(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. Drosis, whose account is found in Volume 1 of the series.)
The early martyrs of Christendom were not suicidal fanatics but victims of outrageous persecution who had the Christian courage to face a relentless enemy which, after years of brutality, failed to stem the tide of the rising faith in Jesus Christ. One of the many first-century martyrs was a girl named Drosis, whose life is all the more remarkable when it is considered that she saw the light of Jesus Christ through the miasma of paganism in spite of the fact that she was the daughter of Emperor Trajan.
Ranking with Nero in pagan savagery, Trajan was merciless in his unrelenting persecution of innocent Christians. In this hostile atmosphere it is a mystery of God that Drosis was able to capture the mood of the Christian message that was all about her in her father’s regal quarters. She is all the more to be admired for accepting Christ with all her heart in spite of the hatred that pervaded the royal palace.
Drosis looked on with growing horror at the atrocities committed against Christians. Helpless to prevent the sickening tortures, she saw her chance to be of some help in the final atrocity of Roman law forbidding the burial of Christians who had been put to death. In a final gesture of madness, a government edict made it a capital offense to remove a Christian body for burial, and since the slaughter of Christians was a daily occurrence, bodies were denied a decent burial. In defiance of Roman law, the daughter of the emperor did whatever she could to help Christians bury their dead, willing to risk her life in that effort.
In need of materials to anoint the bodies and the linens to be used as winding sheets for burial, the Christian friends of Drosis looked to her for help and she was never found wanting. She gathered bolts of costly linen from the royal storehouse, swearing the storekeeper to secrecy with the help of a sizeable bribe and in the darkness of night carried the linens with a trusted servant to waiting Christians. Sentinels, posted to keep all persons at a distance from the bodies, took up positions at a distance themselves. The disappearance of bodies was usually dismissed with a shrug of the shoulders, but a twenty-four-hour watch was posted nevertheless. This did not deter Drosis, who continued her help undetected even by her betrothed, a man named Adrian.
In the course of this deception, she came to know a group of fearless women known as the “Five Nuns of Antioch” who dedicated themselves to the removal of martyred Christian bodies for proper burial. As resourceful as they were courageous, these five nuns outwitted sentinels, always managing to catch them off their guard to re-move a body, often returning to repeat the process. Drosis was so moved by the nuns that she not only brought them linens but joined in the removal of bodies. One night however, flushed with their success, all six grew more daring and were seized by sentinels and taken off to prison for punishment.
On learning of his daughter’s arrest, Trajan ordered her immediate release, assuming she had been bewitched or suffered from a mental aberration, refusing to believe his daughter was a Christian. The five nuns were another matter and had to be made an example. He ordered that they be tossed in molten copper.
In a troubled sleep, Trajan had a dream in which he saw five white sheep and a shepherd saying that they were no longer of his kingdom but of the kingdom of heaven. Interpreting this to mean that the five nuns had been spirited away and that his daughter would be snatched from him, he posted guards around the clock to protect his daughter. He then ordered giant furnaces to be built just outside the city gates, daring the Christians to fling themselves into the fiery pits and perish as martyrs to join their God. He had carved on the walls of the furnace for all to see the words: “People of Galilee, you who worship the crucified one, save yourselves from persecution by casting yourselves into the furnace of your choice, thereby saving us the trouble.”
When told of the grim words, Drosis, already despondent over the fate of the nuns, made up her mind that she would die for Christ with them. She slipped out past the guards, found an abandoned quarry and, after baptizing herself, prayed that the Lord take her. She remained in the pit for seven days, dying on the eighth day, which was March 22, 99.