June 4, 2017

Saint Hieria of Nisibis

St. Hieria of Nisibis (Feast Day - June 3)


You were minded of your portion Hieria,
And were not left outside the bridal chamber of the Lord.

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As a living sacrifice you brought before God,
Your asceticism all-revered Hieria.

In the town of Nisibis, on the border with the Persian Empire yet under Roman control, there was a convent of women containing fifty nuns under the direction of the deaconess Bryene. One woman brought up by her and well instructed in the monastic life was Febronia (June 25). Febronia was the daughter of Bryene’s brother, and she was of extremely attractive appearance: her face and features were so beautiful that the eye could never be sated by gazing upon her. For this reason Bryene was twice as strict with her, wanting to protect her from outside temptations. She only ate once every other day, she slept while sitting on a stool, and she spent much time studying Holy Scripture.

On Fridays, when all the sisters were gathered in the place of prayer, Bryene used to tell Febronia to read the divine words to them. Because, however, young married women used to come to the place of prayer on Sundays and Fridays to hear the word of God, Bryene instructed Febronia to sit behind a curtain and read from there.

She never saw any worldly finery and did not know what a man’s face looked like. But she was the subject of much talk throughout the entire town - people spoke of her learning, beauty, humility, and gentleness. When Hieria, who had been married to a senator, heard all this, she was fired by divine love and became very eager to see Febronia. Now Hieria had not yet come to baptism, but she was still a pagan, and when she had only lived seven months with her husband, he died, leaving her a widow; for this reason she returned to her own town to her par­ents, who were also still pagans.

Accordingly Hieria came to the convent and through the door­keeper notified Bryene of her presence. When Bryene came out to her, Hieria fell down at her feet and did obeisance to her, grasping her feet and saying, “I adjure you by the God who made heaven and earth, do not repulse me, seeing that I am still a foul pagan and a plaything of the demons; do not deprive me of the chance to talk to and learn from the lady Febronia. Through you nuns I will learn the path of salvation and as I travel upon it I will discover what is in store for the Christians. Save me from the emptiness of this world and from the unclean worship of idols. You see, my parents are forcing me to marry again: the torment of the former error in which I have been living is quite sufficient for me to have to cope with. Please let me acquire new life through the teaching and conversation of my sister Febronia.”

As Hieria spoke she drenched Bryene’s feet with her tears. Much affected and moved by this, Bryene said, “My lady Hieria, God knows that ever since I first received Febronia into my hands at the age of two - and it is now eighteen years that she has been in the convent - she has not seen the face of a single man or any worldly finery and clothing. Not even her governess saw her face from that moment onward, even though she often besought me, sometimes even bursting into tears, to allow her a glimpse. For I do not allow Febronia to have any association with laywomen. Nevertheless, in view of the love you have toward God and to­ward her, I will bring you in to her. But you must wear nun’s clothing.”

When Bryene introduced Hieria under this guise to Febronia, the latter, on seeing the monastic habit, fell down before her feet, supposing that she was a nun from somewhere else who had come to her. After they had greeted one another and sat down, Bryene told Febronia to take the Bible and read to Hieria. As Febronia read, Hieria’s soul was so filled with sorrow and com­punction as a result of the sight of Febronia and of the teaching that she heard that the two of them spent the whole night with­out any sleep: Febronia did not cease or tire from reading, and Hieria never had enough as she listened to her teaching, in tears while she groaned and sighed.

When morning came, Bryene could scarcely persuade Hieria to come down and return to her parents’ home. When they had bidden farewell to one another, Hieria departed, her eyes brim­ming with tears.

She went home and urged her parents to abandon the empty tradition of idolatry that they had received from their own par­ents, and instead recognize God, the Creator of all.

Afterward Febronia asked Thomais, who was next in authority to the abbess, “I beg of you, mother, tell me who is this stranger sister who was so given to tears as though she had never before heard God’s Book?”

“Don’t you know who this sister is?” replied Thomais.

“How could I recognize her, seeing that she is a stranger?” said Febronia.

“She is Hieria, the wife of a senator,” said Thomais, “who has just come to live here.”

“Why did you deceive me, and not tell me,” said Febronia. “I addressed her as though she were a sister.”

“These were the instructions of the abbess,” replied Thomais.

Now it so happened that at that time Febronia fell gravely ill and lay on her pallet at the point of death. When Hieria heard the news, she came along and did not leave Febronia’s side until she had recovered from her illness.

At that time Emperor Diocletian sent a detachment of soldiers to Assyria under the command of Lysimachus, Selenos and Primus with orders to destroy the Christian community. When the detachment of soldiers approached the convent, the inhabitants hid. Only Abbess Bryene, her helper Thomais and Febronia remained. Eventually Selenos had Febronia fiercely tortured for refusing to deny her faith in Christ. She suffered unspeakable torments at his command.

When Hieria, the senator’s wife, learnt that the nun Febronia was to be tried before the judge’s tribunal, she got up and gave a loud wail. Her parents and everyone in the house asked her in amazement what was the matter. “My sister Febronia has gone to the court house,” she replied. “My teacher is on trial for being a Christian.” Her parents tried hard to get her to calm down, but she lamented and wept all the more. “Leave me alone to weep bitterly for my sister and teacher Febronia,” she begged them.

Her words so affected her parents that they started mourning for Febronia. Having asked them to allow her to go and see the con­test, she set off with a number of servants and handmaids. As she came running in tears to the spectacle, she met on the road throngs of women also running and lamenting. She also came across Thomais, and having recognized one another, they came together, lamenting and weeping, to the site of the spectacle.

As Selenos had Febronia mercilessly beaten and tortured, the crowd of people were unable to bear witness to such a horrid spectacle and left the scene of the torture, cursing Diocletian and his gods. When Thomais saw the terrible things that were happening to Febronia, she fainted, collapsing on the ground at Hieria’s feet. Hieria herself cried out with a loud voice, “Alas, Febronia, my sister, alas my lady and my teacher. Today we have been deprived of your instruction, and not just yours, but also that of the lady Thomais, for here she is dead as well.”

When Febronia heard Hieria’s voice as she lay on the ground, she asked the soldiers to bring some water for her face. They brought it at once and applied it to her face. This at once revived her and she asked to see Hieria. The judge, however, told her to stand up and answer his questions. Then he put Febronia through even more severe tortures.

Hieria got up and shouted at the judge, “You are an enemy to the equilibrium of human nature: are you not satisfied with the terrible things you have already brought upon this wretched girl? Are you not reminded of your own mother, who had the same body and wore the same sort of clothes as her? Are you not mindful of the ill-fated day when you were born, how you too received nourishment at those breasts flowing with milk? I am amazed that your savage and merciless heart has not been touched by such things. May the heavenly King not spare you. just as you have not spared this poor girl. “

The judge was enraged by Hieria’s words and gave orders that she too be brought down to be tried. On hearing this, Hieria hurriedly came down, full of happiness, saying, “O God of Febronia, receive me too, a poor pagan, along with my lady Febronia."

As she was making her way down, Selenos’ friends advised him not to bring her down in public, otherwise the entire city would join her in martyrdom and the city would be lost. Selenos accepted the advice, and so did not make Hieria stand there in public; instead, flaring up in a rage, he simply addressed her: “Listen, Hieria, as the gods live, you have become the cause of many further sufferings for Febronia.” Whereupon he ordered both Febronia’s hands and her right foot to be cut off. The execu­tioner immediately brought along a block, placed it under her right hand and struck it off with a single blow of the axe. He did the same with her left hand. Then the executioner placed the block under her right foot and brought down the axe, but failed to sever the foot; he struck a second time but failed again. The crowd in the meantime uttered gasps and groans. When he struck her the third time with the axe, he only just managed to sever Febronia’s foot. The blessed woman’s body was quivering all over, and she was on the point of expiring; nevertheless, she tried to put her other leg on the wooden block, asking for it to be cut off as well. When the judge saw what she was doing, he ex­claimed, “Just look at the perseverance of the impudent woman,” and in a great fury he said to the executioner, “Go on, cut it off.” Finally, after spending some time in anguish, Saint Febronia was beheaded.

When they had brought Febronia's mutilated body back to the convent, Hieria cried out over her: "I do homage to these holy feet that have trampled upon the head of the dragon. Let me kiss the wounds and gashes on this holy body, for by means of them have the scars of my own soul been healed. Let me crown with the flowers of praise this head that has crowned our race with the beauty of these glorious achievements.”

Large crowds of pagans came to believe in our Lord and were baptized. Lysimachus and Primus themselves were bap­tized, and renouncing the world, they went off with the abbot Markellinos to live a life pleasing to Christ, completing their days in peace. Many of the soldiers believed in our Lord and were baptized, as were Hieria and her parents. Hieria left her parents, renounced the world, and went off to the convent, which she en­dowed with all that she possessed. She requested Bryene, asking her, “I beg you, mother, let your handmaid take the place of the lady Febronia: I will toil as she did.” So Hieria threw off all her jewelry, and she had the blessed girl’s coffin covered with gold and pearls all over.

The bishop of the town built a splendid and beautiful shrine to the blessed Febronia, completing it in six years. It was his wish that her relics be enshrined there. When she had heard this, Bryene said, “I beg you, my lords, if it seems good in your eyes and if it seems good to the blessed girl herself, who am I to prevent it? Come in, then, and take her off.”

The bishops got up and entered to say the Office, whereupon Hieria started weeping and exclaiming, “Alas for us, you are de­priving our convent of a great blessing today! Alas for us, today bereavement and affliction are come to our convent! Alas for us, we are handing over our pearl!” She came sobbing to Bryene, saying, “What are you doing, mother? Why are you depriving me of my sister for whose sake I left everything to take refuge here with you?” Bryene, seeing Hieria in such a state, asked her, “Why are you crying, my daughter Hieria? If she wants to go, she will go.”

When the bishops had finished praying and everyone had said” Amen” after them, they approached to take up the blessed girl’s coffin. At that moment there was a clap of thunder in the sky, and all the people fell down in fright. Then after a while they put out their hands to take the coffin, but this time there was a great earthquake, so that they imagined the entire town would be ruined.

The bishops and all the people thus realized that the holy mar­tyr did not want to leave her convent. Sorrowfully, the bishops said to Bryene, “If the blessed woman does not want to leave the convent, let her give us just one of her limbs that were cut off as a blessing: we will take it and be off.”

So they did. And Hieria lived in the convent the rest of her life, and she reposed in peace.

Martyrdom of St. Febronia

Apolytikion in the Third Tone
The energies of the Divine Spirit, you received as a living fire, Hieria by your luminous conduct, you bring fervor to our inellects, and eradicate our bonds to evil; glorious Mother, entreat Christ God, to grant us the great mercy.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
The abundant rain of your pains O Venerable one, quenches the burning of the passions, and thoroughly waters our intellects, towards true fruitfulness; therefore Hieria we celebrate you.

You entered the angelic life, and were made worthy of otherworldly gleaming, Mother Hieria, having beheld glory, through you may we be kept invulnerable.