Holy Saint Thekla, intercede for your people!
At the monastery of St Thekla in Maaloula they gave us each an icon and a little book of Thekla’s life, but it’s difficult to read because the translator’s English isn’t very good. Apparently when Thekla was 18 and quite beautiful, so that her parents wanted her to marry, she, sitting in the window of her house in Iconia, heard St Paul preaching as he had done in Athens (Acts 17), on the statue in the temple to an unknown god (except in Iconia there was instead a space with a curtain in front of it). Thekla listened to this speech with great attention, even forgetting to eat or drink, so her mother noticed and had her father tell her not to listen to Paul, but to continue in the religion of her ancestors. But Thekla answered: “Father, our religion is an extinct one and has no true foundation; for we make these statues with out won hands, and we smash them when we wish to. But Paul’s God is the true, great God, the creator of the universe and everything in it — we are His children. We ask Him and He favors us with His blessings; He bestows on us His resources and treasures; but these statues are made of immovable stones and are without either soul or spirit — they do not hear, look, or move.”
Thekla’s mother was very angry with her reply, and asked that her daughter be burned to death in front of the people of the city. The governor ordered Paul be expelled from Iconia, and ordered that Thekla be executed as her mother said. The people gathered and boys brought wood and lit a fire. “The girl marched forward to it as a tame sheep who seeks for the shepherd, made the sign of the Cross over the fire, and stepped forward yelling loudly with a submissive voice: ‘Oh, ye God of Paul, accept the soul of your servant who is doing her best to unite with you!’” At that time dark storm clouds with lightening and thunder appeared in the sky and cold rain put out the fire; the people of Iconia were afraid and ran back to their houses. Apparently St Paul hadn’t obeyed the governor’s order to leave, because Thekla went to the house of a neighbor, Oniveros, where he was still teaching. This neighbor had been praying and fasting for Thekla’s safety. Then St Paul left for Antioch and Thekla remained in Iconia.
The governor was still angry, however, and ordered Thekla be thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. There were lions in a pit there, and Thekla was thrown in with them, but they were tame and did not harm her, because they saw in her the glory of her God. The guards, including one named Aides, came to believe in Christ on account of this. Still not satisfied, the governor (at this point it’s unclear — perhaps he is her father) also tried tying her to bulls and throwing her into a pit of venomous snakes, but the ropes were cut and the snakes fled. Finally, he was going to have her beheaded, so she fled toward Antioch. The neighboring towns had heard about her already, so one of them stopped her and had her brought before their governor, who said that he had heard that she could not be killed by fire, wild beasts, or venomous snakes, and asked her who she was. She replied that she was a servant of God, the creator of all, and Jesus Christ who was crucified and rose, and preached to them what she had heard from St Paul. That governor believed her and let her go, so she continued, preaching as she went, while St Paul preached at Damascus.
There must be some part of her story that the book left out here, because at some point she was baptized by St Paul in Latakia, in an underground pool we went to. It’s surprising that there is a pool of fresh water there, because it’s so near the sea.
EDIT: I must have been wrong about the above inference: see the comments for more info.
After some time Thekla passed some peasants who were planting wheat; she made the sign of the Cross and asked God to bless the wheat. When she left it grew very rapidly and was ready to harvest in a short time. The wicked governor and his servants came, again wishing to put Thekla to death, and asked if the peasants had seen Thekla and when. They replied that they had, when they were planting the field. The governor thought that must have been a long time ago, and so took the wrong path. Thekla, meanwhile, came to the mountain of Ma’aoula, which was very difficult to cross, and prayed that there might be a way for her to cross it. God then opened up a gap in the mountain, out of which came a stream of water, and Thekla came through to the other side: therefore it is called “the gap of St Thekla.”
Once through, she went to live in a cave on the other side, where water for her to drink mysteriously came out of the rock, and still does. She lived there for the rest of her life, and became widely known in the region because she preached, baptized in the water of the cave, and put it on ill people to cure them. In Aramaic Maaoula means “the Gap,” and in Arabic “mother of the ill,” both in honor of St Thekla. She was buried in the cave next to the water, and later people built a chapel and shrine around her sepulcher, up above the monastery built in her name.