Science of the Saints, 18 May, The Holy Martyr Theodotus and the Holy Seven Virgins of Ancyra

The Holy Martyr Theodotus and the Holy Seven Virgins – Tecusa, Thaina, Claudia, Matrona, Julia, Alexandra, and Euphrasia, lived during the second half of the third century in the city of Ancyra, Galatia district, and died as martyrs for Christ at the beginning of the fourth century.

Saint Theodotus was an inn-keeper, had his own inn and was married. Then already he had attained to high spiritual accomplishment: he maintained prudence and purity, cultivated temperance in himself, subjugated the flesh to the spirit, and became practised in fasting and prayer. By his conversations he brought Jews and pagans to the Christian faith, and sinners to repentance and improvement. Saint Theodotus received the gift of healing from the Lord and he treated the sick by placing his hands on them.

During the time of the persecution under the emperor Diocletian (284-305), a certain Theoteknes, known for his cruelty, was appointed as governor in the city of Ancyra. Many Christians fled from the city, having forsaken their homes and property. Theoteknes made a proclamation to all Christians that they were under obligation to offer sacrifice to idols, and in the event of refusal they were to be given over to torture and death. Pagans delivered Christians over to torture, and then divided up their property.

A famine befell the country. During these grim days, Saint Theodotus gave shelter in his inn to Christians left homeless. He fed them, hid away those being pursued, and from his supplies gave to devastated churches everything necessary for making the Divine Liturgy. He fearlessly went into the prisons, rendering help to the innocently condemned, encouraging them to be faithful to Christ the Saviour to the very end. Theodotus did not fear to bury the remains of holy martyrs, either carrying them off secretly or ransoming them from the soldiers for money. When the Christian churches at Ancyra were destroyed and closed, Divine Liturgy began to be celebrated in his inn. Perceiving that the deed of martyrdom awaited him too, Saint Theodotus in conversation with the priest Phrontonos predicted that in a short while they would bring to him the relics of martyrs, at a place chosen by both of them. In surety of his words, Saint Theodotus gave his ring to the priest.

During this while, seven holy virgins had accepted death for Christ, of whom the eldest – Saint Tecusa – was an aunt of Saint Theodotus. The holy virgins – Tecusa, Thaina, Claudia, Matrona, Julia, Alexandra, and Euphrasia – from their youth had dedicated themselves to God, and lived in constant prayer, fasting, temperance, and good deeds. All of them had attained to an elderly age. Brought to trial as Christians, the holy virgins in front of Theoteknes bravely confessed their faith in Christ and were given over to torture, but remained steadfast. The governor thereupon gave them over to shameless youths for desecration. The holy virgins prayed intensely, asking help from God. Saint Tecusa fell down at the feet of a youth, and taking back her veil she showed him her greyed hair. The youths became startled, started weeping and ran off. The governor then ordered that the saints take part in “the ablution of the idols,” which was done by pagan priests, but again the holy virgins refused. For this they were sentenced to death. A heavy stone was tied to the legs of each, and all seven of the holy virgins was drowned in a lake.

On the following night Saint Tecusa appeared in a dream to Saint Theodotus, asking him to take up her body and give it Christian burial. Saint Theodotus, taking with him his friend Polychronios and several other Christians, set off to the lake. It was dark, and a burning torch led the way. Amidst them in front of the guard, posted by the pagans at the shore of the lake, appeared the holy martyr Sosander. The frightened guard ran off in terror. The wind drove the water towards the other side of the lake. The Christians took up the bodies of the holy martyresses and carried them to church, whence they were given over to burial.

Learning about the theft of the bodies of the holy martyresses, the governor went into a rage and gave orders to strike at all Christians and give them over to torture. Polychronios also was seized. Not able to endure the torture, he informed on Saint Theodotus, as the perpetrator of the theft of the bodies. Saint Theodotus began to prepare to die for Christ; having come up together with all the Christians zealous in prayer, he made bequest of his body to the priest Phrontonos, to whom earlier he had given his ring. The saint came before the judge. They showed him various instruments of torture and instead of them they promised him honours and riches, if he recanted from Christ. Saint Theodotus glorified the Lord Jesus Christ, and confessed his faith in Him. In anger the pagans gave the saint over to constant torture, but the power of God sustained the holy martyr. He remained alive and was cast into prison. On the following morning the governor again gave orders to torture the saint, but he soon perceived that it was impossible to break his courage. He then gave orders to behead the martyr. The execution was done, but sensing that a storm was approaching, the soldiers set fire to the body of the martyr. And soldiers, sitting in a tent, remained to guard the body. At this point the priest Phrontonos appeared from a nearby way, leading a donkey with a load of wine from his vineyard. The donkey suddenly fell down near the place where lay the body of Saint Theodotus. The soldiers helped get the donkey back up and they told Phrontonos that they were guarding the body of the executed Christian Theodotus. The priest perceived that the Lord had intentionally sent him hither. He placed the holy remains on the donkey and took them to the place, indicated by Saint Theodotus for his burial, and with honour he committed them to the earth. Afterwards he built up a church on this spot. Saint Theodotus accepted death for Christ on 7 June 303 or 304, and his memory is commemorated on 18 May, on the day of death of the holy virgins.

The account of the life and martyr’s act of Saint Theodotus and the suffering of the holy virgins was compiled by the contemporary and companion of Saint Theodotus, and an eye-witness of his death – Nilos, living in the city of Ancyra during the period of persecution of Christians under the emperor Diocletian.

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