The following was written and published at Joshua’s story site: Telling the Stories that Matter.
Potamiana was a Christian in Alexandria, Egypt, in the year 205 A.D. But Potamiana’s faith amounted to far more than conviction and tolerated practice. No, faith for Potamiana was a likely death sentence. After all, the prefects and rulers of Roman Alexandria were more than willing to execute Rome’s harshest forms of punishment upon those that Rome had declared enemies of the State–such as Christians who refused to make sacrifices to the Roman gods and values. So, Potamiana was condemned to suffer and die for her faith when she continued to abstain from the commanded idolatry of Rome. The prefect wanted Potamiana to be boiled to death in pitch slowly but he first wanted the woman to be raped by some gladiators because of her continued insistence that she was consecrated to celibacy by her faith in a foreign power: her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So, she was placed into the hands and care of one of the Roman soldiers, one that the prefect trusted and who had become known as something of a loyal official within the court, named Basilides. Basilides was willing to make sacrifice before the idols and values of Rome and was given his charge over Potamiana so that she might suffer and die for her refusal.
Basilides took her from the court of the prefect and knew that she was first to go and be raped before being taken to the place of her public and gory execution. On the way, though, Basilides began to have second thoughts about the brutality of his orders. She had kept her virginity as a type of offering before the Christian God she worshiped and although Basilides didn’t have the same reverence for her God he respected the tenacity she held. She showed unexpected bravery for a woman facing certain, gruesome death. So, Basilides did something very surprising–perhaps because he was ashamed at the idea of having the woman raped in addition to executed, perhaps because he wanted to get the whole thing over with sooner rather than later, or perhaps because he wanted to show Potamiana mercy–he bypassed the gladiators and took her directly to the spot of her death. Potamiana thanked Basilides and returned to her prayers as they walked to Rome’s bloody altar where she would be turned over to death in the name of the Roman values and convictions. The crowds screamed at her and insulted this traitor to Rome as she walked the last few hundred yards. Basilides commanded the worst of them to stop and they did, for the most part. When they tried to throw stones and garbage at her he stepped in between her and the crowd knowing that none of these crowd would have the courage to throw such things at an emissary of the Empire. Once Potamiana was handed over for execution she was slowly lowered into a cauldron of burning pitch but she thanked Basilides for his kindness and mercy and promised that she would pray for him and for his conversion.
Potamiana died a martyr and Basilides went home shaken by her words and bravery. She had faced death without a tremor of fear and with a confidence that he wasn’t certain he and others could have mustered in a similar situation. The love and forgiveness she had offered to those around her even as she was shown nothing but brutality and hatred haunted his thoughts. She had called his actions merciful even though Basilides was still leading her to her death in chains. A few nights after her death he a dream wherein Potamiana appeared and assured him that she was still praying for him and that she would gladly welcome him when he followed after her. Basilides knew what she meant and in the morning he sought out a priest and was converted to the faith of Potamiana and away from the faith of the empire. He knew intimately that there was a cost associated with such an audacious act but he paid it willingly. After his baptism, he went to his fellow soldiers and proclaimed his new found faith to them. At first they thought he was joking but their laughter turned to amazement when he insisted that he was telling the truth. Being loyal to the gods and values of Rome they turned him over to their rulers so that they might not incur Rome’s condemnation themselves. Basilides was beheaded for being convinced of the faith of the one he had escorted to death–a faith that offered mercy even for the greatest of sinners and forgiveness and love even for enemies.