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. Thekla, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)
In all of God’s creation the only creature that has in itself a wickedness that delights in the torture of others is homo sapiens, and while the gentle Christian wonders what kind of evil lurks in the heart of a man who would maim, he should also wonder what kind of unseen courage there is in the victim who can endure unspeakable agony. Let him who approaches the dentist’s chair with faint heart wonder at the kind of heart that is within him that approaches the torture chamber. There has been speculation that shock imparts a chemical that makes the sufferer oblivious to pain, but the volunteers to put that theory to test have yet to come forward.
There have been instances, however, in which a victim of torture not only has been, through divine grace, insensitive to pain but on occasion literally indestructible, as in the case of Saint Thekla, the Protomartyr, one of the very first women to be put to ordeal for her faith in Jesus Christ. The indignities and abuse heaped upon her by the pagans she denounced are documented in ancient manuscripts and offer a tableau in horror that for sheer cruelty rivals any of the atrocities in recorded history.
According to her biographer, St. Epiphanios, Thekla was born of humble parents in the town of Ikonion in Asia Minor about a quarter-century after the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Like other girls of her class, she had no formal education and was unfamiliar with any of the arts or the classics. A dutiful peasant girl, she was resigned to one day becoming a wife and nothing more was expected of her, but she showed an intellectual curiosity which was frowned upon by her friends but was encouraged by her mother. She atttained a degree of literacy, which was rare for a girl in those days, and with the help of her mother found some of the answers she eagerly sought in quest of the real meaning of life.
It was not strange, therefore, when Thekla was eighteen years old that her mother took her to listen and learn about the new faith that was bringing joy to those who were poor in spirit. She and her mother were privileged to listen to the mightiest missionary of them all, no less than St. Paul himself, whose message of Christ so moved the young girl that she sought out the company of St. Paul, who personally converted her to Christianity. She had much to learn about the teaching of Jesus and His true light and attended every meeting held in the the area by St. Paul and spoke with other converts in whom she found the love of God.
When Paul was preparing to leave the area to continue his work for Jesus, Thekla ran to her mother and begged her for permission to go with the holy man and take up the cause for Christ in her own way, if St. Paul would let her. Her mother, a devout Christian herself, told her daughter she was free to go anywhere to serve the Lord. The delighted girl then overtook the missionary party of St. Paul and was welcomed into the group, thereafter to become so deeply involved that she was soon one of the ablest of the missionaries.
It was suggested to Thekla that she undertake her own missionary work in other parts of the lands hitherto unreached, while the rest of the missionaries did likewise and split up into groups that fanned out into all directions of the pagan countries. With Paul’s blessing, she set out on a journey into many strange lands, some of which were hostile and others of which were anxious to hear the words of the girl whose reputation had preceded her. She won over countless numbers of pagans to the new faith but was finally apprehended by an unnamed pagan ruler whose barbarism struck terror into the hearts of his subjects.
There ensued a series of tortures that would have ended the life of any mortal at the outset, but the Lord had seen fit to make Thekla superhuman, in answer to the cruelties of the enemies of early Christianity. When she was cast into a fire, she walked away unscathed. Lances bounced off her and nails could not penetrate her skin. When the onslaught on her person had been thwarted at every turn, her pagan foe retreated in awe. She died of natural causes at the age of ninety and was declared a saint and isapostolos (Equal-to-the-Apostles).
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.