Dec 25 – St Anastasia of Smirmium, Serbia (281-304 AD) – Martyr, Deliverer of Potions, the Healer, “Nobis quoque peccatoribus”

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“To us sinners, also, your servants, who hope in Your many mercies, deign to grant some share and fellowship with Your holy Apostles and Martyrs: John, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia, and all Your Saints.”
-from the Roman Canon of the Mass

Prior to Vatican II, the commemoration Mass for the feast of Saint Anastasia takes place at the second Mass of Christmas, the Mass at Dawn (Introit Lux fulgebit). One might think: This is Christmas, one of the principal feasts of the liturgical year — no time for thinking about saints! And yet, we have here a gentle, persistent reminder that if our Lord Jesus Christ is “the light [that] shall shine upon us this day,” the saints are the garment of light He wears about Him, the radiant beams that shine from His holy face. We are reminded, too, that we are members of a family in which our Lord is the firstborn of many brethren, and that we need our older brothers and sisters to pray for us as we approach so bright and burning a light.

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-scale model of Smirmium, Pannonia Secunda (Serbia), late 3rd century AD, please click on the image for greater detail

-Great Martyr Anastasia, the Deliverer from Potions (Byzantine icon, 14th-15th century, State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia), please click on the image for greater detail

The basilica of Sant’Anastasia al Palatino in Rome was built in the late 3rd century – early 4th century, possibly by a Roman woman named Anastasia. Later the church was entitled to the martyr with the same name, Anastasia of Sirmium. Anastasia is called the deliverer of potions and healer due to her intercessions are credited with the protection of the faithful from poison and other harmful substances.

In the 5th century, the relics of St Anastasia were transferred to Constantinople, where a church was built and dedicated to her. Later, the relics, including her skull, were transferred to the Monastery of St. Anastasia the Pharmokolitria, Chalkidiki of Greece, near Mount Athos. In 2012, the relics were stolen and have not been recovered.

St. Anastasia, also known as Anastasia of Sirmium and Anastasia the Pharmakolytria or “Deliverer from Potions,” is a Christian saint and martyr who suffered for Christ during the time of Diocletian’s Christian persecutions. She is one of the seven women commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.  She is called deliverer of potions since she traveled from city to city caring for Christian prisoners which is how she came to Smirmium.

Anastasia was from Rome and belonged to a wealthy family. Her father Praepextatus was a Pagan but her mother Fausta, was Christian. Anastasia was born around 280 AD. She was known to be beautiful and virtuous in every way. Without the knowledge of her father, her mother baptized her, when she was an infant. Fausta secretly educated Anastasia to follow the path of Christianity and was raised with Christian values.

When her mother passed away, Anastasia’s father got her married to Publius Patricius, who was also a pagan. Publius was a loving husband to Anastasia until he discovered that she believed in Christ. During the persecutions of Diocletian, the husband tortured her and confined her to the house as a slave. Even though she was tormented, she was delighted that she could suffer in the name of Jesus Christ. Fortunately, she had to tolerate these abuses for only a short period of time, as Publius soon drowned to his death.

Anastasia became a young widow after Publius’s death and she never remarried. She distributed her property to those less fortunate and suffering. Anastasia spent her time traveling from city to city helping the poor, treating the sick and provided the prisoners with whatever they needed every day. She would clean the wounds of injured people and would provide solace to those who were in agony. She was so gifted that she could heal and save many from the ill-effects of potions, evil spells, poisons and other dangerous elements through her interventions and prayers. She was given the title “Deliverer from Potions,” because she would often heal many from the effects of poisons and potions.

Anastasia was arrested in Illyricum and taken to the prefect of the district for being Christian. He tried to persuade her to deny her faith and threatened her with torture. Anastasia could not be swayed, so she was given to the pagan priest Ulpian in Rome. He presented her with the choice between riches or suffering, luxuries or torture devices. She chose torture.

He gave her three days to reconsider. Enamored by her beauty, Ulpian decided he would defile her purity. However, once he went to touch her he was struck blind and his head burst into extreme pain. On his way to his pagan temple, he fell and died.

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St. Anastasia, now free, set out to care for imprisoned Christians, along with Theodota, a pious young widow and faithful helper. The news of her good deeds and the miracles that she performed spread far and wide. She became so reputed in such short time that she was arrested under the persecutions of Diocletian, the Roman Emperor. After her companion, Theodota was martyred, Anastasia was ordered death by starvation and was starved for 60 days. But she was not harmed. It is said the martyred Theodota visited her and fed her during this time.

The judge then decided the prisoners, including Anastasia and Eutychianus, would be killed by drowning. They all entered a boat with holes in the base, but St. Theodota appeared to them and steered the boat to shore. Once they landed, Anastasia and Eutychianus baptized 120 men.

Following yet another escape, Anastasia was taken to the island of Palmaria. She was staked to the ground with her arms and legs stretched out and burned alive. She died in 304 AD.  “Anastasis” is Greek for Resurrection.

O holy saint Anastasia, healer and minister to captives, who did suffer greatly as a martyr while relieving the suffering of the poor and the sick, pray for us who are ill in soul and in body. Relieve us by your intercessions from the illnesses of our minds, from all evil temptation that seeks to disturb us, and from the suffering of our many afflictions. We ask these things boldly of you as you boldly approach the throne of our Lord Jesus Christ Who alone is the Healer and Lover of Mankind. Amen.