Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Saint Drosida, daughter of Emperor Trajan

Saint Drosida is one of the very many Roman noble virgins who didn’t enjoy their title and social position and chose the love of Jesus Christ until their death. Without being so tormented as her sisters in Christ Santa Lucia, Saint Catherine, Caecilia and many other, because she was the daughter of the Emperor Trajan (98-117), she still choose to die as a martyr for her Lord.

Historical context

Emperor Trajan was one of the emperors whose origins were not exactly noble; at least he didn’t come from Rome. Born in Spain, he served as a soldier and then general in the army from Hispania Tarraconensis. There is to be mentioned that his Father was between 76/77 the Governor of Syria, and that’s why Drosida, Trajan’s daughter lived and died as martyr in Antioch. In 89 Trajan supported the emperor Domitian against a revolt on the Rhine. Later, in 96, Domitian was succeeded as emperor by Marcus Cocceius Nerva, an old and childless senator, quite unpopular with the army. After pressures came from the Praetorian Guard, Nerva adopted Trajan as his heir and successor. Nerva died on 27 January 98, and was succeeded by Trajan, who reigned for about 19 years. During his years as Emperor, the Roman Empire set the maximal borders, by conquering Dacia (106), Nabataea (107) and Mesopotamia (114).

In the meantime, Trajan was one of the persecutors against the Christians. In the year 99 he re-activated an earlier existing law which forbade secret gatherings and was indirectly aimed against Christians, and in the year 104 he issued a special law against Christians. The application of these laws was not so strictly observed. Between 109 and 111 AD, Pliny the Younger, sent in Bithynia as governor, reports to Trajan about the Christians in his region. The governor indicated that he had ordered the execution of several Christians, "for I held no question that whatever it was they admitted, in any case obstinacy and unbending perversity deserve to be punished." (Letters 10,96). He was unsure what to do about those who said they were no longer Christians, and asked Trajan, who decided that Christians should not be sought out, anonymous tips should be rejected as “unworthy of our times”. But those who being discover, still persisted to testify their faith for Christ should be punished.

Some regional persecutions still happened. So is with Saint Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, also known as “The God-Bearer” or the “Theophore”, who was sent to Rome died in the Roman Circus, during the festivities happened after the victory against Dacia (107).

Martyrium of Drosida and the 5 Virgins

Trajan had a daughter with a Greek name, Drosida (meaning “dew”), who lived as mentioned, in Antioch. More about her there’s not known.

Holy Martyress Drosida was friend with five canonical virgins who lived in a house, keeping the Commandments of God. At their moment the monasticism still wasn’t institutionalized, but already practiced in some houses from Rome, Antioch or other cities, still not yet in the deserts of Egypt or Asia Minor. The “nuns” were called Aglaida, Apollinaria, Daria, Mamthusa and Taisia and their mission was to pick up the relics of the martyrized saints, anointing them with oil and putting in special coffins destined to the relics. Drosida came sometimes secretly to the maiden house in the night and helped them sometimes with money or other stuff they needed, in order to be able to take the bodies of the saints.

At that time, Hadrian, Drosida’s fiancé (maybe the next emperor Hadrian?) was adviser to the governor, and he asked to put soldiers as guarders for the dead bodies of Christians, in order to know who those who raise their bodies are. In this way, the guards seized five women, and with them was also Drosida. Drosida was locked into her house, but the other five virgins were killed and burnt, and their ashes were spread into the melted bronze used to build a public bath.

At the day of celebration lots of people ran to the bath, but many of them died at the doors, apparently because of the crowd. Anyway, the emperor, being there, believed that this happened because of a spell made by the Christians, but the builders told him that the copper vessels of the bath contained the women's burnt bodies. Then the emperor commanded the melting of those vessels, in order to make from then idols with the faces of the five virgins and to put them in the bathroom, for their dishonesty.

After the commands were accomplished, the emperor had a dream about five lambs that were grazing in a clean garden and an awesome shepherd, who told him that the five lambs are the virgins who are now in Paradise, and also told that the emperor’s daughter, Drosida, is waited there to come. The emperor woke up and was very angry. He ordered to build and ignite a big furnace of fire in the main square and put a note, telling to the Christians to escape themselves from the further persecution by throwing themselves in the fire.

Drosida, still locked in the house, prayed to God in order to escape and to join her friends in martyrium. In the night she disguised herself and managed to escape. But on the way to the furnace, she asked herself, how she could go to the Lord without the wedding dress, because she was still not baptized. Then she prayed to Jesus Christ and said: “O King of kings Lord Jesus Christ, on account of you I forsake my imperial position, so that you might vouchsafe me to be the very least door-maid in your kingdom. Please baptize me with your Holy Spirit”. With this word, she anointed herself with the myrrh she had taken along with her, and submerged herself in a river for three times, saying: “the servant of God Drosida is baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. In the next seven days she hid herself, fasted and prayed. And on the eighth day the holy Drosida went to the Lord. The Russian Synaxarion explains that she cast herself into the fire of the red-hot ovens, though that is unclear. That happened on March 22, 104 AD.

The Destiny of an Emperor

I found very interesting to note also what happened with emperor Trajan. Early in 117, being in Cillicia he grew ill and set out to sail back to Italy. His health declined throughout the spring and summer of 117 and died from edema on August 9 in Selinus, a town in Cilicia which was afterwards called Trajanopolis. His successor was Hadrian, who apparently was adopted by Trajan sometimes before.

The Romanian Prologues, copied after the Prologues of Ochrid tell some interesting informations about the destiny of the emperor even after his death. St. John from Damascus noted in his Word for the ones fallen asleep that: "Gregory the Dialogos, bishop of the old Rome (590-604), as all know, was famous by his holiness and wisdom. When serving he had with him as a fellow-minister an angel from heaven. Once, traveling on the stone bridge and standing more time there purposely, made a prayer to the Lord for the forgiveness of the sins of Emperor Trajan. Then, he heard the voice of God, saying: "I heard your prayer and I gave forgiveness of Trajan, and you shall not do prayers for pagans anymore".

This history is also mentioned in an English vita of Gregory Magnus from the 8th century: “One day, while passing through the Forum, to the Saint have been revealed a great deed who is said that he did Trajan, and looking at it carefully, reasoned that although Trajan was a pagan, had an act as good, that it seemed rather to be the act of a Christian than a pagan. For there is said that when being with his army in pursuit of the enemy, he was full of pity at the words of a widow and he stopped the army to listen to her. She said: “Lord Trajan, behold the men who killed my son and they do not want to give me pay for it.” He replied: “Tell me about it when I get back and I will compel them to make your payment”. But she said:”Lord, if you not ever come back, there will be nobody to help me”. 'Then, as he was armed, he forced the guilty to pay immediately what they supposed to do in front of him. When Gregory discovered this story, he realized that this was just what we read in the scripture: “take care of the parentless children and support widows. Come to ponder together, said the Lord”. Because Gregory did not know what to do to ease the soul of this man who remembered the words of Christ, went to the Church of St. Peter and shed seas of tears, as his custom, until, finally, the revelation learned that his prayers were answered, because he never asked that to any other pagan “ (The First Life of Gregory The Great, written by an unknown monk from Whitby, transl. Bertram Colgrave, The University of Kansas Press, Lawrence, Kansas, 1968, pp. 127-129).

Hymn of the Saint

Usually I put here seome information about the saint relics or the hymn of the saint, but I haven’t found any about these. That’s why I just say: “Saint Drosida, Martyr for Christ, pray for us!”

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