St Paesia the Harlot
Our holy example today is St. Paesia, a prostitute from Alexandria, Egypt, whose life
is found in the sayings of the Holy Father, St. John the Dwarf. This Holy Mother's life
teaches us the meaning of true repentance.
The parents of a young girl died and she was left an orphan; she was called Paesia.
She decided to make her house a hospice for the use of the fathers of Scetis. But in
the course of time her resources were exhausted and she began to be in want. Some
wicked men came to see her and turned her aside from her aim. She began to live an
evil life to the point of becoming a prostitute. The fathers, learning this, were deeply
grieved and they called John the Dwarf and said to him, "We have learned that this
sister is living an evil life. While she could she gave us charity, so now it is our turn
to offer her charity and to go to her assistance. Go to see her then and according to
the wisdom that God has given you, put things right for her."  So Abba John went to
see her and said to the old doorkeeper, "Tell your mistress I am here." But she sent
him away saying, "From the start you ate her goods and see how poor she is now."
Abba John said, "Tell her I have something that will be very helpful to her." The
doorkeeper's children mocked him saying, "What have you to give her that you want
to meet her?" He replied, "How do you know what I am going to give her?"
The old woman went up and spoke to her mistress about him. Paesia said to her,
"Those monks are always going about around the Red Sea and finding pearls." Then
she got ready and said to the doorkeeper, "Please bring him to me." As he was
coming up, she got ready for him and lay down on the bed. Abba John entered and
sat beside her. Looking into her eyes, he said, "What have you got against Jesus
that you behave like this?" When she heard this she became completely rigid. Then
Abba John bent his head and began to weep copiously. She asked him, "Why are you
crying, Father?" He raised his head, then lowered it again weeping and said to her, "I
see Satan playing in your face, how should I not weep?" Hearing this she said,
"Father, is it possible to repent?" He replied, "Yes." She said, "Take me wherever you
wish." "Let us go," he said and she got up and went with him. Abba John noticed
that she did not make any arrangements about her house; he said nothing but he
was surprised. When they reached the desert the evening was drawing on. He made
a little pillow in the sand and marked it with the sign of the cross, saying, "Sleep
here." Then he did the same for himself a little further on, said his prayers and lay
down. Waking in the middle of the night, he saw a shining path reaching from
heaven to her and he saw the angels of God bearing away her soul. When he saw
that she was dead, he threw himself downward on the ground praying to God and he
heard this: "One single hour of repentance has brought her more than the penance of
many who continue without showing such fervor in repentance."
[1] Cf. Sr. Benedicta Ward, "Harlots of the Desert," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian
Publications, 1987), pp. 77-78
Lives of the Saints