In the Church’s annual liturgical cycle, Pentecost is “the last and
great day.” It is the celebration by the Church of the coming of the
Holy Spirit as the end—the achievement and fulfillment—of the entire
history of salvation. For the same reason, however, it is also the
celebration of the beginning: it is the “birthday” of the Church as the
presence among us of the Holy Spirit, of the new life in Christ, of
grace, knowledge, adoption to God and holiness.
meaning and double joy is revealed to us, first of all, in the very name
of the feast. Pentecost in Greek means fifty, and in the sacred
biblical symbolism of numbers, the number fifty symbolizes both the
fulness of time and that which is beyond time: the Kingdom of God
itself. It symbolizes the fulness of time by its first component: 49,
which is the fulness of seven (7 x 7): the number of time. And, it
symbolizes that which is beyond time by its second component: 49 + 1,
this one being the new day, the “day without evening” of God’s eternal
Kingdom. With the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ’s disciples,
the time of salvation, the Divine work of redemption has been completed,
the fulness revealed, all gifts bestowed: it belongs to us now to
“appropriate” these gifts, to be that which we have become in Christ:
participants and citizens of His Kingdom.
THE VIGIL OF PENTECOST
The all-night Vigil service begins with a solemn invitation:
“Let us celebrate Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit,
The appointed day of promise, and the fulfillment of hope,
The mystery which is as great as it is precious.”
In the coming of the Spirit, the very essence of the Church is revealed:
“The Holy Spirit provides all,
Overflows with prophecy, fulfills the priesthood,
Has taught wisdom to illiterates, has revealed fishermen as theologians,
He brings together the whole council of the Church.”
the three readings of the Old Testament (Numbers 11:16-17, 24-29; Joel
2:23-32; Ezekiel 36:24-28) we hear the prophecies concerning the Holy
Spirit. We are taught that the entire history of mankind was directed
towards the day on which God “would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh.”
This day has come! All hope, all promises, all expectations have been
fulfilled. At the end of the Aposticha hymns, for the first time since
Easter, we sing the hymn: “O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of
Truth...,” the one with which we inaugurate all our services, all
prayers, which is, as it were, the life-breath of the Church, and whose
coming to us, whose “descent” upon us in this festal Vigil, is indeed
the very experience of the Holy Spirit “coming and abiding in us.”
reached its climax, the Vigil continues as an explosion of joy and
light for “verily the light of the Comforter has come and illumined the
world.” In the Gospel reading (John 20:19-23) the feast is interpreted
to us as the feast of the Church, of her divine nature, power and
authority. The Lord sends His disciples into the world, as He Himself
was sent by His Father. Later, in the antiphons of the Liturgy, we
proclaim the universality of the apostles’ preaching, the cosmical
significance of the feast, the sanctification of the whole world, the
true manifestation of God’s Kingdom.
THE VESPERS OF PENTECOST
liturgical peculiarity of Pentecost is a very special Vespers of the
day itself. Usually this service follows immediately the Divine Liturgy,
is “added” to it as its own fulfillment. The service begins as a solemn
“summing up” of the entire celebration, as its liturgical synthesis. We
hold flowers in our hands symbolizing the joy of the eternal spring,
inaugurated by the coming of the Holy Spirit. After the festal Entrance,
this joy reaches its climax in the singing of the Great Prokeimenon:
“Who is so great a God as our God?”
having reached this climax, we are invited to kneel. This is our first
kneeling since Easter. It signifies that after these fifty days of
Paschal joy and fulness, of experiencing the Kingdom of God, the Church
now is about to begin her pilgrimage through time and history. It is
evening again, and the night approaches, during which temptations and
failures await us, when, more than anything else, we need Divine help,
that presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who has already revealed to
us the joyful End, who now will help us in our effort towards
fulfillment and salvation.
All this is revealed in the three
prayers which the celebrant reads now as we all kneel and listen to him.
In the first prayer, we bring to God our repentance, our increased
appeal for forgiveness of sins, the first condition for entering into
the Kingdom of God.
In the second prayer, we ask the Holy Spirit
to help us, to teach us to pray and to follow the true path in the dark
and difficult night of our earthly existence. Finally, in the third
prayer, we remember all those who have achieved their earthly journey,
but who are united with us in the eternal God of Love.
The joy of
Easter has been completed and we again have to wait for the dawn of the
Eternal Day. Yet, knowing our weakness, humbling ourselves by kneeling,
we also know the joy and the power of the Holy Spirit who has come. We
know that God is with us, that in Him is our victory.
completed the feast of Pentecost and we enter “the ordinary time” of the
year. Yet, every Sunday now will be called “after Pentecost”—and this
means that it is from the power and light of these fifty days that we
shall receive our own power, the Divine help in our daily struggle. At
Pentecost we decorate our churches with flowers and green branches—for
the Church “never grows old, but is always young.” It is an evergreen,
ever-living Tree of grace and life, of joy and comfort. For the Holy
Spirit—“the Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life—comes and abides in
us, and cleanses us from all impurity,” and fills our life with meaning,
love, faith and hope.
Today we remember all pious and Orthodox Christians who have
fallen asleep in the Lord, and also recall the dread Day of Judgment.
May Christ our God be merciful to them, and to us.
(Acts 28:1-31, I Thess. 4:13-17) and two Gospels (JN 21:14-25, JN
5:24-30) are appointed to be read at Liturgy. The readings from Acts and
the Gospel of St John, which began on Pascha, now come to an end. The
book of Acts does not end, as might be expected, with the death of Sts
Peter and Paul, but remains open-ended.
In his article “With all
the Saints,” Fr Justin Popovich says that the Lives of the Saints are
nothing less than a “continuation of the Acts of the Apostles.” Just as
the book of Acts describes the works of Christ which the Apostles
accomplished through Christ, Who was dwelling in them and working
through them, the saints also preach the same Gospel, live the same
life, manifest the same righteousness, love, and power from on High. As
we prepare for the Sunday of All Saints, we are reminded that each of us
is called to a life of holiness.
On this seventh Saturday of
Pascha, St John Chrysostom’s “Homily on Patience and Gratitude” is
appointed to be read in church. It is also prescribed to be read at the
funeral service of an Orthodox Christian.
Saint Theodosia of Tyre lived during the third and fourth centuries.
Once, during a persecution against Christians, which had already lasted
for five years, the seventeen-year-old Theodosia went up to condemned
Christian prisoners in the Praetorium in Caesarea, Palestine. It was the
day of Holy Pascha, and the martyrs spoke about the Kingdom of God. St
Theodosia asked them to remember her before the Lord, when they should
come to stand before Him.
Soldiers saw that the maiden bowed to
the prisoners, and they seized her and led her before the governor,
Urban. The governor advised the maiden to offer sacrifice to the idols
but she refused, confessing her faith in Christ. Then they subjected the
saint to cruel tortures, raking her body with iron claws until her
bones were exposed.
The martyr was silent and endured the
sufferings with a happy face, and to a second suggestion by the governor
to offer sacrifice to the idols she answered, “You fool, I have been
granted to join the martyrs!” They threw the maiden with a stone about
her neck into the sea, but angels drew her out from the depths. Then
they threw the martyr to the wild beasts to be eaten by them. Seeing
that the beasts would not touch her, they cut off her head.
night St Theodosia appeared to her parents, who had tried to talk their
daughter into not going to the sufferings. She was in bright garb with a
crown upon her head and a luminous gold cross in her hand, and she
said, “Behold the great glory of which you wanted to deprive me!”
Holy Martyr Theodosia of Tyre suffered for Christ in the year 307 or
308. On May 29 we commemorate the transfer of her relics to
Constantinople and Venice. She is also commemorated on April 3.
Saint Ignatius was Bishop of Rostov, and shepherded his flock
for twenty-six years. After his death on May 28, 1288, his body was brought to the church. Some people saw him leave his coffin, and float in
the air above the church. He blessed the people and the city, then went
back to his coffin.
This holy Apostle was numbered with the Seventy, and
ministered unto the holy Apostle Paul, journeying with him and conveying
his epistles unto those to whom they were written. He became Bishop of
Beroea in Thrace, where he endured great tribulations while bringing
many of the heathen to holy Baptism, and also suffered martyrdom there.
Saint Paul mentions him in II Timothy 4:13.
Apolytikion of Carpos of the 70 in the Third Tone
O Holy Apostle Carpos, intercede to our merciful God, that He may grant our souls forgiveness of sins.
Kontakion of Carpos of the 70 in the Fourth Tone
Having thee, O ven'rable Apostle Carpos, as a bright and shining
star, the Church is ever made to shine with thine innum'rable miracles.
Save them that faithfully honour thy memory. SOURCE:
The heresiarch Arius was a Libyan by race and a
protopresbyter of the Church of Alexandria. In 315, he began to
blaspheme against the Son and Word of God, saying that He is not true
God, consubstantial with the Father, but is rather a work and creation,
alien to the essence and glory of the Father, and that there was a time
when He was not. This frightful blasphemy shook the faithful of
Alexandria. Alexander, his Archbishop, after trying in vain to correct
him through admonitions, cut him off from communion and finally in a
local council deposed him in the year 321. Yet neither did the
blasphemer wish to be corrected, nor did he cease sowing the deadly
tares of his heretical teachings; but writing to the bishops of other
cities, Arius and his followers requested that his doctrine be examined,
and if it were unsound, that the correct teaching be declared to him.
By this means, his heresy became universally known and won many
supporters, so that the whole Church was soon in an uproar.
moved by divine zeal, the first Christian Sovereign, Saint Constantine
the Great, the equal to the Apostles, summoned the renowned First
Ecumenical Council in Nicaea, a city of Bithynia. It was there that the
shepherds and teachers of the Church of Christ gathered from all regions
in the year 325. All of them, with one mouth and one voice, declared
that the Son and Word of God is one in essence with the Father, true God
of true God, and they composed the holy Symbol of Faith up to the
seventh article (since the remainder, beginning with "And in the Holy
Spirit," was completed by the Second Ecumenical Council). Thus they
anathematized the impious Arius of evil belief and those of like mind
with him, and cut them off as rotten members from the whole body of the
Therefore, recognizing the divine Fathers as heralds of
the Faith after the divine Apostles, the Church of Christ has appointed
this present Sunday for their annual commemoration, in thanksgiving and
unto the glory of God, unto their praise and honour, and unto the
strengthening of the true Faith.
Apolytikion of Fathers of the 1st Council in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
You are greatly glorified, O Christ our God, who established our
Fathers as luminaries upon the earth, and through them led us all to the
true Faith. O Most compassionate, glory to You.
Kontakion of Fathers of the 1st Council in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
The Church was strengthened into one faith through the preaching
of the Apostles and the doctrines of the Fathers. The Church is robed in
truth woven of the word of God from above. It teaches truth, and
glorifies the great mystery of faith.
The celebration of the Synaxis of the Rostov and Yaroslav Saints on
May 23 was established by resolution of His Holiness Patriarch Alexis I
(+ 1970) and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, on March 10,
The holy right-believing Prince Basil is also commemorated on June 8 and July 3.
The Martyrs Thallelaeus, Alexander and Asterius lived during the
reign of Numerian (283-284). The prefect of the city of Aegea sent
soldiers to seek out Christians. They brought to him Thallelaeus, an
eighteen-year-old blond-haired youth. To the prefect’s questions St
Thallelaeus replied, “I am a Christian, a native of Lebanon. My father,
Beruchius, was a military commander, and my mother was named Romylia. My
brother is a subdeacon. I, however, am studying medicine under the
physician Macarius. During a former persecution against Christians in
Lebanon, I was brought before the prefect Tiberius, and barely escaped
execution. But now that I stand before this court, do with me as you
will. I wish to die for Christ my Savior and my God, and hope to endure
all torments with His help.”
The enraged prefect ordered the two
torturers Alexander and Asterius to bore through the knees of the
martyr, pass a rope through the bone, and suspend him head downwards.
But the executioners, by God’s design, bored into a block of wood, which
they hung up in place of the
The Martyr Thallelaeus
martyr. When the prefect saw that they had
deceived him, he then ordered that Alexander and Asterius be whipped.
They also confessed themselves Christians and glorified God. The prefect
immediately gave orders to cut off their heads. Twice he attempted to
carry out the execution, and to bore through the saint’s knees, but the
grace of God prevented him. Then he commanded that St Thallelaeus be
The returning servants reported to the prefect that they
had carried out the execution, but just as they finished their report,
St Thallelaeus appeared in white raiment. For a long time everyone was
numbed with terror, but finally the prefect said, “Behold, this sorcerer
has bewitched even the sea.”
Then one of his advisers, the
magician Urbician, told the prefect to have the martyr thrown to the
wild beasts. But neither the vicious bear, not the hungry lion and
lioness, would touch the saint, all meekly lay down at his feet. Seeing
this happen, the people began to shout, “Great is the God of the
Christians. O God of Thallelaeus, have mercy on us!”
seized Urbician and threw him to the beasts, which did not hesitate to
tear the magician apart. Finally, the prefect gave orders to kill the
holy martyr with a sword. They led Christ’s martyr to the place of
execution, called Aegea, where he prayed to God and bent his neck
beneath the sword. This occurred in the year 284.
The relics of
the holy martyr Thallelaeus are in the church of St Agathonicus of
Constantinople and have performed many miracles. St Thallelaeus treated
the sick without payment. For this reason, the Church calls him an
Unmercenary Physician. He is invoked in prayers for the sick in the
Mystery of Holy Unction, and during the Blessing of Waters.
TROPARION - TONE 4
Your holy martyr Thalelaeus and his companions, 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
KONTAKION - TONE 3
Revealed as a fellow struggler with the martyrs, / you were a perfect
soldier of the King of Glory. / Through your trials and torments / you
humbled the arrogance of the idolators. / Therefore, we praise your
honorable memory, O wise Thalelaeus.
The holy Prince John of Uglich was a devout and God-fearing
Christian from his youth. He and his brother Demetrius were thrown into
prison by their uncle John, and remained there for thirty-two years.
Before his death, Prince John received monastic tonsure with the name Ignatius. He was known as a wonderworker.
Saint Christina suffered under emperor Decius (249-251). She
watched the trial of Dionysius, Nikomachus, and two soldiers, Andrew
and Paul, who had been transferred from Mesopotamia. They all confessed
their faith in Christ and refused to offer sacrifice to idols, so they
were tortured. To the great sorrow of all the Christians, Nikomachus did
not persevere. He denied the Lord Jesus Christ, and entered a pagan
temple to offer sacrifice. He fell down in a terrible frenzy and died
foaming at the mouth, tearing the skin from his body with his teeth.
sixteen-year-old Christina shouted, “You cursed and lost man! Instead
of enduring pain for a single hour, you have made yourself worthy of
eternal torment!” The prefect gave orders to seize the holy virgin.
Learning that she was a Christian, he gave her to dissolute men for
An angel appeared at the house where they had
taken the holy virgin. Frightened by his terrible visage, the men
tearfully begged the holy virgin’s forgiveness and asked her to pray
that the Lord’s chastisement might not befall them.
following morning, Sts Dionysius, Andrew and Paul were again brought
before the prefect. For confessing faith in Christ they were given to
the pagans to be put to death. They bound the saints by the feet,
dragged them to the place of execution, and stoned them to death. Seeing
their courage, St Christina also ran up to die with the martyrs. She
was beheaded by order of the prefect.
Saint Stephen, Patriarch of Constantinople, was the younger
son of Emperor Basil the Macedonian, and was a brother of Emperor Leo
the Wise. He was ordained to the priesthood under Patriarch Photius.
When St Photius was compelled to resign the patriarchal throne in the
year 886, St Stephen was elevated to the See of Constantinople. The
saint vigilantly stood watch over his spiritual flock, he was merciful
and interceded for the defenseless, he concerned himself with widows and
orphans, and distinguished himself by his temperance. He died
peacefully in the year 893 and was buried in the Sikellian monastery.
Saint Laurence of Komel was a disciple of St Cornelius of
Komel. In the year 1538, on the recommendation of St Cornelius, he was
unanimously chosen by the brethren as igumen of the monastery, and he
made use of the spiritual counsels and instructions of his teacher.
of the approach of Tatars towards the monastery, and on the advice of
St Cornelius, igumen Laurence led all the brethren away to a safe place.
Later, when the danger had passed, the monks returned to the monastery.
Upon the repose of his teacher, St Laurence guided the holy
monastery for ten years, devoting himself to its welfare. Seeing the zeal
and the love for the Lord in St Laurence as head of the Korniliev
monastery, the Elder Alexius placed the Koptevo monastery, which he
directed, under the Korniliev monastery in 1547.
Even with his
many cares, St Laurence did not forsake his beloved work of copying
books. St Laurence reposed in the Lord on May 16, 1548.
Saint Pachomius of Nerekhta, in the world James, was born
into the family of a priest at Vladimir on the Klyazma. He was sent to
school at the age of seven, since from childhood he knew the Holy
Scriptures very well. Finding the bustle of the perishing world
burdensome, he was tonsured at the Vladimir Nativity monastery,
fulfilling various obediences without complaint.
Yearning for the
solitary wilderness life, the ascetic secretly left the monastery and
went to the outskirts of Nerekhta. Here, at the River Gridenka, he found
a suitable place for a monastery, a raised semi-island in the deep
forest. The saint asked the people around Nerekhta to establish and
build a monastery in the vicinity of Sypanovo, on the Kostroma frontier.
The people of Nerekhta happily consented and helped in the construction
of the monastery.
St Pachomius painted an icon of the Holy
Trinity, and after singing a Molieben he carried it to the place where
he was to build the church in the Name of the Holy Trinity. After the
church was completed, St Pachomius organized the new monastery, which
soon began to attract monks.
At the newly-formed monastery the
monks had to cultivate the land themselves and feed themselves by the
toil of their own hands. The saint set an example for the brethren in
He died in 1384, advanced in age, and he was buried
in the Trinity church he built. One of his disciples, Irenarchus,
painted an icon of the saint, and later a crypt was built for his holy
relics. The dates of commemoration for St Pachomius are on May 15, his
Name Day, and on March 23, the day of his repose.
Saint Serapion lived during the fifth century in Egypt. He
was called the linen cloth-wearer (Sindonite) since he wore only a
coarse linen garb called a “sindon.” From his youth the monk lived like
the birds of the air, without a shelter.
For several days at a
time he did not eat, not having the means to buy bread. He gave away his
sindon to a beggar who was shivering from the cold, and he himself was
A certain Greek philosopher, wishing to test the
non-covetousness of the monk, gave him a gold coin and watched him. The
saint went to the bakery, bought one loaf of bread, gave the merchant
the gold coin and left, having no regard for the value of the money.
Serapion led many on the way of salvation. Once, he was the servant of a
Greek actor, whom he converted to Christ. The actor, imitating the
example of the holy life of the saint, believed and was baptized
together with all his family. He asked St Serapion to remain with him
not as a servant, but as a guide and friend, but the monk went away, not
taking any of the money offered him.
Traveling to Rome, St
Serapion got on a ship, but paid nothing to the ship owners. At first
they began to reproach him for this, but noticing that the Elder had
gone five days already without eating, they began to feed him for the
sake of God, and in this they fulfilled the command of the Lord.
Rome, the saint continued to wander about, going from house to house,
having nothing, accumulating only spiritual wealth for himself and for
The venerable Euthymius of Mt. Athos was the son of St. John of Mt.
Athos, a military commander during the reign of King Davit Kuropalates,
who abandoned the world to enter the monastic life.
While St. John
was laboring on Mt. Olympus, the Byzantine emperor returned a large
portion of the conquered Georgian lands, but in exchange for this
benefaction he ordered that the children of certain eminent aristocrats be taken to Constantinople as surety.
his hostages was St. John’s young son, Euthymius. When John discovered
that his son was being held captive in Constantinople, he departed
immediately to appeal to the emperor for his release. Eventually John’s
request was granted, and he took Euthymius back with him to the
monastery. However, by this time the young Euthymius had already
forgotten his native language.
Soon St. John’s name was known in
every monastery on Mt. Olympus, so the holy father withdrew with his son
and several disciples to Mt. Athos, to the Lavra of St. Athanasius the
Great, to escape the homage and praise.
From his youth Euthymius
received great grace from the Holy Spirit. While still a child he fell
deeply ill, and his father, losing hope in his recovery, sent for a
priest to bring him Holy Communion. Then he went into a church, knelt
before the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, and began to pray for his
son. When he returned to his cell he was greeted by the pleasant scent
of myrrh and the sight of his son, standing in perfect health.
told his father that a magnificent Queen had appeared to him and asked
him in Georgian, “What has happened to you? What has disturbed you so,
“I am dying, my Queen,” he had said.
Then the Queen embraced him, saying, “Arise, do not be afraid, but speak freely in your native Georgian tongue!”
this miraculous healing the Georgian language flowed from Euthymius’s
mouth like water pouring forth from a clear spring, and the young man
surpassed all others in eloquence.
Venerable John gave great
thanks to God and explained to his son the meaning of the vision: “My
son! Our country is suffering from a terrible shortage of books. But the
Lord has bestowed upon you a gift, and now you must labor diligently in
order to more abundantly recompence the Lord.”
began his new task with great joy, and many people marveled at his
success. St. Giorgi of Mt. Athos recorded the life of St. Euthymius, and
his account mentions more than fifty works that he translated from the
original Greek into Georgian.
After St. John’s death, Euthymius
succeeded him as abbot of the Iveron Monastery on Mt. Athos. (St. John
had founded the Iveron Monastery with St. John-Tornike.) His leadership
of the monastery brought with it many responsibilities, and Euthymius
was obliged to continue his translations at night.
performed many miracles. Once, while his father was still living,
Byzantium was struck by a terrible drought. The earth became cracked,
trees and vineyards withered, and all the vegetation dried up after four
months without rain. St. John sent Euthymius and his brothers to the
Church of the Prophet Elijah to celebrate an All-Night vigil. (During
periods of drought Orthodox Christians have traditionally turned to the
Prophet Elijah to bring rain as he did in the Old Testament.) During the
Gospel reading a dark cloud formed in the sky, and at the moment
Euthymius received Holy Communion it began to rain.
the Feast of the Transfiguration, the faithful of Mt. Athos saw Fr.
Euthymius embraced by divine fire. The crowd of witnesses fell on their
knees before him, but the saint calmed them, saying, “Do not be afraid,
my brothers; God has looked down on us, and Christ has glorified His feast!”
the devil could not tolerate the godly labors of the venerable
Euthymius and his brothers at the monastery, so he persuaded a certain
beggar, who resembled a monk, to kill the holy father.
killer approached Fr. Euthymius’s cell, two monks blocked his way. So
the assassin slashed them with his sword. Upon hearing the noise, Father
Euthymius came outside and served Holy Communion to his fallen
brothers. The two monks were fatally wounded and crowned as martyrs of
the Church, while the killer confessed his sin and died, greatly
afflicted in spirit.
Later a monastery gardener attempted to
murder St. Euthymius, but when he lifted his hand to strike the saint,
it withered suddenly, and only the prayers of Fr. Euthymius could heal
St. Euthymius labored as abbot of the Iveron Monastery on Mt.
Athos for fourteen years. His literary endeavors demanded much time and
great effort, so, according to his father’s will, he appointed a certain
George (later St. George of Mt. Athos, the Builder) his successor.
Then he locked himself in his cell and dedicated himself exclusively to his translations.
the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VIII (1027-1039) summoned Fr.
Euthymius to his court. Before departing for Constantinople, the
venerable father gathered his brothers, prepared for them a meal, and
asked them for their prayers. Then, just before he left on his journey,
he visited his childhood friend, the elder Theophan. When they were
bidding each other farewell, Theophan embraced him tearfully, crying
out, “What grief I am suffering, O holy Father, for I will not see you
again in the flesh!” The elder’s prophecy was soon fulfilled.
emperor received St. Euthymius with great honor. On May 8th, following
the Liturgy for the feast of St. John the Theologian, St. Euthymius set
off to visit a certain iconographer from whom he had earlier
commissioned an icon. He was seated on a young mule and sent on his way.
But along the road he was approached by a beggar, clad all in black,
who asked alms of him. The venerable father reached into his pocket, but
when the mule suddenly noticed the strange man by the roadside, he was
frightened, lurched violently, and cast the holy father to the ground,
All of Byzantium mourned the death of St. Euthymius.
His holy relics are buried in the Church of St. John the Baptist at the
Iveron Monastery on Mt. Athos.
Saint Polybius was a disciple of St Epiphanius of Cyprus. He
accompanied him on all his journeys and he wrote about the life and
miracles of his teacher.
St Polybius accompanied St Epiphanius
when he was returning from Constantinople, unwilling to take part in the
council condemning St John Chrysostom. As he was dying, St Epiphanius
told St Polybius, “Go to Egypt, and after my death I shall concern
myself about you.” St Polybius obeyed his teacher’s order with humility
and, not waiting for the burial of the body, he went to Egypt, where he
was made bishop of the city of Rinocyria.
For his virtuous ascetic
life, St Polybius was granted the gift of wonderworking. Once, through
his prayer, the Lord sent rain during a drought and provided an abundant
harvest in the fields. St Polybius reposed in the fifth century at an
The Holy Martyr Hesychius of Antioch lived in Antioch during
the reign of Maximian Galerius (305-311), and he occupied a high
official position. Maximian issued an edict by which all Christians were
to be deprived of military rank and expelled from military service.
Those who would not renounce Christianity were stripped of their
soldier’s belt and military insignia, and degraded to the level of hired
servants. St Hesychius was one of these.
Hesychius to remove his robes of office, put on common attire, and to be
placed among the women servants. After several days he summoned
Hesychius and asked, “Are you not ashamed to remain in such dishonor?”
St Hesychius answered, “The honors which I had from you were only
Saint Joseph of Optina was born on November 2, 1837 in the
village of Gorodishcha in the province of Kharkov. His name in the world
was John Litovkin, and his parents Euthymius and Maria were simple but
pious people. They were generous to the poor, and often lent money to
those in need even when there seemed little chance that it would be
repaid. Euthymius also loved to receive monks who came to his door
collecting alms for their monasteries. Invariably, he would give each
one five rubles for the needs of the monastery.
The Litovkins had
six children, and they often read to them from spiritual books,
especially from the Lives of the Saints. The second of their three sons
(the future St Joseph) was baptized with the name John in honor of St
John the Merciful (November 12). Instead of providing them with earthly
wealth, the couple endowed their children with heavenly treasures,
raising them in piety, obedience, and in the fear of God.
learned to read even before he started school, taught by his older
sister Alexandra at home. He was a sickly child, nearsighted and hard of
hearing in one ear. He also met with various accidents. Once he was
knocked down by another child and bit off the tip of his own tongue.
Another time he was scalded with boiling water. In spite of all this, he
was a happy and affectionate child. His father knew there was something
special about John, and others also believed that God’s special favor
was upon the boy.
When he was only four, John’s beloved father
died, and his mother had to raise the children herself. When he was
eight, John was playing with some friends, and suddenly froze on the
spot. He raised his arms and his head toward the sky, then fell down
unconscious. They carried him home and put him to bed. When he awoke,
they asked him what had happened. He told them that he had seen the
Queen of Heaven in the air.
“What makes you think you saw the Queen?” they asked.
“Because she had a crown with a cross,” he replied.
that time on, the boy became more quiet and thoughtful, and started to
avoid children’s games. Soon after this, the family moved into a new
home. There was a great fire in the village, and John prayed that the
Mother of God would protect their house from the flames. The Livotkin
home was spared, even though everything around it was burned.
1848, their mother died during an outbreak of cholera. John was only
eleven at the time. His older brother Simeon and his sister Anna were
both married before their mother passed away, and his sister Alexandra
had gone to the Borisovsk monastery in Kursk Province to become a nun.
Simeon became the head of the family, although his drinking problem made
him rather unreliable. Simeon took care of John for a while, and their
younger brother Peter went to live with Anna. Simeon decided to leave
home, and so John was placed in the care of various people, including a
tavern keeper and a grocer.
Unable to endure conditions in the
homes of such people, John went to live with a cousin who was a deacon
in Novocherkassk. He ate nothing on his journey, for he was ashamed to
beg, and people did not offer him any food on their own. When he arrived
at the church where his cousin served, John sat down outside and waited
for the Liturgy to end. Two women with rolls passed by and took pity
upon him. One of them gave him a warm roll, which the boy regarded as
manna from heaven.
John stayed with his cousin for a brief time,
then moved on to other places, taking various jobs to support himself.
Later in life he was asked whether he had ever had a girlfriend when he
was living in the world. He shook his head and said, “Since I was
nearsighted, I couldn’t really see anyone at a distance, and I was too
shy to approach anyone up close.”
While living in the world John
was often unhappy, and he found consolation in prayer and in church
services. One day he received a letter from his sister, Mother Leonida,
suggesting that he enter the skete at Optina, which was blessed with
experienced Elders. Then the desire to leave the world and embrace the
monastic life began to grow within him.
Learning that John was
planning to make a pilgrimage to the Kiev Caves, the man for whom he was
working offered him his daughter in marriage. Years later Fr Joseph
would say, “It’s always that way. As soon as one begins to think of
following the path to salvation, obstacles and tempataions begin to
With his employer’s permission, John started out for
Kiev. On the way, he stopped to visit his parents’ graves and the place
where he had spent a happy childhood. He stayed briefly at the Dormition
Monastery in Kharkov’s Holy Mountains, but he did not wish to remain
there. Finally he went to the Borisovsk Women’s Hermitage to visit his
sister, Mother Leonida. She had spoken to St Macarius of Optina
(September 7) of her concern for John. He told her not to worry, because
John would become a monk.
Mother Leonida’s Eldress, Schemanun
Alypia, overheard some of their conversation and said to John, “Forget
about Kiev. Go to the Elders at Optina.” Mother Leonida gave him a look
indicating that John should obey.
He traveled to Optina with some
nuns of the women’s monastery at Belev, driving the cart for them. St
Macarius had already departed to the Lord in 1860, and was succeeded as
Elder by his disciple, St Ambrose (October 10). Knowing of John’s
monastic inclinations, the nuns jokingly introduced him as “Brother
John.” St Ambrose replied solemnly, “This Brother John will prove useful
to us, and to you.”
On March 1, 1861 John found himself standing
before the Elder Ambrose, telling him of his life, and asking for a
blessing to go to Kiev. Fr Ambrose told him to remain at Optina,
forseeing the blessings he would bring to Optina, and to the women’s
monasteries which were under the guidance of the Optina Elders. Taking
St Ambrose’s words as an indication of God’s will, John murmured, “May
it be blessed.”
John, like all new novices, was given an obedience
in the kitchen. He was assigned to help the cook in the skete. From the
very start, John demonstrated perfect obedience and humility. Life in
the monastery was everything he had hoped it would be, and he was glad
to leave the tumult of the world behind.
In June the Superior of
the Skete, Fr Paphnutius, asked John if he would like to move in with
the Elder Ambrose as his cell-attendant. The next day he moved to the
Elder’s quarters, where he remained for the next fifty years. As happy
as he was to be near the Elder, he was disturbed by the constant flow of
visitors. He felt that there was no time to pray or go to church, and
began to have misgivings. He was tempted by the thought that perhaps he
would be better off in Kiev or on Mount Athos, and did not notice that
Fr Ambrose had entered the cell. Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder
and heard the Elder say, “Brother John, it’s better here than it is on
Athos. Stay with us.”
John realized that his thoughts had been
sent by the Enemy of our salvation, and he fell down at Fr Ambrose’s
feet in repentance.
On April 15, 1872 he was tonsured as a
rassophore (wearer of the rassa), then on June 16, 1872 he was tonsured
as a monk, receiving the name Joseph in honor of St Joseph the
Hymnographer (April 4). He was unexpectedly ordained as a deacon in 1877
in a way which demonstrated that God was directing the course of his
On December 7 (Fr Ambrose’s nameday), Igumen Isaac served
Liturgy in the skete church. Later, he visited Fr Ambrose to offer his
congratulations, and the cell-attendants Fr Joseph and Fr Michael served
them tea. The Superior asked Fr Ambrose about a monk whom he proposed
to recommend for ordination to the diaconate. The Elder said that the
time was not right for that particular monk, recommending someone else
instead. Noticing Fr Joseph standing nearby with a tray, Fr Isaac smiled
and said, “Well Father, you don’t want my candidate, and I don’t want
yours. Let’s ordain Fr Joseph.”
So it was that Fr Joseph was sent
to Kaluga, where he was ordained by Bishop Gregory on December 9. It was
customary at Optina that a newly-ordained deacon or priest would serve
every day for forty days. Fr Joseph’s health did not permit him to
fulfill the forty days, however. He developed an inflammation on his
right side, and he nearly died.
Fr Joseph’s life continued as it
had before, but with more responsibilities. He had no cell of his own,
but continued to sleep in the reception room, which the Elder used each
day until almost 11 P.M. Fr Ambrose frequently tested his cell-attendant
in order to give him the opportunity to acquire patience and humility,
following the instructions of St John of the Ladder (Book 4, paragraphs
27 and 28).
Fr Ambrose built the Shamordino Convent about eight
miles from Optina, and on October 1, 1884 Bishop Vladimir of Kaluga came
for its opening. At the Liturgy that day, Fr Joseph was ordained as a
priest. From that day forward the nuns regarded him as their priest, and
he became the spiritual director of the convent after the repose of Fr
Fr Joseph now became the Elder’s senior cell-attendant,
and tried to protect him and also to placate the visitors who grumbled
about having to wait for so long to see Fr Ambrose. In spite of his
duties, Fr Joseph found time to read spiritual books. He particularly
loved the PHILOKALIA and the writings of the Fathers. In these books he
found spiritual wisdom, which he shared with those who came to him for
St Joseph’s inner life was known only to God, but his
advice to others indicates that he practiced unceasing prayer of the
heart. Forseeing that Fr Joseph would serve as Elder after him, Fr
Ambrose blessed some people to start going to Fr Joseph for their
Fr Joseph attended St Ambrose for thirty years,
until the Elder’s death on October 10, 1891. Fr Ambrose prepared Fr
Joseph for eldership, teaching him by word and by example. He would also
refer some visitors to Fr Joseph for advice. There was such oneness of
mind between them that when people would ask Fr Joseph about something
and then ask Fr Ambrose about the same thing, they would receive the
very same answer.
Fr Joseph’s health was not good, and he was
susceptible to colds in winter. In February 1888 he became very ill and
took to his bed, and he received the Mystey of Holy Unction. The doctor
recommended that he be moved to the infirmary for treatment, but Fr
Joseph did not wish to leave Fr Ambrose. The Superior of the skete
insisted on the transfer, however. The ride to the monastery in a sleigh
during cold weather only made his illness worse.
Fr Joseph was
tonsured into the schema (the highest level of monasticism) during the
Liturgy on February 14. The next day, prayers for the Departure of the
Soul were read for him, and people came to bid him farewell. A novice,
sitting behind a screen, heard Fr Joseph praying aloud. Peering through a
slit in the screen, he saw Fr Joseph gazing at an icon of Christ and
lifting up his hands. This novice went to the infirmary later and heard
someone behind the screen say, “Be patient, my dear one, only a little
remains.” He looked behind the screen, but saw no one there except Fr
Joseph. Later, Fr Ambrose told people that Fr Joseph had seen the Mother
of God during his illness. Though he had been quite near death, he got
After his recovery, Fr Joseph began to hear confessions on a
regular basis, since this was becoming too difficult for Fr Ambrose. He
blessed people to go to Fr Joseph “not just once, but always.”
the summer of 1888, Fr Ambrose blessed Fr Joseph to go on a pilgrimage
to Kiev. After nearly thirty years, he was able to fulfill his desire to
visit the holy places of Kiev. On his way back to Optina, he stopped to
visit his sister Mother Leonida at Borisovsk.
Fr Ambrose usually
spent three weeks during the summer at the Shamordino Convent,
accompanied by Fr Joseph. In June of 1890 Fr Joseph began to prepare for
the journey, but Fr Ambrose said, “I’m not taking you this time, you’re
needed here.” He ordered Fr Joseph to move into his cell and to
transfer a large “Surety of Sinners” Icon (March 7 and May 29) into the
reception room. Fr Joseph had a premonition that Fr Ambrose would never
Although he missed the Elder, Fr Joseph resigned himself
to the situation. He did go to Shamordino once a month to visit Fr
Ambrose, however. In the absence of Fr Ambrose, many monks who confessed
to him began to go to Fr Joseph. During the Nativity Fast Fr Ambrose
started sending his spiritual children at Shamordino to confess to Fr
Joseph as well. This was difficult for the nuns, who were used to Fr
Ambrose. Even when he heard a nun’s confession himself, Fr Ambrose would
send her to Fr Joseph for the prayers of absolution. In this manner, he
indicated that he was entrusting his spiritual children to no one but
In September 1891 Fr Ambrose became ill, but no one
thought it was serious. On October 8, he was so critical that they sent
for Fr Joseph. That evening the service of Holy Unction was performed,
and the next morning Fr Joseph gave Fr Ambrose Communion for the last
time. St Ambrose reposed on the morning of October 10, and no one
grieved more than Fr Joseph. Even in his sorrow, however, he comforted
and consoled others.
Without any outside influence or pressure,
the monks of Optina began coming to Fr Joseph just as they had come to
Fr Ambrose. When the nuns of Shamordino asked to whom they should go for
spiritual direction, Fr Isaac told them, “At Optina all we have Fr
Joseph as our common Elder, and he must be yours as well.”
next twenty years, St Joseph received visitors, gave spiritual counsel
to those who asked for his advice, and even performed miracles of
healing for the afflicted. Out of humility, Fr Joseph never said
anything on his own authority, but quoted the words of Fr Ambrose, or
gave examples from his life. He spoke very little, and then only to
answer a question which had been put to him. Some laymen, and even some
of the monks, were annoyed with him because he did not say more.
monk had the thought that since Fr Joseph was filled with spiritual
wisdom and was so familiar with the writings of the Fathers, he could
have said many beneficial things to people. The Elder explained this to
him, quoting St Peter of Damascus, who said that one should not say
anything helpful unless asked by the brethren, because then the
resulting benefit would come from their free choice. Even concerning
something which might be useful for salvation, the ancient Fathers would
not speak without being asked, considering unsolicited advice as idle
talk (Vol. 3 of the English PHILOKALIA, p. 186).
His greatest care
was for the Shamordino Convent, which remained unfinished, and for the
spiritual welfare of its nuns. The Superior of the convent now turned to
Fr Joseph to consult him about everything related to the life of the
convent, and would do nothing without his blessing. He went there twice a
year, during the Apostles’ Fast, and during the Dormition Fast, to hear
the confessions of the sisters. In the winter, they would visit him at
Optina for Confession. Soon he was obliged to give up traveling to
Shamordino because of his health.
Fr Joseph was officially
appointed as confessor for the Optina brotherhood near the end of 1893
when Fr Anatole became ill and could not fulfill this duty. Many of the
monks had already been confessing to Fr Joseph, but now they all came to
On January 25, 1894 St Anatole, the head of the skete, fell
asleep in the Lord. Archimandrite Isaac and the bretheren unanimously
chose Fr Joseph to succeed Fr Anatole as Superior of the skete. Although
he never sought this honor, Fr Joseph accepted his election with all
humility. He discharged his duties, not by issuing orders, but with
paternal love and humility.
As Superior, he could have chosen to
serve only on major Feast Days when the priests concelebrated, and
designated one of the priests of the skete to serve on other days. He
often served as a simple monk, however, with only one deacon to assist
During the last years of his life, Fr Joseph grew weaker and
was often ill. In May of 1905 he felt that he lacked the strength to
carry out his duties, and he asked to retire as Superior of the skete.
He also had to give up hearing the confessions of visitors, since this
exhausted him. His spiritual children were saddened by his decision, but
the monks and nuns continued to come to him with their spiritual wounds
In 1911 Fr Joseph was weak and ill, but began
to feel somewhat better during Great Lent. He was unusually joyful
during Holy Week, which led some to believe that he had had some sort of
vision. On April 11, the third day of Pascha, Fr Joseph developed a
fever and stopped seeing visitors. The following week, a doctor
diagnosed him with maleria, declaring that there was no hope for
On April 20 the wonderworking Icon “of the Sign” was
brought to his cell and a molieben was served. In the afternoon, the
Kazan Icon and the rassa of St Seraphim were brought to him. Two days
later, he requested that the skete brotherhood be permitted to come to
him so that he could bid them farewell and ask their forgiveness. Then
he asked that the Shamordino nuns also be allowed to come.
Joseph stopped taking food from April 28 on, nourishing himself only
with the Holy Mysteries of Christ. Up until the time of his death, he
was conscious and lucid, answering questions and dictating replies to
letters. On May 8 he felt a little better, then became weak again. On
the morning of May 9 he received Holy Communion, then at four in the
afternoon he received some people for a final blessing.
evening the Elder lay resting on his bed with his eyes closed, and his
face shone with an unearthly radiance. At 10:45 he drew his last breath
and departed to the Lord with a smile on his face.
After the body
was prepared for burial, panikhidas were served one after another for
the departed Elder. The saint appeared to some of the brethren in dreams
both that night and on subsequent days.
The body was placed in a
coffin at six o’clock the next morning and was carried to the skete
church. Following the Liturgy, a panikhida was served, then the casket
was brought to the monastery church of St Mary of Egypt. The monks began
taking turns serving panikhidas for Fr Joseph until his burial.
miracles took place on the day St Joseph was laid to rest at the feet
of Fr Ambrose. Even today, he continues to intercede with God and to
work miracles for those who entreat him with faith.
became a great Elder because first he had been a great disciple. He was
obedient to his Elder Fr Ambrose in all things, and never contradicted
him. Because he renounced his own will, refrained from judging others,
and reproached himself for his own sins, Fr Joseph acquired humility and
the grace of God. He also obtained from the Lord the discernment to
recognize every sort of spiritual illness, and how to treat it.
Moscow Patriarchate authorized local veneration of the Optina Elders on
June 13,1996. The work of uncovering the relics of Sts Leonid,
Macarius, Hilarion, Ambrose, Anatole I, Barsanuphius and Anatole II
began on June 24/July 7, 1998 and was concluded the next day. However,
because of the church Feasts (Nativity of St John the Baptist, etc.)
associated with the actual dates of the uncovering of the relics,
Patriarch Alexey II designated June 27/July 10 as the date for
commemorating this event. The relics of the holy Elders now rest in the
new church of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God.
The Optina Elders were glorified by the Moscow Patriarchate for universal veneration on August 7, 2000.
The feast today in honour of the holy Apostle John
commemorates the miracle taking place each year in Ephesus, in which a
certain dust or powder, called manna, suddenly poured forth from his
tomb and was used by the faithful for deliverance from maladies of both
soul and body. For an account of his life, see September 26.
Apolytikion of John the Theologian in the Second Tone
Beloved Apostle of Christ our God, hasten to deliver a people
without defense. He who permitted you to recline upon His bosom, accepts
you on bended knee before Him. Beseech Him, O Theologian, to dispel the
persistent cloud of nations, asking for us peace and great mercy.
Kontakion of John the Theologian in the Second Tone
Who can recount your greatness, O virgin, for miracles flow and
healing springs forth from you. You intercede for our souls, as the
Theologian and friend of Christ.
The Zhirovits Icon of the Mother of God appeared in the year 1470 in
the vicinity of Zhirovits on the Grodnensk frontier. In the forest,
belonging to the Orthodox Lithuanian dignitary Alexander Solton,
shepherds beheld an extraordinarily bright light, while peering through
the branches of a pear tree that stood over a brook at the foot of a
hill. The shepherds came closer and saw a radiant icon of the Mother of
God on the tree. With reverence, the shepherds took the icon to
Alexander Solton. Alexander Solton did not pay any attention to the
report of the shepherds, but he took the icon and placed it in a chest.
the following day Solton had guests, and he wanted to show them what
had been found. To his amazement, he did not find the icon in the chest,
although he had seen it shortly before this. After a certain time the
shepherds again found the icon in the same place, and again they brought
it to Alexander Solton. This time, however, he received the icon with
great reverence and vowed to build a church in honor of the Most Holy
Theotokos at the place of the icon’s discovery. Around the wooden church
a settlement soon gathered and a parish was formed.
year 1520 the church was completely burned, despite the efforts of the
inhabitants to extinguish the blaze and save the icon. Everyone thought
that the icon had been destroyed. However, some peasant children
returning from school beheld a miraculous vision. The Virgin,
extraordinarily beautiful and radiant, sat upon a stone at the burned
church, and in Her hands was the icon which everyone believed had been
destroyed. The children did not dare approach Her, but they hastened to
tell their relatives and acquaintances about the vision.
accepted the story about the vision as a divine revelation and they went
to the hill with the priest.The Zhirovits Icon of the Mother of God,
totally unharmed by the fire, stood on a stone with a burning candle
before it. For awhile they placed the icon in the priest’s house, and
the stone was fenced in. When they built a stone church, they placed the
wonderworking icon there. A men’s monastery later grew up around the
church. Its brethren headed the struggle for Orthodoxy against the Unia
In 1609, the monastery was seized by the Uniates
and remained in their hands until 1839. During this time the Zhirovits
Icon of the Mother of God was venerated by both Uniates and Catholics.
In 1839, the monastery was returned to the Orthodox and became the first
place where Orthodox services were restored on the West Russian
During the First World War, they brought the Zhirovits
Icon of the Mother of God to Moscow, and at the beginning of the 1920s
it was returned to the monastery. At present it is in the Dormition
cathedral of the Zhirovits monastery, Minsk diocese, and it is deeply
revered for its grace-filled help. The icon was carved in stone and
measured 43x56 cm.
The Holy Martyr Barbarus, formerly a robber, lived in Greece
and for a long time. He committed robberies, extortions and murders. But
the Lord, Who does not desire the death of a sinner, turned him to
repentance. Once, when Barbarus was sitting in a cave and gazing upon
his stolen possessions, the grace of God touched his heart. He thought
about the inevitability of death, and about the dread Last Judgment.
Pondering over the multitude of his wicked deeds, he was distressed in
his heart and he decided to make a beginning of repentance, saying, “The
Lord did not despise the prayer of the robber hanging beside Him. May
He spare me through His ineffable mercy.”
Barbarus left all his
treasures behind in the cave and he went to the nearest church. He did
not conceal his wicked deeds from the priest, and he asked to be
accepted for repentance. The priest gave him a place in his own home,
and St Barbarus followed him, going about on his hands and knees like a
four-legged animal, since he considered himself unworthy to be called a
man. In the household of the priest he lived with the cattle, eating
with the animals and considering himself more wicked than any creature.
Having received absolution from his sins from the priest, Barbarus went
into the woods and lived there for twelve years, naked and without
clothing, suffering from the cold and heat. His body became dirty and
blackened all over.
Finally, St Barbarus received a sign from on
high that his sins were forgiven, and that he would die a martyr’s
death. Once, merchants came to the place where St Barbarus labored. In
the deep grass before them they saw something moving. Thinking that this
was an animal, they shot several arrows from their bows. Coming closer,
they were terrified to see that they had mortally wounded a man. St
Barbarus begged them not to grieve. He told them about himself and he
asked that they relate what had happened to the priest at whose house he
had once lived.
After this, St Barbarus yielded up his spirit to
God. The priest, who had accepted the repentance of the former robber,
found his body shining with a heavenly light. The priest buried the body
of St Barbarus at the place where he was killed. Afterwards, a curative
myrrh began to issue forth from the grave of the saint, which healed
various maladies. His relics are located at the monastery of Kellios in
Thessaly, near the city of Larissa.
The holy Great Martyr Irene was born in the city of Magedon in
Persia during the fourth century. She was the daughter of the pagan king
Licinius, and her parents named her Penelope.
Penelope was very
beautiful, and her father kept her isolated in a high tower from the
time she was six so that she would not be exposed to Christianity. He
also placed thirteen young maidens in the tower with her. An old tutor
by the name of Apellian was assigned to give her the best possible
education. Apellian was a Christian, and during her lessons, he told the
girl about Christ the Savior and taught her the Christian Faith and the
When Penelope reached adolescence, her parents
began to think about her marriage. One day, a dove flew through the
window carrying an olive branch in its beak, depositing it upon a table.
Then an eagle swooped in with a wreath of flowers in its beak, and also
placed it upon the table. Finally, a raven flew in carrying a snake,
which it dropped on the table. Penelope was puzzled by these events and
wondered what they meant.
Apellian explained that the dove
signified her education, and the olive branch stood for the grace of God
which is received in Baptism. The eagle with the wreath of flowers
represented success in her future life. The raven and the snake foretold
her future suffering and sorrow.
At the end of the conversation
Apellianus said that the Lord wished to betroth her to Himself and that
Penelope would undergo much suffering for her heavenly Bridegroom. After
this Penelope refused marriage, was baptized by the priest Timothy, and
she was named Irene (peace). She even urged her own parents to become
Christians. Shortly after this, she destroyed all her father’s idols.
St Irene had dedicated herself to Christ, she refused to marry any of
the suitors her father had chosen for her. When Licinius learned that
his daughter refused to worship the pagan gods, he was furious. He
attempted to turn her from Christ by having her tortured. She was tied
up and thrown beneath the hooves of wild horses so that they might
trample her to death, but he horses remained motionless. Instead of
harming the saint, one of the horses charged Licinius, seized his right
hand and tore it from his arm. Then it knocked Licinius down and began
to trample him. They untied the holy virgin, and through her prayers
Licinius rose unharmed in the presence of eyewitnesses with his hand
Seeing such a miracle, Licinius and his wife, and many of
the people, (about 3000 men) believed in Christ and turned from the
pagan gods. Resigning his administrative duties, Licinius devoted
himself to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. St Irene lived in the
house of her teacher Apellian, and she began to preach Christ among the
pagans, converting them to the path of salvation.
the new prefect of the city, heard of this miracle he summoned Apellian
and questioned him about Irene’s manner of life. Apellian replied that
Irene, like other Christians, lived in strict temperance, devoting
herself to constant prayer and reading holy books. Sedecius summoned the
saint to him and urged her to stop preaching about Christ. He also
attempted to force her to sacrifice to the idols. St Irene staunchly
confessed her faith before the prefect, not fearing his wrath, and
prepared to undergo suffering for Christ. By order of Sedecius she was
thrown into a pit filled with vipers and serpents. The saint spent ten
days in the pit and remained unharmed, for an angel of the Lord
protected her and brought her food. Sedecius ascribed this miracle to
sorcery, and he subjected St Irene to many other tortures, but she
remained unharmed. Under the influence of her preaching and miracles
even more people were converted to Christ, and turned away from the
worship of inanimate idols.
Sedecius was deposed by his son
Savorus, who persecuted Christians with an even greater zeal than his
father had done. St Irene went to her home town of Magedon in Persia to
meet Savorus and his army, and ask him to end the persecution. When he
refused, St Irene prayed and his entire army was blinded. She prayed
again and they received their sight once more. In spite of this, Savorus
refused to recognize the power of God. Because of his insolence, he
was struck and killed by a bolt of lightning.
After this, St Irene
walked into the city and performed many miracles. She returned to the
tower built by her father, accompanied by the priest Timothy. Through
her teaching, she converted five thousand people to Christ.
the saint went to the city of Callinicus, or Callinicum (possibly on
the Euphrates River in Syria). The ruler of that place was King
Numerian, the son of Sebastian. When she began to teach about Christ,
she was arrested and tortured by the pagan authorities. She was placed
into three bronze oxen which were heated by fire. She was transferred
from one to another, but miraculously she remained uninjured. Thousands
of idolaters embraced Christianity as a result of this wondrous event.
the approach of death, Numerian instructed his eparch Babdonus to
continue torturing the saint in order to force her to sacrifice to
idols. Once again, the tortures were ineffective, and many people turned
Christ’s holy martyr then traveled to the city of
Constantina, forty miles northeast of Edessa. By 330, the Persian king
Sapor II (309-379) had heard of St Irene’s great miracles. To prevent
her from winning more people to Christ, she was arrested, beheaded, and
then buried. However, God sent an angel to raise her up again, and she
went into the city of Mesembria. After seeing her alive and hearing her
preach, the local king was baptized with many of his subjects.
to convert even more pagans to Christianity, St Irene went to Ephesus,
where she taught the people and performed many miracles. The Lord
revealed to her that the end of her life was approaching. Then St Irene
left the city accompanied by six people, including her former teacher
Apellian. On the outskirts of the town, she found a new tomb in which no
one had ever been buried. After making the Sign of the Cross, she went
inside, directing her companions to close the entrance to the cave with a
large stone, which they did. When Christians visited the cave four days
later, they did not find the body of the saint.
returned after only two days, and found the stone rolled away and the
tomb empty. Thus did God glorify St Irene, who loved Him and devoted her
life to serving Him. Although many of these miracles may seem
improbable to those who are skeptical, nothing is impossible with God.
Irene led thousands of people to Christ through her preaching, and by
her example. The Church continues to honor her memory and to seek her
The holy, glorious Great Martyr Irene is
invoked by those wishing to effect a swift and happy marriage. In
Greece, she is also the patron saint of policemen. St Irene is also one
of the twelve Virgin Martyrs who appeared to St Seraphim of Sarov
(January 2) and the Diveyevo nun Eupraxia on the Feast of the
Annunciation in 1831. By her holy prayers, may the Lord have mercy upon
us and save us.
TROPARION - TONE 4
Your lamb Irene calls out to You, O Jesus, in a loud voice: / “I love
You, my Bridegroom, and in seeking You I endure suffering. / In baptism I
was crucified so that I might reign in You, / and I died so that I
might live with You. / Accept me as a pure sacrifice, / for I have
offered myself in love.” / Through her prayers save our souls, since You
KONTAKION - TONE 4
Podoben: “Today You have shown forth...” / Adorned with the beauty of
virginity, / you became more beautiful in your struggle, virgin martyr
Irene. / You were empurpled by the flow of your blood, / having
destroyed the temptation of godlessness. / Therefore you received the
prize of victory from the hand of your Creator.
The holy New Martyr Archpriest Vasily Martysz was born on February
20, 1874 in Tertyn, in the Hrubieszow region of southeastern Poland. His
father Alexander was a judge in Molczyce near Pinsk. After his
retirement, he was ordained a priest and became rector of a local
In 1884, at the age of ten, Vasily made a
brief trip to New York with his father. His beautiful singing during a
church service attracted the attention of Bishop Vladimir. The hierarch
prophesied that young Vasily would become a priest, and promised that he
would invite him to his diocese in America once he was ordained. After
returning to his country, he remembered the bishop’s words, and decided
to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a priest. He began his
theological education at the seminary in Chelm, where the rector was
Bishop Tikhon (Belavin), the future Patriarch of Moscow.
after graduating in July 1899, Vasily married Olga Nowik, and was
ordained a deacon. On December 10, 1900 he was ordained a priest. That
same month he left Breman for America. The young couple expected to be
assigned to a parish in New York, but instead he was appointed to a
parish in Alaska. Together with the newly-appointed Bishop Tikhon, he
began his missionary service in the land of St Herman.
had arrived in Alaska with the coming of the monastic mission from
Valaam in 1794. At the start of the twentieth century, climatic and
social conditions in this vast territory remained difficult. In his
pastoral work, Fr Vasily met Russian settlers and indigenous inhabitants
of the region, Eskimos and Aleuts. He also encountered gold rush
pioneers quite often.
Fr Vasily’s first parish was extensive. He
was headquartered on Afognak, but he was also responsible for the people
on Spruce and Woody Islands near Kodiak. There were several small
wooden chapels scattered on these islands. In 1901, as a result of his
efforts, the church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Virgin was built at
Afognak (Although the village was completely destroyed in the
earthquake and tidal wave of 1964, the church building survives to this
Because of the long distances and severe climate, Fr
Vasily’s priestly work was extremely difficult and required many
sacrifices. Often he would leave home for several weeks, in order to
celebrate the services, to confess, baptize, marry the living, and to
bury the dead, while traveling in a specially constructed kayak.
when he was at home, Fr Vasily had very little time to devote to his
dear family. Besides celebrating the services in church and serving the
needs of his parishioners, he taught in the parish school and worked in
two church homes for the poor. His family bore the arduous conditions,
especially the climate, with difficulty. His wife Olga, who had given
birth to two daughters, stayed home. The older daughter, Vera, was born
at Afognak in 1902. Their second daughter was born two years later,
after they had moved to Kodiak.
During his missionary service in
Alaska, Fr Vasily kept a diary. It has survived to this day as one of
the few records of his personal life. Fragments have been translated
from Russian and published in Polish.
Because of the severe
Alaskan climate, which especially affected Matushka Olga, and out of
concern for the education of their children, the Martysz family
transferred to the continental United States in 1906. As a farewell
statement from Alaska that year, Fr Vasily wrote an article for the
Russian Orthodox American Messenger, “The Voice from Alaska,” in which
he appealed to Orthodox faithful across the USA to support the building
of Orthodox churches in Alaska.
The family settled in Osceola
Mills in central Pennsylvania. Their first son, Vasily, was born that
same year, and their youngest child Helen was born in 1908, soon after
they moved to Old Forge, PA. Fr Vasily’s work took him to Waterbury, CT,
to West Troy, NY, and finally to Canada. He was assigned to Edmonton
and then to Vostok, where he became Dean of the provinces of Alberta and
Manitoba. In 1910, he celebrated his tenth anniversary in the
priesthood. His prolific and loving pastoral activity endeared him to
Church authorities considered him a very effective, devoted
and talented priest, while the faithful loved him sincerely, valuing his
modesty and kindness.
Despite their comfortable lifestyle and the
relatively large Orthodox community they served in western Canada, the
couple longed for their homeland. They feared the loss of their
ancestral identity and requested permission to return to Poland. After
serving nearly twelve years in America, Fr Martysz left the New World
and returned to Europe in 1912.
Initially, Fr Vasily
and his family lived with relatives in Sosnowiec, where he eventually
became rector of the parish and instructor in Religious Education at the
local girls’ high school. The peaceful life they enjoyed there lasted
barely one year, since the outbreak of the First World war disrupted the
lives of thousands. Clergy were considered civil servants who were
ordered to evacuate their homes, and move to safety inside Russia. At
this critical time, Bishop Vladimir, their Archpastor and friend from
Alaska, offered the Martysz family refuge in a small apartment within
the St Andronicus Monastery in Moscow. From here, Fr Vasily commuted
daily to the distant parish at Valdai, where he taught religious
education classes. When the Bolsheviks seized power, he lost this job
and was forced to earn a living unloading railroad cars. His own life
was endangered because Red Army soldiers often treated clergy with
In 1919, at the end of the war, Polish
refugees were granted permission to return to their former residences.
Fr Vasily and his family took this opportunity to return to Sosnowiec.
They moved back into their former apartment, which had survived the
devastation of the war. They did not remain long, however, for that
September Fr Vasily was assigned to a position in the newly organized
Polish Army, in charge of Orthodox Affairs in the Religious Ministry of
the War Department. The whole family relocated to Warsaw. Fr Vasily
started the wearisome but important work of forming an Orthodox military
chaplaincy. In 1921, he was promoted to the rank of colonel, and
assumed responsibility as the head of the Orthodox military chaplaincy.
At this time, the church elevated him to the rank of Archpriest. Fr
Vasily served as chief of Orthodox chaplains for the next twenty-five
years. Within the Ministry of the Interior, he had his own cabinet, and
was directly responsible to the Minister himself.
Vasily was also a chief advisor and close colleague of Metropolitan
George (Jaroszewski) of Warsaw and all Poland. He participated in
preparing all the meetings of the Holy Synod, and assisted Metropolitan
George in his effort to obtain autocephaly for the Polish Orthodox
Church. He accompanied the Metropolitan on the tragic day of February 8,
1923, when he was assassinated. The assassin had also planned to kill
Fr Vasily as well, but he was captured before he could succeed. Fr
Vasily remained under police protection for some time, but attended to
all the details of the Metropolitan’s funeral, in which the First
Regiment of the Szwolezers Regiment participated under orders from
Marshal Jozef Pilsudski.
Fr Vasily zealously participated in the
subsequent process of obtaining autocephaly for the Orthodox Church in
Poland, which was granted during the tenure of Metropolitan Dionysius
(Walednski) in 1925. Fr Vasily became the Metropolitan’s closest advisor
and confidant. He often accompanied the Metropolitan and acted as
liaison with the Polish Head of State, Marshal Pilsudski. He was often
invited to attend cabinet meetings at Belvedere, the Royal Castle, where
he regularly signed the guest book on holidays.
In addition to
his work as chief military chaplain, Fr Vasily devoted much time to
organizing pastoral ministry in the Ukrainian internment camps. In
February 1921, Fr Vasily appointed Fr Peter Biton as chaplain for the
camp in Aleksandrow Kujawski. He visited the Ukrainian internees himself
and helped arrange camp churches. On July 8, 1921, he celebrated the
Divine Liturgy in the Ukrainian language for over 5,000 prisoners, while
visiting this camp. His sermon, delivered in Ukrainian, greatly
improved their morale. He also assisted in organizing chaplains’
training courses in other Ukrainian army camps.
Secretary of the Army, Lucjan Zeligowski sent a congratulatory letter to
Father Vasily on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of his
ordination, December 7, 1925, stating “The virtues of this remarkably
talented, conscientious and diligent servant, completely devoted to the
Polish nation, expressed in his receiving a high distinction, the Order
of Polonia Restituta, which is conferred upon him for his efforts in
securing the Autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Poland.”
Father Martysz spent the difficult
war years in Teratyn. On May 4, 1945 (Great and Holy Friday), a few days
before the surrender of Nazi Germany, his house was attacked. A female
acquaintance warned him of the danger, but he replied, “I have done no
harm to anyone and I will not run away from anyone. Christ did not run
away.” Father Vasily did not fear and did not flee from his tormentors.
He faced them bravely, in a Christ-like way, accepting the crown of
martyrdom. The villains, seeking gold and money, had no respect for his
uniform as a colonel in the Polish Army, nor for his priestly vestments.
bandits broke into the house by breaking a window. With callous cruelty
they tortured Father Vasily though his only crime was that he was an
Orthodox priest. They beat his pregnant daughter Helen, causing her to
miscarry. They beat Father Vasily for four hours, reviving him by
throwing water on him when he lost consciousness. Horribly tortured, he
was finally murdered by a gun shot. The criminals threatened to shoot
Helen as well, When she knelt before the icon of Christ and began to
pray, the executioner’s aim and resolve weakened. They left, threatening
to return and kill her as well.
On Great and Holy
Saturday, Father John Lewczuk celebrated the burial rites for Father
Vasily in Chelm. He was buried at the local cemetery in Teratyn.
October 1963, the earthly remains of Father Vasily Martysz were brought
to Warsaw and solemnly reinterred in the Orthodox cemetery in the Wola
district, next to his wife and mother-in-law. At the beginning of 2003,
his holy relics were uncovered and placed in the church of St John
Climacus in Warsaw. The Holy Synod of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church
of Poland promulgated the official Act of Canonization on March 20,
2003, and the rites glorifying St Vasily Martysz were celebrated in
Chelm on June 7-8.
Orthodox Christians in the Polish Army
have taken St Vasily Martysz as their heavenly patron. The martyrdom of
St Vasily was the crowning accomplishment of his pious and dedicated
life, a testimony to his amazing courage. He carried his cross to the
end without complaint, accepting the crown of martyrdom as he had
dedicated his life to Christ and the Holy Orthodox Faith.