February 1, 2010

Saints Perpetua, Felicitas and Those With Them

Sts. Perpetua, Felicitas and those with them (Feast Day - February 1)

Vibia Perpetua was from a patrician family, and lived in Carthage. She came to believe in Christ, and was baptized after her arrest as a Christian. A few days later, the twenty-two-year-old woman was taken to prison with her infant son. Arrested with her were her brother Saturus, the servants Felicitas, Revocatus, Saturninus and Secundulus, who were also catechumens.

Despite the exhortations of her father, who persistently appealed to her maternal feelings, the widowed St Perpetua refused to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods.

According to the account given by St Perpetua herself, she writes:

"When I was in the hands of the persecutors, my father in his tender solicitude tried hard to pervert me from the faith.

'My father,' I said, 'you see this pitcher. Can we call it by any other name than what it is?'

'No,' he said.

'Nor can I', I said, 'call myself by any other name than that of Christian.'

So he went away, but, on the rumor that we were to be tried, wasted away with anxiety.

'Daughter,' he said, 'have pity on my gray hairs; have pity on thy father. Do not give me over to disgrace. Behold thy brothers, thy mother, and thy aunt: behold thy child who cannot live without thee. Do not destroy us all.'

Thus spake my father, kissing my hands, and throwing himself at my feet. And I wept because of my father, for he alone of all my family would not rejoice in my martyrdom. So I comforted him, saying:

'In this trial what God determines will take place. We are not in our own keeping, but in God's.' So he left me - weeping bitterly."

Before their execution, Sts Perpetua and Saturus had visions from God, which strengthened their souls. St Felicitas, who was eight months pregnant, gave birth to a baby girl while in prison. She rejoiced because now she would be permitted to die with her companions. There was a law forbidding the execution of pregnant women.

The martyrs were led from the prison into the amphitheater. Saturninus and Revocatus had to face a leopard and a bear. Sts Perpetua and Felicitas were brought to the arena in nets, and they were pitted against a wild heifer. After being tossed to the ground by the heifer, the two women were led out of the arena. Saturus was bitten by a leopard, but did not die. The martyrs were then led to a certain spot to be killed by the sword. The young gladiator who was to execute St Perpetua was inexperienced and did not kill her with the first blow. She herself took his hand and guided it to her throat, and so she received the crown of martyrdom. This occurred in about the year 203.

The amphitheater where these saints perished is located a few miles from the city of Tunis. In 1881, a room was discovered opposite the modern entrance into the arena. Some say this was a cell where the victims waited to be brought into the arena.

Apolytikon in the Fourth Tone
Your lambs, Perpetua and Felicitas, cry out to you, O Jesus, with great love: "O our Bridegroom, we long for you in great pain, we are crucified with you, and in baptism we are buried with you. We suffer for your sake in order to reign with you. We die for you in order to live in you. Accept us as immaculate victims, since we are slain for your sake." Through their intercessions, O Merciful One, save our souls.