St. Fabianus, or Fabian, Bishop and Martyr of Old Rome, commemorated traditionally in the Orthodox West along with the Holy Martyr Sebastian, on January 20th, has many mentions of his deeds and acts by ancient authors. From the early 7th century “Liber Pontificalis” [i.e. the book recording various deeds and actions of the Orthodox Bishops of Old Rome] we can gather the following material and state the following few facts:
Fabianus, by nationality a Roman, son of Fabius, occupied the see of Old Rome for 14 years. He was crowned with martyrdom. He was Bishop in the time of Maximus and Africanus (AD 236) until the year when Decius was consul the 2nd time and Quadratus was his colleague (AD 250), and he is said to have been martyred on January 29th, though commemorated on January 20th, but this is due to a confusion between translation and martyrdom. He divided the districts among the deacons and created seven subdeacons to be associates with the seven notaries, that they might faithfully compile the acts of the martyrs, omitting nothing. And he commanded many buildings to be erected throughout the cemeteries. After his passion Moses and Maximus, priests, and Nicostratus, a deacon, were seized and committed to prison. At that time Novatus arrived from Africa and drew away from the church Novatian and certain confessors. Afterwards Moses the Priest died in prison, when he had been there 11 months; and therefore many Christians fled to divers places. St. Fabianus held 5 ordinations in the month of December, 22 priests, 7 deacons, and 11 bishops were ordained for diverse places. Though suffering martyrdom on January 29th, his relics were translated to the cemetary of St. Callistus on the Via Appia on January 20th nearly a year later.
The Early Church historian, Eusebius of Caesaria, in the 29th chapter of Book VI of his church history, written in the early 4th century, records the following information about St. Fabian:
Fabianus, who was wonderfully designated Bishop of Rome by God
1. Gordianus succeeded Maximinus as Roman emperor; and Pontianus, who had beenbishop of the church at Rome for six years, was succeeded by Anteros. After he had held the office for a month, Fabianus succeeded him.
2. They say that Fabianus having come, after the death of Anteros, with others from the country, was staying at Rome, and that while there he was chosen to the office through a most wonderful manifestation of divine and heavenly grace.
3. For when all the brethren had assembled to select by vote him who should succeed to the episcopate of the church, several renowned and honorable men were in the minds of many, but Fabianus, although present, was in the mind of none. But they relate that suddenly a dove flying down lighted on his head, resembling the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Saviour in the form of a dove.
4. Thereupon all the people, as if moved by one Divine Spirit, with all eagerness and unanimity cried out that he was worthy, and without delay they took him and placed him upon the episcopal seat.
5. About that time Zebinus, bishop of Antioch died, and Babylas succeeded him. And in Alexandria Heraclas, having received the episcopal office after Demetrius, was succeeded in the charge of the catechetical school by Dionysius, who had also been one of Origen’s pupils.
Eusebius also writes in chapter 39 that Origen, of ill name and ill fame, tried to no avail to exonerate himself, among many other bishops, before St. Fabian. St. Cyprian of Carthage, in Epistle 54 (sec. 10) remarks that the heretic Privatus was condemned, by, among us, St. Fabianus:
“But I intimated to you, my brother, by Felicianus, that there had come to Carthage,Privatus, an old heretic in the colony of Lambesa, many years ago condemned for many and grave crimes by the judgment of ninety bishops, and severely remarked upon in the letters of Fabian and Donatus, also our predecessors…”
The epitaph of St. Fabian is to be found in the cemetary, of Catacomb, of St. Callistus (above mentioned), where in the Greek language it is simply written, “Fabian, Bishop and Martyr.”
Early on he was associated with the Martyr St. Sebastian who suffered martyrs decades later, due to the both sharing the same date of commemoration, and thus, in the Orthodox West in Old England, Spain, France, and other areas centuries before the Schism, they were both commemorated on January 20th.
“Look down upon our weakness, O Almighty God: and because the burden of our own actions weigheth heavily upon us, let the glorious intercession of Thy blessed martyr and bishop Fabian protect us.” [From the Collect Commemorated St. Fabian on January 20th in the Orthodox Western Rite]