By Guita G. Hourani
The martyrology of Saint Aquilina (A Latin term meaning baby eagle) will appear in two parts. Part I will describe her passion and martyrdom. It will make available for the first time the holy canon (hymn) that was written in her honor in the ninth century by Saint Joseph the Hymnographer. Also featured will be two other hymns written by resident hermit Father Yuhanna Khawand of the Monastery of Our Lady of Tamish (Artemis) in Lebanon.
Part II will describe Aquilina's ancient and modern sanctuaries, her icons, and recent miracles granted through her intercession.
Between 63 B.C. and 330 A.D., Byblos was under Roman Rule, and although Christianity existed in Byblos from the time of the Apostles, Christians were a minority among the majority pagans. During their rule, the Romans not only strengthened the worship of idols, but some of their governors actively persecuted the Christians. When Aquilina was condemned to death in 293, Volusian was the Magistrate of Byblos. Aquilina's martyrdom was a precursor of the great persecution begun in 303 by Diocletian, the Roman Emperor.
The Life and Martyrdom of Aquilina
Upon her response, Volusian ordered that she be flogged. She was then tied and flogged mercilessly. The Magistrate tried again to shake her determination, but she answered with courage: "Neither you nor Satan will be able to impose on me sufferings stronger than my strength to sustain, with the power of my God, Jesus."
Volusian, the Magistrate, tried to forget the matter of this maiden, counting on time to change her position, saying to her: "You are going to change your opinion in a few days, so contemplate the matter." Aquilina answered, "I shall never change my mind. I am determined and I shall not budge. I lived a Christian since my childhood and Christian I shall die." Upon her answer, the Magistrate ordered that her eardrums be punctured with flaming iron rods forcing the brain to discharge through her nose. Her whole body was lacerated by a sharp rake until she fainted and fell on the floor. Volusian thought that she had died so he ordered that she be thrown outside the walls of the city.
With the help of an angel, Aquilina regained consciousness and went before the Magistrate. Upon seeing her, he was astonished and thought that he was dreaming. He ordered that she be imprisoned and decapitated in the morning. The next day, she was found miraculously dead. She gained the crown of martyrdom on the thirteenth of June 293 A.D. The Christians buried her body outside the city where her tomb became a site for pilgrimage and cures.
Later her holy relics were transported to Constantinople where a great basilica was built in her honor near the Forum of Constantine in the Philoxene quarter. This basilica was later destroyed in a fire. (Aigrain 1924: 1143; Daher 1969: 240; The Lives of the Holy Women Martyrs 1991: 206-207; and Sauma 1994: 89-90)
Canon of Saint Joseph the Hymnographer
Saint Joseph the Hymnographer (c. 810-886), a major liturgical poet of the ninth century, was a native of Sicily. He lived in monasteries in Constantinople and Thessalonica. In Constantinople, he established the monastery of the apostle Bartholomew. He composed many hymns on the Ascension and the saints of his own time. (Kazhdan 1991: 1074)
Written in Greek, the hymn on Aquilina was recently translated into English by Saint John of Kronstadt Press in Liberty, Tennessee (The full text will be available in the Menaion of the Orthodox Church, Volume IX, May 1999, published by the St. John of Kronstadt Press, Liberty, TN). It reads as follows:
"Knowing thee to be an incorrupt bride adorned by the Holy Spirit, we celebrate thy holy memory, O passion-bearing martyr. We piously bow down before thy relics and holy shrine, and ever draw forth healing for our passions, honoring thee with faith, O most lauded Aquilina.
To thy Bridegroom, O most honored one, thou didst offer as a gift the dismemberment of thy limbs. Wherefore, having counted thee worthy of the all-radiant bridal chambers, the Transcendent One doth illumine thee with the light of divine glory. Before Him dost thou stand, rejoicing. O Aquilina, do thou earnestly entreat Him in behalf of us who with faith glorify thy suffering.
Held fast, O all-praised one, by the desire of thy Creator, thou didst depict His sufferings with thine own flesh, enduring each threefold wave of pain. And now thou livest in the heavens, wearing an imperishable crown and glory immune to pain, and beholding what the ranks of angels see, O divinely inspired Aquilina.
Troparion of the martyr
Thy ewe-lamb Aquilina crieth out to Thee with a loud voice, O Jesus: "I love Thee, O my Bridegroom, and, seeking Thee, I pass through many struggles; I am crucified and buried with Thee in Thy baptism, and suffer for Thy sake, that I may reign with Thee; I die for Thee, that I might live with Thee. As an unblemished sacrifice accept me, who sacrifice myself with love for Thee." By her prayers save Thou our souls, in that Thou art merciful.
ODE I: Canon of the holy martyr, the composition of Joseph, the acrostic, whereof is: "Accept this hymnody, O Aquilina, who doest good",
Irmos: That which had been hewn down, cut through what was undivided, and the sun saw land which it had not seen before; the water engulfed the cruel enemy, and Israel traversed the impassable and chanted the hymn: Let us sing unto the Lord, for gloriously is He glorified!
Thou, O all-glorious one, dost truly stand in the heavens before Christ, thy Bridegroom. Wherefore, by thy supplications, O honored one, do thou glorify those on earth who piously glorify thee, and with thee make them partakers of glory who chant: For gloriously is He glorified!
The grace of the Spirit, which dwelt within thee, made thy soul pure, O glorious one, and thou wast all the more comely in the wounding of the body. Wherefore, O all-praised one, the Bridegroom betrothed to Himself thee who art utterly pure and incorrupt.
When of old the winter of deception cruelly lay upon the ends of the earth, thou, O divinely wise, right wondrous and glorious Aquilina, didst attain unto the spring-time of life and didst lay hold of the trophy of victory, as a true martyr of the Lord Almighty, filled with the Spirit.
Theotokion: He Who is equal in being with the unoriginated Father, entered into thy womb, becoming man; and He hath saved us who are weighed down by evil and enslaved to the deception of the enemy, O Mary, Bride of God. Wherefore, with faith and love we call thee blessed.
ODE III: Canon of the Martyr
Irmos: Thou art the confirmation of those who have recourse to Thee, O Lord; Thou art the light of the benighted, and my spirit doth hymn Thee.
By grace thou didst weave a robe of light, O glorious martyr Aquilina, dyeing it with thy blood in sacred manner.
Thou wast manifestly wounded with divine love, O most honored one; wherefore, thou didst steadfastly endure cruel wounding and pangs.
The Lord and Deliverer wholly sanctified thee, O honored Aquilina, Who loved Him with all thy might and soul.
Theotokion: O pure one, we know thee to be the unwedded Bride and pure habitation of Jesus, who art more holy than the cherubim.
Sedalion of the martyr
Illumined with the divine light of the virtues, thou wast adorned with an athlete's wreath, O all-glorious and honored one; and, comely in beauty, thou wast truly betrothed to the Master of all by thy faith, O thou who art undefiled and incorrupt. Wherefore, thou hast been counted worthy of the heavenly bridal chambers, having contended well and vanquished the evil one, O divinely wise Aquilina. Entreat Christ God, that He grant remission of offenses unto those who with love honor thy holy memory.
ODE IV: Canon of the Martyr
Irmos: I have heard the mystery of Thy dispensation, O Lord; I have understood Thy works and glorified Thy divinity.
In the weakness of thy body thou didst cast down the prideful serpent, doing battle splendidly and setting at nought the rage of the tyrants.
In the splendor of thy martyrdom and the divine beauty of thy virginity, O Aquilina, thou wast an excellent bride for the Master.
The torrents of thy blood quenched the fire of polytheism, and the streams of thy miracles wash away the infirmities of men.
Theotokion: By the slumber of despondency, O Maiden, hath the sleep of sin stolen over me; but rouse me to repentance by thy vigilant supplication.
ODE V: Canon of the Martyr
Irmos: O Lord Who has illumined the ends of the earth with the knowledge of God, out of the night of ignorance enlighten me with the dawning of Thy love for mankind.
When thou wast assailed by falsehood as by a raging sea, O martyr Aquilina, thou wast then shown to be guided by the grace of Christ.
Looking to the victor's wreaths, O martyr, thou didst steadfastly endure the dismemberment of thy limbs and a violent death.
Astonishing thy very adversaries, thou wast radiantly adorned with thy comely beauty and majesty of soul.
Theotokion: All who have been delivered from the ancestral condemnation by thy birthgiving cry out to thee: Rejoice, O joyous and all-hymned one!
ODE VI: Canon of the Martyr
Irmos: Jonah alone didst Thou cause to dwell within a whale, O Lord. Save me also, like him, who am caught in the snares of the enemy.
Thou didst desire to follow the glorious sufferings of Christ and with manly wisdom didst endure beatings and the rending of thy holy body, O virgin.
Thou didst endure all manner of pangs and didst scorn the pain of the fire. Wherefore, O Aquilina, thou dost alleviate all our pain by thy supplications.
Looking down from above, the choir of angels was amazed at thine endurance, O glorious virgin, and at how in the flesh thou didst vanquish the incorporeal foe by grace.
Theotokion: That man might become divine, God showed Himself to be a man, O virgin, born ineffably of thy womb. And that which He was, He remained immutably.
Kontakion of the Martyr
Having utterly purified thy soul with the beauties of thy virginity and attained the heights by martyrdom, O most honored Aquilina, wounded with the love of Christ Thy Bridegroom, thou standest before Him with the angels in gladness. With them, cease thou never to pray for us all.
ODE VII: Canon of the Martyr
Irmos: Boldly did the Hebrew children trample down the flame in the furnace and transform the fire into dew, crying out: Blessed art Thou, O Lord God, forever!
Suffering, thou didst disdain the body, O divinely wise Aquilina, looking instead to heavenly rewards, light, glory, godly beauty and divine gladness.
Possessing a body undefiled and a heart united to the Lord, O pure one of godly wisdom, thou didst stand before the tribunal, denouncing the ignorant tyrant.
Thou didst exchange the corrupt world for the incorrupt life of heaven, transitory food for everlasting, and a mortal betrothed for the immortal Bridegroom, O virgin.
Triadicon: With hymns do we honor the single divine Monarchy, the all-glorious Trinity of Persons, which is simple in nature; and we cry out: Blessed art Thou, O Lord God, forever!
ODE VIII: Canon of the Martyr
Irmos: Trampling down the fiery flame in the furnace, the divinely eloquent children chanted: Bless the Lord, ye works of the Lord!
Illumined with the radiance of purity and arrayed in the stains of thy blood as in embroidered vesture, O virgin Aquilina, thou standest before Christ our God.
Thou didst offer thyself to Christ our God as a pure sacrifice, an all-radiant offering and an incense of sweet savor, O divinely wise Aquilina.
Thy holy body, which lieth in the tomb, O all-glorious Aquilina, healeth the diverse ailments of men and dispelleth the harm of the demons.
Theotokion: In manner past recounting didst thou give birth unto the incorruptible Word Who delivereth us from all corruption; wherefore, O Virgin, we all glorify thee.
ODE IX: Canon of the Martyr
Irmos: Save by thee, O pure Virgin, we confess thee to be the true Theotokos, magnifying thee with the choirs of the incorporeal ones.
With steadfast intent, the virgin was crucified for the Savior who had been nailed to the Cross, and she trampled upon the head of the serpent.
Comely is thy beauty, O Aquilina who art most rich, and the great nobility of thy soul is now manifest in godly fashion.
United with the choirs of the incorporeal ones and the assemblies of the martyrs, O all-praised one, entreat God on behalf of us all.
Thine all-glorious memory, O martyr Aquilina, doth summon all joyfully to hymn thy glorious pangs and sufferings.
Theotokion: We cry to thee with the cry of the angel, O all-pure one: Rejoice, O salvation of all men and divine crowning of the glorious martyrs!
Similarly, from his hermitage in our day, resident hermit Father Yuhanna Khawand of the Monastery of Our Lady of Tamish (Artemis) in Lebanon, sends forth fragrance of hymns glorifying Aquilina and reading:
O, Our Martyr Aquilina
O, our martyr Aquilina,
O Byblos, mother of the alphabet,
You Are the Honorable Intercessor
A maiden consumed with love
The Maronite, Latin and Orthodox Churches celebrate Saint Aquilina's
feast day on the 13th of June. In Byblos where the Saint is most revered,
June 13th is a day of great commemoration, religious processions and high
Aigrain, R. Dictionnaire d'Histoire ET de Géographie Ecclésiastiques. Tome III, Librairie Letouzey et Ane: Paris, 1924.
Al Jebeili-Zogheib, A. Al Qedissat al Shahida Al Jubeyliat Aquilina. (In Arabic), Byblos, 1993.
Daher, B. Al Sinxar Al Marouni. (In Arabic), Holy Spirit University: Kaslik, Lebanon, 1969.
Delaney, J. Dictionary of Saints. Doubleday: New York and London, 1980.
Eldarov, G. Bibliotheca Sanctorum, Vol. II.
Encyclopedic Dictionary of Religion. Volume F-N, Corpus Publications: Washington, D.C,1979.
Kazhdan, A. Joseph the Hymnographer. The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. Vol. II, 1991.
Ribadeneira, P. Les Vies des Saints. Trad. Par E. Daras, Paris, 1864.
Sauma, V. Sur les pas des Saints au Liban. FMA: Paris, 1994.
The Lives of the Holy Women Martyrs. Holy Apostles Convent: Buena Vista, Colorado, 1991.
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