Monday, December 17, 2012

St. Olympias of Constantinople, Deaconess

Today's saint, St. Olympias, was born into a wealthy noble Constantinople family in 368. Her parents died when she was young, and left her an immense fortune.

Olympias married Nebridius, the newly appointed prefect of Constantinople. Within a short time, Nebridius died, and Olympias was left a childless widow. Determined to devote herself to the service of God and works of charity, she refused several offers of marriage, and had her fortune put into a trust until she was thirty. When her husband died, the Emperor Theodosius attempted to pressure her into marrying him by seizing control of her properties and when that failed, he banned her from going to Church or associating with the clergy. However, he gave up one after one year and she regained her estate. In 391, she was consecrated deaconess by Nectarius, the Bishop of Constantinople. She founded a convent, near the Basilica of St. Sophia, which attracted fifty women. Along with her, they consecrated their lives to the service of God and engaged in works of charity.

When St. John Chrysostom became Bishop of Constantinople in 398, he acted as spiritual guide, taking her  under his wing, advising her on  how to use her fortune to help the poor. She used her resources to build a hospital and an orphanage and to provide shelter for the expelled monks of Nitria. When Chrysostom was exiled, Olympias supported and encouraged him, and remained a loyal follower. Chrysostom exhorted and guided her through his letters, seventeen of which still survive. Due to her support of Chrysostom, Olympias was persecuted, her community disbanded, her house seized and sold, and she, too, exiled, dying a few months after Chrysostom on July 25, 408, at Nicomedia. Olympias is one of the 140 Colonnade saints which adorn Saint Peter's Square.

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