Saint Apollonia

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Saint Apollonia

and the Martyrs of Alexandria
(† 249)

At Alexandria, in 249, a mob rose in savage fury against the Christians, during a persecution which the pagans of Alexandria instigated at the urging of a magician of that city. Metras, an old man, perished first. His eyes were pierced with reeds, and he was stoned to death. A woman named Quinta was the next victim. She was led to a heathen temple and told to worship; she replied by cursing the false god many times, and she too was stoned to death. After this the houses of the Christians were sacked and plundered; and they accepted the despoiling of their possessions with joy.

Saint Apollonia, an aged virgin, was the most famous among the martyrs, honored for her virtue and modesty. Her teeth were beaten out, and she was led outside the city, where a huge fire was kindled. She was told she must deny Christ, or else be burned alive. She was silent for a moment, and then, moved by a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, she walked into the fire and died in its flames.

The same courage showed itself the next year, when Decius became emperor, and the persecution grew until it seemed as if the very elect must fall away. The story of the witness to Christianity given by a fifteen-year-old boy named Dioscorus illustrates both the courage of the Alexandrian Christians, and the esteem they had for the grace of martyrdom. To the arguments of the judge this young man returned wise answers, and then proved invincible under torture. His older companions were executed, but Dioscorus was spared on account of his tender years. The Christians could not suppose that he had been deprived of the martyr’s crown, unless to receive it afterwards more gloriously. Dioscorus, writes Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria at this time, still is with us, reserved for some longer and greater combat.

There were indeed many Christians who came, pale and trembling, to offer the heathen sacrifices. But the judges themselves were struck with amazement at the multitudes who came spontaneously to receive the crown of martyrdom. Women triumphed over torture, until finally the judges were glad to execute them at once, and put an end to the ignominy of their own defeat.

Reflection. Many Saints who were not martyrs have longed to shed their blood for Christ. We, too, may pray to share some portion of their spirit. The slightest suffering for the faith, borne with humility and courage, is proof that Christ has heard our prayer.

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894). 

Saint Cyril of Alexandria

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Saint Cyril of Alexandria

Doctor of the Church

Born at Alexandria, Egypt, and nephew of the patriach of that city, Theophilus, Cyril received a classical and theological education at Alexandria and was ordained by his uncle. He accompanied Theophilus to Constantinople in 403 and was present at the “Synod of the Oak” that deposed John Chrysostom, whom he believed guilty of the charges against him.

He succeeded his uncle Theophilus as patriarch of Alexandria on Theophilus’ death in 412, but only after a riot between Cyril’s supporters and the followers of his rival Timotheus. Cyril at once began a series of attacks against the Novatians, whose churches he closed; the Jews, whom he drove from the city; and Governor Orestes, with whom he disagreed about some of his actions.

In 430 Cyril became embroiled with Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople, who was preaching that Mary was not the Mother of God since Christ was divine and not human, and consequently She should not have the word Theotokos (God-bearer) applied to Her. He persuaded Pope Celestine I to convoke a synod at Rome, which condemned Nestorius, and then did the same at his own synod in Alexandria. Celestine directed Cyril to depose Nestorius, and in 431 Cyril presided over the third General Council at Ephesus, attended by some two hundred bishops, which condemned all the tenets of Nestorius and his followers before the arrival of Archbishop John of Antioch and forty-two followers who believed Nestorius was innocent; when they found what had been done, they held a council of their own and deposed Cyril. Emperor Theodosius II arrested both Cyril and Nestorius but released Cyril on the arrival of papal legates who confirmed the council’s actions against Nestorius and declared Cyril innocent of all charges. Two years later Archbishop John, representing the moderate Antiochene bishops, and Cyril reached an agreement and joined in the condemnation, and Nestorius was forced into exile.

During the rest of his life Cyril wrote treatises that clarified the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation and that helped prevent Nestorianism and Pelagianism from taking long-term deep root in the Christian community. He was the most brilliant theologian of the Alexendrian tradition. His writings are characterized by accurate thinking, precise exposition, and great reasoning skill. Among his writings are commentaries on Saint John, Saint Luke, and the Pentateuch, treatises on dogmatic theology, an Apologia against Julian the Apostate, and letters and sermons. He was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1882.

Dictionary of Saints, by John J. Delaney (Doubleday & Co.: Garden City, 1980)

Spiritual Bouquet:
You are to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.
St. Matthew 5:48