Saints Theophanes and Pansemne

Memory celebrated 10th June

The Christian doctrine which was introduced by St. Peter to the ancient city of Antioch, Syria, where he remained for seven years, seems to have been wasted on some people. This includes a woman of the fourth century named Pansemne whose early life belied the name applied to her which translates into "All-virtuous" or "Most-revered." Even by today's standards of permissiveness, she was anything but what her name stood for; but she was to vindicate herself eventually and prove that her name had not been misapplied.

Pansemne is reported to have been a girl of considerable charm which she put to nefarious purpose in the oldest profession. Among those who sought her favor were some of the wealthiest men of the city with the result that she was able to maneuver herself into sizable holdings in spite of her lack of respectability. The best that could be said of her was that she catered to high society, but she would have been less offensive to God had she been a woman of the streets.

While thus engaged, Pansemne was unaware that a young man who had held no early promise, but had turned to Christ in repentance, was to come into her life and alter the course and purpose of her existence through true discovery of the Messiah. This young man's name was Theophanes, which means the appearance of God; and in his early years it should have been the disappearance of God. His life was anything but exemplary, but he turned to Christ in plenty of time to make amends and to achieve a spiritual attainment which wiped clean the slate of his youthful sins.

A thoroughly trained ascetic, Theophanes loved his monastic retreat but preferred to venture into the city to be of more practical as well as spiritual help. It was during one of his visits to the city that he learned of the unsavory life of Pansemne; but when he expressed a wish to bring her the hope of the Savior for sinners, he was told it would be a waste of time. Undiscouraged, he sought out the lady in question, somewhat awed by the splendor of her household but considerably less impressed by her guests.

We can assume that Pansemne's reaction to the sight of an ill-clad Theophanes, hardly her type of caller, was one of amusement. But this gave way soon enough to deep respect after hearing the learned monk speak. Unaccustomed to this type of conversation and gradually over-awed by the compelling reasoning of this better-than qualified theologian, she found herself for the first time in her life filled with mixed emotions. She chided herself for even considering her way of life to be something bordering on the criminal, but gradually the gnawing doubts about herself grew stronger; and before the ascetic was through talking, he saw before him a thoroughly repentant woman. Consumed by a sense of guilt, she expressed doubt that the Savior could forgive her, but wept openly when Theophanes said that with faith in the Savior she could become clean enough to become a bride, a testimony of which, he even offered to marry her himself.

Convinced that her desire to make amends was sincere, Theophanes asked Pansemne to dispose of her worldly goods and, that accomplished, to report to him at his monastery. In a few short days the once glamorous society belle came to the monastery where she found her benefactor in his usual tattered robes, but this time the situation was reversed. It was she who now asked what she could do to give herself over to Christ completely. After a brief explanation, she was taken to a small cloister not far from the monastery and placed in the care of the few nuns who had taken up a vigil for Christ there.

Pansemne amazed herself with this transformation, but the nuns saw nothing extraordinary in a fallen woman praying in repentance. What they considered extraordinary was the sincerity of this truly repentant woman who spent her waking hours in supplication and so bearing herself that one would have thought that she had been born and raised in a nunnery. Through all this, it became evident that she was clearly favored by the Lord and was looked upon with deepest respect. It would have been scorn but for the intercession of the ascetic. And as if by divine edict, less than two years had passed when both Pansemne and Theophanes died on the same day, June 10.

From "Orthodox Saints" Vol 2 by Fr George Poulos, Holy Cross Orthodox Press

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