Saint of the Day – 20 September – Saint Susanna of Eleutheropolis (Died 362) Virgin Martyr, Deaconess and Abbess. Susanna spent many years as a ‘Monk and then ‘Abbot’ when she disguised herself as a man called John. After detection, she was rescued by the local Bishop, Ordained as a Deaconess and settled as Abbess in a Convent for women. Died in 362 at Eleutheropolis, Palestine while in prayer in her prison cell. Also known as St Susanna of Palestine.
The entry in the Roman Martyrology states: “The holy Martyr, Susanna, daughter of Arthemius, a pagan priest and Martha.“
Susanna grew up in Palestine as the daughter of Arthemius, a rich pagan priest and Martha, a Hebrew woman. After their deaths, she was baptised as a Christian, freed her slaves, gave her property to the poor and decided to live as an ascetic. She cropped her hair, put on men’s clothing, took the name of John and presented herself to a men’s Monastery in Jerusalem. The Monks assumed she was a eunuch and accepted her.
Still disguised, Susanna eventually became ‘Abbot’ of the Monastic community. After twenty years in the Monastery, a visiting Nun fell in love with her and tried to win her affections. When this failed, the Nun accused Susanna of seducing her. The local Bishop, Cleopas of Eleutheropolis, was called in with two Deaconesses. Susanna revealed her gender to the Deaconesses and her name was cleared.
The Bishop was so impressed with Susanna’s dedication and piety, and brought her back to his Cathedral. He ordained her a Deaconess and appointed her Abbess of a Convent. She served as Abbess for many years, serving the poor, extended hospitality and praying for the salvation of souls.
During the persecution of Julian the Apostate, Susanna was arrested and tortured for refusing to offer sacrifices to the pagan gods. When her torturers realised that they could not break her faith, they threw her into prison, where she died from her wounds and lack of food in the year 362.