The martyr belonged to a deeply religious family from the province of Ashmounin, an area that was blessed
during the first century by the visit of the Virgin Mary with her son Jesus the King along with Saint Joseph during
their trip to Egypt, following the Angel’s directive (Matthew 2:13). Later on, this same place became a fountain of
blessings and a fertile field drenched with the blood of many martyrs.
Ashmounin is an area that belongs to Malawi in Upper Egypt. The Saint was born in this area, in a town
called Ebshadat, close to Hor. He was a member of an upright family that was rich in love and faith. That is why his
family named him after the holy cross that our Savior was crucified upon; “Bistavros”. His parents raised him to love
the holy Church and educated him in all its treasures. They taught him their occupation; trading. He helped them in
earning their living and in helping the poor.
Bistavros was taught the love of God and virtues since his childhood. He was an avid reader of the
Scriptures and found great pleasure in Church hymns and praises. He was very proud and enthusiastic about his name, which lead him to the love of the cross and of the Crucified, up to the degree that he always desired to be martyred
like his Savior.
HIS LOVE FOR SAINTS:
He felt close friendship with the saints of the Church. He used to read their stories and try to imitate their
virtues and their strong faith; especially those of the Mother of God, whose intercessions he always sought in his life, as
well as those of the Archangel Michael.
HIS LOVE FOR VIRGINITY:
Bistavros grew hungry for divine knowledge. Love of Christ and disinterest in worldly matters took deep
root in his soul. He always remembered the Apostle’s words “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be
spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God” (Romans 8:6,7)
He loved virginity and longed for a life in the desert. His parents, however, did not let him fulfill his blessed desires; they compelled him to marry one of his relatives, hoping that God may grant them good offspring to continue their love of the Church and their good deeds. But the psalmist says, “May the Lord grant you according to your hearts desire.” (Ps. 20:4). Since the first moments of his marriage, Bistavros found that his upright wife felt his sincere desires and encouraged him to live in virginity, and in this way God answered his desires. God helped them keep their virginity and the Angel of the Lord overshadowed them.
HIS DEPARTURE TO THE DESERT:
Bistavros gradually grew in the grace of God. His spiritual stature became stronger as his desire to sit under
the cross and drink from the fountain of God’s love grew. Bistavros wanted to depart to the desert. His wife encouraged him and asked God to be his guide in his quest to follow the path that pleased God. He left, saying with the psalmist David, “Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; Your spirit is good. Lead me in the land of uprightness.” (Ps. 143:10). He wandered in the desert, for monastery to monastery, enjoying fully the fellowship of the saints and the ascetics he met in those places.
“MAY THE LORD SEND YOU HELP FROM HIS SANCTUARY”:
In spite of the life of the uprightness that his parents lived in, they did not bear the courageous way he took
to leave the world. They rushed hurriedly looking for him in the monasteries. Finally they found him and tried to
convince him to come back with them, but they found him unwilling to follow their advice. So they tied him with iron
chains to force him to come with them and go back to his house. They were very amazed to see God intervene. They
watched, surprised, as the chains on his hands and feet opened and fell down by themselves without anybody touching
them. They knew right away that it was God’s will for him to pursue this holy and ascetic life, and that the strength of
Christ living in him was the force that undid the chains. So they asked him to grant him blessings and purify his life.
They also asked him to mention them in his prayers.
HIS ASCETIC LIFE:
Bistavros felt great joy within himself. He was confident that Gods hand was working with him. He recalled
the psalmist’s words, “May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble; May the name of the God of Jacob defend
you.” (Ps. 20:1). He increased in his prayers, fasted day and night, offering his body as a sacrifice to Christ the Lord,
who elected him while he was still in his mother’s womb. He used to ask the intercessions of the pure Virgin Saint
Mary in order to prepare for him the way to martyrdom which he always longed for.
A HEAVENLY APPARITION:
One night, most of which he had already spent in prayer and praises; he saw a vision that made him
extremely joyous and happy. He saw Saint Mary, the Mother of Light, robed in a dress of light. She greeted him and
announced to him that his wish would be fulfilled, and that the crown of martyrdom in the name of her son was ready
for him. She assured him that the Archangel Michael would guard him throughout his martyrdom.
THE SEARCH FOR THE CROWN OF MARTYRDOM:
Bistavros was encouraged with this joyful vision. His spiritual strength was reinforced throughout this
heavenly declaration. He started going from one place to another looking for the crown of martyrdom. He did not
limit his quest to the desert, but he went to towns and villages witnessing in the name of Christ the Lord and openly
declaring his faith. The devil was enraged and the matter was bought to the attention of the governor of Upper Egypt
who considered what Bistavros was doing as a provocative action and called him for questioning.
THE TRIAL OF THE SAINT:
When the Governor questioned him, the Saint declared his faith. He became very angry and ordered that he
1. HIS BEATING:
The hostile mob heaped false accusations and charges against the Saint. The soldiers beat him, mocked him,
ridiculed him, and tortured him severely. In spite of all this the Saint remained calm, enduring everything with
patience and forbearance.
2. HIS STONING:
The Governor was very angry because of his calmness. He ordered that he be bound with chains and stoned.
The mob along with the soldiers attacked him and started throwing stones at him. While the stones were falling on
him, his face radiated with joy and happiness. His mind was in the heavens. Suddenly, the Archangel Michael appeared
to him, spreading his wings around him, healing all his wounds, and wiping away his pains and sufferings.
3. IN THE PRISON:
Then they took him to prison. He chanted in his heart with the apostle saying: “For to me, to live is Christ,
and to die is to gain…having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” (Phil. 1:21, 23). They chained him, but yet he was happy and joyful. The jailer, however, was surprised to find that every time he
chained him, the chains undone by themselves. The amazement was even greater as the jailer’s wife watched
through the window and saw how the chains were undone from his feet and his hands. She saw an unbelievable scene:
Saint Bistavros standing during prayer in the night, and a lady that was brighter than the sun was with him. She heard
her call his name and encourage him to persevere in his sufferings and bravery. She told him, “ Be patient my son
Bistavros. You are going to earn the crown of martyrdom.” She also told him that the Archangel Michael is going to
guard him and be with him until he completes his blessed pursuit. The jailer’s wife was startled and ran to her husband
telling him what she saw. Her husband told her, “Don’t you know that Bistavros is a sorcerer and a magician. I knew
that because every time I chained him, I came back the next day and I found the chains were undone on their own.
4. HIS TRANSFER TO CAIRO:
Several days passed and Saint Bistavros was still in prison, thanking the Lord Jesus who made him worthy to
suffer for his holy name. Finally the judge ordered his transfer, in chains and with police escort, to Cairo. The
policemen were filed with fear when they heard his story and especially the apparitions that he saw in the prison. They
wanted to let him go so he could get away from the rulers’ cruelty and at the same time they were planning to run
away themselves.. The Saint did not concur with this plan. He asserted to them that longs for the torture that he may
get in the name of Christ who promised that “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with
the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18
WITH HIS MOTHER, BROTHERS AND SISTERS:
Before leaving to Cairo, the governor called his mother, sisters, and brothers to see him one last time. He
was hoping that they could influence him. They met him on the boat and were anguished to see Bistavros in such a
condition; being chained as if he were a murderer or a criminal. His eyes, however, were radiant with the inner peace
that filled him. When they saw these, they bade him goodbye and said to him, “Peace be with you our beloved son.
Pray for us to Christ our Lord. May the support of Saint Mary be with you until you complete your endeavor in
peace”. Then they left him.
The boat left for Cairo. The trip was rough and hard, but the Saint continually prayed and praised God. He
was happy to be worthy of suffering and martyrdom in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. The trip in the boat took
several days and he did not eat or drink anything during this time. His guard watched him all night praying to a lady
dressed in bright light. He did not recognize that this was the Virgin Mary.
When they reached Cairo, the soldiers took him to some of his fellow believers in order to pay for him boat
trip. When they knew what happened to him, they received him with great joy. They paid for his trip and gave him
food to eat. He thanked them and asked Christ to bless them and reward them in his heavenly kingdom.
WITH HIS SISTER:
After that his guard took him to his sister, hoping she could make him change his mind through her tears and
emotions. But when she saw him she cried and started encouraging and strengthening him. She prayed to the Lord
Jesus Christ to reward him for all the suffering that he was happily enduring for his name. She also asked her brother
to remember her in his prayers.
FACING THE KING EL-ASHRAF QUONSOWA EL-GHORY:
The guard took Saint Bistavros to the Governor who tried to win Bistavros to his side through sweet words
and tempting promises. When this did not work he resorted to warnings of severe punishment. He asked him about
his beliefs and about what he told the Governor of Upper Egypt. Saint Bistavros declared with great courage and
firmness his belief in Christ his Lord. He did not deny any of what he had previously declared, holding firmly to what
Jesus said, “Therefore whoever confess Me before men, him I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven”
Matt 10:32. The next day the Governor took him to the King El-Ashraf Quonsowa El-Ghory, who was sitting with a
number of his generals and warriors. When they bought him in front of the king, he was filled with spiritual joy and
said to himself that Jesus taught us “not to fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, but rather to fear him
who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” Matt 10:28 and that “he who endures to the end will be saved”
Matt 10:22. Therefore he was not intimidated by the king or the people around him. He was full of confidence and
courage and did not hesitate to declare his faith in an unwavering firmness in spite all of the warning. The king told
him, “ You, Christian, hear me and listen to my advice. Leave you faith of your forefathers and I will forgive you.”
Bistavros however, answered resolutely, “I am a Christian who worships my Lord and my Savior Jesus Christ.
Everything they told you and wrote to you about me is true and I believe in it with all my heart and feelings.” The
king was filled with anger and immediately gave his orders to turn him over to the courts to punish him. When the
court listened to his confession in the name of Christ, it ordered that he be tortured and then executed. It appointed a
Mameluke Emir to execute this judgment.
5. HIS CRUCIFIXION ON TOP OF A CAMEL:
Following the orders of the Emir, they crucified Bistavros to a wooden cross, tied him to the back of a camel
and they walked down the streets of Cairo with him, announcing to the people in a loud voice what he had confessed
in front of the judges, governors and the king. Bistavros was full of inner peace and joy because the time now had
come to experience the nails that were nailed to the hands and feet of the Savior; a feeling that he wanted to
experience for a long time. His face reflected his inner happiness and was radiant with light, so that his face looked
more like an angel’s face.
Be glad and joyful, o Bistavros, the great Martyr,
because the time is near, the hour of freeing your body from
all earthly ties is imminent. This is the moment that you
desired to experience for a long time. Now the promise that
St. Mary promised you is about to be fulfilled.
6. HIS BEHEADING:
After they concluded all the torturing and tormenting of the Saint he was still alive. They took him down
from the cross and tried one last time to make him abandon his faith in return for not killing him. He answered them
firmly, “God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. I lived as a Christian, i am
going to die as a Christian carrying the name of my Lord Jesus”. At that time he heard a divine voice telling him, “
You suffered enough for me my dear and beloved son Bistavros.” The judge then ordered that he be beheaded by the
sword. The Saint tilted his neck in anticipation of a victorious departure from this world. With all his strength, the
soldier beheaded Saint Bistavros. This was a 6:00 o’clock Monday, Kiahk 3rd, 1229 Anno Martyro (November 29,
1512 A.D. according to the Gregorian calendar, or December 12, 1512 according to the present Julian Calendar).
The Archangel Michael, along with the angels and martyrs carried his spirit to the heavens where he was crowned
with the crown of Glory. That was the anniversary day of the entrance of St. Mary to the Sanctuary when she was
three years old. Therefore, his day of martyrdom coincided with one of the feast days of his dear mother, the Virgin
7. THE ATTEMPT TO BURN HIS BODY:
After beheading the Saint, they made a bid pile of firewood and lighted a big fire. They threw his holy body
into the fire and left it there three days but the body did not burn. Through God’s intervention, some of the believers
were able to take the body and take it to the Pope Abba Yoannis the 13th, the 94th Pope in the chain of our Coptic
Patriarch’s. He received him with great honor worthy of martyrs. He wrapped him in a precious shroud and ordered
that his body be carried to the various churches so that people could get blessed by him. Finally, he placed the body in
the old historical Church of St. Mary at Haret Zouweila, Cairo.
Be glad and joyful, O you Christ-loving people, This
pure and precious stone and this priceless gem which is the body
of the new martyr Saint Bistavros is the source of healing the
sick, comfort to those in hardship and refuge of safety for everyone
who comes to the Church. May his blessings be with us all, Amen.
Through God’s grace, the people of Malawi now enjoy the blessings of Saint Bistavros. His Holiness Pope
Shenouda the Third authorized the transfer of parts of the relics to St. Mary’s Church in Ebshadat, Malawi, the
birthplace of the martyr. This took place during the first anniversary of my ordination as bishop of Malawi, Baona
15, 1703 Anno Martyro (June 22, 1987 A.D.). May the blessings of the Mother of Light and the Archangel Michael
and the prayers of the new martyr Saint Bistavros and His Holiness Pope Shenouda the Third be with us. Glory be
to our God forever, Amen.