February 9, 2020: ST. APOLLONIA
February 9, 2020: COMMEMORATION OF ST. APOLLONIA, VIRGIN AND MARTYR
Come, O spouse of Christ, receive the crown, which the Lord hath prepared for thee for ever.
O God, who, amongst other miracles of thy power, hast bestowed the crown of martyrdom even on the weaker sex: mercifully grant, that we, who solemnize the feast of blessed Apollonia, thy Virgin and Martyr, may, by following her example, come to thee. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
The holy Virgin who this clay claims the homage of our devotion and praise, is offered to us by the Church of Alexandria. Apollonia is a Martyr of Christ; her name is celebrated and honoured throughout the whole world; and she comes to us on this ninth day of February, to add her own example to that which we have so recently had from her Sister Saints, Agathy and Dorothy; like them, she bids us fight courageously for heaven. To her, this present life was a thing of little value, and no sooner does she receive God's inspiration to sacrifice it, than she does what her would-be executioners intended doing,—she throws herself into the flames prepared for her. It is no unusual thing, now-a-days, for men that are wearied of the trials, or afraid of the humiliations, of this world, to take away their own lives, and prefer suicide to the courageous performance of duty: but Apollonia's motive for hastening her death by a moment's anticipation was, to testify her horror of the apostacy that was proposed to her. This is not the only instance we meet with, during times of Persecution, of the Holy Spirit's inspiring this lavish sacrifice, to saintly Virgins, who trembled for their faith or their virtue. It is true, such examples are rare; but they teach us, among other things, that our lives belong to God alone, and that we should be in a readiness of mind to give them to him, when and as he pleases to demand them of us.
There is one very striking circumstance in the martyrdom of St. Apollonia. Her executioners, to punish the boldness wherewith she confessed our Lord Jesus Christ, beat out her teeth. This has suggested to the Faithful, when suffering the cruel pain of tooth-ache, to have recourse to St. Apollonia; and their confidence is often rewarded, for God would have us seek the protection of his Saints, not only in our spiritual, but even in our bodily, sufferings and necessities.
The Liturgy thus speaks the praises of our Saint.
Apollonia was a Virgin of Alexandria. In the persecution under the Emperor Decius, when she was far advanced in years, she was brought up to trial, and ordered to pay adoration to idols. She turned from them with contempt, and declared that worship ought to be given to Jesus Christ, the true God. Whereupon, the impious executioners broke and pulled out her teeth; then lighting a pile of wood, they threatened to burn her alive, unless she would hate Christ, and adore their gods. She replied, that she was ready to suffer every kind of death for the faith of Jesus Christ. Upon this, they seized her, intending to do as they said. She stood for a moment, as though hesitating what she should do; then, snatching herself from their hold, she suddenly threw herself into the fire, for there was within her the intenser flame of the Holy Ghost. Her body was soon consumed, and her most pure soul took its flight, and was graced with the everlasting crown of martyrdom.
Life of St. Apollonia
St. Dionysius of Alexandria wrote to Fabius, bishop of Antioch, a relation of the persecution raised at Alexandria by the heathen populace of that city, in the last year of the reign of the emperor Philip. A certain poet of Alexandria, who pretended to foretell things to come, stirred up this great city against the Christians on the motive of religion. The first victim of their rage was a venerable old man, named Metras, or Metrius, whom they would have compelled to utter impious words against the worship of the true God: which, when he refused to do, they beat him with staffs, thrust splinters of reeds into his eyes, and having dragged him into one of the suburbs, stoned him to death. The next person they seized was a Christian woman, called Quinta, whom they carried to one of their temples to pay divine worship to the idol. She loaded the execrable divinity with many reproaches, which so exasperated the people that they dragged her by the heels upon the pavement of sharp pebbles, cruelly scourged her, and put her to the same death. The rioters, by this time, were in the height of their fury. Alexandria seemed like a city taken by storm. The Christians made no opposition, but betook themselves to flight, and beheld the loss of their goods with joy; for their hearts had no ties on earth. Their constancy was equal to their disinterestedness; for of all who fell into their hands, St. Dionysius knew of none that renounced Christ.
The admirable Apollonia, whom old age and the state of virginity rendered equally venerable, was seized by them. Their repeated blows on her jaws beat out all her teeth. At last they made a great fire without the city, and threatened to cast her into it, if she did not utter certain impious words. She begged a moment's delay, as if it had been to deliberate on the proposal; but, to convince her persecutors that her sacrifice was perfectly voluntary, she no sooner found herself at liberty, than of her own accord she leaped into the flames. They next exercised their fury on a holy man called Serapion, and tortured him in his own house with great cruelty. After bruising his limbs, disjointing and breaking his bones, they threw him headlong from the top of the house on the pavement, and so completed his martyrdom. A civil war among the pagan citizens put an end to their fury this year, but the edict of Decius renewed it in 250… An ancient church in Rome, which is frequented with great devotion, bears the name of St. Apollonia: under whose patronage we meet with churches and altars in most parts of the Western church.
The last part of our saint's conduct is not proposed to our imitation, as self-murder is unjustifiable. If any among the Fathers have commended it, they presumed, with St. Austin, that it was influenced by a particular direction of the Holy Ghost, or was the effect of a pious simplicity, founded in motives of holy zeal and charity. For it can never be lawful for a person by any action wilfully to concur to, or hasten his own death, though many martyrs out of an ardent charity, and desire of laying down their lives for God, and being speedily united to him, anticipated the executioners in completing their sacrifice. Among the impious, absurd, and false maxims of the Pagan Greeks and Romans, scarce any thing was more monstrous than the manner in which they canonized suicide in distress, as a remedy against temporal miseries, and a point of heroism. To bear infamy and all kind of sufferings with unshaken constancy and virtue, is true courage and greatness of soul, and the test and triumph of virtue: and to sink under misfortunes, is the most unworthy baseness of soul. But what name can we find for the pusillanimity of those who are not able so much as to look humiliations, poverty, or affliction in the face? Our life we hold of God, and he who destroys it injures God, to whom he owes it. He refuses also to his friends and to the republic of mankind, the comfort and succors which they are entitled in justice or charity to receive from him. Moreover, if to murder another is the greatest temporal injustice a man can commit against a neighbor, life being of all temporal blessings the greatest and most noble, suicide is a crime so much more enormous, as the charity which every one owes to himself, especially to his immortal soul, is stricter, more noble, and of a superior order to that which he owes to his neighbor.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Septuagesima, Edition 1870;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. I, 1903; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
February 9, 2020: Septuagesima Sunday.
St. Apollonia, pray for us.