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E02528: John Chrysostom delivers a homily On *Pelagia (martyr of Antioch, S01093) during her feast at her shrine in the necropolis of Antioch; the festival is also attended by heretics. He refers to her martyrdom by suicide, and reproaches the immoderate behaviour of Christians during the festival. Written in Greek at Antioch (Syria), 386/397.

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posted on 2017-03-08, 00:00 authored by erizos
John Chrysostom, On Pelagia (CPG 4350, BHG 1477)


1. Even women of all ages now defy death for the sake of Christ. Pelagia hastened to her death, escaping the hands of her executioners, because she wished to preserve her virginity. One should consider how this girl, who had never experienced anything but her chamber, confronted the soldiers when they came to arrest her, while she was alone at home. She did not hesitate, but demonstrated the greatest eagerness and bravery.

2. She requests from the soldiers leave to go to her room and change her clothes, and she commits suicide. It is surprising that they were cheated by her so easily, although such incidents were frequent in that period.

3. The fact that all this happened with the help of God is suggested by the quick death of the martyr. Many people have survived from falling from heights, but Pelagia died immediately after throwing herself from the house. Her body lay dignified on the street, receiving the honours of the angels. The Christians now ignore the tombs of the rich and hasten to her grave. The author invites everyone to imitate the martyr, and to avoid gluttony and luxury. After the service, many go to the taverns, but this gives reasons for bad comments about the Christian community.

4. Chrysostom encourages his audience to return home in love and good order, just as when they came to the shrine. If some lapse into indecent behaviour, the others should reproach them or report to the priests. The way to the city is long, and the crowd must be kept decent. The gathering is also attended by some heretics, and it is therefore important that the orthodox should not scandalise them, lest they disdain orthodoxy forever.

The last sections of the text read as follows:

3. […………………] ἀρετὴν δὲ περιθέμενος, πολλοὺς ἕξει καὶ μετὰ τὴν τελευτὴν ἐπαινέτας. Καὶ γὰρ αὐτῶν τῶν βασιλικῶν αὐλῶν λαμπρότερος παρὰ πᾶσιν ὁ τάφος ἔσται ἐκεῖνος, ἔνθα ἂν ᾖ σῶμα κείμενον ἀρετῇ καὶ εὐσεβείᾳ συζῆσαν. Καὶ τούτου μάρτυρες ὑμεῖς οἱ τὰς μὲν θήκας τῶν πλουσίων, καίτοι χρυσᾶ ἐχούσας ἱμάτια καθάπερ σπήλαια παρατρέχοντες, πρὸς δὲ τὴν ἁγίαν ταύτην μετὰ πολλῆς δραμόντες τῆς προθυμίας, ἐπειδὴ μαρτυρίῳ, καὶ ὁμολογίᾳ, καὶ παρθενίᾳ ἀντὶ ἱματίων χρυσῶν ἑαυτὴν ἀμφιάσασα, ἀπῆλθεν ἡ μάρτυς. Μιμησώμεθα τοίνυν αὐτὴν κατὰ δύναμιν τὴν ἡμετέραν· κατεφρόνησεν ἐκείνη ζωῆς, καταφρονήσωμεν ἡμεῖς τρυφῆς, καταγελάσωμεν πολυτελείας, ἀποστῶμεν μέθης, ἀδηφαγίαν φύγωμεν. Οὐχ ἁπλῶς ταῦτα λέγω νῦν, ἀλλ’ ἐπειδὴ πολλοὺς ὁρῶ, μετὰ τὸ λυθῆναι τὸ πνευματικὸν τοῦτο θέατρον ἐπὶ μέθην καὶ καπηλείαν, καὶ τὰς ἐν πανδοχείοις τραπέζας, καὶ τὴν ἄλλην ἀσχημοσύνην τρέχοντας. Διὰ τοῦτο δέομαι καὶ παρακαλῶ διὰ παντὸς ἐν μνήμῃ καὶ διανοίᾳ τὴν ἁγίαν ταύτην ἔχειν, καὶ μὴ καταισχῦναι τὴν πανήγυριν, μηδὲ τὴν ἐκ τῆς ἑορτῆς ταύτης ἐγγινομένην ἡμῖν παῤῥησίαν ἀφελέσθαι. Καὶ γὰρ οὐχ ὡς ἔτυχε πρὸς Ἕλληνας διαλεγόμενοι καλλωπιζόμεθα τῷ πλήθει τῆς ἑορτῆς, καταισχύνοντες αὐτοὺς καὶ λέγοντες, ὅτι πόλιν ὁλόκληρον καὶ δῆμον τοσοῦτον κόρη μία τελευτήσασα πρὸς ἑαυτὴν ἐπισπᾶται καθ’ ἕκαστον ἐνιαυτὸν, καὶ μετὰ τοσαῦτα ἔτη, καὶ χρόνος οὐδεὶς τὴν ἀκολουθίαν τῆς τιμῆς διέκοψε ταύτης· ἀλλ’ ἐὰν αἴσθωνται τῶν ἐν τῇ πανηγύρει γινομένων, τὸ πλέον ἀφῃρήμεθα τῶν ἐγκωμίων. Τὸ γὰρ πλῆθος τοῦτο τὸ παραγενόμενον νῦν, ἂν μὲν μετ’ εὐταξίας παραγίνηται, κόσμος ἡμῖν μέγιστος· ἂν δὲ μετὰ ῥᾳθυμίας, καὶ ὀλιγωρίας πολλῆς, ὄνειδος καὶ κατηγορία.

4. Ἵνα οὖν ἐναβρυνώμεθα τῷ πλήθει τῆς ὑμετέρας ἀγάπης, μετὰ τῆς αὐτῆς οἴκαδε εὐταξίας ἀναχωρῶμεν, μεθ’ ὅσης εἰκὸς μάρτυρι τοιαύτῃ συγγινομένους ἀπιέναι. Εἰ γάρ τις μὴ οὕτως οἴκαδε ἀπέλθοι, οὐ μόνον οὐδὲν ὤνησεν, ἀλλὰ καὶ κίνδυνον καθ’ ἑαυτοῦ μέγιστον ἐπεσπάσατο. Οἶδα ὅτι καθαροὶ τῶν νοσημάτων τούτων ὑμεῖς, ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἀρκεῖ τοῦτο εἰς ἀπολογίαν ὑμῖν· ἀλλὰ δεῖ καὶ τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς ἀκοσμοῦντας εἰς εὐταξίαν μεγίστην ἄγειν καὶ καθιστᾷν ἐν τῷ πρέποντι σχήματι. […………] Πολὺ τῆς ὁδοῦ τὸ μῆκος· τῷ μήκει τοίνυν τούτῳ πρὸς συλλογὴν τῶν εἰρημένων ἀποχρησώμεθα· θυμιαμάτων ἐμπλήσωμεν τὴν λεωφόρον. Οὐδὲ γὰρ οὕτω σεμνὴ φανεῖται ἡ ὁδὸς, εἰ διὰ πάσης αὐτῆς θυμιατήριά τις τιθεὶς τῆς εὐωδίας ἀναχρώσειε τὸν ἀέρα, ὡς σεμνὴ φανεῖται νῦν, εἰ πάντες οἱ τήμερον αὐτὴν ὁδεύοντες τοὺς ἄθλους τῆς μάρτυρος πρὸς ἑαυτοὺς διηγούμενοι, βαδίζοιεν οἴκαδε, θυμιατήριον τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γλῶτταν ἕκαστος ποιῶν. [………………] νῦν δὲ ἐννοήσατε ὅτι πολλοὶ τῶν αἱρετικῶν εἰσιν ἡμῖν ἀναμεμιγμένοι· κἂν ἴδωσιν ἡμᾶς οὕτω χορεύοντας, γελῶντας, βοῶντας, μεθύοντας, τὰ ἔσχατα καταγνόντες ἡμῶν ἀπελεύσονται. Εἰ δὲ ἕνα τις σκανδαλί ζων ἀπαραίτητον ὑπομένει κόλασιν, οἱ τοσούτους σκανδαλίζοντες, ποίαν δώσομεν δίκην; [……………]

3. […………………]
But if a person is dressed in virtue, even after death they will be many to praise them. Indeed, wherever there lies a body that lived a life of virtue and piety, that tomb will be more famed among everyone than the imperial palace itself. Witnesses to this fact are you who go past the coffins of the rich as though they were caverns, even though they contain clothes of gold, and hasten with great enthusiasm towards this holy virgin. Indeed, the martyr departed having dressed herself in martyrdom and confession and virginity rather than golden clothes. Therefore, let us imitate her in so far as we can. She despised life; let us despise pleasure, let us ridicule luxury, let us abstain from drunkenness, let us flee gluttony. I am not saying these things without a point now, but because I see many running off to drinking and pub-crawling and the tables in inns and other shameless behaviour, after this spiritual assembly is dissolved. For that reason, I ask and request that you keep this holy virgin in your memory and mind all the time, and neither disgrace the festival nor strip us of the respect we acquire from this feast. Indeed, when we converse with the Hellenes [= pagans], we take no mean pride in the size of this celebration, as we put them to shame and say that just a girl that died attracts to herself an entire city and such a crowd every year and, after so many years, and no passage of time has interrupted the sequence of this honour. But if they hear what happens in the festival, we shall have lost the greatest part of our praise. For, if the crowd attending now, presents itself in an orderly fashion, it will be a very great distinction for us. If, however, they do so with laziness and great indifference, it will be to our shame and blame.

4. So, in order that we may take pride in the magnitude of your affection, let us return home in the same orderly manner in which companions of such a great martyr ought to depart. For if someone does not return home like this, not only has gained no benefit, but they also attract very great danger to themselves. I know that you are free of these diseases, but this is not a sufficient excuse for you. Rather, you should also lead your brethren, if they are disorderly, into the utmost good order and get them settled in the appropriate deportment. [……………] The length of the road is considerable. Let us therefore take advantage of that length, in order to contemplate what has been said. Let us fill the highway with incense: for the road would not appear as dignified, even if one was to perfume the air with sweet smell, by placing censers all along its length, as it will appear now, if everyone walking along it today were to relate to themselves the martyr’s struggles and so walk home, each person turning their tongue into a censer. [……………] But now, consider that there are many heretics mingled with us. If they see us dancing, laughing, shouting, or drunk, they will leave criticising us in the strongest possible way. And, if a person who causes offence to a single person awaits inexorable punishment, what sort of penalty shall we pay, if we cause offence to so many? [……………]

Text: Migne 1862, 579-584. Translation: Mayer 2003, modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Pelagia, martyr in Antioch : S01093

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Sermons/Homilies


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Syria with Phoenicia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Antioch on the Orontes

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Antioch on the Orontes Thabbora Thabbora

Major author/Major anonymous work

John Chrysostom

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Sermon/homily

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Activities Accompanying Cult

  • Feasting (eating, drinking, dancing, singing, bathing)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Visiting graves and shrines

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Condemnation of other activity associated with cult

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Pagans Heretics

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic


John of Antioch, bishop of Constantinople, who came to be known as Chrysostom (the Golden Mouth), was born in 344/354 in Antioch on the Orontes where he studied under Libanius. He joined the Nicene Christian community of Antioch, led by bishop Meletios of Antioch, and was ordained priest by Meletios’ successor, Flavianos in 386. Acquiring a great reputation as a preacher, John was appointed as bishop of Constantinople in 397. Clashing with the bishop of Alexandria Theophilos and the empress Eudoxia in 403/404, Chrysostom was deposed and banished to Cucusus in Cappadocia and died in Comana of Pontus in 407. This homily is known from 18 Manuscripts:


This homily was probably given during John’s presbyterate at Antioch (386-397), but provides no evidence for a closer dating. The occasion was the festival of the martyr, which was both old and popular and was attended by Christians of all denominations, including ‘heretics’. The feast of Pelagia of Antioch is placed on 8 October by the Syriac Martyrology (E01565) and the 10th century Synaxarium of Constantinople. The Martyrologium Hieronymianum places it on 9 October. The venue is the martyr’s shrine in the Christian cemetery at some distance from the city. Some people combine their visit with a stop at the local taverns, dismaying John who fears that a scandal may be caused by their immoderate behaviour. In the last section of the text, Chrysostom’s metaphorical language may be alluding to the use of censers during the procession from the city to the shrine. The hero of this homily is a virgin who commits suicide in order to escape the soldiers coming to arrest her, and to preserve her virginity. The story was known to Ambrose (De virginibus 3.7.33–7) who reports that the saint was fifteen years old, a virgin and sister of virgins. She was alone when soldiers came to arrest her, and, having shut herself in the house, she asked for permission to change her clothes, and committed suicide dressed like a bride. Ambrose reports that the soldiers went on seeking her mother and sisters. These also chose voluntary martyrdom by drowning in a river, probably referring to the story of the martyrs *Domnina, Bernike, and Prosdoke, which is known from another homily of Chrysostom (E02568). Yet the link between Pelagia and the other three martyrs is mentioned by Chrysostom. These stories are apparently based on events of the tetrarchic persecutions, mentioned by Eusebius of Caesarea (Ecclesiastical History 8.12; see E00317). A central element in these legends is the acceptance of suicide as a valid form of martyrdom for women, which, given the alleged weakness of their nature, is, under certain circumstances, a demonstration of bravery. By contrast, there is no attestation of suicide being accepted as martyrdom for men. The legend of the martyr Pelagia of Antioch should be distinguished from that of the Antiochene ascetic *Pelagia, whose life is described by another legend (E02571). The latter's memory was celebrated on the same day as the martyr (8 October).


Text: Migne, J.-P., Patrologia Graeca, 50 (Paris: Imprimerie Catholique, 1862), 579-584. Translation: Leemans, J. (ed.), 'Let Us Die That We May Live': Greek Homilies on Christian Martyrs from Asia Minor, Palestine and Syria, (c. AD 350-AD 450) (London: Routledge, 2003), 148-161 (W. Mayer). Further reading: Downey, G., Ancient Antioch (Princeton, 1961). Drobner, H.R., The Fathers of the Church: A Comprehensive Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 327-337, esp. 334-335. Kelly, J.N.D., Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom. Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1995).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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