But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever
Saint Demiana was born in third century Egypt and was the only child to her pious Christian parents. When still young, her mother departed and her father, Mark, became her sole caretaker. Mark loved his daughter dearly and taught her well the Christian faith.
St. Demiana was only fifteen when her father wanted her to get married to one of his noble friends, but St. Demiana refused. As was once the great desire of our Holy Mother St. Mary, St. Demiana also had no intention to marry but preferred to devote her life solely to God.
“The soul that loves God has its rest in God and in God alone.” ~St. Isaac the Syrian
At such a young age, being the only child in a wealthy family, St. Demiana could have desired many other things. She could have chosen a life of leisure and luxury but just as St. Paul said, “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ” (Phil. 3:8) so too, our beloved Saint understood the vanity of living such a life and instead, chose the “better part” (Luke 10;42)
St. Demiana asked her father to build her a house on the outskirts of the city, so that she and her forty friends could be away from the world and consecrate their lives to God. By God’s grace, her requested was granted, her father built her a beautiful palace, and St. Demiana became the leader of a of a blessed gathering of devout virgins.
For many ensuing years, these lived a peaceful life of purity, asceticism and worship, providing for themselves and for the poor by means of their handmade work.
At that time, the Roman Emperor Diocletian, a non-believer who greatly revived the worship of Roman gods, tortured and killed Christians who refused to worship the idols Apollos and Artemis. When St. Demiana’s father was asked to offer incense to the idols he, at first, refused but recanted when Diocletian offered him a higher position in the Roman Empire.
When the news of her father’s denial reached St. Demiana she went straightaway to him and said, “I would have preferred to hear about your death rather than to hear that you have renounced your faith and forsaken the God Who created you! If you do not return to your first faith and renounce the worship of stones, you are not my father and I am not your daughter!” and she left him.
Mark got up immediately and went to Diocletian and declared his true faith in Jesus Christ. Diocletian tried to change his mind, but this time he was unyielding. Diocletian then ordered his soldiers to kill him and St. Mark received the crown of martyrdom.
When the Emperor learned that St. Demiana was responsible for changing her father’s mind, he sent an army of soldiers to the palace and instructed them to persuade the saint to worship the idols or to sentence her to death if she refuses.
“… choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25).
When St. Demiana saw the soldiers approach the palace, she prayed to God to strengthen her faith until death and gave her friends the option to escape. The forty virgins chose to remain and inherit eternal life rather than deny God for the sake of a life of temporary vanity.
“As it is impossible to verbally describe the sweetness of honey to one who has never tasted honey, so the goodness of God cannot be clearly communicated by way of teaching if we ourselves are not able to penetrate into the goodness of the Lord by our own experience.” ~St. Basil the Great.
When St. Demiana would not deny her faith, the commander ordered the soldiers to torture her in cruel ways and finally threw her half-dead body in jail. That night, Archangel Michael appeared to her, touched her with his heavenly wings, and healed her wounds. This repeated itself for many days. Her faith and miraculous healing helped enlighten many.
On the last day before her martyrdom, our Lord Jesus Himself came to her and told her, “Have courage, my chosen one. I have prepared for you the crown of your wedding in heaven. Your name will be remembered forever as it will be the cause for many miracles, and in this place a great church will be built to honor your blessed name.”
Finally the commander ordered the soldiers to behead St. Demiana along with the forty virgins.
A few years later, when King Constantine came to power, he sent his mother Queen Helen to St. Demiana’s palace. Queen Helen buried all the bodies with great honor and placed St. Demiana’s body on a bed made of ivory, decorated it with silk linen, and built a church there in her name.
St. Demiana’s feast is on January 21st (13th of the Coptic month of Toba). May the prayers and the blessings of this great martyr, Saint Demiana be with us all. Amen.