BARBARA THE GREAT MARTYR
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, DAIRY, EGGS
Barbara the Great Martyr, John the Righteous of Damascus, New Hieromartyr Seraphim, Bishop of the Phanar in Greece, Juliana the Martyr of Heliopolis, Alexander Hotovitzky, New Hieromartyr of Russia, Missionary to America
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS 3:23-29; 4:1-5
Brethren, before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no better than a slave, though he is the owner of all the estate; but he is under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
At that time, a great crowd followed Jesus and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.” And immediately the hemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?'” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
The New Martyr of Russia Alexander Hotovitzky was born on February 11, 1872 in the city of Kremenetz, into the pious family of Archpriest Alexander, who was Rector of the Volhynia Theological Seminary and would later be long remembered in the hearts of the Orthodox inhabitants of Volhynia as a good shepherd. Young Alexander received a good Christian upbringing from his parents, who instilled in him love for the Orthodox Church and for the people of God.
The future pastor was educated at the Volhynia Seminary and the Saint Petersburg Theological Academy, from which he graduated with a Master’s degree in 1895.
After graduation from the Academy, he was sent for missionary service to the Diocese of the Aleutians and North America, where he was assigned to the position of reader at the newly-established Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church in New York City. Following his marriage to Maria Scherbuhina, a graduate of the Pavlovsk Institute in Saint Petersburg, the Hieromartyr Alexander was ordained to the diaconate, and soon after, on February 25, 1896, to the priesthood by Bishop Nicholas (Ziorov) of the Aleutians, whom Father Alexander would always later remember with gratitude and love.
The ordination took place at the diocesan cathedral in San Francisco. In his address to the newly-ordained Father Alexander, Bishop Nicholas explained his selection of the new priest for ordained ministry in these words:
“Your special sense of decency, your good upbringing, your noble idealism, and your sincere piety immediately caused me to look favorably upon you and compelled me to single you out among the young people, with whom you used to visit me in Saint Petersburg…I could see that you had that special spark from God, which makes any service an action truly done for God’s sake, and without which a vocation becomes soul-less and dead work…Your first experience in preaching has shown you the power of this kind of inspiration: you saw how the people gathered around you and how attentively they stood and listened at length to your discourses… Why did these people listen to you rather than going to hear other preachers? Clearly the spark which burns within you attracts the hearts of these people like a magnet.”
A week after his ordination, the young priest returned to New York to assume the pastorate of the parish where he had previously served as reader. From 1898 to 1907, the New Martyr Alexander served as a pastor under the omophorion of Bishop Tikhon. Saint Tikhon, who, in the tragic year of 1917, was to be elevated by Divine Providence to the primatial see as Patriarch of Moscow, valued highly Father Alexander’s sincere piety, his gift of pastoral love, and his multifaceted theological erudition. The spectrum of his activity in the United States was quite broad and very fruitful. He was successful in missionary service, primarily among Uniates newly-emigrated from Galicia and Carpathian Rus. He was also one of the closest collaborators of the Orthodox archpastors in America and represented the Orthodox Church before American religious institutions and meetings.
Father Alexander’s missionary work was not without many temptations and sorrows. Archbishop, later Metropolitan, Platon (Rozhdestvensky) expressed gratitude for the Passion-bearer Alexander’s labors in America in an address delivered at the Divine Liturgy on February 26, 1914. Bidding farewell to Father Alexander, the Archbishop said, “One morning, during the years we worked together, you came to my room and, without saying much, unbuttoned your shirt, revealing a very large, bluish, bloody abrasion on your chest. That wound from a fanatic, who in a fit of rage attacked you wildly with a stick, followed the meeting of Russian people at which you had encouraged your own ethnic brother to renounce the pernicious Unia with Rome… My entire being was shaken to the core and I was profoundly moved, for before me at that moment was a genuine example of witness for Christ.”
Through Father Alexander’s efforts, Orthodox parishes were established in Philadelphia, Yonkers, and Passaic as well as other large and small towns throughout North America. The parishioners of these churches were cradle Orthodox whom fate had brought to the New World, as well as Carpatho-Russians converted from the Unia and former Protestant converts to the Orthodox Church.
An important contribution to the witness of the truth of Orthodoxy before heterodox American society was made by the American Orthodox Messenger, which was published in English and Russian under Father Alexander’s editorship. Articles by the editor regularly appeared in this journal.
The New Martyr Alexander actively participated in the establishment of an Orthodox diocesan mutual aid society and at various times, he served as treasurer, first secretary, and president of this organization. The society provided material aid to Austrian Carpatho-Russians, Macedonian Slavs, Russian troops in Manchuria, and to Russian prisoners of war in Japanese camps.
Father Alexander also took upon himself the ascetical burden of constructing the architecturally remarkable and majestic Saint Nicholas Cathedral in New York to replace the small parish church. The cathedral was to become an adornment of the city. He visited Orthodox communities throughout America soliciting funds for the construction of the Cathedral. In 1901, he also traveled to his homeland, Russia, for this purpose. In the annals of Saint Nicholas Church, which in 1903 became the diocesan Cathedral, it is recorded that, “This Cathedral was established and constructed in the City of New York in North America, under the supervision and through the efforts and labors of the most honorable Archpriest Father Alexander Hotovitzky in the year of Our Lord 1902.”
On February 26, 1906, Orthodox America celebrated the tenth anniversary of priestly service of Archpriest Alexander, one of its most remarkable pastors. Bishop Tikhon greeted the jubilarian with these words:
“As you remember your ordination as a priest of God at this anniversary, you are doubtless unwillingly contemplating how you have used your God-given talents, and asking yourself if the Grace of God was bestowed on you in vain and how far you have advanced on the path of moral perfection. As you judge yourself in this way, you are at the same time the judge and the accused. In order for a judgment to be fair, the testimony of onlookers, the witnesses, must be heard. Now they are speaking before you—listen to them. Thanks be to the Lord! We just heard their eloquent and heartfelt testimony praising you. For myself as your superior, I can testify that you have proven to be trustworthy, and have justified the expectations which were hoped for at your ordination.”
The sacrificial and dedicated pastoral service of the New Martyr Alexander in America was concluded on February 26, 1914, exactly eighteen years after his ordination to the priesthood. In his farewell address, Father Alexander said, “Farewell, American Orthodox Rus—my dear Mother, the Holy American Church. I, your ever-grateful son, bow fully to the ground before you. You gave birth to me spiritually, you nurtured me, from your depths you inspired me by your strength. Through the shining witness of your founders, through the enlightened apostolic teachings of your preachers, through the fervor of your faithful flock, you have given me the greatest possible joy—to be your son.”
From 1914 to 1917, Father Alexander served as a priest in Helsinki, Finland, where the majority of the population was Protestant. Although Finland was then part of the Russian Empire, the Orthodox clergy there had to exert great efforts to protect the Orthodox Karelians from the proselytic expansionism of the Finnish Lutherans. In Finland, the New Martyr Alexander was a loyal, active, and dedicated assistant to his archpastor—Sergius (Stragorodsky), the future Patriarch.
In August 1917, Archpriest Alexander was transferred to Moscow and assigned as assistant pastor of Christ the Savior Cathedral. Here he was again under the direct guidance of Saint Tikhon, with whom he had already been closely associated in America.
The Passion-bearer Alexander participated in the deliberations of the Church Council of 1917-18. When the Council discussed the drafting of a message to the Orthodox flock concerning elections to the State Council, he stated that, as the fate of Russia was at stake, the Church and the Council in particular should not shy away from the struggle to save the nation. Speaking about the efforts of the Council to upbuild the Church, he outlined his preliminary plans for order and healing in the internal life of the Church and stated with some bitterness, “It seems as if there were builders who were furiously preparing blueprints, plans and so forth for the construction of an edifice and at the same time were calmly observing the destruction brick by brick of this edifice by enemies.”
During the difficult years of the Civil War, the New Martyr Alexander collaborated closely with Saint Tikhon in the administration of the Moscow diocese. In 1918, under the spiritual leadership of the rector, Father Nicholas Arseniev, and the assistant pastor, Father Alexander, a brotherhood affiliated with Christ the Savior Cathedral was established. As its first activity, the brotherhood issued an appeal to the Orthodox flock, which Father Alexander helped write.
This document stated, “People of Russia! Christ the Savior Cathedral, the adornment of Moscow, the pride of Russia, the joy of the Orthodox Church has been condemned to slow destruction. This glorious monument to the great exploits of Russian warriors, who gave their lives for their native land and the Holy Orthodox Faith, has been denied state support…People of Russia! Will you really surrender this wonderful church of the Savior to mockery? Is it really true, as is claimed by the persecutors of the Holy Church, that the people of Russia no longer need holy things—Churches, sacraments, services, because all this is outdated and superstitious? Respond, you faithful! All of you, respond as one! Rise up and protect your holy things! May the generous and well-intentioned donations of the rich be added to the precious pennies of the faithful poor. Moscow, you are the heart of Russia! Preserve your holy shrine—your golden-domed Church of the Savior!…”
In response to this appeal, Orthodox inhabitants of Moscow joined the brotherhood of Christ the Savior Cathedral, and gave their alms to support the majestic church.
Pastoral service at that time was accompanied by much grief and danger. In May 1920 and November 1921 Father Alexander was arrested for brief periods. He was accused of violating the decrees concerning the separation of the Church from the state, and the school from the Church, by holding church school for the children.
In 1922, the Church was subjected to harsh tribulations when, under the pretext of helping the starving, ecclesiastical treasures including sacred vessels, icons, and other holy things were violently confiscated by the state. Heeding the appeal of Her holy primate, the Orthodox Church made generous donations to assist the starving. However, when Saint Tikhon issued a statement to his flock throughout Russia forbidding the cooperation of the clergy in surrendering sacred vessels for non-ecclesiastical use based on canon law, a slanderous campaign against the Church was begun in the press, Her primate was arrested, and a wave of court cases took place throughout Russia, in which servants of the Lord’s altar were accused of counter-revolutionary activity. During these trials many faithful servants of the Church of Christ were sentenced to death and shed their blood as hieromartyrs and martyrs.
During this difficult time for the Church, Father Alexander was unwaveringly guided by the statements of the Holy Patriarch to his flock and also followed his directives. Funds to assist the starving were collected at Christ the Savior Cathedral. At the same time, measures were undertaken to protect the sacred objects of this church. Meetings of the clergy and parishioners of Christ the Savior Cathedral were held at Father Alexander’s apartment in order to draft a resolution of the general parish meeting concerning the state decree.
A draft of the resolution, prepared by Father Alexander, protested against the violent confiscation of church valuables. A general meeting of parishioners was convened on March 23, 1922 at Christ the Savior Cathedral, presided by Archpriest Nicholas Arseniev. Father Alexander had already been arrested. This meeting adopted the final text of the resolution, which demanded guarantees from the state that all donations be used to save the lives of the starving. The participants in the meeting protest the poisonous publications against the Church as well as insults against the hierarchy. The drafting of this document was deemed by the authorities to be criminal counter-revolutionary activity.
After two court cases against the Church, in Petrograd and Moscow, which resulted in the executions of hieromartyrs and martyrs, a new highly visible trial of clergy and laity began in Moscow on November 27, 1922, during which they were accused of supposedly “attempting to retain in their hands possession of church valuables and, through the resulting starvation, to topple the Soviet regime.”
On trial in this case were 105 clergy and laity. Among the main defendants were Archpriest Sergius Uspensky, dean of the second district of forty churches in Prechistenka, Archpriest Nicholas Arseniev, dean of Christ the Savior Cathedral, Archpriest Alexander Hotovitzky, assistant pastor of this Cathedral, Ilya Gromoglasov, priest of Christ the Savior Cathedral, Lev Evgenievich Anohin, warden of this Cathedral, and Archpriest Simeon Golubev, rector of Saint John the Warrior Church.
The most significant part of the indictment submitted to the Court concerned the activity of the clergy and laity of Christ the Savior Cathedral. The indictment stated, “The main organizers and leaders of this criminal activity were Priest Hotovitzky, chairman of the council of parishes in this area, Priest Arseniev, rector of the Cathedral, Priest Zotikov, Priest Gromoglasov, former lawyer Kayutov, former deputy minister Shchepkin, the merchant Golovkin, and engineer Anohin. When the decree of the Supreme Central Executive Committee concerning the confiscation of church valuables was issued, they began their preliminary activities under the leadership of the priest Hotovitzky, who repeated to secretly gather the above named people at his apartment in order to plan with them the measures which they proposed to enact to achieve their criminal intentions.”
The case was in court for two weeks. After the detailed indictment was read, questioning of the defendants began. Father Alexander remained cool and calm during the questioning as he tried to protect the other defendants. He did not admit any guilt, stating, “I consider that it is not counter-revolutionary to ask for a corresponding amount of metal in return for church valuables.”
Following the interrogation of all the defendants and witnesses, at the Court session on December 6, the later infamous, sinister prosecutor Vishinsky delivered the concluding statement for the prosecution. He asked the court for a sentence of capital punishment for thirteen defendants including Archpriests Alexander Hotovitzky, Nicholas Arseniev, Sergius Uspensky, Priest Ilya Gromoglasov, Abbess Vera (Pobedinskaya) of the Novodevichii Women’s Monastery and L.E. Anohin. Vishinsky requested that the other defendants be sentenced to prison terms of varying length.
On December 11, defendants were given an opportunity to say a final word to the court. In his comments, Father Alexander attempted, first of all, to obtain the court’s leniency and mercy for his brother clergy, “I direct your attention to those who were at the meeting in my apartment: some of them are old and the others are very young and guilty of nothing. This was a completely ordinary meeting, it was not counter-revolutionary and it cannot by any means be characterized as a shady plot.”
The lengthiest final comments were delivered by the professor and priest Ilya Gromoglasov. This defendant attempted to gain the favor of the court by expounding on his former opposition to the Holy Synod. Concerning the conclusions of the prosecution, he said that he “knew nothing of the criminal organization headed by Hotovitzky.”
On December 13, the verdict of the revolutionary tribunal was announced. It was milder than the bloodthirsty verdicts delivered at previous trials held in Petrograd and Moscow in conjunction with the confiscation of church valuables. Each of the main defendants—Abbess Vera (Pobedinskaya), Archpriest Sergius Uspensky, and Archpriest Alexander Hotovitzky were sentenced to ten years in prison, the confiscation of their personal property and the deprivation of their civil rights for five years. The others were sentenced to lesser terms of imprisonment. Appeals for pardon, made by those who were sentenced to the longest terms of imprisonment, including that of Archpriest Alexander, were rejected by the presidium of the Supreme Central Executive Committee on February 16, 1923.
After the holy Patriarch Tikhon resumed his administration of the Church and made several statements regarding loyalty to the governmental authorities, many hierarchs, clergy, church leaders and laity, who had previously received sentences from the judiciary in conjunction with the confiscation of church valuables, were granted amnesty. Father Alexander was among those freed in October 1923. Following his liberation, he was not assigned to a parish but served by invitation at various churches in Moscow.
He remained free for only a short time. Already on September 4, 1924, E. Tuchkov, head of the 6th section of the Department of State Political Management, compiled a list of thirteen clergy and church leaders of Moscow and recommended that they be subjected to administrative exile. The New Martyr Alexander, who was included in the list, was characterized as follows in this document, “A priest and preacher with a post-graduate education, very active, zealous and influential among the Tikhonites. His outlook is anti-Soviet.”
On September 9, 1924, the New Martyr Alexander was subjected to an interrogation. “In my religious convictions,” he said at that time, “I consider myself to be a Tikhonite. My relations with the Patriarch are intimate rather than just strictly administrative, but lately, I have avoided meeting with Patriarch Tikhon, as I felt that this might inconvenience him due to my conviction in conjunction with the confiscation of church valuables. I have never expressed an opinion concerning the restoration of the former government and such a thought has not even crossed my mind.”
By a decision of a special meeting of the administration of the Department of State Political Management, the New Martyr Alexander was exiled to the Turuhan region for a period of three years. His already failing health was further weakened by his sojourn in the far north.
Following his return from exile, Father Alexander was raised to the rank of protopresbyter and became one of the closest assistants of the Deputy Locum Tenens of the Patriarchal Throne, Metropolitan (later Patriarch) Sergius, who knew him well since the time of his service in Finland.
In the 1930s, Protopresbyter Alexander served as rector of the Church of the Deposition of the Robe on Donskoy Street. One of the parishioners of this church recalls, “In 1936, Father Alexander did not preach, as he was apparently forbidden to do so. In 1936-7, I was present many times when Father Alexander served. He was a tall, gray-haired priest with gentle facial features, who looked extremely intelligent. Gray, trimmed hair, a small beard, very kind gray eyes, a high-pitched, loud tenor…pronounced exclamations distinctly and with inspiration…His appearance reminded me of many priests who were exiles from the western regions…Father Alexander had many parishioners who greatly revered him…Even today, I remember Father Alexander’s eyes. It seemed as if his glance penetrated your heart and embraced it with affection. I had the same feeling when I saw the holy Patriarch Tikhon…The same light also shining in Father Alexander’s eyes was testimony of his sanctity.”
In the fall of 1937, the New Martyr Alexander was arrested again. The documentary evidence about him at our disposal ends with this; however, a majority of oral reports testify to his death as a martyr. The Orthodox Church in America, on whose territory Protopresbyter Alexander served as a priest until 1914, venerates him as a passion-bearer, whose life as a confessor ended with sufferings for Christ. The place of his burial is unknown.
The Church of Russia also commemorates Saint Alexander on August 7, along with the Archpriests Alexei Vorobiev, Michael Plishevsky, John Voronets, the priests Demetrius Milovidov, and Peter Tokarev, the deacon Elisha Sholder, and Igumen Athanasius Egorov.
A photo gallery of the 1994 Glorification of Saint Alexander may be viewed here.
The Holy Great Martyr Barbara lived and suffered during the reign of the emperor Maximian (305-311). Her father, the pagan Dioscorus, was a rich and illustrious man in the Syrian city of Heliopolis. After the death of his wife, he devoted himself to his only daughter.
Seeing Barbara’s extraordinary beauty, Dioscorus decided to hide her from the eyes of strangers. Therefore, he built a tower for Barbara, where only her pagan teachers were allowed to see her. From the tower there was a view of hills stretching into the distance. By day she was able to gaze upon the wooded hills, the swiftly flowing rivers, and the meadows covered with a mottled blanket of flowers; by night the harmonious and majestic vault of the heavens twinkled and provided a spectacle of inexpressible beauty. Soon the virgin began to ask herself questions about the First Cause and Creator of so harmonious and splendid a world.
Gradually, she became convinced that the souless idols were merely the work of human hands. Although her father and teachers offered them worship, she realized that the idols could not have made the surrounding world. The desire to know the true God so consumed her soul that Barbara decided to devote all her life to this goal, and to spend her life in virginity.
The fame of her beauty spread throughout the city, and many sought her hand in marriage. But despite the entreaties of her father, she refused all of them. Barbara warned her father that his persistence might end tragically and separate them forever. Dioscorus decided that the temperament of his daughter had been affected by her life of seclusion. He therefore permitted her to leave the tower and gave her full freedom in her choice of friends and acquaintances. Thus Barbara met young Christian maidens in the city, and they taught her about the Creator of the world, about the Trinity, and about the Divine Logos. Through the Providence of God, a priest arrived in Heliopolis from Alexandria disguised as a merchant. After instructing her in the mysteries of the Christian Faith, he baptized Barbara, then returned to his own country.
During this time a luxurious bathhouse was being built at the house of Dioscorus. By his orders the workers prepared to put two windows on the south side. But Barbara, taking advantage of her father’s absence, asked them to make a third window, thereby forming a Trinity of light. On one of the walls of the bath-house Barbara traced a cross with her finger. The cross was deeply etched into the marble, as if by an iron instrument. Later, her footprints were imprinted on the stone steps of the bathhouse. The water of the bathhouse had great healing power. Saint Simeon Metaphrastes (November 9) compared the bathhouse to the stream of Jordan and the Pool of Siloam, because by God’s power, many miracles took place there.
When Dioscorus returned and expressed dissatisfaction about the change in his building plans, his daughter told him about how she had come to know the Triune God, about the saving power of the Son of God, and about the futility of worshipping idols. Dioscorus went into a rage, grabbed a sword and was on the point of striking her with it. The holy virgin fled from her father, and he rushed after her in pursuit. His way became blocked by a hill, which opened up and concealed the saint in a crevice. On the other side of the crevice was an entrance leading upwards. Saint Barbara managed then to conceal herself in a cave on the opposite slope of the hill.
After a long and fruitless search for his daughter, Dioscorus saw two shepherds on the hill. One of them showed him the cave where the saint had hidden. Dioscorus beat his daughter terribly, and then placed her under guard and tried to wear her down with hunger. Finally he handed her over to the prefect of the city, named Martianus. They beat Saint Barbara fiercely: they struck her with rawhide, and rubbed her wounds with a hair cloth to increase her pain. By night Saint Barbara prayed fervently to her Heavenly Bridegroom, and the Savior Himself appeared and healed her wounds. Then they subjected the saint to new, and even more frightful torments.
In the crowd where the martyr was tortured was the virtuous Christian woman Juliana, an inhabitant of Heliopolis. Her heart was filled with sympathy for the voluntary martyrdom of the beautiful and illustrious maiden. Juliana also wanted to suffer for Christ. She began to denounce the torturers in a loud voice, and they seized her.
Both martyrs were tortured for a long time. Their bodies were raked and wounded with hooks, and then they were led naked through the city amidst derision and jeers. Through the prayers of Saint Barbara the Lord sent an angel who covered the nakedness of the holy martyrs with a splendid robe. Then the steadfast confessors of Christ, Saints Barbara and Juliana, were beheaded. Dioscorus himself executed Saint Barbara. The wrath of God was not slow to punish both torturers, Martianus and Dioscorus. They were killed after being struck by lightning.
In the sixth century the relics of the holy Great Martyr Barbara were transferred to Constantinople. Six hundred years later, they were transferred to Kiev (July 11) by Barbara, the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenos, Barbara, wife of the Russian prince Michael Izyaslavich. They rest even now at Kiev’s Saint Vladimir cathedral, where an Akathist to the saint is served each Tuesday.
Many pious Orthodox Christians are in the habit of chanting the Troparion of Saint Barbara each day, recalling the Savior’s promise to her that those who remembered her and her sufferings would be preserved from a sudden, unexpected death, and would not depart this life without benefit of the Holy Mysteries of Christ.
Saint John of Damascus was born about the year 680 at Damascus, Syria into a Christian family. His father, Sergius Mansur, was a treasurer at the court of the Caliph. John had also a foster brother, the orphaned child Cosmas (October 14), whom Sergius had taken into his own home. When the children were growing up, Sergius saw that they received a good education. At the Damascus slave market he ransomed the learned monk Cosmas of Calabria from captivity and entrusted to him the teaching of his children. The boys displayed uncommon ability and readily mastered their courses of the secular and spiritual sciences. After the death of his father, John occupied ministerial posts at court and became the city prefect.
In Constantinople at that time, the heresy of Iconoclasm had arisen and quickly spread, supported by the emperor Leo III the Isaurian (717-741). Rising up in defense of the Orthodox veneration of icons [Iconodoulia], Saint John wrote three treatises entitled, “Against Those who Revile the Holy Icons.” The wise and God-inspired writings of Saint John enraged the emperor. But since the author was not a Byzantine subject, the emperor was unable to lock him up in prison, or to execute him. The emperor then resorted to slander. A forged letter to the emperor was produced, supposedly from John, in which the Damascus official was supposed to have offered his help to Leo in conquering the Syrian capital.
This letter and another hypocritically flattering note were sent to the Saracen Caliph by Leo the Isaurian. The Caliph immediately ordered that Saint John be removed from his post, that his right hand be cut off, and that he be led through the city in chains.
That same evening, they returned the severed hand to Saint John. The saint pressed it to his wrist and prayed to the Most Holy Theotokos to heal him so that he could defend the Orthodox Faith and write once again in praise of the Most Pure Virgin and Her Son. After a time, he fell asleep before the icon of the Mother of God. He heard Her voice telling him that he had been healed, and commanding him to toil unceasingly with his restored hand. Upon awakening, he found that his hand had been attached to his arm once more. Only a small red mark around his wrist remained as a sign of the miracle.
Later, in thanksgiving for being healed, Saint John had a silver model of his hand attached to the icon, which became known as “Of the Three Hands.” Some unlearned painters have given the Mother of God three hands instead of depicting the silver model of Saint John’s hand. The Icon “Of the Three Hands” is commemorated on June 28 and July 12.
When he learned of the miracle, which demonstrated John’s innocence, the Caliph asked his forgiveness and wanted to restore him to his former office, but the saint refused. He gave away his riches to the poor, and went to Jerusalem with his stepbrother and fellow-student, Cosmas. There he entered the monastery of Saint Savva the Sanctified as a simple novice.
It was not easy for him to find a spiritual guide, because all the monks were daunted by his great learning and by his former rank. Only one very experienced Elder, who had the skill to foster the spirit of obedience and humility in a student, would consent to do this. The Elder forbade John to do anything at all according to his own will. He also instructed him to offer to God all his labors and supplications as a perfect sacrifice, and to shed tears which would wash away the sins of his former life.
Once, he sent the novice to Damascus to sell baskets made at the monastery, and commanded him to sell them at a certain inflated price, far above their actual value. He undertook the long journey under the searing sun, dressed in rags. No one in the city recognized the former official of Damascus, for his appearance had been changed by prolonged fasting and ascetic labors. However, Saint John was recognized by his former house steward, who bought all the baskets at the asking price, showing compassion on him for his apparent poverty.
One of the monks happened to die, and his brother begged Saint John to compose something consoling for the burial service. Saint John refused for a long time, but out of pity he yielded to the petition of the grief-stricken monk, and wrote his renowned funeral troparia (“What earthly delight,” “All human vanity,” and others). For this disobedience the Elder banished him from his cell. John fell at his feet and asked to be forgiven, but the Elder remained unyielding. All the monks began to plead for him to allow John to return, but he refused. Then one of the monks asked the Elder to impose a penance on John, and to forgive him if he fulfilled it. The Elder said, “If John wishes to be forgiven, let him wash out all the chamber pots in the lavra, and clean the monastery latrines with his bare hands.”
John rejoiced and eagerly ran to accomplish his shameful task. After a certain while, the Elder was commanded in a vision by the All-Pure and Most Holy Theotokos to allow Saint John to write again. When the Patriarch of Jerusalem heard of Saint John, he ordained him priest and made him a preacher at his cathedral. But Saint John soon returned to the Lavra of Saint Savva, where he spent the rest of his life writing spiritual books and church hymns. He left the monastery only to denounce the iconoclasts at the Constantinople Council of 754. They subjected him to imprisonment and torture, but he endured everything, and through the mercy of God he remained alive. He died in about the year 780, more than 100 years old.
Saint John of Damascus was a theologian and a zealous defender of Orthodoxy. His most important book is the Fount of Knowledge. The third section of this work, “On the Orthodox Faith,” is a summary of Orthodox doctrine and a refutation of heresy. Since he was known as a hymnographer, we pray to Saint John for help in the study of church singing.
Saint John, Bishop of Polybotum (in Phrygia), was known as a denouncer of the heresy and impiety of Emperor Leo the Isaurian. Saint John opposed Leo for his iconoclasm, and taught his flock the Orthodox doctrine of the veneration of icons.
The saint died at the beginning of the eighth century. The Lord granted him the gift of healing the infirm and casting out evil spirits.
Saint Gennadius, Archbishop of Novgorod, was descended from the Gonzov family and was, in the testimony of contemporaries, “dignified, intelligent, virtuous and learned in the Holy Scripture.” He was made a monk at the Valaam monastery, under the spiritual guidance of Saint Sabbatius of Solovki (September 27). From the year 1472, he was Archimandrite of the Chudov (Miracle of the Archangel Michael) monastery in Moscow. Zealous for celebrating divine services according to the Typikon, he and Bassian, Archbishop of Rostov, and later his successor Joasaph, fearlessly rose up in defense of the ancient Rule during a dispute at the consecration of the Dormition cathedral in Moscow during the years 1479-1481.
In 1483 Saint Gennadius began construction of a stone church at the Chudov monastery in honor of Saint Alexis, Metropolitan of Moscow (February 12), the founder of the monastery. On December 12, 1484 Saint Gennadius was consecrated as Archbishop of Novgorod. Already in Novgorod, but still honoring the memory of Saint Alexis, Gennadius did not cease to concern himself with the construction of the church, even contributing silver for the completion of this temple.
The time of holy Archbishop Gennadius as hierarch at Novgorod coincided with a terrible period in the history of the Russian Church. In 1470, Judaizing preachers, who traveled to Novgorod in the guise of merchants, had already begun to plant the weeds of heresy and apostasy among the Orthodox.
The first reports about the heresy reached Saint Gennadius in the year 1487. Four members of a secret society, in a state of intoxication, opened up and told the Orthodox of the existence of the impious heresy. As soon as it became known to him, the zealous archpastor immediately began an inquiry and with deep sorrow became convinced that the danger was a threat not only to local Novgorod piety, but also in Moscow, the very capital of Orthodoxy, where the leaders of the Judaizers had journeyed in 1480.
In September 1487 he sent to Metropolitan Gerontius at Moscow all the material from the inquiry, together with a list of the apostates he had discovered, as well as their writings. The struggle with the Judaizers became the main focus of Saint Gennadius’ archpastoral activity. In the words of Saint Joseph of Volokolamsk (September 9), “this archbishop, angered by the malevolent heretics, pounced upon them like a lion from out of the thicket of the Holy Scriptures and the splendid heights of the prophets and the apostolic teachings.”
For twelve years Saint Gennadius and Saint Joseph struggled against the most powerful attempts of the opponents of Orthodoxy to alter the course of history of the Russian Church and the Russian state. By their efforts the Orthodox were victorious. The works of Gennadius in the study of the Bible contributed to this victory. The heretics in their impious cleverness used texts from the Old Testament, but which were different from the texts accepted by the Orthodox. Archbishop Gennadius undertook an enormous task: bringing the correct listings of Holy Scripture together in a single codex. Up until this time Biblical books had been copied in Russia, following the example of Byzantium, not in their entirety, but in separate parts—the Pentateuch (first five books) or Octateuch (first eight books), Kings, Proverbs, the Psalter, the Prophets, the Gospels, the Epistles, and other instructive books.
The holy books of the Old Testament in particular often were subjected to both accidental and intentional errors. Saint Gennadius wrote about this with sorrow in a letter to Archbishop Joasaph: “The Judaizing heretical tradition adheres to the Psalms of David, or prophecies which they have altered.” Gathering around himself learned and industrious Biblical scholars, the saint collected all the books of the Holy Scripture into a single codex, and he gave his blessing for the Holy Books which were not found in manuscripts of the traditional Slavonic Bible to be retranslated from the Latin language. In 1499 the first complete codex of Holy Scripture in Slavonic (“the Gennadius Bible,” as they called it after its compiler) was published in Russia. This work became an integral link in the succession of Slavonic translations of the Word of God. From the God-inspired translation of the Holy Scripture by Saints Cyril and Methodius, through the Bible of Saint Gennadius (1499), reproduced in the first printed Bible (Ostrozh, 1581), the Church has maintained a Slavonic Biblical tradition right through the so-called Elizabethan Bible (1751) and all successive printed editions.
Together with the preparation of the Bible, the circle of church scholars under Archbishop Gennadius also undertook a great literary task: the compilation of the “Fourth Novgorod Chronicle.” Numerous hand-written books were translated, corrected and transcribed, bringing the Chronicle up to the year 1496.
Dositheus, the igumen of the Solovki monastery who was at Novgorod on monastery matters, worked for several years with Saint Gennadius compiling a library for the Solovki monastery. It was at the request of Saint Gennadius that Dositheus wrote the Lives of Saints Zosimas (April 17) and Sabbatius (September 27).
The majority of the books transcribed with the blessing of the Novgorod hierarch (more than 20), were preserved in the collection of Solovki manuscripts. Ever a zealous advocate for spiritual enlightenment, Saint Gennadius founded a school for the preparation of worthy clergy at Novgorod.
The memory of Saint Gennadius is preserved also in his work for the welfare of the Orthodox Church.
At the end of the fifteenth century many Russians were concerned about the impending end of the world, which they believed would take place at the end of the seventh millenium from the creation of the world (in 1492 A.D.). Therefore, in 1408, it was decided not to compute the Paschal dates beyond the year 1491. In September 1491, however, the Archbishops’ Council of the Russian Church at Moscow, with the participation of Saint Gennadius, decreed that the Paschalion for the eighth millenium be calculated.
Metropolitan Zosimas at Moscow on November 27, 1492 “set forth a cathedral Paschalion for twenty years,” and asked Bishop Philotheus of Perm and Archbishop Gennadius of Novgorod each to compile their own Paschalion for conciliar review and confirmation on December 21, 1492. Saint Gennadius finished calculating his Paschalion, which in contrast to that of the Metropolitan, extended for seventy years. It was distributed to the dioceses, with the approval of the Council, as the accepted Paschalion for the next twenty years. Included with the Paschalion was Saint Gennadius’s own commentary upon it in an encyclical entitled, “Source for the Paschalion Transposed to the Eight Thousandth Year.”
In his theological explanation of the Paschalion, based upon the Word of God and the holy Fathers, the saint wrote: “It is proper not to fear the end of the world, but rather to await the coming of Christ at every moment. For just as God might deign to end the world, so also might He deign to prolong the course of time.”
No one knows when the world created by God will end, “not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father “(Mt. 24:36). Therefore, the holy Fathers, inspired by the Holy Spirit, explained the cycle of years from the creation of the world precisely as a cycle. “This occurs in a circular motion, not having an end.” The saint contrasts the heretical methods of calculating the times with the way hallowed by the Church, a constant spiritual sobriety. Saint Gennadius expounded on the theological fundamentals of the Paschalion. He explained that on the basis of the cycle of years from the world’s creation, it is possible to determine a Paschalion for the future, as may be required. The Paschalion of Saint Gennadius, by his own testimony, was not something new that he created, but rather was based on a former tradition; in part, on the basis of the Paschalion for 1360-1492 under Saint Basil Kalika, Archbishop of Novgorod (July 3).
In 1539, under Archbishop Macarius of Novgorod, a Paschalion was compiled for the eighth millenium, based on the principles of the Paschalion of Saint Gennadius.
A prayer to the Most Holy Theotokos, which he composed in 1497, also demonstrates his deep spiritual life and prayerful inspiration. In addition to his letters to Metropolitans Zosimas and Simon, to Archbishop Joasaph, to Bishops Niphon and Prochorus, and a letter to the 1490 Council, Archbishop Gennadius also wrote a church “Small Rule” and the “Tradition for Monks,” who live according to the monastic Rule of skete life.
Leaving his archpastoral service in 1504, the saint lived in retirement at the Chudov monastery, where he peacefully fell asleep in the Lord on December 4, 1505. In the Stepen-Ranks book we read: “Archbishop Gennadius served as archbishop for nineteen years, beautifying the churches, improving the behavior of the clergy, and proclaiming the Orthodox Faith among the heretics. Then he lived at Moscow for a year and a half at the Chudov monastery, dedicated to the Miracle of the Archangel Michael and to Saint Alexis the Metropolitan and wonderworker, where he had been Archimandrite, and then he fell asleep in the Lord.”
The holy relics of Saint Gennadius were put into the church of the Miracle of the Archangel Michael at Chonae (September 6), in that place particularly venerated by him, where the relics of Saint Alexis, Metropolitan of Moscow rested. Saint Gennadius is also commemorated on the third Sunday after Pentecost, when the Church remembers all the Saints who shone forth at Novgorod.
The Hieromonk Seraphim, Bishop of the Phanar was from the village of Bezoula, Agrapha diocese in Greece. He lived in asceticism at first as a monk at the Monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos at Koronis, and later was chosen as bishop of the Phanar and Neochorion. For his refusal to accept Islam, he was beaten and impaled by the Turks in 1601. His head is at the monastery at Koronis and has been glorified by numerous miracles.
The Damascene Icon of the Mother of God, by ancient tradition, was painted by Saint John of Damascus in gratitude to the Theotokos for the miraculous healing of his right hand, cut off through the perfidy of Emperor Leo the Isaurian. This icon is also known as “Of the Three Hands” Icon of the Mother of God (June 28, and July 12).
In the ninth century in the time of the Iconoclasts, Saint John of Damascus (December 4) was zealous in his veneration of holy icons. Because of this, he was slandered by the emperor and iconoclast Leo III the Isaurian (717-740), who informed the Damascus caliph that Saint John was committing treasonous acts against him. The caliph gave orders to cut off the hand of the monk and take it to the marketplace. Towards evening Saint John, having asked the caliph for the cut-off hand, put it to its joint and fell to the ground before the icon of the Mother of God. The monk begged Our Lady to heal the hand, which had written in defense of Orthodoxy. After long prayer he fell asleep and saw in a dream that the All-Pure Mother of God had turned to him promising him quick healing.
Before this the Mother of God bid him toil without fail with this hand. Having awakened from sleep, Saint John saw that his hand was unharmed. In thankfulness for this healing Saint John placed on the icon a hand fashioned of silver, from which the icon received its name “Of Three Hands.” (Some iconographers, in their ignorance, have mistakenly depicted the Most Holy Theotokos with three arms and three hands.) According to Tradition, Saint John wrote a hymn of thanksgiving to the Mother of God: “All of creation rejoices in You, O Full of Grace,” which appears in place of the hymn “It is Truly Meet” in the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great.
Saint John Damascene received monasticism at the monastery of Saint Savva the Sanctified and there bestowed his wonderworking icon. The Lavra presented the icon “Of Three Hands” in blessing to Saint Savva, Archbishop of Serbia (+ 1237, January 12). During an invasion of Serbia by the Turks, some Christians who wanted to protect the icon, entrusted it to the safekeeping of the Mother of God Herself. They placed it upon a donkey, which without a driver proceeded to Athos and stopped in front of the Hilandar monastery. The monks put the icon in the monastery’s cathedral church (katholikon). During a time of discord over the choice of igumen, the Mother of God deigned to head the monastery Herself, and from that time Her holy icon has occupied the igumen’s place in the temple. At the Hilandar monastery there is chosen only a vicar, and from the holy icon the monks take a blessing for every obedience.