When my wife and I decided to travel to Italy, I did not realize the extent to which we would encounter profound and deeply moving spiritual experiences. Certainly, much of my focus in planning the trip was on how to connect with the early Church, but what I didn’t realize was how much of an impact some of these places would have. The journey began well in advance of the trip, as I poured over several books and other sources, including soliciting recommendations of friends, to map out where I could find plausibly authentic* relics of saints, and visit sites significant to early Christian history. I am excited to share a series of posts on our Spiritual Experiences in Italy, beginning with this one about what for me may have been the most moving moment of the whole trip: seeing the incorrupt body of St. Marina the monk, an early Church saint who I grew up hearing about in the reading of the Synaxarion at Church, and who I have always greatly admired as an example for her resilience in humbly, and silently, accepting false accusations, pursuing Christ’s example as the innocent lamb silently led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7).
Although St. Marina innocently suffered in silence, God rewarded her publicly, not just in the fact that her story is known to this day, and her body is being displayed in a beautiful Church (Santa Maria Formosa in Venice, Italy) for all to honor, but by keeping her body from decay (a.k.a. “corruption”) for more than a millenia for all to witness and attest to her faithfulness to His commandments. Christ promised us, if we do good deeds secretly rather than display such deeds to receive “glory from men, … your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly” (Matthew 6:2, 4).
Her story, and God’s open reward, should give us strength when we suffer silently. I imagine the multitudes of people who I pass by in life, who suffer in secret, in silence, who feel their suffering is in vain and their burden is too heavy to bear. But God has shown us so often through His saints that suffering in pursuit of His commandments and following Christ’s example is never forgotten, but rather will forever be rewarded publicly for all to see whether in this life or the next (or both).
To fully appreciate this experience, you need to know about St. Marina’s life. I will provide a brief synopsis here, but for a more detailed summary you can find it further below. St. Marina’s father joined a monastery, and after refusing to be married St. Marina persuaded him to let her join too, disguised as a man. Years later, after returning from a visit to the city with some other monks where they lodged at an inn, the inn keeper’s daughter, seeking to find a means to remove blame for her getting pregnant by a visiting soldier, pointed to St. Marina as the reason for her pregnancy. St. Marina was scolded by the inn keeper, and disciplined by the Abbot (expelling her initially, and then at the behest of fellow monks returning her to the monastery but not without imposing strict rules and burdens). And on top of all of that, the inn keeper handed her the child one day, and so she had to care for him all his life (eventually he grew and become a monk himself). After St. Marina died, as the Abbot and monks prepared her body for burial, the truth was revealed, causing them all to deeply regret all that had happened to her; thereafter the inn keeper was informed of the truth, for which he too felt utter remorse, and his daughter as well as the soldier came to the monastery to confess their lie openly and seek forgiveness.
MORE PHOTOS / IMAGES
Astonishingly and unexpectedly, I saw what appeared to be a Coptic textile, which visually appeared reminiscent of the Coptic art that I had the privilege of seeing in the Coptic Museum in Egypt. As I looked closer, I saw that it is said to be the original veil that covered St. Marina. In Italian it reads roughly: “Veil of St. Marina of the Santa Maria Formosa church … fabric of Coptic-Egyptian origin.”
St. Marina, please pray for us before the throne of God, that we may persevere through tribulation as you did, whether we suffer fairly or unjustly, so that we may also reap the reward you received of eternal glory.
FURTHER NOTES AND COMMENTS
- *Note: I approached my search with a critical eye, trying to discern between what is likely legitimate, and those things or sites which are implausible for what they purport to be. For example, there are several churches around the world that claim to display the head of St. John the Baptist, so when we saw that relic, I was not convinced or assured of its veracity. It is historical, well documented fact that the sale of fake relics was so rampant and problematic that several times during the history of the Catholic Church we find attempts to inhibit this practice. You can read a little about that here. That is not to say that only Catholic relics should be doubted, while all relics from non-Catholic apostolic churches are to believed without any discernment; but rather, as St. Paul taught, we should “Test all things [and] hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
- For a great article detailing the historical background regarding St. Marina the Monk, and differentiating her among many other saints in the early Church named Marina, such as St. Marina of Antioch whose relics (which are also said to be incorrupt) are believed to be in St. Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Haret el-Roum, Egypt, click on this link: St. Marina the Monk article
- A friend of mine shared this video with me, of St. Marina’s body being sent to Lebanon for a visit to be venerated: Facebook Video of St. Marina’s body brought to Lebanon. How blessed are we to have gotten to see her in Venice when we visited!!
BELOW IS A MORE DETAILED SUMMARY OF THE LIFE OF ST. MARINA THE MONK
You’ll notice that St. Marina is referred to as a monk, not a nun, although the latter term is reserved for women monastics. The reason for that is St. Marina joined a monastery for men. Why, and how? Here’s the story:
Her father raised her well, and when she was of age, he sought to find her a suitable husband and then depart the world to join a monastery himself. His daughter refused, and begged that he would take her along with him. To show him how serious she was about this request, she shaved her hair, and dressed like a man. When he saw her persistent desire, he had her come along with him to the monastery, where they both lived as monks in the same cell together. After about 10 years, her father died, and St. Marina continued ever so stringently in her ascetic struggles.
Then everything changed. St. Marina was sent with some monks to the city for some purpose, and at night they lodged at an inn. There, the daughter of the inn keeper had “relations” with a soldier, leading to her becoming pregnant. The soldier persuaded her to accuse St. Marina of causing this. The girl’s father believed her, and traveled to the monastery and unleashed an angry tirade about what happened. The Abbot of the monastery calmed him down, and he finally left.
The Abbot then turned his attention to the offending monk, St. Marina, rebuking her strongly. Despite her obvious innocence, she made no excuse, and simply answered by apologizing and asking for forgiveness. Then came a slew of consequences:
- After the inn keeper’s daughter gave birth to a boy, her father went to the monastery, placed the baby in front of St. Marina, and left.
- The Abbott expelled St. Marina from the monastery, during which time she roamed among shepherds as she cared for the child that was now her responsibility.
- Later she was readmitted at the behest of some of her fellow monks, but was given stringent rules and grueling chores and responsibilities imposed on her.
- St. Marina continued to care for the child until he grew and eventually became a monk himself.
At about the age of 40, St. Marina died, and as the Abbot and monks were preparing her body for burial, they finally learned the truth, and it struck them bitterly as they, especially the Abbot, wept in remorse over the unjustified consequences imposed on her as she silently accepted it innocently, flooded their hearts with regret. The Abbot brought the inn keeper to the monastery to inform him of the truth, and later his daughter and her solider friend came to the monastery confessing their lie. It is said that many miracles occurred afterward in connection with the blessedness of this saint. She is commemorated in the Coptic Orthodox Church on the Coptic month of Misra, the 15th, which roughly corresponds to August 21 (the same date that the newly canonized St. Habib Girgis departed), and one day before the feast celebrating the assumption of St. Mary’s body into heaven.
“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed” (1 Peter 3:14).
“For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God” (1 Peter 2:19-20).