Tortured cruelly for practicing their faith, together they refused to deny Christ
But while they may have been the first to enjoy their canonization celebration together, they’re not by any stretch the first married saints. For nearly two millennia, the Church has celebrated the witness of married couples who were made holy by their vocation. Some were married for decades, but Sts Timothy and Maura show us the power of the sacrament condensed into only one month of marriage.
St. Timothy was the son of a priest in 3rd-century Egypt. Raised in the Church, he became a lector, which was a minor order (like subdeacon or acolyte) that entailed far more than simply proclaiming the readings. He spent his evenings reading to the people of his village and preaching the Gospel as well as keeping the holy Scriptures and liturgical books safe in his home during the persecutions of Diocletian. In the year 286 Timothy married a pious 17-year-old woman named Maura and the two began a life of prayer and Christian witness together.
When Timothy and Maura had been married for only 20 days, Timothy was denounced as a Christian and a keeper of the holy books. His captors, on the authority of Diocletian himself, demanded that Timothy surrender the books of Scripture to them. Timothy refused, saying, “If a father who loves his children and who obeys the natural law does not deliver up to death his fleshly children, how can I give over my spiritual children, the sacred books, into your polluted hands?” Arian, the governor, was baffled by such an answer. “You see, don’t you, the instruments prepared for torture?” Timothy was unmoved: “But don’t you see the angels of God, which are strengthening me?”
So the tortures began. Timothy had white-hot irons shoved in his ears. He was blinded and his eyelids cut off. He was hung upside down with a stone around his neck. He would not budge.
Then they learned about his sweet young wife. If they couldn’t tempt him to deny Christ for his own sake, surely they could induce him to give in for Maura’s.
Arian appealed to Maura’s hopes and dreams. After all, she’d only been married for three weeks. Didn’t she want to live the life she’d been promised? Didn’t she want to raise a family with her husband, to grow old with him? All Timothy had to do was hand over the Scriptures and he’d be set free to live in peace to a happy old age. Maura listened intently and asked to speak to her husband.
When Maura was brought in to Timothy, she explained the governor’s offer. Here accounts differ. Some say Maura stood firm in her faith throughout: “But I, for my part, will never speak to you again if you deny Christ.” Others claim Maura was overcome by grief at seeing Timothy’s suffering and begged him to apostatize. Timothy was unmoved: “How is it possible, O Maura, that, being thyself a Christian, instead of animating me to die for the faith, thou dost tempt me to abandon it; and thus, to obtain a short and miserable existence here, expose myself to the never-ending pains of hell? Is this, then, thy love?” With that, they say, Maura was convicted and repented of her momentary weakness.
Whether or not Maura remained faithful throughout, this much is certain: While looking on the body of her agonized husband, she confessed herself a Christian and found herself subject to torture as well. Her hair was pulled out, her fingers cut off. When immersed in a pot of boiling water, though, she was unharmed. While the governor was impressed by such a miracle, he soon resumed his tortures (so cruel that even the pagan crowd was scandalized) by having the young couple nailed to two crosses facing each other.
For 10 days they prayed together, sang hymns, and encouraged each other as they suffered for Christ. When one was weak, the other would be strong, reminding the beloved of what Christ suffered and the promise of future life. Ultimately, both found themselves welcomed into the arms of Christ, glorious martyrs. The witness of their courage and joy so inspired their torturer that he soon became a Christian, was martyred himself, and is venerated in the Eastern Church as St Arian of Alexandria.
Though they were married for only a month, Sts Timothy and Maura understood the purpose of marriage: to challenge and encourage one another, through both suffering and joy, as together you follow Christ. Because they were equally yoked, they were able to persist through unimaginable pain, holding each other accountable and calling each other on to holiness.
On May 3, their feast day, let’s ask them to intercede for all Christian marriages, that spouses may rejoice in suffering together, encouraging each other daily to live more fully for Christ.
Sts Timothy and Maura, pray for us!
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