Polyeuctus was a soldier during the reign of Roman emperor Decius (249-251) and suffered martyrdom for his faith under the rule of Valerian (253-259). Polyeuctus was a friend of a fellow Christian and soldier, Nearchos. Polyeuctus was a virtuous man, but remained a pagan. Under the influence of Nearchos, Polyeutus gained faith in the King of Heaven.
When the persecution against Christians began, Nearchos said to Polyeuctus, "Friend, we shall soon be separated, for they will take me to torture, and you alas, will renounce your friendship with me." Polyeuctus told him that he had seen Christ in a dream, who took his soiled military cloak from him and dressed him in a radiant garment. "Now," he said, "I am prepared to serve the Lord Jesus Christ." This was so, even though he had yet to be immersed in the healing water of Holy Baptism.
Symeon Metaphrastes wrote that St Polyeuctus, enflamed with zealous Christian love, went to the city square and tore up the edict of Decius which required everyone to worship idols. A few moments later, he met a procession carrying twelve idols through the streets of the city. He dashed the idols to the ground and trampled them underfoot. His father-in-law, the magistrate Felix, who was responsible for enforcing the imperial edict, was horrified at what St Polyeuctus had done and declared that he had to die for this. "Go, bid farewell to your wife and children," said Felix. Polyeuctus was tortured as an inducement. Polyectus' wife Paulina came and entreated him to renounce Christ. His father-in-law Felix also wept, but Polyeuctus remained steadfast in his resolve to suffer as a witness for Christ.
It is said that he was joyous as he bent his head beneath the executioner’s sword and was baptized in his own blood. Soon, when the Church had triumphed throughout all the Roman Empire, due to Emperor Constantine’s victory and edits of toleration, a church was built at Meletine to honor the holy Martyr Polyeuctus. Many miracles were worked through the intercession of St Polyeuctus. In this very church the parents of St Euthymius the Great prayed fervently for a son. The birth of this great luminary of Orthodoxy in the year 376 occurred through the help of the holy Martyr Polyeuctus.
St Polyeuctus was also venerated by St Acacius, Bishop of Meletine, a participant in the Third Ecumenical Council, and a great proponent of Orthodox faith. In the East, and also in the West, the holy Martyr Polyeuctus is venerated as a patron saint of vows and treaty agreements.
The life of the saint has inspired hymnists and artists. For example, The Polyeucte Overture of French composer Paul Dukas is only one of many pieces of classical music inspired by the saint. It premiered in January of 1892. Also, French dramatist Pierre Corneille wrote a play, Polyeucte (1642), based on the martyr's life. His Acts are extant, as recorded by Metaphrastes, and are well known for their beauty and poignancy.
The Church of St. Polyeuctus was dedicated at Constantinople by Anicia Juliana in 524-527. The excavations of the 1960s revealed that, at the time of the Emperor Justinian's ascension to the throne, the basilica was the largest in Constantinople and that it featured some remarkably beautiful gilded reliefs of peacocks, as well as much oriental detail. His feast day is February 13 in the Catholic calendar. In the Eastern Orthodox liturgics, his feast falls on January 9. His feast day was January 7 in the ancient Armenian calendars.
Nearchos was a witness to his friend's martyrdom. As he was led to the sword, Polyeuctus saw Nearchos in the crowd and called out "Save your soul, my dear soul friend! Remember the vow of love between us!" The baptized Nearchos was to follow his friend Polyeuctus, now baptized in blood, in martydom by being burned to death. His feast day is April 22.
Kontakion of St. Polyeuktos in the Fourth Tone
When the Saviour bowed His head within the Jordan, there He crushed the dragons' heads; as for His trophy-bearing Saint, when Polyeuctus's head was cut off, he put to shame the deceiver and wily foe.