Christine de Pizan

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Saint Euphrasia of Constantinople: A Life of Piety and Penitence

Euphrasia of Constantinople (died 13 March 410)

Born in 380, Euphrasia was the posthumously born daughter of a senator of Constantinople, a nobleman related to the Emperor Theodosius. When she was a small child, Euphrasia left the city with her mother, also named Euphrasia. The elder Euphrasia, who wanted avoid suitors for her hand, retired to an estate in Egypt, where she adopted the rigorously ascentic style of life followed by the 130 nuns at a convent nearby.

carrying stones as an act of  penance
Inspired by her mother's example, the younger Euphrasia dedicated herself to a life of piety, charitable work, and penitence. At the age of seven, she asked to join the convent as a novice.

After her mother's death, when the younger Euphrasia was twelve years old, the emperor wanted the girl to return to court and to marry, but she declined.

In a letter to Theodosius, she asked that all her estates be sold, that the profits from the sale be dedicated to charity, and that her slaves be freed: 
Invincible emperor, having consecrated myself to Christ in perpetual chastity, I cannot be false to my engagement, and marry a mortal man, who will shortly be the food of worms. For the sake of my parents, be pleased to distribute their estates among the poor, the orphans, and the church. Set all my slaves at liberty, and discharge my vassals and servants, giving them whatever is their due. Order my father's stewards to acquit my farmers of all they owe since his death, that I may serve God without let [obstacle] or hindrance, and may stand before him without the solicitude of temporal affairs. Pray for me, you, and your empress, that I may be made worthy to serve Christ. 
(This version of Euphrasia's purported letter is from the account of Euphrasia's life in Butler's Lives of the Saints.) 

Overcome by the power of Euphrasia's letter, the emperor did as Euphrasia asked. She remained in the convent as a nun with the emperor's permission.

According to the Roman martyrology, Euphrasia died in Thebaid ("In Thebáide deposítio sanctæ Euphrásiæ Vírginis"), presumably the same Egyptian city to which her mother had retired when she left Constantinople.

Euphrasia is often depicted carrying boulders, as she is in the image above. That is because it was said that she would carry large stones from one place to another, as an act of penitential labor, whenever she felt herself "assaulted by any temptation."