This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

June 25 -- Feast of Saint Febronia and Blessed Lysimachus

Monastery of St. Febronia, Palagonia, Sicily
Again, I am using the privilege of canonizing new saints within the space of hagiomajor.  It may lack the official standing of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Church of England, or even the Lutherans, but it sets the record straighter by my lights.

Febronia is a real saint -- as real as any virgin martyr in the reign of Diocletian.  The guy I'm canonizing is Lysimachus, the nephew of the prefect of Nisibis.  Now called Nusaybin and within Turkish borders, Nisibis was in the Mesopotamian-Armenian turf over which Greco-Romans, Persians, and Armenians constantly fought.  In the early fourth century, it seems to have been in the hands of the Romans, since Prefect Selenus was pursuing Diocletian's order to exterminate the Christians with zeal. 

Febronia was an especially attractive eighteen-year-old nun living in a convent.  She was dutiful and ascetic, living on bread and water (one meal every other day) in an attempt to tamp down her beauty.  "...she never took as much as she wanted, lest her body should continue to improve at the expense of her soul." (A Dictionary of Saintly Women, Volume I, Agnes Baille Cunninghame Dunbar)  Eventually, she fell ill, coincidentally just as Selenus and Lysimachus were raiding the area.

Smokin' hot -- roasted on a gridiron
The Christians in Nisibis fled. Even the Bishop and the deacons fled.  But the sisters were ordered by Bryene, the mother superior, to hang tough and die right.  In their terror, they spoke among themselves, saying it was not right that they should all have to suffer and die because Febronia was too sick to be moved.  They also expressed a very reasonable fear that in the face of being gang-raped, dismembered, scalded, burned alive, or beheaded (or any combination thereof), some of them might apostatize and lose their souls.  Bryene sagely consented to let them flee, but stayed behind with the beautiful, frail Febronia.

INTERJECTION:  Had she eaten a healthy diet (or at very least a reasonable one), Febronia might well have had the strength to flee also, and they all could have lived to serve God.  The body is a temple for the Holy Spirit -- one should maintain the temple, though one should not mistake the temple for the Spirit itself.

Lysimachus and some soldiers showed up.  Big secret: Lysimachus was secretly sympathetic to the Christians and had the habit of warning them to get away before the main body of soldiers arrived.  One of his soldiers, however, ran back and ratted him out to Uncle Selenus, noting that there was a smoking hot young virgin at the convent being guarded by two ancient crones.  The story says that in their haste to haul this hot young nun into court, they didn't even bother to arrest Bryene and Thomais, the other nun who stayed with Febronia. 

Everyone was gathered in the open air court to see the beautiful virgin put through the rigors of prosecution.  Lysimachus started putting the usual questions to Febronia, and she gave the usual answers.  Selenus, struck by her beauty, interrupted with a sudden proposal.  He stated that Lysimachus was his nephew, engaged to a wealthy patrician girl, but if Febronia would apostatize, he would give her a huge dowry and she could marry Lysimachus.  The family had Diocletian's favor  -- she'd be virtually a princess.  Her response was predictable: my Bridegroom's in Heaven and his kingdom is bigger than yours.  Selenus tried to break her down by having her stripped naked in front of the crowd, but she stood in perfect humility and innocence.  Then the torture began. 
  • Scourge her body so it looks like one big wound:  check. 
  • Roast her on a gridiron: check. 
  • Knock out all her teeth: check. 
  • Slice off her breasts: check. 
At this point, the crowd was turning from grim to hostile and Lysimachus had seen enough.  Hey, Uncle Selenus, she's not going to break, okay?  Can't we just finish her off and go have dinner?  
  • Cut off her head: check.  
They went in to have dinner, but Lysimachus was (understandably) not hungry and went to his room.  Selenus tried to have a normal meal, but started pacing in distress.  Then he raced headlong into a pillar, killing himself with the force of the collision.  Lysimachus commented, "Great is the god of the Christians," and then ordered a deluxe coffin built for what was left of Febronia.  Her remains were returned to the convent (the nuns having skulked home since the danger was passed) where she was laid, open coffin, for all the neighbors to see.

Eventually, there was a tussle between the Bishop and the sisters over the relics.  The Bishop wanted her bones for the cathedral but the sisters felt that she was at home in the convent.  After much quarreling, Bryene relented and told the Bishop to take her if she would go.  They tried to move the coffin, but a violent lightning storm drove them back inside.  They waited until it had passed and then tried again, but an earthquake persuaded them to put it down.  Strangely, it didn't take a third weather event to persuade the Bishop -- he settled for a single tooth for his reliquary.

So a word about Lysimachus.  He was secretly helping the Christians, though not a Christian himself.  He did not give up his position, or even his life, to oppose the persecution, but he did acknowledge the greatness of God.  Afterward, he and many of the soldiers who had been persecuting Christians converted -- Lysimachus and his servant Primus even became monks.  The way I see it, the original hagiographers were so taken with martyrdom that they overlooked Lysimachus.  Moreover, they didn't have the lesser status of beatus, which is a luxury we now have.  Fortunately, I am in a position to correct this omission.

1 comment:

  1. It's great to have a fresh post! I've brooded about the brevity of my frequenting your blog (February of this year and then a hiatus in June that you have only just now ended.
    Yesterday to comfort myself I went over Caravaggio's various St. John the Baptists with Major eyes. What I turned up was the narrative outside the frames: the disturbingly youthful St. John––in one picture grinning at us with a horny ram instead of the Lamb of God in the foreground––has become the older man (34?) with his face forced into the ground by the executioner, his neck slashed, his blood pooling on the ground in a murky dungeon, with strange onlookers (altarpiece at Valletta.)
    So much for a "clean death" by beheading--and the rest is silence.