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St. Olympia the Deaconess, Confidante of St. John Chrysostom

Ἰωάννης Χρυσόστομος -St. John Chrysostom_Святой Иоанн Златоуст_წმიდა იოანე ოქროპირი_paulguidingchrysostom

St. Olympia the Deaconess,
Confidante of St. John Chrysostom

Commemorated on July 25

The wrestlings of virtue do not depend upon age,
or bodily strength, but only on the spirit and the
disposition. It is indeed always fitting to admire
those who pursue virtue, but especially when some
are found to cling to it at a time when many are
deserting it.
[Excerpt from a letter of St. John Chrysostom to
the Deaconess Olympia].

Oλυμπιάδα Διακόνισσας_ St. Olympia the Deaconess_ Олимпия диаконисса_ΟΛΥΜΠΙΑΣArchbishop John and Olympia the Deaconess were kindred spirits. The same modern biographer of Chrysostom says,
There was no one in Constantinople with whom he was to have a deeper or more sympathetic understanding, no one with whom he was to feel more at ease or to whom he was to pour out his heart more unreservedly (Kelly, op. cit., p. 113).

When St. John Chrysostom was banished into Lesser Armenia, to the city of Cucusus, he had the opportunity to correspond with Deaconess Olympia. His letters,
permeated with Christian love, were addressed, “To my lady, the most reverend and divinely-favored Deaconess Olympia.” Olympia had written St. John that she was grieved because of the fierce black storm which has overtaken the Church. She was troubled and distracted because Patriarch John was cast out and another, Arsacios, was put in his place. Saint John attempted to comfort her in his letters, entrusting all of his and Olympia’s present sufferings to the great providence and succor of God.”[1]

Olympia, deeply had she sunk under the tyranny of despondency
that she even had the desire to depart this world. Saint John encouraged her to have
patient endurance, the queen of virtues and the perfec-tion of crowns. He brought to her mind the trials of Job, that spiritual hero who remained untroubled and undismayed.
“Do not think,” he said, “that to pray for death exempts one from blame. Hearken to
the voice of St. Paul, ‘For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to
depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless, to remain in the flesh is
more needful for you’ [Phil. 1:23- 24]. For in proportion as the strain of the affliction
is increased are the garlands of victory multiplied; in proportion as gold is heated does it becomes purified….for it is a bright wreath of victory for the just, shining far above the bright-ness of the sun, and it is the greatest means of purification for those who have sinned.”[2] Saint John then sent her his recently written treatise, entitled No One Can Harm The Man Who Does Not Injure Himself.[3]

Immediately after the banishment of this great saint, someone started a fire in the Great Church [The Church of the Divine Wisdom Hagia Sophia] and the fire consumed many prominent buildings in the capital. The enemies of Chrysostom accused his followers and this holy woman of initiating this malicious fire.     Olympia was twice put on trial on the absurd charge . Each time she was released after her spirited defense of herself, saying, in effect, “I who have helped build so many churches am not in the habit of burning them down” (Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History VIII.24; NPNF 2, vol. II, p. 415). Olympias was banished from Constantinople to Nicomedia.

Saint John lauds her for contending with demons, against whom she scored countless victories; yet she did not take asingle blow. He commends her for undergoing sufferings which actually had the effect of working vengeance upon those who afflicted her.
He writes: “Thou art not depressed by insults, nor elated by honors and glory. Thou hast exceeded many who, after an illustrious career in the priesthood have fallen into disgrace on Si. Otympia this account. Thou, on the contrary, woman as thou art, clothed with a fragile body, and subject to these severe attacks, have not only avoided falling into such a condition, but have prevented many others. Many.. .have
been overthrown at the very outset and starting point; whereas, thou, after having
gone countless times around the last turning post in the race, hast won a prize in
Ολυμπιάδα Διακόνισσας_ St. Olympia the Deaconess_ Олимпия диаконисса__25 Ιουλίου0725_every course…. [F]or the wrestlings of virtue do not depend upon age, or bodily strength, but only on the spirit and the disposition. Thus, women have been
crowned victors, while men have been upset….Therefore, my sweet lady, thou dost deserve superlative admiration. After so many men, women and aged persons,… having been overthrown before the encounter and worsted before the struggle, thou, on the contrary, after so many battles and such a large muster of the enemy, art far from being unstrung or dismayed by the number of thine adversities. Indeed, the more vigorous and heightened the contest, the more thou art strengthened….
Although my separation from thee distresses thee, yet thou hast this very great consolation arising from thy successful exploits; for I also, who am banished to so great a distance, gain no small cheerfiilness from this cause,—I mean thy courage.”

Olympia’s beloved mentor and confidant, St. John Chrysostom, died on a forced march to a place of further exile in eastern Asia Minor on September 14, 407. We do not know if she ever learned of this, or if she did, how she responded. Most likely, she reposed in the Lord in the following year, on July 25, 408. Hence she is commemorated in our Holy Church on July 25.

Holy Mother Olympia, pray to GOD for us!

[1] Saint John Chrysostom, Letters to Olympia, The Nicene and Port Nicene Fathers
of the Christian Church, First Series, vol. IX. trans. By Rev. W. R. W. Stephens
(Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdaums Pub. Co.. 1975, repr.), pp. 287-293.
[2] Letters to Olympia, op. cit., p. 295.
[3] This very beautiful treatise, composed while St. John was in exile, probably not
long before his death, was sent to his great friend, Deaconess Olympia. An English
translation of this work may be found in Saint Chrysostom, The Nicene and Post-
Nicene Fathers of the I Christian Church, First Series, vol. IX, trans. by Rev. W. R.
W. Stephens, M.A. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1975,
repr.), pp. 269-284.

Apolytikion of St. John Chrysostom in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone

The grace of your words illuminated the universe like a shining beacon. It amassed treasures of munificence in the world. It demonstrated the greatness of humility, teaching us by your own words; therefore, O Father John Chrysostom, intercede to Christ the Logos for the salvation of our souls.

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