Monday, January 26, 2009
Xenia the Nun formerly named Eusebia
Among those who pleased God and were glorified by Him was His favorite, Xenia, whose way of life was wondrous and luminous, and who ardently toiled for the Lord. According to ancient manuscripts, Xenia, or Eusebia (as she was known before she fled the world), was the daughter of a Christian, one of the foremost senators of Rome. She was his only child and he loved her dearly. When Eusebia reached a marriageable age, another nobleman, also of senatorial rank, requested her parents to give her to his son in wedlock. After considering the matter, Eusebia’s parents agreed, the maiden was betrothed to the youth, and a day was announced for the nuptials. Eusebia was not at all pleased by this, because she burned with divine love and had vowed her virginity to the heavenly Bridegroom, Christ the Lord, Who is more comely in beauty than the sons of men. She said nothing about the pledge to her parents, however, since they would not have assented to it, but would have attempted to persuade her to renounce or break the oath. They were determined to see her married, because she was their sole heir; furthermore, they very much desired grandchildren.
The blessed Eusebia had two faithful handmaidens who had grown up with her. One day, while alone with them, she announced, “I wish to share with you my inmost thoughts and desire, but first I enjoin you, in the name of the Lord God, to reveal to no one what I am about to say. Consider following my example, for so doing you will save your souls and assist my lowliness.”
The slaves replied, “You can count on our obedience, lady, and the more so if our souls will profit. We would die before betraying your trust.”
“You are aware that my parents have found me a bridegroom,” said Eusebia. “I want you to know also that I will never marry. This life is insubstantial: a shadow, a whiff of smoke, a dream. Come now and let us reason together and resolve to live chastely to the end of our days. Keep my secret and follow my counsel, and the Lord will bless and guide us. Rest assured that even if my parents discover my intention and try to force me to enter into wedlock, they will not succeed. With God as my helper, neither fire, nor sword, nor wild beasts can defeat me!”
“May the Lord’s will be done!” exclaimed the servants. “We shall assist you in every way possible. We would rather die with you than reign without you.”
Hearing this, the blessed one glorified God. Afterwards the three maidens, equally aflame with desire for God, could think of nothing except how to thwart the matrimonial plans. Every day they begged the Lord for guidance concerning this.
Having convinced her handmaidens to lead a chaste life completely devoted to God, Eusebia decided to distribute to the poor her gold, silver, and valuable. The two servants secretly gave everything she owned and also dispersed their possessions, thereby demonstrating their love for Christ. One night shortly before the wedding, the three maidens changed into men’s clothing and slipped out of the house, taking a little money for their needs. Signing themselves with the Cross, they entreated Christ God, “Be Thou with us, O Son of God, and direct us on the right path. For Thy sake have we forsaken our home and everything therein, choosing a grievous way of life and becoming strangers on the earth. Thee alone do we seek!” With this prayer on their lips, tears in their eyes, and hearts full of joy, the virgins began their journey.
As they were walking, Saint Eusebia said to her slaves, “Henceforth you will be my sisters and mistresses, and I shall serve you as long as I live. Let us be strangers to everything worldly for God’s sake and devote ourselves exclusively to the salvation of the soul. Let us flee every temporal care; let us put our trust in the Lord, Who said, Every one that hath forsaken father, or mother, or houses, or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. Yea, sisters, let us strive for salvation!”
While the saint was talking, they reached the shore, and finding a ship about to leave for Alexandria, they paid the fare and boarded it. Sped by a favorable wind, they quickly reached the city. Seeking refuge in a place Eusebia’s parents would not think to look for them, they took another ship to Cos, an island fourteen miles off Halicarnassus, a town in Caria. Because it seemed safe on the island, they redressed as women. They thanked God, rented a little house, and prayed that the Lord send a clergyman to tonsure them and care for their souls. Saint Eusebia instructed her companions, “Sisters, keep secret our identity. Tell no one where we are from, why we left our homeland, or what is my name, lest word of us somehow reach my parents. In God’s name I enjoin you to remain silent about this until the day I die. Do not speak about what we have done or intend. If anyone asks my name, tell him it is Xenia, which means “a stranger,” for lo, I have forsaken home and parents for God’s sake, and am a stranger here. Call me Eusebia no longer, but only Xenia, because I here have no continuing city; rather, I seek one to come. The maidens agreed, and thenceforth Christ’s bride was known as Xenia.
After this Xenia and her sisters went to the docks, where they caught sight of a gray-haired, angelic-looking monk. The saint approached him, fell at his feet, and with tears in her eyes implored, “Man of God, do not reject us strangers, paupers, and sinners, but imitate the holy Apostle Paul and be our guide as he was Thecla’s. Remember the reward God has prepared for teachers of righteousness, and save me and these two sisters.”
The Lord’s servant was moved to tears and sighed, “Of what help can I possibly be to you?”
“Be a second father and instructor to us after God, and take us somewhere we can save our souls,” Xenia pleaded. “We are foreigners, uncertain where to go and ashamed to appear in public.”
“Where are you from, and why are you alone?” the elder inquired.
The blessed maiden replied, “We are Christ’s slaves from a faraway country. We decided to abandon our homeland and go to a place where no one knows us. Night and day we have been praying that God send us a guide to salvation, and behold, He has brought you here to assist us, the feeble.”
“Sister, I am also a stranger here,” the elder said. “I am on my way home from the Holy Places.”
“Where do you live, Father?” asked Christ’s handmaiden.
He answered, “In Mylasa, a town in Caria.”
“Are you a bishop?” inquired Christ’s bride.
“Forgive me, sister; I am a sinner and wear the habit unworthily. By God’s mercy I am a presbyter, the superior of a small community, the Monastery of the Holy and All-glorious Apostle Andrew. My name is Paul,” said the elder.
Christ’s handmaiden cried, “Glory to Thee, O God! Thou didst hearken unto me, the wretch, and send this holy man, as once Thou didst send the Apostle Paul to Saint Thecla, that my sisters and I may be saved.” Then she entreated the elder again, “Servant of God, do not disdain us wanderers, but be a second father to us, after God.”
“I told you that I am also a stranger here,” responded the blessed Paul. I do not know how I can assist you if you stay on this island, but if you come to the mainland, I will help as much as I can. May God’s mercy be with you.”
The virgins fell prostrate and exclaimed, “Take us with you, servant of God! We shall go wherever you command; we ask only that you show compassion and guide us wanderers to eternal life.”
The man of God took the holy virgins to Mylasa, and with gold she had brought from Rome, Saint Xenia purchased cottages for herself and her sisters outside the town at an isolated place where a church had once stood. She built a chapel in honor of the holy Protomartyr Stephen and soon was joined by several additional virgins, whom she betrothed to Christ. A convent was founded under the spiritual direction of the blessed abbot Paul, who tonsured the saint and her two servants. Until her death none of the locals knew where Xenia was born, why she left her native land, or what she was formerly named. Whenever asked where the virgins were from. The venerable Paul would say, “I brought them here from Cos”; therefore, everyone thought they were from that island and referred to the sisterhood as “The Convent of the Cosians.”
Before long, Cyril, the Bishop of Mylasa, died. The godly Paul succeeded him as archpastor and made Xenia a deaconess. The holy virgin was truly worthy of this rank, since she lived like an angel while in the flesh. Although as the daughter of a senator she was reared in luxury, she undertook the most severe ascetic labors. No obstacle could stop her ascent to the summit of virtue. The demons soon learned to keep a distance from her, having been burnt repeatedly by her fasting and self-mortification. Sometimes Xenia ate every other day, sometimes every third day, and sometimes she went for a week at a time without food. She drank no wine, and did not partake of beans, vegetables, or anything cooked with oil, but ate only bread in small quantity, moistened with tears and sprinkled with ashes from a censer. She kept to this rule throughout her day, and so could say with the prophet, I ate ashes like bread and my drink I mingled with weeping. Only her two sisters, who ever strove to emulate her, knew the secrets of her way of life, for she hid these austerities from the others. Without fail she kept vigil from dusk until dawn, standing with hands uplifted. Often the two sisters secretly observed her praying on bended knees and shedding abundant tears the whole night long. Yet despite her exertions for the Lords, she remained humble and regarded herself as the worst of sinners. Who can recount all the saint’s virtues and struggles? Her meekness surpassed description. No one ever saw her angry, and neither pride nor vainglory marred her character. She was completely unpretentious. Her countenance was modest, her appearance unadorned, her body emaciated, and her heart ever peaceful. Her self-control was total, and she strove for every virtue. Ineffable was her humility, boundless her love for others. She helped the poor, showed compassion on the suffering, was forgiving to sinners, and led the deluded to the path of repentance. Her garb was of the most inferior sort, consisting of a worn-out monastic dress and vest; however, she considered herself unworthy even to wear this. Her eyes were springs of compunctionate tears, their flow never ebbing in the drought of temptation. Having her noetic gaze fixed on Christ the Bridegroom, she longed to see Him face to face. With David, she chanted, “When shall I come, and appear before the face of God, before the face of my sweet Beloved? My tears have been my bread by day and by night.”
At length the time approached for the ever-memorable, undefiled bride of Christ to depart this fleeting life. In the village of Leuke, there was a church dedicated to Saint Ephraim, a former Bishop of Mylasa. His honored remains were enshrined in building, and on his feastday the blessed hierarch Paul went there with his clergy. On the same day the holy Xenia assembled the nuns in the convent chapel and said, “Esteemed sisters, you have always shown me fervent love, endured my infirmities, and ministered to me, the stranger. Now, I entreat you, demonstrate your love again: pray to God for me, your poor, sinful, homeless servant, that my sins not impede me from attaining Christ. Lo, death is at hand, and my soul is exceeding sorrowful, since I have failed to prepare for its departure from the body. Because our father and master Bishop Paul is away, I want you to relate to him from the lowly Xenia: ‘Reverend father, remember me, a stranger. As you guided me on the way of monastic life, so pray that the Lord deem me worthy of my hope.’”
Their eyes brimming with tears, the nuns cried, “O directress of our souls, do not leave us helpless orphans! Who will watch over us on the path to life? Who will instruct us? Who will send up supplications on our behalf when we are downcast? No, lady, the hour of our separation has not come. You assembled the flock; do not abandon it now. Beg God to grant you more time, for the sake of us paupers and our salvation.”
Then Xenia’s two handmaidens fell at her feet and wept, “How can you desert us, O mistress? What will become of us poor wanderers? You are thinking only of yourself: that is why you are so eager to leave. Have you forgotten the sorrows we shared, the hardships of travel, and our sincere devotion to you? If, however, your must go, remember to pray for us, lady. Permit us to follow you soon and be with you in eternity.”
Bitter lamentation filled the chapel and Xenia, shedding copious tears, spoke these words: “Long ago, sisters, the holy Apostle Peter wrote, The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night. Knowing this, let us not wile away time, but be vigilant, keeping our lamps lit and filled with oil, so that we may be prepared to meet the Bridegroom. We do not know when the Lord will call us. The harvest and reapers are ready, awaiting the Master’s command.”
At this all the nuns fell prostrate and wept even more bitterly. The saint turned to prayer, saying, “O God, Who hast cared for m, the exile, until this day, hearken unto Thy lowly, sinful slave. Have mercy on Thy handmaidens, my sisters: protect them from every snare of the devil, that Thy holy name may be praised and glorified. I beseech Thee, O God, to remember the sisters who accompanied me into exile out of love for Thee and have never strayed from my side. May we not be parted in Thy kingdom, but be deemed worthy of a place together in Thy bridal chamber.”
Xenia then requested that the nuns leave, as she wished to be alone in the chapel. Her two slaves looked through a crack in the door and saw her at prayer, laying prostrate with arms outstretched, so that her body formed a cross. The saint remained thus for a long time; then light suddenly flashed in the chapel, as though a bolt of lightning had struck. A strong, sweet fragrance penetrated the door, and the two sisters rushed in to find Saint Xenia asleep in the Lord. It was the sixth hour on the twenty-fourth of January, a Saturday. The sisters left the church and called the others, saying, “Mothers and sisters, come; it is time to weep: we have been orphaned! Let us lament the departure of her that was a pillar of strength for the entire community. We have lost our revered mother and teacher, Saint Xenia, and are alone.”
The nuns entered the chapel, saw that the blessed one had expired, and burst into tears. Wishing to show what a treasure had been hidden on earth, God, the Lover of man, revealed a marvelous sign in heaven. No sooner had the venerable Xenia surrendered her holy soul into the Lord’s hands than a brilliant crown formed of stars appeared over the convent, topped by a cross brighter than the sun. This was seen by everyone, including the citizens of Mylasa who were in Leuke with their bishop, the godly Paul. The Mylasans asked one another, “What can this mean?”
Perceiving by the Spirit what had happened, the blessed Bishop Paul announced, “Xenia has reposed. The crown is hovering over her monastery.” Immediately after the Liturgy, the Mylasans, eager to confirm the Bishop’s words, rushed to the convent.
Soon an enormous crowd of men, women, and children had assembled there. Gazing at the crown and cross in the sky, the people wept and shouted, “Glory to Thee, O Christ God: Thou hast many saints who pleased Thee in secret! Glory to Thee, O Word of God, Who didst assume flesh and voluntarily submit to Crucifixion for our sake, and hast revealed Thy great treasure, hidden until now! Glory to Thee, O Master, Who hast deemed humble Mylasa worthy to be the repository for the invaluable pearl, the precious gem, Thy holy bride! Accepting Xenia into Thy heavenly mansions, Thou hast appointed our town guardian of her pure and sacred remains.”
Then the Christ-living people (especially the women, who were filled with zeal), cried to Bishop Paul, “Do not silence our city’s boast, O godly hierarch! Do not conceal our pride and joy, the jewel brought to light by the Lord. Show us the shining candle hidden beneath a bushel. Show Xenia to all, that our enemies may know Who in truth is the Master we serve. May the heathen see and be put to shame; may the Jews understand the mystery of the Cross and admit that they crucified God. May the adversaries of the Cross of Christ mourn. Let them witness how the Ruler of angels glorifies His servants after their death. Let all behold how gloriously Christ God has crowned His bride, a stranger and exile; let all see what favor the Lord has shown or poor and little-known city.” As the crowd was clamoring thus, the Bishop and his presbyters approached the precious body of Saint Xenia, which they placed on a bier, surrounded by burning candles. After censing, the Bishop and presbyters intoned hymns, hoisted the relics upon their shoulders, and carried them to the center of the city. To everyone’s astonishment, the heavenly crown remained over the body the whole way to the town and afterwards. Hearing about the miracle, villagers crowded into Mylasa. Bishop Paul and the faithful remained beside the saint until morning, chanting dirges. Many healings occurred: even those long ill had only to touch the relics and were made whole.
At dawn on the Lord’s day, the honored corpse was covered with a shroud and carried with hymnody to a location south of the city gates called “The Place of Figs,” where before her death the saint had indicated that she wished to be buried. The crown of stars and the cross were still visible over Xenia’s body. When the procession reached its destination, the crown and cross also halted, and the venerable one’s shroud was cut into little pieces. These were given to the faithful, who kept them for healing diseases. The Bishop anointed the remains of the venerable one according to custom, and the corpse was lowered into a new gravel whereupon, the crown of stars and the cross in the sky disappeared. After the burial sick people came to the grave in large numbers and frequently were cured.
Soon thereafter, one of Xenia’s handmaidens died, then the other, Both were buried at the feet of their holy mistress. After the first servant departed to life eternal, the nuns begged the second to tell them what she knew about Xenia. Certain that her won end was near, she revealed everything: where Xenia was from, who her parents were, why she had abandoned house and homeland, that her former name was Eusebia, and that she had assumed the name of Xenia as fitting for one who had become a stranger out of love for God. The nuns made known to all the life of Christ’s bride.
Having forsaken the world, the venerable Xenia greatly pleased God and became a citizen of heaven. While in the body she rivaled the incorporeal angels; as she departed the flesh, she trampled upon the ancient serpent, the devil. Possessing the priceless treasure of virginity, she regarded everything temporal as refuse. By love she was betrothed to Christ, by faith she was wed to Him, and now she has received her desire, to rejoice forever with the immortal Bridegroom Death did not curtail her ability to aid the faithful by prayer, nor restrict her benevolence to the graveside. Because she struggled to attain the height of virtue for His sake, Christ readily hearkens to the holy prayers of His bride and for her sake abundantly bestows His mercies on us.
Several years after Saint Xenia’s repose, the venerable one’s spiritual father, the godly Paul, also departed this life. He had pleased the Lord greatly, and by his entreaties the Most High expelled demons and healed every sickness. Paul’s body was entombed in the church of the Monastery of the Holy Apostle Andrew, where he had once been abbot, while his soul was translated to the presence of God to share in the glory of the saints. By his fervent prayers to God; by those of the venerable Eusebia, known also as Xenia; and by those of her two servants, may the Lord deem us worthy of His compassion, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.