June 7, 2018

Holy Martyr Potamiana the Virgin

St. Potamiana the Martyr (Feast Day - June 7)


Praise is not sufficient for Potamiana,
Even if the river imitates the stream.

Saint Potamiana suffered martyrdom in Alexandria during the reign of Septimius Severus (193-211). She, along with her mother Marcella, were arrested and Potamiana was threatened with being handed over to gladiators to be abused, if she refused to renounce her Christianity. The judge regarded her response as impious and ordered their immediate death by being burned in a cauldron of pitch. She was subsequently dipped little by little in boiling pitch till she died, according to Palladius, or the pitch was dripped all over her body, according to Eusebius.

We read about her in the Lausiac History (ch. 3), where Palladius informs us of the following about her:

'This blessed man Isidore, who had met Anthony of blessed memory, told me a story which is worth recording, which he had heard from Anthony. There was a certain young virgin called Potamiana who was exceedingly beautiful and she was a Christian; she was the handmaiden of a certain worldly man who was given over to a life of pleasure, and she lived in very great luxury, and her master flattered her greatly, wishing to destroy her. And being unable to bring her into subjection to his will, he at length was seized with madness, and he became furiously angry with her and delivered her over to a certain prefect who lived at that time in Alexandria (i.e., Basilides), saying, “She is a Christian, and she reviles the government, and utters blasphemies against the Emperor.” And he promised to give him much money saying, “If she can be persuaded to do my will, keep her for me without disgrace and punishment, but if she persists in her obstinacy of heart, punish her with every kind of torture that pleases you, and let her not remain alive to laugh at me and at my luxurious way of life.” And when they brought the valiant woman before the throne of the judges, she was greatly moved, but she was not persuaded; and the prefect tortured the body of the virgin of Christ with many different kinds of tortures. Then again after these things he thought out a crafty plan, and invented a method of punishment by torture which was as follows. He commanded them to bring a huge cauldron which was full of pitch, and to light a fierce fire under it, and when the pitch was melted and was boiling, the judge cried to her, saying, “Go and submit yourself to the will of your lord, and know if you do not this thing you shall straightway fall into this cauldron.” Now when she heard this, she sealed her soul, and answered and said, “You judge with iniquity, O judge, for you command me to become subject unto fornication. I am the handmaiden of Christ, and it is meet that I should stand before His throne without blemish.” And when the judge heard this, he was straightway greatly troubled and filled with wrath, and he commanded them to bring her and to cast her into the cauldron. Then the virgin said unto him, “I adjure you, by the head of the Emperor, if you condemn me to this thing of your own self, to command them to put me into the cauldron little by little, without stripping my apparel from me, so that you may know the patient endurance which I have through Christ for the sake of my purity.” And as they were dipping her little by little into the cauldron, for a very short space of time, immediately the pitch reached her neck and it became cold; thus she delivered her soul unto God, and she was crowned with a good martyrdom. And a great congregation of holy men and women were made perfect (i.e., they suffered martyrdom) at that time in the Church of Alexandria, and they became worthy of that land which the meek inherit.'

In the account of her martyrdom in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History (Bk. 6, Ch. 5, 6), we read of the martyrdoms of certain pupils of Origen and their association with Potamiana's martyrdom:

'Prominent men even of the unbelieving heathen and men that followed learning and philosophy were led to his [Origen's] instruction. Some of them having received from him into the depth of their souls faith in the Divine Word, became prominent in the persecution then prevailing; and some of them were seized and suffered martyrdom. The first of these was Plutarch. As he was led to death, the man of whom we are speaking being with him at the end of his life, came near being slain by his fellow citizens, as if he were the cause of his death. But the providence of God preserved him at this time also. After Plutarch, the second martyr among the pupils of Origen was Serenus, who gave through fire a proof of the faith which he had received. The third martyr from the same school was Heraclides, and after him the fourth was Hero. The former of these was as yet a catechumen, and the latter had but recently been baptized. Both of them were beheaded. After them, the fifth from the same school proclaimed as an athlete of piety was another Serenus, who, it is reported, was beheaded, after a long endurance of tortures. And of women, Herais died while yet a catechumen, receiving baptism by fire, as Origen himself somewhere says.

Basilides may be counted the seventh of these. He led to martyrdom the celebrated Potamiana, who is still famous among the people of the country for the many things which she endured for the preservation of her chastity and virginity. For she was blooming in the perfection of her mind and her physical graces. Having suffered much for the faith of Christ, finally after tortures dreadful and terrible to speak of, she with her mother, Marcella, was put to death by fire. They say that the judge, Aquila by name, having inflicted severe tortures upon her entire body, at last threatened to hand her over to the gladiators for bodily abuse. After a little consideration, being asked for her decision, she made a reply which was regarded as impious. Thereupon she received sentence immediately, and Basilides, one of the officers of the army, led her to death. But as the people attempted to annoy and insult her with abusive words, he drove back her insulters, showing her much pity and kindness. And perceiving the man's sympathy for her, she exhorted him to be of good courage, for she would supplicate her Lord for him after her departure, and he would soon receive a reward for the kindness he had shown her. Having said this, she nobly sustained the issue, burning pitch being poured little by little, over various parts of her body, from the sole of her feet to the crown of her head. Such was the conflict endured by this famous maiden.

Not long after this Basilides, being asked by his fellow-soldiers to swear for a certain reason, declared that it was not lawful for him to swear at all, for he was a Christian, and he confessed this openly. At first they thought that he was jesting, but when he continued to affirm it, he was led to the judge, and, acknowledging his conviction before him, he was imprisoned. But the brethren in God coming to him and inquiring the reason of this sudden and remarkable resolution, he is reported to have said that Potamiana, for three days after her martyrdom, stood beside him by night and placed a crown on his head and said that she had besought the Lord for him and had obtained what she asked, and that soon she would take him with her. Thereupon the brethren gave him the seal of the Lord; and on the next day, after giving glorious testimony for the Lord, he was beheaded. And many others in Alexandria are recorded to have accepted speedily the word of Christ in those times. For Potamiana appeared to them in their dreams and exhorted them. But let this suffice in regard to this matter.'

The description of the episode of intercession of Potamiana on behalf of Basilides, narrated in Eusebius’ text, constitutes one of the first documents that concerns the intercession of saints. Thus Potamiana appeared to many other persons at that time, calling them to faith and martyrdom. To these conversions, Origen, an eyewitness, testifies in his Contra Celsum (Bk. 1, Ch. 46):

'And although Celsus, or the Jew whom he has introduced, may treat with mockery what I am going to say, I shall say it nevertheless — that many have been converted to Christianity as if against their will, some sort of spirit having suddenly transformed their minds from a hatred of the doctrine to a readiness to die in its defense, and having appeared to them either in a waking vision or a dream of the night. Many such instances have we known, which, if we were to commit to writing, although they were seen and witnessed by ourselves, we should afford great occasion for ridicule to unbelievers, who would imagine that we, like those whom they suppose to have invented such things, had ourselves also done the same.'

Such are the sources of the life and martyrdom of the Holy Virgin Martyr Potamiana.