Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Holy Proto martyr Thecla,
Equal to the Apostles.

Feast day 24 September

Fresco in the Nativity of the Mother of God Church
St John the Baptist Monastery - Douma - Lebanon
   Thecla was born in Iconium of eminent pagan parents. She was betrothed at the age of eighteen to a young man, at the time that the Apostle Paul came to Iconium with Barnabas to preach the Gospel. Listening to Paul for three days and nights, Thecla turned utterly to the Christian faith and vowed to live in virginity. Her mother, seeing that she shunned her betrothed and thought no more of marriage, first talked to her and then beat her and starved her. Finally, she gave her over to the judges and demanded, wicked mother that she was, that Thecla be burned. The judge threw her into the flames, but God preserved her unharmed. Thecla then became a follower of the Apostle Paul, and went with him to Antioch.
Attracted by Thecla's beauty, an elder of the city attemp­ted to take her by force, but Thecla tore herself out of his grasp. The elder denounced her to the governor as a Christian who was averse to marriage. The governor condemned her to death and threw her to the wild beasts, but the animals would not touch the body of this holy virgin. Amazed at this, the governor asked: “Who are you, and what is the power that you have in you, that nothing can do you harm?”. Thecla replied: “I am a servant of the living God.” Then the governor let her go free, and she began to preach the Gospel and succeeded in bringing many to the true Faith, among whom was an eminent and honoured widow, Tryphena. After this, St Thecla, with the blessing of the Apostle Paul, withdrew to a solitary place near Seleucia. She lived a long time there in asceticism, healing the sick with miraculous power and in this way bringing many to Christi­anity. The doctors in Seleucia were jealous of her and sent some young men to assault her, hoping that, in losing her virginity, she would lose also her miraculous power. Thecla fled from these insolent young men and, when she saw that they would catch her, prayed to God for help in front of a rock, and the rock opened and hid the holy maiden and bride of Christ. This rock was her hiding­ place and her tomb. St Chrysostom says of this wonderful Christian heroine and saint: “I seem to see this blessed virgin going to Christ with virginity in one hand and martyrdom in the other.”*

N.B.: In our tradition St Thecla is considered to have been buried in a rock in the ancient village of Maaloula in Syria, the only village which still speaks Aramaic in the world.

A Miracle of St Thecla in Seleucia:
   One day a very great fear oppressed this city of Seleucia: some bandits, the Hagarenes, were about to attack it, ei­ther to seize it by treachery or to deal with it by open war and terror. They had only to desire it, and the city would be in their hands! The citizens, as often happens, disbelieved the rumors circulating at that time and were even reclin­ing at meals or spending their time at spectacles, not sus­pecting in the slightest the imminent danger. But their ene­mies were awake and watchful, all but dividing by lot the inhabitants' goods and persons.
   When their armed band equipped itself and was already nearby; and calamity was creeping toward the walls, at a time when the night - a time appropriate for such a bold attack - ­was not far off, being moonless, without light, and dark, and once a deep sleep had fallen over those who were suppos­edly mounting guard, and the engines were already near the walls, so that the woes of conquest were already breathing hard upon the inhabitants, and there was now no option except for the city to be plundered, the martyr Thekla ap­peared alone atop the walls, in brilliant radiance, all but rais­ing the war cry against the enemies, so that she repelled them from their attack and roused all the inhabitants to the ramparts.
   Great was the courage she inspired in them; great was the fear with which she shook the attackers, so that, contrary to every expectation, the city which was already under the con­trol of the enemy was saved, and so that the enemy itself, which had great expectations, was disappointed to an even greater degree. Nor did they understand the manner and source of their misfortune, but even up to the present the miracle of the martyr still has a great reputation among them. For from that abominable troop there are still some alive who glorify the martyr exceedingly for these events and acknowledge the defeat that was for them unexpected in every way.**

* Mother Maria (1986), The Prologue from Ochrid: Lives of Saints and Homilies for every day of the year by Saint Nikolai Velimirovic (Part III), Lazarica Press, Birmingham, United Kingdom.
** Alice-Mary Talbot and Scott Fitzgerald Johnson (2012), Miracle Tales from Byzantium, Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, President and Fellows of Harvard College, U.S.A.