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September 30, 2016

Holy Martyrs Rhipsimia and Gaiana of Armenia together with their Companions

Sts. Rhipsimia, Gaiana and Those With Them (Feast Day - September 30)


To Rhipsimia
Rhipsimia by blows was no way pained,
Counting against them numberless crowns.

To Gaiana
Ascetic life crowned Gaiana once,
And now her contest through the sword crowns her.

To the Thirty-Two Virgins
You are honored Trinity by the thrice ten martyrs,
Along with two they died by the sword on your behalf.

To the Seventy Men*
Seventy men died by the sword,
Ready to die, if needed, many times.

To the Two Virgins
Two women contain the virtues,
Adorned as athletes in the end by their beheading.

These holy women dedicated their lives to the Lord and lived as virgins during the reign of Emperor Diocletian (284-305). When the emperor sought a wife for himself, he was brought portraits painted of beautiful women which were ordered to be done for his choosing, and among them was of the beautiful virgin named Rhipsimia (Hripsime), and being smitten by her beauty, he sent word to her that he desired to marry her. However, because Rhipsimia had already dedicated her life to Christ in virginity, she secretly fled Asia Minor with her abbess Gaiana and seventy other nuns and went to Ararat in Armenia, where they hid in a cave. When Diocletian heard about this, he wrote a letter to King Tiridates to find Rhipsimia and have her sent to him so that he could marry her. However, when he gathered from the description of her how beautiful she was, King Tiridates desired Rhipsimia for himself.

When the king discovered where they were, he sent Rhipsimia royal garments to wear and invited her to his palace. She however payed no attention to this proposal, but remained with her companions in prayer to God. Just then a storm began to rage, and a divine voice was heard from heaven saying: "Be brave and fear not, for I am with you," which emboldened the nuns. Those unbelievers who were sent to deliver the message of the king were speechless and fell from their horses, that led to them being trampled to death by their horses. When the king heard about this, he had Rhipsimia brought to him, and he tried to persuade her to marry him, but she remained steadfast in her devotion to Christ.

The king then had Gaiana brought to the palace, to convince her to persuade Rhipsimia to marry him. Instead, she encouraged Rhipsimia to not give in to the advances of the king. For this the king ordered that Gaiana be struck in the teeth with a rock until they fell out, and she was exiled to a distant land. Rhipsimia left the palace victorious, while the king keeled over to the ground out of his great passionate desire for Rhipsimia. Going to the cave to meet the other nuns, they immediately left that place and went nearby to another location where they could live a life of prayer.

During the night, however, the king sent his chief butchers and gift givers holding many torches and captured Rhipsimia. Binding her hands behind her back, they cut out her tongue, and stretching her out on a standing wooden board, they began to burn her with the torches. They then drove spikes into her stomach, causing her intestines to fall to the ground. Her eyes were also removed. Finally they cut her up into small pieces. Thus the holy maiden went to her desired bridegroom Christ without being corrupted.

Tomb of St. Rhipsimia in Echmiadzin

Together with Rhipsimia, seventy Christian men in that area were also put to death. And when thirty-two of her fellow nuns went to gather the Saint's relics to give her an honorable burial, they were taken and beheaded. Also the blessed Gaiana with two other virgins were thrown to the ground and had their hands and feet cut off, and they were pierced in their necks. Then they were skinned alive in a spool and had their tongues cut out. They then had their stomachs torn open with rocks and iron instruments, and showed them their intestines. Finally they were beheaded, and so the blessed ones received the crown of the contest.

Later, in their honor, Saint Gregory the Illuminator of Armenia had three churches in Echmiadzin built in honor of these Holy Virgins over their relics, which became the spiritual center of the Church of Armenia, and many others also were later built in their honor throughout Armenia. These Venerable Martyrs are considered the first Christian martyrs of Armenia.


* The Seventy Holy Martyrs are also commemorated on October 12th.