Sunday, February 28, 2016

Saints Marana and Kyra, Two Female Ascetics of Syria

Sts. Marana and Kyra (Feast Day - February 28)

Verses

With the withering of their flesh,
Marana and Kyra have been made worthy to master the heavens.

By Bishop Theodoret of Cyrus, Syria

After recording the way of life of the heroic men, I think it useful to treat also of women who have contended no less if not more; for they are worthy of still greater praise, when, despite having a weaker nature, they display the same zeal as the men and free their sex from its ancestral disgrace.

At this point I shall treat of Marana and Kyra,1 who have defeated all the others in the contests of endurance. Their fatherland was Beroea, their stock the glory of their fatherland, and their upbringing appropriate for their stock. But despising all these, they acquired a small place in front of the town, and entering within it, walled up the door with clay and stones. For their maidservants who were eager to share this life with them they built a small dwelling outside this enclosure, and in this they told them to live. Through a small window they keep a watch on what they are doing, and repeatedly rouse them to prayer and inflame them with divine love. They themselves, with neither house nor hut, embrace the open-air life.

In place of a door a small window has been constructed for them, through which they take in the food they need and talk with the women who come to see them. For this intercourse the season of Pentecost has been laid down; during the rest of the time they embrace the quiet life. And it is Marana alone who talks to visitors; no one has ever heard the other one speak.

They wear iron, and carry such a weight that Kyra, with her weaker body, is bent down to the ground and is quite unable to straighten her body. They wear mantles so big as to trail along behind and literally cover their feet and in front to fall down right to the belt, literally hiding at the same time face, neck, chest, and hands.

I have often been inside the door in order to see them; for out of respect for the episcopal office they have bidden me dig through the door. And so I have seen that weight of iron which even a well-built man could not carry. After long entreaty I succeeded in getting it off them for the one time, but after our departure they again put it on their limbs - round the neck the collar, round the waist the belt, and on hands and feet the chains assigned to them.

In this mode of life they have completed not merely five or ten or fifteen years, but forty-two; and despite having contended for so long a time, they love their exertion as if they had only just entered on the contests. For contemplating the beauty of the Bridegroom, they bear the labor of the course with ease and facility, and press on to reach the goal of the contests, where they see the Beloved standing and pointing to the crown of victory. Because of this, in suffering the assaults of rain and snow and sun they feel neither pain nor distress but from apparent afflictions reap joy of heart.

Emulating the fast of the inspired Moses, they have three times spent the same length of time without food, for it was at the end of forty days that they took a little nourishment. Three times also have they emulated the abstinence from eating of the godly Daniel, completing three weeks and only then supplying nourishment to the body. On one occasion, out of a desire to behold the sacred places of the saving sufferings of Christ, they hastened to Aelia, enjoying no nutriment on the way. It was after reaching that city and accomplishing their worship that they took nourishment, and then returning back completed the journey without food - and there are not less than twenty stages.

Conceiving a desire to behold as well the shrine of the triumphant Thekla in Isauria,2 in order from all sources to kindle the firebrand of their love for God, they journeyed both there and back without food - to such a degree has divine yearning driven them to frenzy, so much has divine love for the Bridegroom driven them mad. Since by such a way of life they have adorned the female sex, becoming as models for other women, they will be crowned by the Master with the wreaths of victory. I myself, having displayed the benefit therefrom and culled their blessing, shall pass on to another account.

NOTES

1. Marana and Kyra (Cyra) were two noblewomen of Beroea, who founded a small convent on the outskirts of the city. This they directed, while themselves living in a separate, unroofed enclosure. They had been living this life since 398.

2. The first mention of pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Thekla in Isauria occurs in Gregory Nazianzen and Erigena in the 380s. The most distinguished Syrian pilgrim was Theodore of Mopsuestia (428), who visited the shrine to ask for the gift of interpreting the Scriptures.

From The History of the Monks of Syria.

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