St. Cassiane, A Saint to Emulate

Part of the Orthodox tradition is that when one is chrismated (in our culture better understood as confirmation) he/she chooses a saint that he/she would like to emulate in many ways. This process can be hard and takes some searching. I think that I have finally come to a decision on mine. She was an amazing woman! St. Cassiane: her story is below.

Saint Cassiane
Commemorated September 7


The Iconoclast controversy, which vexed the Church for over a hundred years, coincided with one of the most productive periods in church hymnography. Among those who made significant contributions in this field, the names of St. Andrew of Crete (+740), Saint John Damascene (+754), and Saint Theodore the Studite (+826) are well known. Less familiar are the women hymnographers of this period-the nuns Thecla, Cassiane and Theodosia-who demonstrated considerable talent in this same field. Of these, Cassiane won lasting distinction as the only woman whose works have entered into the liturgical tradition of the Church.

Cassiane was born in Constantinople some time before 805. Her father’s aristocratic status gave Cassiane the privilege of a good education. She was tutored in both secular and sacred studies, and showed such exceptional aptitude for learning as to draw the attention of the great abbot of the Studion Monastery, Saint Theodore. He remarked likewise on her pious character, and indeed, from an early age she desired to become a nun. She was at the same time a spirited young woman of strong convictions and did not hesitate to express her opinions.

Cassiane was also gifted with physical beauty. When the heir-apparent, Theophilus, was in search of a bride, he narrowed the choice to six lovely maidens. Cassiane was one of them. When they gathered for the final decision to be made, Theophilus, who had heard of Cassiane’s intelligence, approached her with the statement, “From woman came corruption” (referring to the fall of Eve), to which the quick-witted Cassiane responded, respectfully but surely, “But also from woman sprang forth what is superior” (i.e., God’s incarnation from the Holy Virgin). Unnerved, Theophilus passed over Cassiane and offered the golden apple, the sign of his choice, to the more demure, and silent, Theodora.

It would have been a difficult match. Theophilus was an iconoclast and harshly enforced the imperial edict-renewed after the death of Empress Irene -forbidding the veneration of sacred images. Theodora, an iconodule, did not approve of her husband’s policy, but she concealed her veneration of icons and kept quiet. Cassiane, by contrast, openly professed herself in favor of the holy icons. She not only spoke her mind, but she acted on her convictions, visiting iconodule monks in prison and sending them gifts. For her defiance of the imperial edict, she suffered persecution and was beaten with a lash.

Far from being disappointed at Theophilos’ rejection, Cassiane was now free to unite herself to the bridegroom of her own choosing-the King of kings, Jesus Christ. She was tonsured a nun about the year 820, and founded a convent on one of Constantinople’s seven hills, where she led “an ascetic and philosophical life” pleasing to God. An energetic abbess, she not only regulated the life of the convent, but she also found time to pursue her scholarly literary interests. She combined the talents of poet, theologian and musician, writing hymns and composing musical settings for them. Originally sung by her nuns, many of her compositions proved to have enduring value; twenty-three of her works were later incorporated into the liturgical books of the Church.

One of Cassiane’s most brilliant creations is her hymn, sung in the Matins service for Holy Wednesday, on the subject of the sinning woman. Based on the story from St. Luke’s Gospel (7:36-50), this hymn blends dramatic and narrative elements to create a masterpiece of hymnography which manages, in a few short lines, to present the essential Christian drama of sin and salvation.

The most familiar of Cassiane’s works are undoubtedly the irmoi in the Matins canon for Holy Saturday, which is repeated at the Midnight Office for Holy Pascha: “Weep not for me, O Mother, beholding in the tomb the Son Whom thou hast conceived without seed in thy womb, for I shall arise. . .” With these stanzas, Cassiane achieves a taut sense of anticipation, providing a marvelous momentum into the climatic celebration of Our Lord’s Resurrection.

Cassiane had a forceful personality: “I hate the fool who acts the philosopher,” she wrote. “I hate silence when it is time to speak.” And this, combined with her many talents and keen intellect makes her an appealing model for today’s woman. But it is the fact that she lived only for God, to the end of her life, that made her a saint.

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2 Responses

  1. I’ve never heard her story before, how interesting.

  2. I enjoyed reading your blog entry. I’ll be getting Chrismated into the Orthodox church on Pascha 2011 and have selected St. Cassiane for my patron saint for many of the reasons you have. She was one feisty gal who love the Lord!

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