SATURDAY BEFORE NATIVITY
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, DAIRY, EGGS
Sebastian the Martyr & his Companions, Our Righteous Father Michael Syngellon the Confessor
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS 3:8-12
Brethren, the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “in you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith. For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law; for “the righteous shall live by faith”; but the law does not rest on faith, for “He who does them shall live by them.”
The Lord said this parable, "The kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches." And again he said, "To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened." He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. And some one said to him, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?" And he said to them, "Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us.' He will answer you, 'I do not know where you come from.' Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.' But he will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!' There you will weep and gnash your teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out. And men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God.
Martyr Sebastian at Rome, and his companions
The Holy Martyr Sebastian was born in the city of Narbonum in Gaul (modern France), and he received his education at Mediolanum (now Milan). Under the co-reigning emperors Diocletian and Maximian (284-305) he occupied the position of head of the imperial guards. Saint Sebastian was respected for his authority, and was loved by the soldiers and those at court. He was a brave man filled with wisdom; his word was honest, his judgment just. He was insightful in advice and faithful in his service and in everything entrusted to him. He was a secret Christian, not out of fear, but so that he could provide help to the brethren in a time of persecution.
The noble Christian brothers Marcellinus and Mark had been locked up in prison, and at first they firmly confessed the true Faith. But under the influence of the tearful entreaties of their pagan parents (Tranquillinus and Marcia), and also their own wives and children, they began to waver in their intent to suffer for Christ. Saint Sebastian went to the imperial treasurer, at whose house Marcellinus and Mark were held in confinement, and addressed the brothers who were on the verge of yielding to the entreaties of their family.
“O valiant warriors of Christ! Do not cast away your everlasting crowns of victory because of the tears of your relatives. Do not remove your feet from the necks of your enemies who lie prostrate before you, lest they regain their strength and attack you more fiercely than before. Raise your banner high over every earthly attachment. If those whom you see weeping knew that there is another life where there is neither sickness nor death, where there is unceasing gladness and everything is beautiful, then assuredly they would wish to enter it with you. Anyone who fears to exchange this brief earthly life for the unending joys of the heavenly Kingdom is foolish indeed. For he who rejects eternity wastes the brief time of his existence, and will be delivered to everlasting torment in Hades.”
Then Saint Sebastian said that if necessary, he would be willing to endure torment and death in order to show them how to give their lives for Christ.
So Saint Sebastian persuaded the brothers to go through with their act of martyrdom, and his speech stirred everyone present. They saw how his face shone like that of an angel, and they saw how seven angels clothed him in a radiant garment, and heard a fair Youth say, “You shall be with Me always.”
Zoe, the wife of the jailer Nicostratus, had lost her ability to speak six years previously. She fell down at the feet of Saint Sebastian, by her gestures imploring him to heal her. The saint made the Sign of the Cross over the woman, and she immediately began to speak and she glorified the Lord Jesus Christ. She said that she had seen an angel holding an open book in which everything Saint Sebastian said was written. Then all who saw the miracle also came to believe in the Savior of the world. Nicostratus removed the chains from Marcellinus and Mark and offered to hide them, but the brothers refused.
Mark said, “Let them tear the flesh from our bodies with cruel torments. They can kill the body, but they cannot conquer the soul which contends for the Faith.” Nicostratus and his wife asked for Baptism, and Saint Sebastian advised Nicostratus to serve Christ rather than the Eparch. He also told him to assemble the prisoners so that those who believed in Christ could be baptized. Nicostratus then requested his clerk Claudius to send all the prisoners to his house. Sebastian spoke to them of Christ, and became convinced that they were all inclined to be baptized. He summoned the priest Polycarp, who prepared them for the Mystery, instructing them to fast in preparation for Baptism that evening.
Then Claudius informed Nicostratus that the Roman eparch Arestius Chromatus wanted to know why the prisoners were gathered at his house. Nicostratus told Claudius about the healing of his wife, and Claudius brought his own sick sons, Symphorian and Felix to Saint Sebastian. In the evening the priest Polycarp baptized Tranquillinus with his relatives and friends, and Nicostratus and all his family, Claudius and his sons, and also sixteen condemned prisoners. The newly-baptized numbered 64 in all.
Appearing before the eparch Chromatus, Nicostratus told him how Saint Sebastian had converted them to Christianity and healed many from sickness. The words of Nicostratus persuaded the eparch. He summoned Saint Sebastian and the presbyter Polycarp, and was enlightened by them, and became a believer in Christ. Nicostratus and Chromatus, his son Tiburtius and all his household accepted holy Baptism. The number of the newly-enlightened increased to 1400. Upon becoming a Christian, Chromatus resigned his office of eparch.
During this time the Bishop of Rome was Saint Gaius (August 11). He blessed Chromatus to go to his estates in southern Italy with the priest Polycarp. Christians unable to endure martyrdom also went with them. Father Polycarp went to strengthen the newly-converted in the Faith.
Tiburtius, the son of Chromatus, desired to accept martyrdom and he remained in Rome with Saint Sebastian. Of those remaining, Saint Gaius ordained Tranquillinus as a presbyter, and his sons Marcellinus and Mark were ordained deacons. Nicostratus, his wife Zoe and brother Castorius, and Claudius, his son Symphorian and brother Victorinus also remained in Rome. They gathered for divine services at the court of the emperor together with a secret Christian named Castulus, but soon the time came for them to suffer for the Faith.
The pagans arrested Saint Zoe first, praying at the grave of the Apostle Peter. At the trial she bravely confessed her faith in Christ. She died, hung by her hair over the foul smoke from a great fire of dung. Her body then was thrown into the River Tiber. Appearing in a vision to Saint Sebastian, she told him about her death.
The priest Tranquillinus was the next to suffer: pagans pelted him with stones at the grave of the holy Apostle Peter, and his body was also thrown into the Tiber.
Saints Nicostratus, Castorius, Claudius, Victorinus, and Symphorian were seized at the riverbank, when they were searching for the bodies of the martyrs. They were led to the eparch, and the saints refused his command to offer sacrifice to idols. They tied stones to the necks of the martyrs and then drowned them in the sea.
The false Christian Torquatus betrayed Saint Tiburtius. When the saint refused to sacrifice to the idols, the judge ordered Tiburtius to walk barefoot on red-hot coals, but the Lord preserved him. Tiburtius walked through the burning coals without feeling the heat. The torturers then beheaded Saint Tiburtius, and his body was buried by unknown Christians.
Torquatus also betrayed the holy Deacons Marcellinus and Mark, and Saint Castulus (March 26). After torture, they threw Castulus into a pit and buried him alive, but Marcellinus and Mark had their feet nailed to the same tree stump. They stood all night in prayer, and in the morning they were stabbed with spears.
Saint Sebastian was the last one to be tortured. The emperor Diocletian personally interrogated him, and seeing the determination of the holy martyr, he ordered him taken out of the city, tied to a tree and shot with arrows. Irene, the wife of Saint Castulus, went at night in order to bury Saint Sebastian, but found him alive and took him to her home.
Saint Sebastian soon recovered from his wounds. Christians urged him to leave Rome, but he refused. Coming near a pagan temple, the saint saw the emperors approaching and he publicly denounced them for their impiety. Diocletian ordered the holy martyr to be taken to the Circus Maximus to be executed. They clubbed Saint Sebastian to death, and cast his body into the sewer. The holy martyr appeared to a pious woman named Lucina in a vision, and told her to take his body and bury it in the catacombs. This she did with the help of her slaves. Today his basilica stands on the site of his tomb.
Venerable Sebastian, Abbot of Pshekhonye Monastery, Vologda
Saint Sebastian of Sokhota, Pshekhonye, founded a monastery in honor of the Transfiguration of the Lord, located at the River Sokhota, 90 versts from the city of Romanov (now Tutaev) in the Yaroslav district. The monks of the monastery themselves cultivated the soil and ate through the work of their own hands. The founder of the monastery taught the ascetics this by his own example and guidance. Saint Sebastian reposed about the year 1500.
The Transfiguration monastery on the River Sokhota was later annexed to the Cherepovets Ascension monastery, and in 1764 closed down. In the mid-nineteenth century a stone church was built over the relics of Saint Sebastian. The saint is also commemorated on February 26.
Righteous Simeon, Wonderworker of Verkhoturye
Saint Simeon of Verkhoturye was a nobleman, but he concealed his origin and led the life of a beggar. He walked through the villages and for free sewed half-coats and other clothes, primarily for the poor. While doing this he deliberately failed to sew something, either a glove, or a scarf, for which he endured abuse from his customers.
The ascetic wandered much, but most often he lived at a churchyard of the village of Merkushinsk not far from the city of Verkhoturye (on the outskirts of Perm). Saint Simeon loved nature in the Urals, and while joyfully contemplated its majestic beauty, he would raise up a thoughtful glance towards the Creator of the world. In his free time, the saint loved to go fishing in the tranquility of solitude. This reminded him of the disciples of Christ, whose work he continued, guiding the local people in the true Faith. His conversations were a seed of grace, from which gradually grew the abundant fruits of the Spirit in the Urals and in Siberia, where the saint is especially revered.
Saint Simeon of Verkhoturye died in 1642, when he was 35 years of age. He was buried in the Merkushinsk graveyard by the church of the Archangel Michael.
On September 12, 1704, with the blessing of Metropolitan Philotheus of Tobolsk, the holy relics of Saint Simeon were transferred from the church of the Archangel Michael to the Verkhoturye monastery in the name of Saint Nicholas.
Saint Simeon worked many miracles after his death. He frequently appeared to the sick in dreams and healed them, and he brought to their senses those fallen into the disease of drunkenness. A peculiarity of the saint’s appearances was that with the healing of bodily infirmities, he also gave instruction and guidance for the soul.
The memory of Saint Simeon of Verkhoturye is celebrated also on September 12, on the day of the translation of his relics (1704).
Saint Modestus, Archbishop of Jerusalem
Saint Modestus, Archbishop of Jerusalem, was born into a Christian family in Cappadocian Sebasteia (Asia Minor). From his youth he felt a strong attraction towards strict monastic life. Saint Modestus accepted monastic tonsure. Afterwards, he became head of the monastery of Saint Theodosius the Great in Palestine. At this time (the year 614), military forces of the Persian ruler Chosroes fell upon Syria and Palestine, killing ninety thousand Christians and destroying Christian churches. Patriarch Zacharias of Jerusalem and a multitude of Christians were taken into captivity, along with the Cross of the Lord. Saint Modestus was entrusted to govern the Jerusalem Church temporarily as locum tenens of the patriarchal cathedra.
With the help of Patriarch John the Merciful of Alexandria (November 12), Saint Modestus set about restoring devastated Christian shrines, among which was the Sepulchre of the Lord. He reverently buried the murdered monks from the monastery of Saint Savva the Sanctified.
After fourteen years, Patriarch Zacharias returned from captivity with the Cross of the Lord, and after his death Saint Modestus became Patriarch of Jerusalem. Saint Modestus died at age 97 in the year 634.
Saint Florus, Bishop of Amisus
Saint Florus, Bishop of Amisus, was the son of the Christians Florus and Euphemia, who provided him a fine education. He entered courtly service for the Byzantine Emperor and was elevated to the rank of patrician; he was also married and had children. After his wife and children died from smallpox, he left the world and withdrew to the outskirts of Constantinople, where he led a solitary and pious life. Later on he was chosen Bishop of Amisus (in Asia Minor). Saint Florus wisely guided his flock and died peacefully at the beginning of the seventh century.
Saint Michael the Confessor at Constantinople
Saint Michael the Confessor was born at Jerusalem into a family of zealous Christians and at an early age devoted himself to monastic life. After the death of his father, his mother and sisters went to a monastery, and Saint Michael was ordained as a priest. He was famed as a strong preacher, and therefore the Jerusalem Patriarch Thomas I took him under his wing and advanced him in the calling of “synkellos” (dealing in matters of church governance).
At this time there reigned the Iconoclast emperor Leo the Armenian (813-820). The patriarch sent Saint Michael to him, together with the holy brothers Saints Theodore (December 27) and Theophanes (October 11), with the hope that they might persuade the emperor to cease his persecution against the Orthodox. The emperor subjected Saint Michael to beatings and sent him off into exile.
Later having returned from exile, the monk again suffered for the veneration of holy icons under the emperor Theophilus (829-842). The companions of Saint Michael, Saints Theodore and Theophanes, were subjected to horrible torments: upon their faces was put red-hot brands with an inscription slandering them. They received the title “the Branded.” Again condemned, Saint Michael was sent with his disciple Job to the Pabeida monastery.
After the death of Theophilus, the empress Theodora (842-855) restored the veneration of holy icons, and ordered the return of Christians banished by the Iconoclasts. She made the offer that Saint Michael might occupy the patriarchal throne in place of the deposed iconoclast, Grammatikos. But the holy martyr declined this. Thus upon the patriarchal throne entered Saint Methodius.
Saint Michael the Confessor to the end of his days toiled in the position of “synkellos.” He died peacefully in about the year 845.
New Hieromartyr Archbishop Thaddeus of Tver
The New Hieromartyr Thaddeus (Uspensky) was the Archbishop of Tver. He was executed in 1937.
Venerable Daniel the Hesychast
Saint Daniel the Hesychast, the great wonderworker and instructor of monastics, was born in Moldavia at the beginning of the fifteenth century. He was baptized with the name Dumitru. When he was sixteen, he became a monk of the monastery of Saint Nicholas at Radauti and received the name David. His spiritual Father was Saint Leontius of Radauti (July 1). After many years of ascetical struggles, he became a chosen vessel of the Spirit and was ordained to the holy priesthood.
He lived for some years at the monastery of Saint Laurence in the Civoul de Sus district. There he fulfilled his obediences during the day, and at night he kept vigil, prayed, and wove baskets. He received the Great Schema and the new name Daniel. He obtained the igumen’s blessing to live in the wilderness in solitude, where he devoted himself to spiritual struggles. Around 1450, he lived near the Neamts Monastery by Secu creek for fourteen years. In time, people discovered where he lived and came to visit him. Longing for solitude, he moved to northern Moldavia and chiseled out a cell for himself in the face of a cliff near Putna creek. Next to it, he carved out a small chapel for prayer.
After his spiritual child Saint Stephen the Great (July 2) built the Putna Monastery, which was consecrated in 1470, Saint Daniel moved near the Voronets Monastery. Here too, he carved a small cell out of the rock under Soim (Falcon) Cliff and lived a God-pleasing life for the next twenty years. He guided many disciples in the principles of the spiritual life, and he also had the gift of healing the sick of their physical infirmities.
In 1488, when he was over eighty years old, Saint Daniel went to live at the Voronets Monastery, where he was chosen to be the igumen.
Saint Daniel was a great ascetic and wonderworker, wise and clairvoyant. People from near and far visited him seeking his spiritual advice, or to confess their sins. He died in 1496 and was buried at the Voronets Monastery, where people continue to venerate his tomb.
Saint Daniel was glorified by the Romanian Orthodox Church in 1992.