Today in the Church among the saints we honor the memory of the Holy Martyrs Kyriaina and Juliana. Relatively little is known about them, except that they were committed to charity and philanthropy, two traits which any of us can imitate. From the OCA’s website, we read:
The Holy Martyr Kyriaina was from Tarsus in Clicia, and Saint Juliana was from the city of Roso. These virtuous women devoted themselves to works of charity and Christian philanthropy during the reign of Emperor Maximian Galerius (305-311). They cared for orphans, comforted poor widows and treated the sick without charging any fee. Many times they succeeded in bringing pagans to the light of Christ through the Gospel, and by their own patience and goodness.
The Saints were arrested by Marcian, the governor of Cilicia, who tried to make them to deny Christ, but they refused to do this. Therefore, Marcian had Kyriaina’s hair and eyebrows shaved, and forced her to walk naked through the streets of Tarsus. Then she and Juliana were taken to the city of Roso, where they were burnt alive. They endured this horrible death with admirable steadfastness and self-denial, thereby obtaining the incorruptible crown of martyrdom from Christ.
As I’ve noted before, I much prefer hagiographies which are simple and unembellished and offer us lives which we can imitate in our own lifetime. One ‘embellishment’ which I note comes in the very last line of their life which seems to imply they are granted eternal life because “They endured this horrible death with admirable steadfastness and self-denial.” It seems to indicate it is not their martyrdoms as such which makes them saints but because of the way they endured it. I still find that people are willing to die for Christ amazingly admirable whether or not they embraced it with equanimity. Somehow in the lives of saints there is a tendency to make the saints more heroic or miraculous or almost inhuman in their attitudes. Yet it has to be noted that we really can’t know what was going on in the hearts and minds of the martyrs in the moments before their death – they die before they can tell their story. Even Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane is troubled and sorrowful as He asked His Father to take away the cup He was about to drink (Matthew 26:37-39; Luke 22:42). We think of Christ being in agony or anguish in that Garden as He awaited the terrible tortures He was to suffer and it is an angel who gives Him strength! (Luke 22:43-44). So why is it that only if martyrs are perfectly steadfast in self-denial that they can enter the Kingdom? At least in the lives of the Passion-bearers Boris and Gleb they are permitted to express their sadness, dismay and even anger over their fate.