St. Euphemia the Martyr is celebrated twice a year in the Orthodox Church. Most saints have only one feast day, but this particular saint is commemorated twice. The feast on July 11 is the miracle of her relics that decided the 4th Ecumenical Council, held in Chalcedon, 451 AD. The second feast on September 16th celebrates her repose as a martyr. The feast that is upon us always coincides with the Sunday commemorating the Fathers of the 4th Ecumenical Council. In the Greek tradition, this particular Sunday falls between the 13th and 19th of July. The Slavic tradition does not have a separate Sunday for the 4th Ecumenical Council, instead celebrating the Fathers of the first six Ecumenical Councils on that same Sunday.
St. Euphemia came from a Christian home. She was from Chalcedon which is a city on the banks of the Bosphorus across Constantinople. One day in the year 304 AD, the governor of Chalcedon, Priscus who was a pagan, gave an order that all the inhabitants of Chalcedon and the surrounding region to appear at a pagan festival to worship and offer sacrifice to an idol named Ares. Anyone who refused to do so would face severe torture and possible death. St Euphemia was among 49 other Christians who were apprehended in a house where they were hiding from the authorities. At that secret house they gathered for worship. St. Euphemia was the youngest of these Christians who were apprehended. She endured horrific and agonizing tortures for refusal to worship the pagan idol, instead confessing her faith in Christ. Some of these tortures included: being tied to a wheel containing sharp knives, being placed in a hot oven and being thrown in a ditch with sharp edges. Eventually she gave up her soul to God when a wild beast bit her on the leg and she bled to death. At the time of her death a great earthquake occurred which enabled her parents to retrieve her body and bury it near Chalcedon.
Years later a church was built over the grave of St. Euphemia. It was at this very church that the 4th Ecumenical Council was held. On July 11, the Church celebrates the miracle that occurred at that Council. At that Council which was a dispute between the Monophysites and the Dyophysites, both sides could not come to a mutual understanding. So both sides decided by the recommendation of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Anatolius, to submit each of their confessions or tomes to the Holy Spirit, through the great martyr Euphemia. Each side wrote their tomes on separate scrolls and sealed them. They opened up the grave and retrieved St. Euphemia’s coffin, placing both scrolls on her bosom. After three days and three nights of intense prayer and fasting, they opened up the grave again and her coffin and found the tome of the Dyophysites in her right hand and that of the Monophysites at her feet. Then the great miracle occurred: St. Euphemia as though she was alive raised her hand and gave the True Tome to Patriarch Anatolius. Thus, St. Euphemia confirmed the Orthodox confession, the Dyophysites and exposed the tome of the Monophysites as heresy. The former are known as the Chalcedonian Orthodox, the latter are the Non-Chalcedonians or Oriental Orthodox Christians.
The relics of St. Euphemia were later transferred to Constantinople around 620 AD as a result of the siege of Chalcedon by the Persians in 617 AD. St Euphemia is indeed among the righteous who contested for the faith. As we hear in the reading of the Wisdom of Solomon at the vespers: Though chastened in a few things, great kindness will be shown them, for God tested them and found them worthy of Himself. He tested them like gold in a furnace and accepted them as a whole burnt offering. In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and they will run about like sparks through straw (3:5-7). We can also better understand the significance of this great Saint in the history of the Orthodox Church through the liturgical hymns dedicated to her: The convocation of divine Fathers placed the definition of faith near your head, and you took it in your arms, preserving the divine faith unshaken, shunning all heresy, and putting to shame the defenders of falsehood, O glorious martyr hymned by all; therefore, we honor you and call you blessed (Stichera from Vespers).
What should one marvel at first: your martyric contests and accomplishments? Or your virginity and blameless life? You gladdened the Father, by wedding the Son and adorning yourself by the Holy Spirit. Who is capable of lauding these things? Who can tell of the many virtues that shine all around you and never fade? Like the sun, you rose from the east out of the grave, and you shine on all, and with your rays you illumine land and sea, and sanctify every continent, and make fragrant the ends of the earth. Therefore, you received from the six hundred thirty God-bearing Fathers the Definition of the Faith and guarded it (Oikos of Matins).
To the Orthodox you brought elation, * the unorthodox, humiliation, * O Euphemia, the beautiful virgin of Christ. * For what the Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical * Synod decreed well as dogma you ratified. * Pray to Christ our God, O glorious Martyr, fervently, * entreating Him to grant us His great mercy (Festal Dismissal Hymn [Apolytikion]).
As for the Tome she confirmed at the 4th Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon, please see next week’s article.
Through the prayers of the Great Martyr Euphemia, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon us and save us. Amen.
John Athanasatos, PharmD, MDiv, a pharmacist, attended Long Island University and St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.