October 11, 2017

Holy Martyrs Zenaida and Philonella the Sisters

Sts. Zenaida and Philonella (Feast Day - October 11)


The friends of peace reposed in peace,
Both Zenais together with Philonella.

The holy sisters Zenaida (or Zenais) and Philonella were born in the district of Tarsus early in the first century. They were cousins of the Apostle Paul and were born into a highly educated Jewish family. Both sisters had a natural intelligence and a love for learning. When they entered the famous school at Tarsus to study philosophy, the sisters were instantly attracted to the lectures of the medical theorists. Their cousin Jason, Bishop of Tarsus, was an early convert to Christianity and a follower of their kinsman, the Apostle Paul.

The two sisters learned the Christian faith from Jason and were attracted by the love and compassion of Christ. After their baptism, the two gave themselves over more fully to the study of medicine and began to apply Christian principles and ideas to medical philosophy. They understood that salvation is a healing process and they were deeply impressed with the realization that Christ healed the whole person, spiritual and physical, with the presence of the Holy Spirit.

When Saints Zenaida and Philonalla completed their studies, they moved to Thessaly, where there were many medicinal mineral springs flowing in the numerous caverns of the Felion Mountains. Here, the Greeks had centers of pagan worship tied to the philosophy of medicine and the worship of Asklepios, the patron of healing. The holy sisters desired to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the great crowds of people who visited these mineral hot springs for healing. Their earnest desire was to combine scientific medicine with prayer and faith and so reveal the nature of salvation and proclaim Jesus Christ to whomever would hear the words of the glorious gospel.

Finding a cavern with a mineral spring, Zenaida and Philonella built two cells and a small chapel for themselves. Having thus established a women's monastery, they used their wealth to create a clinic. The pagan physicians not only sought out the wealthy and generally ignored the poor, but they mixed their medical practice with magic, superstition and witchcraft. Much money was earned from the sale of medical amulets, charms and useless compounds. The two sisters opened their hearts to the poor.

Philonella was a patient and careful scholar. Almost at once she set herself to developing experimental medicine which would approach a scientific medicine.

All her life she would labor to free medicine from the idea of magic, astrology and superstition. Zenaida, on the other hand, was more contemplative. She was keenly interested in the suffering of children and worked to develop pediatric care, but her first love was monasticism. So famous did she become as a spiritual eldress that both men and women sought her spiritual counsel. Three of her spiritual children, Papias, Pateras and Philokyros built a men's monastery not far from the cavern-hospital of the holy sisters.

The sisters' love, compassion and openness to the poor and humble attracted many to the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, and not only the medical skill of the two sisters became renowned, but the miracles worked through their prayers established many in the Gospel.

Toward the end of her life, Saint Zenaida became interested in psychiatric medicine. Many of those who came to their hospital suffered from severe depression and other psychiatric illnesses. Zenaida had the wisdom to recognize these as actual illnesses and concerned herself with their causes and cure.

It is not known in what year Saint Zenaida departed this life, but she left her sister Philonella to carry on their work and instruct others in Christian medicine and the faith. It is said she died after she stepped on a nail, and died after removing it. After the death of her beloved sister, Philonella entered more deeply into the spiritual life, leaving the treatment and care of patients more and more to the students and other nuns. She also became renowned as a wonderworker and reposed in peace and at a great age. The Holy Church bestowed the title, "Friends of Peace" on the two saints because they both preached and practiced peace. Philonella often said that a peaceful and serene disposition could not only aid in healing but could even prevent illness. For her, the source of true peace was the Holy Spirit and the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. The disciples of Saint Zenaida reported that her last words in this life were a prayer for the peace of the world.

Not only were Saints Zenaida and Philonella the first Christian doctors (after the Apostle Luke), but they were the first of those saints whom we call "unmercenary physicians"; Christian medicine began with holy women.

Apolytikion in the Third Tone
The greatly-honored Tarsus let us honor, which blossomed forth the precious flowers: Zenais the Wise and Philonilla, for they possessed the unassailable crypt of the faith, and deposed all the ranks of the demons. They therefore rejoice with the Angels, and ever intercede for us.