(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. Kalliope, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
The unsung heroines of early Christianity, who suffered agonizing death rather than disavow Jesus Christ, were anything but members of a weaker sex when they endured the atrocities and pain inflicted by persecutors of Christians with the same quiet courage of the bravest of men. Some of them, born with what Byron called the fatal gift of beauty, knew nothing but loving care in their lifetimes and were hardly equipped or prepared to suffer the cruelties of the enemies of Christ, nor were they inured to hardship and deprivation of their male counterparts that might have given them a body chemistry to better withstand physical abuse. They were not theologians, nor clergy of any manner, whose minds had been honed to a peak of devotion to the Savior not only by study, meditation and prayer but by actual association with oppression and suffering and were, therefore, mentally prepared for the worst. They were for the most part sweet, innocent girls whose lives were aimed at motherhood and not the endurance of horror and torture. Theirs had to be the greater courage, therefore, and no man would dispute it.
One of the genuine heroines of third-century Christianity was a quite lovely girl with the pretty name of Kalliope who lived in the reign of the vicious Emperor Decius, an extremely callous and pompous monarch who took delight in barbarous acts, chief among which was the persecution of Christians for whom he had a hatred born of fear of their Lord. It is generally conceded that Nero was mad and that Decius was madder still; even though they were separated by two centuries they were two of a kind, the kind usually looked upon as the scourge of God. Had she been born in the twentieth century Kalliope might have been a candidate in a beauty contest, but in the third century her beauty indirectly made her a candidate for sainthood – and she won at the expense of her life.
When Kalliope reached the age of twenty-one she had already passed the age at which most women of that day married, but it was not for lack of suitors, which she had in great numbers. Her days were filled with activity, social and religious, and twenty-one years had come and gone seemingly unnoticed. When at last she seemed ready for marriage, a host of suitors clamored for her hand. Among the would-be husbands was a pagan who would not take no for an answer. He sent word that, were she to reject him in favor of another, especially a Christian, he would see to it that the pagan authorities called her before them for their well-known brand of justice. Kalliope did not hesitate not only to deny this suitor, but to make it plain that she would not marry him even if he were a Christian, a conversion which would have been highly unlikely as well as useless.
The threat to her life was carried out and through the use of false rumor and accusation she was brought to trial before the magistrate. She stood accused of a variety of crimes against the state, ranging from a mockery of the pagan faith to treason against the state, all of which was attested to by a parade of well-paid false witnesses, none of whom had ever seen the girl. The rejected suitor stepped forth to offer a withdrawal of the charges against her if she would disavow Christ and become his pagan bride. The alternative was torture, and if that didn’t bend her will, then it was death in a manner to be devised.
If Kalliope had any fear or was the least bit hesitant, she did not show it, but instead she declared that the only mockery in this affair was the trial itself, and she furthermore asserted her faith in Jesus Christ. That was enough to seal her fate and she was led off to prison, a far cry from the comfort of her home with her loving parents. The deadly game had begun and the gentle Christian girl had to know the helplessness which leads to terror and which in turn weakens the will, but she gave no indication that she would recant. She was then put to the cruelest of tortures. Taken to a public square, she was bound to a post and mercilessly flogged until her clothing and flesh were in tatters. Her beautiful face was scarred with branding irons and salt was poured into her open wounds, and while the breath of life was still within her she was told to disavow Christ. When this gallant girl refused she was put to death. In 1957 a special synod allowed a liturgical service to be written by John Ramphos honoring Kalliope, whose feast day is observed on June 8.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from this website.