St. Theoctiste of the Isle of Lesbos


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Commemorated on November 9

St. Theoctiste was born in the city of Methymna on the island of Lesbos. At an early age, she was left a complete orphan, and relatives sent her to a monastery to be raised. The girl was happy to be removed from the world of sin, and she loved the monastic life, the long church services, monastic obedience, the strict fasting and unceasing prayer. She learned much of the singing, prayers and psalms by heart.

In 846, when she was eighteen years old, she set off on Pascha with the blessing of the abbess to a neighboring village to visit her sister and remain there overnight. Arabs invaded the settlement and took captive all the inhabitants, loading them on a ship, and sailing out to sea. The captives were taken to the desolate island of Paros so that they might be examined in order to assign their value at the slave-market. The Lord helped Theoctiste to escape, but the Arabs did not catch her. St. Theoctiste dwelt on the island for 35 years. An old church in the name of the Most Holy Theotokos served as her dwelling, and her food was sunflower seeds. Her time was spent in constant prayer.

At one point, a group of hunters landed on the island. One of them, while pursuing his prey, went into the forest and saw the church. He went into the church so as to offer up a prayer to the Lord. After praying, the hunter saw what looked like a human form in a dark corner, not far from the holy altar table. He went closer and heard a voice say, “Stay there, and come no closer to shame me, since I am a naked woman.” The hunter gave the woman his outer clothing, and she came out from her hiding place. The hunter beheld a grey-haired woman with worn face, calling herself Theoctiste. With a weak voice, she told of her life that she fully devoted to God. When she finished her story, the saint asked the hunter that if he happened to come to this island again, he should bring her a particle of the Presanctified Gifts. During all her time of living in the wilderness, she had not once partaken of the Holy Mysteries of Christ.

A year later, the hunter again arrived on the island and brought a small vessel with a particle of the Holy Mysteries. St. Theoctiste met the Holy Gifts in the church, fell down to the ground, and prayed with tears. Standing up, she took the vessel and with reverence and in the fear of God received the Body and Blood of Christ.

The following day, the hunter came to the church, and encountered the dead body of the Theoctiste. After digging a shallow grave, the hunter placed the venerable body of the nun in it. As he did so, he cut off her hand, so as to take with him a relic of this great woman. All night, the ship sailed upon an angry sea, and in the morning, it found itself at the very place from which it began. The hunter then realized that taking the relic was not pleasing to God. He returned to the grave and placed the hand with the body of the saint. After this, the ship sailed off unhindered.

On the journey home, the hunter told his companions everything that had happened on the island. Listening to him, they decided to return to Paros in order to venerate the relics of the great ascetic, but upon returning, they did not find her holy body in the grave.

By permission of the Orthodox Church in America (www.oca.org)