(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. Alexandra, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
The sacrifices of the martyrs of the Church are myriad. There is no greater love than this last full measure of devotion. There are few, however, who prior to their last sacrifice had exchanged the splendor of a throne for the squalor of a dungeon for the sake of Jesus Christ. Yet such was Alexandra, wife of the Roman Emperor Diocletian (282-304). The name Alexandra is synonymous with dig-nity and devotion because of the way the empress bore herself in time of triumph and trial for the love of Jesus Christ and for all her fellow men of the Roman Empire.
Admired throughout the empire for her consideration of others, a genuine concern that went far beyond the noblesse oblige customarily exhibited by royalty, Alexandra attained a popularity and prominence previously unsurpassed by an empress and unmatched since. During one of her many benevolent tours of inspection for the state, her attention was drawn to the plight of a former Roman soldier who turned out to be St. George. It appeared that he was being excessively punished for refusing to worship the gods and for having declared himself a follower of Christ.
Alexandra decided to see for herself what was transpiring in the dungeons and arena in response to a compelling urge to see and talk to St. George. Her visit to the prisoner’s cell became a revelation. The brutalized victim of Roman torture spoke to the empress with calm assurance, dismissing his wounds as a small price to pay for the love of the Messiah. Before the evening was out, Alexandra had renounced the pagan gods and had joyfully accepted Christ as her Savior. Her fate was sealed, but nothing mattered except the love of Jesus and her concern for the man who had brought her to the Lord.
Alexandra wasted no time in going to her husband the emperor to tell of her great discovery and to dissuade Diocletian from further torture of her new friend in Christ. The emperor was annoyed at this and suggested that she had taken leave of her senses. When she persisted in pursuing her clemency plea for St. George, the emperor’s annoyance gave way to aggravation. When she doggedly insisted on mercy and tolerance in the name of the King of Kings, his aggravation became rage.
At length, when Diocletian was convinced that Alexandra had been won over by the Christians, he ordered that she be cast into prison, thereafter to be beheaded along with St. George.The widow spider acquires its name from the instinctive killing of its mate, but the Emperor Diocletian ordered the execution of his mate; because he was the husband he was the widower spider, a name not vile enough because he was driven to kill, not out of this strangest of all instincts, but out of cruel hatred. His venom saw to the death of countless Christians, even to the senseless slaughter of his own wife and of St. George, one of the most venerated saints in all Christianity. He was thwarted in the bloodletting of his empress, but St. George, along with so many others, died of unnatural and in most cases gruesome causes.
Alexandra, who was an outstanding Christian, was allowed an exceptional and peaceful demise, not only for acceptance of Jesus Christ, but also for her merciful intervention on behalf of St. George, with whom she occupies a prominence in the saints venerated by the Greek Orthodox Church.The three servants closest to Alexandra – Kordatos, Apollo and Isaakion – secretly arranged to see their mistress in her cell that night, only to find that she was willing to die for Christ. Furthermore, she declared that her husband would be cheated out of his revenge because she had a premonition that she would die before dawn.
The distraught servants learned the following morning Alexandra had died in her sleep. In a moment of tormenting grief they upbraided the emperor for his cruelty, whereupon they too were put to death. Alexandra died on April 21. St. George was beheaded two days later on April 23.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.