When St. Euphrosyne was a child, St. Cyril was the patriarch of Alexandria, the city where she lived. She was the only child of a wealthy and important family. But her mother died when she was still young, and she was raised by her father, a man who was pious in spite of his great wealth.
The Christological controversies filled the air and the conversations of Alexandria during Euphrosyne’s childhood. Patriarch Cyril disputed with the Nestorians. Councils were held in Ephesus. And Euphrosyne’s father spent as much of his time as he could manage at a monastery, talking with the abbot. He brought his daughter with him. She learned much of theology, and much of church politics, from those visits.
When she turned 18, her father chose a husband and planned a wedding for her. They went to the monastery for a blessing, which they received from the abbot. But Euphrosyne didn’t want to marry the young man her father had chosen for her. She would rather lead a life of solitude and prayer.
Somehow, she encountered a wandering monk. The conversation between them must have been fascinating. By the end of it, he agreed to tonsure her, without ever speaking to her father. And without speaking to her father, she left their home to find a monastery. She thought that her father would find her in a women’s monastery. She feared that he would bring her home and force her to marry against her will. But where could she go?
Euphrosyne and Smaragdos
She decided to give up being the woman Euphrosyne, and to become the eunuch Smaragdos. She gave her jewelry and other belongings to the poor. (Smaragdos means Emerald. I can’t help thinking she chose her new name to reflect what she’d given away.) Then she dressed as a man and went to the men’s monastery where she’d spent so much time with her father. They didn’t realize who she was, and they took her in.
She spent 38 years there, in a solitary cell. Perhaps, when she decided to go there, it didn’t occur to her that her father would continue coming to the monastery as he always had. He went there, perhaps, even more often than he had in the past, to seek guidance and comfort after her disappearance.
As Smaragdos’s reputation for wisdom and piety grew, the other monks strove to be like him. And after some time, the abbot began sending Euphrosyne’s father to the eunuch Smaragdos, for consolation and spiritual guidance.
When Euphrosyne knew that her death was near, she finally told her father who she was. She asked that he prepare her body for burial. When she died, he did as she asked. Then he gave away all his wealth and came to the monastery as a monk. He lived in the cell that had belonged to the eunuch Smaragdos, laboring for ten years until his own death.
St. Euphrosyne’s feastday is kept on September 25.
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