God is Wonderful in His Saints
Orthodox Saints commemorated in December
1274) “Determined to impose the union of the Churches accepted under pressure at the Council of Lyon (1274) to secure Papal support for the Byzantine Empire, Michael VIII Palaeologos sent troops to Mount Athos, the stronghold of Orthodoxy and centre of opposition to his policy, with orders to take sanguinary measures against monks who would not recognize the false union.
“When the Emperor’s soldiers reached Karyes, the capital of Athos, which was organized as a lavra in those days, they seized the Protos of Athos, who had been an example to all of what a steadfast monk should be. They put him to the sword together with many other fathers there, and in their fury ransacked and fired the Church and monastic buildings, leaving rack and ruin behind them. Emerging from the wild places and thick forests where they had taken refuge, the Orthodox monks buried the holy Martyrs at the entrance to the Church of the Protaton. Through the centuries, generations of monks piously lit the lamp each day above the ‘tomb of the Protos’; but it was not until 5 December 1981 that his relics were solemnly taken from the earth, and that a service was held in his honour in the presence of a great crowd.” (Synaxarion) December 6 † Our Father among the Saints Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra (345) Our beloved holy Father Nicholas is, along with St George (and second to the All-holy Theotokos), probably the best-loved Saint of the Church. His numberless miracles through the ages, on behalf of the countless Christians who have called on him, cannot be told.
He was born in Lycia (in Asia Minor) around the end of the third century, to pious Christian parents. His love of virtue, and his zeal for observing the canons of the Church, were evident from his infancy, when he would abstain from his mother’s breast every Wednesday and Friday until the evening. From early youth he was inclined to solitude and silence; in fact, not a single written or spoken word of the Saint has come down to us. Though ordained a priest by his uncle, Archbishop Nicholas, he attempted to withdraw to a hermit’s life in the Holy Land; but he was told by revelation that he was to return home to serve the Church publicly and be the salvation of many souls.
When his parents died, he gave away all of his inheritance to the needy, and thereafter almsgiving was his greatest glory. He always took particular care that his charity be done in secret. Perhaps the most famous story of his open-handedness concerns a debt-ridden man who had no money to provide dowries for his daughters, or even to support them, and in despair had resolved to give them into prostitution. On three successive nights the Saint threw a bag of gold into the window of the man’s house, saving him and his daughters from sin and hopelessness. The man searched relentlessly to find and thank his benefactor; when at last he discovered that it was Nicholas, the Saint made him promise not to reveal the good deed until after he had died. (This story may be the thin thread that connects the Saint with the modern-day Santa Claus).
God honored his faithfulness by granting him unparalleled gifts of healing and wonderworking. Several times he calmed storms by his prayers and saved the ship that he was sailing in. Through the centuries he has often done the same for sailors who call out to him, and is considered the patron of sailors and all who go to sea.
He was elected Bishop of Myra not long before the great persecutions under Diocletian and Maximian (c. 305), and was put in prison, from which he continued to encourage his flock in the Faith. When the Arian heresy wracked the Church not long after Constantine came to the throne, St Nicholas was one of the 318 Bishops who gathered in Nicea in 325. There he was so incensed at the blasphemies of Arius that he struck him on the face. This put the other bishops in a quandary, since the canons require that any hierarch who strikes anyone must be deposed. Sadly, they prepared to depose the holy Nicholas; but in the night the Lord Jesus and the most Holy Theotokos appeared to them, telling them that the Saint had acted solely out of love for Truth, not from hatred or passion, and that they should not act against him.
While still in the flesh, he sometimes miraculously appeared in distant places to save the lives of the faithful. He once saved the city of Myra from famine by appearing to the captain of a ship full of grain, telling him to take his cargo to the city. He appeared in a dream to Constantine to intercede for the lives of three Roman officers who had been falsely condemned; the three grateful soldiers later became monks.
The holy bishop reposed in peace around 345. His holy relics were placed in a church built in his honor in Myra, where they were venerated by throngs of pilgrims every year. In 1087, after Myra was conquered by the Saracens, the Saint’s relics were translated to Bari in southern Italy, where they are venerated today. Every year, quantities of fragrant myrrh are gathered from the casket containing his holy relics. New Martyr Nicolas Karamos of Smyrna (1657) He was a Christian living in Smyrna under Ottoman rule. One day he lost his temper in an argument and exclaimed that he would “turn Turk” before he would give way in the dispute. Immediately, some Turks watching the argument seized Nicolas and brought him before the judge to honor his promise. Nicolas, who had come to his senses, declared ‘If it please God, I will never deny my Lord Jesus Christ, the true God who will come to judge the living and the dead.’ The judge had the humble confessor flogged and tortured through thirty-six days, but he remained firm in his confession of Christ, despite even the tears of his mother and his wife. Finally, the judge had him hanged on March 19 1657. His torments and faithfulness were seen by some Western visitors; so moved were they that they recovered his body from the sea (where it had been cast after hanging) and took it to Europe. St Maximus, Metropolitan of Kiev & Vladimir (1305) He was one of the bold Confessors who opposed the false Union of Lyons perpetrated by the Emperor Michael VIII in 1274. In 1283 he became Metropolitan of Kiev (and thus of the whole Russian Church). At that time the Principality of Kiev had been reduced to ruins by the Tatar invaders. Saint Maximus received a revelation from God that he should transfer the metropolitanate from Kiev to Vladimir. On the night following the move to Vladimir, the Most Holy Theotokos appeared to the Saint, saying ‘You have done well, Maximus my servant, in coming to live in my city!’ She then put a mantle on his shoulders which he found when he awoke.
Saint Maximus reposed in peace in 1305. His body, interred in the Cathedral of Vladimir, was found to be incorrupt in the nineteenth century. December 7 Our Father among the Saints Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (397) This illustrious light of Orthodoxy in the Western Church was born in Gaul in 349, but his widowed mother took the family to Rome while he was still a small child. Brilliant and well-educated, he was made a provincial Governor in 375 and took up residence in Milan. In those days, the Arian heresy was still dividing the Church, despite its repudiation at the Council of Nicaea in 325. When the time came to elect a new Bishop in Milan, the Orthodox and Arian parties were so divided that they could come to no agreement on a new Bishop. When Ambrose came as Governor to try to restore peace and order, a young child, divinely inspired, called out “Ambrose, Bishop!” To Ambrose’s amazement, the people took up the cry, and Ambrose himself was elected, though he tried to refuse, protesting that he was only a catechumen (it was still common in those days to delay Holy Baptism for fear of polluting it by sin). He even attempted to flee, but his horse brought him back to the city. Resigning himself to God’s will, he was baptized and, only a week later, elevated to Bishop. Immediately, he renounced all possessions, distributed all of his money to the poor and gave his estates to the Church. Straightaway, he entered into
a spirited defense of Orthodoxy in his preaching and writings to the dismay of the Arians who had supported his election. Soon he persuaded Gratian, Emperor of the West, to call the Council of Aquilea, which brought an end to Arianism in the Western Church. (Arianism, however, continued to prosper among the barbarian nations for many years; see the Martyrs of Africa, also commemorated today).
Several times the holy Bishop was called upon to defend the Church against domination by the secular powers. Once, putting down an uprising in Thessalonika, the Emperor Theodosius punished the city by ordering the massacre of thousands of its residents. When the Emperor later visited Milan and came to the Cathedral to attend the Liturgy, Saint Ambrose stopped him at the door, condemned his crime before all the people, forbade him entrance to the church and excommunicated him for eight months. The Emperor went away weeping, and submitted in humility to the Church’s discipline. When he returned after long penance to be restored to Communion, he went into the sanctuary along with the clergy, as had been the custom of the Emperors since Constantine the Great. But again the holy Ambrose humbled him in the sight of all the people, saying “Get out and take your place among the laity; the purple does not make priests, but only emperors.” Theodosius left without protest, took his place among the penitents, and never again attempted to enter the sanctuary of a church. (When the Emperor died, it was Bishop Ambrose who preached his funeral eulogy).
Saint Ambrose, by teaching, preaching and writing, brought countless pagans to the Faith. His most famous convert was St Augustine (June 15), who became his disciple and eventually a bishop. Ambrose’s many theological and catechetical works helped greatly to spread the teaching of the Greek fathers in the Latin world. He wrote many glorious antiphonal hymns which were once some of the gems of the Latin services.
Saint Ambrose reposed in peace in 397; his relics still rest in the basilica in Milan. The Martyrs of Africa, who suffered during the Vandal persecution (429 and following) In the year 429, Eighty thousand Vandals crossed from Spain into Africa and, in the course of ten years of massacre and pillage, gained control of most of the Roman territories of North Africa. Many people picture these barbarians as pagans, but they were in fact Arian heretics, who under their leader Genseric began a fierce persecution of the Church wherever they encountered it. The tortures that many thousands endured in their confession of the Faith are too horrible to describe here; the clergy were singled out for special cruelty.
Today we especially commemorate the Orthodox faithful whom the Vandals burned to death in their church, who went on singing hymns and praising God until the moment of their death. We also commemorate the three hundred Martyrs in Carthage who died by the sword rather than submit to Arian baptism.
The death of Genseric in 454 brought little relief, for after a short hiatus his successors Huneric (477-484) and Gonthamund (484-497) continued the persecution as viciously as before. Christian Africa lived under the Vandal yoke for almost 100 years: freedom from persecution was not secure until Justinian’s forces overcame and drove off the Vandals in 523-525. The African Church, once a beacon of Christianity, never recovered its former vitality. Our Venerable Father Antony of Siya (1556) Saint Anthony is one of the holy protectors of iconographers.
He was born in 1477 in a Russian village near Archangel. From an early age he devoted himself to reading sacred books and making icons. When his parents died, he entered the service of a wealthy lord in Novgorod, and later married the lord’s daughter. But less than a year after his marriage he was widowed. Despairing of earthly consolations, he gave his wealth to the poor and, owning only the clothes that he wore, went to become a monk at the Monastery of St Pachomius. There he excelled in prayer, vigil and ascesis, praying for most of the night, taking on the heaviest work by day, and eating only every second day. After a short time he was ordained to the priesthood.
Some years later he and two companions, seeking a more secluded life for prayer, traveled to the frigid shores of the White Sea and established a small monastic brotherhood where the River Siya enters Lake Mikhailov. They lived in utter poverty, staying alive by gathering mushrooms and wild berries. Many times they heard the sound of bells, though there was no church or habitation anywhere nearby. In time other brethren were attracted to the site, and a monastery was founded with the help of the Grand Prince of Moscow. When the monastery church burned down, an icon of the Holy Trinity painted by St Antony miraculously survived unscathed, and later worked many miracles. The Saint himself withdrew into the forests, living alone for many years until he was called back by his spiritual children to serve as the monastery’s abbot. Having foreseen his own end, he reposed in peace in 1556. He asked that his body be thrown into the lake, but his disciples, obedient in every other way, did not fulfil his request. His tomb was the source of many miracles in the coming years. December 8 Our Venerable Father Patapius (6th or 7th c.) He was born at Thebes in Egypt, and at a young age left his pious parents, his inheritance and his acquaintances to dwell in the Egyptian desert, devoting himself to ceaseless prayer. After many years, he reputation spread and, despite his desire for solitude, throngs of pilgrims would seek him out for his prayers and counsel. To escape the attentions of men, he did a surprising thing: he abandoned the desert and moved to Constantinople, settling in the Blachernae district, where, amid the bustle of the city, he was able to pass unnoticed, more secure in his solitude than he had been in the caves of Egypt.
As he grew in obedience to the commandments of Christ, the grace of working miracles grew in him, and once again he gradually became known. Once a blind man cast himself before Patapius on the street, and the Saint cured him instantly by calling on the name of Christ. Once he healed a man crippled by dropsy, anointing him with the oil from a vigil lamp and signing him with the Cross.
After blessing the Church for many years with his prayers and miracles, St Patapius fell asleep in peace, and was buried in the church of the Monastery of the Egyptians near Constantinople. In 1904 his precious and incorrupt relics were uncovered in the course of some building at a small monastery near Corinth. From that time the monastery has been dedicated to St Patapius, and many miracles are worked there. Holy Apostles Sosthenes, Apollos, Tychicus and Epaphroditus, Cephas and Caesar All of these Apostles are mentioned in the New Testament. Sosthenes was the ruler of the Synagogue in Corinth, and was converted through the preaching of St Paul. After traveling with St Paul for years, he became Bishop of Colophon near Ephesus. Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria, well educated and with a deep knowledge of the Scriptures. He was brought to the fulness of the Christian faith by Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus, and went out preaching the Gospel among the pagans. His eloquence was so admired that for awhile the gentile Church divided into two factions, one for Paul and one for Apollos. Saint Apollos later became Bishop of Caesarea.
(The Synaxarion lists Cephas and Caesar here; but some believe that St Paul’s reference to Cephas in 1 Cor 1:12 refers to the Apostle Peter, not to a separate companion of St Paul; and that “those of Caesar’s household” (Phil. 4:22) refers to Christians in the Emperor’s palace in Rome, not to a Christian named Caesar.) December 9 † The Conception of the Most Holy Mother of God “In accordance with the eternal purpose of God, who willed to prepare a most pure habitation for Himself in order to take flesh and dwell among men, Joachim and Anna were prevented from having children for many years. Their barren old age was symbolic o
f human nature itself, bowed down and dried up under the weight of sin and death, yet they never ceased begging God to take away their reproach. Now when the time of preparation determined by the Lord had been fulfilled, God sent an Angel to Joachim in solitude on a mountain, and to Anna in her affliction weeping in her garden, to tell them that the ancient prophecies were soon to be fulfilled in them: a child would be born to them, who was destined to become the veritable Ark of the new Covenant, the divine Ladder, the unburnt Bush, the living Temple where the Word of God would take up his abode. Through the conception of Saint Anna, the barrenness of human nature itself, separated from God by death, has on this day been brought to an end; and by the wondrous birth-giving of her who had remained childless until the age when women can no longer bear fruit, God announced and testified to the more astonishing miracle of the Conception without seed, and of the immaculate coming to birth of Christ within the heart and the womb of the Most Holy Virgin and Mother of God.
“Even though the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary took place through a miraculous action of God, she was conceived by the union of man and woman in accordance with the laws of our human nature, which has fallen through Adam’s transgression and become subject to sin and corruption (cf. Gen. 3:16). As the chosen Vessel and precious Shrine prepared by God since the beginning of time, she is indeed the most pure and the most perfect of mankind, but even so, she has not been set apart from our common inheritance nor from the consequences of the sin of our first parents. Just as it was fitting that Christ, in order to deliver us from death by his own voluntary death (Heb. 2:14), should by His Incarnation be made like to men in all things except sin; so it was meet that His Mother, in whose womb the Word of God would unite with human nature, should be subject to death and corruption like every child of Adam, lest we not be fully included in Salvation and Redemption. The Mother of God has been chosen and preferred among all women, not arbitrarily, but because God foresaw that she would preserve her purity and keep it perfect: conceived and born like all of us, she has been worthy to become the Mother of the Son of God and the mother of us all. So, in her tenderness and compassion, she is able to intercede for us with her Son, that He may have mercy upon us.
“Just as the Lord Jesus Christ was the fruit of the virginity of the holy Mother of God, so she herself was the fruit of the chastity of Joachim and Anna. And by following the same path of chastity we too, monks and Christian married people, can bring Christ to be born and grow in us.” (Synaxarion)
In the Latin church, this day is called the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, reflecting the erroneous Latin view of the conception of the Holy Theotokos.
“The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception proclaimed by the Roman Catholics in 1858 is rejected by the Orthodox Church, but without in any way detracting from the dignity of the Mother of God. In fact, according to the Fathers, the inheritance from Adam consists not in a personal responsibility of all men for original sin, but simply in the inheritance of the consequences of sin: death, corruption and the passions (including procreation and fleshly union). Hence the Orthodox have no difficulty in recognizing that the Mother of God was heir, like us, of all the consequences of Adam’s sin — Christ alone was exempt — but at the same time pure and without personal sin, for she freely kept herself from all attraction for the world and for the passions, and she voluntarily co-operated in God’s purpose by obeying His will with docility: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word, she replied to the Angel Gabriel (Luke 1:38)” (Synaxarion) St Hannah (Anna), the Prophetess, the mother of the Prophet Samuel (12th c. BC) Her story opens the First Book of Samuel. Though barren, she kept all the commandments and prayed with fervor that her reproach might be taken from her, vowing that if God granted her a son she would dedicate him to God’s service. When her prayers were answered, she brought her child Samuel to live with Eli the High Priest as soon as he was weaned. Her beautiful song of praise and thanks (1 Sam. 2:1-10) has become the third Biblical Ode of the Matins Canon; today it is only sung in full in monasteries during Lent. Despite her age, God granted her three sons and two daughters. She reposed in peace. St Stephen the New Light (Neolampes) of Constantinople (912) He seems to have lived in Constantinople for his entire life, but lived there as if in the desert, devoting himself entirely to solitude, fasting and prayer. For most of his adult life he ate only a few vegetables without salt once or twice a week; by his prayers many miracles were wrought in the City.
In time he was made a priest and served in the church of St Antipas, where he lived in seclusion. When the church was destroyed in the earthquake of 879, he withdrew to a dank pit in the ruins where the air was so unwholesome that he lost his hair and teeth and was almost paralyzed. He only emerged from this ascesis after twelve years. Thereafter he served the Divine Liturgy only on Feasts of the Lord, allowing himself some water and fruit after the service; otherwise he spent his time alone in silent prayer. He reposed in peace in 912 at the age of seventy-three. December 10 Holy Martyrs Menas, Hermogenes and Eugraphus (235) Menas was an Athenian, a courtier of the Emperor Maximinus, and a secret Christian. Once there was an outbreak of civil unrest in Alexandria, brought about by various political factions, and by the increasing success of Christian missionaries in turning the Alexandrian people from the idols. The Emperor sent Menas to reconcile the parties and settle the dispute. On his arrival, Menas quickly resolved the political troubles and restored peace to the city; but instead of putting down Christianity as the Emperor had desired, he did everything in his power to protect the Christians and encourage the spread of the Gospel. When word of this came to the Emperor, he sent another trusted courtier, Hermogenes, to re-establish Imperial authority and to execute Menas if he would not renounce Christ. Hermogenes followed these orders scrupulously: he subjected the godly Menas to various horrid tortures in the public arena. But Menas was miraculously preserved through them all, and when he finally appeared in the arena, flanked by two shining Angels, Hermogenes repented and confessed Christ. He in turn became such a fervent advocate for the Gospel that he was soon made a Bishop (!). Finally the Emperor decided that the only solution was to come to Alexandria himself. There he had both Menas and Hermogenes cruelly tortured to death in secret, lest they perform any public miracles; but when the Emperor presented himself before the people at the arena the following day, the two Saints, miraculously preserved, appeared there also, causing the people to cry out “Christ is the only true God!” At the sight, Menas’ scribe Eugraphus declared himself a Christian, leaped into the arena and publicly demanded the honor of dying with them. All three were beheaded. Their precious relics were later taken to Constantinople, where they worked many miracles. December 11 Our Venerable Father Daniel the Stylite (490) He was from Samosata in Mesopotamia, and became a monk at the age of twelve. As a young monk he visited St Symeon the Stylite (September 1) to receive his blessing. Years later he moved to the neighborhood of Constantinople at the request of the holy Patriarch Anatolius (July 3), whom he had healed of a deadly ailment through his prayers. For a time Daniel lived in the church of the Archangel Michael at Anaplus, but nine years later St Symeon the Stylite appeared to him in a vision and told him to imitate Symeon’s ascesis of living on a pillar. For the remaining thirty-three years of his life the Saint did just that. He stood immovably in prayer regardless of the wea
ther: once after a storm his disciples found him standing covered with ice. He was much loved by several Emperors (including Leo the Great), who sought him out for counsel. He reposed at the age of eighty-four, having lived through the reigns of three Emperors. Saint Nikon the Dry of the Kiev Caves (1101) He was a monk in Kiev, taken into slavery by a band of Polovtsi (Turkic raiders who were troubling the country at that time) along with the holy Martyr Eustratius (March 28). He humbly refused to be ransomed by his family and therefore suffered a harsh captivity for three years. Despite this, he prayed constantly for his captors, worked miracles for their sake, and once healed their leader from a deadly illness. One day St Eustratius appeared to him in a vision and told him that he would be set free in three days. When he told his captors, they severed the tendons of his knees and ankles and kept him under guard. But at the appointed time he was miraculously transported to Kiev, where he suddenly appeared in church among his astonished brethren. The Saint did not want his chains removed until his Abbot said “Brother, if the Lord wanted to see you in these chains, he would not have delivered you from captivity!” He was so withered from his hardships that he became known as Nikon the Dry. Later, the captor whom he had healed came to the Monastery of the Caves and became a disciple of his former slave. Our Venerable Father Luke the New Stylite (979) He was an Anatolian, and in his youth served in the Byzantine army in the war against the Bulgar Tsar Symeon. After the war, he left the army to become a monk, and was in time ordained to the priesthood. For a time he served as an army chaplain, living even more austerely than he had as a monk and distributing all his possessions to soldiers in need.
He entered the Monastery of St Zacharias on Mount Olympus in Bithynia, where he was appointed steward. Here his ascetical labors reached new levels. He kept a large stone in his mouth so that he would be unable to speak, and spent each night in a tree. When his exploits threatened to attract admiration, Luke fled to his homeland and lived for a few years in an isolated cave. Then, following in the footsteps of Symeon the Elder (September 1), Symeon the Younger (May 24), Daniel (today) and Alypius (November 26), he began to live as a stylite, dwelling on a tall pillar near Constantinople. Here he became a powerful intercessor for those who flocked to him for healing or counsel, and countless miracles were worked through his prayers.
Saint Luke lived on his pillar for more than forty years without interruption, and fell asleep in peace, aged more than one hundred. He was buried in the Monastery of St Bassian. December 11-17 † Sunday of the Holy Forefathers (commemorated on the Sunday that falls between the 11th and 17th of December) On this Sunday, in preparation of the Nativity of our Lord, we remember the Patriarch Abraham and his lineage, ancestors of Christ. The story of Abraham and his faithfulness should be read in the Book of Genesis.
“Through the connection of the holy Ancestors and Patriarchs, Our Saviour Jesus Christ is Himself also, in a way, the fruit of the faith of Abraham. So, when God makes his voice known to each of us while we are still in the strange land of the passions and worldly vanities, we must like Abraham unhesitatingly leave all that is ours, and follow the divine calling with faith until we reach the Promised Land where, in our turn, we shall be able to give birth spiritually to Christ For, planted in us by faith and Baptism, He has to grow in us through the virtues so as to shine in the light of contemplation. We descendants of Abraham, ‘children of the promise’ as Isaac was, having become ‘sons of God’ through the gift of the Holy Spirit, ought therefore to see Christ form in us. Let us then for our part become forebears of Christ and continue steadfast in the faith, so that we may keep the feast of his Nativity, saying: It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Synaxarion) December 12 † St Herman, Wonderworker of Alaska (1836) He is also commemorated tomorrow, December 13. See his life there. † Our Holy Godbearing Father Spyridon the Wonderworker (348). He was a humble shepherd who lived on the island of Cyprus with his wife and his one child, a daughter named Irene. Though he was poor himself, his house and table were always open to travelers and those in need. He kept his money in a box which he left open and available to all, not concerning himself with who took from it or whether they were deserving or not. In time, his wife died and, with less worldly cares, he redoubled his prayers and his almsgiving.
He became so well-loved on the island that, when the bishop of the town of Tremithos died, the faithful unanimously chose Spyridon to succeed him, and he thus became a shepherd of rational sheep as well as the beasts he had tended. Despite his sudden elevation in rank, he kept to his former manner of life, traveling everywhere on foot, tending his animals as before, while fulfilling all the duties of a bishop as well. (To portray this godly humility, his icon shows him wearing bishop’s vestments and a peasant’s woven straw hat.)
His compassion for others was boundless. Though he was very strict with himself, he would always break a fast to give comfort to a traveler. Once a band of robbers broke into his sheepfold by night, but found themselves confined there by an invisible force. When Spyridon found them in the morning, he freed them, admonished them to live honestly, and gave them two sheep in compensation, he said, for their keeping an all-night vigil.
Pages could be filled with stories of the miracles wrought by the holy bishop for the good of his flock: by his prayers he ended a drought, turned a snake to gold to help a poor man, and even raised the dead son of a poor widow. His radiant virtue touched the consciences of those he met so that many would spontaneously fall at his feet and confess their sins.
When the Emperor Constantine summoned the First Ecumenical Council in 325, Spyridon attended, dressed in his simple peasant’s garb. At one of the sessions, a proud Arian philosopher challenged the Orthodox to a debate about the Holy Trinity, and was amazed when the simple Spyridon stepped forward to accept the challenge. He and all the other bishops were far more amazed when the uneducated peasant bishop confounded all the Arian’s arguments with his eloquent, Spirit-inspired words. The humbled philosopher admitted that he was convinced, embraced the Orthodox faith, and called upon the other Arians to abandon their human wisdom and embrace the true and life-giving Faith.
The holy bishop always celebrated the Divine Liturgy with joy. Once, serving in a remote, almost empty church, he turned to the invisible congregation and said “Peace be unto all!”, and his disciple heard a choir of angels respond “And with thy spirit!”
Saint Spyridon reposed in peace in 348 at the age of seventy-eight. His incorrupt and wonder-working relics poured forth miracles for the people of Cyprus until the seventh century, when they were moved to Constantinople to escape the Arab invasion; when the City fell to the Turks, the relics were again moved to Corfu, where they are venerated to this day. Even after 1,500 years, the holy relics remain incorrupt and work many life-giving wonders. Saint Spyridon is venerated as the Patron of Corfu. St Finian of Clonard (549) “St Finian, known as the ‘Tutor of the Saints of Ireland,’ stands with St Enda of Aran at the head of the patriarchs of Irish monasticism. He showed great zeal and piety for God from his youth. He had already founded three churches before he set off for Wales to study at the feet of St Cadoc at Llancarfan (September 25, †577). In Llancarfan he became close friends with St Gildas (January 29, †570), another of St Cadoc’s disciples. Upon his return to Ireland, he founded the great Monastery of Clonard during the same year the great St Enda (March 21, †530) reposed in Aran. A multitude of illust
rious and holy men studied under St Finian, including the famous ‘Twelve Apostles of Ireland.’ St Finian founded many other monasteries during his lifetime, including the famous island monastery of Skellig Michael off the southwest coast of Ireland.” ( Saint Herman Calendar 2003 ) December 13 † St Herman, Wonderworker of Alaska (1836). First Martyrs of America Juvenaly (1796) and Peter the Aleut (1815 ) St Herman, for many the Patron of North America, was born near Moscow around 1756 to a pious merchant family, and entered monastic life at the age of sixteen, at the Trinity – St Sergius Lavra near St Petersburg. While there he was attacked by a cancer of the face, but the Mother of God appeared to him and healed him completely. He was tonsured a monk in 1783 with the name of Herman (a form of Germanos), and was received into Valaam Monastery on Lake Ladoga. After some time, he was allowed to withdraw to the life of a hermit in the forest, and only came to the monastery for feast days.
In 1793, in response to a request by the Russian-American Commercial Company for missionaries to Alaska, Valaam Monastery was told to select a company of its best monks to travel to America. Eight were chosen, of whom the hermit Herman was one. The company crossed all of Siberia and , almost a year later, first saw Kodiak Island in September 1794. The missionaries set about their work, and found the native Aleut people so receptive to the Gospel of Christ that in the first year about 7,000 were baptized and 1,500 marriages performed.
Despite severe hardships, the missionaries covered huge distances, on foot and in small boats, to reach the scattered fishing settlements of the Aleuts. In general they found a warm reception, but many of the pagan shamans opposed their message and sometimes stirred up the people against them. It was thus that the Priest-monk Juvenaly was killed in 1796, becoming the First Martyr of North America.
Despite such opposition, the missionaries’ major difficulty was with the Russian traders and settlers, who were in the habit of exploiting the Aleuts as they wished, and who had oppressed and disgusted the native people with their immoral behavior. When the missionaries came to the defense of the natives, they were repaid with the opposition of the Russian-American company, whose leadership put countless obstacles in the path of their work. In time, several of the company died at sea, and several more abandoned the mission in discouragement, leaving the monk Herman alone.
He settled on Spruce Island near Kodiak, and once again took up the hermit’s life, dwelling in a small cabin in the forest. He spent his days in prayer and mission work, and denied himself every fleshly comfort: he fasted often and lived on a diet of blackberries, mushrooms and vegetables (in Alaska!!). Despite these privations, he founded an orphanage and a school for the natives of the island, cared for the sick in epidemics, and built a chapel where he conducted divine services attended by many. (He was not a priest, but God made up the lack in miraculous ways: at Theophany, Angels descended to bless the waters of the bay, and the Saint would use the holy water to heal the sick). Asked if he was ever lonely or dejected in his solitude, and replied: “I am not alone; God is here as everywhere, and the Angels too. There is no better company.”
Saint Herman reposed in peace on Spruce island, at the age of eighty-one, in 1836. At the moment of his departure, his face was radiant with light, and the inhabitants nearby saw a pillar of light rising above his hermitage. His last wish was to be buried on Spruce Island. When some of his well-intended disciples attempted to take his relics back to Kodiak to be buried from the church there, a storm rose up and continued unabated until they had abandoned the plan and buried him as he desired. He was officially glorified in 1970, the first canonized American Saint.
Saint Peter was a young Aleut convert to the Orthodox faith. In 1812 the Russian- American Company set up a post in California, where Russians and Aleuts farmed and traded to supply the needs of the Alaskans; Peter was one of these. The Spanish, who at the time ruled California, suspected the Russians of territorial ambitions, and in 1815 captured about twenty Orthodox Aleuts and took them to San Francisco. Fourteen of these were put to torture in an effort to convert them to the Roman Catholic faith. All refused to compromise their faith, and Peter and a companion were singled out for especially vicious treatment: Peter’s fingers, then hands and feet, were severed, and he died from loss of blood, still firm in his confession. The Latins were preparing the same fate for the others when word came that they were to be transferred; eventually they returned to Alaska. When he heard a first-hand account of Peter’s martyrdom, Saint Herman crossed himself and said “Holy New Martyr Peter, pray to God for us!” Saint Peter the Aleut is the first recognized Saint of American birth.
St Herman appears several times on the Church’s calendar. The Synaxis of St Herman and the American Protomartyrs is celebrated today. St Herman is commemorated on November 15, the day of his repose; but (partly because pilgrimage to Alaska is so difficult in the winter) the day of his glorification, July 27 / August 9 is kept there as his primary feast day.
Following is a fragment of a conversation between St Herman and some officers of a Russian ship, recorded by his disciple Yanovsky; it includes perhaps the most familiar quotation from St Herman.
“But do you love God?” asked the Elder. And all answered: “Of course we love God. How can we not love God?” “And I, a sinner, have tried to love God for more than forty years, and I cannot say that I perfectly love Him,” answered Father Herman, and began to explain how one must love God. “If we love someone,” he said, “then we always think of that one, we strive to please that one; day and night our heart is preoccupied with that object. Is it in this way, gentlemen, that you love God? Do you often turn to Him, do you always remember Him, do you always pray to Him and fulfill His Holy commandments?” We had to admit that we did not. “For our good, for our happiness,” concluded the Elder, “at least let us give a vow to ourselves, that from this day, from this hour, from this minute, we shall strive above all else to love God and to do His Holy Will!”
Saint Herman is also commemorated on December 12. † Martyrs Eustratius, Auxentius, Eugene, Mardarius, and Orestes at Sebaste “These five courageous men shone like five resplendent stars in the dark days of the anti-Christian Emperors Diocletian and Maximian. St Eustratius was a Roman general in the city of Satalios, Eugene was one of his comrades in arms and Orestes likewise a respected soldier. Auxentius was a priest and Mardarius a simple citizen who came, like Eustratius, from the town of Aravraca. The imperial governors, Lysias and Agricola, tortured Auxentius first as he was a priest. Beholding the innocent suffering of the Christians, Eustratius presented himself before Lycias and declared that he also was a Christian. While Eustratius was being tortured, Eugene stood up before the judge and cried out: ‘I am a Christian too, Lycias!’ When they were driving Eustratius and the other martyrs through the town, Mardarius saw them from the roof of his house, and he took leave of his wife and two frail daughters and hastened after them, shouting into the faces of their tormentors: ‘I am a Christian too, like the Lord Eustratius!’ Orestes was a young and handsome soldier, who stood head and shoulders above all the other soldiers. One day, when he was at target practice in Lycias’s presence, the Cross he was wearing fell from his breast, and Lycias realised that he was a Christian. Orestes openly confessed his faith, and was martyred with the others. Auxentius was beheaded, Eugene and Mardarius died under torture, Orestes was exposed on a red-hot iron gr >Prologue ) Holy Virgin Maryr Lucy of Syracuse (304) During Diocletian’s persecutians, the Christi
an maiden Lucy went with her mother on pilgrimage to the tomb of St Agatha (February 5), to pray for her mother’s healing from an ailment. Saint Agatha appeared to Lucy in a dream and said ‘Lucy, my sister, why do you ask from me what your own faith can obtain? Your mother is healed. You will soon be the glory of Syracuse as I am of Catania.’ Lucy’s mother was healed from that day, and Lucy determined to consecrate herself entirely to God. She broke off an engagement to a nobly-born young man and gave her large dowry of land and jewels to the poor. Her would-be husband angrily denounced her as a Christian to the Governor of Syracuse.
At the tribunal, Lucy firmly confessed her faith in Christ and refused to make sacrifice to the gods. The Governor ordered that she be placed in a brothel, but his minions were unable to move her from the place where she stood, even when they tied her with ropes and attempted to drag her with oxen. The Governor asked what witchcraft she used, to which she answered ‘I do not use witchcraft — it is the power of God that is with me. Bring ten thousand of your men if you wish; they will not be able to move me unless God wills it.’ The men then lit a fire around her, but it did not harm her. Finally they beheaded her where she stood. With her last words, she predicted the deaths of Maximian and Diocletian, and the coming of peace to the Church. December 14 Holy Martyrs Thyrsus, Leucis and Callinicus (250) These martyrs contested in Asia Minor during the reign of Decius. Thyrsus and Leucis were executed after horrible torture for confessing themselves as Christians and rebuking the Governor for his slaughter of their brethren. Callinicus was a pagan priest, converted by witnessing the martyrdom and miracles of St Thyrsus; he was beheaded. Holy Martyrs Philemon, Apollonius, Arian and those with them (3rd c.) “During the reign of Diocletian (284-305), the Governor of Antinoe in the Theba >(Great Horologion) December 15 † Holy Hieromartyr Eleutherius, Bishop of Illyria, and those with him (126) His name is a form of the Greek word for “freedom.” He was a native of Rome whose father died at a young age, leaving him to be brought up by his mother Anthia, a Christian who reared him in the fear of God and the love of holiness. His virtue and ability were so evident that he was ordained a priest at the age of seventeen and at twenty was made Bishop of Illyria, a large see roughly comprising modern-day Serbia.
The young bishop’s pastoral and evangelistic work was so successful that many pagans were converted to the Faith through him. His growing reputation drew the attention of the Emperor Hadrian, who sent one of his senior officers named Felix to arrest the holy bishop. But when Felix saw and heard Eleutherius, he was captivated by his teaching, believed in Christ, and was baptized. He and the St Eleutherius returned and presented themselves together before the Emperor, fearlessly confessing their faith.
Eleutherius was subjected to brutal torture, during which the city prefect Coremonus, who had suggested some of the tortures, was enlightened through the Saint’s prayers for his enemies, and proclaimed Christ. He was baptized by Eleutherius and later beheaded. After a time, when it became clear that fire and torture would not move the holy bishop, he was taken to the amphitheater and beheaded. At the moment of his death, his mother Anthia rushed forward and took his body in her arms. There she also was beheaded by the executioners.
Pregnant women call on St Eleutherius that they may have a safe delivery. Holy Martyr Eleutherius the Cubicularius (4th c.) He was from a noble family in Constantinople, and rose to the rank of Cubicularius (Chamberlain). He was not only a counselor to, but a close friend of, the Emperor (probably Julian the Apostate). But Eleutherius was increasingly moved by a desire to become a Christian; so, obtaining a leave from the Imperial court, he moved to the countryside in Bithynia, where he was baptized. There he built a house that concealed an underground chapel.
When Eleutherius returned to court, some jealous courtiers denounced him to the Emperor, who visited Eleutherius’ country house and was furious to discover the underground church. When the Saint would not renounce his faith in Christ, the Emperor, ignoring all previous bonds of friendship, had him beheaded. Holy Martyr Bacchus the New (787) During the reign of Constantine VI and Irene, restorers of the holy icons, the Holy Land was under the control of the Muslim Arabs. Many Christians there apostatized, putting honors and security in this world above their eternal joy. One of these was the father of this Saint, who brought up seven children as Muslims. His wife however, never renounced her Faith and prayed constantly for the conversion of her husband and children. Upon the death of the father, her third son Dachak declared that he wished to become a Christian. He was baptized in the Monastery of St Sabas near Jerusalem, receiving the name Bacchus, and determined to be a monk. But the abbot, fearing reprisals against the Monastery, sent him back to his home in Jerusalem. His brothers, seeing his joy and boldness in confessing the Faith, decided to receive holy Baptism, except for one, who denounced Bacchus to the authorities. He was arrested and brought before the judge and, when he proved steadfast in his confession of Christ, was beheaded. Our Venerable Father Tryphon of Kola, apostle of Laponia (1583), and his disciple the Holy Martyr Jonah (1590) Saint Tryphon was the son of a priest from Novgorod. The Synaxarion records that, at the moment of his birth, the verse Blessed is the life of those who dwell in the desert was being sung in the Matins service. In 1525 he was moved by a divine revelation to flee to the far north of Russia and live as a hermit. He settled near the River Kola, where he devoted his nights to prayer, his days to proclaiming the Gospel of Christ to the native peoples there. The pagans were hostile at first, but his patience and humility won them over, and he baptized many. He built them a church with his own hands on the shores of Lake Ladoga, and later founded a monastery there. Saint Tryphon reposed in 1583. He predicted his own death and the coming destruction of the Monastery by the Swedes, which came to pass in 1590. All the monks were massacred. The first victim, Starets Jonah, worked many miracles at the Monastery after its restoration. December 16 Holy Prophet Haggai (
520 BC) He was born in Babylon, of the priestly tribe of Levi, during the captivity of the Jews. After their return to Jerusalem, the Jews began to rebuild the Temple and to worship there according to the Law, but were discouraged by opposition from the local population (many of them Jews who had not gone into captivity). So God raised up the holy Prophets Haggai and Zechariah (February 8) to stir the people to complete their sacred work. Haggai’s prophecies reveal that the drought that the Hebrews were suffering was brought about by their failure to complete the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and would only end when they rededicated themselves to their work. He is ranked tenth among the minor Prophets. Holy Empress and Wonderworker Theophano (893) She was born to noble parents in Constantinople. Beautiful and pious, she was chosen by the Emperor Basil (867-886) to be the bride of his son Leo VI the Wise. When Leo ascended the throne, the Empress showed no attraction to the honors and pleasures of the royal life, but devoted her days to prayer and almsgiving. She fulfilled all the duties of her Imperial station while living a life of austerity whenever out of the world’s sight. Beneath her rich garments she wore coarse haircloth, and kept fasts and vigils as if she were living the monastic life. She was humble and respectful to all, and would address even her servants as ‘Master’ or ‘Mistress.’ At night, after her servants had left her alone, she would leave her fine bed and sleep on a mat on the floor, rising often during the night to pray.
After her daughter Eudocia died in 892, she wished to leave the world and enter a monastery, but her spiritual father St Euthymius (August 5) would not give his blessing. Nonetheless, her time in the world was not long: only three years later she died, before she had reached the age of thirty. Immediately after her funeral in the Church of the Holy Apostles, her holy relics became the source of many miracles and healings, and are venerated to this day in the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople. December 17 Holy Prophet Daniel and the Three Holy Youths Ananias, Azarias and Misael Their wonderful story is told in the Book of Daniel, in which the coming of Christ is prophesied and prefigured in several places. Large portions of the book are missing from the protestant Bible: make every effort to obtain and read the full version. The Prayer and Song of the Three Youths in the Furnace have become the Seventh and Eight of the Old Testament Odes of the Matins Canon; the Odes are sung in full only in monasteries during Lent. The Three Youths’ sojourn in the fiery furnace is prominent in Orthodox hymns and devotions, for their passage through the flames unharmed is a type of the holy Virgin’s incorrupt birth-giving: receiving the divine Fire within her womb, she was not consumed but remained ever-virgin.
According to the Synaxarion , Daniel reposed in peace at the age of eighty, two years after the return of the Hebrew people from their captivity in Babylon. The Three Youths also reposed in peace. But St Cyril of Alexandria writes that all of them met a martyr’s end, by beheading.
According to tradition these four were among the righteous dead who rose at Christ’s Crucifixion and were seen by many (Matthew ch. 27).
The Three Holy Youths were named, in Hebrew, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael; the names given above are Greek renderings of the Hebrew names. Their captors also gave them Babylonian names, by which they are also called: Shadrach, Abed-nego, and Meshak, respectively. Daniel was given the Babylonian name Belteshazzar. Our Holy Father Dionysius the New of Zakinthos (1624) He was born to pious and wealthy parents on the island of Zakinthos. Early in life he renounced his wealth and worldly honors to enter monastic life. His virtue became so well known that he was appointed Archbishop of Aegina, where he served for many years. In time, in order to retire to a life of solitude and struggle, he resigned and returned to his homeland where he entered a monastery in the mountains. Here he received the grace of performing miracles, and worked many healing and saving wonders among the people of Zakinthos.
A story from the Synaxarion reveals his character as one truly united to Christ: “He excelled above all in love of neighbour and in meekness. One day the murderer of the Saint’s own brother, fleeing the law and the members of his victim’s family, arrived at the monastery and begged Dionysius for asylum, little knowing to whom he was speaking. On gathering the reason for his flight and that his own brother was the victim, the man of God resisted with all his strength his natural grief and the temptation to avenge the crime. Imitating Christ, who pardoned his enemies and prayed for his persecutors, he received the fugitive with compassion, comforted him, exhorted him to repent and hid him in an out-of-the-way cell. When his pursuing kinsmen reached the monastery with the dreadful news, the Saint did not reveal that he knew it already, but did his best with words of peace to allay the wrath of his relatives and their desire for vengeance. As soon as they moved off, he let out the murderer (who was amazed and terror-struck before such superhuman goodness) and having provided him with victuals and money for his journey, he sent him away to work freely at the salvation of his soul.”
The holy bishop reposed in 1622 after a long and painful illness. He has continued to work signs and miracles and to appear from time to time to the people of Zakinthos, who venerate him as their protector and patron. December 18 Holy Martyr Sebastian and those with him (287) He grew up in Milan and became an army officer, where he distinguished himself so well that the Emperor Diocletian made him captain of the Praetorian Guard not suspecting that Sebastian was a Christian. In Rome, while fulfilling the duties of a courtier, he used his position to comfort and encourage his imprisoned fellow-Christians. By his labors and example he brought many to faith in Christ, including Chromatius, the Prefect in charge of persecuting the Roman Christians.
Sebastian had upheld two brothers, Mark and Marcellinus, who were awaiting execution for their faith. When the day of execution came, their father Tranquillinus, who had been a pagan but through Sebastian’s example had converted, presented himself to Chromatius and announced that he too was a Christian. His testimony was so powerful that the hard heart of the Prefect was melted, and he himself resolved to become a Christian.
Caius, Bishop of Rome, gathered the new brethren (both men and women — not all of Sebastian’s converts have been mentioned here) to embrace them and baptize them, but also to warn them of their coming Martyrdom. He instructed some to flee the city and others, headed by Sebastian, to remain in Rome, devoting their days to fasting, prayer and thanksgiving as they awaited their death. As the “company of Martyrs” did this, many came to them and were healed of ailments, and many joined them in confessing Christ.
When the time of martyrdom came, each member of the company was subjected to imaginatively cruel tortures before his execution. Sebastian himself was made to witness the deaths of all his companions, then to endure his own trial. He serenely confessed his unshaken faith before Diocletian himself before being taken to the place of execution. There he was tied to a post and made the target of a band of archers until his body bristled with arrows like the quills of a porcupine. He was left for dead, but when Irene, widow of St Castulus, came to bury him, she found him alive and tended his wounds. Amazingly, he recovered, and presented himself once again to the Emperor. Astonished and outraged, the tyrant ordered that Sebastian be beaten to death with clubs and thrown into the city’s sewer. That evening, a pious Christian woman was told in a vision to retrieve his body and bury it in the catacombs. After St Constantine brought peace to the Church, Pope Damasus built a church over the site in the Saint’s honor. For hun
dreds of years, many miracles were worked there through St Sebastian’s intercessions. Holy Hieromartyr Modestus I, Archbishop of Jerusalem (634) His parents were pious Christians from Sebaste in Asia Minor, who died in prison while Modestus was still an infant. The child was raised by pagans, but when he learned that his parents had died for Christ, he secretly became a Christian also. When his adoptive parents died, he traveled to Athens, where he was taken in by a Christian goldsmith and his wife, and became a Christian at the age of thirteen. Modestus’ almsgiving and love for the poor soon earned him renown, but aroused the envy of the goldsmith’s sons, who sold Modestus into slavery during a trip to Egypt. But Modestus was able to bring his new master to faith in Christ and regain his freedom.
Some time later he made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre opened at his prayers, and the people, taking this as a sign from God, chose Modestus as Archbishop of Jerusalem. (Accounts of his life do not mention his having been anything but a layman before this.) He served his flock tenderly and zealously, encouraging all to abound in spiritual gifts, and working many miracles. His prayers were effective not only in healing the faithful, but even in curing the ailments of their cattle and other animals. For this reason, it is still customary on this day to sprinkle animals pens and stables, and even houses in which pets dwell, with holy water, asking the Saint’s protection.
Saint Modestus served his flock faithfully into old age. According to some accounts he reposed in peace. According to others, in his old age he was delivered up to the pagans by his enemies, and beheaded by them after many torments. December 18-24 Sunday before Nativity “On the Sunday before the Nativity (which falls between the 18th and 24th of December), the Holy Fathers have instituted the Commemoration of the Genealogy of our Saviour Jesus Christ, in which we include not only His ancestors according to the flesh from Adam to Joseph the Betrothed of the Mother of God, but all the Righteous and the Prophets, who, by their words or deeds, announced the coming in the flesh of the Son of God.” (Synaxarion)
As baptized Christians, we ourselves are by adoption children of the Father and brethren of Christ, as the Apostle says, and are therefore a continuation of this spiritual lineage. May we be made worthy!
Since the Jews did not trace genealogies in the mother’s line, the Scriptures do not give us the lineage of Christ according to the flesh, which was through his mother Mary; but instead list the forebears of Joseph the Betrothed, who served according to the Law as husband of Mary and father of Jesus. According to the Fathers, the blessed Virgin was the daughter of Joachim, son of Bar-Panther, son of Panther, son of Levi, son of Nathan, son of King David. Thus as prophesied, the Messiah was of the house and lineage of David. December 19 Holy Martyr Boniface (290) He lived in Rome during the reign of Diocletian. He was slave to Aglais, the daughter of a Senator, and served as steward of her household and her large fortune. He also lived in fornication with her, and was addicted to drink. Despite these sins, he was kind, hospitable to strangers, and generous toward the needy.
In time, Aglais became troubled in her conscience over her way of life, and began to think of the account that she would have to give to God for her sins. Some Christians told her of the holy Martyrs and, moved by their accounts, she ordered Boniface to travel to Tarsus and bring back relics of these holy ones. Boniface, still deaf and blind to the things of God, said jokingly, “And will you honor me as a Saint if I bring back my own body to you as a relic?”
Boniface traveled to Tarsus with a large escort, well supplied with gold. He went straightaway to the Amphitheater, where he beheld a number of Martyrs being subjected to awful torments for the pleasure of the crowd, but bearing them all with patience and serenity. At the sight, the dissolute steward was touched by grace and felt his heart melt within him. He ran to the Martyrs, fell at their feet and kissed their chains, and loudly declared that he too was a disciple of Christ. So he too was put in chains, subjected to frightful tortures, and finally beheaded, rejoicing and praising God.
Boniface’s escort, mystified by his long absence, made inquiries and were astonished to discover that their godless and sinful companion had met a Martyr’s death the day before. They paid fifty pounds in gold for his body and brought it back to Rome, thus fulfilling Boniface’s own unwitting prophecy.
An angel of the Lord appeared to Aglais and said, “Arise and go to meet him who was once your servant and companion in sin, but has now become our brother. Receive him as your master for, thanks to him, all your sins are to be forgiven.” Rejoicing, Aglais received her former lover’s holy relics and built a church in his honor, where many miracles were wrought. Aglais gave away her fortune, devoted herself to ascesis and prayer, and was herself granted the grace to work miracles. She reposed in peace thirteen years later, assured that the sins of her past had been effaced through the intercessions of the holy Boniface. December 20 Beginning of the Forefeast of the Nativity of Christ Holy Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-bearer, Bishop of Antioch (107) There is a tradition that it was the young boy Ignatius whom Christ took upon his knee to explain to His followers that they must become as children to enter the Kingdom. He knew the holy Apostles personally and, with St Polycarp (February 25) was a disciple of St John the Evangelist. He succeeded Evodus as second Bishop of Antioch, the capital of Syria and at that time one of the largest cities in the world. Here, during the persecutions of Domitian, he strengthened the faithful, brought many pagans to Christ, and prayed that he himself would be granted the crown of martyrdom. His flock called him the Godbearer, a title that he did not refuse, for he said that all Christians after their Baptism are truly Bearers of Christ, clothed in the Holy Spirit.
When peace was restored to the Church for awhile, the holy Bishop devoted himself to organizing the young Church on strong foundations at a time when the last of the Apostles had only recently passed away. He established the principle that the Grace imparted to the Apostles at Pentecost was handed down to the bishops appointed by them, and so on through the generations: the Apostolic Succession.
The Emperor Trajan, passing through Syria to make war in Armenia, spent some time in Antioch and initiated a persecution of Christians. Rejoicing that the time of martyrdom had at last arrived, Ignatius presented himself before the Emperor and eloquently declared his faith in Christ.
“So you are a disciple of the one crucified under Pontius Pilate?” asked the Emperor.
“I am the disciple of Him who has nailed my sin to the Cross, and has trodden the Devil and his devices underfoot.”
“Why do you call yourself the Godbearer?”
“Because I carry the living Christ within me!”
“Therefore, let the bearer of the Crucified One be taken in chains to Rome, there to be fed to the lions for the amusement of the people.”
And so it was. During the long and difficult journey to Rome, cruelly mistreated by his guards, the Saint wrote a series of letters to the young churches which remain one of the treasures of the Church. In Smyrna, he was able to meet with his fellow-disciple Polycarp and entrust to him the care of the churches whose shepherd he had been. As Trajan had ordered, In Rome he was taken to the amphitheater and, as the Synaxarion says, “entered the arena as though approaching the holy altar to serve his last Liturgy in the presence of the faithful, who were crowded among pagans on the steps of the amphitheatre.” In a few moments he was completely devoured by the lions, save for a few bones. These were gathered by the faithful and returned to Antioch.
In his L
etter to the Romans, the holy Bishop wrote to some who wished to rescue him from his martyrdom: “I am the wheat of God, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found to be the pure bread of God.” Repose of Our Holy Father John of Kronstadt (1908) His main commemoration is on October 19. December 21 Holy Martyr Juliana of Nicomedia and those with her (304) She was the daughter of a prominent family in Nicomedia during the reign of the persecutor Maximian (286-305). Her parents betrothed her to a nobleman named Eleusius, but without his knowledge, or that of her parents, she had already committed her life to Christ, and consecrated her virginity to him. To put off her suitor, she told him that she would not marry him until he became Prefect. Eleusius went to work using his fortune to bribe and influence those in power, and succeeded in being appointed Prefect of Nicomedia. When he went to Juliana to claim her as his wife, she was forced to confess herself a Christian, saying that she would never marry him unless he gave up the worship of idols and embraced the faith of Christ. For her confession, she was arrested and taken before the Prefect: Eleusius, her once-ardent suitor. He was now filled with an ardent rage toward her and, when she would not renounce her faith, had her subjected to the most sadistic tortures imaginable. Miraculously, she endured these without harm. Witnessing this wonder, 500 men and 130 women from among the pagans confessed Christ. The enraged Prefect had all of them beheaded immediately, followed by Juliana herself. She was eighteen years old when she won the Martyr’s crown. Our Holy Father Peter, Metropolitan of Moscow (1326) “Saint Peter was born in Volhynia in 1260 and entered a monastery there at the age of thirteen. Making the Ladder of Saint John Climacus his gu >(Synaxarion) Saint Procopius of Vyatka, Fool for Christ (1627) “Saint Procopius, the son of devout peasants, first feigned madness to escape a marriage that was being urged on him. He spent his life in the streets half-naked, slept wherever night overtook him and would never accept the shelter of a house. He used signs to make himself understood and never spoke a word, except to his spiritual father, with whom he would converse normally as a man in possession of all his faculties. When he was given an article of clothing, he wore it for a while out of obedience and then give it away to someone poor. When he visited the sick, he set fire to the beds of those who were going to get better, and rolled up in their sheets those who were going to die. He made many predictions, often by means of disconcerting prophetic signs, whose meaning became clear with the event. He spent thirty years in foolishness for Christ and, having foretold his death, fell asleep in peace in 1627.” ( Synaxarion ) December 22 Holy Great Martyr Anastasia the Widow, the Deliverer from Potions (290) She was born in Rome to a wealthy and prominent family. Though her father Pretexatus was a pagan, her mother Fausta instructed her in the things of God. Her father married her against her will to Publius, a prodigal and impious man lacking in Christian or pagan virtue. Anastasia was in the custom of dressing herself as a poor working woman and going out by night to visit and comfort the many Christians in prison (this was the time of Diocletian’s persecution). When Publius discovered this, he was furious that his wife was demeaning herself by consorting with the despised Christians, and had his wife locked in the house with so little food that she came close to death by starvation. She was able to get a letter to her spiritual father Chrysogonus, who was also in prison, and their correspondence helped to sustain her through her ordeal. After three months her husband died in a shipwreck and she regained her freedom. Immediately she redoubled her work for the suffering Christians and their families, devoting all her time and wealth to their comfort and care.
One day Diocletian declared that all Christians in his prisons should be slain, and his command was carried out in one night. The next day Anastasia came to visit her beloved companions and, learning that all were dead, fell sobbing by the gate, no longer caring to conceal her Christian faith from anyone. Almost immediately she was arrested and brought before the authorities, who subjected her to every form of abuse. One prefect offered to marry her if she would bow to the idols, but to have her tortured to death if she would not. When she was unmoved, he attempted to rape her, but was struck blind and died miserably. She then briefly escaped to Nicaea and found refuge with the pious St Theodota, but was seized again along with Theodota and her children. After further trials and torments Anastasia, Theodota and her children, and others who had been converted to Christ through Anastasia’s example, were executed.
Saint Anastasia’s relics were taken to Rome, where a church was built in her honor. The relics were later translated to Constantinople and placed in another church bearing her name, where they worked many miracles. Because she has healed many through her prayers from the effects of poisons and potions, she is called Pharmocolytria, “Deliverer from Potions.” December 23 The Ten Holy Martyrs of Crete (250) All ten suffered for Christ together on Crete during the reign of the Emperor Decius. They were tormented and humiliated for thirty days, but bore their trials with such serenity that the Governor feared that others would be converted to the Faith, so had all of them beheaded. Our Venerable Father Paul, Archbishop of Neocaesarea (4th c.) This holy bishop was so revered that he was summoned by the Emperor Licinius himself, who attempted to turn him from the Faith. When this failed, the Emperor ordered that molten metal be poured on the bishop’s hands, which left them paralyzed and horribly disfigured. Years went by, Christianity was legalized by Constantine the Great and, when the Council of Nicaea was summoned, St Paul was among those bishops who were called to attend. Many of the bishops who attended bore in their bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus (Gal. 6:17): noses, ears or eyes lost, scars and burns from their trials for Christ. At the Council, the Emperor Constantine knelt before St Paul and kissed his hands as holy relics, saying ‘I will never tire of kissing these hands which have lost their life for the sake of my Christ.’ After the Council, the holy bishop served in Neocaesarea for several more years, then reposed in peace. Our Holy Father Nahum of Ochrid, Wonderworker and Enlightener of the Slavs (
900) He was a disciple of Saints Cyril and Methodius (May 11), and traveled with them on their missionary journey to the Slavs. With them and their other companions, he endured many trials, including several imprisonments at the hands of the Latin Franks, who were seeking to seize control of the region of Moravia in order to impose the Latin language and to spread the heresy of the filioque. For a time their troubles were relieved by Pope Hadrian II, who supported the mission and made St Methodius Archbishop of Pannonia, with jurisdiction over the Eastern European Slav lands. But when St Methodius died, St Nahum and his companions were imprisoned once more, then sent into exile, where they finally found shelter in the Orthodox Kingdom of Bulgaria. There they were able to continue their work of evangelization in the Slavonic language. Saint Nahum founded the Monastery that bears his name on the shore of Lake Ochrid. After his repose his relics were brought there for burial, and are venerated there today. December 24 Eve of the Nativity of Christ A strict fast is kept today. Holy Virgin and Martyr Eugenia and her companions (
190) “This Martyr was the daughter of most distinguished and noble parents named Philip and Claudia. Philip, a Prefect of Rome, moved to Alexandria with his family. In Alexandria, Eugenia had the occasion to learn the Christian Faith, in particular when she encountered the Epistles of Saint Paul, the reading of which filled her with compunction and showed her clearly the vanity of the world. Secretly taking two of her servants, Protas and Hyacinth, she departed from Alexandria by night. Disguised as a man, she called herself Eugene [Eugenios -ed.] while pretending to be a eunuch, and departed with her servants and took up the monastic life in a monastery of men. Her parents mourned for her, but could not find her. After Saint Eugenia had laboured for some time in the monastic life, a certain woman named Melanthia, thinking Eugene to be a monk, conceived lust and constrained Eugenia to comply with her desire; when Eugenia refused, Melanthia slandered Eugenia to the Prefect as having done insult to her honour. Eugenia was brought before the Prefect, her own father Philip, and revealed to him both that she was innocent of the accusations, and that she was his own daughter. Through this, Philip became a Christian; he was afterwards beheaded at Alexandria. Eugenia was taken back to Rome with Protas and Hyacinth. All three of them ended their life in martyrdom in the years of Commodus, who reigned from 180 to 192.” (Great Horologion) December 25 † The Nativity according to the Flesh of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ The Synaxarion ‘s account includes this tradition from the Protoevangelium of James: “When Joseph had found a place for Mary in Bethlehem, he went out to look for a midwife. On his way, he noticed that the whole of nature had suddenly become utterly still as though seized with astonishment: the birds hung motionless in mid-air, men and beasts stopped in their tracks, and the waters ceased flowing. The continuous movement that leads everything from birth to death and imprisons it in vanity (cf Pss. 38:6-7; 102:15. Eccles. 1) was suspended, for at that moment the Eternal entered within the heart of time. The pre-eternal God became a newborn child. Time and history now took on a new dimension.” The Shepherds who saw the Lord “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them. And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:8- 14) The Veneration of the Magi See Matthew ch. 2. According to the verses of the Feast and most of the Holy Fathers, the Magi were astrologers from Persia or Babylonia (The Scripture says only that they came “from the east.”) The star which they followed was no inanimate object, but one of the Angelic Powers of heaven, appointed to lead them to the Savior. From the very beginning, the Good News of Christ was proclaimed to the nations. December 26 † Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos. “Yesterday, together with the Angels, the Magi and the Shepherds, we offered our worship to God made man, and born a little child for our Salvation; and today we rightly pay homage to His Mother, the All Holy Virgin Mary. The Church sets her before us in the cave bes >(Synaxarion)
Here we follow the pattern of most major Feasts: on the day following feast , we honor those who also played a part in the accomplishment of God’s plan. The Flight into Egypt of the Holy Family See Matthew ch. 2. Though St Matthew’s account may leave the impression that the flight into Egypt was almost immediate, it would have been at least forty days after Christ’s birth, following His Presentation in the Temple (Luke ch. 2). Christ, his holy Mother and his adoptive father St Joseph probably remained in Egypt for several years, until the death of Herod the Great.
St Nikolai Velimirovic (in the Prologue ) relates the following tale: the holy family, fleeing into Egypt, were accosted by robbers, one of whom, seeing the Christ Child, was amazed at his supernatural beauty and said ‘If God were to take human flesh Himself, He would not be more beautiful than this child!’. The robber told his companions to take nothing from the family. In gratitude the Mother of God told him ‘This Child will reward you richly for having spared Him today.’ Thirty years later it was this robber who was crucified at Christ’s right hand, and was granted to hear the words ‘Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.’ Our Holy Father Euthymius the Confessor, Bishop of Sardis (840) Bishop Euthymius was one of those assembled at the Seventh Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 787; it was he who formulated the Council’s official declaration on veneration of the holy icons. During the reign of Nicephorus I (802-811),Euthymius’ enemies made false accusations against him that led to his being deposed and exiled for several years. He was called back to Constantinople by the iconoclast Emperor Leo the Armenian (813-820), who sought his support in attacking the icons; but Euthymius refused, and was exiled once more. On Leo’s death, he was summoned before another iconoclast Emperor, Michael II (820-829), who in turn asked the Saint’s support in his blasphemous campaign against the icons. The holy bishop not only refused, but cried out ‘Let anyone who does not worship Our Lord Jesus Christ represented in image according to His humanity, be anathema!’ The enraged Emperor exiled him again (his third exile), imprisoning him in a foul dungeon at the far east of the Black Sea for three years. He was then summoned to appear before his third Emperor in succession, the iconoclast Theophilus (829-42). For holding firm in the Faith once delivered to the saints, the holy bishop was mercilessly flogged with rods, then with the sinews of oxen until his body swelled up ‘like a wineskin.’ He was then thrown into a dungeon where, after eight days in terrible pain, he gave up his soul to God.
The Saint’s precious relics worked many miracles, and were venerated in Constantinople until the City’s fall in 1453, when they were taken to Cherson in the Crimea, then to Chilea near Chalcedon. When most of the Greeks were expelled from Asia Minor in 1922, the people of Chilea brought the Saint’s skull to Greece, where a church was built in his honor in Pireus; the holy relic may be venerated there today. Our Holy Father Constantine of Synnada (7th c.) His parents were Jews living at Synnada in Phrygia. One day when he was nine years old, he saw a Christian merchant make the sign of the Cross in the marketplace; and in imitation, without understanding its meaning, he began to make the sign. This became a habit with him, and he began to imitate other practices of the Christians around him, still without any understanding of the Christian faith. But by the power of the Cross, the grace of Christ began to grow in him secretly. He began to hear a voice within him revealing some of the mysteries of Christianity, and he began to be filled with a fervent love for the Savior.
After the death of his mother, he fled his home town to escape an arranged marriage, and came in time to a monastery in Nicaea. He told his story to the abbot, who baptized him, giving him the name of Constantine. When the sign of the Cross was made on his head at baptism, a cross appeared visibly on his forehead, where it remained for the rest of his life.
The holy Constantine devoted the rest of his days to the ascetical life, excelling in every virtue. It is said that a delighful scent would fill any place that he went, and that church doors would open spontaneously at his approach. He comforted many by
healing their ailments through his prayers, and was granted the gift of discerning the secrets of hearts. After living for some time in Nicaea, he travelled to Mt Olympus in Bithynia where he lived as a hermit. Seeing that there were many Jews living in that area, he strove for a time to preach the Gospel to them, but was unable to win many of his former brethren to faith in Christ. He foretold the date of his death eight years beforehand. His final words to his disciples were ‘The Lord is coming to invite me to the feast of Joy.’ He then died, and a fragrant scent filled his cell. His relics gave off a healing myrrh for many years. December 26-31 December 26-31. Sunday after Nativity: Holy Prophet and King David; St Joseph the Betrothed; St James the Brother of the Lord If no Sunday falls within December 26-31, the commemoration of Sts David, Joseph and James is kept on December 26.
Holy Prophet and King David. For the story of David the King, Prophet and Ancestor of God, read 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 Kings 1-2, and 1 Chronicles 10-29. He is the primary author of the Psalter, which can be called the foundation of all the Church’s praise of God. It was the hymnal of Old Israel, of the Apostles, and of Christ himself. Every one of the Church’s services abounds with passages from the Psalter.
St Joseph the Betrothed. Like Mary his betrothed, he was of the house of David. A carpenter by trade, he had seven children by his first marriage: his sons James, Joses, Judas (Jude) and Simon (or Symeon); and his daughters Esther, Martha and Salome, the wife of Zebedee and mother of the Apostles James and John. He was widowed in middle age and, in his old age, was chosen by the high priest to be the protector of the holy Virgin Mary. He was not warned of her wondrous virginal conception, and so was dismayed when she was found to be with child; but an Angel of the Lord revealed the mystery of the Incarnation to him in a dream. In a dream he was also instructed to flee with the holy Theotokos and the infant Christ to Egypt, thus escaping Herod’s murderous designs.
We know that St Joseph lived at least until Christ’s twelfth year (see Luke 2:41-52); the Fathers say that he reposed just before the Lord began his earthly ministry, and that his final words were these: The pains and the fears of death encompass me; but my soul has become calm again since I have heard Thy voice, Jesus my Defended, Jesus my Savior, Jesus my refuge, Jesus whose Name is sweet to my mouth and to the heart of all who love Thee.
St James the Brother of the Lord. See October 23. December 27 † Holy First Martyr and Archdeacon Stephen A kinsman of the Apostle Paul, the Holy Stephen was one of the seven deacons (with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas) first appointed by the Church to minister to the people; and it pleased God to receive him as the Church’s first Martyr for Christ. Read the long, beautiful and edifying account of his witness in the Acts of the Apostles, chapters 6-8. When Stephen, “full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people,” (Acts 6:8), some members of a synagogue in Jerusalem came to dispute with him and, enraged by his proclamation of Christ, stoned him to death. In his death St Stephen revealed Christ’s erasure of the boundary between heaven and earth, and the new communion between man and God: his face shone with the light of the Transfiguration, and he was granted a vision of Christ enthroned at the Father’s right hand. His dying words were “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60).
According to holy tradition, the martyrdom of St Stephen occurred exactly a year after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. His body was taken and secretly buried by Gamaliel, a member of the Sanhendrin and secretly a Christian.
Saint Stephen’s relics were discovered by the priest Lucian in 415 following a vision. They were translated to the church built for them in Jerusalem by the Empress Eudocia, and later taken to Constantinople.
The Saint’s missionary speech before his death (like that of the deacon St Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch) reminds us that those appointed to serve the Church materially are not barred, or even excused, from proclaiming the glorious Gospel of Christ. Our Righteous Father Theodore the Branded, brother of St Theophanes the Hymnographer See the account of his life on October 11, when his brother St Theophanes is Commemorated. December 28 The Twenty Thousand Martyrs burned to death in their church in Nicomedia (
304). During a fierce persecution by the Emperor Maximian of all who would not worship the idols, the Christians of Nicomedia were subjected to especially savage treatment. (Eusebius writes that every Christian in the city was killed.) Along with many others put to the sword or otherwise butchered there, we especially commemorate the large company who, despite all danger, gathered in the church to commemorate Christ’s Nativity. The Emperor, hearing of this, sent troops to surround the building so that no-one could escape, and piled heaps of timber and brush around it. Criers then gave notice that any who wished to save their lives must come out and make sacrifice to the pagan gods.
“As this announcement penetrated the church, a divine zeal, more fiery than any flame in the world, seized the deacon Agapius, who rushed to the pulpit and cried out, ‘Brethren, remember how often we have praised and extolled the Three Young Men who, when they were thrown into the Babylonian furnace, called on the whole of Creation to sing the glory of God, and how the All-Creating Word then came down in bodily appearance, to assist them and to render them invulnerable by surrounding them with a moist whistling wind. The time has now come for us to imitate them. Let us offer ourselves to a temporary death for love of our Master, in order to reign everlastingly with Him!’ The whole congregation with one voice then answered Maximian’s criers, ‘We believe in Christ God and we will give up our lives for Him!’
“As the soldiers began to set fire to the piles of wood outside, Saint Anthimus [bishop of the city, commemorated September 3] told his deacons to assemble those who were still catechumens, and he baptized and anointed them with the holy Myron. He then served the divine Liturgy, at which all present communicated in the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Armed with divine strength and closely united in a single body by Christ who dwelt in them, the holy Martyrs felt no fear as they saw the flames leap up everywhere and thick smoke begin to fill the church. With gladness they sang in unison the Song of the Three Young Men: Bless the Lord, all works of the Lord, sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever (Dan. 3 LXX) until the last among them suffocated and gave up his soul.
“The conflagration lasted for five days. Those who then ventured into the smouldering ruins anticipating the odour of charred flesh, found instead a heavenly scent pervading the air and the place surrounded by a brilliant light. The Saints who were glorified at this time are sa >(Synaxarion) Our Holy Father Simon the Outpourer of Myrrh, Founder of Simonopetra Monastery, Mt Athos (1287) He lived during the years when Constantinople was held in captivity by the Crusaders, and the Imperial government was in exile in Nicaea. Simon fled the world at a young age and traveled to the Holy Mountain, where he submitted himself to a strict but wise Elder for many years. In time, seeking greater seclusion, he moved to a small cave on the western side of Mt Athos, near a cliff that towered a thousand feet above the sea. One night, a few days before the Feast of the Nativity, he saw a star move across the sky and come to rest above the cliff near his cave. Taking this as a demonic delusion, he ignored it; but on the Eve of Nativity, the star once again took its place above the cliff, and Simon heard a voice from heaven saying ‘Be in no doubt, Simon, faithful servant of my Son! See this sign, and do not leave this spot in search of greater solitude as you have in mind, for it is here that I want you to establish your monastery, for the salvation of many souls.’ Soon afterward, three young monks from wealthy Macedonian families, who had heard of the Saint’s holiness, came and laid their wealth at his feet, asking that he accept them as disciples. Simon sent for builders and ordered them to construct a monastery on the very edge of the precipitous cliff. The builders at first refused, saying the work was much too dangerous; but, persuaded by a miracle worked through the Saint’s prayers, they were convinced. As soon as the building was finished, the monastic community began to grow rapidly.
In his own lifetime St Simon was the source of many miracles, prophecies and healings. Once the monastery was attacked by Saracen pirates. Simon went to meet them with gifts, hoping to dissuade them from attacking. When the pirates attacked him, they were blinded, and the arm of one of them was paralyzed when he attempted to strike the Saint. All of them were healed when the holy man prayed for them, and at this wonder they all repented, received Baptism and became monks.
Saint Simon reposed in peace. A fragrant, healing balm afterwards flowed from his tomb in great quantities, so that he came to be called Myroblytis, ‘Myrrh-gusher’ or ‘Outpourer of Myrrh.’ In subsequent years, the monastery was destroyed and rebuilt more than once, and no trace now remains of the tomb. December 29 The Holy Infants Killed for Christ’s Sake in Bethlehem See Matthew ch. 2. Their number is sometimes put at fourteen thousand.
In our own day, the icon of “Rachel weeping for her children” (Matthew 2:18) has come to commemorate also the tens of millions of children who have died through abortion. Commemoration of all the Christians who have died of starvation, of thirst, of cold, by the sword and by every other kind of violent death. Our Venerable Father Marcellus, Abbot of the Monastery of the Unsleeping Ones (485) He was born to a wealthy family in Syria at the beginning of the fifth century. Early in life he saw the futility of worldly things, gave away all of his wealth, and went to Ephesus, where he earned his living as a scribe. There he was schooled in the virtues by his fellow-worker Promotus, a slave who distributed most of his earnings to the poor; after the day’s work was done, Promotus would take Marcellus to pray all night in the churches and monasteries.
Marcellus heard of the Saint Alexander the Unsleeping (February 25), who had settled near Constantinople with about thirty disciples, who made it their discipline to send up prayer and praise to God at every hour of the day and night. The monastery aroused the resentment of some more worldly monasteries, and the brethren were forced to flee to Bithynia. It was there that Marcellus joined them and took the monastic habit.
After the death of St Alexander and his successor, Marcellus was elected Abbot of the monastery against his will. Under his direction the Monastery of the Unsleeping Ones became a beacon of sanctity, with monks flocking to it from every corner of the Empire. The practice of never-ceasing service to God spread throughout the Empire, in both the West and the East. The monks were divided into three companies according to the language they spoke: Greek, Latin, or Syriac; each company took its turn celebrating the services in its particular language, and thus every hour of the day was given over to God’s glory. The monastery not only grew but give birth to others: The famed Studion Monastery in Constantinople was founded by monks from Marcellus’ monastery.
Saint Marcellus took part in the Council of Chalcedon, defending Orthodoxy against the Monophysite heresy both at the Council and in the years that followed. His generosity and contempt for worldly wealth were known to all: anyone who came to the monastery in need received alms, but God always replenished the funds so that more could be given. When Marcellus inherited his family’s fortune upon his brother’s death, he kept none of it either for himself or even for his monastery, but distributed it to poorer communities and to the needy.
Saint Marcellus reposed in peace around 484, having lived the ascetical life for some sixty years. December 30 Holy Virgin and Martyr Anysia (298) She was born to a pious, noble and very wealthy family in Thessalonica. When both her parents died while she was an adolescent, Anysia consecrated herself to Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom. She cast off all her jewels and fine clothing, dressing herself as a commoner
. She freed all her many slaves, giving each of them a generous sum of money to establish themselves. She gave away all of her inheritance, which included large estates. Thenceforth she spent her days visiting the sick, helping widows and orphans, and, especially, aiding Christians suffering under persecution. She would visit those in prison, bringing them food and water and tending their wounds. All the time not devoted to aiding the poor or oppressed she spent in prayer in a small cell. One of her prayers was that she, like those that she helped, would be granted the crown of martyrdom.
One day, while she was walking to church, an imperial soldier accosted her and roughly questioned her. When she plainly declared herself a Christian, the soldier seized her and dragged her to a temple of the idols, where he commanded her to make sacrifice. In response, she only spat in his face. The enraged soldier drew his sword and thrust it into her side, slaying her. Some pious Christians took her body and buried it outside the city. When the persecutions had ended, a church was built in her honor at the place of her burial. Our Holy Father Macarius, Metropolitan of Moscow and All Russia (1563) He was born in Moscow in 1492. When his father died, his mother became a nun and he a monk, receiving the monastic name Macarius. He became an iconographer of rare talent. In 1523 he was ordained to the priesthood and made Abbot of the Monastery of Luchski; three years later he was consecrated Archbishop of Novgorod and Pskov, a see which had been vacant for many years. As Archbishop, he sent missionaries to the native peoples of the far north of Russia and, within his own diocese strove against the paganism still common among the people. He regularized life in the monasteries of his diocese, which had fallen into self-indulgence.
In 1542 he was elected Metropolitan of Moscow and head of the Russian Church. Five years later he crowned the first Tsar of Russia, Ivan Vassilievich. In 1551 he summoned the Council of the Hundred Chapters, which condemned various heresies prevalent at that time, laid down principles of Christian conduct and education, and established rules for iconography and Church art. Throughout his time as a hierarch, he continued to paint icons, and in 1553 he brought about the production of the first books to be printed in Russian. When the Khanate of Kazan fell, he immediately sent missionaries to convert the Tatars.
When the Tsar, who revered Saint Macarius, asked him for a spiritual book, he was surprised and displeased to be given a copy of the funeral service; but the Saint told him that anyone who read this book carefully and applied its words would never sin.
Saint Macarius reposed in peace in Moscow in 1563, and his popular veneration began immediately. In 1988 he was officially glorified by the Church of Russia. December 31 Leavetaking of Nativity. Our Holy Mother Melania the Younger of Rome (439) She was born in 383 in Rome, to a very wealthy family with large estates in Italy, Africa, Spain and even Britain. She was the grand- daughter of St Melania the Elder (June 8) and a pious disciple of Christ from a young age. She was married against her will at the age of fourteen, to a relative named Apinianus. They had two children, both of whom died in early childhood. Henceforth Melania and her husband dedicated themselves entirely to God. They had both dreamed of a high wall that they would have to climb before they could pass through the narrow gate that leads to life, and soon began to take measures to dispose of their wealth. This aroused opposition from some of the Senate, who were concerned that the selling off of such huge holdings would disrupt the economy of the State itself.
With the support of the Empress, though, Melania was able to free 8000 of her slaves and give each a gift of three gold pieces to begin life as freedmen. She employed agents to help fund the establishment of churches and monasteries throughout the Empire, donated many estates to the Church, and sold many more, giving the proceeds as alms. When Rome fell to the Goths under Alaric in 410, Melania and Apinianus moved to Sicily, then to Africa, where they completed the sale of their propery, donating the proceeds to monasteries and to aiding victims of the barbarians.
In Africa Melania, now aged about thirty, took up a life of the strictest asceticism: she kept a total fast on weekdays, only eating on Saturday and Sunday; she slept two hours a night, giving the rest of the night to vigil and prayer. Her days were spent in charitable works, using the remainder of her wealth to relieve the poor and benefit the Church. After seven years in Africa, Melania, her mother and her husband left on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There they founded a monastery on the Mount of Olives, which grew to a community of ninety nuns. Melania’s mother died in 431, then her husband and spiritual brother Apinianus ; she buried them side by side.
Save for one visit to Constantinople, Melania continued to live in reclusion in a small cave on the Mount of Olives; she became an advisor to the Empress Eudocia, who sought her expert counsel on her gifts to churches and monasteries.
Melania fell ill keeping the Vigil of Nativity in 439, and fell asleep in the Lord six days later; her last words were ‘As it has pleased the Lord, so it has come to pass.’ Her monastery was destroyed in 614 by the Persians, but her cave hermitage on the Mount of Olives is still a place of pilgrimage and veneration. Saint Zoticus, Cherisher of the Poor and Servant of Lepers (4th c) He was born in Rome, and as a young man was chosen by the Emperor Constantine to assist in the foundation of his new capital at Byzantium. An outbreak of leprosy in the new City became so severe that the Emperor ordered that all lepers, whatever their rank, be driven from the city or drowned in the sea. Zoticus, moved by compassion for these people, went to the Emperor and asked him for a large amount of gold to buy gems and pearls to enhance the glory of the city, ‘For, as Your Majesty knows, I am well-qualified in this field.’ The Saint then used the gold to ransom all those being led into exile or to drowning, and to establish for them a camp on the hill of Olivet on the opposite shore of the Bosphorus. There he brought the sick and provided for their care.
In 337 Constantius, an Arian heretic, took the throne upon the death of his father. Some of Zoticus’ enemies at court, seeing an opportunity, denounced Zoticus to the new Emperor, saying that he not only held subversive views, but had misappropriated public money. When he learned of these charges, Zoticus presented himself to the Emperor, finely dressed, and offered to take Constantius to see the gems and pearls that he had bought on his behalf. When they reached the hill of Olivet, Constantius was astonished to see a company of lepers coming to greet him with lighted candles, honoring and praising him and their patron Zoticus. Then the holy Zoticus said to the Emperor, ‘These are the precious stones and brilliant pearls that give luster to the crown of the heavenly Kingdom that you will inherit by their prayers. I bought them for the salvation of your soul.’
Instead of being grateful, the heartless Emperor ordered that Zoticus be tied behind wild mules and dragged until dead. The mules ran down the hill, breaking the Saint’s body upon the rocks and brush. Then, of their own accord, they returned to the top of the hill, still dragging the body, and, like Balaam’s ass (Numbers ch. 22), spoke and proclaimed that the Martyr must be buried on that hill. The astonished and repentant Emperor ordered the Martyr buried with honor, and commanded that a hospital for lepers be built there, staffed by the best physicians and caretakers.
Saint Zoticus is also called Orphanotrophos , ‘Cherisher of Orphans,’ because in later years a large orphanage was added to the leprosarium. The orphanage included a general hospital and a home for the aged. The Saint was honored throughout Byzantine history as the patron of the orphanage. St
Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid (
1126) He was born on the island of Euripos and, after being educated in Constantinople, became one of the clergy of the Great Church there. He was consecrated a bishop and sent, against his will, to Ochrid, where he shepherded the Church in Bulgaria for twenty-five years. An inspired theologian and orator, he has left many homilies and, most important, a commentary on the whole New Testament, which has been has been treasured by Orthodox Christians ever since. In his last years he moved to Thessalonica, where he reposed in peace.
† Indicates a Saint or day whose commemoration is at least “Doxology rank” (Great Doxology sung at Matins); there is generally some dispensation from fasting when these days fall on fast days.
Assembled by John Brady. The opinions and errors contained herein are his own.
Lives are compiled mostly from: The Synaxarion published by Ormylia Monastery;
The Prologue from Ochrid by St Nikolai of Zika (Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic);
and the Great Horologion, published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery.