May 3 is the feast of Saints Timothy and Maura, a young married couple that lived in third century Egypt. The painting accompanying this post is The Martyrdom of Timothy & Maura by Henryk Siemiradzki, about which more is said below.
Timothy was a church lector in Penapeis, located in the southernmost region of ancient Upper Egypt, which Emperor Diocletian created as the province of Thebais. He was responsible for reading the Scriptures to the people of his village at a time when many were illiterate, and he was charged with the duty of keeping the holy writing and liturgical books safe during the persecutions Diocletian unleashed against the faith.
In the year 286 he married a 17-year-old woman named Maura. Only twenty days later Timothy was betrayed to Arian, the Governor, as a teacher of Christians. Arian commanded that Timothy surrender his sacred books. He refused, comparing it to a father’s giving up his children to death. For this answer he was subjected to cruel tortures but would not yield. Arian summoned Maura and appealed to her love for Timothy and her desire for domestic happiness and children, expecting that she would persuade her husband to worship the idols. She confessed herself a Christian, thereby exposing herself to torture, and remained steadfast.
Eventually the Governor ordered that the young couple be lifted on two crosses facing each other. That is the scene depicted in the painting accompanying this post by Henryk Siemiradzki. In it we see Timothy raised to his suffering as Maura awaits the same fate, her cross being prepared before her on the ground. The Governor is seated next to a bust of Diocletian gesturing toward Maura – perhaps a final futile attempt to persuade her to yield.
For several days the young couple 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 their future life. Ultimately, both found themselves welcomed into the arms of Christ as glorious martyrs. The witness of their courage and joy so inspired their torturer that he soon became a Christian, was himself martyred, and is venerated as Saint Arian of Alexandria (not to be confused with the heretic and founder of Arianism who was also from Alexandria).
Though they shared conjugal life for less then one month, Timothy and Maura set an example for generations to follow. They understood the meaning and purpose of marriage: to share a common path of holiness, encouraging one another in all things, and sharing the joy of the deepest of human friendships. In the great Pauline expression, they were “subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21.
The Synaxarion of the day proclaims: “On May 3, we commemorate the holy martyrs Timothy and Maura. For the sake of Christ who stretched out his hands on the Tree, on the third, the executioner makes the wondrous Timothy and Maura stretch out on the cross. By their holy prayers, O our God, take pity on us and save us. Amen.”
Today we celebrate the beauty of Christian marriage and ask for the intercession of Maura and Timothy on behalf all married couples.