Orthodox America


  Holy Martyr Aquilina – June 13


In Byblos, [1] a small port city of Phoenicia, there lived some Christians who learned of the Gospel from the Lord's closest disciples, the Apostles. They reverently preserved their teachings and passed them on to their children.

One of these Christians had a daughter whom they named Aquilina, baptizing her in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Soon after she was born her father died, and she was raised by her mother, who gave her great love and attention. When Aquilina was seven her mother began teaching her about the Christian life, training her to fulfill the Lord's commandments. Three years later her mother also died and Aquilina was left an orphan. She did not forget the lessons of her childhood and tried to fulfill the will of God, firmly trusting in the Lord's mercy and fervently praying to Him. Among her peers were many pagans, who worshipped idols. But their example did not influence Aquilina. On the contrary, she tried to teach her friends and turn them to the true God.

"Why do you pray to dumb idols?" she asked them. "Don't you realize that they have no feeling, no life, and that it is useless to trust in them?"

"What God do you worship?" her friends asked.

'The One True God, the Creator of heaven and earth and the seas and all that lives in them," answered Aquilina.

      "But we heard," responded her pagan friends, "that the God Whom you worship was crucified and died on a cross."

      "Death has no power over Him," replied Aquilina. "He rose from the dead, by His blood He redeemed all who believe in Him and He gives them eternal life. He made Himself a man in order to bring people salvation; He taught them, He gave them grace and truth. He is the Saviour of all. He loves us and for our sakes willingly endured sufferings and death.

      Aquilina frequently spoke of this to her friends, trying to convert them. Once, however, a servant of the Roman ruler overheard her and reported this to his master. At this time Christians were severely persecuted. The ruler Volucian summoned Aquilina, who was then thirteen years old, and ordered her to sacrifice to the pagan gods, threatening her with cruel tortures if she didn't obey his will.

      Aquilina, remembering God's command not to worship idols, refused to obey Volucian's order.

      "I see you are still young, and I feel pity for you," said the ruler. "If you persist in your stubbornness, I shall give you over to the torturers; you will die in the most horrible pain; the God of the Christians, whom you confess, will not help you."

      "I don't need your pity," answered Aquilina. "You say that you feel sorry for me, but at the same time you are ready to harm me, in trying to turn me away from God." 

The ruler ordered the young girl to be beaten. "Now, Aquilina, where is your God? Why doesn't He come to save you?"

   "The more you torment me," replied Aquilina, "the more Christ will give me patience and strength."

    “I’ll give you two days to think it over. Maybe you'll come to your senses," said the ruler, amazed by her courage.

    "Don't give me even one day, not even an hour," said Aquilina. "As a child I was taught to worship the one God and to trust in Him, Who from heaven helps all who believe in Him."

    Then the ruler sentenced Aquilina to yet crueler tortures, but this did not shake the resolve of the young Christian girl. "Lord," she prayed, "You, Who from my childhood illumined my heart with the rays of truth, give me strength to endure these tortures!" Finally, the Saint collapsed in exhaustion. It was assumed that she was dead, and she was carried out of the city; the ruler ordered that her body was to be left without burial.

    Suddenly, in the middle of the night, she heard the voice of an angel: "Arise, and be well." She felt her strength returning, and her wounds healing. Aquilina began praising and glorifying God. She prayed that He would give her a speedy death.

    Aquilina got up and went to the city, to Volucian's house. The ruler was still sleeping. When he awoke and saw standing before him the girl whom he thought to be dead, he at first didn't believe his eyes. Calling his servants, he asked them who she was. The girl herself answered, "I am Aquilina, servant of the Lord."

       The ruler called her a witch and ordered her to be put to death. As she was being taken for execution, she asked that she be given time to pray. Thanking the Lord for strengthening her, she peacefully gave her soul into His hands. When the executioner came up to her, ready to fulfill his orders, he found her already dead. 

     In the first centuries, when Christians were cruelly persecuted, many children glorified the Lord by their feat of martyrdom; in the midst of horrible sufferings they displayed extraordinary spiritual stamina and unshakable faith. May their example teach us that from a young age we should serve God, learn His commandments and try to do His will, which is dearly set forth for us in the Holy Scriptures. The Lord Jesus Christ, while He was here on earth, showed children great love and affection; He embraced and blessed them, and when those people around Him wanted to chase the children away, afraid that they were bothering Him, He said to them, "Let the children come and don't prevent them from coming to Me, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mark 10:14). Recalling these words, children should try to draw close to their loving Heavenly Father, in their feelings, thoughts and deeds. And the Lord, who knows our hearts and thoughts, will hear their prayers and will give His help, without which we are all weak.

 

Translated from Selected Lives of Saints, compiled by A.N. Bakhmeteva, Moscow, 1872,

Iconographic sketch by Eugenia Harris, age 12


[1] It is interesting to note that Byblos was a center for the manufacture of papyri, an ancient writing material, and gave its name to the Greek word for book, which we have retained in the name of the "Bible".

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