Alexander Kazhdan, οἱ βυζαντινοὶ βίοι ἁγίων καὶ τὸ σέξ,

Alexander Kazhdan, οἱ βυζαντινοὶ βίοι ἁγίων καὶ τὸ σέξ, 5oς-12ος αἰ., DOP 44:

A single good action by a fornicator or prostitute could be sufficient to secure his or her salvation. Moschos tells a tale about an orphan girl who gave away her whole inheritance to save a man overburdened with debts; then, having no means to exist, she became a harlot, but soon «came to her senses» and abandoned this profession. When she decided to convert to Christianity, the pious members of the parish, in their indignation, refused to accept a whore, but their earthly morality was overruled by heaven, and angels brought her to a church and ordered her to be baptized.

A similar story is found in the Vita of St. Theo-doulos of Edessa.» The saint heard a prophetic voice announcing that a certain Cornelius would inherit the kingdom of heaven. Theodoulos was astonished since Cornelius was a flutist in Damascus, a representative of a despicable profession, according to traditional Christian standards. Nevertheless, Theodoulos started the search for Cornelius and found him in a hippodrome hold-ing his musical instrument in one hand and with the other caressing a bare-headed harlot who wore inappropriate and impious decorations. Cornelius confessed to Theodoulos that he spent each day with whores and actors but he was granted the heavenly kingdom because once he had acted with sympathy and generosity.

As a matter of fact, Cornelius’ story as related to Theodoulos is the centerpiece of the whole Vita. Cornelius, returning home from a nightly church service, noticed an incredibly beautiful woman; he addressed her with flattering words (treating her as a prostitute) and tried to hug her, but she began crying and was unwilling to accept his caresses. Surprised, Cornelius asked her to explain her strange behavior, and she told him her story. She was a daughter of honest parents, an orphan from the age of twelve; when she married, she brought her husband a significant dowry. He squandered everything and, moreover, went into debt and now was afraid of being arrested and thrown into prison. So the woman decided to become a street-walker to earn her husband’s ransom. Touched by her self-sacrifice, Cornelius gave her 230 nomismata and other coins and things and, without ask-ing her name, sent her away.

The anchorite Kaioumas had to tackle an analogous case. He was summoned as arbiter by a council in Cyprus that discussed the fate of the late Philentolos, the son of Olympios. Philentolos was a generous rich man who helped the poor and even founded a hospital but had «a passion for fornica-tion.» Kaioumas explained that Philentolos was to be saved from Hell because of his charitable deeds, even though-and Kaioumas is less tolerant to the licentious sinner than the author of the Vita of Theodoulos he was not admitted to Paradise; his soul had to remain with those of unbaptized children.

Both Cornelius and Philentolos, fornicators as they were, were rewarded for their good deeds, primarily generosity; Pelagia and Maria repented and became zealous anchorites. The Vita of Theo-dore of Edessa, however, reveals that a prostitute could acquire holiness automatically, without any effort on her part. A woman, relates the hagiographer, had a son who was gravely ill, so she asked everyone to pray for his health; all was in vain until she met a whore, hurled the boy into the harlot’s lap and, genuflecting, besought her to pray. The sinner was ashamed by this unexpected demand, but seeing the boy at the verge of death turned to the East and, beating her breast with her hands, prayed in tears. An extraordinarily brilliant light descended from heaven upon the boy and the prostitute, the prayer was accepted, and the boy recovered. The licentious sinner could be pure in the eyes of God.

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