St. Anastasia: The Other Christmas Miracle

Merry Christmas to one and all. And Happy St. Anastasia’s feast day!

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Every day of the Christian liturgical calendar is dedicated either to a saint or to an event or aspect of Christ or His ministry.

Christmas Day is obviously dedicated to His Incarnation. However, unbeknownst to many people, the second Mass of Christmas morning is traditionally dedicated to someone other than Christ.

St. Anastasia of Sirmium, also known as St. Anastasia the Pharmakolytria or "Deliverer from Poisons,” not to be mistaken for 8th-9th century St. Athanasia of Aegina, died on Christmas Day, AD 304 at Sirmium in modern-day Serbia.

Precious little is known of her with any historical certainty but the Church teaches that her veneration was widespread in the first few centuries of the first Christian millennium. In fact, she is one of seven women, in addition to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who are commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.

St. Anastasia was a thaumaturge, a healer and an exorcist.

Though she was Roman, her name is Greek and means “Resurrection.” She died during the Diocletian Persecution.

Anastasia was the daughter of yet another saint―St. Fausta of Sirmium. Her father was Praetextatus, a pagan Roman nobleman. Her mother had her daughter secretly baptized as an infant. St. John Chrysogonus was her teacher.

After her saintly mother died, Anastasia's father gave her in marriage to the pagan Publius. Despite being married, she preserved her virginity.

She would visit Christians in prison to feed and heal them. When possible, she would ransom them. Unfortunately, her servant betrayed her to Publius. Her husband, in turn, beat her and imprisoned her in their house. After he died on a diplomatic mission to Persia, Anastasia gave away her possessions to the poor and set out to find her mentor, St. John Chrysogonus, in Aquileia. However, by that time, St. Chrysogonus had been interrogated by Diocletian, who then beheaded him.

After his death, St. Chrysogonus appeared to a priest named Zoilus. He told him where to find his relics and foretold the martyrdoms of Sts. Agape, Chione and Irene. He asked Fr. Zoilus to send St. Anastasia to the three imprisoned sisters to encourage them. She visited them in prison nine days before they were tortured and killed. Anastasia subsequently gave the three sisters a proper Christian burial.

Anastasia went from city to city, visiting imprisoned Christians healing and instructing them in the Faith.

The Prefect of Illyricum arrested Anastasia for daring to be Christian and tried to convert her to paganism. Anastasia told him she preferred torture and death. The Prefect handed her over to the pagan priest Ulpian in Rome, who threatened her again. Again, she preferred to embrace death in Christ rather than worldly riches.

Ulpian gave her three days to reconsider his offer. He tried to seduce her but when he touched her, he was struck blind and collapsed with a severe headache. His followers carted him to the local pagan temple where he died in agony.

St. Anastasia continued her apostolate of healing and feeding imprisoned Christians with her friend St. Theodota. When the later was martyred, Anastasia was caught by the pagan authorities once again. She was condemned to being starved for 60 days however, St. Theodota visited her in prison and brought food for her.

When the pagan judge found out that St. Anastasia hadn’t suffered, let alone died, he ordered her and other Christians into a leaky boat pushed into middle of a deep lake. But St. Theodota, once again, saved the day by appearing and steering their boat to shore. On shore, 120 pagans were so shocked at the miracle, they immediately asked St. Anastasia to baptize them.

She escaped to the island of Palmaria where she was caught once again. She was staked to the ground, burned alive and then beheaded. The martyr’s body was interred in the house which had belonged to St. Apollonia, the martyr who was tortured by having her teeth pulled out, which was, by then, a meeting place for Christians.

St. Donatus of Zadar collected her relics from Constantinople and brought them to Zadar around the time of St. Charlemagne’s reign. Her relics now rest in the Cathedral of St. Anastasia in Zadar, Croatia.

Later, some of her relics were transferred to the Monastery of St. Anastasia near Mount Athos in Greece.

St. Anastasia is the patron saint of martyrs, weavers and those suffering from the effects of poison.

Though we don’t know a great deal about her, Anastasia must have been an incredibly holy woman to share top billing with the Redeemer Himself on His birthday. This honor alone should give us pause. This was a holy woman who inspires Christians even to this day.

Merry Christmas to one and all. And Happy St. Anastasia’s feast day!

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