Orthodox icon of Saint Aspasia, one of the The Forty Virgin Martyrs and Their teacher Deacon Ammoun.
Commemorated September 1.
One of the prophesies about the life of virginity, very prevalent in the New Testament, can be found in the 44th Psalm of David. There, Prophet David sees his distant, precious daughter, the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, and prophesies: "Virgins shall be brought to the king after her. With joy and gladness they will be led to the temple of the king." The life of the Theotokos, the Mother of God, as a model and fortress of the virgins, propelled many souls to devote themselves to Christ totally.
The Holy Spirit in the epistles of St. Paul, especially in the beginning of 1 Corinthians, exalts the state of virginity: "Now concerning the things which you wrote to me, it is good for a man not to touch a woman." In verse eight, St. Paul continues, "But I say to the unmarried and to the widows, it is good for them if they remain even as I am," meaning celibate. A few verses down (v. 32) St. Paul says, "But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares for the things of the world how he may please his wife, or husband."So according to these verses of St. Paul, it is very clear that virginity and celibacy is more conducive to a higher spirituality.
This is not to say that holiness cannot be reached within marriage that is also very, very possible. However, the great life of the Most Holy Theotokos, the Ever-Virgin, and the grace given to us in the New Testament and these great verses of St. Paul, spark a great love in Christians for a life of virginity and total devotion to the Lord.Many young women lived in the homes of their parents. Just like the daughters of the deacon Philip, they lived a life of virginity, prayer, and devotion to the early Church. Although we did not have organized monasticism before the fourth century, all the elements of the ascetically or monastic lifestyle flourished in the life of the Church, and added to the Mother Church millions of martyrs.
On the first day of September, which marks the opening of our ecclesiastical year, the Church opens its golden pages of martyrdom by celebrating the resolve of the forty women virgin ascetic martyrs who put to shame the torture mechanisms of Licinius. The forty women virgin martyrs lived in Adrianoupolis of Thrace, in northeast Greece, and they were disciples of Deacon Ammoun. During that time, around 305 AD, the emperor of the eastern region of the Roman Empire was Licinius, a dreadful persecutor of Christianity. Licinius had instituted a decree for the annihilation of all Christians who refused to sacrifice to idols. The decree of this bloodthirsty tyrant soon reached all cities, towns, and villages.
Christians were slaughtered like lambs, refusing to submit to his soul-destroying promises and choosing rather to die for the love of their heavenly bridegroom.During these horrible years, the forty virgin martyrs were apprehended and put to the test along with their deacon Ammoun. The names of these glorious Christian women are as follows:Adamantine, Athena, Akrive, Antigone, Arivea, Aspasia, Aphrodite, Dione, Dodone, Elpinike, Erasmia, Erato, Ermeneia, Evterpe, Thaleia, Theanoe, Theano, Theonymphe, Theophane, Kalliroe, Kalliste, Kleio, Kleonike, Kleopatra, Koralia, Lambro, Margarita, Marianthe, Melpomene, Moscho, Ourania, Pandora, Penelope, Polymnia, Polynike, Sapfo, Terpsichore, Troada, Haido, and Harikleia.
By their daily ascetic struggles, by their prayers, vigils, and fasting, the seed of faith rooted, sprouted, and blossomed in the fertile ground of the virgins' souls. Steadfast faith, precise keeping of Christ's commandments, and obedience to their pious spiritual father Ammoun, made them as pure as lilies. This purity invites and hosts the two theological virtues of humility and love, which further house the Trinity in the Christian heart.The intimidations, threats, and tortures did not sway the virgins. The idolater archon Varos of Adrianoupolis did not sway the unshakable faith of this holy team of virgin martyrs.
They united their godly prayers, and immediately and miraculously the priest of the idols was airborne. He remained suspended and hung in midair, thus punished for many, many hours, and finally he landed on the ground and breathed his last.u00a0Deacon Ammoun was hanged, and had his ribcage opened with knives. After this, a red-hot iron helmet was placed on his head. The above tortures caused no apparent harm to this athlete of Christ, so he was transported to Heraklea of Thrace, to the tyrant Licinius, along with the holy virgins. Licinius ordered to have ten of the virgin martyrs burned by fire, and another eight beheaded, along with deacon Ammoun. Another ten were put to death by the sword, being struck in the mouth or in the heart, thus giving up their spirit.
Of those remaining, six were martyred by being forced to swallow sizzling hot iron marbles, and the last six were cut to pieces by knives. The forty martyred women and the martyr Ammoun exercised their faith, hope, and love toward Christ in an amazing way. They proved to the world that the Christian Gospel is not some ideology, but the source of life and power. They proved indefatigably that the Church of Christ is a divine creation. The fools for Christ defeated the wise.The weak defeated the mighty.. The words of St. John the Chrysostom find their full justification through the centuries: "The Church, under persecution, scores victories.
When insulted, it becomes even more radiant. It receives injuries, but it does not succumb to the wounds. It sails through rough seas, but it does not sink. It fights, but it is never defeated. O man, there is nothing more powerful than the Church."With the unshakable and steadfast faith in the Resurrected Savior, the forty virgin martyrs did not simply show patience and perseverance through these various tortures. They didn't simply display boldness and heroism, but a characteristic element of Christian martyrdom the presence of joy, a joy quite inexplicable to the idolaters, and the cause of many conversions.
Curious bystanders were often the eyewitnesses of a great marvel and profound mysteryPeople heavily injured dismembered, severely beaten, hanging on a cross (or about to be hung), engulfed by flames were full of joy. Instead of mourning,weeping and chest-beating, they were glorifying God. The day of martyrdom was a day of joy. They were rejoicing because they were deemed worthy to confess Christ, the cause of all joy. They irrigated the tree of the Church with their blood.
There is no greater sermon, there is no better way to show to the unbelievers and idolaters that Christ is the true God. The blood of one martyr would bring in dozens of new believers to the Church often thousands. Eusebius, the early church historian, informs us, "They didn't seem to worry when faced with persecution and all kinds of tortures, but they displayed fearless boldness through their faith in the God of all, and they welcomed their final decision of death with joy and laughter and great rejoicing. Therefore they chanted hymns and offered thanksgiving to the God of all, up until their last breath"
(Ecclesiastical History, Volume 8, 9:5).