I have always wondered why the young man in the classic work of Russian spirituality, The Way of the Pilgrim, drops everything after hearing the Gospel. I get a hint of how that might have worked for him in the story of a young, beautiful, wealthy 18-year-old girl, who was engaged to be married, but gave all of that up.
I was thinking about her because the church remembers her feast on Sept 24. Her name was Thecla.
St Thecla lived during the first century AD, in the city of Iconium. She didn't start out as a Christian, but one day she happened to overhear a preacher from her window speaking about chastity (being pure) and the three-day resurrection. That preacher was none other than St. Paul the Apostle. If you want to know more about the story, you can find it in Acts 14. St. Paul’s words immediately took root into her heart and she committed herself to Christ on the spot. Some say that she listened to him for three days from her window. Others say that she spent listening to him preach for three days from his prison cell, after her fiance had him arrested.
This caused some complications with her family. Her mother was very determined to have her go through with the arranged marriage. But St Thekla refused. When St Paul was released, they expelled him from the city.
Afterward, her mother continued to try to persuade her to go through with the wedding; St. Thekla resisted. One account claims that her mother was so frustrated that she asked the judges to put her to death. The judges agreed she should die by fire.
At her execution, St. Thecla made the sign of the cross, and the flames did not touch her and Christ appeared to her. Then all of sudden, the rain clouds appeared and extinguished the flames. St Thekla was released and she went in search of St. Paul and found him preaching in Antioch.
Later, St. Thecla being very beautiful, she caught the attention of another suitor. She rebuffed his marriage proposal. Her suitor’s pride was so hurt that he wanted her to die for her Christian beliefs. She was sentenced to die by having hungry animals released on her. It won’t surprise you to hear that they didn't touch her. The lioness only licked her feet. The bear didn’t get near her--it may have been killed by the lioness. When the crowds saw the miracle, they shouted, “Great is the God of the Christians!” She was released.
Afterward, she sought out St. Paul again and asked his blessing to live as a monastic in a cave. She became known as a healer and preacher in her own right, and converted many pagans to Christ. She died at the age of 90.
As a side note: Her name was given as a secret name to St. Macrina the Younger after the saint appeared to Macrina’s mother (St. Macrina the Elder). The younger St. Macrina followed in her footsteps, becoming a monastic and founding monastic communities for women. She also inspired her brothers St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory the Theologian to do the same for the men.
Her miraculous rescues illustrate the power and revelation of God. When she heard the words of Christ, her life changed and she changed the lives of many others, whose influence continues to this day.
Thanks to the following sources: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, St Thecla Orthodox Church, and the Orthodox Church in America.
Asha Mathai is studying for her masters of theology degree at St. Vladimir's Seminary.