained to us their secret things. Of those gods lo! I am afraid, and I have pity on you. But, if you continue thus, those gods be my witnesses that I will have no pity on you!

Sharbil said: As a man who is afraid of the emperors and tremblest at idols, have no pity on me. For, as for me, I know not what you say, therefore also is my mind not shaken or terrified by those things which you say. For by your judgments shall all they escape from the judgment to come who do not worship that which is not God in its own nature.

The judge said: Let him be scourged with thongs, because he has dared to answer me thus, and has resisted the command of the emperors, and has not appreciated the honour which the gods conferred on him: inasmuch as, lo! He has renounced them.

And he was scourged by ten men, who laid hold on him, according to the command of the judge.

Sharbil said: You are not aware of the scourging of justice in that world which is to come. For you will cease, and your judgments also will pass away; but justice will not pass away, nor will its retributions come to an end.

The judge said: You are so intoxicated with this same Christianity, that you do not even know before whom you are judged, and by whom it is that you are scourged — even by those who formerly held you in honour, and paid adoration to your priesthood in the gods. Why do you hate honour, and love this ignominy? For, although you speak contrary to the law, yet I myself cannot turn aside from the laws of the emperors.

Sharbil said: As you take heed not to depart from the laws of the emperors, and if moreover you depart from them you know what command they will give concerning you, so do I also take heed not to decline from the law of Him who said, You shall not worship any image, nor any likeness; and therefore will I not sacrifice to idols made with hands: for long enough was the time in which I sacrificed to them, when I was in ignorance.

The judge said: Bring not upon you punishment in addition to the punishment which you have already brought upon you. Enough is it for you to have said, I will not sacrifice: do not dare to insult the gods, by calling them manufactured idols whom even the emperors honour.

Sharbil said: But, if on behalf of the emperors, who are far away and not near at hand and not conscious of those who treat their commands with contempt, you bid me sacrifice, how is it that on behalf of idols, who lo! Are present and are seen, but see not, you bid me sacrifice? Why, hereby you have declared before all your attendants that, because they have a mouth and speak not, lo! You have become a pleader for them: dumb idols to whom their makers shall be like, and every one that trusts upon them shall be like you.

The judge said: It was not for this that you were called before me — that, instead of paying the honour which is due, you should despise the emperors. But draw near to the gods and sacrifice, and have pity on yourself, you self-despiser!

Sharbil said: Why should it be requisite for you to ask me many questions, after that which I have said to you: I will not sacrifice? You have called me a self-despiser? But would that from my childhood I had had this mind and had thus despised myself, which was perishing!

The judge said: Hang him up, and tear him with combs on his sides.— And while he was thus torn he cried aloud and said: It is for the sake of Christ, who has secretly caused His light to arise upon the darkness of my mind. And, when he had thus spoken, the judge commanded again that he should be torn with combs on his face.

Sharbil said: It is better that you should inflict tortures upon me for not sacrificing, than that I should be judged there for having sacrificed to the work of men's hands.

The judge said: Let his body be bent backwards, and let straps be tied to his hands and his feet; and, when he has been bent backwards, let him be scourged on his belly.

And they scourged him in this manner, according to the command of the judge.

Then he commanded that he should go up to the prison, and that he should be cast into a dark dungeon. And the executioners, and the Christians who had come up with him from the church, carried him, because he was not able to walk upon his feet in consequence of his having been bent backwards. And he was in the jail many days.

But on the second of Ilul, on the third day of the week, the judge arose and went down to his judgment-hall by night; and the whole body of his attendants was with him; and he commanded the keeper of the prison, and they brought him before him. And the judge said to him: This long while have you been in prison: what has been your determination concerning those things on which you were questioned before me? Do you consent to minister to the gods according to your former custom, agreeably to the command of the emperors?

Sharbil said: This has been my determination in the prison, that that with which I began before you, I will finish even to the last; nor will I play false with my word. For I will not again confess idols, which I have renounced; nor will I renounce the King Christ, whom I have confessed.

The judge said: Hang him up by his right hand, because he has withdrawn it from the gods that he may not again offer incense with it, until his hand with which he ministered to the gods be dislocated, because he persists in this saying of his.

And, while he was suspended by his hand, they asked him and said to him: Do you consent to sacrifice to the gods? But he was not able to return them an answer, on account of the dislocation of his arm. And the judge commanded, and they loosed him and took him down. But he was not able to bring his arm up to his side, until the executioners pressed it and brought it up to his side.

The judge said: Put on incense, and go wherever you will, and no one shall compel you to be a priest again. But, if you will not, I will show you tortures bitterer than these.

Sharbil said: As for gods that made not the heavens and the earth, may they perish from under these heavens! But you, menace me not with words of threatening; but, instead of words, show upon me the deeds of threatening, that I hear you not again making mention of the detestable name of gods!

The judge said: Let him be branded with the brand of bitter fire between his eyes and upon his cheeks.

And the executioners did so, until the smell of the branding reeked forth in the midst of the judgment-hall: but he refused to sacrifice.

Sharbil said: You have heard for yourself from me, when I said to you You are not aware of the smoke of the roasting of the fire which is prepared for those who, like you, confess idols made by hands, and deny the living God, after your fashion.

The judge said: Who taught you all these things, that you should speak before me thus — a man who was a friend of the gods and an enemy of Christ, whereas, lo! You have become his advocate.

Sharbil said: Christ whom I have confessed, He it is that has taught me to speak thus. But there needs not that I should be His advocate, for His own mercies are eloquent advocates for guilty ones like me, and these will avail to plead on my behalf in the day when the sentences shall be eternal.

The judge said: Let him be hanged up, and let him be torn with combs upon his former wounds; also let salt and vinegar be rubbed into the wounds upon his sides. Then he said to him: Renounce not the gods whom you formerly confessed.

Sharbil said: Have pity on me and spare me again from saying that there be gods, and powers, and fates, and nativities. On the contrary, I confess one God, who made the heavens, and the earth, and the seas, and all that is therein; and the Son who is from Him, the King Christ.

The judge said: It is not about this that you are questioned before me — viz.: what is the belief of the Christians which you have confessed; but this is what I said to you, Renounce not those gods to whom you were made priest.

Sharbil said: Where is that wisdom of yours and of the emperors of whom you make your boast, that you worship the work of the hands of the artificers and confess them, while the artificers themselves, who made the idols, you insult by the burdens and imposts which you lay upon them? The artificer stands up at your presence, to do honour to you; and you stand up in the presence of the work of the artificer, and you honour it and worship it.

The judge said: You are not the man to call others to account for these things; but from yourself a strict account is demanded, as to the cause for which you have renounced the gods, and refusest to offer them incense like your fellow priests.

Sharbil said: Death on account of this is true life: those who confess the King Christ, He also will confess before His glorious Father.

The judge said: Let lighted candles be brought, and let them be passed round about his face and about the sides of his wounds. And they did so a long while.

Sharbil said: It is well that you burn me with this fire, that so I may be delivered from that fire which is not quenched, and the worm that dies not, which is threatened to those who worship things made instead of the Maker: for it is forbidden to the Christians to honour or worship anything except the nature of Him who is God Most High. For that which is made and is created is designed to be a worshipper of its Maker, and is not to be worshipped along with its Creator, as you suppose.

The governor said: It is not this for which the emperors have ordered me to demand an account at your hands, whether there be judgment and the rendering of an account after the death of men; nor yet about this do I care, whether that which is made is to be honoured or not to be honoured. What the emperors have commanded me is this: that, whosoever will not sacrifice to the gods and offer incense to them, I should employ against him stripes, and combs, and sharp swords.

Sharbil said: The kings of this world are conscious of this world only; but the King of all kings, He has revealed and shown to us that there is another world, and a judgment in reserve, in which a recompense will be made, on the one hand to those who have served God, and on the other to those who have not served Him nor confessed Him. Therefore do I cry aloud, that I will not again sacrifice to idols, nor will I offer oblations to devils, nor will I do honour to demons!

The judge said: Let nails of iron be driven in between the eyes of the insolent fellow, and let him go to that world which he is looking forward to, like a fanatic.

And the executioners did so, the sound of the driving in of the nails being heard as they were being driven in sharply.

Sharbil said: You have driven in nails between my eyes, even as nails were driven into the hands of the glorious Architect of the creation, and by reason of this did all orders of the creation tremble and quake at that season. For these tortures which lo! You are inflicting on me are nothing in view of that judgment which is to come. For those whose ways are always firm, because they have not the judgment of God before their eyes, and who on this account do not even confess that God exists — neither will He confess them.

The judge said: You say in words that there is a judgment; but I will show you in deeds: so that, instead of that judgment which is to come, you may tremble and be afraid of this one which is before your eyes, in which lo! You are involved, and not multiply your speech before me.

Sharbil said: Whosoever is resolved to set God before his eyes in secret, God will also be at his right hand; and I too am not afraid of your threats of tortures, with which you menace me and seek to make me afraid.

The judge said: Let Christ, whom you have confessed, deliver you from all the tortures which I have inflicted on you, and am about further to inflict on you; and let Him show His deliverance towards you openly, and save you out of my hands.

Sharbil said: This is the true deliverance of Christ imparted to me — this secret power which He has given me to endure all the tortures you are inflicting on me, and whatsoever it is settled in your mind still further to inflict upon me; and, although you have plainly seen it to be so, you have refused to credit my word.

The judge said: Take him away from before me, and let him be hanged upon a beam the contrary way, head downwards; and let him be beaten with whips while he is hanging.

And the executioners did so to him, at the door of the judgment-hall.

Then the governor commanded, and they brought him in before him. And he said to him: Sacrifice to the gods, and do the will of the emperors, you priest that hates honour and loves ignominy instead!

Sharbil said: Why do you again repeat your words, and command me to sacrifice, after the many times that you have heard from me that I will not sacrifice again? For it is not any compulsion on the part of the Christians that has kept me back from sacrifices, but the truth they hold: this it is that has delivered me from the error of paganism.

The judge said: Let him be put into a chest of iron like a murderer, and let him be scourged with thongs like a malefactor.

And the executioners did so, until there remained not a sound place on him.

Sharbil said: As for these tortures, which you suppose to be bitter, out of the midst of their bitterness will spring up for me fountains of deliverance and mercy in the day of the eternal sentences.

The governor said: Let small round pieces of wood be placed between the fingers of his hands, and let these be squeezed upon them vehemently.

And they did so to him, until the blood came out from under the nails of his fingers.

Sharbil said: If your eye be not satisfied with the tortures of the body, add still further to its tortures whatsoever you will.

The judge said: Let the fingers of his hands be loosed, and make him sit upon the ground; and bind his hands upon his knees, and thrust a piece of wood under his knees, and let it pass over the bands of his hands, and hang him up by his feet, thus bent, head downwards; and let him be scourged with thongs.

And they did so to him.

Sharbil said: They cannot conquer who fight against God, nor may they be overcome whose confidence is God; and therefore do I say, that neither fire nor sword, nor death nor life, nor height nor depth, can separate my heart from the love of God, which is in our Lord Jesus Christ.

The judge said: Make hot a ball of lead and of brass, and place it under his armpits.

And they did so, until his ribs began to be seen.

Sharbil said: The tortures you inflict upon me are too little for your rage against me — unless your rage were little and your tortures were great.

The judge said: You will not hurry me on by these things which you say, for I have room in my mind to bear long with you, and to behold every evil and shocking and bitter thing which I shall exhibit in the torment of your body, because you will not consent to sacrifice to the gods whom you formerly worshipped.

Sharbil said: Those things which I have said and repeated before you, you in your unbelief know not how to hear: now, do you suppose that you know those things which are in my mind?

The judge said: The answers which you give will not help you, but will multiply upon you inflictions manifold.

Sharbil said: If the several stories of your several gods are by you accepted as true, yet is it matter of shame to us to tell of what sort they are. For one had intercourse with boys, which is not right; and another fell in love with a maiden, who fled for refuge into a tree, as your shameful stories tell.

The judge said: This fellow, who was formerly a respecter of the gods, but has now turned to insult them and has not been afraid, and has also despised the command of the emperors and has not trembled — set him to stand upon a gridiron heated with fire.

And the executioners did so, until the under part of his feet was burnt off.

Sharbil said: If your rage is excited at my mention of the abominable and obscene tales of your gods, how much more does it become you to be ashamed of their acts! For lo! If a person were to do what one of your gods did, and they were to bring him before you, you would pass sentence of death upon him.

The judge said: This day will I bring you to account for your blasphemy against the gods, and your audacity in insulting also the emperors; nor will I leave you alone until you offer incense to them, according to your former custom.

Sharbil said: Stand by your threats, then, and speak not falsely; and show towards me in deeds the authority of the emperors which they have given you; and do not yourself bring reproach on the emperors with your falsehood, and be yourself also despised in the eyes of your attendants!

The judge said: Your blasphemy against the gods and your audacity towards the emperors have brought upon you these tortures which you are undergoing; and, if you add further to your audacity, there shall be further added to you inflictions bitterer than these.

Sharbil said: You have authority, as judge: do whatsoever you will, and show no pity.

The judge said: How can he that has had no pity on his own body, so as to avoid suffering in it these tortures, be afraid or ashamed of not obeying the command of the emperors?

Sharbil said: You have well said that I am not ashamed: because near at hand is He that justifies me, and my soul is caught up in rapture towards him. For, whereas I once provoked Him to anger by the sacrifices of idols, I am this day pacifying Him by the inflictions I endure in my person: for my soul is a captive to God who became man.

The judge said: It is a captive, then, that I am questioning, and a madman without sense; and with a dead man who is burnt, lo! Am I talking.

Sharbil said: If you are assured that I am mad, question me no further: for it is a madman that is being questioned; nay, rather, I am a dead man who is burnt, as you have said.

The judge said: How shall I count you a dead man, When lo! You have cried aloud, I will not sacrifice?

Sharbil said: I myself, too, know not how to return you an answer, since you have called me a dead man and yet turnest to question me again as if alive.

The judge said: Well have I called you a dead man, because your feet are burnt and you care not, and your face is scorched and you hold your peace, and nails are driven in between your eyes and you take no account of it, and your ribs are seen between the furrows of the combs and you insult the emperors, and your whole body is mangled and maimed with stripes and you blaspheme against the gods; and, because you hate your body, lo! You say whatsoever pleases you.

Sharbil said: If you call me audacious because I have endured these things, it is fit that you, who has inflicted them upon me, should be called a murderer in your acts and a blasphemer in your words.

The judge said: Lo! You have insulted the emperors, and likewise the gods; and lo! You insult me also, in order that I may pronounce sentence of death upon you quickly. But instead of this, which you look for, I am prepared yet further to inflict upon you bitter and severe tortures.

Sharbil said: You know what I have said to you many times: instead of denunciations of threatening, proceed to show upon me the performance of the threat, that you may be known to do the will of the emperors.

The judge said: Let him be torn with combs upon his legs and upon the sides of his thighs.

And the executioners did so, until his blood flowed and ran down upon the ground.

Sharbil said: You have well done in treating me thus: because I have heard that one of the teachers of the Church has said, Scars are on my body, that I may come to the resurrection from the place of the dead. Me too, who was a dead man out of sight, lo! Your inflictions bring to life again.

The judge said: Let him be torn with combs on his face, since he is not ashamed of the nails which are driven in between his eyes.

And they tore him with combs upon his cheeks, and between the nails which were driven into them.

Sharbil said: I will not obey the emperors, who command that to be worshipped and honoured which is not of the nature of God, and is not God in its nature, but is the work of him that made it.

The judge said: Like as the emperors worship, so also worship you; and that honour which the judges render, you render also.

Sharbil said: Even though I insult that which is the work of men and has no perception and no feeling of anything, yet do not thou insult God, the Maker of all, nor worship along with Him that which is not of Him, and is foreign to His nature.

The judge said: Does this your doctrine so teach you, that you should insult the very luminaries which give light to all the regions of the earth?

Sharbil said: Although it is not enjoined upon us to insult them, yet it is enjoined upon us not to worship them nor honour them, seeing that they are things made: for this were an insufferable wrong, that a thing made should be worshipped along with its Maker; and it is an insult to the Maker that His creatures should be honoured along with Himself.

The judge said: Christ whom you confess was hanged on a tree; and on a tree will I hang you, like your Master.

And they hanged him on a tree a long while.

Sharbil said: As for Christ, whom lo! You mock — see how your many gods were unable to stand before Him: for lo! They are despised and rejected, and are made a laughing-stock and a jest by those who used formerly to worship them.

The judge said: How is it that you renounce the gods, and confessest Christ, who was hanged on a tree?

Sharbil said: This cross of Christ is the great boast of the Christians, since it is by this that the deliverance of salvation has come to all His worshippers, and by this that they have had their eyes enlightened, so as not to worship creatures along with the Creator.

The governor said: Let your boasting of the cross be kept within your own mind, and let incense be offered by your hands to the gods.

Sharbil said: Those who have been delivered by the cross cannot any longer worship and serve the idols of error made with hands: for creature cannot worship creature, because it is itself also designed to be a worshipper of Him who made it; and that it should be worshipped along with its Maker is an insult to its Maker, as I have said before.

The governor said: Leave alone your books which have taught you to speak thus, and perform the command of the emperors, that you idle not by the emperors' law.

But Sharbil said: Is this, then, the justice of the emperors, in whom you take such pride, that we should leave alone the law of God and keep their laws?

The governor said: The citation of the books in which you believe, and from which you have quoted — it is this which has brought upon you these afflictions: for, if you had offered incense to the gods, great would have been your honour, like as it was formerly, as priest of the gods.

Sharbil said: To your unbelieving heart these things seem as if they were afflictions; but to the true heart affliction imparts patience, and from it comes also experience, and from experience likewise the hope of the confessor.

The governor said: Hang him up and tear him with combs upon his former wounds.

And, from the fury with which the judge urged on the executioners, his very bowels were almost seen. And, lest he should die under the combs and escape from still further tortures, he gave orders and they took him down.

And, when the judge saw that he was become silent and was not able to return him any further answer, he refrained from him a little while, until he began to revive.

Sharbil said: Why have you had pity upon me for even this little time, and kept me back from the gain of a confessor's death?

The governor said: I have not had pity on you at all in refraining for a little while: your silence it was that made me pause a little; and, if I had power beyond the law of the emperors, I should like to lay other tortures upon you, so as to be more fully avenged on you for your insult toward the gods: for in despising me you have despised the gods; and I, on my part, have borne with you and tortured you thus, as a man who so deserves.

And the judge gave orders, and suddenly the curtain fell before him for a short time; and he settled and drew up the sentence which he should pronounce against him publicly.

And suddenly the curtain was drawn back again; and the judge cried aloud and said: As regards this Sharbil, who was formerly priest of the gods, but has turned this day and renounced the gods, and has cried aloud I am a Christian, and has not trembled at the gods, but has insulted them; and, further, has not been afraid of the emperors and their command; and, though I have bidden him sacrifice to the gods according to his former custom, has not sacrificed, but has treated them with the greatest insult: I have looked into the matter, and decided, that towards a man who does these things, even though he were now to sacrifice, it is not fit that any mercy should be shown; and that it is not fit that he should any longer behold the sun of his lords, because he has scorned their laws. I give sentence that, according to the law of the emperors, a strap be thrust into the mouth of the insulter, as into the mouth of a murderer, and that he depart outside of the city of the emperors with haste, as one who has insulted the lords of the city and the gods who hold authority over it. I give sentence that he be sawn with a saw of wood, and that, when he is near to die, then his head be taken off with the sword of the headsmen.

And immediately a strap was thrust into his mouth with all speed, and the executioners hurried him off, and made him run quickly upon his burnt feet, and took him away outside of the city, a crowd of people running after him. For they had been standing looking on at his trial all day, and wondering that he did not suffer under his afflictions: for his countenance, which was cheerful, testified to the joy of his heart. And, when the executioners arrived at the place where he was to receive the punishment of death, the people of the city were with them, that they might see whether they did according as the judge had commanded, and hear what Sharbil might say at that season, so that they might inform the judge of the country.

And they offered him some wine to drink, according to the custom of murderers to drink. But he said to them: I will not drink, because I wish to feel the saw with which you saw me, and the sword which you pass over my neck; but instead of this wine, which will not be of any use to me, give me a little time to pray, while you stand. And he stood up, and looked toward the east, and lifted up his voice and said: Forgive me, Christ, all the sins I have committed against You, and all the times in which I have provoked You to anger by the polluted sacrifices of dead idols; and have pity on me and save me, and deliver me from the judgment to come; and be merciful to me, as You were merciful to the robber; and receive me like the penitents who have been converted and have turned to You, as You also have turned to them; and, whereas I have entered into Your vineyard, at the eleventh hour, instead of judgment, deliver me from justice: let Your death, which was for the sake of sinners, restore to life again my slain body in the day of Your coming.

And, when the Sharirs of the city heard these things, they were very angry with the executioners for having given him leave to pray.

And, while the nails were remaining which had been driven in between his eyes, and his ribs were seen between the wounds of the combs, and while from the burning on his sides and the soles of his feet, which were scorched and burnt, and from the gashes of the combs on his face, and on his sides, and on his thighs, and on his legs, the blood was flowing and running down, they brought carpenters' instruments, and thrust him into a wooden vice, and tightened it upon him until the bones of his joints creaked with the pressure; then they put upon him a saw of iron, and began sawing him asunder; and, when he was just about to die, because the saw had reached to his mouth, they smote him with the sword and took off his head, while he was still squeezed down in the vice.

And Babai his sister drew near and spread out her skirt and caught his blood; and she said to him: May my spirit be united with your spirit in the presence of Christ, whom you have known and believed.

And the Sharirs of the city ran and came and informed the judge of the things which Sharbil had uttered in his prayer, and how his sister had caught his blood. And the judge commanded them to return and give orders to the executioners that, on the spot where she had caught the blood of her brother, she also should receive the punishment of death. And the executioners laid hold on her, and each one of them severally put her to torture; and, with her brother's blood upon her, her soul took its flight from her, and they mingled her blood with his. And, when the executioners were entered into the city, the brethren and young men ran and stole away their two corpses; and they laid them in the burial-place of the father of Abshelama the bishop, on the fifth of Ilul, the eve of the Sabbath.

I wrote these Acts on paper — I, Marinus, and Anatolus, the notaries; and we placed them in the archives of the city, where the papers of the kings are placed.

This Barsamya, the bishop, made a disciple of Sharbil the priest. And he lived in the days of Binus, bishop of Rome; in whose days the whole population of Rome assembled together, and cried out to the prætor of their city, and said to him: There are too many strangers in this our city, and these cause famine and dearness of everything: but we beseech you to command them to depart out of the city. And, when he had commanded them to depart out of the city, these strangers assembled themselves together, and said to the prætor: We beseech you, my lord, command also that the bones of our dead may depart with us. And he commanded them to take the bones of their dead, and to depart. And all the strangers assembled themselves together to take the bones of Simon Cephas and of Paul, the apostles; but the people of Rome said to them: We will not give you the bones of the apostles. And the strangers said to them: Learn ye and understand that Simon, who is called Cephas, is of Bethsaida of Galilee, and Paul the apostle is of Tarsus, a city of Cilicia. And, when the people of Rome knew that this matter was so, then they let them alone. And, when they had taken them up and were removing them from their places, immediately there was a great earthquake; and the buildings of the city were on the point of falling down, and the city was near being overthrown. And, when the people of Rome saw it, they turned and besought the strangers to remain in their city, and that the bones might be laid in their places again. And, when the bones of the apostles were returned to their places, there was quietness, and the earthquakes ceased, and the winds became still, and the air became bright, and the whole city became cheerful. And when the Jews and pagans saw it, they also ran and fell at the feet of Fabianus, the bishop of their city, the Jews crying out: We confess Christ, whom we crucified: He is the Son of the living-God, of whom the prophets spoke in their mysteries. And the pagans also cried out and said to him: We renounce idols and carved images, which are of no use, and we believe in Jesus the King, the Son of God, who has come and is to come again. And, what ever other doctrines there were in Rome and in all Italy, the followers of these also renounced their doctrines, like as the pagans had renounced theirs, and confessed the Gospel of the apostles, which was preached in the church.

Here end the Acts of Sharbil the confessor.

About this page

Source. Translated by B.P. Pratten. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <>.

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