(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. Golinduch, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)
The fact that Golinduch, the daughter of a performing magician, came to know the shining light of Christianity in her native country of Persia is as unusual as her name. Persia of antiquity, which has come to be known as Iran, was a land of unrest. There soothsayers and cultists abounded with such a grip on an unenlightened people, it is little wonder that there are probably no more Christians in this enigmatic country today than there were 1500 years ago. This land was destined never to know the serenity of Christianity. A look back at the origins of this strange land explains, in part, why it continues to look back in time itself, out of step with the rest of the world in spite of its one great natural resource.
Incorporated into the Persian Empire by Cyrus the Great, the Medes were supposed to have been masters of astronomy and the magic arts. It was believed that the ancestry of Golinduch lay in Media which accounts, in part, for her father’s intimacy with magic. In fact, he was considered one of the great magicians of his time, a Houdini of the sixth century. The ingenuity that went into the magician’s act could have been better applied, considering the country was teeming with ignorance, suspicion and spiritual darkness. These combined to make Golinduch’s father much more a respected figure than a Christian missionary.
It is thus strange that a magician’s daughter found God more than a century before her contemporaries, but stranger still is the manner in which she found him. Golinduch found God through Jesus Christ as though she had been plucked out of this motley mass of humanity by divine edict, proving once again that the ways of heaven are mysterious indeed. Assisting her father in his feats of magic, she rubbed elbows with a crowd that was completely out of touch with the small Christian community. Although she may have heard of the Messiah, she was as much a pagan as her father and his nondescript audiences.
The border clashes between Byzantine garrisons of the Emperor Justinian and the Persian King Chosroes I sealed off the borders between two empires which eyed each other with suspicion and which for centuries to come remained at odds with each other. It was bad enough to be a Christian in Persia, but any link with Christianity, which was automatically a link with the hated Byzantines, meant living in double jeopardy. Nevertheless, a Christian community was formed in this hostile environment, none of whose members were particularly interested in the magician’s skill.
As recounted in church annals, Golinduch had a divine visitation as she lay asleep. In this dream the horrors of hell (where the spiritually deprived were destined to go) were depicted, and then the beauty of heaven, accessible through Jesus Christ, was shown. In this manner Golinduch became an instant convert, abandoning the gods and the magic arts to devote herself to Christ. Golinduch sought out the bishop of the Christian community and, after indoctrination, was baptized. Soon after she showed her conversion to be genuine and gained the respect of the members who saw in this girl that touch of grace which she had received with her vision. She had been baptized with the name of Mary, but somehow her odd-sounding name stuck, and she never used her baptismal name.
Golinduch made no attempt to hide her faith in Jesus Christ, for which she was ultimately brought to justice. She received no assistance from her father, who considered her guilty of defiling their gods. She was cast into a prison in a town called Lithis with a sentence that would last as long as she clung to her Christian faith. She needed only to return to her former ways, or at least to pretend to, but she held out and for fourteen long years languished in jail.
Golinduch’s release was finally secured, and she left Persia to go to the Holy City of Jerusalem. There she was received by the Patriarch, after which she set out for Constantinople, but died en route in the city of Nisibis on July 13. Not long thereafter the Church Fathers unanimously decided to make this Persian girl a saint.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints.