Monday, August 11, 2014


Apollonia Apolline of Alexandria
St. Apollonia
with Metras, Quinta, and Serapion
Died in Alexandria in 249.
Feast day: February 9

St. Apollonia, who died in the year 249, was martyred for not renouncing her faith during the reign of Emperor Philip. The account of the life of St. Apollonia was written by St. Dionysius to Fabian, Bishop of Antioch. Apollonia had all her teeth knocked out after being hit in the face by a Christian persecutor under the reign of Emperor Philip. After she was threatened with fire unless she renounced her faith, Apollonia jumped into the flames voluntarily. She is considered the patron of dental diseases and is often invoked by those with toothaches. Ancient art depicts her with a golden tooth at the end of her necklace. Also in art, she is seen with pincers holding a tooth.

feast day formerly February 7. Saint Apollonia was the miraculously conceived daughter of rich, barren parents. After nearly giving up hope of being blessed by a child despite constant prayers to her gods, Apollonia's mother begged the Blessed Virgin to intercede. When in her youth the saint learned of the circumstances of her conception, she became a Christian. Directed by an angel, she went to Saint Leonine, a disciple of Saint Antony, for baptism. An angel then appeared with her baptismal robe and told her to go and preach in Alexandria, which she did. What I have written so fare is part of one version of a legend regarding Saint Apollonia, which ends with with her father giving her up to the authorities for martyrdom. Better sources are available.

 During the persecution of Christians under Philip, Saint Apollonia was caught up in the midst of a bloodthirsty mob out to kill as many Christians as possible. Christians were dragged from their homes, while their property was looted. It started with a poet of Alexandria, who pretended to foretell disaster because of the presence of the impious Christians. He stirred up this great city.

 The first victim of their rage was a venerable old man, named Metranus Metras. When he refused to utter impious words against the worship of the true God, they beat him with staffs, thrust splinters of reeds into his eyes, and stoned him to death. The next personthe mob seized was a Christian woman, called Cointha Quinta), whom they carried to one of their temples to pay divine worship to the idol. She reproached the execrable divinity, which so exasperated the people that they tied her to the tail of a horse and dragged her over the pavement of sharp pebbles, cruelly scourged her, and put her to death. Another victim of this same cruelty was holy man called Serapion, who was tortured in his own house. After bruising his limbs, disjointing and breaking his bones, they threw him headlong from the top of the house onto the pavement, and so completed his martyrdom.

 Apollonia was an old woman, a deaconess, but she was brave as the other Christians. Her bishop, Saint Dionysius, who witnessed her death, described it in a letter to Fabius and preserved by Eusebius, bishop of Antioch:

 "They seized that marvelous aged virgin Apollonia, broke out all her teeth with blows on her jaws, and piling up a bonfire before the city, threatened to burn her alive if she refused to recite with them their blasphemous sayings. But she asked for a brief delay"

 The mob believed that she was trying to decide whether or not to apostatize, but she was stalling so that they would know what she did was of her own volition. She clearly decided that none of them would have the pleasure of throwing her aged body into the fire. Expectantly, the mob let go of her and drew back. At this moment Apollonia "of her own accord leaped into the pyre, being kindled within by the greater fire of the Holy Spirit" (Roman Martyrology)- -to be honored ever since as a fearless Christian martyr. Saint Augustine conjectured that she acted according to a particular prompting of the Holy Spirit; otherwise, it would have been unlawful according to Church canon to take her own life.

 It can never be lawful for a person by any action willfully to concur to, or hasten his own death, though many martyrs, out of a desire to lay down their lives for God, anticipated the executioners in completing their sacrifice. Rather it was a monstrous belief among the ancient Greeks and Romans that it was honorable, even heroic, to commit suicide in distress, as a remedy against temporal miseries. As Christians we believe that our lives are not our own, they belong to God. "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." Our lives are the greatest gift God has bestowed upon us. Whatever befalls us in this life, it takes more courage and greatness of spirit to endure sufferings patiently than to take our own lives. We see the example of Job in the Old Testament, and trust in God.

 After the deaths of these four martyrs in ancient Alexandria, the rioters were in the height of their fury. Alexandria seemed like a city taken by storm. The Christians made no opposition, but betook themselves to flight, and beheld the loss of their goods with joy; for their hearts had no ties on earth. Their constancy was equal to their disinterestedness; for of all who fell into their hands, Saint Dionysius knew of none that renounced Christ. A civil war put an end to the fury of the populace, but the edict of Decius renewed it in 250. In this true story, we see the damage that can be caused by rumor.

 Although altars and churches were soon dedicated to her in the West, Apollonia appears to have had no cultus in the East. Perhaps this was because she was soon confused with another Saint Apollonia who was martyred by Julian the Apostate. Of course, later artists and writers turned her into a beautiful young girl, daughter of a king, sometimes tortured by her own father by having her teeth extracted by pincers. Sometimes the story ends with the repentance of her father who vows to help those who suffer from toothache.

 A quarterly publication for dentists out of Boston, Massachusetts, is called, appropriately, The Apollonian. Her feast is now celebrated only by those parishes of which she is the patroness .

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