St Natalia of Nicomedia

(modern day Izmit, in Turkey) (entered heaven this day in 311)

Dear Nate,

Remember, you can find only two kinds of people in the world: those in whom wisdom prevails, and those in whom wimpiness prevails.  (You can’t really say that the world is full of two kinds of people, the wise and the wimps – that would require ignoring the obvious reality that each person has both tendencies; you have to say that in some people one prevails, and in others, the other.)  Right now, in my humble, avuncular opinion, you are leaning dangerously to the wimp side. Faced with opposition from those you thought would support you, bending under the heavy load of studies and work and extracurriculars, and feeling financial pressures, your wisdom is under severe attack.  Your wimpiness wants to retreat, to concede defeat on one or two fronts. That would be so much more comfortable. Well, let’s see now, where did “comfort” fit into the Gospel? Was it the ninth beatitude: “Blessed are those who seek comfort, for they will find bean-bag chairs and Jacuzzis?” Hardly.  Take a lesson in wisdom from today’s saint, and her martyr husband.

We don’t know much about Natalia, but we know enough.  She was married to a high-ranking imperial official, back when the capital of the Roman Empire had been relocated from Rome to Nicomedia by the dreaded Emperor Diocletian (dreaded by Christians, anyway).  Adrian was his name. Natalia was a Christian, but Adrian wasn’t. Being on the inside of the imperial court, Adrian had front-row seats for the many trials and executions of Christians that occurred under Diocletian’s rule (his was the last, and some say worst, wave of state persecution against the Christians, designed to wipe out the Jesus-freaks once and for all, cleansing the Empire of their monotheistic prattle – so the Emperor saw it, anyway).  He saw how the Christians reacted under stress: serious, life-threatening stress. He saw them intimidated, baited, mocked, tortured, threatened and bullied by lifelong experts in all those fields of action. And he saw them respond with humility, nobility, and a strength of will and self-dominion unparalleled in his experience. Of course, he had been previously sensitized to the merits of Christianity by the virtuous testimony of his wife. The continual display of heroic fortitude and fidelity finally conquered him completely, and he stepped out of the sidelines and into the fray, openly declaring himself to be a Christian, even though he had yet to be baptized.  They arrested him without delay.

Natalia was overjoyed by his profession of faith but devastated by the prospects of his execution.  While he was in prison she visited him daily and arranged for his formal instruction in the faith. She spent the rest of her time ministering to the other prisoners.  In accordance with the common practice, when Adrian was condemned to die as a traitor to the Roman gods, he was no longer allowed to receive visitors. Natalia’s love, however, would brook no opposition.  She disguised herself as a boy and bribed the guards to let her see her husband. Thus, she accompanied him during his last days. One can only imagine the glowing conversations that filled their surreptitious rendezvous.  Finally, he was taken to be executed. He was tortured and killed as Natalia watched. When he was laid on the funeral pyre to be incinerated, she had to be restrained from joining him – her love drew her so. Before the conflagration finished it was extinguished by a rain shower, and Natalia found one of her husband’s hands still intact.  She kept it as a relic (which explains her always being depicted in art lovingly holding on to a severed hand), moved away from Nicomedia, and spent the rest of her days serving the Christian community as a widow.

A dramatic love story, no doubt, but I hope you see the point.  Adrian found his way to Christ by witnessing how Christians reacted to adverse circumstances.  He saw that their wisdom (the root of fidelity, fortitude, and true nobility) overshadowed their wimpiness time and time again.  May your fellow students be able to say the same for you.

Your loving uncle, Eddy

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