(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 Sts. Anthousa, Athanasios, Charismos and Neophytos, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)
Saints Anthousa, Athanasios, Charisimos and Neophytos
If any era can be called the age of miracles, it was that period of the third century, particularly during the age of Valerian. Then, the survival of Christianity required more than passionate prayer; manifestations were needed as well to show that the prayers were not being offered in vain and that Christians were giving their lives for the Son of God – a sacred cause. A quartet who exemplified the power of God when it was needed most included a pious girl named Anthousa, who was joined in martyrdom by three men known as Athanasios, Charisimos and Neophytos.
Anthousa was born in Seleucia, Syria, of pagan parents named Anthony and Maria whose common Christian names belied their strict adherence to idolatry and the Roman code of ethics, a code which could hardly have been called permissive. Nevertheless, when the daughter grew to womanhood, she told her parents that for many years she had worshiped Jesus Christ and wished to devote her life to the Savior. The parents were not too surprised and gave her permission to do as she wished. She was not forsaking her parents so much as the life of ease that would have been hers had she chosen to remain at home and marry into a family of a station equal to that of her well-to-do parents.
Anthousa’s faith in Jesus Christ had never formally brought her into the Church with the sacrament of baptism, and for this she went directly to the city of Tarsus, Cilicia, accompanied by two servants named Charisimos and Neophytos. As she approached the city, she anticipated going directly to Bishop Athanasios, hoping that this most renowned hierarch would personally officiate at her baptism. As if by divine edict, she met Athanasios, who was leaving the city for church work when he came upon the girl and her companions and listened to her wish for baptism at his hands.
Bishop Athanasios remarked that there was no better time than the present, and the lack of water anywhere near the spot where they met seemed of no concern. He put his hands into the earth alongside the road, and there immediately came forth a spring of fresh water which he used to baptize not only the girl, but her two companions as well, who had come to accept Christ after listening to their mistress. This solemn ceremony was followed by Anthousa’s earnest plea that she be allowed to give herself over completely to the Savior by serving as a nun.
Shortly after entering a nunnery, she inherited a considerable fortune with which she provided for her faithful servants, who were ever close at hand, and dispensed the remainder to the poor. After years of the asceticism involved in preparation for her chosen work, she was tonsured a nun. She then sought the bleak isolation of the desert in whose forbidding confines she remained for twenty years. Her survival in the barren desert is a miracle in itself, as she secluded herself in meditation and prayer over a sustained period far beyond human endurance.
Anthousa performed enough miracles through the years to earn herself a reputation as the “holy woman of God.” She had kept in touch with her servant friends and with the good bishop who had baptized her years before. She decided finally to see once again the aging bishop, as well as her two friends. She left her desert retreat and went to visit her friends, after which all three went to the city to call upon the bishop.
Bishop Athanasios was delighted to see Anthousa and her friends, but warned them that feelings were running high in the city and he had been singled out as one of the Christian leaders to be brought to justice. The words were no sooner out of his mouth than a patrol of soldiers arrived to arrest the bishop, whose friends were advised to leave the city if they wished to escape the bishop’s fate. Anthousa insisted on accompanying Bishop Athanasios to the prefect’s office and was joined by Charisimos and Neophytos.
Ultimately brought to Emperor Valerian, the foursome was advised that the quarrel of the state was with the exalted bishop, and his three companions were free to go. But the three refused clemency with the flat statement that they were in full support of Athanasios in his holy Christian work. The undaunted four were beheaded, giving their lives for Christ on August 22.