Today we commemorate one of my favorite Imperial saints of the Orthodox Church The Right-Believing Pulcheria, Roman/Byzantine Empress (399- 453).
The balance between political expediency, and a faithful Christian life, is almost impossible to consider; whether it be 1500 years ago, or today in a democratic society. Yet, the witness that St. Pulcheria offered the Roman/Byzantine world, and our own time, speaks volumes to the “one thing needful” (Lk. 10:42) to those who govern, and to ourselves.
Pulcheria was the older sister of the Emperor Theodosious II and Pulcheria ruled as regent (at about 15 years old) in the Eastern Roman Empire, and then upon the death of her brother, became Empress with her husband, the Right-Believing Marcian (450-453). She marked her reign with humility and remarkably, her desire to live in virginity (living with her husband as brother and sister). Despising the luxuries of being the Augusta of the Empire, and the social expectations of marrying and having heirs, she devoted herself to the care of the sick and needy of the Empire, to her Christian faith, and especially to the Theotokos and ever virgin Mary, who she saw as the role model of a perfect Christian.
It could be said that she championed the importance and scriptural witness of the Theotokos in the time of Nestorius (the heretical Patriarch who claimed that Jesus was not perfect man and perfect God as His divinity was separate from His humanity, and that the ever virgin Mary was not the
Theotokos – God bearer- but was instead the Christotokos – Christ bearer). Pulcherias’ brother, Theodisous called what is now commemorated as the Third Ecumenical council, where Nestorious and his teachings were condemned. St. Pulcherias advocacy and dedication to the Theotokos, and her life of striving to follow her example of faith and compassion, lead many to proclaim at the end of the council “The virgin Mary has deposed Nestorius. Many years to Pulcheria, she is the one who has strengthened our faith”.
The question that could be asked of our politicians today (especially those who identify as Christians), and all of us, is whether we are strengthening the faith? Do we attend to the foot of our Lord and hear the words of peace and life, or bustle about with the business of the day? Do we bear in our hearts the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, or do we bear the concerns of life, and the anxieties of ordering our homes, work and institutions?
History has in general pictured St. Pulcheria as a single minded zealot (disregarding her principled virginity, humility, and compassion), or an overarching political opportunist. But we as faithful Christians, see a woman, who did what many women at the time could not do, what leaders throughout the ages could not do. St. Pulcheria, following the Most Holy Theotokos’ example, directed everyone to heed to the Lord as she did at the wedding in Cana. “Whatever He (the Lord)
says to you, do it.” (Jn. 2:5). In this we see the miracle of broken politics, and routine changed from tasteless water, into the sweetest wine of eternal life.
Most holy Pulcheria, pray for us.