A ‘tour of hell’ in the Martyrdom of St Philotheus of Antioch
The Martyrdom of St Philotheus of Antioch has come down to us in two main versions – Coptic and Georgian – of which the Coptic is much longer due to the addition of some extra episodes mainly dedicated to different miraculous events in the martyr’s story: there are magi, dragons, demons and even walking statues, and the account, relatively sober in Georgian, has a much more fantastic character in Coptic. One of the most interesting parts of the narrative is the episode which relates the events that led to the repentance and conversion of Philotheus’ parents, Antiochian pagans of noble birth and great wealth. The following chain of events can be derived from all different versions of the Martyrdom: the boy is brought to offer a sacrifice to the mysterious calf which his parents worship; the calf has a conversation with Philotheus and then receives permission from Philotheus to kill his parents; it attacks them and gores them to death; the parents are left to lie dead and unburied for three days until Philotheus finally revives them. They repent of their previous idolatry and receive baptism from a Christian priest. Since this episode appears to be one of the focal points of the Coptic liturgical hymns in honour of St Philotheus and is clearly very important for the construction of the Martyrdom of St Philotheus and further development of his cult in the Coptic Church, it deserves a closer attention, as it provides yet another opportunity for dating and placing the Martyrdom of St Philotheus in a broader context of contemporary Coptic literature.