Monday, September 21, 2009

St. Thekla the Protomartyr and Equal-to-the-Apostles

St. Thekla the Protomartyr and Equal-to-the-Apostles - Commemorated on September 24 (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)

"The Holy Protomartyr and Equal of the Apostles Thekla was born in the city of Iconium. She was the daughter of rich and illustrious parents, and she was distinguished by extraordinary beauty. At eighteen years of age they betrothed her to an eminent youth. But after she heard the preaching of the holy Apostle Paul about the Savior, St Thekla with all her heart came to love the Lord Jesus Christ, and she steadfastly resolved not to enter into marriage, but rather to devote all her life to preaching the Gospel.

St Thekla's mother was opposed to her daughter's plans and insisted that she marry her betrothed. St Thekla's fiancé also complained to the prefect of the city about the Apostle Paul, accusing him of turning his bride against him. The prefect locked up St Paul in prison.

During the night St Thekla secretly ran away from her house, and she bribed the prison guards, giving them all her gold ornaments, and so made her way into the prison to the prisoner. For three days she sat at the feet of the Apostle Paul, listening to his fatherly precepts. Thekla's disappearance was discovered, and servants were sent out everywhere looking for her. Finally, they found her in the prison and brought her home by force.



At his trial St Paul was sentenced to banishment from the city. Again they urged St Thekla to consent to the marriage, but she would not change her mind. Neither the tears of her mother, nor her wrath, nor the threats of the prefect could separate St Thekla from her love for the Heavenly Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Mountains of St. Philip (left--named because the Apostle Philip passed this way on his journey from Palestine to Hierapolis) and St. Thekla (right--named because St. Thekla was from Iconium), Iconium (modern day Konya) (taken and altered from: http://www.holylandphotos.org/browse.asp?s=1,3,8,21,58&img=TCSCKY03)

Her mother in a insane rage demanded from the judges a death sentence against her unyielding daughter, and St Thekla was sentenced to be burned. Without flinching, the holy martyr went into the fire and made the Sign of the Cross over herself. At this moment the Savior appeared to her, blessing her present deed, and inexpressible joy filled her holy soul.

The flames of the fire shot up high, but the martyr was surrounded by a light and the flames did not touch her. Thunder boomed, and a strong downpour of rain and hail extinguished the fire. The torturers scattered in fear. St Thekla, kept safe by the Lord, left the city and with the help of a certain Christian youth, searched for the Apostle Paul. The holy apostle and his companions, among whom was St Barnabas, were hidden in a cave not far from the city, praying fervently, that the Lord would strengthen St Thekla in her sufferings.

After this, St Thekla went with them preaching the Gospel in Antioch. In this city she was pursued by a certain dignitary named Alexander, who was captivated by her beauty. St Thekla refused his offer of marriage, and so she was condemned to death for being a Christian. Twice they set loose hungry wild animals upon her, but they would not touch the holy virgin. Instead, they lay down meekly and licked her feet.

The Providence of God preserved the holy martyr unharmed through all her torments. Finally, they tied her to two oxen and began to chase her with red-hot rods, but the strong cords broke asunder like cobwebs, and the oxen ran off, leaving St Thekla unharmed. The people began shouting, "Great is the God of the Christians!" The prefect himself became terrified, realizing that the holy martyr was being kept safe by the Almighty God, Whom she served. He then gave orders to set free the servant of God Thekla.

St. Thekla the Protomartyr (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)
  
With the blessing of the Apostle Paul, St Thekla then settled in a desolate region of Isaurian Seleucia and dwelt there for many years, constantly preaching the Word of God and healing the sick through her prayer. St Thekla converted many pagans to Christ, and the Church appropriately names her as "Equal- to-the-Apostles." Even a pagan priest, trying to assault her purity and punished for his impudence, was brought by her to holy Baptism. More than once the Enemy of the race of man tried to destroy St Thekla through people blinded by sin, but the power of God always preserved this faithful servant of Christ.

When St Thekla was already a ninety-year-old woman, pagan sorcerers became incensed at her for treating the sick for free. They were unable to comprehend that the saint was healing the sick by the power of the grace of Christ, and they presumed that the virgin-goddess Artemis was her special helper. Envious of St Thekla, they sent their followers to defile her. When they came near her, St Thekla cried out for help to Christ the Savior, and a rock split open and hid the holy virgin, the bride of Christ. Thus did St Thekla offer up her holy soul to the Lord.

Fresco from Decani Monastery of St. Thekla fleeing into the cleft of the rock (taken from: http://www.srpskoblago.org/Archives/Decani/exhibits/Menologion/September/CX4K3371_l.html)

The holy Church glorifies the Protomartyr Thekla as " the glory of women and guide for the suffering, opening up the way through every torment." From of old many churches were dedicated to her, one of which was built at Constantinople by the holy Equal of the Apostles Constantine (May 21). The Protomartyr Thekla, a prayerful intercessor for ascetics, is also invoked during the tonsure of women into monasticism." (taken from: http://ocafs.oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?SID=4&ID=1&FSID=102715)

The Convent of St. Thekla (Deir Mar Takla) of Maaloula, Syria as it appears today (taken from: http://homepage.mac.com/hobwahid/Syria_Photos/PhotoAlbum102.html)

"Shortly after her death a community of virgins went to live in her mountain cell, building a small chapel to enshrine her body. The Convent of Saint Thekla [Deir Mar Takla] still exists today near the village of Maaloula, Syria." (http://www.antiochianvillage.org/camp/liturgical/patron/stthekla.html)

Another picture of the Convent of St. Thekla in Syria (taken from: http://homepage.mac.com/hobwahid/Syria_Photos/PhotoAlbum102.html)

"Maaloula is one of the most scenic villages in Syria and is of particular interest as the only place in the world where Aramaic; the language spoken by Christ (pbuh) is still used as a living language. The word Maaloula means entrance in Aramaic. It's situated at an altitude of more than 1500 meters; with its little houses cling to the face of an enormous rock; making it look suspended in mid-air." (http://www.atlastours.net/syria/maaloula.html)


According to one source, St. Thekla especially works many miracles with dermatologic and psychopathologic (or spiritual pathologic) illnesses. (http://www.synaxaristis.googlepages.com/%CE%B3%CE%B9%CE%B1%CF%84%CE%B9%CF%83%CE%B1%CF%83%CE%B8%CE%B5%CE%BD%CE%B5%CE%B9%CE%B5%CF%82). As mentioned, as the first woman martyr and a great ascetic and wonderworker, she is a guide and protector of nuns, and works many miracles throughout the world for the faithful. May she intercede for us all and help us!

Icon of St. Thekla the Protomartyr (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)

Troparion - Tone 4
You were enlightened by the words of Paul, O Bride of God, Thekla, and your faith was confirmed by Peter, O Chosen One of God. You became the first sufferer and martyr among women, by entering into the flames as into a place of gladness. For when you accepted the Cross of Christ, the demonic powers were frightened away. O all-praised One, intercede before Christ God that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion. Tone 8.
You shone out with the beauty of virginity, you were adorned with a crown of martyrdom, you were entrusted with the work of an apostle, glorious Virgin; and you changed the fire’s flame to dew, while by prayer you tamed the raging of the bull as victorious first Champion.

The Ikos.
The brilliance of an honoured feast brightly outshines the sun; for blazing with beams of light it is mirrored in the eyes of the faithful; therefore as we dance with the Angels, let us all shout aloud to God our Saviour, as we cry to him: You have multiplied your mercies, O Saviour, by giving a perfect gift to your people: the victorious first Champion.

Synaxarion.

On the 24th of the same month, Commemoration of the Holy Great Martyr and Equal of the Apostles Thekla.

Verses.
He saved you, Thekla, when he rent the rock,
He at whose passion once the rocks were rent.
‘Twas on the twenty fourth day that a rock enfolded great Thekla.


Ode 9. Mother of God most High. [From the Canon by St. John of Damascus]
Is there any who would not marvel, Protomartyr, at your indomitable courage? For having tamed the passions, wild beasts of the mind, you did not quail before the impotent assaults of wild beasts, but remained in their midst unharmed.

Even the sheer untrodden rock was rent by God’s command for the god-bearing Martyr, sealed as God’s bride by the bath of rebirth; and like a bridal chamber for the fugitive it received her in its arms.

Doctor the bruises of my soul, First Champion; crown the world with peace, giving victories to our faithful Sovereign against hostile barbarians and peace to the Churches by your supplications.

Theotokion.
Sovereign Lady, slay my sin that still lives, give life to the death of soul by the force of the true Life born from your womb through ineffable compassion for those who devoutly magnify you.

St. Thekla the Protomartyr with scenes from her life (http://pravicon.com/images/sv/s2036/s2036008.jpg)
   
At Lauds, Idiomel Stichera.

Tone 1. By Anatolios.
The stadium of the contest lies before us to-day. Peoples, let us dance and let us observe the wondrous deeds that are accomplished there; for a spotless lamb, the fair virgin and bride of God Thekla is brought out for slaughter for the sake of Christ our God who was slaughtered; and so by the faith of the Trinity she destroyed the godlessness of tyrants and, as she dances with the Angels, she intercedes with the Saviour that our souls may be saved.

By Anatolios.
Brave champion Thekla, with Christ as your Bridegroom in heaven, you despised your earthly suitor; for wisely you did not yield to a mother’s flatteries, but followed Paul, taking on your shoulders the standard of the Cross. The fire did not harm you; you changed the savagery of the wild beasts to tameness; you slew seals by the descent into Christ that is holy Baptism. But, as you were distinguished by noble contests, do not cease to intercede continually with the Lord for those who in faith celebrate your ever-honoured memory.

Tone 4. By Anatolios.
You dedicated yourself to the all-powerful will; strengthened as Christ’s champion and abandoning earthly love, you were declared the lamp of eternal life; you are a blessed bridal chamber, in which flocks of women, having found the entrance to eternal life take their rest. With them, Apostle Thekla, intercede for our souls.

Tone 4. By Anatolios.
Lovers of martyrs, strike up the dance, for the season of contests is upon us, and the yearly memorial of the Protomartyr, which urges all to give glory to God: for Thekla, the first of Martyrs among women, has accomplished her contest, is the first to be declared the victor and she intercedes with boldness for our souls.

Glory. Tone 4.
Protomartyr of Christ, it was not only the races of mankind that marvelled but wild beasts too were astonished. For you the flames were not reckoned as flames, fair virgin Thekla, because of your Bridegroom Christ, for you were glad as you suffered for him and were parted from the world that you might gain the blessedness of heaven as you intercede with boldness for our souls.

(taken from the service to St. Thekla in English that is available from Fr. Ephraim Lash: http://www.anastasis.org.uk/24sept.htm)

The Holy Great Virgin Martyrs Thekla, Irene and Ephemia (http://pravicon.com/images/sv/s2036/s2036001.jpg)
  
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

1 comment:

Meldelen said...

Wonderful article, thanks for sharing!
Holy Martyr Thekla, pray for us!