|Saint Demiana and the 40 Virgins|
Ϯⲁⲅⲓⲁ Ⲇⲩⲙⲓⲁⲛⲏ ⲛⲉⲙ ⲡⲓ ϩ︤ⲙⲉ ⲉ̅ⲑ̅ⲱ̅ ⲙ︤ⲡⲁⲣⲑⲉⲛⲟⲥ
Coptic icon of Saint Demiana the Holy Martyr
Beginning of 4th century|
Oriental Orthodox Church|
Coptic Orthodox Church
|Canonized||Early 4th century|
|Major shrine||Saint Demiana's Monastery, Barrary-Belqas, Egypt|
|Attributes||Virgin carrying a palm and a cross, Virgin with 40 other virgins, Founder of monasticism for Coptic Orthodox nuns, Princess (highest ranking) of female martyrs of the Coptic Orthodox Church|
The story of St. Demiana
Near the end of the third century, there lived a Christian named Mark. He was the governor of el-Borollos, el-Zaafaran, and Wadi al-Saysaban districts in the Northern delta of the Nile River in Egypt. Mark had an only child named Demiana, and her father loved her dearly. When Demiana was still a young child, her mother died, and her father did his utmost to raise her a virtuous Christian.
When she was 15, her father wanted her to marry one of his noble friends, however, she refused. She said she had devoted herself as a bride of Christ and intended to live in celibacy and serve the Lord. Demiana requested her father to build her an isolated house on the outskirts of the city where she could live with her friends, away from the world and its temptations.
Her father granted her wish and built her a large palace in the wilderness. Demiana changed the palace into the first Coptic Orthodox coenobitic monastery for nuns, living the monastic, ascetic life with her forty unmarried friends. Demiana was the abbess; the nuns spent their time fasting, praying, reading the holy books, and providing for themselves and the poor by means of their handiwork.
At that time, Diocletian, the pagan emperor, began to torture and kill Christians who refused to worship his idols, Apollo and Artemis. When Mark was ordered to kneel before the idols and offer incense, he refused initially; however, after some persuasion, he worshipped the idols. When news reached Demiana that her father offered incense before the idols, she reproached him severely. Her father was moved by her words and bitterly repented.
Mark traveled immediately to Antioch to see Diocletian. He made the sign of the cross in front of the emperor, soldiers, princes and all people, and declared himself a Christian. Diocletian was furious and said, “I have tried to keep our friendship but you insult me in front of all". He ordered Mark to reconsider but Mark refused. The emperor ordered Mark to be beheaded by the sword. The feast day of his martyrdom is commemorated on July 12, Abeeb 5 (Coptic calendar).
Demiana faces the Diocletian Persecutions
When Emperor Diocletian learned that it was Mark's daughter, St. Demiana, who had persuaded her father to return to worshiping Jesus Christ, he ordered one of his commanders, who was a prince, to attack her palace with one hundred soldiers. Diocletian ordered him: “First, try to convince her to worship our idols by offering her riches and glory, but if she refuses then threaten her, torture her, and even behead her and her virgins to make her an example for the other Christians.”
Demiana saw the soldiers approaching, and prayed to God to strengthen their faith. She told her 40 friends: “If you are willing to die for Jesus' sake then you may stay, but if you cannot withstand the torments of the soldiers then hurry and escape now.” The forty virgins replied, “We will die with you.”
The prince relayed Diocletian's message to St. Demiana by saying: "I am an envoy sent by Emperor Diocletian. I command you by his orders to worship his gods so that he may grant you whatsoever you wish."
St. Demiana shouted: "Cursed be to the messenger and him who sent him. ...There is no other God in heaven or on earth besides the one and only true God--the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit--the Creator, who has no beginning and no end; the omnipresent and omniscient God who will throw you in hell for eternal condemnation. As for me, I worship my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and His Good Father and the Holy Spirit--the Holy Trinity--I profess Him, ...and in His name I will die and by Him I will live forever.”
The prince was enraged with Demiana and ordered her to be placed in the Hinbazeen (squeezing press) until blood poured on the ground. When they put her in prison, an angel of the Lord appeared to her, touched her body with his illumined wings, and she was healed of all her wounds. She was subjected to additional tortures, but through it all her faith sustained her. The prince issued an order for Demiana and the 40 virgins to be beheaded. St. Demiana received 3 heavenly crowns: for her virginity, her endurance of torture and her martyrdom.
The tomb of St. Demiana and the 40 Virgins
During the reign of Constantine the Great, his mother, Helena visited the site of St. Demiana's monastery palace, where she had a church built over the tomb. This tomb church was consecrated by Pope Alexandros (Pope of Alexandria and 19th Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of the See of St. Mark), on May 20, Bashans 12 (Coptic calendar).
The original church was eventually destroyed but another has been rebuilt and still stands on the very same site to this day. Every year, many people visit St. Demiana's shrine, asking for her intercessions. The main season of visit is the period between 4th to 12th Bashans. (12–20 May).
Restoration of St. Demiana’s Monastery
Situated in Barrary-Belqas, Egypt, at the same place where St. Demiana’s original monastery palace and Tomb Church were, is a coenobitic Coptic Orthodox Monastery for nuns bearing her name—St. Demiana's Monastery. The monastery was officially consecrated as a coenobitic Coptic Orthodox Monastery for Nuns on September 24, 1978, by Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and 117th Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of the See of St. Mark.
Presently at her monastery property, 4 of the 9 churches bear her name: Saint Demiana’s Big Church, Saint Demiana’s Tomb Church, Saint Demiana’s Ancient Church and Saint Demiana’s Church for Nuns. Many churches of the Coptic Orthodox Church also bear her name.
St. Demiana, the Founder of Monasticism for Coptic Orthodox Nuns
St. Demiana is the founder of monasticism for Coptic Orthodox nuns and the princess (highest ranking) of female martyrs of the Coptic Orthodox Church. St. Demiana and her 40 virgin nuns are depicted in Coptic icons as not wearing the black monastic habit as we see Coptic Orthodox nuns wear nowadays because at her time, the black monastic habit had not yet taken form.
According to the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Pentalimon Lambadarios of Pelusium, Saint Demiana has been added as a Greek Orthodox saint, and biographied in the Synaxarium of the Greek Orthodox Church.
Feasts of St. Demiana and the 40 Virgins
The Coptic Orthodox Church commemorates the feasts of St. Demiana and the 40 virgins’ martyrdom on January 21, Tooba 13 (Coptic calendar), and the consecration of Saint Demiana’s Big Church at her monastery on May 20, Bashans 12 (Coptic calendar).
The Life Story of Saint Demiana and the 40 Virgins is found in two Arabic sources: Synaxarium and Life Story of the Chaste Saint Demiana and History of the Monastery. The life story was translated from Arabic into English by the nuns of Saint Demiana’s Monastery in Egypt. The book, Life Story of the Chaste Saint Demiana and History of the Monastery, is taken from 18th century manuscripts written by Bishop John (Bishop of El-Borollos); these manuscripts were transcribed from older manuscripts dated in the 6th century during the apostolic service of Dimianos (563-598 A.D., 35th Patriarch of the See of St. Mark), and were originally transcribed from ancient manuscripts written by Christodoulou, the disciple of Saint Julius El-Akfahsee (4th century).
Saint Demiana is the founder of monasticism for Coptic Orthodox nuns and the highest ranking female martyr of the Coptic Orthodox Church due to her forbearance of great persecution, torture and suffering.
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