St. Pelagia of Tarsus in Cilicia (southeastern Asia Minor) lived in the third century during the reign of Emperor Diocletian and was the daughter of illustrious pagans. When she heard about Jesus Christ from her Christian friends, she believed in Him and desired to preserve her virginity, dedicating her whole life to the Lord.
Emperor Diocletian’s heir saw the maiden Pelagia, was captivated by her beauty, and wanted her to be his wife. The holy virgin told the youth that she was betrothed to Christ the Immortal Bridegroom, and had renounced earthly marriage.
Pelagia’s reply greatly angered the young man, but he decided to leave her in peace, hoping that she would change her mind. Pelagia convinced her mother to let her visit the nurse who had raised her in childhood. She secretly hoped to find Bishop Linus of Tarsus, who had fled to a mountain during a persecution against the Christians, and to be baptized by him. She had seen the face of the bishop in a dream, which made a profound impression upon her. St. Pelagia traveled in a chariot to visit the nurse, dressed in rich clothes and accompanied by a whole retinue of servants, as her mother wished.
Along the way, St. Pelagia met Bishop Linus. Pelagia immediately recognized the bishop who had appeared to her in the dream. She fell at his feet, asking him to baptize her. As the bishop prayed, a spring of water began to flow from the ground. Bishop Linus made the Sign of the Cross over St. Pelagia, and during the Mystery of Baptism, angels appeared and covered her with a bright mantle. After giving her Holy Communion, Bishop Linus offered a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord, and then sent her on her journey. She exchanged her expensive clothing for a simple white garment and distributed her possessions to the poor. Returning to her servants, St. Pelagia told them about Christ, and many of them were converted and believed.
Upon returning home, St. Pelagia tried to convert her mother to Christ, but, instead, her mother sent a message to Diocletian’s son that Pelagia had become a Christian and did not wish to be his wife. The youth realized that Pelagia was lost to him, and he fell upon his sword in despair. Pelagia’s mother, fearing the emperor’s wrath, tied her daughter up and led her to Diocletian’s court as a Christian who was responsible for the death of the heir to the throne. The emperor was captivated by the unusual beauty of Pelagia and tried to turn her from her faith in Christ promising her every earthly blessing if she would become his wife.
The holy virgin refused the emperor’s offer with contempt and said, “You are insane, Emperor, saying such things to me. I will not do your bidding, and I loathe your vile marriage, since I have Christ, the King of Heaven, as my Bridegroom. I do not desire your worldly crowns which last only a short while. The Lord in His heavenly Kingdom has prepared three imperishable crowns for me. The first is for faith, since I have believed in the true God with all my heart; the second is for purity, because I have dedicated my virginity to Him; the third is for martyrdom, since I want to accept every suffering for Him and offer up my soul because of my love for Him.”
Diocletian ordered that Pelagia be burned in a red-hot oven. Not permitting the executioners to touch her, the holy martyr made the Sign of the Cross and went into the oven without assistance. Her flesh melted like myrrh, filling the whole city with a lovely fragrance.
St. Pelagia’s bones remained unharmed and were removed by the pagans to a place outside the city. Four lions came out of the wilderness and sat around the bones letting neither bird nor wild beast touch them. The lions protected the relics until Bishop Linus appeared. He gathered them up and buried them with honor. Later, a church was built over her holy relics.
The Service to the Holy Virgin Martyr Pelagia of Tarsus says that she was “deemed worthy of most strange and divine visions.” She is also commemorated on October 7
By permission of the Orthodox Church in America (www.oca.org )