Saints of the Day – Nicephorus of Antioch

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Died 260. Saint Nicephorus was martyred in Antioch under Valerian. The known acta may be pious fiction designed to teach the need to forgive injuries. They tell us that Nicephorus had a long- time, close friend, a priest named Sapricius. The two had a falling out, which turned friendship into hatred. After a long time, Nicephorus reflected upon the grievousness of the sin of hatred, and resolved to seek a reconciliation. Because Sapricius would not talk to him, he asked some mutual friends to go to Sapricius to beg his pardon and promise him satisfaction for the injury done him.

The priest refused to forgive him. Again, Nicephorus tried a second and a third time to forge a reconciliation. Sapricius was inflexible. He had shut his heart to Christ’s command to forgive others in order that the Father might forgive us. Finally, to no avail, Nicephorus himself went to his former friend, cast himself at Sapricius’s feet, and begged forgiveness.

At that time, 260 AD, another persecution of Christians was raging. Sapricius was arrested, examined, and tortured in an attempt to make him apostatize. The words of Sapricius were commendable. Sapricius received the sentence of beheading with seeming cheerfulness. On his way to the place of execution, he was met by Nicephorus, who caste himself at the priest’s feet: “Martyr of Jesus Christ, forgive me my offense.” But Sapricius would not 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, begged pardon for the injury caused by 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: “I’ve never seen a greater fool than you who are so solicitous for the pardon of a man on the verge of execution.” 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. At the same time the devil was working in other ways. Sapricius apostatized at the last moment. Nicephorus, taken aback, demurred, “Brother, what are you doing? Don’t renounce Jesus Christ our good Master! Don’t forfeit the crown you have already won by your sufferings!” But Sapricius paid no attention.

Then with tears of bitter anguish for Sapricius, Nicephorus confessed that he was a Christian and was ready to die in place of Sapricius. Everyone there was astonished. At first the officers of justice were uncertain how to proceed. Nicephorus was executed by the sword and won for himself three immortal crowns, namely, of faith, humility, and charity (Benedictines, Husenbeth).

Saint Nicephorus is usually portrayed at his martyrdom: He is either in a tub or a barrel and pierced through (Roeder).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 17 May 2020. Web. 28 February 2021. <>