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St. Eugenia of Rome - Feast Day December 24th

An icon of St. Eugenia of Rome.

The best of scriptwriters would be hard pressed to match, let alone exceed, the true to life story of a second century woman who resorted to what might have been called excesses had it not been for the fact that her fervor emanated from a firm resolve to serve Jesus Christ. At a time when society confined most women to the home, this incredible female expressed her independence with such resourcefulness that she showed herself not only the equal to any man, but better than most, in a religious commitment that brought her sainthood.

This wholly dedicated woman was aptly named Eugenia, which is the Greek word for noble, an adjective that falls short of describing her astounding character, one that seldom is attained by either sex. She was born in 280, the daughter of the Duke of Alexandria, Egypt, whose name was Philip and who ruled in the name of the emperor in the land of Pharaohs. She enjoyed every privilege, except that reserved for men, who were free to choose their way of life. A woman of high rank or low as expected to no more wear the churchman scowl than she was a warrior's armor and there was relatively little a Christian woman could do by way of active participation in the affairs of the church. Theirs was a passive role in tins early century of Christianity, unless they happened to be martyred for not denying the Savior they worshipped without actively serving.

Eugenia was not born a Christian but was converted in her youth without the knowledge of her parents who were strongly opposed to the new religion. When it came time to screen suitors for the inevitable marriage, usually one of convenience for the aristocracy, Eugenia slipped away, accompanied by a pair of faithful servants, Protas and Hyakinthos, who escorted her to an area far enough removed from her home to assure obscurity. Nearby was a monastery upon which Eugenia would look with a longing to serve Christ, only to be reminded that only men could serve within this cloister. She hit upon the idea of posing as a man and after some persuasion, convinced her two servants to cut her tresses and accompany her to the monastery to help in her admission. The deception was an immediate failure because the perceptive Abbot Helenon saw at once the delicate features and found no trace of masculinity in the lowered voice of the applicant. He was so moved, however, by her sincerity that he provided for her stay there, isolating her in a cell where she remained for a number of years in meditation and prayer and in all the studies required of a monk. Finally, she was actually tonsured a monk and any doubt as to her proximity to God were erased when she was found to have the power of healing.

Eugenia left the confines of the monastery from time to time in order to be among her fellow Christians and it was during one of these visits that she fell prey to prowling state soldier ever on the alert for church leaders. Arrested on the usual charge of treason, she was summoned before the duke of judgment which customarily offered a choice between denying Christ or death. In a dramatic moment the father recognized his accused daughter, whom he had presumed dead and tearfully embraced her, dismissing the entire court to be alone with her.

The joy of being reunited with his daughter brought the even greater joy of learning from her lips about Christianity, with the result that Eugenia converted her father to Christianity. This amazing turn of events became all the: more amazing when it is realized that this very same pagan Duke Philip turned to Christ with so much genuine love that he became a churchman himself and rose to be the archbishop of Alexandria. It was a far higher calling but far less rewarding in earthly considerations. Sought after by the very people who in prior years had sought only to protect him, he was assassinated.

Meanwhile Eugenia had gone to Rome to be in the heart of the political and cultural center of the world where she won so many converts to Christianity that she, too, became a target for the pagan state. When finally caught, she remained steadfast in her faith and met death by sword, after which her body was thrown into the Tiber River, only to be recovered by Christians. Although she was martyred on December 25, her memory is observed a day earlier.

Taken from Orthodox Saints by George Poulos.

For a description of this icon and the troparion and kontakion for this saint please click here