Pelagia was a repentant sinner. She was born to pagan parents in Antioch, and was endowed by God with great physical beauty. Pelagia used her beauty to the destruction of her own soul and those of others. She became very wealthy as a result of her prostitution. Once, while walking past the Church of the Holy Martyr Julian, in which Bishop Nonnus was preaching, she stopped in and heard a sermon on the Dread Judgment and the punishment of sinners. Those words so shook her and changed her that she immediately felt revulsion for herself, acquired true fear of God, repented of all her sins and fell down before St. Nonnus with the plea that he baptize her: ``Have mercy on me, a sinner, holy Father. Baptize me and teach me repentance-I am a sea of iniquity, an abyss of destruction, a net and weapon of the devil.'' Thus this penitent begged the hierarch of Christ with tears, and he baptized her. At her baptism, Blessed Romana, the deaconess of the church, was her godmother. Romana, as her spiritual mother, grounded her well in the Christian Faith. But Pelagia was not satisfied with baptism alone. She was keenly aware of the multitude of her sins and, pricked by her conscience, decided on a great ascetic labor. She left her enormous, sinfully gained wealth to the poor, and secretly went to Jerusalem as the monk Pelagius. There, she shut herself up in a cell on the Mount of Olives, and began the difficult ascesis of fasting, prayer and all-night vigils. After three years, St. Nonnus's deacon, James, visited her and found her still alive, but when he visited her again several days later, he found that she had reposed, and he honorably buried her body. St. Pelagia entered into rest in about the year 461. Thus, this formerly terrible sinner pleased God by her repentance and labor, was forgiven of her sins, and became sanctified. And her purified and enlightened soul was deemed worthy of the Kingdom of God.
Thais was a repentant sinner. She was an Egyptian by birth. Like St. Pelagia, Thais also spent her youth in unrestrained fornication. Thais was directed in this evil way of life by her shameless mother. But the merciful God, Who does not desire the death of a sinner, but salvation, found a way in His wondrous providence to save the sinner Thais. One of the disciples of St. Anthony the Great, Paphnutius the Sindonite, heard of Thais's sinful life, and the spiritual poison with which she was poisoning the souls of many men. He decided to save her, with God's help. Clothed in secular clothing, St. Paphnutius took one gold coin and went to the city. He found Thais and gave her the gold coin. Thais, thinking that this man gave her the gold coin for an impure act, took Paphnutius into her room. Then Paphnutius opened his blessed mouth and denounced Thais's sins and called her to repentance. Thais's soul and conscience were both awakened, and she burst into tears of profound, sincere repentance. Distributing all her goods to the poor, she entered a convent at the instruction of St. Paphnutius, and remained there for about three years, closed off in a cell, living only on bread and water. St. Paphnutius visited her before her death, and brought her out of her cell against her will. She soon fell ill, and after a brief illness gave up her purified and sanctified soul to God. St. Paul the Simple, another disciple of St. Anthony, saw in a vision a most beautiful habitation in Paradise, prepared by God for St. Thais the penitent. This holy soul entered into rest in the year 340.
Pelagia was a maiden from an eminent family in Antioch. During the reign of Emperor Numerian, the governor of Antioch sent soldiers to bring Pelagia to trial as a known Christian. The soldiers surrounded the house and called the holy maiden to come to the door. She greeted them, and when she heard that they were taking her before the judge, she pretended to be happy, and told the soldiers to wait for a moment while she went back into the house to change clothes. Then she climbed to the roof of the house, raised her hands to heaven and prayed to God for a long time that He receive her soul and not permit her virginal purity be defiled. God received her soul, and her body fell dead before the soldiers. St. John Chrysostom wrote: ``Her death came about not by natural causes but rather by the command of God.'' And he continues: ``Thus, this virginal body, more pure than any gold, lay on the ground; angels surrounded it, archangels honored it and Christ Himself was beside her.''
The Venerable Pelagia
Pelagia the sinner repented,
And with knowledge of the true Faith, illumined her soul.
The world beckoned her, the world enticed her, but she hearkened not.
Her conscience was awakened, her soul began to shine.
How much effort she applied, how many struggles
She endured, wrestling with her sinful body-
Itself like a decaying apple.
So much effort, so much suffering she invested,
Until she deified her unhappy soul through faith.
In the heavens, God's sun shone,
But Pelagia's soul shone more.
Repentance-God has left us repentance.
By repentance, Pelagia was glorified.
Oh, if only we would invest as much effort in our souls as we invest in our bodies! Oh, if only we could become as desirous of adorning ourselves with virtue before God and His glorious angels, as we do with the vain, transitory, external displays of appearances! At first, both Pelagia and Thais were only aware of theier bodies, while their souls were slaves bound in the prison of the body. Both were adorned with nothing but vanity: clothed in vanity, arrayed with vanity, surrounded by vanity, and flattered by vanity. But what a sudden change! What a divine turn of events in their lives! More wondrous than if a wild apple were to be grafted and begin to bring forth sweet fruits; or if a turgid, fetid swamp were suddenly to become clear, pure potable water. When Bishop Nonnus, in the company of other bishops, first saw the sinner Pelagia in her outward splendor-clothed in the most expensive garments, adorned and bedecked with rings, necklaces and baubles, perfumed, and surrounded by slaves-Bishop Nonnus began to weep, and said to his companions: ``In truth, I have learned much from this woman. The Lord will set her before His Dread Judgment and will rebuke us through her. How many hours does this woman spend in her room bathing herself, clothing herself, adorning herself, and looking at herself in the mirror-and for what? Only to appear more beautiful to men. And we, who have the immortal Bridegroom in heaven, do not strive to adorn our souls with repentance; we do not hasten to bathe them with the tears of repentance and clothe them in the beauty of the virtues, that they might appear more beautiful before the eyes of God!''
Contemplate the unrighteousness of King Ahab, and God's punishment of him through the Prophet Elias (I Kings 16, 17):
1. How Ahab gave himself up totally to idolatry, and did that which is evil in the sight of the Lord;
2. How the Prophet Elias shut the heavens by his prayer, and there was no rain for three years.
on how the weapons of the enemy will vanish in the end
O thou enemy, thy destructions are come to a perpetual end, even as the cities which thou hast destroyed; thy memorial is perished with a roar (Psalm 9:6).
The enemy of the human race, the murderer of men from the very beginning, has used every weapon and intrigue against man. He thinks up new weapons and new intrigues day and night, in order to destroy someone as a roaring lion, … seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8). He hides like a poisonous snake and awaits his prey; he stretches his webs everywhere, like a spider, with the sole purpose of ensnaring some human soul and entrapping it in his foul kingdom. Pagan peoples were his cities. Until the coming of Christ, he ruled untroubled and absolutely in them. When they served idols, they served him; the practices of soothsaying and fortune-telling served him; he protected, directed and enhanced men's unbridled licentiousness; human sacrifice, fiery passions, discord, war, evildoings of all descriptions-this was all pleasure for him. But in the end, no weapons remained in him; his ``cities'' were destroyed and his memorial is perished with a roar. This ``end'' of which the prophet speaks is the coming of Jesus Christ the Lord into the world. The Lord manifested His power over the devil when He overcame his temptations on the mountain. He manifested His authority in driving demons out of men, commanding them to go this way or that; He manifested His invincible lordship over sin and death by His suffering and Resurrection. And, what is perhaps most important, He harrowed hell and scattered the demonic power. He did not desire to utterly destroy the demons, but to disperse them and smash their weapons; He smashed them and scattered them as He later did the Jews, but more terribly than He did the Jews. He freed the people from their domination; and even more importantly, He gave men authority over the demons, such that they can drive the demons out by the power of His name. Do you see how the Lord linked His victory over the demons with His mercy toward men? He so weakened and broke them, He so confused and dispersed them, that He placed them under the authority of men. Even so, the Lord did not grant authority over demons to all men, but only to those who believe in Him and who follow His commandments. He gave them authority, and He also gave them a weapon. That weapon is the Cross.
O Lord our God, our Savior from the dominion of the devil, help us also to do that ``least part'' that Thou hast left us to do.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.