Saturday, February 18, 2012

February 18 - Philothei, Martyr, Spiritual Mother, Domestic Abuse Survivor

Philothei was a good daughter in an affluent family in Athens. She did as she was instructed by her parents and offered them her heart's deepest love in return. When she was twelve, she was courted by a powerful and influential man. He was wealthy and involved in the politics and leadership of the city. She was very hesitant to marry, however, because she felt a calling that seemed to be at odds with marriage--passionate and sacrificial devotion to her Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, she was obedient to her parents who insisted that this man seemed like a good man and would surely give her freedom to express her faith as freely and clearly as she could.So, she was married to the man and she suffered secretly within his house and his embrace. He was an abusive man who routinely punished her for perceived slights and failures and insisted that she was an inadequate wife. She suffered his abuse--both emotional and physical--and continued to express her faith as she could but he worked hard to restrain her and limit her involvement in the Church she loved. But, no matter how hard he tried he could not turn her eyes and her heart away from the object of her devotion: her crucified Lord.

Philothei became a widow after three years of torturous marriage and she inherited his great wealth. She moved back into the home of her parents and continued to age and mature.She was unwilling to marry again and her family did not push her to do so. Perhaps they realized that the first marriage has been harmful and were unwilling to try again. Regardless, she spent his wealth in a variety of ways that aided the poor and the hungry. She didn't see the great wealth as a thing to be used to defend or secure herself but as a commodity best used by distributing it among those with the most need.Her parents died when she was twenty-five and she was once again the recipient of a large estate. Now that she was no longer bound to a home and now that she had considerable wealth to spend on others, she took up a live of prayer and service that exceeded even her earlier devotion. The money was put into able hands that would administrate its use. In so doing, many churches and monasteries were built with it but Philothei had already turned her attention to founding a convent for women that she felt she had been directed to build by Andrew the Apostle in a vision. She did so and the convent became a refuge and sanctuary for women to flee to from abuse or persecution. A particular group of women--members of Turkish harems--became aware of this convent's willingness to take them in and soon they were coming in droves. For her willingness to shelter these women from abuse such as she had received, she would be further abused.

The Turks who controlled Greece at the time were enraged that Christian women were helping their harem women to escape and so they began to apply pressure to Philothei and the women she was like a mother to. The politically minded hoped to crush her because of her resistance. The religiously minded hoped to afflict her and persecute her until she converted to their own religion. If they could crush or convert her, they suspected that they could do the same to all who shared her devotion to Jesus. They reasoned that she was a prime target because she was a woman and would be unable to stand up their abuses because of her sex. Neither group was successful. When they had given up on coercion, they resorted to violence. They knocked down the doors of the convent and drug her into the street by her hair. They beat her savagely while demanding she renounce her faith. She refused their demands and offered forgiveness to them for their abuse. For this, they beat her further. She died of her woundswhile professing a faith that taught her to love her abusers and give her life for others.

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