O Lord Thou shalt open my lips and my mouth shall declare Thy praise.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Bishop Who Was Ordered to Do His Job by a Whore Who Became a Nun

St. Nonnus praying to God for St. Pelagia's conversion

Commemoration of St. Nonnus of Edessa, confessor-bishop, IV Class

St. Nonnus is the bishop famous for converting the harlot St. Pelagia of Antioch. He was a monk in the 5th century who was made bishop of Heliopolis and later Edessa. He attended the council of Chalcedon. The story of St. Pelagia is related by Deacon James of Heliopolis. While Bishop of Heliopolis, St. Nonnus went with his deacon to Antioch for a synod with the Archbishop of Antioch and six other bishops. While there, St. Nonnus was asked to preach on the steps of the church one day after Divine Liturgy. Just then, Pelagia, the most notorious prostitute in Antioch, passed by with a crowd of foolish young men. The seven other bishops averted their gaze as to not be tempted by her appearance, but St. Nonnus stared intently at her, weeping that such great beauty was being wasted on such great sin and that she cares for her body even more than he cares for his soul. He spent that night in tears praying for her conversion saying, "O Lord, suffer not the work of Thy hands to perish, and permit not such beauty to remain in subjection to the demons. But do Thou turn her to Thyself, that Thy holy name may be glorified in her, for all things are possible for Thee.". During the course of this night, he had a vision that he was at the altar during the Divine Liturgy. A black dove flew in, circled his head, and smelled so foul that he could not abide the stench. When the deacon cried out "Catechumens depart", the dove left. After Divine Liturgy, the dove returned, still filthy, and St. Nonnus plunged it into the baptismal font. The dove emerged pure white and flew away.

The next morning, a Sunday, after Divine Liturgy, St. Nonnus was again asked to preach. St. Pelagia again happened by and was moved to tears by his sermon. She wrote with her own hand, "To Christ’s holy disciple from the devil’s disciple, a sinful woman. I have heard that your God has bowed the heavens and come down to earth, not to save the righteous but sinners. Such was His humility, that He ate with publicans, and He upon Whom the cherubim dare not gaze lived among sinners and spoke with harlots. Therefore, my lord, since you are a true servant of Christ (as I hear from the Christians), do not spurn me who with your help seek to draw near the Saviour of the world and to behold His most holy countenance." St. Nonnus arranged for a meeting in the presence of the other bishops. Upon meeting the 8 bishops, St. Pelagia flung herself at the feet of St. Nonnus, washing his feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair, in the manner of the Magdalene. She begged to be baptized. St. Nonnus demanded a promise that she would not fall back into her former life as a condition for baptism. She replied, "You shall answer to God for my soul if you do not baptize me this day. God shall require my soul out of your hand and charge you with my wicked deeds. If you deny me Baptism, you shall give account for my impure and vile life. If you do not make me a stranger to my evil works, may your God reject you and may you become a worshipper of idols. If you do not make me today a bride of Christ and lead me to your God, may you have no portion with Him and with His saints." If only bishops were held accountable like that today...

She was (quickly) baptized, confirmed with chrism, and given Holy Communion. For the customary eight days she wore the baptismal garment, during which the devil appeared to her day and night, heartbroken that she had converted, begging her to return to her life of sin. Again and again she cast him away by making the sign of the cross on herself. She gathered all her riches and had them given to the poor. After the taking off of the white baptismal garment, she put on a hair shirt and went off to Jerusalem where she lived as a hermit, disguised as a man, on the Mount of Olives. St. Pelagia lived there three years in strict penance in a cell that had no door. She was able to meet visitors through a small window and became known as a wonder-worker. She was found dead in her cell by the same Deacon James and only after a wall was broken open to retrieve her body for burial was it discovered that she was a woman. She was buried honorably by the Patriarch of Jerusalem and many clergy before a immense crowd and praised for her virtue.