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Little is known about Saints Nereus and Achilleus, but we know is engraved in stone. Damasus, one of the first popes and later a saint himself, wrote the epitaph for the tombstone of Saints Nereus and Achilleus. In this epitath he proclaimed that it was love for Christ and a desire to witness to their new faith that inspired Nereus and Achilleus to “throw away their shields, their armor, and their bloody spears.”
It seems that both men were Roman soldiers who obeyed orders in the persecution of Christians until they themselves were converted to Christianity. Because Christians were not allowed to bear arms, they resigned from the emperor’s army and escaped from Rome. Eventually Nereus and Achilleus were captured and put to death for their beliefs. They were among the first martyrs to be venerated as saints.
“O miracle of faith!” wrote Damasus. “Suddenly they cease from their fury, they become converted, they flee from the camp of their wicked leader. Professing the faith of Christ, they are happy to witness to its triumph. Learn from the words of Damasus what great things the glory of Christ can accomplish.”
Excerpted from Saints and Feast Days, by Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio