Saint Beatrix of Rome and the Darkness Before Dawn

Saint Beatrix of Rome

Working as a historian, there is a temptation to feel like an omniscient narrator of lives and events. “If only they had known this fact, they would not have chosen that path, and their lives would have been quite different…” Endless hours of roundtable speculation regarding battles, personalities, who said what and when, all end up being so much Monday morning quarterbacking. The truth is, since we cannot even fathom our own motivations, we cannot  transpose onto others what they would have done. We have our ideas about fairness or justice, our underdog in the fight of human social struggle. Why did they die so soon? Just a few days later or a year later, their world changed, and their lives would have been spared.

My parish, St. Raphael of Brooklyn Mission, in Fuquay Varina, NC, recently accepted a generous gift of three saints’ relics. Over the last three weeks, Fr. James has introduced us to each saint individually and we have venerated their relics. We are honored to have St. Joseph the Betrothed, St. Luke the Evangelist, and St. Beatrix of Rome at our parish now. While the other two saints need no initial introduction, St. Beatrix’s story intrigued me. As she would be in our veneration and act as intercessor for our parish, I delved into the background of her life and martyrdom.

The reign of Diocletian, from 286 to 305, was that darkness for the Church before a dawn they could not fathom would arrive. Emperor Diocletian, from a political and military standpoint, was an incredible reformer of the empire. He restructured the provincial governments, reformed the tax code, attained peace with the Persians, and secured the borders of Rome. He was a successful, hard, and shrewd Emperor who pulled together an empire which was threatened on every side. One threat he could not stamp out were the Christians.

The Diocletian persecution, which was begun as a call to purge the “impious”, or those who were not worshipers of the Roman gods, was the most systematic in the the first 300 years of the Church. Edicts went out to the whole of the empire, commanding that any Christian places of worship be razed, wealth & land confiscated, and Scriptures burned. When the imperial palace caught fire, not once, but twice, Christians were blamed for the plot and several were tortured and burned. Further edicts called for clergy to be arrested and called all Roman citizens to make a universal sacrifice to the gods. Those not complying would face torture and death.

Beatrix and her brothers, Simplicius and Faustinus, lived in Rome when these edicts were made in 303. The brothers were the first who were called out as refusing to sacrifice to the gods. They were beaten with clubs, beheaded, and thrown into the Tiber River. Beatrix found their bodies and had them honorably buried. For seven months after her brothers’ death, Beatrix lived with another Christian woman and helped the persecuted in secret. Eventually, her neighbor reported Beatrix to the authorities because he wanted her property. When she appeared before the judge, she stated she would never sacrifice to demons because she was a Christian. Beatrix was strangled in prison and her fellow Christians buried her next to her brothers. Her accuser, though, did not live long. At a feast, he ridiculed the martyrs, and a child called him out on his treachery. The crowd took vengeance on him and threw his body into a pit.

From our vantage point, we can see those persecuted Christians in the Roman empire only had twenty more years before Constantine made their faith universal. For St. Beatrix and her brothers, though, and all their predecessors, that ‘dawn’ was unfathomable. Freedom to build churches? To worship and pray openly? To make iconography, mosaics, and other religious art without fear of destruction? The truth of the faith to be preached to the people? The faith made universal was the sea-change to which all future experiences would be held. Persecution is that darkness which comes and goes – like the waxing and waning of the moon. We will never be fully free in all the lands where Christianity is lived. Yet, we can wait in that darkness, in the prison cell, with those who suffer, knowing the light of Christ will come, either in this world or the world to come.


Reflections on Political Martyrdom

The Romanov Family

What makes a martyr in the eyes of the Church? You may think the definition is easy: those who died for their faith in Christ. We have hundreds of accounts of martyrs who had a simple choice, acknowledge Christ in front of those who did not and receive tortures and death. Those are counted as martyrs in the eyes of the Church at other times and circumstances often arrive at that status is less direct ways than we might think. St. Thecla is called a martyr, though she suffered multiple times and was spared. Her death, ultimately, spared her from further suffering when she cried out to God. St. Maria Skobtsova died in a concentration camp, when she stepped forward to take another woman’s place in the line for the gas chamber. The point A of faith to the point B of death and how those two are connected is a curving and twisting line for many of our glorified saints.

The Church in Russia and in the diaspora recently marked the 100th anniversary of the deaths of the Romanov family, now glorified as martyrs. This brought to mind how complex the situation surrounding their demise was and how the Church has come full circle, by God’s mercy from the situation. When I was a girl, my mother was fascinated with the Romanovs and the Russian revolution as a historical event. I read several books she owned, from secular writers, about the family. At the time, the Russian people were still Communist and the Church had not yet glorified the martyrs from that yoke. To my young mind, it was a tragic tale without any sort of redeeming value, no happy ending to satisfy my fairytale yearnings. Young princesses died without princes to save them and their bodies dumped far away so their people would forget their horrendous deaths.

The communist era for the formerly Orthodox people, as one Ukranian friend described, was like cutting a plant from its roots and expecting it to live a normal life. No matter the brutality against the people, the annihilation of buildings, the stripping of language and indoctrination of atheism, any monumental effort the state tried to eradicate the roots of faith did not ultimately prevail. Grandmothers remembered the prayers and taught their grandchildren, bringing them in secret to be baptised. A Romanian friend said her grandmother taught her that instead of crossing herself with her hand, to use her tongue inside her mouth to make the sign to bless her food, so that no one would see what she was doing. What of these anecdotes, in the face of such grand horror and the near daily martyrdom at the hands of the state? At the time, that was all they could do, to keep the faith. When Christ dwells in the heart, the mind will not forget.

The uncomfortable reflection from the wisdom of adulthood and the hindsight of history is that in the tale of the Romanovs, the ‘bad guys’ were their subjects. The people wanted their deaths, not in a fit of passion, but in a systematic cleansing of the past. They did not want a new ruler in the same manner – they wanted to forget this family and way of life existed as one in which their faith had been nestled for a millenia. Regicide is a particularly evil means of martyrdom. They sought to exterminate a family, a lineage, from the world because of their inherited power and their status as supporters of the Church. The culpability was not just with one upstart dynastic family over another; it rested with the Russian people.

St. John Maximovitch spoke in memory of the royal martyrs, in 1934:

What did Russia render to her pure-hearted Sovereign, who loved her more than life? She returned love with slander. He was of great morality, but people began to talk about his viciousness. He loved Russia, but people began to talk about his treason. Even the people close to the Sovereign repeated the slander, passing on to each other rumors and gossip. Because of the ill intention of some and the lack of discipline of others, rumors spread and love for the Tsar began to grow cool. They started to talk of the danger to Russia and discuss means of avoiding that non-existent danger, they started to say that to save Russia it would be necessary to dismiss the Sovereign. Calculated evil did its work: it separated Russia from her Tsar and in the dread moment at Pskov  he was alone; no one near to him. Those faithful to him were not admitted to his presence. The dreadful loneliness of the Tsar… But he did not abandon Russia, Russia abandoned him, the one who loved Russia more than life. Thus, in the hope that his self-belittling would still the raging passions of the people, the Sovereign abdicated. But passion never stills. Having achieved what it desires it only inflames more. There was an exultation among those who desired the fall of the Sovereign. The others were silent. They succeeded in arresting the Sovereign; succeeded, and further events were almost inevitable. If someone is left in a beast’s cage he will be torn to pieces sooner or later. The Sovereign was killed, and Russia remained silent. There was no indignation, no protest when that dread, evil deed happened, and this silence is the great sin of the Russian people, and it happened on the day of Saint Andrew, the writer of the Great Canon of Repentance, which is read in churches during Great Lent.


In the 100 years since the Romanov martyrdom, with the changes politically and the resurgence of the life of the Church, an vital recognition of culpable silence is seen in how the Church has remembered the dead from the communist yoke. We saw the 100,000 people in procession which Patriarch Kirill led to the place of their martyrdom outside of Yekaterinburg. He told the faithful,  “We should truly have lasting immunity against any ideas and any leaders who call on us to embrace some new, unknown happy future through the destruction of our life, our traditions and our faith.” This is the great hope, to do the work of healing through the recognition of saints, who died at the hands of one’s immediate forebears. The Church recognizes the failure as one within its house: we made our own martyrs. Similar to the turmoil surrounding the 4th and 5th centuries, when theology and politics drove away, tortured, or martyred many holy fathers, only to have them reinstated late in life or after their death, the Romanovs and the martyrs of the communist yoke are kept as a signpost of tragic transgression. The ‘Memory Eternal’ we sing for their martyrdom is also a reminder to never be silent in the face of evil.

A special thank you to Isabelle Guirguis, my Church school student, who suggested this article topic and helped find the links for this article.


Mother Maria of Paris and Divorce

Mother Maria of Paris

When choosing a patron saint or when you are adopted by one, you may not know in all the ways they will be a support to you throughout your earthly journey. This certainly has become the case with my ‘second name saint’, Mother Maria Skobtsova. I first heard of her during my time as a catechumen as she was recently canonized in 2004 and her writings were being published online. The turbulent historical period surrounding her life in Russia and France, her work with the poor Russian diaspora in Paris, her bravery in aiding the underground network to smuggle out Jewish refugees, her writings about the faith, all of these actions drew me to her as a saint who would understand my motivations in life. What I did not expect was how I would share in her personal suffering.

I am divorced.

When I joined the Orthodox faith, I joined as a wife with a husband who also wished to live the Christian life. Then, three years ago, he suddenly chose to leave everything: the faith and our marriage. As my friends, both in daily life and through social media can attest, I have been very careful to not discuss the details surrounding his choices. This is still a living person for whom I pray out of obedience and with the hope he may come to repentance. I do not hope for a reconciliation, only that he may not be harmed in whatever I may do or say. Any more discussion about the circumstances is uncharitable.

Liza Pilenko was born and raised as an Orthodox Christian, but the young woman was attracted towards Bolshevism and atheism in her teens. She spent most of her time with young visionaries, artists, and political malcontents of early 1900’s St. Petersburg. At age 18, she married Dimitri Kuzmin-Karaviev, a member of Social Democrat Party. She wrote poetry and taught at a factory. After three years of marriage and while pregnant with her first child, Dimitri left her. Liza returned to her family home where she lived during WWI and the Russian civil war. Her interest in Christianity renewed at this time and as the dark clouds of war and unrest closed in she knew that, “God is over all!”

Her second marriage to Daniel Skobstov came about in a dramatic fashion. Liza became the acting mayor of Anapa when the town’s Bolshevik mayor fled when the White Army took control of the region. The Army thought she was a Red, though she spoke in her defense that she had no political allegiance other than, “I will act for justice and for the relief of the suffering. I will try to love my neighbor!” Daniel was her judge that day. He spared her execution. Liza returned to thank him. After several days, the two got married.

The family fled Russia, eventually finding refuge in Paris in 1923. Liza joined the activities of the Russian Student Christian Movement and sought out ways to serve her neighbors. A major turning point in Liza’s life was when their young daughter, Nastia, died from the complications of influenza in 1926. Liza turned to her faith in God more deeply. She saw her motherhood expanding, even as her older children sought education away from home. Her work with the Russian refugee community grew; she rolled up her sleeves and earned their trust through practical service. Liza also published a collection of lives of the saints. Daniel and Liza separated, with her moving into rooms with the workers. She desired to dedicate herself towards building a new monastic vocation in the poor districts of Paris. It was only when Metropolitan Eulogy visited Daniel, that he consented to an ecclesiastical divorce. Liza became Mother Maria.

The double edged sword that modern saints bear as their witness is having more details recorded about their lives. On the one side, this helps us who bear their names, feel more kinship with them because of all the aspects of their personalities which shine through the anecdotes. Mother Maria was known for enjoying cigarettes and a stout glass of beer in street side cafes. She spoke as an equal with the mongers in the markets where she begged food in Paris. Her directness, her unqualified charity and hospitality, her command in doing what was right no matter the cost, all endear her to those who are only a generation away. I could very well ring a bell at her doorstep and know she would welcome me with open arms.

The other side of the sword, however, is using these anecdotes to become too comfortable with a saint in their fallen humanity. The spiritually immature may think, “This saint had these foibles or propensity towards sin, therefore, I am excused in the same behavior and I will turn out alright.” We can see a person living with a malady and not see the suffering involved with a cure or the management thereof. Someone may walk with a limp as an adult, but they began life unable to crawl or stand. Years of pain, rehabilitation, and even surgeries can bring about the ‘miraculous’ in our physical bodies. This is no less true in our souls.

Is it better to know less about a saint’s life than more? Like the seed of the Gospel, it depends on the hearer, whether a few sentences or a whole book is profitable. The example of Mother Maria, with her struggles through war and upheaval, the death of a child, and the ending of two marriages, that the greater the challenges in life, the greater the response in living out holiness in the world. God forbid we should face the same sorts of calamity and evil as was visited upon the Russian and European peoples in the 20th century! Even so – in the face of dread darkness – the light of one nun who refused to turn away her neighbor in need and to spare another’s life with the payment of her own is worthy of all the words written by her and about her. The words we write about the saints are our gift of eternal memory, whether many or few, to their faithfulness in Christ.


Troparion (Tone 4)

You became a bride of Christ, O venerable Mother,

And offered your body and soul to Him as a living sacrifice.

You exposed the evil side of humanity’s ways

By allowing the light of the Resurrection to shine forth from you.

We celebrate your memory in love.

O Martyr and Confessor Maria

Pray to Christ our God that He may save our souls.

Kontakion (Tone 6)

You became an instrument of divine love, O holy martyr Maria,

And taught us to love Christ with all our being.

You conquered evil by not submitting yourself into the hands of the destroyer of souls.

You drank from the cup of suffering.

The Creator accepted your death above any other sacrifice

And crowned you with the laurels of victory with His mighty hand.

Pray fervently that nothing may hinder us from fulfilling God’s will

Because you are a bright star shining in darkness!




Saint Ia and Journeys

Saint Ia on the leaf

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

No, it doesn’t.

It begins after the 60th mile. You’ve already put 4 or 5  days distance between you and home. You can’t go back; you’ve come too far. Your friends and family now feel your absence. They are starting to believe you will do it this time. You have blisters. The scenery has changed noticeably. The people are strangers. This is the furthest point you have come away from what you had always known, just as Sam stopped while leaving the Shire, knowing where he tread next was the adventure. The next step is the first one and the next mile is the journey.

Ia, pronounced Hi-ya, was a young Irish noblewoman living in the 6th century, during the great flourishing of Christianity on that island. She was a sister to St. Erc of Slane and companion to several holy leaders. They had banded together to make a missionary journey to Cornwall and set up a monastic establishment. Ia was a contemporary of St. Melangell and shared many commonalities. The group of missionaries had gathered at modern day Waterford to set sail.

Ia missed the boat.

We don’t know exactly why she was not with her companions on the day they left or if they purposefully left her behind. The stories say she was too young to travel by herself, which is why she did not hop the next boat to the Cornish coast. She did not give up and turn back to what could have been an acceptable Christian life in Ireland. To Cornwall God had called her and to Cornwall God would take her.

Ia saw a leaf washing up near the shore. She reached out with her staff and poked the leaf. It did not sink. Then she watched the leaf grow into the size of a coracle, a basket-shaped boat made for one. Ia stepped into the leaf and the wind took her out across the ocean. She landed near the Hayle River and set up a monastic cell near her companions. The group continued to witness to the Gospel of Christ until she and the entire group suffered martyrdom at the hand of the King of Cornwall. The port city of St. Ives is named after her.

We often make ‘beginnings’ as St. Anthony says, “Every day I say to myself, ‘Today I will begin’” I know I often leave a wake of well-intentioned beginnings which never come to fruition, new habits which do not stick and unfinished projects. Yet, what the life of St. Anthony shows us, is that we never begin at the same place. What we work with, our soul and body, are ever changing, one towards God (hopefully) and one towards the grave. The key is perseverance. Every morning may be a fresh day with no spots on it. The materials we are given, however, are there to be shaped from the clay of yesterday.

For St. Ia, she had already put ‘skin in the game’, of forsaking all for the Gospel of Christ. The coastline was her last safe step. Beyond there, she ventured into the unknown. Where have you stopped? Do you hear voices telling you that success is impossible because you’ve never made it past a certain point? Have you stopped because you see no other way forward according to your best reckoning? Perhaps you need just a leaf and a step forward, instead of a boat and a gaggle of friends, to bring you towards where God would have you.


Troparion of St Ia

Tone 5

Thy life and mission

were pleasing to God, most pious Ia,

for seeing thee left behind in Ireland,

He miraculously transported thee across the sea to Cornwall on a leaf.

Wherefore O Saint, pray to God for us

that we may never give way to despair

but ever trust in His great mercy.


Saint Thekla and Preaching the Gospel

St. Thekla, Equal to the Apostles

We would like to think of Thekla in our modern definitions as spunky or unconventional. The branding of materials marketed to girls likes to emphasis bravery, pioneering attitudes, and achieving the remarkable. While there is much to be lauded in teaching young women to value their intelligence and capability, this sort of “I’ll show you” message is not what we encounter in Thekla.  No, friends, being merely spunky does not get you almost martyred several times. There is a difference between being a non-conformist and embarking on the radically different. There is also a difference between trivial personal rebellious monikers (tattoos, hair color, clothing choices, piercings, etc.) and the life lived out of the desire to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. One thing might get you noticed for five minutes and the other will have you remembered for the ages of the Church.

Thekla was the daughter of Greek nobles from the city of Iconium, which is now in central Turkey. She was a famed local beauty and was engaged at the age of eighteen to a respectable man named Thamyris. As a young woman in the first century Greek culture, her future life was well set up.

The Apostle Paul stopped in Iconium on his way from Antioch. He stay with Onesiphoros and taught all who came to visit at his house. Thekla followed others to the house and listened at the doorway to this strange teaching. She forgot food & drink, even her family and obligations to her fiance. All she wanted was to hear more about Christ!

Before long, Paul was captured and imprisoned, partly at the behest of Thekla’s mother, who complained about Paul ruining her daughter’s life. This did not stop Thekla from seeking him out. She bribed the jailer with her jewelry in order to sit in the jail cell with Paul to hear more of his teachings. At the trial, Paul was flogged and banished from Iconium. Thekla refused to return to her home and marry Thamyris. In a rage, her mother asked the judge for a death sentence, a trial by fire. Thekla crossed herself and walked into the flames. A storm blew up and extinguished the fire. She was completely unharmed.

After this, Thekla fled Iconium and found the Apostle Paul and his companions praying in a cave not far from the city. The group then set out for Antioch, including Thekla as one of their number. Not long after they began preaching in Antioch, a Greek man named Alexander began to pursue Thekla, demanding she marry him. Again, she was put in front of the authorities and condemned to death. Wild animals were set on her twice, but each time they refused to touch her and became gentle. Then her torturers tied her to oxen and chased them with red hot irons. The cords broke and the oxen ran off. The people began shouting, “Great is the God of the Christians!” The prefect was frightened at the display of God’s power and set Thekla free.

At the direction of the Apostle Paul, Thekla returned to her region, Isaurian Seleucia, and dwelt in the hills. She constantly preached the Gospel and was granted the gift of healing. Several prominent pagan priests were converted through her witness. When she was 90 years old, Thekla was confronted by a coven of sorcerers who were angry at her healing the sick for free. They sent a group of young men to defile her. St. Thekla cried out to God to protect her. The rocks cleft and swallowed her, thus God took her to Himself. St. Thekla is invoked at the tonsure of women into monasticism and is a frequent patron of parish women’s societies. Her feast day is September 24th.

The Church has granted St. Thekla the titles, Protomartyr and Equal of the Apostles. Her icon depicts her holding both a cross for martyrdom and a scroll or Gospel book for her teaching. Though Thekla did not die until old age at the will of God, she faced martyrdom without fear multiple times. She spent 70 years proclaiming the Gospel. I find it fascinating that Thekla encapsulated so many traits of all the saints to come. She was a teacher, an unmercenary, a virgin martyr, and an ascetic (one could say proto-monastic). As her Kontakion says,

“You shone out with the beauty of virginity, you were adorned with a crown of martyrdom, you were entrusted with the work of an apostle, glorious virgin; and you changed the fire’s flame to dew, while by prayer you tamed the raging of the bull as a victorious first Champion.”

Now, to address the overwhelming negative reaction to Thekla’s choice to forsake her family and marriage. Here is a young woman (like many virgin martyrs, her beauty is noted in the hagiography) who had a promising life plan. Running away from home is one thing, and her reputation probably would have been repairable, if she had come home sensibly and married. Rejecting both the gods and marriage, here was an incomprehensible ‘crime’: she wanted to follow this religious teacher who came out of nowhere to spread the same message! Such lunacy was incredibly destabilizing to the Greco-Roman culture who had formalized state recognized monogamy with rights for both parties.

I would posit that St. Thekla was doing more than getting stars in her eyes and running away from home to follow a religious fanatic. In all of her long life after she encountered the Apostle Paul, she made fundamental choices, in obedience, to reflect how the Gospel should be lived. She was not merely first in one mode of holiness; she was first in them all. Her boldness was for Christ and not for her gain. The Church says she is ‘the glory of women’. Note how she is not sent away from the Apostles’ company; she is welcomed and taken aboard. She is able to communicate the Gospel in both word and her physical witness. The Apostle Paul recognizes these gifts and sends her back to her people as an apostolic presence.

In those long years, I believe, is where most of us in regular parish life, can feel the most kinship with St. Thekla. Her zeal did not consume her like a quickly moving grass fire. She was planted as a lighthouse; a beacon for travelers and neighbors, using every opportunity to turn souls away from destruction. Thekla accepted the obedience of being an apostle to a place, of loving generations of people and watching the Church grow. How do we accept the call as Orthodox Christians to be a vocal (yes, using our words) witness to Christ? Are we prepared to explain our faith? Do you have enough humility to say you do not know and go to find the answer for an inquirer? Do often shun the opportunity to speak because you are ‘just a layperson’? St. Thekla is an amazing excuse smasher.

St. Thekla be our guide!



Saint Christina the Great Martyr and Owning Your Faith

Saint Christina the Great Martyr

Saint Christina was born in Tyre, an important port city along the Mediterranean, just to the west and north of Galilee in the mid-200s AD. Her father was the pagan Roman governor of that city and surrounding region. At the age of 11, Christina was a beautiful and intelligent young lady, who could garner any future marriage proposals she wished. Her parents, however, chose to dedicate Christina as a pagan priestess. In order to discern which god or goddess she would serve, her mother locked the girl into a small house with her servants and many different idols, hoping one would choose her daughter as a devotee.

During her home imprisonment, Christina began to study the stars and what natural beauty she could see from her window. Just as St. Paul remarked to the Athenians, to begin his soliloquy in the Areopagus, (Acts 17), Christina intuitively discerned there was an ‘Unknown God’ who had created the world and He was sovereign over it. The idols in her room were just the creation of men and could do nothing, she reasoned. She began to pray to this Unknown God and fasted, asking Him to reveal Himself.

In time, an angel appeared to Christina and taught her the true faith of Christ. The angel also forewarned her of the things she was to suffer. Seeing the idols as now superfluous, Christina smashed them all and threw them out the window. When her father visited, he asked where all the idols had gone. Christina was silent. When the servants told him, her father flew into a rage and slapped his daughter. She then gave the explanation of her new faith in Christ. The hapless servants were all put to death and Christina was dragged off to prison.

The pleading of her mother did not change her mind nor a trial to which Christina was given one last opportunity to recant. A long series of tortures awaited the young maiden. For Christina, her valiant struggle included burning over fire, being locked in a furnace for 5 days, and multiple beatings. An angel came and revived her at one point. Her torturer thought this was sorcery and he died immediately as a consequence. During her long imprisonment, people from the surrounding area began to visit her and she brought about the conversion of 300 souls. Finally, she was executed with a sword. Her feast day is July 24th.  

To help refresh our memories, martyrs are categorized in the menaion with certain titles:
Martyrs as a whole are those saints who suffered death in Christ’s name, for remaining loyal to the true faith, or for refusing to serve idols. They often had no warning about their immediate suffering and were sometimes ‘baptised in their blood’.

Great Martyrs are those saints who suffered particularly harsh treatment and punishments before suffering death.

Hieromartyrs are those saints who suffered death as priests.

Venerable Martyrs are those saints who suffered death as a member of monastic orders.


Saint Christina is entitled a Great Martyr because she endured many rounds of suffering before her death. As modern readers, we often wonder why the stories of martyrs were so ‘gruesome’ in their details. In the wisdom of the Church, we can see that certain things, like cruelty and hatred, have endured where and whenever Christians have lived. The cast of characters have changed and their motivations, whether religious or political, have altered, but the means of breaking men & women in mind, body, and soul have not. We read the lives and deaths of martyrs not as quaint and curious stories of long ago from a vantage point of safety and prosperity. Anyone of us might be called to wear the crown of martyrdom in our lives; a sudden reckoning or a slow, torturous beat down is always a possibility for the final witness of a Christian.

We do not sugar-coat suffering or the reality and consequences of sin as Orthodox Christians. When teaching children, it is helpful to ‘titrate’ the stories where the details of sin might not be comprehensible. An example might be, when teaching the life of Mary of Egypt, to describe her pre-repentant life as one where she could not choose to do right at all. Otherwise, as children grow in their life experience and knowledge, we do them no favors by sparing details. They can handle much more than we give them credit.

From the lives of virgin martyrs, especially, we draw the lesson of ‘owning our faith’. We take responsibility of how we honor our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit  through what we eat, what we listen to, what we look at, where we spend our time, and how we move. These are small, daily choices, often with small social consequences. They add up, though, like a tree which bends to find sunlight and can be warped for life. For martyrs, the choice is a high-stakes one – choose bodily life over spiritual death. In both cases, the consequences are the same – life or death, slowly or quickly. Christina, in her youth, chose spiritual life and a martyrs crown. Training ourselves through fasting, prayer, liturgical worship, and study means we will be prepared for the tests, both great and small, where we may have to say, “I belong to Christ!”

Read more about the life of St. Christina the Great Martyr