SUNDAY BEFORE NATIVITY
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, DAIRY, EGGS
Sunday before Nativity, Martyrs Boniface, Probus, Ares, Timothy, Polyeuktos, Eutychios and Thessaloniki, Our Righteous Father Gregentius, Bishop of Ethiopia, Aglaia the Righteous of Rome
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE HEBREWS 11:9-10; 32-40
BRETHREN, by faith Abraham sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city which has foundation, whose builder and maker is God.
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets – who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated – of whom the world was not worthy – wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
The book of the Genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa, and Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amon, and Amon the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.
Adam and Eve (the first-created), the righteous Abel, son of Adam, the righteous Seth, son of Adam, the righteous Enos,son of Seth, the righteous Kenan, son of Enos, the righteous Mehaliel (Maleleim), son of Kenan, the righteous Jared, son of Mehaliel, the righteous Enoch, son of Jared, the righteous Methuselah, son of Enoch, the righteous Lamech, son of Methuselah, the righteous Noah, son of Lamech, the righteous Shem, son of Noah, the righteous Japheth, son of Noah, the righteous Arphachshad, son of Shem, the righteous Canaan, son of Arphachshad (in some versions of the OT, Canaan is called the son of Ham), the righteous Shelah, son of Canaan (some versions of the OT call Shelah the son of Arphachshad), the righteous Eber (from whom the Hebrews take their name), son of Shelah, the righteous Peleg, son of Eber, the righteous Ragab (Reu), son of Peleg, the righteous Serug, son of Ragab, the righteous Nahor, son of Serug, the righteous Terah, son of Serug.
The holy Patriarchs: the righteous Patriarch Abraham, son of Terah, the righteous Patriarch Isaac, son of Abraham, the righteous Patriarch Jacob, son of Isaac, the righteous Patriarch Reuben, son of Jacob and Leah, the righteous Patriarch Simeon, son of Jacob and Leah, the righteous Patriarch Levi, son of Jacob and Leah, the righteous Patriarch Judah (Christ was of this tribe), the righteous Patriarch Zebulon, son of Jacob and Leah, the righteous Patriarch Issachar, son of Jacob and Leah, the righteous Patriarch Dan, son of Jacob and Bilhah (Rachel's maid), the righteous Patriarch Gad, son of Jacob and Zilpah (Leah's maid), the righteous Patriarch Asher, son of Jacob and Zilpah, the righteous Patriarch Naphthali, son of Jacob and Bilhah, the righteous Patriarch Joseph, son of Jacob and Rachel, the righteous Patriarch Benjamin, son of Jacob and Rachel.
The righteous Pharez and Zerah, twin sons of Judah, the righteous Hezron, son of Pharez, the righteous Aram, son of Hezron, the righteous Aminadab, son of Aram, the righteous Nahshon, son of Aminadab, the righteous Salmon, son of Nahshon, the righteous Boaz, son of Salmon, the righteous Obed, son of Boaz and Ruth, the righteous Jesse, son of Obed.
The holy Prophet-King David, son of Jesse, King Solomon, son of David, King Rehoboam, son of Solomon, King Abijah, son of Rehoboam, King Asa, son of Abijah, King Jehosaphat, son of Asa, King Joram (Jehoram, an evil king), son of Jehosaphat, King Ochoziah (Ahaziah), son of Joram, King Jotham, son of Uzziah (Oziah), King Ahaz (a faithless king), son of Jotham, King Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, King Manesseh, son of Hezekiah, King Amos (Ammon), son of Manesseh, King Josiah, son of Amos, King Jechoniah, son of Josiah.
Shealtiel, son of Jechoniah, Zerubbabel (who led captives back to Jerusalem, and laid the foundations of the new Temple), son of Shealtiel, Abiud, son of Zerubbabel, Eliachem, son of Abiud, Azor, son of Eliachem, Zadok, son of Azor, Achim, son of Zadok, Eliud, son of Achim, Eleazar, son of Eliud, Matthan, son of Eleazar, Jacob, son of Matthan, St Joseph the Betrothed, son of Jacob.
The righteous Melchizedek, King of Salem, the righteous Job, the holy Prophet Moses, the priests Hur and Aaron, Joshua, son of Nun.
The holy prophet Samuel, the holy prophet Nathan, the holy prophet Daniel, the three holy youths Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.
The righteous Sarah, wife of Abraham, the righteous Rebecca, wife of Isaac, the righteous Leah, first wife of Jacob, the righteous Rachel, second wife of Jacob, the righteous Asineth, wife of Patriarch Joseph the all-comely, the righteous Miriam, sister of Moses, the righteous Deborah, Judge of Israel and prophetess, the righteous Ruth, wife of Boaz, the righteous woman of Zarephath, to whom Elias was sent (3 Kings 17), the righteous woman of Shunem, who was hospitable to Elisha (4 Kings 4), the righteous Judith, slayer of Holofernes, the righteous Esther, who delivered Israel from death, the righteous Hannah, mother of the prophet Samuel, the righteous Susanna.
The Holy Martyr Boniface was the slave of a rich young Roman woman named Aglaida (Aglae) and he dwelt with her in an iniquitous cohabitation. But they both felt the sting of conscience and they wanted somehow to be cleansed of their sin. And the Lord granted them the possibility to wash away their sin with their blood and to finish their life in repentance.
Aglaida learned that whoever keeps relics of the holy martyrs in the home and venerates them receives great help in gaining salvation. Under their influence, sin is diminished and virtue prevails. She arranged for Boniface to go to the East, where there was a fierce persecution against Christians, and she asked him to bring back the relics of some martyr, who would become a guide and protector for them.
As he was leaving, Boniface laughed and asked, “My lady, if I do not find any relics, and if I myself suffer for Christ, will you accept my body with reverence?” Aglaida scolded him, saying that he was setting off on a sacred mission, but he was not taking it seriously. Boniface pondered her words, and during the whole journey he thought that he was unworthy of touching the bodies of the martyrs.
Arriving at Tarsus in Cilicia, Boniface left his companions at the inn and proceeded to the city square, where they were torturing Christians. Struck by the beastly horrible torments, and seeing the faces of the holy martyrs radiant with the grace of the Lord, Boniface marveled at their courage. He embraced them and kissed their feet, asking them to pray that he might be found worthy to suffer with them.
The judge asked Boniface who he was. He replied, “I am a Christian,” and then refused to offer sacrifice to idols. They stripped him and hung him upside down, beating him so hard that the flesh fell from his body, exposing the bone. They stuck needles under his nails, and finally they poured molten tin down his throat, but by the power of the Lord he remained unharmed. The people who witnessed this miracle shouted, “Great is the God of the Christians!” Then they began to throw stones at the judge, and then they headed for the pagan temple, in order to cast down the idols.
On the following morning, when things had quieted down somewhat, the judge directed that the holy martyr be thrown into a cauldron of boiling tar, but this also caused the sufferer no harm. An angel come down from Heaven and bedewed him as he stepped into the cauldron. The tar overflowed the cauldron, splattering and burning the torturers themselves. Saint Boniface was then sentenced to beheading by the sword. Blood and a milky fluid flowed from his wounds. Beholding such a miracle, about 550 men believed in Christ.
Saint Boniface’s companions, waiting for two days at the inn for him in vain, began searching for him, thinking that he had gotten drunk somewhere. At first their search was without success, but finally they came across a man who had been an eyewitness to the martyr’s death. The man also led them to the place where the decapitated body lay. Saint Boniface’s companions tearfully begged his forgiveness for their unseemly thoughts about him. After they ransomed the martyr’s remains, they brought them back to Rome.
On the eve of their arrival an angel appeared to Aglaida in her sleep and told her to prepare herself to receive her former slave, now the brother and fellow-servant of the angels. Aglaida summoned the clergy, and she received the holy relics with great reverence. Then she built a church on the site of his grave and dedicated it to the holy martyr. There she enshrined his relics, glorified by numerous miracles. After distributing all her wealth to the poor, she withdrew to a monastery, where she spent fifteen years in repentance, then fell asleep in the Lord. She was buried beside Saint Boniface. The sins of the one were washed away by his blood, the other was purified by her tears and asceticism. Both were found worthy to appear unsullied before our Lord Jesus Christ, Who desires not the death of a sinner, but that he should turn from his wickedness and live (Ezek. 33:11).
We pray to Saint Boniface for deliverance from drunkenness.
Saint Elias Muromets of the Caves, nicknamed “Shoemaker” or “Cobbler,” was from the city of Murom. Popular legend identifies him with the famous warrior hero Elias Muromets, who was the subject of Russian ballads and of Gliere’s Symphony No. 3.
St Elias died with the fingers of his right hand formed to make the Sign of the Cross in the position accepted even today in the Orthodox Church: the first three fingers together, and the two outermost fingers folded onto the palm [in contrast to the Sign of the Cross used by the “Old Ritualists”]. During the struggle with the Old Ritualist Schism (seventeenth-nineteenth centuries), this information about the saint served as a powerful proof in favor of the present positioning of the fingers.
The Martyrs Elias, Probus, and Ares, natives of Egypt, and heedless of their own safety, cared for Christians locked up in prison during the persecution of Maximian (305-313). For this they were arrested, subjected to torture and given over to death (+308).
From his very childhood, Saint Boniface was distinguished by his non-covetousness and love for the poor. When he saw a destitute man on the street, he took his own clothes and gave them away to those in need, to the chagrin of his widowed mother.
Once, he gave away a year’s supply of grain, but the Lord worked a miracle through his prayer, and the family’s granary was filled again. Saint Boniface became bishop of the city of Ferentino (Florence), north of Rome (in Tuscany). Even in his lofty position as bishop he remained completely non-covetous and merciful towards people, and he directed his flock wisely, exhorting them to attend to even the least among their neighbors.
Saint Gregory, Bishop of Homer (Omirits), the son of Agapius and Theodota, was filled with the grace of God and possessed gifts of healing and wonderworking even in his youth. The Providence of God led him to hierarchical service. While still a deacon at Mediolanum (Milan) he heard the foretelling of his destiny from a hermit, and then he received confirmation of these words from another spirit-bearing Elder who lived an ascetic life in the mountains.
When Gregory went to this holy schemamonk for guidance, a miracle occurred. As he approached the mountain, he saw a fiery column in the air. He soon realized that the fiery column was actually the man of God coming toward him. That night he saw the Elder standing in the air above the ground. The Elder revealed to Saint Gregory that he must go to Rome to pray in the church of Saints Boniface and Aglaida. Then he would go to Alexandria and to become a bishop. Then he would arrive in the city of Negran in the land of Homer (in southern Arabia) to proclaim the Gospel.
Saint Gregory felt himself unworthy of this, and wished to remain with the ascetic as his disciple. So that Gregory should have no doubts of the veracity of his words, the Elder revealed that he knew a secret about him. In a vision, Gregory had seen the First-Ranked Apostles Peter and Paul, and they had placed a bishop’s omophorion upon him.
Saint Gregory stayed a short time in Carthage (North Africa) serving as a deacon, then arrived in Rome. He went to the church of Saints Boniface and Aglaida, then to the tomb of Saint Peter. There he was granted a vision of the holy Apostle, who told him to walk the path of virtue and to live according to God’s will. That night he saw the Apostle Paul in a dream bringing to him a cup filled with oil, foretelling that he should receive the grace of the priesthood and the episcopacy.
During this time the armies of the Ethiopian emperor Elesbaan (October 24) vanquished the Himyarite king Dunaan, who was of Jewish background. The city of Negran was liberated, and Christianity restored in the land of Homer. But all the clergy had been cruelly exterminated by Dunaan, and therefore Elesbaan sent emissaries to the Patriarch of Alexandria asking him to send a bishop to Negran, and clergy for the churches. While he was praying, the holy Apostle Mark appeared to the patriarch, bidding him to find a deacon named Gregory, who was to be ordained to the priesthood, consecrated as a bishop, and then to be sent to Elesbaan. The patriarch did this. During the service a miracle took place. Saint Gregory’s face shone with the grace of the Holy Spirit, and from his vestments came a sweet fragrance like myrrh or incense, filling the whole church with the scent.
Arriving in Homer, Saint Gregory began to set the Church in order, preaching to both pagans and Jews. After three years Elesbaan returned to Ethiopia, leaving the noble Abramius behind as King of Homer. Saint Gregory crowned and anointed Abramius as king. Soon he issued a decree that all his subjects be baptized. Then certain prominent Jews turned to the emperor saying that it was better for people to believe willingly rather than under compulsion. They requested that he should permit a debate on faith to be held between them and the Christians, vowing that if the Christians proved victorious in this debate, the Jews would then accept Baptism.
The Jews were given forty days to prepare for the debate, which lasted for several days. Saint Gregory refuted all the arguments of the head of the Hebrew elder, Rabbi Ervan, using only texts from the Old Testament. In a vision Ervan beheld the holy Prophet Moses, who worshipped the Lord Jesus Christ. The prophet told Ervan that Ervan was in opposition to the truth and would be defeated.
By the grace of God Christian truth prevailed in the debate, but Ervan would not acknowledge his defeat. He made a last desperate attempt. He said, “If you want me to believe in your Christ, and to acknowledge that yours is the true God, then show Him to me, bishop!” The saint replied: “Your request is impertinent. It is not with man that you contend now, but with God. However, the Lord can do what you have asked in order to convince you.
Everyone waited to see what would happen. Saint Gregory, having steadfast faith in God and trusting in Him, began to pray aloud. He recalled the mystery of the Incarnation of God the Word, the miracles of His earthly life, the Three-day Resurrection and the Ascension into Heaven, and he invoked the power of the Life-Creating Cross. “Show Thyself to these people, O Lord,” he prayed, “and glorify Thy holy Name!”
When he finished the prayer, the earth quaked, and in the east the heavens were opened, and in a radiant cloud of light the Lord Jesus Christ came down on earth, and the Voice of the Lord was heard: “Through the prayers of Bishop Gregory, He Whom your fathers put to death will heal you.”
Like Saul, who was struck blind by the Heavenly light on the road to Damascus, the Jews were struck blind. Then they believed in Christ and they implored the holy bishop to heal them. Upon receiving holy Baptism, all of them were healed. Rabbi Ervan received the Christian name Leo (meaning “lion”).
After this most extraordinary miracle, Saint Gregory guided the flock of Homer for another thirty years. He reposed in the year 552 and was buried in a crypt in the cathedral of Afar.
Saints George and Savva of Khakhuli were brothers of Jacob, the father of Saint George of the Holy Mountain. George and Savva labored as monks at Khakhuli Monastery in southern Georgia.
The holy fathers were filled with divine grace. The elder brother, George, was a spiritual adviser in the court of King Bagrat III Kuropalates and, along with the king, he became an active participant in the production of ecclesiastical literature. (This period is known as the Golden Age of Georgian Letters, when many translations and copies of ecclesiastical writings were made.) The younger brother, Savva, is remembered as a righteous and blameless man by the renowned Church figure George the Lesser. According to George the Lesser, the brothers were generously endowed with both spiritual blessings and material wealth.
When the holy fathers heard about the piety of their nephew, the young George (later of the Holy Mountain), they suggested that Jacob bring him to them in Khakhuli in Klarjeti. With exceeding gladness Jacob brought his son to the God-fearing brothers.
At that time a certain Peris Jojikisdze, a nobleman married to the daughter of King Bagrat III, governed the village of Tvartsatapi. Peris thought it wise to invite an intelligent and experienced monk to his palace to serve as an instructor and spiritual guide, and he selected Saint George to fill this role. With great reluctance the venerable father consented, and he was entrusted with responsibility for all the spiritual and earthly affairs at the palace.
George of Khakhuli took the young George with him to the palace of Peris Jojikisdze. A year later, the Byzantine Emperor Basil II brought false accusations against Peris and ordered his execution. His wife and those in his court, among whom were Saint George and the young George of the Holy Mountain, were captured and escorted to Constantinople.
After twelve years in Byzantium, the captives were finally permitted to return home. Upon his return to Georgia, George of Khakhuli sent his nephew to Khakhuli Monastery, entrusting him to the care of his brother Savva.
The holy fathers reposed peacefully in the mid-11th century.