On September 24, the Orthodox Church commemorates St. Thekla. Our Sunday Church School students will benefit from hearing about her, because we can learn many things from her life. Here is her story, written in child-friendly language:
St. Thekla was born in Iconium, in AD 16, to parents who were pagans. When she was 18 (and betrothed to be married to Thamyris), Sts. Paul and Barnabas arrived in Iconium. Although Thekla’s mother Theokleia wouldn’t let her go to where the saints were preaching, Thekla discovered that she could still hear them preach if she sat right by her bedroom window. She especially liked St. Paul’s teaching about remaining pure for Christ. Theokleia and Thamyris didn’t like this at all, so they complained to the city governor about Paul. The governor put Paul in prison, saying that he was disturbing the public, and left him there, waiting for a trial.
When Thekla learned that Paul was arrested, she went to the prison secretly. She bribed the guard with her jewelry, so that he would let her into the prison. While she was in the prison, Thekla listened to St. Paul speak about Christ. She stayed there for a long time.
Meanwhile, Theokleia and Thamyris checked with Thekla’s servant to find out where she was. When they discovered that Thekla was visiting Paul in prison, they went back to the governor, asking that Paul be judged immediately. The governor scolded Paul for causing a disturbance, and then he had Paul stoned and expelled from Iconium. Then the governor advised Thekla to stop being foolish, and to go home. Thekla announced that she wanted to remain a virgin, staying pure for Christ’s sake. Theokleia was furious and asked the governor to threaten Thekla, so he did: he said she would be burned at the stake if she did not stop following Christ.
Thekla did not change her mind, so she was taken to the arena. A vision of Jesus Christ gave her strength while she was being tied to the stake and then as she faced the flames. The authorities lit the fire, and it began to burn. As the flames came closer to Thekla, however, a thunderstorm came up, and the heavy rain and hail put the flames out. The governor was embarrassed and angry, so he released Thekla and ordered her to leave Iconium immediately.
Thekla found St. Paul outside the city, told him what had just happened, and asked to be baptized. St. Paul would not baptize her, saying that her baptism would happen in God’s timing and God’s way. They then left Iconium, and traveled together to Antioch.
When they arrived in Antioch, a nobleman named Alexander saw Thekla. She was so beautiful that he rushed up to her and tried to convince her to be his girlfriend. She embarrassed him by refusing him, in front of all of his friends. Alexander was so upset that he went to the governor of Antioch and complained that this girl had come into town and disgraced him in public even though he was a nobleman. He told the governor that Thekla should be killed as her punishment. The governor agreed and said that Thekla would be put into the arena with wild beasts.
On the day that Thekla was taken into the arena, a lioness was also released into the arena, to attack Thekla. Instead of attacking Thekla, the lioness walked up to her and lay down at her feet. Next, a bear was released. The lioness defended Thekla, killing the bear. Next, a large lion was released into the arena. The lioness again defended Thekla, and died while killing the lion. Finally, all the other cages were opened so that more wild animals could enter the arena. Thekla crossed herself and prayed that God would make her brave. She noticed a large tank of water nearby, also containing dangerous animals. She climbed into the water, asking Christ Himself to baptize her as she did so. The dangerous water animals did not hurt her.
When they saw that none of the wild animals would harm Thekla, the authorities gave up and released her. After her time in the arena, she spent 8 days in the home of a wealthy lady named Tryphaena, telling her and her household about Jesus, and converting all of them to Christianity. When Thekla left Antioch, Tryphaena gave her gold and jewels as a gift.
Thekla gave these gifts to St. Paul (so that he could give them to the poor) when she found him in Myra, after leaving Antioch. She told Paul all that had happened, and asked that he bless her to spend the rest of her life as an ascetic. St. Paul blessed her to do so, and so she left for the mountains in Syria.
For years, Thekla lived alone, praying, in those mountains. One day, a young man found her alone in the mountains and wanted to hurt her. He blocked the only way she could escape! Thekla prayed and asked Jesus Christ to protect her. A miracle happened: the canyon wall split at that very moment, and she could escape through a crack in the rock.
Thekla lived the rest of her life as an ascetic. She fell asleep in the Lord when she was 90 years old. Soon after she passed away, a group of young ladies went to live in her cell in the mountains. They built a small chapel to house her body. This was the beginning of the Convent of St. Thekla near Ma’loula, Syria.
Thekla suffered very much for her faith. Because of this, the Church calls her a “Protomartyr.” She brought so many people with her into the Christian faith, so she is also called “Equal-to-the-Apostles.” (abridged from http://www.antiochian.org/life_of_thekla)
Troparion – Tone 4
You were enlightened by the words of Paul, O Bride of God, Thekla, and your faith was confirmed by Peter, O Chosen One of God. You became the first sufferer and martyr among women, by entering into the flames as into a place of gladness. For when you accepted the Cross of Christ, the demonic powers were frightened away. O all-praised One, intercede before Christ God that our souls may be saved.
More background about St. Thekla’s life can be found here:http://oca.org/saints/lives/2014/09/24/102715-protomartyr-and-equal-of-the-apostles-thekla
Here is a version of St. Thekla’s life story that includes icons as well as pictures of the recent monastery that was built at the site of her ascetic labors: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/09/st-thekla-protomartyr-and-equal-to.html
Allow the life of St. Thekla to challenge you to become more like Christ! Read these two sermons about St. Thekla: http://araborthodoxy.blogspot.com/2011/10/met-ephrem-two-sermons-on-st-thekla.html. How will you teach what you’ve learned about her life to your Sunday Church School students?