Thais the Harlot
There was a certain harlot called Thais and she was so beautiful that many for her sake sold all that they had and reduced themselves to utter poverty; quarrels arose among her lovers and often the doorstep of this girl's house was soaked in the blood of young men.
When Abba Paphnutius heard about it, he put on secular clothes and went to see her in a certain city in Egypt. He handed her a silver piece as the price for committing sin. She accepted the price and said, 'Let us go inside." When he went in, he sat down on the bed which was draped with precious covers and he invited her, saying, 'If there is a more private chamber, let us go in there.' She said, 'There is one, but if it is people you are afraid of, no one ever enters this room; except, of course, for God, for there is no place that is hidden from the eyes of divinity.'
When the old man heard this, he said to her, 'So you know there is a God?' She answered him, 'I know about God and about the eternal kingdom and also about the future torments of sinners'. 'But if you know this,' he said, 'why are you causing the loss of so many souls so that you will be condemned to render an account not only of your own sins but of theirs as well?' When Thais heard this, she threw herself at the feet of Paphnutius and begged him with tears, 'Give me a penance, Father, for I trust to find forgiveness by your prayers. I beg you to wait for just three hours, and after that, wherever you tell me to go, I will go, and whatever you tell me to do, I will do it.' So Paphnutius arranged a meeting place with her and she went out and collected together all the goods that she had received by her sins and piled them all together in the middle of the city, while all the people watched, saying, 'Come here, all of you who have sinned with me, and see how I am burning whatever you gave me.' The value of it was forty pounds.
When it was all consumed, she went to the place that the father had arranged with her. Then he sought out a monastery of virgins and took her into a small cell, sealing the door with lead and leaving only a small opening through which food could be passed to her and he ordered her to be given daily a little bread and a little water by the sisters of the monastery. When Thais realized that the door was sealed with lead, she said to him, 'Father, where do you want me to urinate?' and he replied, 'In the cell, as you deserve.' Then she asked him how she should pray to God, and he said to her, 'You are not worthy to name God, or to take his divine name upon your lips, or to lift up your hands to heaven, for your lips are full of sin and your hands are stained with iniquity; only stand facing towards the east and repeat often only this: "You who made me, have mercy upon me."'
When she had been enclosed in this way for three years, Paphnutius began to be anxious, and so he went to see Abba Antony, to ask him if her sins had been forgiven by the Lord or not. When he arrived, he recounted the affair to him in detail, and Abba Antony called together all his disciples and they agreed to keep vigil all night and each of them to persist in prayer so that God might reveal to one of them the truth of the matter about which Paphnutius had come. Each retired to his cell and took up continuous prayer.
Then Paul, the great disciple of St. Antony, suddenly saw in the sky a bed adorned with precious cloths and guarded by three virgins whose faces shone with brightness. Then Paul said to them; 'Surely so great a glory can only be for my father Antony?' but a voice spoke to him saying, 'This is not for your father Antony, but for the harlot Thais.' Paul went quickly and reported what he had heard and seen and Paphnutius recognized the will of God and set off for the monastery where the girl was enclosed.
He began to open the door for her which he bad sealed up, but she begged to be left shut up in there. When the door was open he said to her, 'Come out, for God has forgiven you your sins.' She replied, 'I call God to witness that since I came in here my sins have always been before my eyes as a burden; they have never been out of my sight and I have always wept to see them.' Abba Paphnutius said to her, 'God has forgiven your sins not because of your penances but because you have always had the remembrance of your sins in your soul.' When he had taken Thais out, she lived for fifteen days and then passed away in peace.
- Thaïs (saint) at Wikipedia.
- English translation from a Latin translation of a Greek text by an anonymous author. Paraphrased from Harlots of the Desert by Benedicta Ward.