Monthly Archives: July 2020

St. Anastasia the “Deliverer from Potions,” Widow, Martyr

If you’re Latin/Roman Catholic, you probably know that Eucharistic Canon I, the traditional Roman Canon, includes prayers for the intercession of a ton of apostles and saints. If you go to a parish that mostly does the modern post-Vatican II Canons II or IV, you might not realize that some of these Eucharistic saints in the second part of the prayer are female.

In fact, they correspond exactly to the names of ancient Roman martyrs in prominent Roman churches. Most of the female saints are still popular today: Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, and Cecilia. But who is Anastasia?

She is kinda shadowy. Apparently she was the daughter of a Roman senator and vir illustris named Praetextatus, who moved his family to Sirmium in Pannonia. (Today it’s called Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia.) Sirmium was named one of the four capitols of the Empire under Diocletian’s tetrarchy system, and they were the lucky winner of Emperor Galerius.

(Boo! Hiss! Boo!)

So imagine how delightful it was to be a prominent senatorial Christian woman in Galerius’ homebase. (Her mom Fausta was a Christian, but died young. She also seems to have gotten some religious education from St. Chrysogonus of Aquileia, also big in the Canon.)

Anastasia was wealthy, young… and her dad was pagan and a politician. Yeah, she didn’t get the chance to become a vowed virgin, though maybe that wasn’t her vocation. She got married off to another patrician guy, Publius Patricius, who unfortunately seems to have been abusive, and who unusually would not let her leave the house.

Publius was named an ambassador to Persia and drowned in a shipwreck on the way, leaving behind no children. Anastasia decided to become a vowed widow, which wasn’t easy work as a young widow whom your dad could marry off legally. (But maybe Dad felt guilty about his first pick.) She devoted herself to charity, visiting the poor and those in prison. She knew first aid and simple nursing, but accounts differ as to her medical knowledge. They agree that she would clean and bind wounds with her own hands and pray for the sick.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Anastasia became known for her wonderworking, because when she prayed for someone who had taken pharmakoia, that person would get better. This continued even after her death, so she is still known today as the Pharmakolytria or Deliverer from Potions.

Pharmakoia is often translated as “harmful drugs” or “potions.” But what we are talking about in Greek is abortifacient chemicals.

So yeah, this is the lady who intercedes particularly for women who have accidentally poisoned themselves from their desperation to abort, or who have changed their minds and want to save their babies, as well as for victims of other kinds of poisonings and overdoses.

(Her prayers also freed people suffering from evil spirits and magic, according to accounts from Milan and Palermo; and she often cured the mentally ill at her shrines, although ouch, don’t be mentally ill in Constantinople.)

Anastasia’s miracleworking brought her to the attention of the Imperial government. After arrest, torture, and refusal to convert, she was burned to death in AD 290 or AD 304, depending on the source. She may have been killed on Christmas.

In better times, her relics were brought to Constantinople (at Christmas!) and installed at a new church. Relics were also brought to Rome and installed at their Church of the Resurrection (Anastasis). Both churches became known as dedicated to St. Anastasia, and attracted healing pilgrimages. The relics of her head and one of her hands were removed from Constantinople and currently reside in Halidiki, Greece, near Mt. Athos, at a monastery named for her. She also has relics on the island of Palmaria, near Aquileia.

On the Western side of things, her feast is December 25 (because of the translation of her relics to Constantinople for sure, and maybe because of her martyrdom date), and it’s December 22 on the Byzantine side (January 4 on the Gregorian calendar). Icons usually show her carrying a medicine jug.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

St. Hermione the Unmercenary Physician

I got into a search engine/linkfest today… And it turns out that Hermione, daughter of Menelaus and Helen, and wife of both Neoptolemus and Orestes (doom, doom, doom-doom), was not the only famous Hermione of the ancient world.

As we all know, St. Philip the Deacon had four daughters who were all prophetesses in the Church. But on the Eastern side of things, a lot of folks who get mentioned in passing in the Gospels or Acts do have traditional names attributed to them.

So the daughters of St. Philip the Deacon are remembered to have had the Greek names of Hermione, Eutychia or Euchidia, Irais, and Chariline or Mariamne. They all seem to have taken vows to live as virgins.

St. Hermione seems to have been the eldest. After Philip moved his family to Herod’s port town of Caesarea Maritima, in order to spread Christianity, Hermione studied Jewish and Greek medicine and became a female physician. As mentioned in Acts 21, St. Paul and various of his companions (including St. Luke) stayed at Philip’s house.

Tradition says that after Paul went up to Jerusalem to get arrested, as prophesied by Agabus, the Christians of Caesarea Maritima got driven out.

(The Christians soon came back. According to Eusebius, who was from around there and would know, the first bishop was St. Zacchaeus himself! He was succeeded by Cornelius (maybe that Cornelius) and then by Theophilus (maybe that Theophilus.)

Philip ended up moving to Hierapolis in Asia Minor, a hot springs town still known for its amazing natural rock formations (the Pamukkale). His tomb is there.

At some point, St. Hermione moved to Ephesus along with Eutychia. They were planning to get spiritual guidance from John, but he died shortly before they got there. So they helped out the new bishop by starting a free medical clinic, along with the first known xenodochium, a house of hospitality for visiting Christians that would become common in most large parishes.

Dr. Hermione ran afoul of the authorities during the co-reign of Trajan and Hadrian. Accounts of her life say that she was subjected to various tortures, but just didn’t die. Finally the governor ordered two men to execute her, but at this point they were doubtful that it would work, and sure that the governor would execute them for failure. So they set their problem before the prophetess, and begged her to pray God to take her to heaven. So she took pity on them, and did so, and just died all of a sudden.

Assuming this story is historical, she’d be a confessor, not a martyr. But she’s always been counted as a martyr. Either way, her feast day is September 4.

As for St. Philip’s other daughters, Eutychia/Euchidia seems to have left Ephesus before all this happened, and died somewhere in a way that no story has come down to us. But Irais and Chariline lived out their lives in Hierapolis, and were visited by many Christians who wanted to hear their eyewitness stories. Papias (the bishop of Hierapolis and a historian) took down their accounts extensively, in his lost book, as Eusebius tells us in his own history.

BTW, the people who are counted as the very first early Christian unmercenary physicians are Ss. Zenaida and Philonella, two cousins of St. Paul who set up a free clinic in Thessaly. They were baptized into the faith by their brother Jason, who was then bishop of Tarsus.

(Zenaida, Philonella, and Jason would all be their Greek use names, not their Jewish names. Zenaida means “of Zeus” or “of God.” Philonella is a female form of Philo/Philon, “friendly love.”)

They decided to enter the local philosophical academy and study Greek medicine, and then moved to the area of Thessaly around Mt. Pelion near Demetriada, and near the famous Asclepius temple of healing. Priests and physicians in the area were known sometimes to charge exorbitant prices or demand big donations, and obviously healing included pagan worship and magical amulets and potions.

So they found a mineral spring, set up a Christian chapel and little huts for themselves, and offered treatment for free.

Legend says that St. Philonella was an experimental physician, willing to try to treat people with unknown diseases, and trying to create better treatments through totally natural, non-magical means. St. Zenaida was particularly interested in treating children who were sick, as well as psychiatric disorders. Both of them lived a life of prayer when not treating patients. Later on, a monastery for men was founded nearby, by their students Pateras, Philocyrus, and Papias. (Which is probably how Papias ended up becoming bishop.)

Legends differ as to whether they were stoned to death as martyrs, or whether they lived out their lives in peace. But their feast is October 11.

Other saints classified as “anargyroi” (literally, “no-silvers”) include Ss. Cosmas and Damian the surgeons, St. Pantaleon, St. Tryphon, St. Thaleleus of Anazarbus, Ss. Cyrus and John, St. Samson the Hospitable. But there’s a ton, and of course many religious orders still provide free medical treatment today.

3 Comments

Filed under Physician Saints, Saint Names, Saint Stories