Olympias, St.

views updated


Early Christian widow, deaconess, and devoted friend of St. john chrysostom; b. Constantinople, c. 361; d. Nicomedia, July 25, 408. Heiress to a fabulous fortune, Olympias was reared by her uncle, Procopius, an intimate friend of gregory of nazianzus. For her marriage to Nebridius, prefect of Constantinople (384), Gregory composed a poem, the earliest Christian Mirror for Women (Patrologia Graeca 37: 154150). After two unhappy years of marriage she was left a childless widow and devoted herself to God's service and a life of charity. She refused offers of remarriage and rejected a kinsman of Emperor Theodosius, who curtailed her association with ecclesiastics and impounded her property for five years. She devoted her time and wealth to charitable works and encouraged gregory of nyssa in his Scripture commentaries; and Bishop Nectarius made her a deaconess. When John Chrysostom succeeded Nectarius as patriarch in 398, she placed herself under his spiritual direction and founded a convent adjoining the cathedral. During the tragic events that led to Chrysostom's illegal deposition, she stood by him and refused to enter into communion with his unlawful successor. This led to her own persecution and exile, during which Chrysostom exhorted and consoled her in 17 letters (4047). Under justinian i her body was returned to Constantinople and buried in the convent that she had founded and that the emperor had rebuilt.

Feast: Dec. 17 (Roman martyrology); July 24, 25, and 26 (Greek Church).

Bibliography: Analecta Bollandiana 15 (1896) 400423; 16 (1897) 4451, Vita. s. le nain de tillemont, Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire ecclésiastique des six premiers siècles 11:416440, 629631. e. venables, Dictionary of Christian Biography 4:7375. h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie 12.2:206471. john chrysostom, Lettres à Olympias, ed. and tr. a. m. malingrey (Sources Chrétiennes 13; 1947, 2d ed. Paris 1968); Lettre d'exil à Olympias et à tous les fidèles, ed. and tr. a. m. malingrey (Paris 1964). c. butler, ed., The Lausiac History of Palladius, 2 v. (Cambridge, Eng. 18981904) ch. 56. e. a. clark, Jerome, Chrysostom, and Friends (2d ed. New York 1982).

[p. w. harkins]