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Abraham Kidunaia

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(6th century),

hermit. Born of a wealthy family near Edessa in Mesopotamia, Abraham agreed to his parents' wish that he should marry, but on the last of the seven-day feasting which preceded the wedding ran away to be a monk in the desert. Friends and relatives remonstrated with him in vain: he walled up the door of his cell, leaving only a small opening for food, and gave all his goods to the poor except for a cloak, a goatskin, a bowl, and a mat. Thus equipped, he led a life of penance for fifty years.

Near his cell was a pagan town Beth-Kiduna, whose citizens had hitherto resisted all attempts to convert them. The bishop of Edessa asked him to leave his hermitage and preach to the people; for this purpose he ordained him priest. Abraham had a church built and then destroyed every idol in sight. Driven out by the people, he returned during the night and again preached to the townsmen, who stoned him and left him half-dead. He returned to preach for about three years in spite of ill-treatment; suddenly there was a breakthrough: his patience convinced them of his holiness, they listened to his message and were baptized. For a year he continued to teach and then retired to his hermitage.

An attractive legend which added to his popularity relates how his orphan niece Mary had been entrusted to his care. For her he built a cell near his own and trained her in learning and piety until she was twenty. At this point, seduced by a false monk, she ran away, longing to see the wider world, went to Troas and became a prostitute. For two years he lamented her departure in ignorance and then boldly attempted to rescue her. He disguised himself as an army officer and pretended to seek her services. At first, not recognizing him, she was uninhibited; later, holding her hand, he comforted her, appealed to her to resume her former life, and promised to take her sins on himself if only she would return. This she did and was rewarded after three years by the gift of healing.

Abraham died at the age of seventy. An immediate popular cult was manifested by local people trying to take parts of his clothing. The Life and Legend of Abraham has inspired English and other dramatists. Feast: 16 March, but in the Byzantine calendar Abraham and his niece Mary are venerated together on 29 October.

AA.SS. Mart. II (1668), 433–44;A. Lamy, ‘Acta B. Abrahae Kidunaiae’, Anal. Boll., x (1891), 5–49;A. Wilmart in Revue Bénédictine, 1 (1938), 222–45;B.L.S., x. 201.

Subjects: Religion

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