Two eminent phenomena distinguished the Christians of the early generations of Christianity, these are the desire for martyrdom and the love of chastity and virginity. We find the dominance of these two phenomena over the believers an ordinary matter which keeps pace with the deep spirituality they enjoyed and the wonderful sublimity they attained by scorning the flesh and whatever was material. Where there is martyrdom, there should be chastity. There is no martyrdom with spiritual dissolution, moral deterioration and man’s bondage to the lust of the flesh.
The history of martyrs is full of marvelous examples of the heroes of purity and chastity who preferred facing death to defiling their bodies. Idolaters and their governors were overwhelmed by filthy lust in a shameful manner. They were astonished at the chastity of Christians specially the females who “could not even listen to the threat of pagan governors to rape them. So they bore all kinds of torture and deadly punishment.”
Eusebius, the historian who lived amidst persecutions says: “Women were no less brave than men in defending the teachings of the Divine Word as they participated in the struggle with men and obtained an equal share of crowns for the sake of virtue. When they took them for immoral purposes, they preferred surrendering their life to death to surrendering their body to immorality”.
Hence, it was clear to the pagan governors that falling into sin was worse than death for Christians. Hence, they imposed it as punishment especially on virgins, women and some youths.
A Chaste youth:
During the persecution raised by Emperor Decius (249-251), when one of the pagan governors failed to divert a Christian youth from his faith, he delivered him to a prostitute to make him fall into sin. The woman could not find any means to achieve her purpose, so they tied the youth his body, hands and feet to a bed. The woman used her repulsive methods to excite him. As the youth could not find any way to escape from this evil and as he was keen on protecting his chastity from being defiled, he bit his tongue by his teeth and spit it with a flood of blood on her face. She became terrified at this horrible scene and escaped. As for him, he preserved his chastity.
Butamina, the Chaste Virgin:
During the persecution raised by Septimius Severus, the Egyptian virgin, Butamina, bore the severest kinds of torture. The historian Eusebius says about her: “She is still famous among the people due to the several pains she bore for preserving her chastity and virginity as she was in the stage of mental and physical maturity. As she bore a lot for the sake of Christ’s faith, she suffered from different kinds of indescribable tortures. Finally she was burnt with her mother, Marcella. It is said that after torturing all her body cruelly, the governor called Akila threatened her finally to deliver her to the wrestlers to defile her body. When she refused a judgment was rendered against her at once and she was driven to death by Basil, an army officer. When the soldiers tried to hurt her and insult her with obscene words, Basil sent them away. He was tenderhearted and sympathetic with her. It was decided to kill her by pouring boiling tar on her limbs.
She cried saying to the governor: “I implore you, by the head of the Emperor whom you fear, not to make them unclothe me. Let me descend into the tar bit by bit, so that you may see what forbearance is granted to me by Christ who you do not know.” To this extent of caution, shyness and love of chastity, this virgin refused to have her clothes stripped off and her body disclosed. The reward of Basil, the soldier who defended her, was that she promised him that she would remember him before Christ when she would reach Him. She appeared to him in a revelation after her martyrdom and stood beside him for three successive nights crowning him and saying that she begged the Lord for his sake and that he would shortly follow her. This actually happened some days after the martyrdom of Butamina as Basil confessed Christ and was decapitated with the sword.
Theodora, the Chaste Virgin:
She was martyred in Alexandria in the era of Diocletian when she was seventeen years old because she preferred the life of chastity and virginity. Theodora was descended from a noble family and was beautiful in appearance. The governor ordered her to offer incense to the idols; otherwise she should be punished by being put in a brothel. Due to her adherence to chastity she refused his speech and said that she was sure that Lord Jesus should save her.
She was saved from this temptation at the hands of the Christian youth, Didymus, who disguised himself in the uniform of a soldier. He was the first person who entered her room. She did not know him and the plan was to exchange her clothes. Theodora went out disguised in the uniform of a soldier and nobody could discover the matter. Didymus remained in the room until his matter was revealed. He was driven to the governor and sentenced to death for his conspiracy. On the way to the execution place, Theodora saw him and knew his story. She went through the crowds and caught him saying: “I do not accept that you take my place in martyrdom. I only agreed that you preserve my chastity.” The matter was discovered and they obtained the crowns of martyrdom together.
Death is preferred to defilement:
As a result of the violence of persecution, especially in the era of Diocletian, the Church history witnessed for the first time Christian virgins who preferred death to avoid the shame which the authorities were willing to bring on them.