(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. Argyre, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
“Beauty provoketh thieves better than gold,” Shakespeare said, but St. Argyre’s beauty provoked treachery as well, which brought her unspeakable suffering over a prolonged period, an agony which she did not bear in vain. For that suffering she was rewarded with sainthood, heaven’s highest gift. Had William Congreve known about Argyre, he might have said heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a Turk scorned; a scorned Turk of the seventeenth century was a malevolence to be dreaded by even the most fearless of Christians.
The true test of a man is how he is able to handle authority and, unfortunately for both the countries of Greece and Turkey, the Ottoman Turkish invasion of Greece placed authority over Greeks in the hands of every Turk who occupied this ancient country. Some of them were like the beggars given a horse to ride and then riding it to death. It was just such a beggar who chanced to be on the hallowed soil of Greece and acted with other beggars to persecute one of the sweetest creatures in Orthodox Christianity.
Argyre, whose name means “precious as silver,” epitomized the classic beauty of the Greek woman as seen in the exquisite sculpture of men who appreciated fully those fair descendants of Eve that graced the households of proud Greeks. If her elegant beauty turned her head, it was in the direction of Jesus Christ, because she exhibited a beauty of soul to match that of her face in her deep re-ligious conviction, which she pursued in many ways, to the extent that she was conversant in dogmatic theology.
Many Christians of that era in Greece disavowed Christ, at least overtly if not genuinely, and embraced the Muslim faith rather than endure the persecution not only of themselves but of their loved ones. In this sorry set of circumstances the parents of the lovely Argyre were most happy that she selected from her number of suitors a devout Christian, and she was married when she was eighteen years old. The couple moved into a neighborhood in which there lived a number of Turks, one of whom was an aggressive young man who cast a covetous eye on his pretty neighbor.
Argyre had been in her new home only a few days when she was approached by the bold Turk who there-upon declared his love for her and meant to have her for himself. The mortified girl fled from him, only to be confronted again by him, which so unsetled her that she sought to put an end to this badgering by flatly stating she considered him an ill-mannered lout who had no respect for women, married or otherwise, and she would prefer death over marriage to a Muslim. All the while she had said nothing to her young husband for fear that in his fury he would go after this abominable Turk and in the end suffer brutal punishment.
Thus spurned, the enraged Turk conspired with some of his miserable friends to have Argyre brought to trial on trumped-up charges to answer for having refused his advances. He swore out a complaint against Argyre in which he falsely accused this gentle Christian of having made advances to him with a view to embracing the Muslim faith and that when he finally assented she laughed in derision, saying that it was a practical joke. This shabby story was substantiated by a pack of liars who had been recruited and perhaps rewarded for their corroboration, all to the horror of the innocent Argyre and her family and friends.
Argyre had yet to reach her nineteenth birthday when she was sentenced by an insensitive judge to an indeterminate term in prison. She was confined to a Turkish jail cell for the remaining seventeen years of her life. By their own admission, Turkish jails offer miserable living conditions even to their own kind, but the wretched treatment of this delicate creature in those agonizing years is beyond description. Taunted by other inmates, abused by unfeeling jailers, she had but to disavow Christ to regain her freedom and escape from this utter degradation, but this beautiful girl chose to suffer physical agony and endless hours of indignity rather than recant. She died on April 30, 1725 in a squalid jail cell when she was thirty-five years old.
When her body was disinterred after the customary three years, it was intact. This in itself was proof enough for the Holy Synod to make her a saint of Orthodoxy.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from this source.