Six centuries after Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar followed the star and brought gifts to the Christ child, another magus learned of Christ, believed, and gave his life for his faith.
Magundat, a Persian, was the son of a magician, who had taught him all the practices of his art. Magundat and his brother were serving in the Persian army in 614 at the time that King Chosroës took Jerusalem and carried off the true Cross of Christ. Magundat’s natural inquisitiveness made him curious about a piece of wood that could be so important and he saw many Christian things in Jerusalem which aroused his interest.
Returning to Persia after being discharged from the army, he settled in Hierapolis, taking lodging with a silversmith who was a Persian Christian. From this man, and through the icons which he saw, Magundat learned the stories of our faith and how to pray to the Holy Trinity. When he progressed to the point that he desired baptism, Magundat’s host advised him to leave Hierapolis, which was more closely ruled by the Persians, so he returned to Jerusalem. There, the priest Modestus was serving as the spiritual leader of the Christians since Chosroës had taken Patriarch Zachary captive into Persia.
Magundat completed his catechumenate with Modestus and took the name Anastasius, signifying his rising to new life, at his baptism. In the fervor of his conversion, Anastasius decided to become a monk, and was accepted as a postulant in a nearby monastery by the Abbot, Justin. After living the monastic life for some time (and memorizing the Psalter), Anastasius was tonsured in the year 621, seven years after seeing the Cross of our Lord.
The next seven years, the monk Anastasius spent in the life of devotion and service in the monastery, striving to combat the temptations to magic and superstition which the devil sent in remembrance of his earlier life. He then began a journey to visit more holy places associated with our Lord’s life and that of his holy mother. At Caesarea (then ruled by the Persians), he witnessed some Persian soothsayers practicing their fortune-telling in the street, and he reprimanded them for their superstitious practices. When they accused him of being a spy, he told them that he had once been a magus like them, but that he had become a follower of Christ. They immediately had him arrested and imprisoned and soon brought before the governor for interrogation. The governor offered him great honors, considering the high position of magi in Persia, if he would renounce his “foolish” conversion to Christianity. But Anastasius boldly professed his faith and so was chained at the neck and foot to another prisoner and commanded to carry heavy stones. He was ridiculed by the other Persians as a traitor to his country and culture. Kicking and beating him, plucking out his beard hairs, they also added more weight to his load of stones. When he was beaten by soldiers, Anastasius asked to remove his monk’s habit so that it would not be defiled by such treatment.
The governor reported his troubles with the former magus and soldier to Chosroës, the king, who suggested that all he had to do was verbally renounce Christ – it wouldn’t matter what he actually believed in his heart as long as he publicly went along with the accepted beliefs. Anastasius was not tempted by this offer, so he was ordered to be sent to the king for execution.
Abbot Justin heard of the sufferings of the monk Anastasius and sent two other monks to assist him in whatever way they could. One of the monks traveled with Anastasius to his martyrdom and later relayed the details so that others might know the story. All along the journey to Barsaloe, in Assyria, where the king was, Anastasius was greeted by local Christians who encouraged him and who were, in turn, made stronger in their faith by his perseverance. On September 14, through the intercession of the local tax-collector, who was a Christian, Anastasius was given permission to attend divine services in church. This day, which after the recovery of the Cross by the Emperor Heraclius became the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, was at this time celebrated as the day of dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
Arriving in Barsaloe, Anastasius was put in prison to await the formality of a trial before the king. The jailer was a Christian, and he allowed all the local Christians to visit Anastasius in his cell. Once again, Anastasius was offered great rewards for returning to the religion of his country and forsaking Christianity, but as before, the monk was steadfast. He declared that he could not be tempted away from eternal salvation by the worldly riches and position offered by a king who would also soon die.
St. Anastasius was forced to witness the strangulation of all the other condemned prisoners before he himself was killed in the same way. The bodies of those executed were left exposed to be devoured by wild dogs, but St. Anastasius’ body was untouched and taken by the Christians to the monastery of St. Sergius nearby. His fellow monk who had traveled with him, retrieved his tunic. St. Anastasius’ relics were eventually taken to Constantinople and then to Rome.
As the first Magi had been brought to Christ by the shining of a star, St. Anastasius had begun his journey of faith through the power of the Holy Cross. He received the crown of martyrdom on January 22, 628. Ten days later, the Emperor Heraclius entered Persia, and the following year, he triumphantly returned the Cross to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. We adore thee, O Christ, and we bless thee, because by thy Cross thou hast redeemed the world.