Christian Saints Podcast

Saint Matrona of Thessalonica

March 26, 2022 Darren C. Ong Season 2 Episode 11
Christian Saints Podcast
Saint Matrona of Thessalonica
Show Notes Transcript

Saint Matrona  of Thessalonica was a martyr from the 3rd or 4th century, who was a slave to a Jewish woman who tortured her to death for embracing the Christian faith. She is also celebrated in Barcelona, Spain, after her relics were moved there.

 God is glorious in his saints! 
 Welcome to the Christian Saints Podcast. My name is Darren Ong, recording from Sepang in Malaysia. In this podcast, we explore the lives of the Christian saints, from the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Today, we will celebrate Saint Matrona of Thessalonica. Saint Matrona was an early Christian martyr from the 3rd or 4th century. Let us hear an account of her life from the website of the Orthodox Church in America:
The Holy Martyr Matrona of Thessalonica suffered in the third or fourth century. She was a slave of the Jewish woman Pautila (or Pantilla), wife of one of the military commanders of Thessalonica. Pautila constantly mocked her slave for her faith in Christ, and tried to convert her to Judaism. Saint Matrona, who believed in Christ from her youth, still prayed to the Savior Christ, and secretly went to church unbeknownst to her vengeful mistress.

Pautila, learning that Saint Matrona had been to church, asked, “Why won’t you come to our synagogue, instead of attending the Christian church?” Saint Matrona boldly answered, “Because God is present in the Christian church, but He has departed from the Jewish synagogue.” Pautila went into a rage and mercilessly beat Saint Matrona, tied her up, and shut her in a dark closet. In the morning, Pautila discovered that Saint Matrona had been freed of her bonds by an unknown Power.

In a rage Pautila beat the martyr almost to death, then bound her even more tightly and locked her in the closet. The door was sealed so that no one could help the sufferer. The holy martyr remained there for four days without food or water, and when Pautila opened the door, she again found Saint Matrona free of her bonds, and standing at prayer. 

Pautila flogged the holy martyr and left the skin hanging in strips from her body. The fierce woman locked her in the closet again, where Saint Matrona gave up her spirit to God.

Pautila had the holy martyr’s body thrown from the roof of her house. Christians took up the much-suffered body of the holy martyr and buried it. Later, Bishop Alexander of Thessalonica built a church dedicated to the holy martyr. Her holy relics, glorified by many miracles, were placed in this church.

The judgment of God soon overtook the evil Pautila. Standing on the roof at that very place where the body of Saint Matrona had been thrown, she stumbled and fell to the pavement. Her body was smashed, and so she received her just reward for her sin. 
Saint Matrona’s story, like the stories of so many early Christian martyrs has a lot of violent details. And this can make them hard to stomach for Christians living today. I remember a friend telling me once that he was having a hard time finding a saint to name his daughter after, because all the good names were from saints who has died horrible deaths, and he didn’t want a name like that for his daughter.
 The early Christians had a different view on this violence, and I think there is a reason why these details are so scrupulously recorded in these lives of the martyrs. The most important reason is that it reflects on the violence that Jesus suffered on Good Friday. When Christ tells us to carry our cross, it is an invitation to martyrdom. The violence that these men and women suffered for their faith glorifies God, reminds us, tells us that following Christ and entering his kingdom is worth any amount of pain, suffering, and sacrifice, even up to sacrifcing your own life.
 Whereas Jews would avoid places where people died as cursed, early Christians would see these places as glorious. Some of the most famous churches in the world built on places where saints were killed. Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome is traditionally at the spot where St Peter was killed, St Stephen’s Basilica in Jerusalem where Stephen the first martyr died. These saints made holy the ground by their blood and sacrifice. For the same reason, we venerate the relics of these martyrs even today.
 So I hope that we can listen to and ponder these accounts of the martyrs, not by being grossed out, but by considering the ways we are called to sacrifice ourselves as we follow Christ.
In this spirit, I will read an excerpt of a reflection by Father Stephen Ritter, Pastor of St. James (Antiochian) Orthodox Mission in Buford, Georgia. This was from a podcast episode from his Hidden Saints Podcast, published by Ancient Faith Radio.


Father Steven Ritter
 Pantilla came out of the synagogue and was standing there and waiting and waiting for Matrona to come. Matrona, however, as an example perhaps to all of us today, decided that it just wasn’t proper for her to leave in the middle of a church service, because the festival they were celebrating happened to go on a lot longer on this day. Finally it was over, and Matrona returned, and Pantilla was there and was waiting and was not happy. But she said to Matrona, “Why is it that you…? Just come to the synagogue with us. Why is it that you avoid that? Please come.” Matrona, though, deciding at that point that it was a good time for her to stand up more boldly for her faith, said to Pantilla, “Because God is in the Christian Church, and he is no longer in the synagogue.”

Pantilla was furious when she heard this, absolutely furious. So she took Matrona and had her tortured as best she could, so much so that it was said that there were portions of flesh just hanging off of Matrona. And Matrona kept saying to her, “Why are you doing this?” And Pantilla said, “If you’ve been deceitful with me in regards to being a Christian, then you’ve probably been false also in your service.” And Matrona said, “That’s not true. I’ve done everything that you’ve ever asked me. I’ve been a good and loyal servant to you, absolutely obedient.” But Pantilla was having none of it. After this torture, she took Matrona and locked her into a very dark closet and left her in there for four days.

One might think that four days, bleeding and without food or water, that this would have been the end of Matrona, but when Pantilla had the closet opened, she found that Matrona was standing there, arms uplifted in prayer while she was chanting to God, and all of her wounds were gone. This made Pantilla even more furious, and so she brought Matrona out and had her tortured yet once again, and Matrona again protested, but yet at the same time the wounds from this torture healed also. So Pantilla took her again and threw her back into the closet and left her there for many, many days.

This time, when she returned, it was found that Matrona who had been praying to God and asked the Lord Jesus to receive her into his heavenly kingdom, that the Lord had granted her wish. So they opened up the closet and tortured her yet a little bit more until she died, then after that took her and, being afraid perhaps that she would get in trouble for murder or even starvation, Pantilla had her thrown off a cliff from a great, great distance, and there was no investigation into Matrona’s murder. Everyone thought that she had just fallen off a cliff, but the Christians knew better, and they gathered up her relics and took them and hid them.

Pantilla’s end would not be so great, because one day, as she was near a wine-press, she fell into it and was killed and drowned in the midst of all the cut up and pressed down grapes. The Lord was not going to allow this dishonor to happen to his wonderful servant Matrona. Yet Pantilla, being absolutely disinclined to repentance or to forgiveness for anything that she had done, met a terrible end.

It was probably another 200 years or so, as this occurred in the late 300s or perhaps early 400s—we’re not exactly sure of the date—that a church was built in the sixth century by the local bishop in honor of the glorious and holy martyr Matrona of Thessaloniki. May her dedication be the same dedication that we ourselves are infused with by our Lord Jesus Christ so that we can also serve him in even so small a way as Matrona did in a very great way.

Saint Matrona is honoured in her hometown of thessalonica, but also, interestingly enough in Barcelona, Spain, where she is regarded as some sort of patron saint. Indeed, she is sometimes known as St Matrona of barcelona, and her only remaining relics are in Spain.
 For an account of her legacy and relics, let us read an excerpt of her life from a website run by John Sanidopolous, Orthodox Christianity then and now, which is a valuable resource about Orthodox Christian saints.
According to archaeological evidence and various written sources, the Monastery of Saint Matrona is one of the first three monasteries of Thessaloniki. According to the information historians have, until the beginning of iconoclasm (726), there is reference to a "Monastery of Saint Matrona, located outside the walls of Thesssaloniki, with strong fortification. It existed about the end of the 6th and the beginning of the 7th century."
 It is not known if this monastery was an expansion of the original church dedicated to Saint Matrona. The book of the Miracles of Saint Demetrios (Miracle 13) mentions a church dedicated to Saint Matrona. There it says that during the reign of Emperor Maurice, at around 597, Sclaveni, an Arabic tribe, attacked the monastery because it was fortified like Thessaloniki, and they thought they were attacking the city itself. We have testimony that in 618 there was another siege against Thessaloniki, and all the churches outside the city walls were ordered to be burned. This included the Monastery of Saint Matrona, but it was later rebuilt.

 In the account of the Saint's deeds we read: "Contest of the Holy Martyr Matrona of Thessaloniki. She was a maidservant of a Jewess named Pantilla, the wife of a military commander in the city of the Thessalonians."
 As for the relics of Saint Matrona, they were taken to a church in Barcelona during the Frankish occupation, which was eventually destroyed and burned during the Spanish Civil War by the communists. She is still venerated as a patron of Barcelona. There a tradition rose that Saint Matrona was from Rome and was killed for helping needy Christians. There are possibly only two relics of Saint Matrona left, one in her Catholic parish in Barcelona and one in Saint Andrew's Orthodox Church in Alicante, Spain (pictured above).

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Troparion — Tone 3 

With undaunted spirit you preserved the Faith, / And your soul, Matrona, was not enslaved by the cruelty of your torturers. / You excelled in contest, slaying the crafty one / And were mystically wedded to the Lord of creation. / Fervently entreat him to deliver us from all harm! 

Kontakion — Tone 4 

Filled with the light of the Spirit, O Matrona, / you regarded your prison cell as a bridal chamber; / and from it you hastened to your radiant dwelling in the heavens, crying out: / “In divine love for You, O Word, I gladly endured scourgings.”