Saturday, February 18, 2012

Feast of St. Philothea

February 19 is the feast day of St. Philothea of Athens!

She’s an Orthodox saint, so you won’t find her listed on any Latin rite calendars.  I discovered her several years ago; I was so enamored of St. Francis de Sales’ Philothea that I decided to look for a saint by that name. I found St. Philothea of Athens, and later discovered St. Philothea of Argesh, patron saint of Romania.

Here is the story of St. Philothea of Athens, gleaned from several websites (noted below):

The monastic martyr Philothea was born in Athens, Greece, and was given the name Revoula Benizelos; some sources say she was born in 1522, some in 1528. Whatever the date, she came into the world during the Turkish occupation. Her parents, Syriga and Angelos, possessed both material and spiritual wealth, and were recognized as deeply devout. Syriga prayed for many years that God would grant her a child, and her prayer was answered.

Though she was a prayerful child given to ascetic practices, she was also a wealthy heiress, and was sought after by noblemen. At the age of twelve, little Revoula was betrothed to a nobleman against her will, but she consented to marry him to please her parents. Her husband was brutally abusive toward her, but he died after three years of marriage. After her husband's death, Revoula returned to her parents' home for ten years, until they both died. During this ten-year period, she lived as a hermitess in her parents' home, leading a life of prayer and fasting.

After her parents’death, Revoula built a convent for women, and dedicated it to St. Andrew, who had given her the design for the monastery in a vision. She took monastic vows under the name Philothea, which means, friend of God; and she, her own maidservants, and many young women of the city, became the first nuns there.

Among other things, Philothea founded schools in Athens, protected women from Turkish abductions and conversion to Islam, and cared for the poor and the sick. She was so free in her almsgiving that more than once the monastery was left without food or other necessities of life, and the sisters began to complain about her. But each time, large donations appeared unexpectedly and saved the community from starvation.

Due to the Turkish occupation, many Athenians had been made slaves of their conquerors. Philothea did all she could to free her fellow countrywomen, ransoming many from servitude. Once, four women ran away from their Turkish masters, who had demanded that they renounce their Christianity, and took refuge in the monastery established by Philothea. The angry Turks surrounded the monastery, seized Philothea, and brought her before the judge. She refused to deny Christ as they demanded, and was sentenced to death; but some influential Athenian Greeks intervened on her behalf and obtained her release.

Philothea, after this experience, redoubled her prayers, her apostolic labors, and her works of mercy, and was soon granted the gift of working miracles and healings. She founded a new monastery in Patesia, a suburb of Athens; here, she struggled in asceticism with the sisters.
Relics of St. Philothea
 in Athens cathedral
During the Vigil for St. Dionysius the Areopagite, the Turks, angered by her increasing influence, again seized St. Philothea and tortured her. Finally, they threw her down on the ground half-dead. The sisters tearfully brought the holy martyr, flowing with blood, to Kalogreza, where she died on February 19, 1589. Shortly thereafter, the relics of the holy Monastic Martyr Philothea were brought to the Athens cathedral church.

Twenty years after her repose, a beautiful scent began to issue from her tomb. Her precious relics, venerated at the Cathedral in Athens, remain incorrupt to this day.

It seems to me that St. Philothea’s story should inspire us as we consider what we are up against in our society today. We may not have Turks occupying our country, but the godless government that is trampling on our rights and trashing our Constitution is not much better. And persecution is coming, we’ve been told, by cardinals and bishops. In fact, persecution is here, but has not yet become bloody.

At any rate, let us hope that all of us – laity and clergy alike – may be as persistent in our service to the poor, as strong in our defense of the defenseless, and as steadfast in our faith as was this martyr saint.

St. Philothea, pray for us!

The websites from which I took this information are located here, here, and here.

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