Life of Eugenia (continued), Book 1d
But she felt no remorse for her deceits. She went back to Alexandria, determined to expose Eugenia before she herself could be exposed. She complained to the prefect.
"I have had dealings with a villainous youth who pretends to be a religious Christian. He has a reputation for being able to heal the sick, so when I was ill I allowed him to visit me. He must have thought I was one of those who enjoy a bit of an orgy, for he had the cheek to try and seduce me in the most obscene language. If I had not cried out and been saved by my maid coming in, he would have forced himself on me like a barbarian."
The prefect was furious, and ordered guards to go to the monastery and bring back in chains this person and everyone else who was there. There was not one prison big enough to hold them all, so they were chained up in various different places. A day for the imposition of the death penalty was decided upon, some to be thrown to the beasts, some to be burned, others to various different kinds of torture. The news of it was widely circulated, and it became a subject of obscene conversation throughout the whole of the province of Egypt. Everyone believed Melanthia, and everyone joined in condemnation, unable to conceive of such an eminent person to be capable of lying.
What next? The day of the death penalty arrived, and people poured in from all the towns round about to see those revolting prisoners thrown to the beasts. They were brought in, chained together to the blessed Eugenia with iron collars round their necks, with no one aware that she was a woman. A fierce uproar broke out from the people, hurling all kinds of insults. The prefect ordered that Eugenia should be brought nearer to him so that he could hear for himself her true account instead of having to rely on a messenger relaying her words to him. The horsemen were ready with their canes, the torturers with fire and all the other means of inducing people to confess and incriminate themselves.
Philip then spoke to her.
"Tell me, you most loathsome Christian, did your master Christ include in his commandments that you should give yourself up to corruption, and attack a woman's chastity and modesty by your cunning deceits? Tell us now, you monster of depravity, what kind of madness was it possessed you to accost that noble woman, Melanthia, gain access to her on pretence of being a doctor, and then entice her to exchange her wholehearted commitment to chastity for the disgusting morals of the brothel?"
Eugenia listened to all this with lowered head, so that she was not recognised, then made her reply to the prefect.
"My Lord Jesus Christ whom I serve advocates chastity, and promises eternal life to those who maintain the integrity of their bodies. I could now accuse Melanthia of being a false witness. Nevertheless I would prefer to be wronged myself, than for her to be punished if convicted, lest I lose my spiritual reward for being patient. However, if your sublimity will promise, on your authority as prefect, that you will not give her the punishment prepared for me, and that her false witness will not bring her to any harm, then I shall prove that the crime I am accused of should redound upon her own head."
The prefect promised, on his own reputation as prefect, to do as she asked, and Eugenia went on:
"O Melanthia, name of blackness, Melanthia of the night, you have drawn swords against us, you would have all Christians hung. Damn us, cut us down, deliver us to the flames, that is where you would be well pleased to have us. Christ does not have the sort of servants that you have accused us of. But let your maid be brought forward, who you have said was a witness of my crime. Perhaps the lie may be uncovered out of her own mouth."
The maid was made to stand forth in the presence of the judge.
"This shameless young man," she said, "has often been known to fornicate with common people. It was sheer shamelessness that led him to brazen his way into my lady's bedroom at the first hour of the morning, saying at first that he had come on a healing mission. It soon became apparent that lust was his intention, and it would have come to violence if I had not come in and roused the whole household, who will also bear witness today to this crime."
The prefect called the other slaves who she said would confirm her account was true. He asked each one of them, and they all testified that it had happened as she had said.
"What have you got to say to that, you hardened sinner," the prefect asked furiously, "with all these witnessing against you, bringing such a heavy weight of evidence?"
"All will now be revealed," said the blessed Eugenia. "The time for silence is past. I had hoped that the accusation against me would be left until the judgment to come, when my chastity would be obvious to him alone who is ever to be lovingly served. But lest these wicked insults result in the servants of Christ being mocked, let me in a few words lay bare the truth, not in a spirit of human vainglory, but simply for the glory of the name of Christ. So great is the power of his name that even women who fear him can come to be worth as much as any man. We believe that neither sex is considered to be superior in his sight, since the blessed apostle Paul, the universal Christian teacher, has said that the Lord makes no distinction between male and female, for in Christ all are one (Galatians 3.28). I accepted this saying with a whole heart. With complete trust in Christ I decided to be a woman no longer, but to live bravely as a man in Christ, and preserve my virginity intact. I have not taken on some twisted semblance of honesty as if I were a man pretending to be a woman, but as a woman I have lived as a man, while strongly embracing virginity in Christ."
Having said this she tore the tunic she was wearing from top to bottom and stood revealed as a woman.
"You are my father, according to the flesh," she said to the prefect, "and Claudia is my mother. There are my two brothers sitting next to you, Avitus and Sergius. I am Eugenia, your daughter, and for the love of Christ I have renounced all the delights of the world as being worth no more than dung. See, here are Hyacinth and Protus, my eunuchs who entered the school of Christ with me. Christ has favoured me so greatly that by his mercy he has made me conqueror over all polluting lusts, and I trust that I shall remain faithful to him to the very end."
Father recognised daughter, brothers a sister, slaves a mistress. They all rushed towards her and embraced her with floods of tears in the sight of all the people. A message was sent to Claudia, her mother, and she too came hurrying down to the arena. A tunic of cloth of gold was brought, which Eugenia put on, albeit unwillingly, and she was lifted aloft and taken up to the prefect's stall. All the people cried out "Christ is one, the only true God of the Christians!" There were many Christian people, with priests and bishops, in the amphitheatre, who had come with the intention of giving burial to the accused after their death. They all with one voice sang a psalm, 'The right hand of the Lord has grown marvellous in power, your right hand O Lord has broken in pieces your enemies' (Psalms118.16)
Eugenia was carried away into a triumphal procession, and just to make sure that proof of her chastity was not lost on the people in their joy, fire was seen to descend from heaven and engulf Melanthia's house completely, so that not a trace of anything she possessed was left. The church, which had been dead and buried for the last eight years, was reopened. The Christian people were allowed to return, the prefect surrounded by his lictors was baptised, and so were his sons, and also Eugenia's mother Claudia. All citizens' rights were restored to the Christians, and a report about the Christians was sent to the Emperor Severus, [Emperor 222 - 235, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica] to the effect that Christians were perfectly good servants of the Republic, so that they should be allowed to live in the city without restraint. The emperor approved the report, to the great joy of every city, and the dignity of the Christian name flourished.
But the envy of the wicked one always hovers around anything holy, and evil is for ever fighting against the good. Thus, several of the most influential of the Alexandrian idol-worshippers took it ill that Christians should have citizens' rights, and went to the emperor to complain that Philip had upset the state of the Republic, in that he had governed it inefficiently over his nine years of office, and that in this tenth year everything was falling into chaos. The worship of the immortal god was being neglected, and the whole city had turned to the worship of some man or other whom the Jews had executed. There was no respect for the old laws. People everywhere were going into the sacred temples, not for the sake of worshipping in good faith, but simply to utter endless blasphemies, saying that the images of the Gods were merely bits of stone or brass. These complaints, and a lot more like them, were made to Severus and Antoninus Augustus, who were then constrained to issue the following decree to Philip.
"Our divine father Commodus, the former Augustus, appointed you to be not merely a prefect but more like a king, in that you would not be replaced during your lifetime. We desire to add to the benefits you have received, by making sure that you maintain the traditional worship of the omnipotent gods. Either that, or lay your office aside and yield up all your authority."
He bowed to the decrees of Augustus, and took some sick leave, while gathering together all his assets and distributing them to various churches and poor people throughout the province. Living in the fear of God and worshipping Christ he was a great source of encouragement to others. All Alexandria combined to regard him as their bishop, [conspirat in episcopatu eius. Though his name is not mentioned in any existing lists of Alexandrian bishops. Possibly episcopatu here simply means 'leadership', not necessarily an ordained ministry] so from then on the republic had him as prefect until such time as his successor might be appointed, and the church had him as bishop, for because of his great faith he had been chosen for this priestly office. And this episcopate of his lasted for a year and three months.
At that time a new prefect named Perennius took up his office. He tried hard to discredit Philip, but found it difficult because of the high regard in which he was held throughout the city. So he organised some men who pretended to be Christians in order to gain admittance to him, whereupon they stabbed him as he was celebrating the regular Sunday prayers. [He is commemorated in the Roman martyrology on September 13.] The assailants were handed over to Perennius the prefect, who, although he knew perfectly well what his orders had been, acted as if this was the first he had heard of it, and sent them to prison. A few days later, exercising his princely discretion, he released them.
Meanwhile the most blessed Philip lingered on in the flesh for three days after the attack on him, He desired nothing more than to strengthen the hearts of those who doubted, so to that end he prayed that he might receive the crown of martyrdom, not wishing to be deprived of that honour. While still in the flesh he had put demons to flight and enlightened the eyes of the blind; is it surprising that he wished also for the palm of martyrdom? What he wanted he was indubitably able to command, and so it fell out that from sharing the name of Philip he became one who shared the crown. The martyrs took him into their company, just as the church had deservedly accepted his priesthood. His daughter the holy Eugenia established a monastery of Christian virgins in his house, and ordered his precious body to be placed in the guesthouse which the most blessed Claudia had built and endowed for the reception of pilgrims. Claudia herself, together with her sons Avitus and Sergius and the blessed Eugenia, returned to Rome.
The Roman senate welcomed back Philip's sons, and assigned one to the consulship of Carthage, and the other to the deputy consulship of Africa. Around Eugenia, however, many matrons gathered as well as quite a number of virgins. Whether they were friends or just acquaintances she was able to persuade them to believe in Christ, and to dedicate their virginity to the Lord. A member of the royal family called Basilla very much wanted to join them, but could not do so openly because they were known to be Christians, but she sent a messenger to Eugenia telling her of her desire to be instructed in the Christian religion. So the blessed Eugenia had a meeting with her most blessed companions Protus and Hyacinth.
"Get yourselves ready for Christ is calling you to some military service," she said. "I would like to offer you to Basilla as if I were giving her a present, so that you can teach her what it means to be a handmaid of the Lord."
Basilla thanked Eugenia for this gift and accepted them as if they were slaves, but honoured them as apostles. She spent all her time with them, and although they appeared to be her eunuchs and slaves, there was not a time, night or day, which they did not spend in learning about Christ and in prayer. Cornelius, protector of the sacred law in Rome, came and baptised her secretly. [Cornelius is listed as Pope of Rome, 251 - 253.] Now that the blessed Basilla was confirmed in the fear of God, by the mercy of Christ she and the blessed Eugenia spent practically every night in each other's company.
The blessed Claudia was the focus point for all the widows, and the blessed Eugenia for the virgins. The holy Cornelius, pope of the city of Rome, led a night-long vigil of hymns for them every Saturday until Sunday dawn, and at cock-crow in the quiet of the night, he celebrated the sacred mysteries. That was how he ministered to them on the Sabbath, but, as we have said, Eugenia and Basilla spent almost every night together in rehearsing to each other the wisdom of Christ. How many virgins came to the Saviour through Eugenia! How many brides came to Christ through Basilla! How many women gladly embraced their widowhood through Claudia! How many young men put their trust in Christ the Lord through Protus and Hyacinth!
When Valerian and Gallienus were joint emperors, [260 - 268, according to Encyc. Brit., a date obviously incompatible with Cornelius' papacy] persecution of Christians began, because Cyprian [Bishop of Carthage 249 - 258] was turning Carthage upside down and Cornelius Rome. Authority was given to Paternus the proconsul that Cyprian should be killed. Cornelius, however, was held in such high esteem by so many leading Romans that he was able to remain in hiding. Eugenia then consulted Basilla.
"It has been revealed to me by the Lord," she said, "that you will be made to suffer for your virginity."
"And the Lord has thought fit to tell me," replied Basilla, "that you are about to receive a double crown of martyrdom, the first because of all that you achieved by your virtuous labours in Alexandria, [It needs to be remembered that the primary meaning of "martyrdom" is "witness", not necessarily including shedding of blood.] secondly because you are about to shed your blood."
"O Lord Jesus, son of the most High," said Eugenia as she lifted her hands up to heaven, "you brought us salvation through the virginity of your mother. Through the prize of my virginity lead into the kingdom of your glory all those whom you have entrusted to my care."
Eugenia called together all those virgins who were living with her and Basilla.
"See now, the time of the grape-harvest is at hand," she said, "when the grapes are plucked and trodden underfoot, in preparation for the royal feasting which is to come. Without shedding of blood no one gains imperial power, no one has the highest honours showered upon them. You therefore, my branches of vine, beloved of my heart, be ready in the Lord. For virginity is a sign of the highest virtue and nearest to God. It mirrors the life of the angels, it is life giving, the friend of holiness, the way of security, the mistress of joy, the leader of virtue, the spur and crown of faith, the prop and support of charity. There is nothing worth working for and striving after like living in virginity, or what is even more glorious, dying for the sake of virginity. The deceptive pleasures of the world come with a great momentary joy, but depart leaving perpetual grief behind. They bring short-lived laughter and eternal tears. They offer fresh flowers, but leave you with withered stalks. They pretend that the passing moment will last for ever, but hand you over into the torments of everlasting ages.
"Therefore, my beloved virgins, who have run with me in the race of virginity, go on in the love of God as you have begun. The time of weeping will be short; bear it unflinchingly and bravely, that you may be able to enter into the realm of eternal joy with all your heart. I have offered you all up to the holy Spirit, and I trust that for my sake he will keep you whole and unstained. Don't imagine that the way I look is my true self; contemplate rather in the spirit my actions and deeds."
Having said this she kissed them all, and wiped away their tears with a strong heart. Basilla and Eugenia said goodbye to each other and departed.
The day came when a serving girl spoke to Pompeius, Basilla's betrothed.
"We know that our mistress Basilla has been intended by the Emperor for you, and that you have spent the last six years or more of your young life waiting until such time as you might be old enough to have her. But you must know that her cousin Helenus is a Christian. She also has become a Christian and has not the slightest intention of marrying you. And it was only a pretence that Eugenia offered her those two eunuchs Protus and Hyacinth as a gift. She regards them as her teachers, and daily kisses their feet as if they were immortal gods, whereas they are really practitioners of the magic arts that Christians go in for."
Pompeius immediately went to see Basilla's cousin Helenus, who was also her guardian and teacher.
"I would like to celebrate my marriage within the next three days," he said, "so I would like to see my promised bride, whom our mighty lords and masters have decreed that I should marry."
Helenus realised that Basilla's position had been revealed to Pompeius.
"Because of my relationship to her father I have been responsible for her welfare since infancy," he said, "but now she has got a will of her own, so it is not for me to order her to see you. It is entirely up to her."
Pompeius' passion was aroused on hearing this, and he hastened to Basilla's house where he ordered the janitor to announce him. But all he got was a message relayed to him from Basilla:
"I know of hardly any reason at all why I should see you, or listen to you, or even greet you."
This made him very angry. He attended an almost full meeting of the senate and prostrated himself before the Emperor:
"Come to the aid of your Roman citizens, O most sacred prince," he said, "and banish from the city these new gods that Eugenia has brought with her from Egypt. For a long time now these people called Christians have been undermining the republic. They make a mockery of the sacred ceremonies of our constitution, and despise our mighty gods as being empty idols. They are subverting the very laws of nature; they break marriages up and decide about marriages themselves, considering it against their principles for a bride to accept the bridegroom assigned to her. O most godly Emperor, what shall we do? It seems we now have gods who make husbands superfluous, and shall they see it come to pass that there will be no younger generation capable of taking command? Whence will come the renewal of Roman power? Whence shall the Roman army renew its strength? Will there be victorious women to bend the necks of the enemy into submission to your right hand, if we are not to have wives, if promised brides escape from us and we say nothing?"
He said quite a lot more in the same vein, until the senate was thoroughly acquainted with the details of this lamentable affair. Gallienus Augustus then decreed that Basilla should either accept her bridegroom or be put to the sword, that Eugenia should either sacrifice to the gods or be cruelly tortured, and he gave orders that anyone hiding Christians should be punished. Basilla was summoned and told she must accept her spouse.
"I have the King of kings, Christ the son of God, for my spouse," was her reply.
No sooner had she said this than the sword transfixed her. Protus and Hyacinth were arrested and dragged to the temple but when they were led before the image of Jove and told to sacrifice to it, it fell down at their feet and broke into a thousand pieces, so that it was no longer in a condition to have sacrifices made to it. Nicetius, the city prefect, deemed that this was because of their magic powers, not because of the power of God, and ordered that they should be beheaded.
He summoned Eugenia to appear before him and browbeat her about her magic arts. She was firm and fearless in her reply to him.
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