Though steeped in legend, the witness of St. Thecla, one of many saintly virgins of the early Church, has exerted a powerful influence in Christian history. Her story is preserved in The Acts of Paul and Thecla, a second-century text that found a warm reception from many Church Fathers, including Augustine and Ambrose.
According to her Acts, Thecla was a beautiful young woman whose life was transformed when she heard St. Paul preaching in the street beneath her window and found herself “subdued by the doctrines of faith.” Under this influence, she announced her intention to break off her engagement and to embrace a life of chastity. Her family, scandalized by this behavior, denounced her to the governor and caused her arrest. Sentenced to death, she twice found miraculous deliverance from her fate and went on to enjoy a long life.
Seeking out St. Paul, she revealed that she had baptized herself and been commissioned by Christ to baptize and preach in his name. According to the story, Paul recognized her as a fellow apostle and authorized her to spread the Gospel. Wherever she went, “a bright cloud conducted her in her journey.”
Eventually, Thecla retired to a cave and later formed a monastic community of women, whose members she instructed “in the oracles of God.” Her feast is celebrated on September 23.
“I am a servant of the living God. . . . He is a refuge to those who are in distress, a support of the afflicted, a hope and defense to those who are hopeless.”