Saint Longinus lived in the reign of the Emperor Tiberius (AD 15-34). He came from Cappadocia and served as a centurion in the Roman army, under the orders of Pilate, the Governor of Judaea. He and his men were commanded to carry into effect Pilate’s sentence regarding the holy Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and to guard the tomb for fear the disciples should come and steal away His body to lend credence to His resurrection. So it came about that Longinus witnessed all the astonishing miracles that accompanied Christ’s Passion: the earthquake, the darkening of the sun, the rending of the veil of the temple, the splitting of the rocks, the opening of the graves and the appearance, in their risen bodies, of many of the Saints of ancient times. The eyes of the centurion’s heart were opened at the sight of these portents, and he cried with a loud voice: Truly, this man was the Son of God! (Mk. 15:39; Matt. 27:54). On the third day, when the guards witnessed the Angel appearing to the holy women at the tomb, they shook with fear and became as dead men. Some of them went to tell the chief priests of the Jews all that had happened. The chief priests and elders met and decided to give Longinus and his men a large sum of money, if they would put it about that the disciples had come by night and stolen away Christ’s body while the guards were asleep. But Longinus and two of his soldiers refused this money, for they were now and forever illumined by the light of faith in the Resurrection. So, leaving the army and his military duties behind him, Longinus went back to his home country of Cappadocia, where he preached the Good News just as the Apostles were doing. When Pilate learnt of this he wrote to the Emperor Tiberius denouncing Longinus, which the chief priests, bent on vengeance, had prevailed on him to do by giving him money and presents.
The men the Emperor sent in search of Longinus called, in God’s providence, at the house where he had taken refuge; they asked for hospitality and for information as to the whereabouts of the deserter, who was unknown to them by sight. It was the Saint himself who received them, with the care for strangers customary among disciples of Christ. As they talked, Longinus was exceedingly joyful on learning the purpose of their journey, and he redoubled his efforts to put his guests at their ease. Then he left them, and with complete serenity prepared his grave and everything necessary for his burial. He went to look for the two companions who had fled from Palestine with him, and they decided to offer themselves to martyrdom at his side. He then went back to his guests and told them that he was the Longinus they were looking for to put to death. The Emperor’s agents were astounded at the calmness of his manner and, considering the hospitality they have received, deeply distressed because of the dark deed they had come to do. But the Saint implored them to make haste in uniting him and his companions to their Lord and Master. Sick at heart, they beheaded the three disciples of Christ and sent the head of Saint Longinus to Jerusalem to certify Pilate and the chief priests that he had indeed been put to death. His head was then thrown into a cesspit outside the city.
Many years later, a wealthy Cappadocian lady, who had fallen ill and lost her sight, came on pilgrimage to Jerusalem to pray for healing, accompanied by her only son. But upon their arrival in the Holy City her son died suddenly, adding a yet greater sorrow to the anguish of the unfortunate lady. One night, Saint Longinus appeared to her in a dream and revealed the spot where his head was buried, with the assurance that she would receive healing from this precious relic. After an assiduous search, the pious woman found the holy Martyr’s head, and her blindness was indeed taken away by the divine grace resting upon the relic. Not only were her bodily eyes opened but God granted her to see, with the eyes of her soul, that her son had his place beside Saint Longinus in the abode of the blessed. Comforted and full of gratitude to God, who knows how to render a hundredfold to those whom he chastens, she placed the relic of the holy Martyr and the body of her son in a feretory that she took back to Cappadocia and placed in a church that she built in the Saint’s honour.