A priest once told me that there was a blue-eyed white girl with brownish hair who came to partake of Holy Communion and clearly stated in front of the Chalice that her name was Cleopatra. Even people who go to church may know only one woman named Cleopatra, that is, the Egyptian queen, and there are few of those who know a saint of the same name.
On November 1, the Church commemorates Blessed Cleopatra and her son John.
We read in the life of Saint Cleopatra that she was a daughter of a rich and pious Palestinian man. She was married to a military commander. When her husband was on duty in Egypt, he died, and the sole comfort of the widow was her son John. It was the time of persecution initiated by Emperor Maximian, in the course of which the martyrdom of Saint Varus occurred. It was Cleopatra who found the corpse of the martyr out of town and had it carried to her house. She buried the saint’s body in a cave near her bedroom (according to some versions, Saint Cleopatra dug out the grave right under her bed). The pious widow became the first person to venerate Martyr Varus as a saint. She prayed to the martyr every day, lit candles in his honor, censed his relics with frankincense, and asked him for help and intercession before the Creator of heaven.
When the persecution was over, during the reign of Constantine, Cleopatra had the chance to go back to her homeland. She took the relics of the martyr under the guise of her husband’s remains. She placed them in her family tomb located in her native village Edra, not far from Mt. Tabor. Little by little, other Christians joined her in veneration of the holy martyr. The news about the saint spread around all neighboring villages, so when Cleopatra saw more and more people join her in the veneration of Martyr Varus, she decided to build a church in his honor. The construction progressed fairly quickly – possibly because the woman had made a vow that her son John, who had turned 17 by that time, would not accept a prestigious rank in the imperial troops, which he had been granted, until the end of the construction.
When the church was erected, the relics were translated there with great honors and put in a special place. Cleopatra arranged a great feast. While the celebration followed its course, the woman was praying by the saint’s relics, “I pray thee, O holy martyr of Christ, ask God for what shall be pleasing unto him and useful for me as well as my only son; I have nothing else to ask you for except the things that the Lord Himself wants; He knows what shall benefit us. May his good and perfect will be done in our lives!”
Upon uttering these words, Cleopatra returned to the guests. When the dinner was over, she was terrified to learn that her son fell ill and was tossing in his bed due to high fever. He died on that night. The mourning widow addressed a reproachful speech at Saint Varus, “That was how you, O God’s holy man, paid me for my efforts? That’s the help that you rendered to me after I neglected my own husband because of you and laid all my hope on you? You let my only son die. You betrayed my hope and separated me with the light of my eyes. Bring my son back, like Elisha brought back the son of the Shunammite woman, or else take me from here immediately because I’m too tired to live in this bitter sadness.”
Having wept for a long time, Cleopatra fell asleep right there in the saint’s tomb. She saw a dream, in which Martyr Varus was holding hands with her son John. Both men wore shiny and excellent clothes and astonishingly beautiful crowns. The woman was so shocked that she knelt in front of the saint who replied to her, “Why are you complaining of me? Do you think I have forgotten what you did for me in Egypt and during the journey to Palestine? Do you think I felt nothing when you picked my dead body out of the pile of animals’ corpses and took it to your bedroom? Don’t I listen to your prayers at all times? Don’t I pray to God for you? First of all, I made sure that all your dead relatives who are here with me are granted full absolution of their sins from God. Then I took your son to the service of the Heavenly King. Didn’t you pray to me so that I would ask God to grant you and your son only what is pleasing unto God and beneficial for both you and your son? You can take him now and send him to serve the earthly king, if you wish.” Having heard that, John began begging Varus to ignore Cleopatra’s pleas and not to send him back into the world. Then the young man urged his mother not to be sorrowful but instead be happy for her son who is able to serve in the ranks of the Angels. The woman asked Varus to take her with them but the saint refused, “Although you stay on earth, you’re with us. Go in peace. We will come for your soul when the Lord orders us to do so.”
Cleopatra obeyed him and woke up, filled with ineffable joy. She gave away all her belongings and lived near the Church of Saint Varus for seven years in prayers and fasting. When she died, she was canonized by the Church. The relics of all three saints were placed in the church that she had built.
Note the boldness of Saint Cleopatra who called out Martyr Varus, certain that she would elicit his response. That’s the kind of faith we should learn to have.