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December 17

St Olympias - December 17

Saint Olympias

Deaconess, Widow

(Between 360 and 365 – 408)

Had God wanted me to remain a wife, he would not have taken my husband away.”

Saint Olympias 

Saint’s Life Story

Her Early Life

Olympias was born between 360 and 365 to an influential family of Constantinople. Her parents, Seleucus and Alexandra, died when she was still a child. S0, she was put under the care of her uncle, Procopius, who was a pious Christian. Her nanny, Theodosia, was like Olympias’ second mother and raised her to be a holy Christian woman. Olympias was instructed by her in the Christian faith and encouraged her to pursue virtue. 

Married and Widowed Young

Theodosia introduced Olympias to Gregory of Nyssa, who became a spiritual father to Olympias. Olympias grew up to become an intelligent and good woman. She was also attractive and had inherited a fortune, so her uncle had little trouble arranging a lucrative marriage for Olympias with a wealthy man.

Just over a year after the wedding, her husband, Nebridius, died, leaving Olympias even richer than before, as she inherited Nebridius’ vast and profitable estates. Given that Olympias was now the lady of a great deal of valuable land, Olympias became a highly desirable widow, who caught the attention of Emperor Theodosius. 

Pressured to Remarry

Emperor Theodosius put great pressure upon Olympias to marry again—the emperor suggested his cousin Elpidius (a convenient match that would bring all that land into the imperial family). Olympias flatly refused. She resolved to become a consecrated widow in the Church and give her entire life and livelihood to her fellow Christians.  In response to her stubbornness, Emperor  Theodosius seized Olympias’ wealth and put it under the direction of an official until she was thirty, unless she agreed to marry his cousin.

Undaunted, Olympias wrote to the emperor thanking him, saying that she was glad to be free of the worry about her fortune, and asked him to do her the favor of simply giving half of it to the Church and the rest to the poor. Emperor Theodosius was impressed by her spunk and her fortitude. So, he restored her estates to her. Then, Olympias promptly donated to the Church. 

Deaconess

In 398, Olympias founded a monastery in Constantinople. She became a sort of abbess of the community that gathered there. The community grew until around 250 women were living there as monastic sisters. When she was thirty, the Bishop of Constantinople, Nectarius, consecrated her as a deaconess. Beside the principle church of Constantinople, she had a convent built where she, three relatives and a large number of maidens withdrew from the community. There, they spent their time consecrated to the service of God. 

Friendship with Saint John Chrysostom

In 398,  Saint John Chrysostom was elected bishop of Constantinople.  He acted as spiritual guide to Olympias and her companions in the convent. He and Olympias quickly became close friends. They were both devoted to an ascetic lifestyle and to caring for the poor. Although he shunned dinner parties, John Chrysostom would eat the simple meals that Olympias brought him. He collaborated closely with Olympias and her companions, who built an orphanage and a hospital next to their house. 

Since many people knew that Olympias was not only very wealthy but also very generous and kind, people requesting financial assistance often approached her. Knowing this, St. John would council her on how to be a good steward of the money that God had allowed her to have. 

Being totally loyal to him, Olympias refused to recognize his appointed successor, but Saint John continued to guide her through his correspondence. Seventeen of these letters survived through the ages. These letters are a testimony to the piety of Olympias. 

Letters to Olympias

In 404, Saint John Chrysostom was exiled after he got on the wrong side of Empress Eudoxia. Olympias was persecuted because of her close association with him and her loyalty to him as the true Archbishop of the city. Her opponents slandered her and John resulting in her community falling apart. She continued to keep up her spiritual mission of care for the poor.

During his last days, Saint John Chrysostom wrote many letters to Olympias, from his arduous journeys during his exile. These letters are poignant testimonies to the depth of suffering he and his friends were experiencing, and the spiritual friendship these two saints shared.

Her Death

Olympias was exiled from the city she had lived in for so long and given so much to. She lived her final years in Nicomedia. After an illness, Olympias met died soon after the death of Saint John Chrysostom on July 25, 408 in Nicomedia.

Shortly before her death, Olympia gave instructions that she wanted her remains to be placed in a coffin and tossed into the sea, leaving her final resting place to divine providence. Olympia appeared in a dream to the Bishop of Nicomedia and commanded that her body be placed in a wooden coffin and cast into the sea. “Wherever the waves carry the coffin, there let my body be buried,” said Olympias. As requested, the coffin was tossed into the sea and was brought by the waves to a place named Brokthoi (Vrocthee), a suburban shore near Constantinople. 

Olympias is among the one hundred forty saints whose statues adorn the colonnades of Saint Peter’s Square.

Born:                   Between 360 and 365 in an unknown location

Died:                   July 25, 408 (Feast Day – Dec 17) in Nicomedia (Turkey)

Beatified:           Pre-Congregation

Canonized:        Pre-Congregation

Feast Day:          December 17, July 25 on some calendars

Patron Saint:     None

Source:

Reflection

St. Olympias inherited a vast fortune when her husband died. Her wealth could have given her immense power and made her a highly desired widow. Instead, she was devoted to the Church donating what she had to the poor. She founded a convent, orphanage and hospital in Constantinople. She provides an excellent model of what a good stewart does with the resources that God provides us with.

How are you today going to be a good stewart of all the resources that God has provided you? Like the council that St. John Chrysostom gave to Olympias, we also ask for Our Father’s spiritual guidance so that we will know Your will for us and how to use our gifts in service of others. 

Prayers

Father in heaven, we thank you for your goodness and generosity. You give each of us different gifts. We pray to Saint Olympias to intercede for us so that we will be good stewards of the gifts that you have bestowed on us. Saint Olympias, you were a model for us being truly a good steward of the riches that the Lord gave you, helping others in need and living your life in consecration to His service. We pray that we always remember that what we have is to be shared, not hoarded for ourselves, whether it be our riches, our time or our talent. Amen.

St. Olympias, pray for us. Amen.

Saint Links 

AnaStpaul – Saint of the Day – 17 December – St Olympias of Constantinople (c 361-365 – 408)

Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America – St. Olympias the Deaconess

Bartleby – Rev. Alban Butler Volume XII: December. The Lives of the Saints. 1866. December 17 St. Olympias, Widow

Catholic Exchange – St. Olympias

Catholic News Agency – St. Olympias Feast day: Dec 17

Catholic Online – St. Olympias

CatholicSaints.Info – Saint Olympias of Constantinople

FaithND – St. Olympias

Loyola Press – Saint Olympias Feast Day December 17

New Advent – Kirsch, J.P. (1911). St. Olympias. In The Catholic Encyclopedia

Saint of the Day – December 17 Saint Olympias

Saints, Feast, Family – Saint Olympias’ Story

Sanctoral – Saint Olympia of Constantinople Widow and Deaconess († 410)

St Peter’s Basilica – 11. St. Olympias

Wikipedia – Olympias the Deaconess

Video Link