October 8, 2015

Saint Pelagia the Virgin Martyr of Antioch

St. Pelagia the Virgin (Feast Day - October 8)


From the edge you fled the edge of great disgrace,
Throwing the enemy over the edge, clever Pelagia.

Saint Pelagia was from Antioch and lived in the late third century. Of noble birth and great beauty, she strove to compliment these by making her soul noble and beautiful as well.

When she was fifteen, in the year 284, the governor sent soldiers to her house to arrest her for being a Christian. Surrounding the house, they were prepared to take her by force if she resisted. The young woman, however, came out and requested of the soldiers a few moments to get ready.

Pelagia knew well that once she was in the hands of the soldiers, they would likely try to violate her virginity, which she consecrated to the Lord. For this reason, Pelagia went to the roof of her house where she would pray, and there she turned towards the East, lifted her hands to the heavens, and prayed that the Lord would spare her defilement, and be taken to Heaven with soul and body unstained. Thus, preferring voluntary death rather than physical defilement and torture, she threw herself from the rooftop, and allowed her soul to take flight towards the dwelling place of the angels and saints and into the hands of God.

During the time of St. John Chrysostom her feast was being very much celebrated outside of Antioch where this took place, and on this occasion he delivered a homily that explains her actions and how Christianity has given women the strength to face all manner of violence and temptations. He said:

"Even [Christian] women now poke fun at death and girls mock passing away and quite young, unmarried virgins skip into the very stings of Hades and suffer no ill effects. All of these blessings we experience because of Christ, born of a virgin. For after those blessed contraction pains and utterly awe-inspiring birth, the sinews of death were unstrung, the devil's power was disabled and from then on became contemptible to not just men but also women, and not just women, but also girls....

It's for this reason that blessed Pelagia too ran to meet death with such great delight that she didn't wait for the executioners' hands nor did she go to court, but escaped their cruelty through the excess of her own enthusiasm. For while she was prepared for tortures and punishments and every kind of penalty, even so she was afraid that she would destroy the crown of her virginity. Indeed, that you might learn that she was afraid of the sexual predation of the unholy men, she got in first and snatched herself away in advance from the shameful violence. None of the [Christian] men ever attempted any such act at all. Instead they all filed into court and displayed their courage there. Yet women, by nature vulnerable to harm, conceived for themselves this manner of death. My point is that, were it possible both to preserve one's virginity and attain martyrdom's crown, she wouldn't have refused to go to court. But since it was utterly inevitable that one of the two would be lost, she thought it a sign of extreme stupidity, when it was possible for her to attain each victory, to depart half crowned. For this reason she wasn't willing to go to court or to become a spectacle for lecherous eyes, or to give opportunity for predatory eyes to revel in the sight of her own appearance and crudely insult that holy body. Instead she went from her chamber and the women's querters to a second chamber - heaven....

Don't simply pass over what happened, but consider how it's likely that she was raised as a gentle girl, knowing nothing beyond her chamber, while soldiers were posted against her en masse, standing in front of the door, summoning her to court, dragging her into the marketplace on weighty sorts of grounds. There was no father inside, no mother present, no nurse, no female attendant, no neighbor, no female friend. Instead, she was left alone in the midst of those executioners. I mean, how isn't it right that we be astonished and amazed that she had the strength to come out and answer those executioner soldiers, to open her mouth and utter a sound, just to look, stand, and breathe? Those actions weren't attributable to human nature. For God's influence introduced the majority. Most assuredly, at the time she didn't just idly stand around, but displayed all her personal qualities - her enthusiasm, her resolve, her nobility, her willingness, her purpose, her eagerness, her bustling energy. But it was as a result of God's help and heavenly good goodwill that all these qualities reached maturity....

In addition to what's been said, I marvel as well at how the soldiers granted her the favor, how the woman deceived the men, how they didn't work out the deception. After all, one can't say that no one effected anything of the sort. For many women, it seems, gave themselves up to a cliff or hurled themselves into the sea or drove a sword through their breast or fastened a noose. That time was full of numerous dramas of that kind. But God blinded the soldier's hearts so that they wouldn't openly see the deception. That's why she flew up out of the middle of their nets....

Lot's of people who've tumbled from a high roof havn't suffered any ill effect. Others, in turn, despite suffering permanent disability to some part of their body, have lived for a long time after the fall. But in the case of that blessed virgin God didn't allow any of these options to happen. Instead, he ordered the body to release the soul immediately and received it on the grounds that it had struggled sufficiently and completed everything. For death wasn't caused by the nature of the fall, but by God's command. From that point the body wasn't lying on a bed, but on the pavement. Yet it wasn't without honor as it lay on the pavement... For this reason, then, that virginal body purer than any gold lay on the pavement, on the street."