Home > Worship Resources > Festivals & Commemorations > Fabian, Bishop of Rome, Martyr, 250 (January 20)

About the Commemoration

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Continues

Fabian (Fabianus) was a Roman layman who, according to the historian Eusebius (Church History VI, 29), came into the city from his farm one day as the clergy and people were preparing to elect a new bishop. While the names of several noble and illustrious candidates were being considered, Eusebius reports, a dove flew in and settled on the head of Fabian, whereupon, although he was a stranger, not a candidate, and a layman, he was elected unanimously. The Liber Pontificalis says that he made many administrative reforms, dividing the city into seven districts each supervised by a deacon for practical and charitable purposes, developed the parochial structure of the Church in Rome, and established the custom of venerating martyrs at their tombs in the catacombs. He led the church for fourteen years and died a martyr’s death during the persecution of Decius in 250, one of the first to die in that persecution. Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage, wrote to Fabian’s successor Cornelius that Fabian was an “incomparable man” whose glory in death befitted the purity and holiness of his life. In the Catacombs of St. Callixtus (Callistus), the burial place of the early bishops of Rome, a stone that covered Fabian’s grave may still be seen, broken into four pieces, bearing the Greek words, “Fabian,” “bishop,” “martyr.” The Roman Catholic calendar also commemorates on this date Sebastian (257?-288?) about whom nothing is known historically except that he was a Roman martyr and was venerated in Milan even in the time of St. Ambrose, who said that Sebastian was born in Milan and that he was buried on the Appian Way. He is mentioned on several martyrologies as early as 350. The pious legend that he was a soldier who was condemned to be killed by archers for protecting martyrs became a popular subject for Renaissance painters.

Fabian is on the General Roman Calendar and the calendar in the Book of Common Prayer and is included in the Methodist For All the Saints.
Excerpts from New Book of Festivals & Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints by Philip H. Pfatteicher, copyright, 2008 by Fortress Press, an imprint of Augsburg Fortress.

See also: Pope Fabian; Week of Prayer for Christian Unity


From a letter by Cyprian of Carthage about the death of Fabian

When he was informed of the death of Pope Fabian, Saint Cyprian sent this letter to the priests and deacons of Rome: “My dear brothers, while the news of the death of my good colleague was still uncertain, and opinions were divided, I received your letter delivered through the subdeacon Clementius, in which I learned the full details of Fabian’s glorious death. I was quite happy that his virtuous death crowned the integrity of his administration. I also congratulate you that you honor his memory with such a splendid and praiseworthy testimony. We can see quite clearly what an honor for you is the glorious heritage of one who was your leader, and what an example of faith and courage it offers us. For just as the defection of a leader can have a harmful effect on those who follow him, so the constancy of a bishop’s faith offers an healthful and profitable example to his brothers.”

Before Cyprian received this letter, the Church of Rome had given the community at Carthage testimony of its loyalty in time of persecution in the following letter. “Our church stands unshaken in the faith, although some have lapsed because they fear the loss of their high positions or other personal sufferings. Although these have left us, we have not abandoned them. We have urged them and now we continue to encourage them to repent, in the hope that they may receive pardon from the One who can give it. If they were abandoned by us, their situation might become worse.

“And so you see, brothers, you should act in the same manner. Perhaps in this way those who have lapsed, having been converted through your encouragement, and, if they are arrested again, might confess their faith and so might make up for their previous failure. You have other responsibilities as well. If any of those who have defected should become ill and, after repenting, should desire to receive communion, they should certainly be assisted. Widows, the destitute who cannot support themselves, and those who are in prison or who have been evicted from their homes should surely have assistance; likewise catechumens who are ill ought not to be disappointed in their hope of receiving help.

“Your brothers who are in prison send you their greetings, and also the priests, the whole Church which lies awake in great anxiety to pray for all those who call on the Name of the Lord. And we ask you in turn to remember us.”

Letters 9 and 8. Trans. PHP, based on A Short Breviary by the monks of St. John’s Abbey and the International Committee on English in the Liturgy.


O God, in your providence you singled out the holy martyr Fabian as worthy to be chief pastor of your people, and guided him so to strengthen your church that it stood fast in the day of persecution: Grant that the example of your martyr Fabian may help us to imitate his faith and offer you our loving service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


Readings: 2 Esdras 2:42-48; Psalm 110:1-4 or 126; Matthew 10:16-22

Hymn of the Day:Hearken to the anthem glorious” (H82 240, 241) or “God, whose giving knows no ending” (LBW 408, ELW 678)

Prayers: For all who today are facing persecution, suffering, and death for their faith; For all who are engaged in church administration; For the lapsed; For the fearful; For parishes throughout the world, particularly those in great cities; For the unity of the church; For Anglican, Old Catholic, and allied churches.

Preface: A Saint (3)

Color: Red

Also on January 20

The Lutheran Service Book (2006) of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, following the practice of the Eastern Church, a practice introduced in the West by the calendar of Wilhelm Löhe (see January 2), commemorates certain people from the Hebrew Bible. On January 20 the Lutheran Service Book remembers Sarah; she is listed on January 19 on Löhe’s calendar.