lundi 17 décembre 2012

Sainte OLYMPIADE (OLYMPIAS, OLYMPIE, OLYMPE), veuve et diaconnesse

Sainte Olympiade

Veuve, diaconesse à Constantinople ( v. 410)

ou Olympias.

Elle avait épousé le préfet de Constantinople, mais elle perdit son époux après vingt mois de mariage. Elle prit alors le voile de diaconesse, utilisa son immense fortune pour fonder un hôpital et un orphelinat desservis par une communauté religieuse. Fille spirituelle de saint Jean Chrysostome, elle le soutint quand il fut exilé par l'impératrice Eudoxie, qui d'ailleurs dispersa la communauté de sainte Olympiade. Elle supporta ces harcèlements et ces persécutions avec patience. Nous avons dix-sept lettres de saint Jean Chrysostome qui, durant son exil, lui écrivait pour la soutenir. Il ne se plaint pas de son état, il ne la plaint pas non plus. Il la félicite d'être patiente et d'aimer ses persécuteurs: "Tu as fortifié et entraîné par ton exemple ceux qui t'entouraient."

Née à Constantinople, elle connut saint Grégoire le théologien et saint Grégoire de Nysse. Après la mort de son époux, préfet de Constantinople, elle refusa un second mariage et consacra son immense fortune à édifier des hôpitaux pour les malades, des hôtelleries pour les pauvres et des monastères pour les religieuses. Elle-même vivait très pauvrement. Ordonnée diaconesse, elle fut la conseillère du patriarche saint Nectaire puis de saint Jean Chrysostome qu'elle défendit au moment de son exil. Ce qui lui valut de lourdes amendes et, comme son patriarche, l'exil qu'elle endura avec foi et patience. Nous avons plusieurs lettres que saint Jean Chrysostome lui adressa à cette époque. Elle mourut en exil, à Nicomédie.

À Nicomédie de Bithynie, le trépas de sainte Olympiade, veuve. Encore jeune quand elle perdit son mari, elle passa le reste de sa vie à Constantinople parmi les femmes consacrées à Dieu, venant en aide aux pauvres et entièrement fidèle à saint Jean Chrysostome, jusque dans son exil.
Martyrologe romain

SOURCE : http://nominis.cef.fr/contenus/saint/274/Sainte-Olympiade.html

Sainte Olympiade

Veuve

(+ v. 419)

Sainte Olympiade ou Olympie, la gloire des veuves de l'Église d'Orient, naquit à Constantinople, de parents très illustres, dont la mort prématurée la laissa de bonne heure à la tête d'une fortune considérable. Élevée au milieu des plus saints exemples, elle était, à dix-huit ans, le modèle des vertus chrétiennes. C'est à cette époque qu'elle fut mariée à Nébridius, jeune homme digne d'une telle épouse. Il se promirent l'un à l'autre une continence parfaite; mais après vingt mois seulement de cette union angélique, Nébridius alla recevoir au Ciel la récompense de ses vertus. A l'empereur, qui voulait l'engager dans un nouveau mariage: "Si Dieu, dit-elle, m'eût destinée à vivre dans le mariage, il ne m'aurait pas enlevé mon premier époux. L'événement qui a brisé mes liens me montre la voie que la Providence m'a tracée."

Depuis la mort de son époux, Olympiade avait rendu sa vie plus austère. Ses jeûnes devinrent rigoureux et continuels; elle se fit une loi de ne jamais manger de viande. Elle s'interdit également le bain, qui était dans les moeurs du pays; elle affranchit tous ses esclaves, qui voulurent continuer néanmoins à la servir; elle administrait sa fortune en qualité d'économe des pauvres; les villes les plus lointaines, les îles, les déserts, les églises pauvres, ressentaient tour à tour les effets de sa libéralité.

Olympiade méritait assurément d'être mise au nombre des diaconesses de Constantinople. Les diaconesses étaient appelées à aider les prêtres dans l'administration des sacrements et les oeuvres de charité; elles étaient chargées d'instruire les catéchumènes de leur sexe et de préparer le linge qui servait à l'autel; en prenant le voile, elles faisaient voeu de chasteté perpétuelle. Il y avait déjà seize ans qu'Olympiade remplissait ces fonctions, quand saint Jean Chrysostome fut élevé sur le siège de Constantinople.

La sainte veuve n'avait pas manqué d'épreuves jusqu'à ce moment; des maladies cruelles, de noires calomnies, lui avaient fait verser des larmes continuelles. Sous le nouveau patriarche elle allait faire un pas de plus dans le sacrifice et dans la sainteté. Saint Jean Chrysostome sut utiliser pour le bien les qualités et la fortune de l'illustre diaconesse. C'est par elle qu'il éleva un hôpital pour les malades et un hospice pour les vieillards et les orphelins. Quand le patriarche partit pour l'exil où il devait mourir, Olympiade reçut une de ses dernières bénédictions. Elle fut entretenue dans ses oeuvres par les lettres du pontife, et acheva en exil une vie toute de charité, de patience et de prière.

Abbé L. Jaud, Vie des Saints pour tous les jours de l'année, Tours, Mame, 1950



December 17

St. Olympias, Widow

From St. Chrysostom’s seventeen letters to her. Palladius in his life. Another Palladius in Lausiac, c. 43. Sozom. l. 8, c. 2. Leo Imp. in Encomio S. Joan. Chrysostomi. See Tillemont, t. 11, p. 416.

About the Year 410

ST. OLYMPIAS, the glory of the widows in the Eastern church, was a lady of illustrious descent and a plentiful fortune. She was born about the year 368, and left an orphan under the care of Procopius, who seems to have been her uncle; but it was her greatest happiness that she was brought up under the care of Theodosia, sister to St. Amphilochius, a most virtuous and prudent woman, whom St. Gregory Nazianzen called a perfect pattern of piety, in whose life the tender virgin saw as in a glass the practice of all virtues, and it was her study faithfully to transcribe them into the copy of her own life. From this example which was placed before her eyes, she raised herself more easily to contemplate and to endeavour to imitate Christ, who in all virtues is the divine original which every Christian is bound to act after. Olympias, besides her birth and fortune, was, moreover, possessed of all the qualifications of mind and body which engage affection and respect. She was very young when she married Nebridius, treasurer of the Emperor Theodosius the Great, and for some time prefect of Constantinople; but he died within twenty days after his marriage. Our saint was addressed by several of the most considerable men of the court, and Theodosius was very pressing with her to accept for her husband Elpidius, a Spaniard, and his near relation. She modestly declared her resolution of remaining single the rest of her days. The emperor continued to urge the affair, and after several decisive answers of the holy widow, put her whole fortune in the hands of the prefect of Constantinople, with orders to act as her guardian till she was thirty years old. At the instigation of the disappointed lover, the prefect hindered her from seeing the bishops or going to church, hoping thus to tire her into a compliance. She told the emperor that she was obliged to own his goodness in easing her of the heavy burden of managing and disposing of her own money; and that the favour would be complete if he would order her whole fortune to be divided between the poor and the church. Theodosius, struck with her heroic virtue, made a further inquiry into her manner of living, and conceiving an exalted idea of her piety, restored to her the administration of her estate in 391. The use which she made of it, was to consecrate the revenues to the purposes which religion and virtue prescribe. By her state of widowhood, according to the admonition of the apostle, she looked upon herself as exempted even from what the support of her rank seemed to require in the world, and she rejoiced that the slavery of vanity and luxury was by her condition condemned even in the eyes of the world itself. With great fervour she embraced a life of penance and prayer. Her tender body she macerated with austere fasts, and never ate flesh or anything that had life: by habit, long watchings became as natural to her as much sleep is to others; and she seldom allowed herself the use of a bath, which is thought a necessary refreshment in hot countries, and was particularly so before the ordinary use of linen. By meekness and humility she seemed perfectly crucified to her own will, and to all sentiments of vanity, which had no place in her heart, nor share in any of her actions. The modesty, simplicity, and sincerity from which she never departed in her conduct, were a clear demonstration what was the sole object of her affections and desires. Her dress was mean, her furniture poor, her prayers assiduous and fervent, and her charities without bounds. These St. Chrysostom compares to a river which is open to all, and diffuses its waters to the bounds of the earth, and into the ocean itself. The most distant towns, isles, and deserts received plentiful supplies by her liberality, and she settled whole estates upon remote destitute churches. Her riches indeed were almost immense, and her mortified life afforded her an opportunity of consecrating them all to God: yet St. Chrysostom found it necessary to exhort her sometimes to moderate her alms, or rather to be more cautious and reserved in bestowing them, that she might be enabled to succour those whose distresses deserved a preference.

The devil assailed her by many trials, which God permitted for the exercise and perfecting of her virtue. The contradictions of the world served only to increase her meekness, humility, and patience, and with her merits to multiply her crowns. Frequent severe sicknesses, most outrageous slanders and unjust persecutions succeeded one another. St. Chrysostom, in one of his letters, writes to her as follows. 1 “As you are well acquainted with the advantages and merits of sufferings, you have reason to rejoice, inasmuch as by having lived constantly in tribulation you have walked in the road of crowns and laurels. All manner of corporal distempers have been your portion, often more cruel and harder to be endured than ten thousand deaths; nor have you ever been free from sickness. You have been perpetually overwhelmed with slanders, insults, and injuries. Never have you been free from some new tribulation; torrents of tears have always been familiar to you. Among all these one single affliction is enough to fill your soul with spiritual riches.” Her virtue was the admiration of the whole church, as appears by the manner in which almost all the saints and great prelates of that age mention her. St. Amphilochius, St. Epiphanius, St. Peter of Sebaste, and others were fond of her acquaintance, and maintained a correspondence with her, which always tended to promote God’s glory, and the good of souls. Nectarius, archbishop of Constantinople, had the greatest esteem for her sanctity, and created her deaconess to serve that church in certain remote functions of the ministry, of which that sex is capable, as in preparing linen for the altars, and the like. A vow of perpetual chastity was always annexed to this state. St. Chrysostom, who was placed in that see in 398, had not less respect for the sanctity of Olympias than his predecessor, and as his extraordinary piety, experience, and skill in sacred learning, made him an incomparable guide and model of a spiritual life, he was so much the more honoured by her; but he refused to charge himself with the distribution of her alms as Nectarius had done. She was one of the last persons whom St. Chrysostom took leave of when he went into banishment on the 20th of June in 404. She was then in the great church, which seemed the place of her usual residence; and it was necessary to tear her from his feet by violence. After his departure she had a great share in the persecution in which all his friends were involved. She was convened before Optatus, the prefect of the city, who was a heathen. She justified herself as to the calumnies which were shamelessly alleged in court against her; but she assured the governor that nothing should engage her to hold communion with Arsacius, a schismatical usurper of another’s see. She was dismissed for that time, and was visited with a grievous fit of sickness, which afflicted her the whole winter. In spring she was obliged by Arsacius and the court to leave the city, and wandered from place to place. About midsummer in 405 she was brought back to Constantinople, and again presented before Optatus, who, without any further trial, sentenced her to pay a heavy fine because she refused to communicate with Arsacius. Her goods were sold by a public auction; she was often dragged before public tribunals; her clothes were torn by the soldiers, her farms rifled by many amongst the dregs of the people, and she was insulted by her own servants, and those who had received from her hands the greatest favours. Atticus, successor of Arsacius, dispersed and banished the whole community of nuns which she governed; for it seems, by what Palladius writes, that she was abbess, or at least directress, of the monastery which she had founded near the great church, which subsisted till the fall of the Grecian empire. St. Chrysostom frequently encouraged and comforted her by letters; but he sometimes blamed her grief. This indeed seemed in some degree excusable, as she regretted the loss of the spiritual consolation and instruction she had formerly received from him, and deplored the dreadful evils which his unjust banishment brought upon the church. Neither did she sink into despondency, fail in the perfect resignation of her will, or lose her confidence in God under her affliction, remembering that God is ready to supply every help to those who sincerely seek him, and that he abandoned not St. Paul’s tender converts when he suffered their master to be taken from them. St. Chrysostom bid her particularly to rejoice under her sicknesses, which she ought to place among her most precious crowns, in imitation of Job and Lazarus. In his distress she furnished him with plentiful supplies, wherewith he ransomed many captives, and relieved the poor in the wild and desert countries into which he was banished. She also sent him drugs for his own use when he laboured under a bad state of health. Her lingering martyrdom was prolonged beyond that of St. Chrysostom; for she was living in 408, when Palladius wrote his Dialogue on the Life of St. Chrysostom. The other Palladius, in the Lausiac history which he compiled in 420, tells us, that she died under her sufferings, and, deserving to receive the recompence due to holy confessors, enjoyed the glory of heaven among the saints. The Greeks honour her memory on the 25th of July; but the Roman Martyrology on the 17th of December.

The saints all studied to husband every moment to the best advantage, knowing that life is very short, that night is coming on apace, in which no one will be able to work, and that all our moments here are so many precious seeds of eternity. If we applied ourselves with the saints to the uninterrupted exercise of good works, we should find that short as life is, it affords sufficient time for extirpating our evil inclinations, learning to put on the spirit of Christ, working our souls into a heavenly temper, adorning them with all virtues, and laying in a provision for eternity. But through our unthinking indolence, the precious time of life is reduced almost to nothing, because the greatest part of it is absolutely thrown away. So numerous is the tribe of idlers, and the class of occupations which deserve no other denomination than that of idleness, that a bare list would fill a volume. The complaint of Seneca, how much soever it degrades men beneath the dignity of reason, and much more of religion, agrees no less to the greater part of Christians, than to the idolaters, that “Almost their whole lives are spent in doing nothing, and the whole in doing nothing to the purpose.” 2 Let no moments be spent merely to pass time; diversions and corporal exercise ought to be used with moderation, only as much as may seem requisite for bodily health and the vigour of the mind. Every one is bound to apply himself to some serious employment. This and his necessary recreations must be referred to God, and sanctified by a holy intention, and other circumstances which virtue prescribes; and in all our actions humility, patience, various acts of secret prayer, and other virtues ought, according to the occasions, be exercised. Thus will our lives be a continued series of good works, and an uninterrupted holocaust of divine praise and love. That any parts of this sacrifice should be defective, ought to be the subject of our daily compunction and tears.

Note 1. St. Chrys. ep. 3. [back]

Note 2. Seneca, ep. [back]

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73).  Volume XII: December. The Lives of the Saints.  1866.


Sant' Olimpia Vedova


Nacque verso il 361 da un'agiata famiglia di Costantinopoli. Divenuta orfana in giovane età, fu affidata per l'educazione a Teodosia, sorella del vescovo di Iconio, sant'Anfilochio. Fin da giovanissima, così, Olimpia fu istruita sulla Sacra Scrittura. Imitando santa Melania, si dedicò alla mortificazione, e pur potendo aspirare ad una brillante posizione nella corte imperiale, se ne allontanò. Nel 384-85 si sposò ma dopo solo venti mesi il marito morì; l'imperatore Teodosio il Grande voleva risposarla con un suo cugino, ma Olimpia rifiutò. Teodosio allora per vincere le sue resistenze le sequestrò tutti i suoi beni, che le vennero restituiti nel 391. Fu così che Olimpia ne approfittò per fondare alcune opere caritative. Il vescovo Nettario (381-397) contrariamente all'usanza, la nominò diaconessa, dignità che allora si dava alle vedove di 60 anni. Olimpia fondò in città un monastero le cui religiose appartenevano alle migliori famiglie della città. Al suo arrivo in città come arcivescovo, Giovanni Crisostomo trovò in Olimpia una valida collaboratrice. Ma fu anch'essa vittima della persecuzione contro i "giovanniti" (seguaci di san Giovanni Crisostomo). Fu infatti esiliata a Nicomedia. Morì verso il 408. (Avvenire)

Etimologia: Olimpia = che abita nell'Olimpo, sede degli dèi


Di questa santa dell’agiografia greca, non ci sono dubbi sulla sua ‘Vita’ perché ci sono pervenuti vari importanti documenti storici e contemporanei che la citano o descrivono; inoltre vi sono ben 17 lettere che le inviò, dal suo esilio, s. Giovanni Crisostomo. 

Olimpia nacque verso il 361 da una agiata e distinta famiglia di Costantinopoli, suo nonno Ablabios godeva della stima dell’imperatore Costantino ed era stato prefetto di Oriente quattro volte, suo padre era conte di palazzo. 

Divenuta orfana in giovane età, fu posta sotto la tutela di Procopio prefetto della capitale, il quale l’affidò per la sua educazione a Teodosia, donna di grande cultura e sentimenti cristiani, sorella del vescovo di Iconio s. Anfilochio; di lei avevano grande stima sia s. Basilio che s. Gregorio di Nazianzo, Dottori della Chiesa; s. Gregorio di Nissa le dedicò il suo commento al ‘Cantico dei Cantici’. 

Fin da giovanissima, Olimpia ebbe lezioni sulla Sacra Scrittura, considerata da altre dame della società, come s. Melania l’Anziana, la via per giungere alla perfezione cristiana; e imitando s. Melania, si dedicò alla mortificazione, ella pur potendo aspirare ad una brillante posizione nella corte essendo ricca, istruita e nobile, invece se ne allontanò. 

Nel 384-85, sposò Nebridio che fu prefetto di Costantinopoli nel 386, ma la sua felicità durò poco, dopo solo venti mesi il marito morì; l’imperatore Teodosio il Grande voleva risposarla con un suo cugino, ma Olimpia rifiutò dicendo: “Se il mio re avesse voluto che io vivessi con un uomo, non mi avrebbe tolto il mio primo”. 

Teodosio considerò ciò un capriccio e per vincere le sue resistenze, le sequestrò tutti i suoi beni, finché non avesse compiuti 30 anni; il prefetto della città aggiunse il divieto di intrattenersi con i vescovi più illustri e perfino di andare in chiesa. 

Ma nel 391, Teodosio visto la sua virtù e la costanza nella prova di Olimpia, che conduceva una vita di penitente povera, le restituì i suoi beni. Lei ne approfittò per fondare a Costantinopoli alcune opere caritative, fra cui un grande ospizio per ricevere gli ecclesiastici di passaggio e i viaggiatori poveri. 

Avendo una grande ricchezza e proprietà, sia in città che nelle altre regioni, altrettanto grande fu la sua generosità, donò a s. Giovanni Crisostomo 10.000 denari d’oro e 20.000 d’argento per la sua chiesa di S. Sofia; il vescovo Nettario (381-397) contrariamente all’usanza, la nominò diaconessa, dignità che allora si dava alle vedove di 60 anni, mentre Olimpia ne aveva solo 30 e a lei ricorreva per consigli densi della sua scienza e saggezza. 

Fondò sotto il portico meridionale di S. Sofia, un monastero le cui religiose appartenevano alle migliori famiglie della città, fra cui tre sue sorelle Elisanzia, Martiria e Palladia, in più una sua nipote chiamata anch’essa Olimpia; iniziò con circa 50 suore che in breve tempo divennero 250. 

Agli inizi del 398, giunse in città s. Giovanni Crisostomo che pur non volendo, era stato nominato arcivescovo di Costantinopoli, trovando un fervore cristiano affievolito sia nei fedeli che nel clero e monaci, fino alla corte divenuta oltremodo mondana con la presenza di Eudossia moglie dell’imperatore d’Oriente Arcadio. 

Ma si consolò vedendo il monastero di Olimpia, formato da anime ben disposte e adatte a servire da modello. Tra l’arcivescovo e Olimpia si instaurò una salda amicizia, le tre sorelle furono ordinate diaconesse e affiancarono in questo compito Olimpia. 

Si sforzava di aiutarlo in tutto, dal cibo al suo vestire, divenne in certo modo la collaboratrice nell’opera di rinnovamento spirituale da lui iniziata. Tutto questo attirò anche su di lei il rancore di coloro che intendevano intralciare l’opera riformatrice del vescovo. 

Due dei vescovi dissidenti, ottennero da Arcadio un decreto d’esilio contro s. Giovanni Crisostomo, il quale fra il tumulto dei fedeli e delle suore, dovette lasciare S. Sofia e venne condotto dai soldati a Cucusa fra i monti dell’Armenia, dove giunse affranto dal viaggio due mesi dopo, alla fine di agosto del 404. 

Nello stesso giorno della partenza, il 30 giugno 404, un incendio distrusse l’episcopio e gran parte della chiesa e del senato. Furono accusati i fedeli del vescovo e la stessa Olimpia fu portata davanti al prefetto della città Optato, accusata dell’incendio, si difese dicendo che avendo dato spese considerevoli per costruire chiese, non aveva nessuna necessità di bruciarle. 

Optato le offrì di lasciare in pace lei e le sue suore, se avessero riconosciuto il nuovo vescovo Arsace e Olimpia rifiutò; fu condannata a pagare una grossa somma come multa e dopodiché nello stesso anno 405 si ritirò volontariamente a Cizico. 

Giacché proseguiva la persecuzione contro i “giovanniti” (seguaci di s. Giovanni Crisostomo) Olimpia fu nuovamente processata dal prefetto e esiliata a Nicomedia. In quegli anni mantenne una corrispondenza (che le era permesso) con il vescovo esiliato in Armenia, interessandosi della sua salute, inviandogli del denaro che veniva speso per i poveri della regione e per il riscatto di persone cadute nelle mani dei briganti isauriani. 

Giovanni tramite questi scritti, descrive i particolari del penosissimo viaggio per giungere lì. La esorta a bandire la tristezza e a far nascere la gioia spirituale che distacca dalle cose del mondo ed eleva l’anima, raccomandandole di sostenere i suoi amici, che subivano la persecuzione per causa sua. 

Olimpia morì verso il 408 in un data non documentata, secondo lo scrittore Palladio, “gli abitanti di Costantinopoli la pongono fra i confessori della fede, perché ella è morta ed è ritornata al Signore fra le battaglie sostenute per Dio”, anticamente i confessori erano i martiri. 

Il suo monastero ebbe alterne vicende, le suore coinvolte nella disgrazia dell’arcivescovo, si dispersero nel 404, quando fu mandato in esilio; si riunirono solo nel 416, quando i “giovanniti” si riappacificarono con i successori del Crisostomo; sotto la guida di Onorina, parente di Olimpia; il monastero fu poi distrutto dall’incendio di S. Sofia nel 532, ritornarono poi quando Giustiniano lo ricostruì. 

Le reliquie di s. Olimpia, che erano state portate da Nicomedia nella chiesa di S. Tommaso sul Bosforo, andarono perse durante l’incendio della chiesa appiccato dai Persiani nelle loro incursioni (616-626). La superiora Sergia, fu fortunata nel ritrovarle fra le macerie e le fece trasportare all’interno del monastero; in seguito non si hanno più notizie di esse. 

S. Olimpia è festeggiata nella Chiesa Orientale il 24-25-29 luglio, il ‘Martirologio Romano’ al 17 dicembre.


Autore: Antonio Borrelli