Lives of the Saints

Our Models and Protectors

December 17
  

Saint Olympia of Constantinople

Widow and Deaconess
(† 440)

Saint Olympia of Constantinople
Saint Olympia
of Constantinople

Saint Olympia, the glory of the widows in the Eastern Church, was born of a noble and illustrious family. Left an orphan at a tender age, she was brought up by Theodosia, sister of Saint Amphilochius, a virtuous and prudent woman. At the age of eighteen, Olympias was regarded as a model of Christian virtues. It was then that she was married to Nebridius, a young man worthy of her; the new spouses promised one another to live in perfect continence. After less than two years of this angelic union, Nebridius went to receive in heaven the reward of his virtues.

The Emperor would have engaged her in a second marriage, but she replied: If God had destined me to live in the married state, He would not have taken my first spouse. The event which has broken my bonds shows me the way Providence has traced for me. She had resolved to consecrate her life to prayer and penance, and to devote her fortune to the poor. She liberated all her slaves, who nonetheless wished to continue to serve her, and she administered her fortune as a trustee for the poor. The farthest cities, islands, deserts and poor churches found themselves blessed through her liberality.

Nectarius, Archbishop of Constantinople, had a high esteem for the saintly widow and made her a deaconess of his church. The duties of deaconesses were to prepare the altar linens and instruct the catechumens of their sex; they aided the priests in works of charity, and they made a vow of perpetual chastity. When Saint John Chrysostom succeeded Nectarius, he had for Olympias no less respect than his predecessor, and through her aid he built a hospital for the sick and refuges for the elderly and orphans. When he was exiled in the year 404, he continued to encourage her in her good works by his letters, and she assisted him to ransom some of his fellow captives.

Saint Olympia, as one of his supporters, was persecuted. When she refused to deal with the usurper of the episcopal see, she was mistreated and calumniated, and her goods were sold at a public auction. Finally she, too, was banished with the entire community of nuns which she governed in Constantinople. Her illnesses added to her sufferings, but she never ceased her good works until her death in the year 410. She outlived the exiled Patriarch by about two or three years.

Reflection: Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, but in heaven, where neither rust nor moth consume. (Words of Our Lord: Saint Matthew 6:20)

The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Principal Saints, by Rev. Alban Butler (Metropolitan Press: Baltimore, 1845), October-December, Vol. IV