Saint Jonah, Metropolitan of Moscow and Wonderworker of All Russia, was born in the city of Galich into a pious Christian family. The father of the future saint was named Theodore. The youth received monastic tonsure in one of the Galich monasteries when he was only twelve years old. From there, he transferred to the Moscow Simonov monastery, where he fulfilled various obediences for many years.
Once, St Photius, Metropolitan of Moscow (May 27 and July 2), visited the Simonov monastery. After the Molieben, he blessed the archimandrite and brethren, and also wished to bless those monks who were fulfilling their obediences in the monastery.
When he came to the bakery, he saw St Jonah sleeping, exhausted from his work. The fingers of the saint's right hand were positioned in a gesture of blessing. St Photius said not to wake him. He blessed the sleeping monk and predicted to those present that this monk would be a great hierarch of the Russian Church, and would guide many on the way to salvation.
The prediction of St Photius was fulfilled. Several years later, St Jonah was made Bishop of Ryazan and Murom.
St Photius died in 1431. Five years after his death, St Jonah was chosen Metropolitan of All Russia for his virtuous and holy life. The newly-elected Metropolitan journeyed to Constantinople in order to be confirmed as Metropolitan by Patriarch Joseph II (1416-1439). Shortly before this the nefarious Isidore, a Bulgarian, had already been established as Metropolitan. Spending a short time at Kiev and Moscow, Isidore journeyed to the Council of Florence (1438), where he embraced Catholicism.
A Council of Russian hierarchs and clergy deposed Metropolitan Isidore, and he was compelled to flee secretly to Rome (where he died in 1462). St Jonah was unanimously chosen Metropolitan of All Russia. He was consecrated by Russian hierarchs in Moscow, with the blessing of Patriarch Gregory III (1445-1450) of Constantinople. This was the first time that Russian bishops consecrated their own Metropolitan. St Jonah became Metropolitan on December 15, 1448. With archpastoral zeal he led his flock to virtue and piety, spreading the Orthodox Faith by word and by deed. Despite his lofty position, he continued with his monastic struggles as before.
In 1451 the Tatars unexpectedly advanced on Moscow; they burned the surrounding area and prepared for an assault on the city. Metropolitan Jonah led a procession along the walls of the city, tearfully entreating God to save the city and the people. Seeing the dying monk Anthony of the Chudov monastery, who was noted for his virtuous life, St Jonah said, "My son and brother Anthony! Pray to the Merciful God and the All-Pure Mother of God for the deliverance of the city and for all Orthodox Christians."
The humble Anthony replied, "Great hierarch! We give thanks to God and to His All-Pure Mother. She has heard your prayer and has prayed to Her Son. The city and all Orthodox Christians will be saved through your prayers. The enemy will soon take flight. The Lord has ordained that I alone am to be killed by the enemy." Just as the Elder said this, an enemy arrow struck him.
The prediction of Elder Anthony was made on July 2, on the Feast of the Placing of the Robe of the Most Holy Theotokos. Confusion broke out among the Tatars, and they fled in fear and terror. In his courtyard, St Jonah built a church in honor of the Placing of the Robe of the Most Holy Theotokos, to commemorate the deliverance of Moscow from the enemy.
St Jonah reposed in the year 1461, and miraculous healings began to take place at his grave.
In 1472 the incorrupt relics of Metropolitan Jonah were uncovered and placed in the Dormition Cathedral of the Kremlin (the Transfer of the holy Relics is celebrated May 27). A Council of the Russian Church in 1547 established the commemoration of St Jonah, Metropolitan of Moscow. In 1596, Patriarch Job added St Jonah to the Synaxis of the Moscow Hierarchs (October 5).
Saint John of the Ladder is honored by Holy Church as a great ascetic and author of the renowned spiritual book called THE LADDER, from which he is also called "of the Ladder" (Climacus).
There is almost no information about St John's origins. One tradition suggests that he was born in Constantinople around the year 570, and was the son of Sts Xenophon and Maria (January 26).
John went to Sinai when he was sixteen, submitting to Abba Martyrius as his instructor and guide. After four years, St John was tonsured as a monk. Abba Strategios, who was present at St John's tonsure, predicted that he would become a great luminary in the Church of Christ.
For nineteen years St John progressed in monasticism in obedience to his spiritual Father. After the death of Abba Martyrius, St John embarked on a solitary life, settling in a wild place called Thola, where he spent forty years laboring in silence, fasting, prayer, and tears of penitence.
It is not by chance that in THE LADDER St John speaks about tears of repentance: "Just as fire burns and destroys the wood, so pure tears wash away every impurity, both external and internal." His holy prayer was strong and efficacious, as may be seen from an example from the life of the God-pleasing saint.
St John had a disciple named Moses. Once, the saint ordered his disciple to bring dung to fertilize the vegetable garden. When he had fulfilled the obedience, Moses lay down to rest under the shade of a large rock, because of the scorching heat of summer. St John was in his cell in a light sleep. Suddenly, a man of remarkable appearance appeared to him and awakened the holy ascetic, reproaching him, "John, why do you sleep so heedlessly, when Moses is in danger?"
St John immediately woke up and began to pray for his disciple. When Moses returned in the evening, St John asked whether any sort of misfortune had befallen him.
The monk replied, "A large rock would have fallen on me as I slept beneath it at noon, but I left that place because I thought I heard you calling me." St John did not tell his disciple of his vision, but gave thanks to God.
St John ate the food which is permitted by the monastic rule, but only in moderation. He did not sleep very much, only enough to keep up his strength, so that he would not ruin his mind by unceasing vigil. "I do not fast excessively," he said of himself, "nor do I give myself over to intense all-night vigil, nor lay upon the ground, but I restrain myself..., and the Lord soon saved me."
The following example of St John's humility is noteworthy. Gifted with discernment, and attaining wisdom through spiritual experience, he lovingly received all who came to him and guided them to salvation. One day some envious monks reproached him for being too talkative, and so St John kept silence for a whole year. The monks realized their error, and they went to the ascetic and begged him not to deprive them of the spiritual profit of his conversation.
Concealing his ascetic deeds from others, St John sometimes withdrew into a cave, but reports of his holiness spread far beyond the vicinity. Visitors from all walks of life came to him, desiring to hear his words of edification and salvation. After forty years of solitary asceticism, he was chosen as igumen of Sinai when he was seventy-five. St John governed the holy monastery for four years. Toward the end of his life, the Lord granted him the gifts of clairvoyance and wonderworking.
At the request of St John, igumen of the Raithu monastery (Commemorated on Cheesefare Saturday), he wrote the incomparable LADDER, a book of instruction for monks who wished to attain spiritual perfection.
Knowing of the wisdom and spiritual gifts of St John of Sinai, the igumen of Raithu requested him to write down whatever was necessary for the salvation of those in the monastic life. Such a book would be "a ladder fixed on the earth" (Gen. 28:12), leading people to the gates of Heaven.
St John felt that such a task was beyond his ability, yet out of obedience he fulfilled the request. The saint called his work THE LADDER, for the book is "a fixed ladder leading from earthly things to the Holy of Holies...." The thirty steps of spiritual perfection correspond to the thirty years of the Lord's age. When we have completed these thirty steps, we will find ourselves with the righteous and will not stumble. THE LADDER begins with renunciation of the world, and ends with God, Who is love (1 John 4:8).
Although the book was written for monks, any Christian living in the world will find it an unerring guide for ascending to God, and a support in the spiritual life. Sts Theodore the Studite (November 11 and January 26), Sergius of Radonezh (September 25 and July 5), Joseph of Volokolamsk (September 9 and October 18), and others relied on THE LADDER as an important guide to salvation.
The twenty-second step of THE LADDER deals with various forms of vainglory. St John writes: "When I fast, I am vainglorious; and when I permit myself food in order to conceal my fasting from others I am again vainglorious about my prudence. When I dress in fine clothing, I am vanquished by vanity, and if I put on drab clothing, again I am overcome by vanity. If I speak, vainglory defeats me. If I wish to keep silence, I am again given over to it. Wherever this thorn comes up, it stands with its points upright.
A vain person seems to honor God, but strives to please men rather than God.
People of lofty spirit bear insult placidly and willingly, but only the holy and righteous may hear praise without harm.
When you hear that your neighbor or friend has slandered you behind your back, or even to your face, praise and love him.
It is not the one who reproaches himself who shows humility, for who will not put up with himself? It is the one who is slandered by another, yet continues to show love for him.
Whoever is proud of his natural gifts, intelligence, learning, skill in reading, clear enunciation, and other similar qualities, which are acquired without much labor, will never obtain supernatural gifts. Whoever is not faithful in small things (Luke 16:10), is also unfaithful in large things, and is vainglorous.
It often happens that God humbles the vainglorious, sending a sudden misfortune. If prayer does not destroy a proud thought, we bring to mind the departure of the soul from this life. And if this does not help, let us fear the shame which follows dishonor. "For whoever humbles himself shall be exalted, and whoever exalts himself shall be humbled" (Luke 14:11). When those who praise us, or rather seduce us, start to praise us, let us recall our many sins, then we shall find that we are not worthy of what they say or do to honor us."
In THE LADDER St John describes the ascent toward spiritual perfection, which is essential for anyone who wishes to save his soul. It is a written account of his thoughts, based on the collected wisdom of many wise ascetics, and on his own spiritual experience. The book is a great help on the path to truth and virtue.
The steps of THE LADDER proceed gradually from strength to strength on the path of perfection. The summit is not reached suddenly, but gradually, as the Savior says: "The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force" (Mt.11:12).
St John is also commemorated on the fourth Sunday of Great Lent.
By a flood of tears you made the desert fertile And by your longing for God you brought forth fruits in abundance. By the radiance of miracles you illuminated the whole universe. O our holy Father John Climacus, pray to Christ our God to save our souls.
You offered us your teachings as fruits of everlasting freshness, To sweeten the hearts of those who receive them with attention. O blessed and wise John, they are the rungs of a ladder, Leading the souls of those who honor you from earth to Eternal glory in Heaven!
Saint Eustathius the Confessor, Bishop of Bithynia, was already at the beginning of his spiritual struggle a pious monk, meek and wise, filled with great faith and love for his neighbor. For his virtuous life he was made bishop of the city of Bithynia (a Roman province in northwest Asia Minor) and for many years he guided his flock, giving them an example of virtuous life and perfection.
During the Iconoclast heresy, St Eustathius boldly came out against the heretics and defended the veneration of holy icons. Iconoclasts denounced him to the emperor, and the saint suffered imprisonment and fierce beatings. Finally, they deprived St Eustathius of his See and sent him to prison.
The holy confessor died in exile during the ninth century, after suffering insults, deprivation, hunger, and want for three years.
Saint John (Saakadze) of Manglisi was born in 1668 and spiritually nurtured in the Davit-Gareji Wilderness. Outstanding in virtue, John was quickly ordained a hieromonk, and soon after consecrated bishop of Manglisi. In 1724 St. John left Davit-Gareji for Derbend, Dagestan, where he constructed a wooden church and began to preach Christianity among the local people. He labored there with eleven other pious believers. St. John’s humble life and the miracles he performed attracted the attention of the Muslim Dagestanis, and even the government took notice of his tireless evangelical activity.
At that time the Georgian King Vakhtang VI (1703–1724) and Tsar Peter the Great of Russia were corresponding regularly about the evangelization of the Caspian seacoast. Both kings recognized the importance of St. John’s activity in regard to this matter, and they generously contributed to his efforts. With their help, St. John built one church in honor of the Nativity of the Theotokos and another in honor of Great-martyr Catherine.
In 1737 John left his disciples in Dagestan and journeyed to Astrakhan, near the place where the Volga flows into the Caspian Sea. There he constructed a church in honor of St. John the Evangelist, which was converted into a monastery in 1746. Archimandrite Herman, one of St. John’s disciples, was elevated as abbot of this monastery.
While in Astrakhan, St. John discovered that many ethnic Georgians were passing through the city of Kizliar in Ossetia, but they did not have a church in which to celebrate the divine services. So he traveled to Kizliar and, with help from his kinsmen, built a church and opened a preparatory school for clergy nearby.
On March 28, 1751, St. John reposed in Kizliar at the age of eighty. He was buried in the church that he himself had constructed.
Later, by order of King Teimuraz II (1744–1761), the myrrh-streaming relics of St. John were translated to Tbilisi and buried in Sioni Cathedral, in front of the Manglisi Icon of the Mother of God.
Because of the sudden appearance of Protestantism during the 16th century, there arose an inner need to prove that it has a place in the history of the Church, and also that Protestantism belongs to the Church. Hence they created a theory, which claimed that the Church supposedly apostatized after the demise of the Apostles, and hence, for centuries did not exist in any organized form.
Because of the sudden appearance of Protestantism during the 16th century, there arose an inner need to prove that it has a place in the history of the Church, and also that Protestantism belongs to the Church. Hence they created a theory, which claimed that the Church supposedly apostatized after the demise of the Apostles, and hence, for centuries did not exist in any organized form.
Other groups claim that the Church apostatized during the 4th century, others during the 3rd, others during the 2nd, and others even claim it happened during the 1st century (!), depending on each group’s benefits. They use the scandals that occasionally appear in the Orthodox Church as their excuse, in order to validate their assertion that “the Church has apostatized, because it has a large proportion of unworthy presbyters and faithless people.”
This is the topic that we shall deal with here. Can the Church have unclean Elders?
Someone might say: “Alright, perhaps people are indifferent, so we can expect a large proportion to be unclean and perhaps every now and then a presbyter may behave disrespectfully, but, when there is a huge proportion of scandals – and especially in the topmost “leadership” of the Church – God cannot accept worship from a religion that allows the continuation of scandals!”
The proportion of scandals is of course not as large as the other religions would have liked it to be. Quite often, the same subject is repeated again and again; some become confused and relate it to another presbyter, and the same topic takes on entirely different dimensions. But even if everything rumored were true, and one, sole, good presbyter existed, God would not judge His people proportionately, even if it were comprised only of one presbyter. Even a presbyter will be judged on a personal basis, as a human being, and will receive whatever he deserves under God’s fair judgment. He will not condemn the innocent along with the guilty! Besides, there are ecclesiastic canons, which provide for the corrective instruction of disrespectful clergymen, when their guilt has been proven. They too, as humans, need educating!
The question that remains however, is: “Does God accept the worship of an unsuitable presbyter? Can his ministry be of any value?”
Let’s take a look once again at what the Holy Bible has to say on the subject (the Bible that Protestantism claims it observes)
Unworthy Priests of the Old Testament
A first example that we shall mention (of the many that exist) is from the book of Samuel I, 2/II: 22-25. In there are mentioned the two sons of Eli, Head Priest of Israel; both of them upcoming high priests of the people. They, with their father’s tolerance, fornicated with the women that came to the temple of God, and according to 2/II: 12-17, they ate of the sacrificial fat (which was something that God’s law prohibited); in fact, they actually snatched it from the faithful forcefully. This scandalized the people and they refrained from sacrificing to God. Yet they, as well as their father the high priest, remained in the temple as priests of God. One wonders, did God accept the sacrifices of those unworthy priests? Of course He did! And this is confirmed, in chapter 1/I verses 3-5 and 19, where we read that God accepted the sacrifice of the parents of the prophet Samuel, and replied, by sending them a son-prophet! And moreover, Anna – Samuel’s mother – received and accepted the blessing of Eli, the unworthy high priest!! (1/I 17,18).
God of course later withdrew His protection from those unworthy priests, which eventually led them to losing their lives, according to the narration further down (2/II 31-36). Thus, we see that it was God who imposed judgment, and not the people. God did not reject Israel on account of its unworthy priests, He did not reject the righteous Levites, nor did He cease to accept the sacrifices of the faithful Israelites from the hands of unworthy priests.
The same applies today; even if an act of irreverence is tolerated by those in charge and the people are scandalized, it is God who has the last say in matters. He does not reject His Orthodox Church, or the righteous and worthy presbyters. And He furthermore continues to accept the ministering by unworthy hands, until such time as He decides to mete out justice.
Obviously, all scandal-seekers are left with no grounds for justification, given that everything that happened to Israel during those times was also going to happen tο the Christian Church, according to the Apostle Paul, in his Epistle II to Peter, 2/II 1-3, etc.
Let’s take a look at another example that proves God accepts as his minister even someone who is unclean.
Unworthy Priests in Christ’s time
We are well aware that the Lord’s crucifixion was the result of the designs of the high priests of God’s people (Israel) at the time. John the Evangelist in his gospel (chapter 11/XI and verses 47-53) discloses the following event: Caiafas, acting high priest of that year, along with other priests and Pharisees, conspired to assassinate Jesus Christ because of the many miracles that He had performed and because He was so persuasive to the people. So they said: “If we leave this person alone, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and destroy our people and our nation.” And the high priest Caiafas added: “It is better for us that one person die for the people, rather than the entire nation be destroyed.”
At this point, John the evangelist clarifies that: “Caiafas did not utter these words by chance; being the high priest for that year, he was actually prophesying that Jesus was destined to die for the nation’s sake.”
Just think! God conceded to giving a prophecy to someone, at the very moment that he was designing to assassinate Jesus Christ, simply because he was the high priest of that year! What does this prove? It proves the following: That God may disapprove of an irreverent minister of His, but: He disapproves of him as a person. He accepts that person as a priest, and blesses his divinely given ministry.
Unworthy Priests in the Apostles’ time
But how did the Apostles behave towards such unworthy priests? Did they follow the tactics of today’s seemingly reverent accusers? Let’s check it out:
In Acts 23/XXIII 1-5, Luke the Evangelist records an event involving the Apostle Paul. The apostle had been brought before the council as the accused; and while he was speaking, the high priest Ananiah ordered those present to strike him in the mouth. Then Paul said to him: “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall; and yet you sit in judgment over me according to the law, and you violate it by giving the order to strike me?”
Then the spectators admonished him: “Are you insulting the high priest of God?”
The apostle apologized immediately: “My brothers, I didn’t know that he is a high priest! For it is written: you shall not speak badly of the potentates of your people”
So, what do the critics of the presbyters of God have to say about this? Do they have the same kind of respect for their own presbyters?
Unworthy presbyters in the Apostles’ time
Now let’s take a look at some examples of the situation that prevailed INSIDE the Christian Church during the time of the Apostles, as recorded in the New Testament.
Especially in Corinthians II, chapters 10-12/X-XII, we learn that the Apostle Paul was downhearted, because apparently certain so-called “apostles” had enslaved the Church of Corinth and were also accusing the Apostle Paul. Paul was thus compelled to present his arguments in these three chapters, in order to remind them of his labors for their sakes, so that they might comprehend that his accusers are bad pastors of the Church of Corinth. The reader is asked to read these three chapters very carefully, so that he can become fully aware of the unworthiness of those pastors of Corinth.
But this was not the only incident! John the Apostle writes in his Epistle III, 9,10 to the Christian Gaius: “I wrote something to the Church, but the primacy-loving Diotrephes does not accept us. So, when I come there, I shall remind him of what he has been doing, and of his gossiping about us with malicious words; and as if this weren’t enough, he doesn’t receive our brothers and he obstructs them and drives them away from the Church.”
Just imagine! The prebyter of this Church refused the Apostle John and other Christians into the Church! And yet, despite all this, it was still the Church of Christ, albeit with an unworthy presbyter and persecutor of the apostles. And what is more, neither Gaius or anyone else –not even John himself- asked for his dethronement, nor did they deny his status as presbyter!
In the first chapters of Revelation, the Lord dictates 7 epistles to the corresponding 7 Churches of that time. Each epistle is directed to the “angel” - the “messenger” – who bears the wills of God for those Churches; in other words, to their Bishop.
Evidence that it does not refer to a spirit but a person, can be discerned in verses 7,10 of chapter 3/III, where Jesus Christ addresses the “angel of the Church of Philadelphia” and in verse 10 He includes him in “those inhabiting the earth”. If the angel therefore resides on earth, he cannot be an angel in the sense of a spirit, but only in the sense of a “messenger”.
In the same sense, therefore, the ‘angel’ of the Sardis Church is its Bishop - the pastor who is responsible for that Church. In Revelation 3/III 1-4, the Lord Jesus Christ orders this Church’s bishop “to wake up, because only in name is he alive, when in fact he is (spiritually) dead”. He informs him that “his works are known” and that “he must recover, and give support to whatever else is destined to die on his account, because his works are not perfect in the sight of God”. He warns him that “He will be caught in his sleep, as by a thief, if he doesn’t stay alert.” He is also told that “he has a few in his Church who are still pure, and that they shall receive suitable wages, because they are worthy”.
What is it saying here? It is showing that in the Christian Church of the Apostolic era there were Bishops who –as we saw in the previous examples- were spiritually dead! Their works were mischievous; they scandalized Christians and were the cause of spiritual death for many people. In fact, in the Church of Sardis, only a few had remained pure Christians, which indicates that the majority of the Church was unclean. So, here we have an unclean (in its majority) Church, with a spiritually dead Bishop!
According to the seemingly reverent groups of our time, a corrupt Church such as this could not be Christ’s. But, according to the above words of the Lord, He continued to acknowledge it, unclean as it may have been, and regardless how few the worthy ones were! He furthermore did not deny His “angel’s” status of Bishop; in fact, He invited him to rise to the demands of his mission, and did not ‘dethrone’ him immediately, just as John didn’t, just because that bishop had sinned. We furthermore observe that this Church is among the 7 Churches that had the Holy Spirit as oil, being the lamps of God that they were. (Revelation /I 20). And most importantly, according to verses 16 and 20, the Lord is “He who holds the seven stars in His right hand” and “the seven stars are the seven angels of the seven churches”. It is interesting, how that unworthy bishop WAS ONE OF THOSE SEVEN ANGELS OF THE SEVEN CHURCHES, AND ONE OF THE SEVEN STARS IN THE LORD’S RIGHT HAND.
All of the above indicate to us that the Church remains the treasury of divine grace, even if its shepherd and the majority of its congregation are “spiritually dead”.
This festive Synaxis is celebrated to the glory of the Archangel Gabriel, since he ministered to the marvelous mystery of God's incarnate dispensation.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Supreme Commanders of the Hosts of Heavens, we, the unworthy, importune and beseech thee that by thy supplications thou encircle us in the shelter of the wings of thine immaterial glory, guarding us who now fall down and cry to thee with fervour: Deliver us from dangers of all kinds, as the great marshal of the heavenly hosts on high.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Supreme Commander of God and minister of the Divine glory, guide of men and leader of the bodiless hosts: Ask for what is to our profit and for great mercy, since thou art Supreme Commander of the bodiless hosts.
Six months after John the Forerunner's conception, the Archangel Gabriel was sent by God to Nazareth, a town of Galilee, unto Mary the Virgin, who had come forth from the Temple a mature maiden (see Nov. 21). According to the tradition handed down by the Fathers, she had been betrothed to Joseph four months. On coming to Joseph's house, the Archangel declared: "Rejoice, thou Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women." After some consideration, and turmoil of soul, and fear because of this greeting, the Virgin, when she had finally obtained full assurance concerning God's unsearchable condescension and the ineffable dispensation that was to take place through her, and believing that all things are possible to the Most High, answered in humility: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." And at this, the Holy Spirit came upon her, and the power of the Most High overshadowed her all-blameless womb, and the Son and Word of God, Who existed before the ages, was conceived past speech and understanding, and became flesh in her immaculate body (Luke 1:26-38).
Bearing in her womb the Uncontainable One, the blessed Virgin went with haste from Nazareth to the hill country of Judea, where Zacharias had his dwelling; for she desired to find Elizabeth her kinswoman and rejoice together with her, because, as she had learned from the Archangel, Elizabeth had conceived in her old age. Furthermore, she wished to tell her of the great things that the Mighty One had been well-pleased to bring to pass in her, and she greeted Elizabeth and drew nigh to her. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, she felt her six-month-old babe, Saint John the Baptist, prophesied of the dawning of the spiritual Sun. Immediately, the aged Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and recognized her as the Mother of her Lord, and with a great voice blessed her and the Fruit that she held within herself. The Virgin also, moved by a supernatural rejoicing in the spirit, glorified her God and Savior, saying: "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour," and the rest, as the divine Luke hath recorded (1:39-55).
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Today is the fountainhead of our salvation and the manifestation of the mystery which was from eternity. The Son of God becometh the Virgin's Son, and Gabriel announceth the good tidings of grace; for this cause, let us cry to the Mother of God with him: Rejoice, thou who art full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
To you, Theotokos, invincible Defender, having been delivered from peril, I, your city, dedicate the victory festival as a thank offering. In your irresistible might, keep me safe from all trials, that I may call out to you: "Hail, unwedded bride!"
"The Uncut," or "Clouded Mountain" Icon of the Mother of God: About 250-300 years ago this icon was in one of the men's monasteries of Tver and was presented by the Superior to Cosmas Volchaninov in gratitude for his fine work in the monastery church. This icon was passed on from generation to generation, but a certain impious grandson of Cosmas removed it and placed the icon in an attic.
His bride endured many insults from her husband and his relatives. In despair over her marriage she resolved to commit suicide in a deserted bath-house. On the way there a monk appeared to her and said, "Where are you going, unhappy one? Go back, pray to the Theotokos of The Clouded Mountain, and you will live in peace."
The agitated young wife returned home and revealed everything, not concealing her interrupted intention. They searched for the monk, but they did not find him, and no one had seen him but her. This took place on the eve of the Feast of the Annunciation to the Most Holy Theotokos.
They found the icon in the attic, cleaned off the dirt and set it up in the house in a place of honor. In the evening, the parish priest served the all-night Vigil before the icon. From that time, Vigil was served in the house every year on this day.
For more than 150 years the icon was in the Volchaninov family. Katherine, daughter of Basil, the last of the Volchaninov line, married George Ivanovich Konyaev, taking with her the icon of the Mother of God as a precious inheritance. Moliebens and all-night vigils were served in the Konyaev house on March 24 and November 7 (perhaps this was the day when the icon was transferred from the monastery to the house of Cosmas Volchaninov).
In 1863 near a cemetery church of the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God it was decided to build a chapel in honor of St Tikhon and St Macarius of Kalyazin. The then owner of the icon, George Konyaev (who died in 1868 at the age of 97) wanted to donate the icon of the Theotokos to the church. He asked the clergy to build another chapel for the wonderworking icon of the Mother of God of the "Clouded Mountain."
He also said, "I feel the very best place for it is the temple of the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God, since the place on which the church was built, in former times was called a Mount, since it was the highest place in the city. The inhabitants took their possessions to the Mount and saved themselves from ruin during a flood. Let the icon, The Clouded Mountain, remain on this mountain with your blessing, and let all who are buried here be veiled with Her mercy." On July 15, 1866 the icon was transferred into the new chapel, which was consecrated by Bishop Anthony of Staritsk the following day.
On the icon the Most Holy Theotokos is depicted standing on a semi-circular elevation, a mountain; on Her left arm, the Divine Infant blesses with His right hand. Upon the head of the Mother of God is a crown, and in Her hand a mountain, on which are seen above churches with cupolas and crosses.
This icon should not be confused with the "Stone of the Mountain not cut by Hands" Icon on the iconostasis of the cathedral of the Transfiguration at Solovki. The latter depicts the Theotokos in half-length, holding Her Son in Her left hand. In Her right hand, She holds a ladder and a stone with the image of Christ's head (the King of Kings). Instead of the usual stars on her head and shoulders are the heads of angels. The title of the icon is derived from Daniel 2:44-45.
St Philetus was a dignitary at the court of the emperor Hadrian (117-138), a persecutor of Christians. For openly confessing his faith in Christ the Savior, St Philetus was brought to trial with his wife St Lydia and their sons Macedonius and Theoprepius. By Hadrian's order, St Philetus was sent with his family to Illyria to the military governor Amphilochius to be tortured.
Amphilochius gave orders to suspend them from a tree and to torture them with knives. After this, they were locked up in prison with the jailer Cronides, who believed in Christ. An angel came to them by night and eased their sufferings.
On the following day the martyrs were plunged into a cauldron of boiling oil, but the oil cooled instantly, and the saints remained unharmed. The military governor Amphilochius was so astonished at this miracle that he himself believed in Christ and went into the boiling oil saying, "Lord, Jesus Christ, help me!" and he remained unharmed. The tortures were repeated when the emperor Hadrian came to Illyria. They threw the holy martyrs into the boiling oil again and again, but by the power of God they remained alive.
The humiliated emperor returned to Rome, and the holy martyrs gave thanks to God, then they surrendered their holy souls to Him.
St Kyriake was the sister of the Holy Martyr Photina (Svetlana) the Samaritan Woman, with whom the Savior conversed at Jacob's Well (John. 4:5-42).
Summoned to appear before Nero, the emperor asked the saints whether they truly believed in Christ. All the confessors refused to renounce the Savior. Then the emperor gave orders to smash the martyrs' finger joints. During the torments, the confessors felt no pain, and their hands remained unharmed.
St Photina and her five sisters Anatolia, Phota, Photis, Paraskeva and Kyriake were sent to the imperial court under the supervision of Nero's daughter Domnina. St Photina converted both Domnina and all her servants to Christ. She also converted a sorcerer, who had brought her poisoned food to kill her.
Three years passed, and Nero sent to the prison for one of his servants, who had been locked up. The messengers reported to him that Sts Sebastian, Photinus and Joses, who had been blinded, had completely recovered, and that people were visiting them to hear their preaching, and indeed the whole prison had been transformed into a bright and fragrant place where God was glorified.
Nero then gave orders to crucify the saints, and to beat their naked bodies with straps. On the fourth day the emperor sent servants to see whether the martyrs were still alive. But, approaching the place of the tortures, the servants fell blind. An angel of the Lord freed the martyrs from their crosses and healed them. The saints took pity on the blinded servants, and restored their sight by their prayers to the Lord. Those who were healed came to believe in Christ and were soon baptized.
The sisters of St Photina also suffered terrible torments. Nero gave orders to cut off their breasts and then to flay their skin. An expert in cruelty, the emperor readied the fiercest execution for St Photis: they tied her by the feet to the tops of two bent-over trees. When the ropes were cut the trees sprang upright and tore the martyr apart. The emperor ordered the others beheaded, except for St Photina.
Saint Chrysanthos, who was from Alexandria, had been instructed in the Faith of Christ by a certain bishop. His father, who was a senator by rank and a pagan, had him shut up in prison for many days; then, seeing the unchanging disposition of his mind, he commanded that a certain young woman named Daria be brought from Athens. She was a very beautiful and learned maiden, and also an idolater, and Chrysanthos' father wedded him to her so that he might be drawn away from the Faith of Christ because of his love for her. Instead of this however, Chrysanthos drew Daria unto piety, and both of them boldly proclaimed Christ and received the crown of martyrdom in 283, during the reign of Numerian, when they were buried alive in a pit of mire.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Thy Martyrs, O Lord, in their courageous contest for Thee received as the prize the crowns of incorruption and life from Thee, our immortal God. For since they possessed Thy strength, they cast down the tyrants and wholly destroyed the demons' strengthless presumption. O Christ God, by their prayers, save our souls, since Thou art merciful.
The Third Sunday of Lent is that of the Veneration of the Cross. The cross stands in the midst of the church in the middle of the lenten season not merely to remind men of Christ's redemption and to keep before them the goal of their efforts, but also to be venerated as that reality by which man must live to be saved. "He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me" (Mt.10:38). For in the Cross of Christ Crucified lies both "the power of God and the wisdom of God" for those being saved (1 Cor.1:24).
O Lord, save Your people, and bless Your inheritance. Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians, over their adversaries. And by virtue of Your Cross preserve Your habitation!
Now the flaming sword no longer guards the gates of Eden; it has mysteriously been quenched by the wood of the Cross! The sting of death and the victory of hell have been vanquished; for You, O my Savior, have come and cried to those in hell: "Enter again into paradise."
This is from the weekly bulletin of my home parish of St. Paul. A terrifying look into the mirror.
If we give a gift in pride, this is not of God. If we are puffed up by the amount of knowledge we have, we have denied the Grace of God. If we are poor but proud, be assured, we will end up in Hell. If we are haughty and needy, be assured, what we are lacking we will pay for eternally. If we are sick and always complaining, we are sick to our soul’s harm. If we are hungry but long for luxury, we suffer like the poor, but catch the punishment of the rich. If we are always looking around with impure and lustful thoughts and we desire someone in this way, our reward will be in flames with the adulterers and in Hell with the fornicators...Let us demand purity from our bodies just as husbands and wives demand purity of each other...Darkness is dearer to us than light when our manner of life is impure...The time will come when our purity shall be disclosed, when our secret deeds shall be made known to all. With what eyes do we look to God in our prayers? What hands do we raise to heaven when we ask pardon? We should be ashamed and dismayed at ourselves when we are empty of understanding. If we are ashamed to look our neighbors in the eyes, how much more should we be ashamed before God who sees everything? If we do not guard our thoughts we are like the sow that is washed only to go and play in the filth again...Even in looking we can sin if our minds are not watchful. And we can sin in what we hear if we do not guard what we allow ourselves to listen to. The fornicator’s heart grows boldly because of talk that is full of dirtiness. Passions hidden in our minds, sight and hearing are awakened by dirty talk.
We should not slander anyone unless we want to be called Satan. If we do not like that name we must not do the things that merit our being called Satan. But if we love to gossip and slander, we had better not be angry at that name. We should count ourselves rebuked by the birds who always stick together with their own kind and do not go pecking into each others’ concerns. We must not take delight in anyone else’s sin. If we do, we have become a Satan. If evil happens to someone we hate, we must not be delighted or we have sinned. If our enemy falls into sin, we must feel pains and mourn. We must keep our hearts safe from secret sins; for there will be a laying bare of thoughts and actions at the second coming. Let us keep busy at what we ought to do and let our hearts meditate in prayer. We must not love idle and empty talking and notice that talking that is profitable will lighten both the work and what we are doing and our souls.
Saint Alexios was born in old Rome of illustrious parents named Euphemianus and Aglais, and at their request was joined to a young woman in marriage. However, he did not remain with her even for one day, but fled to Edessa, where he lived for eighteen years. He returned to Rome in the guise of a beggar and sat at the gates of his father's house, unknown to all and mocked by his own servants. His identity was revealed only after his death by a paper that he had on his person, which he himself had written a little before his repose. The pious Emperor Honorius honoured him with a solemn burial. The title "Man of God" was given to him from heaven in a vision to the Bishop of Rome on the day of the Saint's repose.
Apolytikion in the Second Tone
Though thou didst bud forth from a renowned and notable root, and though thou didst blossom from a city famed for her great imperial dignity, yet didst thou scorn all things as corruptible and fleeting, striving to be joined to Christ thy Master for ever. Entreat Him, O Alexios most wise, fervently for our souls.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
As we celebrate today with fitting rev'rence the all-holy festival of Saint Alexios the all-blest, with hymns we praise him and cry aloud: Rejoice, thou gladsome adornment of righteous men.
The Holy Martyr Nicander suffered in Egypt under the emperor Diocletian (284-305). He was a physician and during a time of persecution he visited Christians in prison. He assisted them, brought them food, and buried the dead.
Once, he came to the place where the bodies of the martyrs were thrown to be eaten by wild beasts. Fearing to bury them by day, he waited for night and buried the bodies under cover of darkness. They discovered St Nicander and subjected him to terrible tortures: they skinned him alive and then beheaded him in 302.
This Saint, whose name means "blessed," was born in 480 in Nursia, a small town about seventy miles northeast of Rome. He struggled in asceticism from his youth in deserted regions, where his example drew many who desired to emulate him. Hence, he ascended Mount Cassino in Campania and built a monastery there. The Rule that he gave his monks, which was inspired by the writings of Saint John Cassian, Saint Basil the Great, and other Fathers, became a pattern for monasticism in the West; because of this, he is often called the first teacher of monks in the West. He reposed in 547.
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
In thee the image was preserved with exactness, O Father; 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 Benedict, thy spirit rejoiceth with the Angels.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
O sun that shinest with the Mystic Dayspring's radiance, who didst enlighten the monastics of the western lands, thou art worthily the namesake of benediction; do thou purge us of the filth of passions thoroughly by the sweat of thine illustrious accomplishments, for we cry to thee: Rejoice, O thrice-blessed Benedict.
The Holy Martyrs Quadratus of Nicomedia, Saturinus, Rufinus and others suffered during the persecutions of the emperor Decius (249-251) and his successor Valerian (253-259).
St Quadratus was descended from an illustrious family. Possessing considerable wealth, the saint did not spare his means in helping fellow Christians, languishing in prison for the faith.
When the envoy of the impious Decius, the proconsul Perennius, arrived in Nicomedia, St Quadratus voluntarily appeared before him, in order to strengthen the courage of the imprisoned brethren by his self-sacrificing decision. At first Perennius attempted to lure Quadratus from Christ, promising him rewards and honors. Then, seeing the futility of his attempts, he cast the saint into prison and gave orders to lay him down on a bed of nails and to lay a large stone on him.
Setting out for Nicea, the proconsul commanded that all the imprisoned Christians be brought after him. In that number was St Quadratus. Upon arriving in the city, St Quadratus implored that they be led to the pagan temple. As soon as they untied his hands and feet, he began to overturn and destroy the idols. By order of the proconsul, they gave Quadratus over to torture. Enduring terrible torments, the saint held firm in spirit and by his act encouraged the other martyrs, whose wounds were seared with burning candles.
During the suffering of the martyrs, suddenly there shone a brilliant cloud, but the pagans found themselves in total darkness. In the ensuing silence was heard the singing of angels glorifying God. Many of those present confessed themselves Christians. Perennius ascribed the miracle to sorcery, and gave orders to take them to prison.
From Nicea the martyrs walked behind the proconsul to Apamea, then to Caesarea, Apollonia and the Hellespont, where they tortured them in all sorts of ways, hoping to make them deny Christ.
They tied St Quadratus into a sack filled with poisonous serpents, and threw it into a deep pit. On the following morning, everyone was astonished to see the martyr whole and unharmed. When they began to beat him mercilessly, two noblemen, Saturinus and Rufinus, were moved with pity for the martyr. This was observed, and Saturinus and Rufinus were beheaded.
Perennius subjected the martyr to even more fierce and refined tortures, but was not able to break his spirit. The saint lost his strength and was hardly able to move. For the last time the proconsul urged the martyr to abjure Christ. Marshalling his strength, the saint firmly replied, "Since childhood I have acknowledged Christ as the one and only God, and I know no other."
The proconsul gave orders to light the fire, make the iron grate red-hot and throw the martyr on it. Having blessed himself with the Sign of the Cross, St Quadratus laid himself down upon the red-hot couch as upon a soft bed, emerging unharmed from the flames. In frustration, the proconsul gave orders to behead St Quadratus.
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!
In the year 313 St Constantine the Great issued an edict granting Christians religious freedom, and officially recognizing Christianity as equal with paganism under the law. But his co-ruler Licinius was a pagan, and he decided to stamp out Christianity in his part of the Empire. As Licinius prepared his army to fight Constantine, he decided to remove Christians from his army, fearing mutiny.
One of the military commanders of that time in the Armenian city of Sebaste was Agricola, a zealous champion of idolatry. Under his command was a company of forty Cappadocians, brave soldiers who had distinguished themselves in many battles. When these Christian soldiers refused to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, Agricola locked them up in prison. The soldiers occupied themselves with prayer and psalmody, and during the night they heard a voice saying, "Persevere until the end, then you shall be saved."
On the following morning, the soldiers were again taken to Agricola. This time the pagan tried flattery. He began to praise their valor, their youth and strength, and once more he urged them to renounce Christ and thereby win themselves the respect and favor of their emperor.
Seven days later, the renowned judge Licius arrived at Sebaste and put the soldiers on trial. The saints steadfastly answered, "Take not only our military insignia, but also our lives, since nothing is more precious to us than Christ God." Licius then ordered his servants to stone the holy martyrs. But the stones missed the saints and returned to strike those who had thrown them. One stone thrown by Licius hit Agricola in the face, smashing his teeth. The torturers realized that the saints were guarded by some invisible power. In prison, the soldiers spent the night in prayer and again they heard the voice of the Lord comforting them: "He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live (John 11:25). Be brave and fear not, for you shall obtain imperishable crowns."
On the following day the judge repeated the interrogation in front of the torturer, but the soldiers remained unyielding.
It was winter, and there was a severe frost. They lined up the holy soldiers, threw them into a lake near the city, and set a guard to prevent them from coming out of the water. In order to break the will of the martyrs, a warm bath-house was set up on the shore. During the first hour of the night, when the cold had become unbearable, one of the soldiers made a dash for the bath-house, but no sooner had he stepped over the threshold, than he fell down dead.
During the third hour of the night, the Lord sent consolation to the martyrs. Suddenly there was light, the ice melted away, and the water in the lake became warm. All the guards were asleep, except for Aglaius, who was keeping watch. Looking at the lake he saw that a radiant crown had appeared over the head of each martyr. Aglaius counted thirty-nine crowns and realized that the soldier who fled had lost his crown.
Aggias then woke up the other guards, took off his uniform and said to them, "I too am a Christian," and he joined the martyrs. Standing in the water he prayed, "Lord God, I believe in You, in Whom these soldiers believe. Add me to their number, and make me worthy to suffer with Your servants." Then a fortieth crown appeared over his head.
In the morning, the torturers saw with surprise that the martyrs were still alive, and their guard Aggias was glorifying Christ together with them. They led the soldiers out of the water and broke their legs. During this horrible execution the mother of the youngest of the soldiers, Meliton, pleaded with her son not to persevere until death.
They put the bodies of the martyrs on a cart and committed them to fire. Young Meliton was still breathing, and they left him to lay on the ground. His mother then picked up her son, and on her own shoulders she carried him behind the cart. When Meliton drew his last breath, his mother put him on the cart with the bodies of his fellow sufferers. The bodies of the saints were tossed in the fire, and their charred bones were thrown into the water, so that Christians would not gather them up.
Three days later the martyrs appeared in a dream to St Peter, Bishop of Sebaste, and commanded him to bury their remains. The bishop together with several clergy gathered up the relics of the glorious martyrs by night and buried them with honor.
There is a pious custom of baking "skylarks" (pastries shaped like skylarks) on this day, because people believed that birds sing at this time to announce the arrival of spring. Forty "skylarks" are prepared in honor of the Forty Martyrs.
Together let us honor the holy company united by faith, Those noble warriors of the Master of all. They were divinely enlisted for Christ, And passed through fire and water. Then they entered into refreshment praying for those who cry: Glory to him who has strengthened you! Glory to him who has crowned you! Glory to him who has made you wonderful, O holy Forty Martyrs!
You abandoned all earthly armies, cleaving to the heavenly Master, O Forty Martyrs of the Lord. Having passed through fire and water, O Blessed Ones, you have fittingly received heavenly glory and many crowns.