A Heavenly Intercessor for those outside the Church
One often hears converts to Orthodoxy express their sorrow that there is, no Orthodox service that a priest can serve on behalf of their beloved relatives and friends who have departed this life outside the Church. They feel the inadequacy of their own prayers, and look without much hope for guidance and help. Owing to the widespread apostacy in Russia under the Communists, this feeling is now very common there amongst those who have remained faithful. In response to this, an age-old tradition, fallen into disuse, has been revived. There is someone in Heaven whose prayers are very strong, wanting and willing to help in such cases - the 4th century martyr St. Varus!
How did this tradition begin? St Varus was an officer in the Roman army in Egypt, a secret Christian, who frequently visited a group of imprisoned Christians, supplying their every need. He greatly admired their courage, feeling he would never himself have the strength to bear torture. However, through the prayers of these Christians, he finally gained courage and offered himself as a sacrifice along with them. He was cut to pieces with knives and thrown onto a dung heap, from where a Christian woman, Cleopatra, took his body secretly. Her husband was also an officer in the Roman army and had recently been killed. She was granted permission to take his body back to her home in Palestine. Instead, wishing to honour the martyr, she took the body of the holy martyr Varus, buried his relics in her family vault, and built a church there dedicated to him. Gradually he became known throughout the region as a great healer and wonderworker.
Cleopatra herself prayed there frequently with great devotion, especially for her only son, John, who had just gone into the army. To her great grief, the young man died shortly afterwards and she went to the tomb, bitterly complaining that the saint had not answered her prayers. That night the saint appeared to her in a dream, together with her son, both of them radiant with glory. "You asked me to beg God to grant John whatever was most pleasing to Him and beneficial for you both. He has taken him into His heavenly army, where he serves with great joy. How can you complain? Would you rather keep him for the army of an earthly king? Your prayers to me are always remembered. Moreover I have prayed for all your relatives, buried with me in the vault, that although they died outside the Church, all their sins would be forgiven, and God has heard my prayers."
Cleopatra's joy was unbounded, and she passed on the good news to everyone. From that revelation in her vision, the custom grew up of begging St Varus' prayers for deceased relatives and friends, whatever their faith.
Here is the special prayer to Saint Varus:
O Holy, wondrous Martyr Varus, who, burning with zeal for the Heavenly King, didst confess Him before thy torturers and didst greatly suffer for Him! Now the Church doth venerate thee, as one glorified with the glory of heaven by Christ the Lord, Who granted thee the abundant grace to approach Him boldly. And now, standing before Him together with the Angels, rejoicing on high, beholding the Most Holy Trinity clearly, and enjoying the Uncreated Light, remember the suffering of our relatives who have died outside the Faith, and accept our pleas, and as thou didst intercede for the unbelieving ancestors of Cleopatra and didst free them from eternal suffering, remember those who have died unbaptized and have been buried in an ungodly manner, and pray earnestly that they may be delivered from eternal darkness, that we may all, with one mouth and one heart, praise the Most Merciful Creator unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Saint Varus is celebrated on October 19th
His Akathist can be found here.
A more detailed account of the Saints' life can be found here.