Saint of the Day: St. Euphemia

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. Euphemia, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)
Saint Euphemia the Martyr

The Patriarchate of Constantinople – that ancient city which is now Istanbul – is steeped in centuries-old tradition and is the guardian of many ancient and holy relics. Among these sacred relics are those of one of the most remarkable women in all ecclesiastical history, St. Euphemia the Martyr. The story of the events of her glory-filled life which culminated in sainthood would fill a good-sized book if told in detail. Indeed, her influence on Christianity spanned nearly two centuries.

Euphemia was born in Chalcedon, Asia Minor, at the time of Diocletian. Her parents, Philophorm and Theodosia, belonged to the highest aristocracy of the day. Thus Euphemia was reared in the grand manner befitting a young lady of her station. Of noble intellect and high purpose, she could have lived in splendor and luxurious ease, but she chose a more serious way of life. A true believer in Christ, she devoted herself to the physical and spiritual welfare of those Christians less fortunate than herself.

Her complete immersion in the cause of Christ was an abomination to the provincial governor, Priscus, especially since her noble birthright demanded that she share the governor’s scorn for Christians. Seeking to strengthen his position, Priscus ordered the arrest of Euphemia and ordered the high priest of the pagan temple, Apellanian, to bring their apostate back to worship in the temple of Aris. Had this been accomplished, the consequences would have been harmful to the Christian community, but Euphemia never wavered. She clung tenaciously to her Christian faith. Imprisoned, berated and tortured to no avail, she was finally thrown into the arena to be devoured for the amusement of the pagan populace. She met her violent end on September 16, 305.

The anticlimax of her story unfolded over 150 years after her death when a clergyman named Eutyches advanced the teaching that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, could not have had two natures – human and divine – because the human had been absorbed by the divine. This concept was in direct opposition to accepted dogma and constituted heresy. The belief that Christ was both fully God and fully man was thus challenged. This controversy concerning the nature of Christ was so great and the resulting confusion reached such proportions that Empress Pulcheria convoked an Ecumenical Synod in 451.

This Synod resolved once and for all the accuracy of the Orthodox teaching on the dual nature of Christ. During this council the holy relics of St. Euphemia witnessed to the truth that Christ was both God and man. The council had been convened in Chalcedon, where the Chapel of St. Euphemia was located. While the members of the council were in Chalcedon, they witnessed miracles of healing attributed to the relics of St. Euphemia. Before this time her relics had not been recognized as miracle-working.

Someone proposed that the writing of Eutyches concerning the nature of Christ be placed in the casket of St. Euphemia alongside those of the Fathers of the Church. They closed the casket and after a period of silent prayer opened it. The heretical works of Eutyches were found at the feet of St. Euphemia and the Orthodox writings of the Fathers were clutched in her arms. Thus the fate of Eutyches was confirmed. His teachings were condemned and the Orthodox doctrine of the dual nature of Christ was firmly established. Shortly thereafter, the remains of St. Euphemia were transferred to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, where she lies in honored glory in the Chapel of St. George.

St. Euphemia has lain for centuries in the Church of St. George in the Ecumenical Patriarchate, out of reach of the Turks who are seeing to the eventual elimination of this holy seat of Orthodoxy. Hers is a silent vigil for Christ that may help extend the life of the Patriarchate at its present site in what was once the capital of the Byzantine world.

Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from GOArch.org.



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