Today the Coptic Church commemorates the departure of the Virgin Martyr Febronia who uffered during the reign of Emperor Diocletian in the third century. She was raised at a monastery in Sivapolis (Assyria). The head of the women’s monastery was the abbess Bryaena, who was St. Febronia’s aunt. Being concerned about her niece’s salvation, she assigned her a stricter form of life than the other nuns.
According to their monastic rule, the sisters put aside their other duties on Fridays and spent the whole day in prayer and the reading of Holy Scripture. The abbess usually assigned the reading to St. Febronia. News of St. Febronia’s pious life spread throughout the city. The illustrious young widow Hieria, a pagan, began to visit her, and under her guidance and prayers, Hieria accepted Holy Baptism, as well as bringing her parents and other relatives to Christianity.
Emperor Diocletian sent a detachment of soldiers to Assyria under the command of Lysimachus, Selenos and Primus with orders to destroy the Christian community. Selenos, the uncle of Lysimachus, was noted for his fierce attitude against Christians, but Lysimachus was of a different frame of mind, as his mother had sought to inspire love for the Christian faith in her son, and she had died a Christian. Lysimachus had discussed with Primus how it would be possible to deliver Christians from the hands of their torturers.
When the detachment of soldiers approached the convent, the inhabitants hid. Only Abbess Bryaena, her helper Thomais and St. Febronia remained. Abbess Bryaena was terribly afraid that her niece, St. Febronia, might fall into the hands of the torturers, who would defile her. She prayed fervently that the Lord would preserve her and strengthen her in the confession of Christ the Savior.
Selenos gave orders that all the nuns of the convent be brought before him. Primus, along with the detachment of soldiers, found no one, except the two old women and St. Febronia. He regretted that they had not hidden themselves, and he suggested to the nuns that they flee. But the nuns decided not to leave the convent and entrusted themselves to the will of the Lord. Primus told Lysimachus of the particular beauty of St. Febronia and told Lysimachus to take her for himself. Lysimachus said that he would not seduce a virgin dedicated to God, and he asked Primus to hide the other nuns so that they would not fall into the hands of Selenos.
One of the other soldiers related this conversation to Selenos. Thereafter, St. Febronia was led before the military commander with her hands bound and a chain around her neck. Selenos ordered her to deny Christ, promising her honors, rewards, and marriage to Lysimachus. The holy virgin firmly and fearlessly answered that she had an Immortal Bridegroom, and she would not exchange Him for any mortal man. Selenos subjected her to fierce tortures.
Throughout her agony, the saint prayed, “My Savior, do not abandon me in this terrible hour!” St. Febronia was beaten repeatedly, and blood flowed from her wounds. In order to intensify her suffering, she was tied to a tree and a fire was set under it. The tortures were so inhuman that the people began to demand an end to her sufferings, since St. Febronia refused to confess her guilt. Selenos continued to mock and jeer at her, but St. Febronia was silent. Because of the weakness brought on by the beatings, she was unable to utter a word. In a rage, Selenos gave orders to tear out her tongue, smash her teeth, and finally, to cut off both hands and feet. The people were unable to bear witness to such a horrid spectacle and left the scene of the torture, cursing Diocletian and his gods.
Among the crowd was the nun Thomais and her student, Hieria, who afterwards recorded St. Febronia’s martyrdom in detail. Hieria came out of the crowd and reproached Selenos for his cruelty. He gave orders to arrest her, but learning that Hieria was of illustrious standing whom he could not readily subject to torture, he said, “By your speech you have brought on Febronia even greater torment.” Finally, St. Febronia was beheaded.
Leaving the place of execution, Lysimachus wept and shut himself up in his quarters. Selenos attempted to eat, but was unable to take food, and went off to the quiet of his own chambers. Suddenly, he became deranged. Looking up to the heavens, he raved and bellowed like a bull, then fell down and struck his head on a marble column and died. When Lysimachus learned of this, he said, “ Great is the God of the Christians, Who has avenged Febronia’s blood, so unrighteously shed!” He prepared a coffin, placed St. Febronia’s body in it, and took it to the convent.
Upon seeing the mutilated remains of St. Febronia, Abbess Bryaena fell senseless. Later, she recovered and gave orders to open the convent gates so that all would be able to come and venerate the holy martyr and glorify God Who had given her such endurance in suffering for Christ. Lysimachus and Primus renounced their worship of idols and accepted both Baptism and monasticism. Hieria gave her wealth to the convent and petitioned Abbess Bryaena to accept her in place of St. Febronia.
Soon after her death, St. James, the Bishop of Nisibis, built a church and transferred into it a portion of St. Febronia’s relics. Every year, on the anniversary of the death of St. Febronia, a solemn feast was celebrated at the convent . During the all-night Vigils, the nuns always saw St. Febronia, at her usual place in the church. Numerous miracles and healings occurred from her relics. The life of St. Febronia was recorded by the nun Thomais, an eyewitness to her deeds.
In 363, St. Febronia’s relics were transferred to Constantinople