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September 16, 2010

The Passion of the Holy Great-Martyr Euphemia the All-Praised

St. Euphemia the Great Martyr and All-Praised (Feast Day - September 16 and July 11)

By St. Dimitri of Rostov

During the reign of the impious Diocletian, Chalcedon was governed by the proconsul Priscus, who was appointed to his position by the Emperor. Priscus, wishing to celebrate a feast in honor of the demon called Ares, sent a decree in the Emperor’s name to the cities and villages roundabout, commanding that all should gather together in Chalcedon for the feast and that each, according to his means, should offer a sacrifice to Ares. In his decree, Priscus threatened with great torments those who refused to obey his command to come to the feast, which was to take place in eight days.

When the day appointed for the demonic feast arrived, a great multitude of people gathered together with the beasts which they had brought for sacrifice. They celebrated the feast riotously, sacrificing sheep and oxen and worshipping the lifeless idol – or rather, the demon that dwelled within it. The Christians who lived in Chalcedon and near that city denounced the festival, which was hateful to God, and hid themselves, fearing the Proconsul’s dreadful threats. Gathering together in secret places, they offered up prayer to the true God, our Lord Jesus Christ. The persecutor ordered that a diligent search be made in order to discover whether anyone had failed to comply with his decree and had not worshipped the idol of Ares. He learned that the Christians had not fulfilled his command, refusing to render a demon the honor which is due the true God alone. The tormentor was angered that the Christians had not obeyed him, and he ordered that they be found and brought to torture.

In a secret place there were forty-nine Christians concealed who offered up prayer to God. Among them was a fair and noble maiden Euphemia, the daughter of illustrious parents, Philophronus the Senator and his wife, Theodorosia. These Christians were betrayed t the persecutor, who ordered that they be seized and brought before his tribunal. In accordance with the tormentor’s instructions, his cruel lackeys with their weapons in hand fell upon the rational flock of Christ in their hiding place like beasts eager for the kill. They surrounded the house in which the faithful served God in secret and blocked its doors so that no one could escape. Mercilessly they dragged them out one by one, and mocking and insulting them, they brought them before the Proconsul. Having been led like sheep to the slaughter, the humble servants of Christ stood before the proud persecutor. Seeing that they were ready to profess their Lord, even to the shedding of their blood, the haughty magistrate said, “Do you oppose the edict which the Emperor and I have enacted? Do you refuse to sacrifice to the great god Ares?”

They answered, “If your decree and the Emperor’s is not contrary to the commandments of God of heaven, we will obey it. If it stands in opposition to God, then not only will we disobey it, but we will seek to overturn it. If you were to command us to do that which we are obliged to do, we would render to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s. However, inasmuch as your ordinance is opposed to God’s commandments, and you, in a manner hateful to God, require us to honor that which is created rather than the Creator, worshipping and offering sacrifice to a demon rather than to the most high God, we shall never obey your decree; for we are true worshippers of the one God, Who dwells in the heavens.”

Then the persecutor spoke. Having sharpened his false tongue like a razor, he sought to entice the Christians with flatteries and promises of gifts and honors. He hoped that by his cunning speech he could lead those whom Christ had acquired by His precious blood away from the right path to the pernicious idolatry which he espoused. At the same time he threatened them with bitter torments should they refuse to do what he demanded of them.

The saints answered him thus, “Gifts and honors such as those you promise us we have long since renounced and come to despise, counting them as dung, for we await heavenly reward, which are greater and better than all the good things of the world. The good things of this world are transitory and fleeting while that which is heavenly is eternal and unchanging. We do not fear the cruel torments with which you threaten us; on the contrary, we greatly desire to undergo them so that the power of our God may be made manifest in us and that you might be filled with amazement and put to shame when you see that your gods, hateful to the true God, are powerless. But why do we need to prolong our speech and multiply our words? Do what you have resolved to do. Try us, and you will find that our zeal to suffer surpasses your ability to torment us.”

Then the persecutor handed them over to torture, wounding them and placing them in shackles. For nineteen days the saints underwent various torments: each day wounds were added to their wounds, and they suffered hunger and thirst. Among their number was the holy virgin Euphemia, who was young and fair. To strengthen her, her companions said, “Labor for the sake of the Heavenly Bridegroom; labor so that by your sufferings, you will please Him. Labor to meet Him together with the wise virgins so that He, loving you as His bride, will lead you into His bridal chamber.”

On the twentieth day the saints were brought to judgment and questioned thus by Proconsul: “Now that you have been punished, will you obey our edict?”

Saint Euphemia, together with the other holy martyrs, answered, “Do not think that you can lead us away from the right path. The mountains would sooner be reduced to dust and the stars fall from the sky, than our hearts turn from the true God.”

The persecutor was enraged by these words and ordered that the prisoners be beaten in the face, but seeing that this had no effect, he decided to send them to the Emperor. In the meantime they were cast into prison.

The Proconsul had observed that Saint Euphemia was young and beautiful and that she shone forth among the other holy martyrs like the moon amid the stars. Therefore, as the saints were being led to the dungeon, he snatched her out from among the flock of Christ like a wolf which singles out a sheep. Lifting up her eyes and hands to heaven, she cried out, “Forsake me not, O my Bridegroom, Jesus Christ; in Thee do I hope! Deliver not unto wild beasts the soul which loveth Thee and which confesseth Thy holy name. Let not mine enemies rejoice over me, but do Thou strengthen Thy frail handmaiden, that iniquity might not overcome me.”

The persecutor, hoping to incline Euphemia to the godlessness which he espoused, tried by every means to entice her by kind words, numerous gifts, and various promises, attempting to lure her virginal heart. But she said manfully, “Do not think that you will easily exploit my frailty, turning me to wickedness and impiety by your enticements. Although I am a woman by nature, by heart is more manly than yours, and the power of my faith is greater than any power you possess. By the grace of Christ I am wise beyond all your heathen sages, whom you regard as learned but who are truly more ignorant than any illiterate, for they do not desire to acknowledge the true God but have the devil as their god. Do not think that you will entice me with your crafty words as once the serpent beguiled our ancestor Eve. And do not imagine that you will make this hateful world seem sweet to ne my offering its allurements, for I regard all these things as bitter herbs, for the sake of m sweetest Jesus. By all your tortures you will not overcome my strength, which is made perfect in weakness. For I place my hope in Christ, Who will not forsake me nor withdraw trample the proud head of the devil underfoot.”

The persecutor, having been brought to shame, was greatly angered. His vile love for the martyr was transformed into hate, and he ordered that a wheel be prepared for her torture, on which were fixed many sharps knives. These knives were sharpened so that all her flesh might be cut and sliced to the very bone. The saint was fastened to this wheel, and the Proconsul’s henchmen began to turn it; her body was cut up and her members mangled. But Euphemia prayed fervently to God, saying, “O Lord Jesus Christ, the Enlightenment of my soul: the Fountain of Life, Who granteth salvation unto those who trust in Thee! Come now to mine aid, that all might know that Thou alone art God, the certain hope of those who put their trust in Thee, and that no evils and no scourge shall come nigh unto those who make the Most High their refuge.”

When she had said this, the wheel immediately stopped, and the Proconsul’s henchmen collapsed, exhausted. An angel of God came down and wrecked the wheel, from which the holy virgin descended, healed of her wounds and made whole. Joyfully she chanted, giving thanks to God and glorifying His all-powerful might.

When the torturer and all those present saw these things, they were perplexed and marveled greatly at this miracle. Nevertheless, since the eyes of their mind were blinded by wickedness, even this great wonder brought them no benefit. They were unable to perceive the workings of the mighty hand of the true God, for seeing, they did not perceive, and hearing, they did not understand; for their hearts were hardened, and they ascribed that marvelous wonder to sorcery.

Then the tormentor ordered that a furnace be prepared so that the saint might be cast into the fire. As the furnace was being heated and the fire was being stoked, the holy martyr arrayed herself in the armor which the Three Youths had worn, that is, prayer. She withstood the burning of the material fire with the power of the fire of her love for God, and as she lifted up her eyes to heaven, she said, “O God, Who art exalted, yet lookest upon the lowly; Who protected the Three Youths in Babylon, who had been delivered unto fire for the sake of the Law, keeping them whole and unharmed by the flames, preserving them by Thy holy angel and sending down dew upon them: be Thou my Helper, for I am Thy handmaiden and I enter this contest for the sake of Thy glory, O my Christ!

When Euphemia had said this, she signed herself with the Cross, arming herself in this way as though with a weapon. She stood ready for the fire, waiting for them to cast her in. At that moment two of the soldiers, Victor and Sosthenes, who had been ordered to hurl the martyr into the flames, saw a wondrous apparition in the fire: they beheld an angel of God in the furnace, who parted the flames and forbade them to touch the bride of Christ. Having seen this marvel, they said to the persecutor, “Proconsul, we cannot touch this honorable virgin with our defiled hands and cast her into the fire even if you were to cut off our heads, for we have seen a most extraordinary wonder, which your eyes cannot see. It would be better for us to suffer your wrath than the wrath of the luminous man in the fire.”

When the tormentor heard this, he was angered at the soldiers, and thinking that they did not wish to cast the maiden into the furnace because they were Christians, he imprisoned them and had two others, Caesarius and Barus, do what had been commanded. They seized the virgin and hurled her into the furnace, and as they did this, great flames leaped forth toward their faces, burning them to ashes and causing the other servants to take flight. But the saint, rejoicing in the furnace as though she were in a bright chamber or in refreshing dew, chanted the hymn of the Three Youths: "Blessed art Thou, O Lord, the God of our fathers, and supremely praised and supremely exalted unto ages." Truly, this was a most glorious miracle! The fire did not touch her nor even her garments, for her immortal Bridegroom Himself, Jesus Christ, mystically came to His holy bride in the furnace and covered her with dew. When the furnace was extinguished, the saint emerged unharmed, to the astonishment of all. The persecutor, not knowing what to do next, had her cast into the dungeon and said, “Tonight I will determine what to do with this sorceress.”

He also had Victor and Sosthenes brought to him. He became enraged with them and vowed that he would kill them if they did not worship the idols. But they answered him, “Until today, we were in error. We did not know the true God, but now we have come to know Him Who alone created heaven and earth. We believe in Him and worship Him, and we will no longer bow down before your gods, whom we formerly worshipped, not perceiving the demon’s deception. Do with us what you will. Our bodies are in your power, but our souls are guarded by God.”

And so the persecutor condemned them to be consumed by wild beasts. As the saints went to the place where they were to be eaten by the beasts, they prayed fervently to God that He be merciful to them and that He remit the sins they had committed while yet in their former error and that He cause their souls to dwell with those who believe in Him. Immediately a voice from heaven summoned them to repose. Hearing the voice, they joyfully surrendered their souls into the hands of God. Their bodies were never touched by the beasts but were secretly buried by the faithful.

When the night had passed and morning came, the tormentor sat upon his tribunal, and Saint Euphemia was brought from the prison, chanting joyously as she came, “O God, a new song shall I sing unto Thee, I shall glorify Thee, O Lord my strength. I shall chant unto Thee among the nations and glorify Thy name, for Thou art the only true God, and there is none like unto Thee.” As she chanted, she was brought before the tribunal where she was questioned and tortured in an attempt to make her sacrifice. When the persecutor saw that her heart could not be moved to worship the demons and that she would not submit, he ordered that she be suspended and that her flesh be scraped with sharp knives; nevertheless, after undergoing this torture, her body, by the power of God, was found to be unharmed. Then a deep pit was dug and filled with water, and a multitude of snakes, vipers, and venomous serpents were placed in it. When the hole had been filled, the torturer commanded that Saint Euphemia be cast into it. Signing herself with the Cross, she said, “O Jesus Christ, my Light! Thou didst preserve Jonah unharmed in the belly of the sea monster; Thou didst deliver Daniel from the jaws of the lions. Guard me by Thy mighty hand, that Thy holy name may be glorified in me!

Having said this, the saint threw herself into the pit. The snakes and vipers drew near her but did her no harm. It seemed, rather, that they were solicitous for her, for they bore her on their backs so that she would not sink into the water which filled the hole. Thus, by the grace of God, the saint emerged from the pit altogether unharmed.

The persecutor was uncertain what to do with her next. He still wished to put her to death and concluded that the sorcery which he ascribed to the saint could only overcome the direct application of torture and not covert schemes. Therefore, he ordered another hidden pit to be dug with sharp spears, swords, and daggers were placed, driven into the ground with their pointed ends upward. After the top of the pit had been covered with branches and earth, he commanded the martyr to walk across the concealed pit, hoping that, unaware of the existence of the pit, she would fall upon the sharp weapons and die of the wounds she would thus suffer. But the saint crossed over the mouth of the pit nimbly, like a bird flying over a net, while certain pagans, who did not know of the pit’s existence, fell into it and perished. When the persecutor saw this he was aghast, and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "He opened a pit and dug it, and he shall fall into the hole which he hath made".

Meanwhile, the saint praised God, singing, “Who shall tell of the mighty acts of the Lord? Who shall make all Thy praises to be heard, O Lord? For Thou hast preserved unharmed by wounds Thy handmaiden who suffereth torment. Thou hast saved her from fire; Thou hast shielded her against wild beast, water, and the tortures of the wheel; and Thou hast brought her up out of the pit. And now, O Lord, deliver my soul out of the hands of him who from the beginning hath been Thy foe. The sins of my youth and mine ignorances remember not, but may the drops of Thy blood, poured forth upon me, cleanse the defilement of my flesh and spirit, for Thou art the cleansing and sanctification and enlightenment of Thy servants.”

The Proconsul attempted yet again to entice Euphemia with kind words, saying, “Do not dishonor your family, do not destroy the flower of your youth, do not deprive yourself of life. Be converted to the worship of the great Ares, and you will be honored and praised, and greatly glorified by all of us, and will possess much wealth.”

In this manner the Proconsul sought to deceive the saint with his words, but she laughed at him and reviled him as a fool. Then he resorted again to torture. After having her beaten severely with rods, he ordered that she be cut in half with a sharp saw, but the saw would not cut her body. Next he commanded that she be seared in a heated pan, but the pan was made cool, for an angel preserved the bride of Christ amid all these torments.

Finally, Euphemia was handed over to be consumed by wild beasts. As the saint was being led into the arena where she was to be fed to the beasts, she prayed to God that He put an end to her suffering, the He receive her soul into His hands, and that He summon her spirit to come forth from her long-suffering body to the land for which it longed, and she said, “O Lord of all the hosts of heaven, Thou hast made manifest in me Thine invincible power and Thine unconquerable right hand. Thou hast revealed the feebleness of the demons and the mindlessness of the persecutor and hast made me impervious to all torments. Wherefore, as Thou hast formerly accepted the slaughter of the martyrs who preceded me and the shedding of their blood, so receive my sacrifice, which if offered to Thee with a contrite soul and in a spirit of humility. Grant my soul repose in the habitation of the saints and the choirs of the martyrs, for blessed art Thou unto the ages. Amen.”

When Euphemia had prayed thus, bears and lions were released upon her, but when they approached her they merely licked her feet. One she-bear, however, wounded her foot slightly, causing blood to flow. When this took place, a voice came from above, summoning her to heaven, and immediately she surrendered her spirit to the Lord, for Whom she had resolutely suffered. As her soul departed, the earth trembled, the city was shaken, its walls tumbled down, and its temples were razed to the ground. The people were terror-stricken, and all fled from the arena in fear as the saint’s holy body lay dead in the sand.

Euphemia’s parents came and took their holy daughter and reverently buried her near the city, giving thanks to God and rejoicing that they had been deemed worthy to be the parents of such a daughter, who by the shedding of her blood became the bride of Christ, the Heavenly Bridegroom and King of all.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
O Lord Jesus, unto Thee Thy lamb Euphemia doth cry with a great voice: O my Bridegroom, Thee I love; and seeking Thee, I now contest, and with Thy baptism am crucified and buried. I suffer for Thy sake, that I may reign with Thee; for Thy sake I die, that I may live in Thee: accept me offered out of longing to Thee as a spotless sacrifice. Lord, save our souls through her intercessions, since Thou art great in mercy.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Thou strovest valiantly in thy sacred contest; and even after death, thou makest us holy with streams of healings, O all-praised Euphemia. For this cause we venerate thy most holy dormition and with faith we stand before thine all-venerable relics, that we be freed from illness of the soul and also draw forth the grace of thy miracles.