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. Charitine, whose account is found in Volume 4 of the series.)
A Roman citizen with the quite common name of Claudius acted in a manner quite uncommon in the third century when he tried to adopt formally a Christian slave girl named Charitine. This set off a chain of events which stirred the capital of the empire and created a controversy that was settled finally by the death of the Christian slave girl whom Claudius had meant to help as though she were his own.
Charitine was a member of a Christian family that had been sold into slavery to serve in the household of Claudius, a prosperous merchant whose pagan idolatry did not prevent him from showing kindness and mercy. A reputation for honesty and integrity had assured his commercial success, and his leniency towards Christians, when persecution and scorn were more in order for members of his class, did not send his friends running from his villa. The only child of Christian parents who served in slavery, Charitine was like a daughter to Claudius, whose wife was barren. In a sense, the child had two sets of parents from whom she came to know affection, the affection of her pagan masters not much short of that which her parents showed her.
When scarcely into her teens, Charitine lost her parents to an illness which spared her, as well as Claudius and his wife. They approached the girl and assured her she would be taken care of as though she was their own child. In a short time Charitine became attached to her benefactors. In turn, they lavished affection and gifts on her, the greatest gift being the granting of her freedom. More than that, Claudius and his wife wished to adopt the young girl, who was overjoyed at the prospect, particularly since the parents-to-be gave their solemn promise that she could remain a Christian and worship Jesus Christ as she saw fit.
This idyllic arrangement needed only the required legal motions of adoption. These were usually taken as a matter of course, but proved to be instead a tragedy. The political machinery set in motion for a simple adoption touched off a furor which was to end in frustration for Claudius and his wife and the death of the sweet Christian girl.
When the legal entanglements seemed to have been resolved, a legal barrier was found by some malevolent clerk. He discovered, buried in some ancient Roman law book, a statute which sought to preserve the ethnic purity by prohibiting the adoption of a Christian slave. The gods, it seems, had discountenanced any such action lest the adopted child grow to marry a Roman and thereby contaminate the entire race. Claudius was not without influence, and he challenged the law with the aid of a senator who brought the question to debate in the august senate body.
The proponents who sided with Claudius saw no serious threat, particularly when the pretty young girl appeared as a witness; but the opponents argued that the law should be observed to the letter, offering the argument that this lone exception would open a Pandora’s box on an unsuspecting Roman electorate. What started as a tempest in a teapot expanded into a full-blown controversy, spilling out into the public forum where the pros and cons of the affair were vehemently argued. The false pride of the pagans, loudest in their complaints, contended that although she could become a Roman once freed, she could not became a bona fide citizen under the law while affirming a commitment to Jesus Christ.
When her fate was left up to a commission headed by a man named Dometius, known for his hatred for the soft-spoken Christian, the distraught Claudius offered to give his would-be daughter enough money enough to flee to another country where she would be provided for, but the gentle Charitine refused for two reasons. First of all, she did not wish to place Claudius in jeopardy. Secondly, she was ready to face Dometius, irrespective of the outcome, hoping that he would see it as Claudius had originally anticipated.
The more questions that were put to Charitine, the more incensed the review board became until it was declared flatly that the only way she could survive, with or without Claudius as her father, would be to disavow Christ and embrace the idols. Her staunch refusal was a step beyond, and not even the pleas of Claudius and his senator friend could help. The resolute Charitine was put through unspeakable tortures, succombing after days of agony. She died on October 5, 290.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from GOArch.org.