At every Liturgy, we hear the names of some of the martyrs of the early Church read, as we ask God to grant us “some lot and partnership” with them. Among these courageous men and women is named Anastasia, a widow who faced execution rather than denying her faith in Christ, our Savior.
In the tumultuous years of persecution of Christians, particularly during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian (284-305), the exact details of the lives of many saints were lost to posterity. But their relics and the memory of their bravery have been preserved by the Church for veneration and supplication.
The most common of several strands of tradition for St. Anastasia describes her as a Roman citizen, the daughter of a prominent pagan father and a Christian mother. Without the knowledge of her father, the young child was baptized and taught the precepts of the Christian faith. But as a young woman, she was given in marriage to Publius, a non-Christian government diplomat.
Following the example of her mother, Anastasia quietly went about her Christian duties without her husband’s knowledge, duties which included receiving instruction from (St.) Chrysogonus (also named in the Mass), who was perhaps a priest, and giving aid to other Christians who were being persecuted. Publius eventually discovered his wife’s clandestine activities and made it clear that he would not tolerate such illegal actions. When he was appointed to serve in an ambassadorial capacity in Persia, he instructed the household servants to make certain that Anastasia did nothing to embarrass him or endanger his position while he was away.
But Publius was killed in an accident en route to Persia and the widow Anastasia then began to openly practice her acts of charity and good will. She went to the prisons where many Christians were incarcerated, tended the wounds of those who had been tortured, brought food to those who were being starved, and gave words of encouragement to all.
When her teacher, Chrysogonus, was arrested and sent to Aquileia, Anastasia followed him to provide the same comfort she had given to others. When Chrysogonus and others were beheaded (on November 24, 303), Anastasia’s reaction brought her to the attention of the authorities. She was also arrested and sent before the prefect, Florus. Unsuccessful in obtaining a denial of the outlawed religion from the woman, Florus passed her on to the Emperor, who shuffled her on to the pontiff of the capitol, Upian. Upian attempted seduction as a way to sway Anastasia, but his efforts also met with failure. Sent back to Florus, the saint was subjected to two more methods of torture – starvation and being placed in a boat which had holes in the bottom to ensure drowning – but she was miraculously protected by God’s mercy. Ultimately,
Anastasia was sent to a remote island, where her martyrdom was accomplished by burning on December 22 or 25, in the year 304. Anastasia’s body was buried by a local Christian woman and her relics were later transferred to Constantinople and placed in a chapel built in her honor. This church stood for more than a thousand years until it was destroyed by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. A church in Rome which had been named in honor of the Resurrection (or Anastasis) was renamed for the saint. Her name was added to the list of martyrs in the canon of the Mass in the late fifth century. She is commemorated in the second Mass (at early morning) of Christmas.
We give thanks to God that so many Christians of the first three centuries had such zeal for the faith and strength of will that they were able to endure persecution, torture and execution in Christian witness. May St. Anastasia and all the martyrs pray for us that our faith may be strengthened.