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Saint Elesa of Kythera (1 August)

By the mercy of the Lord you were given,
To your mother virgin martyr Elesa.

There was a noble woman in the Peloponnese named Eugenia who was struggling to conceive a child with her husband, Helladios. After praying to God for mercy, Eugenia conceived and delivered her daughter, Elesa. After Elesa was baptized by Sophronios, an ascetic, she was educated in the Christian faith with the guidance of her mother. Although Helladios was a pagan, he permitted out of love for his wife and daughter for them to practice their faith.
When Elesa became older, Eugenia grew ill and on her deathbed advised her daughter to remain devoted to the Christian faith even while in the care of her pagan father. Following her mother’s death when she was fourteen, Elesa was designated mistress of the household and managed the estate. However, her passion for the Christian religion only grew stronger in the wake of Eugenia’s death. Despite Helladios’ affection for Elesa, he was annoyed by her intense adoration for Christ. He appealed to his daughter to consider marriage, believing it would make her happy and fulfilled. As reward for her potential marriage, he offered to allow her to choose the groom and pass on his wealth and property to her. She brushed off his proposal and asked to discuss the matter later. Secretly, Elesa desired to take a vow of chastity and live the life of an ascetic.
When Helladios left on a campaign, Elesa handed out alms (her material possessions and money) and fled to Kythera with only a few of her female servants. Once the boat reached the island, she disembarked with a group of travelers. A poisonous snake bit a man in the group, and the man died shortly after. By her prayers Elesa resurrected the stranger from the dead. The crowd was awed by the event, however, they departed the island, leaving Elesa and her maidservants. News of the event spread to mainland Greece and reached her father’s ears after he had returned home to find his daughter gone. Helladios found passage to the island and traveled there in search of his daughter. In a wretched state, he found her living as an ascetic alone.
Confronting her, Helladios demanded Elesa to abandon her practices and return with him to the mainland. Elesa declared herself a Christian and refused to go back home because he was a pagan. Helladios became angry, and in his rage he tortured and murdered Elesa. Divine intervention, though, resurrected her back to life. Again, she attempted to flee from her father when divine intervention temporarily ceased Helladios’ attacks by cracking the earth in half. Despite another miraculous intervention, he eventually caught Elesa, struck her head with a stone knocking out her teeth, and beheaded her. Afterwards, Helladios left Greece with her servants. Unknown to Helladios, an unnamed maidservant witnessed all of these events from a hidden spot. The girl stayed behind and wept for forty days and nights after burying Elesa’s body on the mountaintop where she was martyred in 375.
The servant departed from the island and spread the word of her mistress’ martyrdom. Visitors then traveled to the island and visited Elesa’s resting place, where a church and monastery were erected. That church and monastery still stand today in her honor and her grave is still venerated.
The original ancient church was built over the grave of Saint Elesa, with the Holy Altar directly above her grave, and this church survived until 1867. This church later became the central church, or Katholikon, of the Monastery of Saint Elesa. The Katholikon of the Monastery of Saint Elesa was rebuilt in 1871 over the ruins of the ancient church. In the 1940’s and 1950’s the Monastery was updated to serve the needs of modern pilgrims, which included a road on which the first car was able to reach the Monastery in 1951.
Saint Elesa is not designated in the official lists of saints of the Church (synaxaria), but is a locally venerated Saint on the island of Kythera and is celebrated on August 1st, with a repeat celebration on August 15th. Saint Elesa together with Saint Theodore of Kythera are the patron saints of the island.
Apolytikion in the Third Tone
Holy offspring, of Peloponnesos, inspired honor, of the island of Kythera, you were shone to be, Elesa all-praised, having lawfully contested for Christ, and at the hands of your father your head was cut off, glorious Martyr, entreat Christ God to grant us great mercy.