Written by Monica Mikhail~The honorable Saint Thecla, who is known in the Orthodox tradition as the proto-martyr among women and equal to the apostles, for even though she was not killed for defending her faith, she led a life of suffering and isolation from the world the moment she learned about Christ the Savior, giving up her life for Him.
This saint lived in Iconium and was the daughter of Theoclecia, a Greek noblewoman. When she was approximately eighteen years of age, she became betrothed to a man named Thamyris.
During that time, the great Saint Paul of Tarsus came to that region, taking along with him Demas and Hermogenes, who St. Paul later describes as untrustworthy men in his letters to Timothy. Upon entering Iconium, St. Paul hears of a holy man named Onesiphorus and goes to his house and speaks of the Gospel to the whole household.
As he was teaching, Thecla heard his words from a nearby window and was filled with divine love. She sat by the window for three days and nights, listening to the sweet words of the Apostle. Theoclecia sent for the Thamyris asking him to offer Thecla sentimental words of those betrothed, but she was not swayed by the false power of the tongue.
Thamyris went into the city one day and encountered Demas and Hermogenes and described to them the issue with his betrothed. Resentment was already rooted in the hearts of these two men towards the Apostle leading them to help Thamyris in devising a plan to restore the situation to its previous state. This was done by getting a complaint filed against St. Paul that accused him of preaching immoral words of purity.
The next say St. Paul was jailed and when Thecla heard of this, she had the urge to stand up for the Apostle, thereby defending the faith. She took all her valuables and went to the jail, bribing the guard with her jewelry so she would be let into the Apostle’s jail cell. Thecla stayed in the cell, attentively listening to every word of this great preacher. However, she was soon found out and everyone was in a rage.
They were both brought forth for judgment. St. Paul was beaten then driven out of the city and they dealt with Thecla by deciding to make her an example for all married women as they burned her at the stake. She was cast, naked, into the flames but she was not impacted at all due to the downpour that suddenly came from the sky, extinguishing the flames.
She then went looking for the Apostle and eventually found him through Onesiphorus and went into hiding with all of them. When it came time for St. Paul to do the Lord’s bidding and go to Antioch, Theclea followed him and became his disciple.
No sooner when she entered Antioch, many sufferings befell her as she was cast into the hands of Alexander the governor who wanted her to be his. Her disobedience led to her sentence to be cast to the wild beasts, but she was allowed to stay with an honorable woman, Tyrfina, until the day of her punishment. Tyrfina grew in motherly love for Thecla and wept when she went to receive her punishment but the beasts did not devour her, but rather defended her. She was then taken to be killed by lions and bears, but one of the lions defended her and when other beasts were released to eat her flesh, they became as innocent as lambs. She was then taken and thrown into the sea, but Thecla took this as an opportunity for a sacrament and immersing herself into the water she said, “‘In thy name, O my Lord Jesus Christ, I undertake Holy Baptism.” They then took her out of the water and sent bulls charging towards her, but the chains holding her fell off and she escaped their wrath. They then released her in fear that Tryfina would go tell the emperor, who was related to her, and that they themselves would be punished.
After this, Thecla departed to Lycia where she met St. Paul once more, but he told her that it was the will of God that she goes back to her homeland, Iconium. She went back to the house where she first heard the words of the Gospel and said,
“‘I thank thee, O Lord my God, because in this house Thou didst enlighten me and I came to know Thee. Thou art only true God, who saved me from the fire and the wild beasts; to Thee is due glory and worship unto the ages. Amen.’”
Thecla spent seventy-two years living in seclusion in a cave and many came to seek her blessing and to be healed from their illnesses. The doctors in the area began to lose money to the extent that their livelihood was at risk because patients went to her to seek aid. The wicked drew near and wanting to seek revenge; they decided that they would go rape her because it was her purity that she valued most. When they drew near to her, she told them to stop their maliciousness and lifted up her eyes, she said,
“‘…Permit them not to insult my virginity, which I have consecrated to Thee; for it is Thee that I desire, my immaculate Bridegroom, I worship Thee together with Thy eternal Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages. Amen.’”
A voice from heaven answered, telling her not to be afraid and a wall within the cave opened; she went into the crevice and it was sealed behind her, escaping the hands of these corrupt doctors.
At the age of ninety, she went to meet her Bridegroom. She is remembered by the Church on the 24th of September.
May the Lord grant us to have complete faith in Him to deliver us from the trials of this earth just as St. Thecla looked to Him as her ultimate Redeemer.