October 4, 2017

Holy Martyrs Domnina, Bernike and Prosdoke of Syria

St. Domnina and her Two Daughters (Feast day - October 4)


The three maidens were washed in the current of the river,
Ignoring their lives.

These three women, a mother and her two daughters, were celebrated in homilies by Eusebius of Emesa* and Saint John Chrysostom,** from which we receive information concerning their lives and martyrdoms. During the persecution under Diocletian in the year 302, Domnina, to escape persecution, fled Antioch with her two daughters Bernike and Prosdike, and took refuge in the city of Edessa.

While in Edessa the husband of Domnina and the father of her daughters,*** who was a zealous pagan, pursued them with a band of soldiers. He captured them and had them brought to Hierapolis, near which a river flowed. As the soldiers were eating and drinking, they secretly entered the river and gave themselves up to the currents. Standing in the middle of the river, with her daughters on each side of her, after they prayed Domnina lowered herself and her daughters into the river, and they drowned, or rather were baptized into a new life by their mother.**** Thus she helped herself and especially her virgin daughters escape from being corrupted by the drunken soldiers. As Chrysostom says: "She was not afraid of torture, but of the lustful eyes of the unbelievers. She didn't fear that someone might puncture her ribs, but was afraid that someone might destroy her daughters' virginity."

Chrysostom further explains: "[Domnina] endured far greater tortures in the river [than she would have at court]. My point, as I started saying, is that it was truly far more cruel and painful than to see flesh scourged, to drown her own innards, I mean her daughters, by her own hand, and to see them suffocating, and it required far greater philosophy than to endure tortures for her to have the capacity to restrain her children’s right hands and to drag them along with her into the river’s currents. For it was not the same in terms of pain to see [her daughters] suffering badly at the hands of others and to herself act as death’s servant, to herself promote their end, to herself stand against her daughters in place of an executioner."

And Eusebius concludes his sermon with the following exhortation: "These are your holocausts, your sacrifices, these are the mothers and daughters of the Church, the good treasures, most beautiful treasures, the honored miracles. Men, do not wish to be bested by women. Women, do not wish to be left behind by your sisters."

Chrysostom further informs us that their coffins and relics were in Antioch, and he exhorted his listeners to go to their graves often and venerate them and seek their intercessions, since they have great boldness before God.


* Eusebius preached his sermon around 335.

** Chrysostom preached his sermon around 391.

*** The Synaxarion of Constantinople says it was the husband of Bernike with her father, but Chrysostom and Eusebius say the daughters were both virgins and it was only their father and the husband of Domnina.

**** Chrysostom uses interesting imagery here of the mother drowning her two children to save them. He writes: "The mother baptized them. Yes, women too baptize with baptisms of this kind, just as assuredly that women too both baptized at that time and became a priestess. For truly she offered rational victims, and her purpose became her ordination. Indeed, what was most astonishing is that she didn't require an altar when she performed the sacrifice, nor wood, nor fire, nor a knife. For the river became everything - altar and wood and knife and fire and offering and baptism."