Feast Day: December 25th | Titles: Virgin, Martyr, Deliverer from Potions [“Pharmakolytria” (consider “pharmacy”, “pharmaceuticals”)] | Patronage: Martyrs, Weavers, Widows, Those Suffering from Poison | Attributes: Palm Branch, Martyrs-Cross, Medicine Pot
There are about a dozen saints and blesseds whose feast day is on December 25th, most because they died on that day, whether from natural causes or because they were martyred. The woman who we get to know today was one of those given the martyrs crown, and though after Vatican II she has not retained a Mass of her own on December 25th (the various Masses of Christmas are the only ones a priest can celebrate on the 25th) she is still mentioned in the Roman Canon for which reason we consider her life today.
She comes at the end of the list of saintly women named during the prayer called the “Nobis Quoque”. This Latin phrase refers to the prayer that the priest says after praying for the deceased, he strikes his breast saying “To us, also, your servants, who, though sinners, hope in your abundant mercies, graciously grant some share and fellowship with your holy Apostles and Martyrs:”, going on to list John the Baptist and many other martyrs venerated early on in Rome. Here’s the amazing thing, if you look through that list, you find characters from all over the early Christian world, men and women, some of them martyrs, some of them apostles, some miracle-workers, some great teachers of the faith. Even just looking at the women, you have two from Africa (Felicity and Perpetua), two from Sicily (Agatha and Lucy), two from Rome (Agnes and Cecilia), and Anastasia, whose father may have been Roman, but who lived and died in Sirmium, now in Serbia.
I offer instead of my own biography, excerpts from a Akathist given in veneration of St. Anastasia. An Akathist is a chanted hymn-homilies with interspersed litanies, to a particular biblical character or saint. They originated in the Byzantine side of the Roman Empire in the 500s, and so seem a fitting way to recall our saint from Sirmium.
Kontakion 1: To the chosen saint of Christ, the all-blessed Great Martyr Anastasia, we bring praiseworthy singing, as she who has much boldness to the Lord, deliver from all troubles, sorrows and illnesses, the faithful who cry out freely with love: Alleluia.
Ikos 1: You have become like an angel with a pure mind, having had your mind upon Him, Who is the Creator of all visible and invisible creation, eternal from the beginning and the One desired by all the righteous; we, praising your wise teaching from the holy martyr Chrysogonus, cry out with love:
Rejoice, you who loved the faith of Christ; Rejoice, you who followed the piety of your mother Fausta. Rejoice, you who preserved the purity of your virginity; Rejoice, you who were always guarded invisibly by the angels. Rejoice, for you have drawn near to God by your purity; Rejoice, all-blessed Great Martyr Anastasia, holy visitor and intercessor for our souls in prison.
Kontakion 2: Saint Anastasia, beholding the many Christians suffering in dungeons for the name and teachings of Jesus Christ, began to serve them with zeal, but was helped by God to comfort and heal them, singing with reverence: Alleluia.
Ikos 2: O godly-wise Anastasia, you reasoned that this whole world is passing vanity and corruption, and for this, you despised precious clothing and possessions, and secretly clothed beggars, entering the dungeons to serve as a confessor of Christ; we follow her in our minds, and we appeal to her with love: Rejoice, imitator of Christ; Rejoice, visitor of prisoners in the dungeon; Rejoice, consoler of the confessors of Christ; Rejoice, you who have spent your gold and silver on them; Rejoice, by them who have acquired the Kingdom of Heaven; Rejoice, you who washed the hands and feet of the saints and cleaned their hair. Rejoice, you who healed their ills and honestly buried their bodies; Rejoice, all-blessed Great Martyr Anastasia, holy visitor and intercessor for our souls in prison.
Kontakion 3: Strengthened by power from above, holy martyr, you blessedly served the saints, and shamed the hater of every virtue the devil, enduring enslavement from your impious husband; we, praising your goodness, Anastasia, sing along with you: Alleluia.
Ikos 3: Have great love in the Lord for all who suffer for the Name of Christ in dungeons; we, marveling at her courage, crying to her: Rejoice, chosen bride of Christ; Rejoice, diligent keeper of the commandments of Christ; Rejoice, for you have fulfilled this not in words alone, but in deeds; Rejoice, you who were ready to lay down your life for your friends; Rejoice, for you have received much bitterness for Christ; Rejoice, for you have become like a strong diamond through your patience. Rejoice, all-blessed Great Martyr Anastasia, holy visitor and intercessor for our souls in prison.
– Fr. Dominic Rankin notes that this hymn continues to Kontakion 13 (!), and the whole thing would then be repeated three times (!!). We would need a longer bulletin to print it all, and probably a longer attention span if I were to sing it for my homily… Perhaps the lesson Anastasia teaches us this week is of generosity, not only to our fellow Christians, and not only in risking of our earthly life for Christ, but also, simply, to Our Lord in the time we dedicate to prayer, and to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.