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E02568: John Chrysostom delivers a homily On *Bernike, Prosdoke, and Domnina (martyrs of Antioch, S01008), during their festival at Antioch (Syria). He recounts their story and suicide in the face of persecution, and invites the audience to venerate their coffins and bones. Written in Greek at Antioch, 386/397.

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posted on 14.03.2017, 00:00 by erizos
John Chrysostom, On Bernike, Prosdoke, and Domnina (CPG 4355, BHG 274)

Summary

1-3. The festival is less than twenty days after Easter. Thanks to Christ’s Resurrection, now even women disdain death. Before Christ, death was dreadful even for holy men like Abraham, Jacob, and Elijah. Death was fearful, in order that the grace of the era of Christ might become clearer. In the New Testament, Paul refers to death as the preferable condition, because it leads to a better life.

4. A great war is started against the Church, resembling a civil war. Christians are attacked by the authorities and people of their own country, and by their own relatives. During that time, these women abandon their house and relatives, and leave their country – a distressful journey for a mother and her daughters, who had had no previous experience of such hardships. Although devoid of guards and protectors, the honour of these women is protected by their faith in Christ.

5. They fly to Edessa, a rural but pious town, which receives and protects them for some time. While they live there, new decrees arrive, commanding that relatives betray their own relatives, children and parents, thus fulfilling a prophecy of Christ (Mark 13:12). The devil incites people to filicide. Thus the husband and father of the martyrs arrives at Edessa with soldiers, looking for his wife and daughters.

6. The three women give themselves up peacefully. They are taken to Hierapolis, where they drown themselves in a river, while the soldiers have their meal. Some people say that their husband/father helped them. Their drowning was a new baptism, i.e. martyrdom, and this kind of baptism can be administered even by women. Thus their mother became a priestess, baptising her daughters in martyrdom, and offering them as a sacrifice to God. She suffered a triple martyrdom – her own and of her two daughters.

7. The woman did not go to the court, because of her great eagerness to earn the wreath of her victory, even before the contest started. She was not afraid of torments, but was afraid about the virginity of her daughters. Her suffering was greater than any martyrdom, because she found herself compelled to assist in the death of her own daughters. The girls themselves are also admirable, because they did not resist. They left their shoes by the river, thus providing for the soldiers who could present them as a proof to the judge, and escape charges of treason. The author invites his audience to embrace the coffins (thekai) of the martyrs with fervour, because their bones have great power. Their veneration should not be confined to their feast-day.

Summary: Efthymios Rizos.

History

Evidence ID

E02568

Saint Name

Prosdokās, Beronikē and Rōmanos, martyrs at Antioch : S01008

Type of Evidence

Literary - Sermons/Homilies

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

386

Evidence not after

397

Activity not before

386

Activity not after

397

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

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - sarcophagus/coffin

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Prayer/supplication/invocation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Pagans Soldiers Relatives of the saint

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - bones and teeth Reliquary – institutionally owned

Source

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 sermon is preserved in fifteen manuscripts, on which see: http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/4014/

Discussion

This sermon, which was given at Antioch, concerns the story of three female martyrs known in the hagiographic tradition as Bernike, Prosdoke, and Domnina – their names are not mentioned by the author, but are given in the manuscript title. Their feast is recorded by the Syriac Martyrology on 29 April (E01479), and by the Martyrologium Hieronymianum on 13 April. Chrysostom reports that it fell roughly twenty days after Easter that year, confirming that the feast was celebrated in Spring. The date seems to be confirmed also by another homily delivered by the author on the same feast (E02569). The subject of this feast is a group of three women who commit suicide, while being taken to court by soldiers. Their story is apparently based on an episode of the tetrarchic persecutions, which is mentioned by Eusebius of Caesarea (Ecclesiastical History 8.12; see E00317). Ambrose (in De virginibus 3.7.33–7) associates them with the story of *Pelagia, another virgin who committed suicide in Antioch (E02528). A central element in both legends is the acceptance of suicide as a valid form of martyrdom for women. The venue of the service was probably the Koimeterion, the ancient Christian cemetery and shrine of martyrs and bishops near the south gate of Antioch. It seems that the remains of the saints were buried there. This is suggested by the fact that the speaker begins by referring to the celebrations of the Passion of Christ on Good Friday, which were customarily held at the Koimeterion (see E02299). It seems that, in the year when this sermon was delivered, the festival of Bernike, Prosdoke, and Domnina was the first service held at that shrine after the festivities of Good Friday.

Bibliography

Text: Migne, J.-P., Patrologia Graeca 50 (Paris: Imprimerie Catholique, 1862), 629-640. Translation: Mayer, W., St John Chrysostom, The Cult of the Saints: Select Homilies and Letters Introduced, Translated, and Annotated (Popular Patristics Series; New York: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2006), 155-176. 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. Kelly, J.N.D., Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom. Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995).

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