Saint Pelagia The Penitent
The saint of the day for October 8 is Saint Pelagia the Penitent.
St. Pelagia was head of a dance troupe in Palestinian Antioch, and lived a life of frivolity and prostitution. One day while she was still a dancer, Pelagia was passing by a church dressed with her very elegant and provocative clothing. Bishop Nonnus of Edessa was preaching at that moment. Even though the parishioners turned their faces away from the sinner, the Bishop noticed her great outer beauty and spiritual greatness. Later that day, he prayed in his cell for the sinner and learned that as she took care of the adornment of her body to appear beautiful, he and his fellow priests should put more work in adorning their wretched souls.
The following day Pelagia went to hear St. Nonnos preach. He was talking about the Last Judgement and its consequences. She was so moved and impressed with the sermon, that with tears of repentance in her eyes, she asked the Bishop to baptize her. Seeing the sincerity of her wishes and repentance, he agreed.
That same night the devil appeared to Pelagia, urging her to return to her former life. She started praying and signed herself with the Sign of the Cross, after which the devil vanished.
She gave all her wealth and valuables to St. Nonnos so that he could distribute them and give them to aid the poor. The bishop then ordered their distribution and said: “Let this be wisely dispersed, so that these riches gained by sin may become a wealth of righteousness.” She left Antioch dressed in man’s clothes.
After that, she journeyed to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, where she became a hermitess and lived in a cell disguised as the monk Pelagius. There she lived in great austerity, performing many penances in a ascetic seclusion which helped her attain many spiritual gifts. At her death she was buried in her cell. She was known as “the beardless monk” until her sex was discovered when she died.
Even though a young teenager existed and suffered martyrdom at Antioch back in the fourth century, the story described here is a pious fiction that eventually helped arise more similar stories but under different names.