That is what the synaxárion calls her. During her life of sin, however, she was called by her adoring followers, Margarita, “the pearled one,” and she was the most sought after actress in Antioch, the city where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians, “little Christs.”
From the Greek Archdiocese website,
This Saint was a prominent actress of the city of Antioch, and a pagan, who lived a life of unrestrained prodigality and led many to perdition. Instructed and baptized by a certain bishop named Nonnus, she departed for the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem, where she lived as a recluse, feigning to be a eunuch called Pelagius. She lived in such holiness and repentance that within three or four years she was deemed worthy to repose in an odour of sanctity, in the middle of the fifth century. Her tomb on the Mount of Olives has been a place of pilgrimage ever since.
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
In thee the image was preserved with exactness, O Mother; for taking up thy cross, thou didst follow Christ, and by thy deeds thou didst teach us to overlook the flesh, for it passeth away, but to attend to the soul since it is immortal. Wherefore, O righteous Pelagia, thy spirit rejoiceth with the Angels.
Kontakion in the Second Tone
With fasting didst thou consume thy body utterly; with vigilant prayer didst thou entreat thy Fashioner that complete forgiveness of thy former deeds be granted thee, which, O Mother, thou didst receive. The path of repentance hast thou shown to us.
I found the account of her life for the first time when I was a lad of about 22 years, written in the book The Desert Fathers by Helen Waddell. The chapter on her was entitled, The Life of St. Pelagia the Harlot, and it was paired with the story of another ‘desert mother,’ The Life of St. Mary the Harlot. The latter was not the same as the Mary of Egypt that we are all familiar with from her commemoration on the last Sunday of Lent, but rather a consecrated virgin who was under the care of her old uncle who was a monk. She was tempted by a young, fallen monk, who raped her, after which she ran away from her uncle's hermitage in shame and became a prostitute. The uncle, Abba Abraham, tried to find her, and he succeeded. He went to the brothel dressed as a Roman soldier and asked for her by name. Thus disguised, he got into her room, and revealing himself as her uncle and spiritual father, he reasoned with her, bringing her to her right mind. Trusting in the grace of Christ to forgive all our sins, Mary returned with her uncle, and resumed a life of holiness.
Both of these harlot stories are great reading, and demonstrate the reality of Christ in everyday life, He who is among us, looking for His lost sheep. Abba Abraham went with Him, and found and rescued his neice Mary.
Today the Church commemorates another Pelagía the Virgin-martyr, as well as another converted harlot, Thaïs of Egypt, thus throwing down all our imaginary barriers between virginity and harlotry with ironic strangeness.
The story of Pelagía the Harlot can be downloaded as a Símandron publication PDF by clicking HERE. See also the song, Pelagía.