(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. Eudokia, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)
Saint Eudokia the Empress
The crumbling sections of the great wall that once encircled Constantinople serve as reminders of a glorious chapter in world history. But more than that, these ancient ruins stand as reminders that in the fifth century there lived an empress who was responsible for this and other great projects and who so served God, as well as man, that she is venerated in the Greek Orthodox Church as a saint. The Empress Eudokia was the superior of many of her male counterparts and her devotion to Jesus Christ was such that she was made a saint.
Born in Athens, she was the daughter of Leontios, renowned philosopher and aristocrat, who gave her the name of Athenais. Her name represented the proud lineage that exemplified Hellenic glory, but for all its family heritage, was considerably darkened for lack of the acceptance of the light of the Savior. By the time she had reached maturity, the quite lovely Athenais felt the need for an expression of the spirit that could not be found in the drab stone images of her pagan ancestry.
When her father died, Eudokia felt that her responsibilities were now to herself alone, particularly since her father’s will provided for her brother, but omitted her except to mention that she “would one day come into her glory and fame in this world.” Whether Leontios was a prophet of sorts, or simply assumed that his desirable daughter would marry well, his prediction was not only true, but an understatement as well.
Left to her own devices, Athenais went to Constantinople, where she remained with friends whose high station opened doors for her, including the doors of the royal palace, where she was introduced to Emperor Theodosios II, who ruled with his sister Pulcheria. She was introduced to Christianity as well, and after being baptized with the name of Eudokia, she married Theodosios, who had chosen her from among the several available maidens. The turning point of her life was not so much in her marriage as in her conversion to Christianity, as ensuing events would bear out.
The radiant Eudokia blended her Athenian heritage with deep religious conviction, which helped bring to the capital the cultural edge which Athens enjoyed over Constantinople. In later years Hellenism and Christianity would assert themselves through the dedicated bride of Theodosios, but their immediate concern was improving the lot of the city’s teeming poor through Christian charities. Given wide latitude as empress, she was able to effect sweeping changes in administration, including adopting the Greek language to replace the dying Latin tongue.
Displaying a dedication and resourcefulness that exceeded the capabilities of her husband, Eudokia attracted the finest minds of the empire to her many causes. She directed a team of experts in all fields of human endeavor to erect not only the protective wall of the city, but also the churches and institutions which the meager contributions of the underprivileged could never have made possible. Her ablest assistant and right-hand man was a master builder known as Kyros, whose great work won him recognition and appointment as prefect of Constantinople.
The popularity of both Eudokia and Kyros stirred envy in the hearts of a few members of the royal court, particularly in a sycophant called Chrysaphios, who enjoyed the very great favor of an emperor more concerned with his personal image than the welfare of others. The jealousy led to a conspiracy led by the wily Chrysaphios against not only the ever-popular Kyros, but against the empress as well. The weak Theodosios was made to look upon Kyros as a menace to the throne, and upon his own wife as a grasping woman who was more devoted to others than to her husband.
This resulted in the execution of Kyros under the spurious charges of having plotted against the throne, which in turn brought a breach between Eudokia and Theodosios. She left for Jerusalem to return only after the death of her husband, who was succeeded by Valentinian II. The new emperor married the daughter of Eudokia and Eudokia’s final years were spent in spiritual attainment until she died in the year 460.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.