My beloved spiritual brothers and sisters in Our Risen Savior Jesus Christ,
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN!
ORTHODOX SPIRITUAL MOTHERS
The "phronema" of Christians is a unique thing. It is their way of living, their mind (the way they think) and speech, their actions (the way they live). The way of those of the secular world are completely different; and the chasm between them is enormous. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Philippians 3:20 says, "For OUR CITIZENSHIP IS IN HEAVEN, FROM WHICH WE ALSO EAGERLY WAIT FOR OUR SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST", the Orthodox Christian mind and way of thinking is always in the heavenly frame. They behold as in a mirror the good things of eternity by their reason of their partaking and possessing the grace of the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox Christian man, woman, and child possess a glory, a beauty, and a heavenly wealth which is beyond words and is acquired through prayer, fasting, pain, sacrifice, trials, and many other conflicts–and all by the grace of God.
Saint Basil the Great writes that we were made after the "IMAGE AND LIKENESS OF GOD" (Genesis 1:26-27), but sin marred the beauty of the image by dragging down the soul to passionate desire…When we lost our likeness to God, we lost participation in the True Life. Let us return, then, to the grace..from which we have alienated ourselves with the beauty of God’s image, being made like unto our Creator through the quieting of our passions… If by overcoming our passions, we regain the image of God and if the likeness of God bestows upon us Everlasting Life, let us devote ourselves to this pursuit in preference in all others, so that our soul may never again be enslaved by any vice. Let our understanding remain firm and unconquerable under the assaults of temptation to the end, that we may become sharers of the Divine beatitude."
We, as Orthodox Christian believers, have been blessed by many righteous and holy men and women that have, by the grace of God, acquired holiness.
The Holy Mothers of the Orthodox Christian Church, setting their minds upon achieving the virtues, renounced the riches and the pleasures of the world. They understood that they could not be devoted both to the world and the future life in heaven. As good soldiers of Christ, they fought daily to destroy the passions that assail us. They counted it a joy to be cursed, slandered, censured, and even killed in the name of their Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
They considered abstinence to food, poverty to riches, and humility to be the glory. As they subdued their bodies, they rejected every passionate attachment, they subjected themselves to the carnal mind with ascetic struggles, and they subjected themselves to the Divine Spirit. They put down the hordes of demons and evil temptations.
Desiring instead to converse with God, these holy Mothers resolved to live in the wilderness and far away from the noise and clamor of cities and towns. Many of them were shown to be miracle workers.
Our Holy Mother Among the Saints Vasilissa of Egypt and
those with her.
Our story begins in Antinoupolis of Egypt during the reign of Emperor Valerius Diocletian (284-305 A.D.), when Marcian was the governor. The young woman Vasilissa was married to a man from Antinoupolis named Julian. They agreed, however, to live together wisely and in virginity. Eventually, they gave their possessions to the poor, and Vasilissa was tonsured a nun. Julian then also decided to become a monk, where later he was elevated and became Egoumenos of a monastery with over 12,000 monks.
In 303 A.D., Diocletian the Roman Emperor, launched great persecution against all Christians and issued an Edict at Nicomedia decreeing the demolition of churches and the burning of Christian books. The punishment was imprisonment, torture, and, in some cases, death for those who did not adhere to the Emperor’s edict.
During this perilous time, our Holy Mother Vasilissa was made an Egoumeni (Abbess) of 1,000 nuns. As a true and spiritual mother, she besought God that none of her daughters might suffer torture or humiliation by Diocletian’s men. In the event that it was God’s will that she or any of the nuns suffer this cross, she prayed that none might recant the Faith. The Lord heard her prayer and in a matter of six months, one by one, every nun in the Women’s Monastery fell asleep in the Lord, leaving Vasilissa alone. Before her own blessed repose, Vasilissa was given a vision of her Synodia (Monastic community) in the life beyond the grave. She saw all her nuns enveloped in radiant light, rejoicing as angels of the Lord. Vasilissa, having endured severe persecution, reposed in peace. Her husband Julian was severely tortured and finally beheaded.
OUR HOLY MOTHER AMONG THE SAINTS, XENE,
THE DEACONESS OF ROME, GREEK ISLAND OF KOS, AND MYLASA.
The blessed maiden’s name at her baptism was Efsevia, in Greek meaning "pious"). She was the daughter of prominent and noble parents, who loved God, though they were wealthy and brilliant leaders in Rome. They nurtured in the young Efsevia a love for Christian virtue. When Efsevia attained the legal age for marriage, her parents sought a worthy bridegroom, unaware of their daughter’s true desire to dedicate herself to the heavenly Bridegroom, Who is truly comely and immortal. She decided secretly to leave home, so she might preserve her virginity. She revealed her plans only to the closest maidservants and friends who also decided to follow their mistress, even unto death.
The day of Efsevia’s arranged marriage was approaching, so she decided that this was the time to put their plan into action. One evening, all three dressed in men’s clothes and left their home, both crying and rejoicing. As they left they prayed, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, enlighten us and direct us toward salvation, for it is You we desire with all our souls."
As they fled, Efsevia advised her companions, saying, "Preserve yourselves exactly and do not change your minds, because any other road other than that of asceticism is not blessed. When the women reached the sea coast, by God’s good pleasure, they found a ship and they left the very hour for Alexandria, Egypt. Due to good weather, their trip was short and lasted only a few days. Once in Alexandria, they boarded another ship for the Greek island of Cos (Kos), one of the Dodecanese group of islands in the Aegean. She chose the island of Cos because she anticipated that her parents would launch an extensive investigation in every monastery to find her and bring her back home. Speaking to her two companions, she reminded them, "You must conceal our identities and confide to no one where we came from. Also, you must not call me by my baptismal name of Efsevia, but instead call me Xene (in Greek meaning "stranger"). By calling me this name you do not lie, because I am a stranger to this county. When they put in at Cos, Xene searched for a place on the 25-mile length of the island and finally found a suitable house and rented it for herself and her companions.
Once they settled in their new home, Xene desired to find an experienced spiritual father, so that she might be under obedience and NEVER TO DO HER OWN WILL. She supplicated the Lord with tears, saying, "My God, as You behold and govern all, do not abandon us who have abandoned our homeland and relatives because of our love forYou. Send unto us one who is an Orthodox advocate, a protector and guide, just as Thecla found Paul. Thus, we humble ones, may be shepherded and not stray, either knowingly or unknowingly, before Your magnificence."
Her request to God was quickly heard and Xene observed a holy elderly man approaching them. His countenence was bright and reverent, and his whole aspect was truly angelic. The virgin Xene was very happy and, crying, she fell at his feet, saying, "For the love of Christ, O holy master, do not reject us, the foreigners, but teach us and guide us to salvation." The elder asked Xene where she was from and what brought her to the island. Xene whispered in his ear and told him the truth. He then revealed that he too was a stranger to this place and he was returning from Jerusalem. He told her that he was from Mylasa, a city of Caria, and that his name was Paul, the Egoumenos of a small monastery. Xene then pleaded that the elder Paul become her spiritual father and that he assume responsibility for the women. The holy man replied, "Here, in this strange land, it is not possible for me to guide you. It is necessary though that you immediately accompany me to my monastery. If you will follow me to Caria I shall be able to provide you with what you need." The holy Mother Xene agreed to follow him joyfully.
When they arrived in Mylasa, the elder Paul gave the women a hermitage to live in that was close by his monastery. It is there that the holy Xene built a church and dedicated it to the Protomartyr Stefanos (commemorated on the 27th of December). In time, the hermitage became a Women’s Monastery and other women emulated the zeal of Xene.
At that time, the bishop Cyril of Mylasa reposed, and the Elder Paul was elected to the episcopacy. He recommended that Xene be ordained as deconess, as was the tradition in those years. Although Xene did not wish to be ordained, the blessed Bishop Paul ordained her. From that point on, Xene lived a severe ascetic life of hardhship and fasting. She contended with spiritual warfare, but she concealed her asceticism to the others. The venerable nun was truly meek and was neve seen angry or irritated with anyone. She possessed love for all and served all.
It was the feast of Saint Ephraim, not the Syrian, but another struggler for Christ, who was from Mylasa. Bishop Paul went to venerate and honor the holy relics of Saint Ephraim where they were located. Mother Xene then gathered the "Synodia," (Sisterhood) and announced to them that the time was near for her departure from this life. She asked for their prayers and forgiveness. While Mother Xene spoke to her nuns, all wept, especially Xene’s two former maideservants, who wept unceasingly. The Saint then went and enclosed herself in the church, where she prostrated herself in prayer. Her two maideservants beheld a strange sight about their spiritual Mother when they peeked through a crack in the door. Suddenly, a light and ineffable fragrance came from on High. The aroma was most sweet and delightful, could not be compared to any earthly incense. The nuns opened the door and found their spiritual Mother where she had fallen asleep in the Lord. They summoned the Synodia, and all began to weep unceasingly. Then about the sixth hour of a cloudless day, suddenly, brighter than the sun, there appeared in heaven a crown of stars with an even brighter star-studded Cross inside. This sight was seen by all present.
This sign was seen by Bishop Paul who was then in another town. Following the Divine Liturgy and after announcing the passing of the holy Mother Xene to the faithful, he went to venerate the precious relics of the holy nun amid many lit candles and censers. A procession was then formed that went to the center of the city. As the procession moved, so did the starlit crown in the sky. Everyone chanted hymns and remained all night for the vigil. All sick people who touched her holy relics with faith were healed, including those who had been ill for many years. When the procession reached the southern section of the city, called Sikinion, the righteous Xene was interred where she had previously arranged. The crown of stars then descended and rested upon the holy relics.
Thus, we close our account of the praiseworthy life of the holy Mother Xene.
Christos Anesti! Alethos Anesti!