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The Virgin Mary
The Most Holy Virgin Mary was born to Joachim and Anna and resided at Nazareth in Galilee. At the age of three, her mother brought her to live in the Temple in Jerusalem. She was later bethrothed to Joseph of the House of David. During their bethrothal, the angel Gabriel announced to her that she had been chosen by God to bear His Son. She asked how that would be, since she was still a virgin. The angel replied that she would conceive through the Holy Spirit. Her unconditional obedience to God was seen in her consent, in which she said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word".
After three months, by a decree of the Emperor Augustus, Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem for an enrolment. While they were there, Mary gave birth to Jesus. The family's joy was short-lived, however, and they fled to Egypt to escape King Herod's agents sent to kill the Messiah. They returned after the death of King Herod and took up residence in Nazareth, where she remained for some thirty years. She was presumably widowed during that time, for Joseph was not mentioned since.
Mary was often present during Jesus' ministry. She was present when Jesus worked his first public miracle at the marriage in Cana by turning water into wine at her intercession. Mary was also present during the crucifixion of her beloved Son, where no doubt her heart was pierced (Luke 2:35). Her last appearance in the Biblical account was in the Upper Room, after the Ascension, on the occasion of the election of Matthias to the vacancy of Judas. She was the only person mentioned by name other than the Apostles and candidates.
Fifteen years later, she died, while surrounded by the Apostles. Her tomb was found empty when the Apostles opened it and concluded that she was assumed into heaven, body and soul.
Her spiritual purity and her wholehearted devotion is certainly to be emulated by all Christians.
St Anna was a daughter of Matthan the priest, of the tribe of Levi; as was Aaron the High Priest. She was married to Joachim, who was of the tribe of Judah and a descendant of King David. They were married for fifty years, and were barren. They lived devoutly and quietly, using only a third of their income for themselves and giving a third to the poor and the rest to th Temple.
Once, when they were already old and were in Jerusalem to offer sacrifice to God, the High Priest Issachar upbraided Joachim, "You are not worthy to offer sacrifice with those childless hands". Others who had children jostled Joachim, thrusting him back as unworthy. This caused grief to to the two aged souls, and they went away with heavy hearts. The two gave themselves to prayer.
God sent the angel Gabriel, who gave them tidings of the birth of "a daughter most blessed, by whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed, and through whom will come salvation of the world". Anna conceived at once, and in the ninth month gave birth to the Virgin Mary. She lived for 79 years and entered into the Kingdom of God.
St Elizabeth was the mother of the holy Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist of the Lord, John. She was descended from the lineage of Aaron and St Elizabeth was the sister of St Anna, the mother of the Virgin Mary. She and her husband, Zechariah, were "righteous before God, living blamelessly" (Luke 1:6) but were childless. Later, Zechariah was visited by the angel Gabriel who told him his wife would conceive a son who "will be great in the sight of the Lord" (Luke 1:15).
When King Herod heard from the Magi about the birth of the Messiah, he decided to kill all the infants up to two years of age at Bethlehem, hoping that the Messiah would be among them. Herod knew of John's unusual birth and he sought his death, fearing that he was the foretold King of the Jews. Elizabeth hid herself and the infant in the hills. Zechariah, however, was not so fortunate. Failing to learn the whereabouts of John, Herod had him stabbed between the temple and the altar. Elizabeth died forty days later, but John, preserved by the Lord dwelt in the wilderness until the day of his appearance to Israel.
She was born in Tagaste and brought up as a Christian by her parents. She was married to an older, pagan man named Patritius, who had a short temper and led an immoral life. Her mother-in-law did not like her, and often troubled her.
Monica attended church daily and found patience. Eventually, she converted her husband to Christianity and won the favour of her mother-in-law by her gentle disposition. Monica bore Patritius three children: Augustine, Navigius and Perpetua. Augustine made her happy with his successes as a scholar and teacher, but also shamed her with his debauchery. For ten years, he lived with his mistress and was under the influence of the heretical sect of Manichaeism. Monica sought the help of a bishop to convince her son of his errors. However, the bishop, unable to reason with the young man, told Monica to contine praying for her son "for it is not possible that the son of these tears should be lost". At the age of 28, Augustine received grace and came to orthodox Christianity.
Shortly after her son's baptism by St Ambrose, Monica fell asleep in the Lord at the age of fifty-six.
(also called Helena or Elena)
She was born a Christian in Drepanum (later renamed Helenopolis) and was married to Constantius Chlorus, a Roman general. She bore him a son, Constantine. He later divorced her to marry Theodora, the step-daughter of Maximian.
After her son's elevation as emperor of the Roman Empire, she undertook a journey to Jerusalem and found the Holy Cross on which our Lord was crucified. While in Palestine, the holy empress did much for the benefit of the Church. She ordered that all places connected with the earthly life of the Lord and His Mother be freed of all traces of paganism and commanded that churches be built at those places. She distributed generous alms at Jerusalem and feeding the needing (serving them herself at times), the holy empress returned to Constantinople, where she died in the year 327. Famed for her piety, she is also credited with the finding of the relics of the Three Wise Men.
St Athanasia and her three young daughters were arrested because they were Christian. Ss Cyrus and John hastened to the prison to help them, for they were concerned that the women might renounce Christ when faced with torture. Learning of this, the ruler of the city had Ss Cyrus and John arrested and forced Athanasia and her daughters to witness their torture. The tyrant did not refrain from any form of torture against the holy ones, but the women were not frightened and continued to confess Christ. They were flogged and then beheaded, receiving their crowns of martyrdom.
(also called Emmeleia, Emelia or Emilia)
She was the daughter of a martyr and the daughter-in-law of St Macrina the Elder. Her husband was St Basil the Elder, to whom she bore ten children. She instilled the Orthodox faith in her children, and as a result of her zealous yet maternal instruction of her children, five of them are commemorated as saints on the Church calendar: Ss Macrina, Basil the Great, Peter of Sebaste, Gregory of Nyssa and the Deaconess Theosebia. It is without exaggeration that St Emily is often called "mother of saints".
After her children left home, she was persuaded by her eldest daughter, Macrina, to forsake the world. Together, they founded a monastery for women. Emily divided the family property among her children and freed her slaves. Retaining only meager possessions, she and Macrina withdrew to a secluded family property in Pontus. A number of liberated female slaves joined the pair and a convent was formed. They lived under one roof and held everything in common: they ate, worked and prayed together. The harmony of this model community of women was unspoiled by anger, jealousy, hatred or pride. Indeed, they lived like angels in the flesh.
Living in this manner for many years, Emily reached old age. When an illness signalled her departure from this world, her son Peter came to her side. Together with Macrina, he tended to his mother in her last days. She was buried with her husband in the chapel of their estate in Annesi.
Sophia was a pious Christian widow who named her three daughters for three Christian virtues. Faith was 12, Hope was 10 and Love was 9. St Sophia raised them in the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. She and her daughters did not hide their faith in Christ, but openly confessed it to everyone.
An official named Antiochus denounced them to the emperor Hadrian, who ordered that they be brought to Rome. When they appeared before the emperor, everyone present was amazed at their composure. They looked as though they had been brought to some happy festival. Summoning each of the sisters in turn, Hadrian urged them to offer sacrifice to the goddess Artemis. The young girls refused to yield. They were then tortured.
Sophia was subjected to the most grievous torture: the mother was forced to watch the suffering of her daughters. She displayed adamant courage, and urged her daughters to endure their torments for the sake of the Heavenly Bridegroom. All three maidens were later beheaded. Sophia was permitted to take the bodies, which she buried on a high hill. After sitting by the grave of her daughters for three days, she gave up her soul to the Lord. Even though she did not suffer for Christ in the flesh, she was not deprived of a martyr's crown. Instead, she suffered in her heart. She was buried by believers beside her daughters.
St Alexandra the Passion-bearer
Alix Victoria Helena Luise Beatrice, Princess of Hesse and by Rhine was born in Darmstadt (then part of the German Empire). She was baptised into the Lutheran Church and given the names of her mother and each of her mother's four sisters. She was engaged to the Tsarevich Nicholas. She was first troubled by the requirement to renounce her Lutheran faith, but she was persuaded and eventually became a fervent (some say fanatical) convert.
Upon being chrismated into the Russian Orthodox Church, she assumed the name Alexandra. Tsar Alexander III died that year and Nicholas became Tsar of all Russia. They were married the same year and had five children. Unfortunately, Alexandra was a carrier of haemophilia, inherited from Queen Victoria (her grandmother) and transmitted the disease to her son, Alexei.
She was unpopular at court and with the Russian people, lacking charm and social skills. She attended as few court occasions as possible and was unfavourably compared to her popular predecessor, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna. She later confided in the mystic Grigori Rasputin who was the only one who could successfully treat her son. Rasputin's political power grew during this time, which would later seriously undermine Imperial rule.
In the third year of World War I, Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate the throne both for himself and his son. The Imperial family were moved to Tobolsk in Siberia where they remained until the Bolshevik Revolution in November, when they were moved to the Bolshevik-controlled Ekaterinburg. The family never gave up hope and their piety was known to have greatly increased during their months of imprisonment.
They were excuted by firing squad on the night of of July 16 1918 by the Bolsheviks. Alexandra was reported to have made the sign of the cross before she was killed with a gun shot to the left side of her head.
St Gianna Beretta Molla*
St Gianna was the tenth of thirteen children born to Alberto and Maria Beretta. She was raised in a pious family; two brothers became priests and a sister became a nun. She worked with the poor and elderly while in college, joining the St Vincent de Paul Society. Physician and surgeon, graduating from the University of Pavia in 1949, she started a clinic in Mero, Italy. She considered a call to religious life, but was married to Pietro Molla in 1955. She became a mother of three and continued her medical career, treating it as a mission and gift from God.
During her pregnancy with her fourth child, she was diagnosed with a large ovarian cyst. Her surgeon recommended an abortion in order to save Gianna's life; she refused and died a week after childbirth, caring more for doing right by her unborn child than for her own life. Today, that child is a physician herself and is involved in the pro-life movement.
* St Gianna is recognised only in the Roman Catholic Church
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