The nuns of Georgian monasteries have historically been outstanding in their diligence. God entrusted them with the special duties of ceaseless prayer, fasting, needlework, and the raising of orphans. Nuns have been regarded as vessels of sanctity and wisdom, and even royalty would kneel before them.
Many Georgian noblemen would send their children to nuns to be brought up in the Christian Faith. According to the great church figure George the Lesser, when the parents of St. George of the Holy Mountain decided to have their first-born daughter, Thekla, raised by nuns, they sent her to the “worthy and holy” Sabiana, who at that time was abbess of the Samtskhe Tadzrisi Monastery in southern Georgia.
St. Sabiana welcomed Thekla and raised her as though she were her own natural daughter.
Before long Thekla’s brother, the seven-year-old George, was also brought to the monastery, and St. Sabiana spent three years educating and instructing him in the spiritual life.
Further information on the life and labors of St. Sabiana has sadly not been preserved. But as the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew attests, the tree is known by his fruit (Matt. 12:33). The high level of monastic life during St. Sabiana’s abbacy and the pious lives of her spiritual children attest to the great spiritual heights she attained. SOURCE:
Saints Mark the Grave-Digger, Theophilus and John are mentioned in the Kiev Caves Paterikon. Two brothers being monastics, Sts Theophilus and John, so loved each other that they prevailed upon St Mark to prepare a double grave so they could be buried side by side.
Many years later, the older of the two brothers was away on monastery business. During this time his brother John fell ill and died. Several days later, St Theophilus returned and went with the brethren to view his brother's body. Seeing that he lay at the higher place in their common grave, he became indignant with St Mark and said, "Why did you put him in my place? I am older than he."
The cave-dweller Mark, bowed humbly to St Theophilus and asked that he forgive him. Turning to the dead man, he said, "Arise, give this place to your older brother, and you lie down in the other place." And the dead man moved to the lower place in the grave. Seeing this, St Theophilus fell down at the knees of St Mark begging his forgiveness. The cave-dweller Mark told Theophilus that he ought to be concerned for his own salvation, because soon he would join his brother in that place.
Hearing this, St Theophilus became terrified and decided that he would soon die. He gave away everything that he possessed, keeping only his mantle, and every day he awaited the hour of death. No one was able to stop his tears, nor to tempt him with tasty food. Tears were his bread by day and by night (Ps 41/42:3). God granted him several years more for repentance, which he spent in fasting and lamentation. He even went blind from continuous weeping.
St Mark forsaw the hour of his death and told Theophilus he would soon depart this life. Theophilus pleaded, "Father, either take me with you, or restore my sight." St Mark said to Theophilus, "Do not desire death, it shall come in its own time, even if you do not wish it. Let this be the sign of your impending end: three days before you depart this world, your eyesight will return."
The words of the saint were fulfilled. The body of St Theophilus was placed in the Antoniev Cave in the grave together with his brother St John, near the relics of St Mark. Their memory is celebrated also on September 28 and on the second Sunday of Great Lent.
Saint Nicanor, Apostle of the Seventy was among the first deacons in the Church of Christ. In the Acts of the Holy Apostles (6: 1-6) it is said that the twelve Apostles chose seven men: Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicholas, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, and established them to serve as deacons.
The Holy Church celebrates their memory together on July 28, although they died at various times and in various places.
St Nicanor suffered on that day when the holy Protomartyr Stephen and many other Christians were killed by stoning. SOURCE:
The All-Merciful Kykko Icon of the Mother of God: This icon was painted, according to Tradition, by the holy Evangelist Luke. It received its name "Kykkiotisa" from Mount Kykkos, on the island of Cyprus. Here it was placed in an imperial monastery (so designated because it was built with donations from the Emperor), in a church named for it. Before coming to the island of Cyprus, the wonderworking icon of the Mother of God was brought throughout the region by the will of God. At first, it was in one the earliest Christian communities in Egypt, and then it was taken to Constantinople in 980, where it remained in the time of Emperor Alexius Comnenos (end of the eleventh to early twelfth century).
During these years it was revealed to the Elder Isaiah through a miraculous sign, that by his efforts the wonderworking image painted by the Evangelist Luke would be transferred to Cyprus. The Elder exerted much effort to fulfill the divine revelation.
When the icon of the Mother of God arrived on the island, many miracles were performed. The Elder Isaiah was instrumental in building a church dedicated to the Theotokos, and placing the Kykko Icon in it. From ancient times up to the present day, those afflicted by every sort of infirmity flock to the monastery of the Mother of God the Merciful, and they receive healing according to their faith. The Orthodox are not the only ones who believe in the miraculous power of the holy icon, but those of other faiths also pray before it in misfortune and illness.
Inexhaustible is the mercy of the Most Holy Theotokos, Mediatrix for all the suffering, and Her icon fittingly bears the name, the "Merciful." The wonderworking "Kykkiotisa" Icon of the Mother of God possesses a remarkable peculiarity: from what time period is unknown, but it is covered by a half shroud from the upper left corner to the lower right, so that no one is able to see the faces of the Mother of God and the Divine Infant. The depiction of the Mother of God appears to be of the Hodigitria ("Directress") type, as is also the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God. The head of the Mother of God is adorned with a crown.
A copy of this icon is particularly venerated at the women's Nikolsk monastery in the city of Mukachev. SOURCE:
Commemorated on December 26
The Vilensk-Ostrobramsk Icon "The Three Joys" is possibly of western origin, since it depicts the Mother of God, Christ, and St Joseph together. Normally, St Joseph is not depicted in close proximity with the Virgin and Child, since he was not Christ's earthly father. In the icon of the Nativity, for example, St Joseph is not part of the scene within the cave. SOURCE:
In the stillness of midnight (Wisdom of Solomon 18:14-15), the proclamation of the birth of the Savior of the world was heard by three shepherds watching their flocks by night.
An angel of the Lord (St Cyprian says this was Gabriel) came before them and said: "Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11). The humble shepherds were the first to offer worship to Him Who condescended to assume the form of a humble servant for the salvation of mankind.
Saint Antiochus was from Galatia, and lived during the reign of Heraclius (610-641). He witnessed the martyrdom of the monks of St Sava's Monastery (May 16) by the Saracens, and recorded their sufferings. He also wrote another book, called PANDECT OF THE SCRIPTURES. Divided into 130 chapters, the book examines the moral teachings of the Holy Scriptures.
A quote attributed to St Antiochus is found in the EVERGETINOS (Book 3:39). One of his best-known prayers is recited during Compline, "And grant us, Master, as we lay down to sleep, repose of both body and soul…." SOURCE:
Saint Theoctistus, Archbishop of Novgorod, prior to becoming a bishop, was igumen of the Annunciation monastery near Novgorod. After the death of Archbishop Clement in the year 1300, the people of Novgorod chose him as their Archbishop, and Metropolitan Maximus with the bishops Simeon of Rostov and Andrew of Tver consecrated St Theoctistus as Archbishop of Novgorod.
One of St Theoctistus' concerns was the renovation and building of churches. He consecrated cathedrals in the name of Sts Boris and Gleb, and in the name of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council. The monastery of Valaam was set in good order during his time.
In the year 1307, because of poor health, the saint withdrew to the Annunciation monastery, where he lived until his death, devoting himself to the ascetic deed of silence. St Theoctistus was glorified in 1664, because of the miraculous healings at his relics. In 1786, the relics of the saint were transferred to Yuriev, where Archimandrite Photius built a chapel in his honor at the local cathedral.
Saint Theodota was a young widow with three children, whom she raised in piety. The Great Martyr St Anastasia lived with her in Macedonia, and the two women visited Christians in prison and took care of them.
Arrested as a Christian, Theodota was sent to Nicetas, the governor of Bithynia, for interrogation. Since she refused to deny Christ, she and her three children were sentenced to death, beaten, and thrown into a fiery furnace.
In the second half of the 10th century King Davit Kuropalates constructed the Khakhuli Church in southern Georgia. He also founded Khakhuli Monastery, which in later centuries would become a center of spirituality, science, and education. Today this monastery is located on Turkish territory, but the grace of the ascetic labors of the fathers who labored there in the past pours forth hope upon the Georgian people to this day.
Many holy and wonder-working fathers labored at Khakhuli Monastery, including St. Basil the son of King Bagrat III, the brothers George and Saba of Khakhuli, St. Hilarion of Tvali and many other God-fearing ascetics, whose righteousness and spiritual feats were guided by the holy abbot Macarius.
Fr. Macarius was a great ascetic, teacher, and prophet. Novices and wise, experienced elders alike flocked to him for advice and blessings. The young monk George, later the great ascetic George of the Holy Mountain, was brought to St. Macarius to receive his blessing. St. Macarius called George his spiritual son.
By the grace of God, St. Macarius reconciled his responsibilities as abbot of the monastery with the great spiritual labor of solitude. He earned the title “the Faster” for his exceptional ascesis in fasting and prayer. It is said that, as abbot of Khakhuli Monastery, “he shone like the morning sunrise and guided the spiritual activity and secular life of the entire Tao-Klarjeti region.”
Saint Daniel of Serbia, the only son of rich and renowned parents, was a close associate of the Serbian king Stephan Urosh Milutin. Having renounced a secular career, he received monastic tonsure from the igumen of the St Nicholas monastery at Konchul near the River Ibar. St Daniel's ascetic life was an example for all the brethren.
Archbishop Eustathius of Serbia ordained him presbyter and took him into his cell. When it was time to choose the igumen for the Hilandar monastery on Mount Athos, St Daniel received the appointment. The saint was igumen at a most difficult time for the Holy Mountain. After the Crusaders were expelled from Palestine, they joined with the Arabs to plunder and loot the Athonite monasteries, "not sparing anything sacred."
St Daniel remained at the Hilandar monastery, enduring siege and hunger. When peace came to the Holy Mountain, the saint resigned as igumen and withdrew into complete silence in the cell of St Sava of Serbia (at Karyes). During the internecine war of Kings Milutin and Dragutin and Stephen of Dechani (November 11), the ascetic was summoned to Serbia, where he reconciled the adversaries.
In his native land Daniel was made Bishop of Banja and head of the renowned monastery of St Stephen, a royal treasury. After completing the construction of a cathedral church at Banja in honor of the holy Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen, St Daniel returned to his monastic labors on the Holy Mountain.
The saint was summoned from Athos again in 1325, when he was elected Archbishop of Serbia. He was consecrated on the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross of the Lord. The Protos ["head"] of the Holy Mountain, Garbasios, and other Athonite Elders took part in the solemnities.
Archbishop Daniel was a model of piety, and a wise archpastor. His tenure as archbishop was marked by complete non-covetousness, concern and toil for the needs of the Church and the flock, and the building of churches. In 1335 the saint built a church at Dechani in honor of the Ascension of the Lord, one of the finest Christian monuments in Serbia. He collected accounts about the Serbian past, and compiled the "Rodoslov" [Account about the homeland], writing about the lives of Serbian rulers and Serbian archpastors.
Even during his lifetime St Daniel was granted the gift of wonderworking and healing. After fourteen years as archbishop, St Daniel departed to the Lord on December 19, 1338. SOURCE:
Saint Modestus, Archbishop of Jerusalem, was born into a Christian family in Cappadocian Sebasteia (Asia Minor). From his youth he felt a strong attraction towards strict monastic life. St Modestus accepted monastic tonsure. Afterwards, he became head of the monastery of St Theodosius the Great in Palestine. At this time (the year 614), military forces of the Persian ruler Chosroes fell upon Syria and Palestine, killing ninety thousand Christians and destroying Christian churches. Patriarch Zacharias of Jerusalem and a multitude of Christians were taken into captivity, along with the Cross of the Lord. St Modestus was entrusted to govern the Jerusalem Church temporarily as locum tenens of the patriarchal cathedra.
With the help of Patriarch John the Merciful of Alexandria (November 12), St Modestus set about restoring devastated Christian shrines, among which was the Sepulchre of the Lord. He reverently buried the murdered monks from the monastery of St Sava the Sanctified.
After fourteen years, Patriarch Zacharias returned from captivity with the Cross of the Lord, and after his death St Modestus became Patriarch of Jerusalem. St Modestus died at age 97 in the year 634. SOURCE:
Commemorated on December 17
The Holy Prophet Daniel is the fourth of the major prophets.
In the years following 600 B.C. Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians, the Temple built by Solomon was destroyed, and many of the Israelite people were led away into the Babylonian Captivity. Among the captives were also the illustrious youths Daniel, Ananias, Azarias and Misael.
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon ordered that they be instructed in the Chaldean language and wisdom, and dressed them in finery. Handsome children of princely lineage were often chosen to serve as pages in the palace. For three years, they would be fed from food from the king's table. After this they would be allowed to stand before his throne. Daniel was renamed Baltasar, Ananias was called Shadrach, Misael was called Mishach, and Azarias was known as Abednego. But they, cleaving to their faith, disdained the extravagance of court, refusing to defile themselves by eating from the king's table and drinking his wine. Instead, they lived on vegetables and water.
The Lord granted them wisdom, and to St Daniel the gift of insight and the interpretation of dreams. The holy Prophet Daniel preserved his faith in the one God and trusted in His almighty help. He surpassed all the Chaldean astrologers and sorcerers in his wisdom, and was made a confidant to King Nebuchadnezzar.
Once, Nebuchadnezzar had a strange dream which terrified him (Daniel 2:1-6). He summoned magicians, sorcerers, and Chaldeans before him to interpret the dream. When they asked him what he had dreamt, the king refused to tell them. He said, "If you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you shall be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins." The Babylonian wise men protested that no magician or sorcerer could be expected to do this. Only the gods could reveal the dream and its meaning, they told him.
The king ordered all the wise men of Babylon to be executed. When they sought Daniel and his companions to put them to death, Daniel asked that the king's sentence not be carried out. He said that he could tell the king what he dreamt, for it had been revealed to him in a vision. Daniel was brought before the king and was able to reveal not only the content of the dream, but also its prophetic significance. After this, the king elevated Daniel to be ruler of the whole province of Babylon, and the chief of all the wise men.
During these times King Nebuchadnezzar ordered a huge statue to be made in his likeness. It was decreed that when people heard the sound of trumpets and other instruments, they should fall down and worship the golden idol. Because they refused to do this, the three holy youths Ananias, Azarias and Misael were cast into a fiery furnace. The flames shot out over the furnace forty-nine cubits, felling the Chaldeans standing about, but the holy youths walked in the midst of the flames, offering prayer and psalmody to the Lord (Daniel 3:26-90).
The Angel of the Lord appeared in the furnace and cooled the flames, and the young men remained unharmed. This "Angel of Great Counsel," as he is called in iconography, is identified with the Son of God (Daniel 3:25, Isaiah 9:6). In the first Canon for the Nativity of the Lord (Ode 5), the Church sings: "Thou hast sent us Thine Angel of Great Counsel." The emperor, upon seeing this, commanded them to come out, and was converted to the true God.
Under King Baltasar, St Daniel interpreted a mysterious inscription ("Mane, Thekel, Phares"), which had appeared on the wall of the palace during a banquet (Daniel 5:1-31), foretelling the downfall of the Babylonian kingdom. Under the Persian emperor Darius, St Daniel was slandered by his enemies, and was thrown into a den with hungry lions, but they did not touch him, and he was not harmed. The emperor Darius then rejoiced over Daniel and ordered people throughout his realm to worship the God of Daniel, "since He is the living and eternal God, and His Kingdom shall not be destroyed, and His dominion is forever" (Daniel 6:26).
The holy Prophet Daniel grieved deeply for his people, who then were undergoing righteous chastisement for a multitude of sins and offenses, for transgressing the laws of God, resulting in the grievous Babylonian Captivity and the destruction of Jerusalem: "My God, incline Thine ear and hearken; open Thine eyes and look upon our desolation and that of Thy city, in which Thy Name is spoken; for we do not make our supplication before Thee because of our own righteousness, but because of Thy great mercy" (Dan 9:18). Because of Daniel's righteous life and his prayers for the people's iniquity, the destiny of the nation of Israel and the fate of all the world was revealed to the holy prophet.
While interpreting the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar, the holy, glorious Prophet Daniel spoke of a great and final kingdom, the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ (Dan 2:44). The prophetic vision about the seventy weeks (Dan 9:24-27) speaks about the signs of the First and the Second Comings of the Lord Jesus Christ, and is connected with those events (Daniel 12:1-12).
St Daniel interceded for his people before King Cyrus, who esteemed him highly, and who decreed freedom for the Israelite people. Daniel himself and his fellows Ananias, Azarias and Misael, all survived into old age, but died in captivity. According to the testimony of St Cyril of Alexandria (June 9), Sts Ananias, Azarias and Misael were beheaded on orders of the Persian emperor Chambyses.
St. Daniel and the three holy youths are also commemorated on the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers, and on the Sunday of the Holy Fathers (Sunday before the Nativity).
Troparion - Tone 2
Great are the accomplishments of faith,
for the Three Holy Youths rejoiced in the fountain of flames as though in the waters of rest;
and the prophet Daniel appeared, a shepherd to the lions as though they were sheep.
So by their prayers, O Christ God, save our souls!
Kontakion - Tone 3
When your pure heart was purged by the Spirit
you became a vessel of clear prophecy;
you saw things far away as though they were near at hand.
When cast into their den you tamed the lions.
Therefore, we honor you, blessed prophet, glorious Daniel.
Commemorated on December 16
The Holy Empress Theophano was the first wife of Emperor Leo VI the Wise (886-911). She and Leo were locked up in prison for three years, because Leo was falsely accused of intending to assassinate his father, Emperor Basil the Macedonian. After receiving her freedom, she spent her life in prayer and fasting, earnestly struggling for her salvation.
Living in the world, she renounced everything worldly. She was a benefactor to the poor, and was generous toward monasteries. She was a true mother to her subjects, caring for widows and orphans, and consoling the sorrowful. St.Theophano died in 893 or 894.
Even before her death her husband started to build a church, intending to dedicate it to Theophano, but she forbade him to do so. It was this emperor who decreed that the Sunday after Pentecost be dedicated to All Saints. Believing that his wife was one of the righteous, he knew that she would also be honored whenever the Feast of All Saints was celebrated.
What is Orthodoxy? by Archbishop Averky of Syracuse and Holy Trinity Monastery
ON THE FIRST SUNDAY of the Great Fast our Church celebrates the triumph of Orthodoxy, the victory of true Christian teaching over all perversions and distortions thereof—heresies and false teachings. On the second Sunday of the Great Fast it is as though this triumph of Orthodoxy is repeated and deepened in connection with the celebration of the memory of one of the greatest pillars of Orthodoxy, the hierarch Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, who by his grace-bearing eloquence and the example of his highly ascetic private life put to shame the teachers of falsehood who dared reject the very essence of Orthodoxy, the podvig of prayer and fasting, which enlightens the human mind with the light of grace and makes it a communicant of the divine glory.
Alas! How few people there are in our times, even among the educated, and at times even among contemporary "theologians" and those in the ranks of the clergy, who understand correctly what Orthodoxy is and wherein its essence lies. They approach this question in an utterly external, formal manner and resolve it too primitively, even naively, overlooking its depths completely and not at all seeing the fullness of its spiritual contents.
The superficial opinion of the majority notwithstanding, Orthodoxy is not merely another of the many "Christian confessions" now in existence, or as it is expressed here in America "denominations." Orthodoxy is the true, undistorted, unperverted by any human sophistry or invention, genuine teaching of Christ in all its purity and fullness—the teaching of faith and piety which is life according to the Faith.
Orthodoxy is not only the sum total of dogmas accepted as true in a purely formal manner. It is not only theory, but practice; it is not only right Faith, but a life which agrees in everything with this Faith. The true Orthodox Christian is not only he who thinks in an Orthodox manner, but who feels according to Orthodoxy and lives Orthodoxy, who strives to embody the true Orthodox teaching of Christ in his life.
"The words that I speak unto you are spirit and life"—thus the Lord Jesus Christ spoke to His disciples of His divine teaching (Jn. 6: 63). Consequently, the teaching of Christ is not only abstract theory merely, cut off from life, but spirit and life. Therefore, only he who thinks Orthodoxy, feels Orthodoxy and lives Orthodoxy can be considered Orthodox in actuality.
At the same time one must realize and remember that Orthodoxy is not only and always that which is officially called "Orthodox," for in our false and evil times the appearance everywhere of pseudo-Orthodoxy which raises its head and is established in the world is an extremely grievous but, regrettably, an already unquestionable fact. This false Orthodoxy strives fiercely to substitute itself for true Orthodoxy, as in his time Antichrist will strive to supplant and replace Christ with himself.
Orthodoxy is not merely some type of purely earthly organization which is headed by patriarchs, bishops and priests who hold the ministry in the Church which officially is called "Orthodox." Orthodoxy is the mystical "Body of Christ," the Head of which is Christ Himself (see Eph. 1:22-23 and Col. 1:18, 24 et seq.), and its composition includes not only priests but all who truly believe in Christ, who have entered in a lawful way through Holy Baptism into the Church He founded, those living upon the earth and those who have died in the Faith and in piety.
The Orthodox Church is not any kind of "monopoly" or "business" of the clergy as think the ignorant and those alien to the spirit of the Church. It is not the patrimony of this or that hierarch or priest. It is the close-knit spiritual union of all who truly believe in Christ, who strive in a holy manner to keep the commandments of Christ with the sole aim of inheriting that eternal blessedness which Christ the Savior has prepared for us, and if they sin out of weakness, they sincerely repent and strive "to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance" (St. Luke 3:8).
The Church, it is true, may not be removed completely from the world, for people enter her who are still living on the earth, and therefore the "earthly" element in her composition and external organization is unavoidable; yet the less of this "earthly" element there is, the better it will be for her eternal goals. In any case this "earthly" element should not obscure or suppress the purely spiritual element—the matter of salvation of the soul unto eternal life—for the sake of which the Church was both founded and exists.
The first and fundamental criterion, which we may use as a guide to distinguish the True Church of Christ from the false Churches (of which there are now so many!), is the fact that it has preserved the Truth intact, undistorted by human sophistries, for according to the Word of God, "the Church is the pillar and ground of truth" (I Tim. 3: 15), and therefore in her there can be no falsehood. Any which in its name officially proclaims or confirms any falsehood is already not the Church. Not only the higher servants of the Church, but the ranks of believing laymen must shun every falsehood, remembering the admonition of the Apostle: ''Wherefore, putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor" (Eph. 4:25), or "Lie not to one another" (Col. 3:9). Christians must always remember that according to the words of Christ the Savior, lying is from the devil, who "is a liar, and the father of lies" (St. John 8:44). And so, where there is falsehood there is not the True Orthodox Church of Christ! There is instead a false church which the holy visionary vividly and clearly depicted in his Apocalypse as "a great whore that sitteth upon many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication" (Rev. 17:1-2).
Even in the Old Testament from the prophets of God we see that unfaithfulness to the True God frequently was represented by the image of adultery (see, for example, Ezek. 16:8-58, or 23:2-49). And it is terrifying for us not only to speak, but even to think that in our insane days we would have to observe not a few attempts to turn the very Church of Christ into a "brothel,"—and this not only in the above figurative sense, but also in the literal sense of this word, when it is so easy to justify oneself, fornication and every impurity are not even considered sins! We saw an example of this in the so-called "Living Churchmen" and "renovationists" in our unfortunate homeland after the Revolution, and now in the person of all the contemporary "modernists" who strive to lighten the easy yoke of Christ (St. Matt. 11:30) for themselves and betray the entire ascetic structure of our Holy Church, legalizing every transgression and moral impurity. To speak here about Orthodoxy, of course, is in no way proper despite the fact that the dogmas of the Faith remain untouched and unharmed!
True Orthodoxy, on the other hand, is alien to every dead formalism. In it there is no blind adherence to the "letter of the law," for it is "spirit and life." Where, from an external and purely formal point of view, everything seems quite correct and strictly legal, this does not mean that it is so in reality. In Orthodoxy there can be no place for Jesuitical casuistry; the favorite dictum of worldly jurists cannot be applied: "One may not trample upon the law—one must go around it."
Orthodoxy is the one and only Truth, the pure Truth, without any admixture or the least shadow of falsehood, lie, evil or fraud.
The most essential thing in Orthodoxy is the podvig of prayer and fasting which the Church particularly extols during the second week of the Great Fast as the double-edged "wondrous sword" by which we strike the enemies of our salvation—the dark demonic power. It is through this podvig that our soul is illumined with grace-bearing divine light, as teaches St. Gregory Palamas, who is triumphantly honored by the Holy Church on the second Sunday of the Great Fast. Glorifying his sacred memory, the Church calls this wondrous hierarch "the preacher of grace," "the beacon of the Light," "the preacher of the divine light," "an immovable pillar for the Church."
Christ the Savior Himself stressed the great significance of the podvig of prayer and fasting when His disciples found themselves unable to cast out demons from an unfortunate boy who was possessed. He told them clearly,"This kind (of demon) goeth not out save by prayer and fasting" (St. Matt. 17:21). Interpreting this passage in the gospel narrative, our great patristic theologian-ascetic, the hierarch Theophan the Recluse asks, "May we think that where there is no prayer and fasting, there is a demon already?" And he replies, "We may. Demons, when entering into a person do not always betray their entry, but hide themselves, secretly teaching their hosts every evil and to turn aside every good. That person may be convinced that he is doing everything himself, while he is only carrying out the will of his enemy. Only take up prayer and fasting and the enemy will immediately leave and will wait elsewhere for an opportunity to return; and he really will return if prayer and fasting are soon abandoned" (Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 245-246).
From this a direct conclusion may be reached: where fasting and prayer are disregarded, neglected or completely set aside, there is no trace of Orthodoxy—there is the domain of demons who treat man as their own pathetic toy.
Behold, therefore, where all contemporary "modernism" leads, which demands "reform" in our Orthodox Church! All these liberal free thinkers and their lackies, who strive to belittle the significance of prayer and fasting, however much they shout and proclaim their alleged faithfulness to the dogmatic teaching of our Orthodox Church, cannot be considered really Orthodox, and have shown themselves to be apostates from Orthodoxy.
We will always remember that by itself totally formal Orthodoxy has no goal if it does not have "spirit and life"—and the "spirit and life" of Orthodoxy are first and foremost in the podvig of prayer and fasting; moreover, the genuine fasting of which the Church teaches is understood in this instance to be abstinence in every aspect, and not merely declining to taste non-Lenten foods.
Without podvig there is altogether no true Christianity, that is to say, Orthodoxy. See what Christ, the First Ascetic, Himself clearly says; "Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Mark 8:34). The true Christian, the Orthodox Christian, is only he who strives to emulate Christ in the bearing of the cross and is prepared to crucify himself in the Name of Christ. The holy Apostles clearly taught this. Thus the Apostle Peter writes: "If when you do well and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is accepted with God. For even here unto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps" (I Pet. 2:2-21). In precisely the same way the holy Apostle Paul says repeatedly in his epistles that all true Christians must be ascetics, and the ascetic labor of the Christian consists of crucifying himself for the sake of Christ: "They that are Christians have crucified the flesh together with the passions and lusts" (Gal. 5:24). A favorite expression of St. Paul is that we must be crucified with Christ that we might rise with Him. He puts forth this thought in a variety of his sayings in many of his epistles.
You see, therefore, that one who loves only to spend time enjoying himself and does not think of self-denial and self-sacrifice, but continually wallows in every possible fleshly pleasure and delight is completely un-Orthodox, un-Christian. Concerning this the great ascetic of Christian antiquity, the Venerable Isaac the Syrian, taught well: "The way of God is a daily cross. No one ascends to heaven living cooly (i.e. comfortably, carefree, pleased with himself, without struggle). And of the cool path, we know where it ends" (Works, p. 158). This is that "wide and broad way" which, in the words of the Lord Himself, "leadeth to destruction" (Matt. 7:13).
This then is what is Orthodoxy, or True Christianity!
From Orthodox Life, vol. 26, no. 3 (May-June, 1976), pp. 1-5.
The Holy Martyr Eleutherius Cubicularius was an illustrious and rich chamberlain ["cubicularius"] at the Byzantine court. With all his courtly privileges, Eleutherius was not beguiled by worldly possessions and honors. Instead, he thought of imperishable and eternal things. Having accepted holy Baptism, he began daily to glorify God with psalmody and to adorn his life with virtuous deeds.
But one of his servants through diabolic promptings, informed against his master to the [then still pagan] emperor. The emperor tried to turn Eleutherius from his faith in Christ, but after the unsuccessful attempts the emperor gave orders to behead him, and to throw his body to be eaten by dogs and vultures. A certain Christian priest took up the saint's body and buried it.
There is a second commemoration of the martyr on August 4. SOURCE:
The Holy Martyrs Philemon, Apollonius, Arianus and Theotychus suffered for the Faith in Egypt, at the city of Antinoe, under the emperor Diocletian (284-305). St Arrian up until his conversion to Christ was a persecutor of Christians, among whom were the martyrs Apollonius and Philemon.
St Apollonius, at first fearing to face the sufferings, asked the pagan musician Philemon to change clothes with him and offer sacrifice to the idols for him. But unexpectedly St Philemon confessed himself a Christian in front of the pagans.
St Apollonius repented and also confessed Christ. After torture, both martyrs were executed. St Philemon's body was hung upon an olive tree, and arrows were shot at him. One struck prefect Arianus in the eye, destroying it. Arianus' injured eye was healed by when he applied dirt taken from Philemon's grave. He repented and was converted to the Christian Faith and baptized together with all his household and bodyguards. Out of love for Christ they voluntarily went to torture and were sentenced to death. Martyr Arianus
The Martyr Theotychus was the eldest of the guards, and is remembered with the other saints. The Martyrs Philemon and Apollonius died on March 16, 286, and the Martyrs Arrian and Theotychus on March 4, 287. Troparion - Tone 3
With garlands and songs let us adorn the seven martyrs,
Thyrsus, Philemon, and steadfast Apolonius,
Arianus, Callinicus, Apollonia and glorious Leucius,
For they destroyed the enemy and are pillars of godliness.
Together they shine on all the world with rays of heavenly grace!
Troparion - Tone 4
Your holy martyrs, O Lord,
Through their sufferings have received incorruptible crowns from You, our God.
For having Your strength, they laid low their adversaries,
And shattered the powerless boldness of demons.
Through their intercessions, save our souls!
Kontakion - Tone 4
Let us gather today,
And praise the Church's luminaries,
Acclaiming them as fitting trophy–bearers of Christ our God! SOURCE:
The Holy Martyrs Eustratius, Auxentius, Eugene, Mardarius, and Orestes (the Five Companions) suffered for Christ under the emperor Diocletian (284-305) at Sebaste, in Armenia.
Among the first Christians imprisoned and undergoing torture at that time was St Auxentius, a presbyter of the Arabian Church. One of those who witnessed the steadfastness of the Christians was the noble military commander St Eustratius, the city prefect of Satalios, and archivist of the province. He was secretly a Christian, and when he openly confessed his faith, he was subjected to torture. They beat him, and put iron sandals studded with sharp nails on his feet, then forced him to march to the city of Arabrak.
Witnessing the arrival of St Eustratius in Arabrak, one of the common people, St Mardarius, confessed that he was also a Christian like St Eustratius. He was arrested and cast into prison. Holes were drilled in his ankles, and ropes were passed them. He was suspended upside down, then heated nails were hammered into his body. He died a short time later. To him is attributed the prayer "O Master Lord God, Father Almighty ..." (which is read at the end of the Third Hour).
As for St Eugene, they ripped out his tongue, they cut off his hands and feet, and then they beheaded him with a sword. St Auxentius was also arrested and beheaded. The young soldier St Orestes confessed himself a Christian and stood trial for this "crime." He was sentenced to be stretched out upon a red-hot iron bed, and became frightened when he approached it. Encouraged by St Eustratius, he made the Sign of the Cross and got onto the heated bed, where he surrendered his soul to God.
St Eustratius was sentenced to be burned alive on December 13. As he was being led to his death, he prayed aloud ("I magnify Thee exceedingly, O Lord, for Thou hast regarded my lowliness..."). This prayer is still read at the Saturday Midnight Office.
Holy Confession was a familiar act in the Old Testament (Lev 5:5-6; Num 5:5-7; Prov. 28:13). That is why people would come to John the Forerunner and confess their sins while he would confirm their repentance with baptism (Matt 3:5-6; Mark 1:4-5).
This activity was also continued in the Christian Church – “many who believed would come to confess their sins and uncover their deeds” (Acts 19:18) thus being forgiven by the Apostles, according to the promise of the Lord: that this authority would be granted to the Apostles (Matt 16:19; 18:18). This was fulfilled following the resurrection of Christ. Of course, forgiveness was not based on the power of the apostles but “on the blood” of the Lord (John 20:21-23; 1 John 1:7).
The confessor is used as an instrument, as a servant of Christ and caretaker of the mysteries (sacraments) of God (1 Cor. 4:1; Titus 1:7; 1 John 1:9 – 2:2).
In the early Church, confession was made publicly during the holy assembly of the faithful, where the clergy and the bishop were present too, who would grant remission of sins. “All who repent, the Lord forgives them if they repent in unity of God and in the presence of a bishop” (Ign. Philad. 8, 1) Saint Ignatius says characteristically, while the “Didache” advises “if you confess your transgressions in the Church and you do not approach your prayer with evil conscience, this is the way of life” (Did. 4:14).
Saint Cyprian stresses that the sinner is received back into the ecclesiastical community, namely in the mystery of the Divine Eucharist, “through the placing on of the hands of the bishop and of the clergy” having previously confessed (Cypr. Epistle 16:2). Holy Communion is not allowed to anyone “if the bishop and the clergy do not place their hand on him beforehand” (Epist 18:2). The “remission,” he says, that was granted “through the clergy” is “pleasing to the Lord” (De lapsis 29).
Origen considers it a natural consequence, “according to the depiction of the One who gave the priesthood to the Church, that both the functionaries and the clergy of the Church assume the sins of the people, imitating the Teacher by granting to the people remission of sins (Origen, On Leviticus, speech 50, 3).
St. Basil the Great refers to confession in the Apostolic Church (Acts 19:18) and concludes that “it is necessary that we confess our sins to those entrusted with the care-taking of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1) since even the first Christians “were confessing to the apostles, who also baptized everyone (Gr. Basil, Rules 288).
Saint John Chrysostom says about priests: “While still inhabiting and walking upon the earth, they have assumed the management of heavenly affairs with authority that God did not give even to the angels or even to the archangels. He did not in fact tell the angels ‘whatever you bind on earth, shall be bound in the heavens…’ However, the bond of the priests touches the soul itself and extends to the heavens, and whatever the priests do down on earth is confirmed by God in the heavens. The Master approves the decision of His servants. Perhaps He has not fully given them the heavenly authority? He told them, ‘whoever’s sins you uphold, they shall be upheld also in heaven’” (Chrysostom, On Priesthood, speech 3,5).
The Orthodox Church therefore continues this early Christian tradition of confession before a confessor.
Manual on Heresies and para-Christian Groups By : Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos PhD. of Theology, PhD. of Philosophy
Commemorated on December 12
The Hieromartyr Alexander, Bishop of Jerusalem, was a disciple of the great teacher and writer of the Church, Clement of Alexandria. At the beginning of the third century he was chosen bishop of Flavia, Cappadocia. He was arrested during the reign of the emperor Septimus Severus (193-211) and spent three years in prison.
After his release from prison he went to Jerusalem to venerate the holy places, and was told to remain there through a divine revelation. In 212 he was chosen as coadministrator with the elderly Patriarch Narcissus, an unusually rare occurrence in the ancient Church. Following the death of St Narcissus (August 7), St Alexander succeeded him and governed the Church of Jerusalem for thirty-eight years, working for the enlightenment of Christians. He also established the first library of Christian theological works at Jerusalem.
St Alexander was arrested during the persecution of the Church under the emperor Decius (249-251). The holy martyr was sent to Cappadocia, where he suffered many tortures. He was condemned to be eaten by wild beasts, but they did not harm him. St Alexander was cast into prison, where he surrendered his soul to God.
The hieromartyr Alexander is also commemorated on May 16. SOURCE:
Having examined the history of Georgia and the hagiographical treasures attesting to the faith of the Georgian nation, we become convinced that Heavenly Georgia— the legion of Georgian saints, extolling the Lord in the Heavenly Kingdom with a single voice—is infinitely glorious. It is unknown how many cleansed themselves of their earthly sins in merciless warfare with the enemy of Christ, or how many purified their souls in unheated cells through prayer, fasting, and ascetic labors.
To God alone are known the names of those ascetics, forgotten by history, who by their humble labors tirelessly forged the future of the Georgian Church and people.
St. George of the Holy Mountain wrote: “From the time we recognized the one true God, we have never renounced Him, nor have our people ever yielded to heresy.”
A decree of the Church Council of Ruisi-Urbnisi states: “We will not depart from thee, the Catholic Church which bore us in holiness, nor will we betray thee, our pride—Orthodoxy—to which we have always been faithful, for we have been granted the honor to know thee, the witness of the Truth Itself!” This relationship to Orthodoxy is the cornerstone of the life of every Georgian believer.
It is impossible to count the names of all those Christians who have been raised up from the earthly Church in Georgia to the heavens, let alone to describe all the godly deeds they have performed. For this reason December 11 has been set aside for the commemoration not only of the saints whose Lives are known to us but also of the nearly three hundred more whose names, but not stories, have been preserved as well.
Most Georgian people bear the name of a saint who is commemorated on this day, and they entreat the saint to intercede before the Lord in their behalf. SOURCE:
Commemorated on December 10
Saint Joasaph was born at Proluka, in the former Poltava governance, on September 8, 1705, the Feast of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos. He was descended from the old and venerable Little Russian (Ukrainian) lineage of the Gorlenkovi. At Baptism he was named Joachim.
In 1712, his father enrolled the seven-year-old Joachim in the Kiev Spiritual Academy. Within the walls of the academy he felt attracted to monastic life. For seven years he studied it further, and finally revealed his intention to his parents.
For a long time his mother and father pleaded with their first-born son not to accept monastic tonsure. But in 1725, unknown to them, he became a "rasophore" ("robe-wearing novice") with the name Hilarion at the Kiev Mezhigorsk monastery, and on 21 November 1727 he was tonsured in the mantya with the name Joasaph at the Kievo-Bratsk monastery. This event coincided with the completion of his studies at the spiritual academy.
After the death of His Grace Barlaam, the See of Kiev was governed by Archbishop Raphael Zaborovsky. Archbishop Raphael noticed the abilities of the young ascetic and assigned him to greater service to the Church. He was entrusted with the responsibility of the office of examiner of the Kiev archbishopric.
In November 1734, Archbishop Raphael ordained the hierodeacon Joasaph as hieromonk, and he was transferred from the Bratsk monastery school to the Kiev-Sophia archbishop's house. At the same time, he was appointed a member of the Kiev religious consistory.
In fulfilling the office of examiner, he exerted much effort towards the correction of moral deficiencies among the parish clergy. The saint's service in the consistory office enabled him to develop his administrative abilities. During this time, he made a good study of the needs of clergy-servers, noting both the good points and the failings of the diocese. His talent for administration was combined with his great spiritual effort. He quickly ascended the ladder of spiritual perfection, which can be seen in his work, "The Conflict of the Seven Venerable Virtues with the Seven Deadly Sins."
On June 24, 1737 Hieromonk Joasaph was appointed head of the Holy Transfiguration Mgarsk monastery, and elevated to the rank of igumen. Here he worked with all his strength to put the monastery in good order, for it was an old bastion of Orthodoxy in the struggle with the Unia. In this monastery were relics of St Athanasius, Patriarch of Constantinople and Wonderworker of Lubny (May 2). Several times St Athanasius appeared to Igumen Joasaph, as a sign of his patronal protection.
In 1744 Metropolitan Raphael elevated Igumen Joasaph to the dignity of archimandrite. Towards the end of that same year he was called to Moscow and soon, at the direction of the Most Holy Synod, he was appointed vicar of the Holy Trinity Sergiev Lavra monastery. At this monastery of St Sergius he also unstintingly fulfilled obedience to the Church (this year required much exertion for the rebuilding of the monastery after a fire).
On June 2, 1748 at the Peter and Paul cathedral in Peterburg, Archimandrite Joasaph was ordained Bishop of Belgorod. Ascending the archbishop's throne, St Joasaph strictly concerned himself with piety and the condition of the churches, with the proper celebration of divine services, and especially with the moral condition of his flock.
The saint devoted great attention to the education of the clergy, and the correct observance of churchly norms and traditions. Just as before, the saint worked with all his strength in his archpastoral service, without regard for his health.
On the eve of his repose, the saint forbade his cell attendant Stephen to aspire to the priesthood, and he predicted that if he did not obey him, he would meet with an untimely end. To another cell attendant Basil, the saint indicated that he would be a deacon, but would never become a priest. Later, this prediction was fulfilled. St Joasaph died on December 10, 1754, and was glorified on September 4, 1911. SOURCE:
Commemorated on December 9
Saint Sophronius, Archbishop of Cyprus, was born into a Christian family on Cyprus, and he studied many sciences, but most of all he devoted himself to the reading of Holy Scripture. He became so accomplished in piety and good works, that he was granted the gift of wonderworking by the Lord. Following the death of St Damian, bishop of Cyprus, St Sophronius was chosen to replace him. As bishop, he proved himself a true father to his flock. SOURCE:
Saint Cyril of Chelma Hill, Enlightener of the Chudian People, was born at the city of White Lake. He was tonsured at the monastery of St Anthony the Roman, where for six years he passed through various obediences. Then, after wandering through the wilderness for three years, he settled in a wild region of Kargopolsk. And here, by a command from on high, he chose Chelma Hill for his constant abode. Many of the afflicted from the Chud people came to see St Cyril, whose luminous ascetic life and kindly preaching moved many to accept holy Baptism.
Toward the end of his life, St Cyril established a monastery and church in honor of the Theophany of the Lord. The monk dwelt upon Chelma Hill for fifty-two years, and died at the advanced age of 82.
Commemorated on December 7
Saint Anthony of Siya, in the world Andrew, was born into a family of rich farmers in the village of Kekhta near the North Dvina river. In childhood he received a fine education, read much and learned iconography. After the death of his parents, Andrew went to Novgorod, and for five years worked for a boyar [nobleman] there. He later married, but his wife died after a year.
Then Andrew decided to devote himself to monasticism. He distributed his goods to the poor and as a wanderer came to the Pachomiev wilderness monastery at the River Kena. St Pachomius tonsured him with the name Anthony. Soon he was ordained a hieromonk, and Anthony, with the blessing of the igumen, celebrated the divine services by himself.
He went out with the other monks of the monastery to work for the monastery's needs. Out of love for solitude St Anthony eventually left the Pachomiev wilderness, after choosing two companions from the monastic brethren, and he settled upon Mikhailov Island, on the one side washed by the River Sii, and on the other, by encircling lakes.
In this harsh frontier within the dense thickets Anthony built a chapel in 1520. But to clear the forest required difficult work, and Anthony's companions began to grumble against him. Then quite unexpectedly an unknown man furnished them with the means of subsistence, offering money for good measure. The Siya monastery became famous, and inhabitants of surrounding villages often visited it. And again St Anthony, taking one disciple, withdrew to a still more remote place on Lake Palun. There, in a solitary cell, he dwelt for three years. When the igumen Theoctistus refused to guide the Siya monastery any longer, the brethren tried to persuade St Anthony to return to them. He finally acceded to the request of the monks, again became igumen and piously guided the monastery until his death in the year 1556, when he was seventy-nine years old.
Troparion - Tone 1
You renounced the world in favor of the spirit,
Seeking the one God with your whole heart, O Anthony.
You retreated to a far wilderness, near waters,
In tears and labors living the angelic life.
You gathered a multitude of monks in your wisdom.
Visit them and cease not to implore the Holy Trinity
To deliver us from evil
And to save our souls!
Kontakion - Tone 8
From your youth you exhausted your flesh by fasting and prayer,
And taking up your cross, you followed Christ.
Having joyfully completed your journey to heaven,
You stand with the saints before the Holy Trinity.
Now visit your flock and remember those who honor you,
That all the faithful may cry out in thanksgiving:
Rejoice, O wise and righteous Anthony, guide of desert-dwellers! SOURCE: