September 10, 2016

Saint Pulcheria, Empress of the Romans

St. Pulcheria the Empress (Feast Day - September 10 & February 17)


The Empress Pulcheria stands at Your right,
Chanting to You my Christ.

Saint Pulcheria was born was born on January 19, 399 and was the daughter of Emperor Arcadius (395-408) and his wife Eudokia, and her brother was Emperor Theodosius II the Younger (408-450). At the death of his father in 408, and at a very young age, seven years old, Theodosius II became emperor under the tutelage of the eunuch Antiochus.

Pulcheria was a devout Christian and at an early age she expressed her devotion to the Theotokos and took a vow of virginity to avoid being forced into marriage. As the elder sister of Theodosius II (her older sister, Flaccilla, died young, probably before 408), she held much of the power when he became emperor. She was involved extensively in the education of her brother even though she was only two years older than him and maintained enormous influence over him for much of his reign. Sources recorded that in 412 at the age of thirteen she dismissed her brother's tutor, Antiochus, and herself assumed the role of her brother's tutor. She taught her brother how to dress, how to sit, how to walk, how to withhold his laughter, and how to be revered in every way according to the customs of the imperial office. With this she also taught him how to always pray and to attend church services regularly. As for Pulcheria herself, we are informed that she was so educated in the Greek and Latin languages, that she was able to speak and write both with complete confidence, and it was probably due to her that the Roman Empire's official language became Greek instead of Latin.

The court quickly assumed a pious and austere atmosphere under her influence, befitting her almost monastic lifestyle. Sozomen describes the pious ways of Pulcheria and her sisters, who also took a vow of virginity, in his Ecclesiastical History: "They all pursue the same mode of life; they are sedulous in their attendance in the house of prayer, and evince great charity towards strangers and the poor...and pass their days and their nights together in singing the praises of God." Rituals within the imperial palace included chanting and reciting passages of Sacred Scripture and fasting twice per week. The sisters relinquished luxurious jewelry and apparel which most women of the imperial court wore. Regarding her vow of virginity, Sozomen explains: "She devoted her virginity to God, and instructed her sisters to do likewise. To avoid cause of scandal and opportunities for intrigue, she permitted no man to enter her palace. In confirmation of her resolution she took God, the priests, and all the subjects of the Roman empire as witnesses."

On July 4, 414 the Senate proclaimed her Augusta (empress) and made her regent for her brother at the age of fifteen. When Theodosius became capable of ruling by himself in 416, Pulcheria continued to strongly influence her brother and of course the empire. Through her influence Theodosius removed all pagans from the civil service. Under her influence Theodosius and his wife Aelia Eudocia, who had been a pagan, became devout Christians.

Pulcheria used her wealth for the Church. In doing so she inspired her brother to do likewise. While she appeared to be indifferent to the Arianism as practiced by the German tribes, she took a firm position on the heretical teaching of Nestorius. She almost immediately showed her antagonism towards him when he became patriarch in 428. Whether the downgrading of the status of the Virgin Mary from Theotokos to Christotokos under Nestorianism was involved, Pulcheria greatly influenced her brother's position in the controversies that led up to the Third Ecumenical Synod in Ephesus in 431. At first he was a supporter of Nestorius before acceding to his sister's position. In this controversy Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria believed Pulcheria's influence was important in the downfall of his rival.

In 441, Pulcheria's influence on her brother began to wain as the eunuch Chrysaphius convinced Theodosius to dismiss his sister. But soon the Monophysite controversy was raised by the archimandrite Eutyches and supported by Theodosius as well as by Cyril's successor as patriarch of Alexandria, Dioscorus. When Eutyches' views were validated at the 'Robber Synod' of 449 in Ephesus, Pope Leo I of Rome included Pulcheria among those he approached for help in reversing the synod's decisions.

On July 28, 450 Theodosius suddenly died, and Pulcheria returned to the court as the wife of the new emperor, Marcian, whom she married on November 25, 450. She agreed to the marriage with the understanding that her vow of chastity would be honored. In order for the marriage to not seem scandalous to the Roman republic, the Church proclaimed that "Christ himself sponsored the union and it therefore should not provoke shock or unjustified suspicions." In 451 the Fourth Ecumenical Synod of Chalcedon, presided over by Marcian, was convened. It condemned both Nestorianism and the Robber Council of 449 that had supported the Monophysite heresy. The heretic Eutyches was deposed and exiled.

Pulcheria reposed in peace not long afterwards, in July 453, at which time she departed to her Bridegroom Christ (she had been commemorated in her lifetime by the Church in its prayers as "Bride of Christ"). In addition to her defense of Orthodoxy, Pulcheria is remembered for her zeal in promoting other interests of the Church. She had the relics of Saint John Chrysostom returned from where he had died in exile and buried in the Church of the Apostles in Constantinople on January 27, 438. The relics of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste were discovered by her. She had three churches built in Constantinople that honored Mary the Theotokos: the Monastery of the Panagia Hodegetria, the Church of the Theotokos of Blachernae, and the Chalkoprateia. To her is also ascribed the founding of Esphigmenou Monastery at Mount Athos. She built many hospitals, houses for pilgrims, and bequeathed her wealth to charity. Pulcheria's building projects in Constantinople were so vast that a whole district was named the Pulcherianai in her honor. Even in her last days Pulcheria thought of ways to help the poor of Constantinople, for in her will she reinforced that bond by instructing that all of her remaining wealth be distributed among the poor. For her labors on behalf of the Church of Christ, she has come to be known as an "Equal to the Apostles".

Her feast day is September 10; she also shares a feast day with her husband Marcian on February 17.

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