14, 000 INFANTS (HOLY INNOCENTS) SLAIN BY HEROD IN BETHLEHEM
14, 000 infants (Holy Innocents) slain by Herod in Bethlehem, Our Righteous Father Marcellus, Abbot of the Monastery of the Unsleeping Ones, Our Righteous Father Thaddeus the Confessor, Afterfeast of the Nativity, George, Bishop of Nicomedia, Poet of Asmatikons, Kanons, and Troparia
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE HEBREWS 2:11-18
BRETHREN, he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, “I will proclaim thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee.” And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Here am I, and the children God has given me. Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.
When the wise men departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt have I called my son.
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more." But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead." And he rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaos reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene.
On December 29, the Afterfeast of the Nativity, we commemorate the 14,000 holy infants who were put to death by King Herod in his attempt to kill the new-born Messiah (Mt. 2:16).
Today there is also a commemoration of all Orthodox Christians who have died from hunger, thirst, the sword, and freezing.
14,000 Holy Infants were killed by King Herod in Bethlehem. When the time came for the Incarnation of the Son of God and His Birth of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Magi in the East beheld a new star in the heavens, foretelling the Nativity of the King of the Jews. They journeyed immediately to Jerusalem to worship the Child, and the star showed them the way. Having worshipped the divine Infant, they did not return to Jerusalem to Herod, as he had ordered them, but being warned by God in a dream, they went back to their country by another way. Herod finally realized that his scheme to find the Child would not be successful, and he ordered that all the male children two years old and younger at Bethlehem and its surroundings be killed. He thought that the divine Infant, Whom he considered a rival, would be among the dead children.
The murdered infants thus became the first martyrs for Christ. The rage of Herod fell also on Simeon the God-Receiver (February 3), who declared before everyone in the Temple that the Messiah had been born. When the holy Elder died, Herod would not give permission for him to be properly buried. On the orders of King Herod, the holy prophet and priest Zachariah was also killed. He was murdered in Jerusalem between the Temple and the altar (Mt. 23:35) because he would not tell the whereabouts of his son John, the future Baptist of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The wrath of God soon fell upon Herod himself: a horrid condition struck him down and he died, eaten by worms while still alive. Before his death, the impious king murdered the chief priests and scribes of the Jews, and also his brother, and his sister and her husband, and also his own wife Mariam, and three of his sons, and seventy men of wisdom who were members of the Sanhedrin. He initiated this bloodbath so that the day of his death would not be one of rejoicing, but one of mourning.
The Christian Church very rightly proclaimed these murdered children as Saints, because they died at an innocent age, and were, in some way, the first martyrs of Christianity. They may not have been baptized in water, but they were baptized in the blessed blood of their martyrdom.
Last but not least, the relics (or perhaps some) of the Holy Infants are found in Constantinople, in the Church of Saint James the Brother of the Lord, which was built by Emperor Justin. Most of their Holy Relics are at the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Portions of their Holy Relics are also to be found in the Pantokrator Monastery on Mount Athos.
Saint Marcellus, igumen of the Monastery called “the Unsleeping Ones,” was a native of the city of Apamea in Syria. His parents were wealthy, but died when he was young. He received his education first at Antioch, and then at Ephesus. All his possessions left him by his parents he distributed to the poor, thereby sundering his ties to the world.
Under the guidance of an experienced elder at Ephesus, Marcellus entered upon the path of asceticism. He later went on to Byzantium to Saint Alexander, igumen of the monastery named “the Unsleeping.” The monastery received its name because in it psalmody was done constantly, both day and night, by alternating groups of monks. Saint Alexander accepted Marcellus and tonsured him into the monastic schema. Zealous in the works of watchfulness, fasting and prayer, the saint received great spiritual talents and the gift of clairvoyance. Marcellus foresaw the day of Abba Alexander’s death and his own election as igumen. However, since he was still young, he did not want to rule others. So he slipped out of the monastery to visit other provinces and other monasteries, where he received edification from the monks who lived there.
After the death of Saint Alexander, when Abba John had already been chosen as igumen, Marcellus returned to the great joy of the brethren. Abba John made Marcellus his own closest assistant. After John’s death, Saint Marcellus was chosen igumen of the monastery in spite of his own wishes, and in this position he remained for sixty years.
News of his saintly life spread far. People came to Marcellus from afar, both the illustrious and the common, rich and the poor. Many times they saw angels encircling the saint, attending and guarding him. With the help of God, the monastery of “the Unsleeping Ones” flourished. So many monks came to place themselves under the direction of Saint Marcellus that it became necessary to enlarge the monastery and the church.
Saint Marcellus received donations from believers for expansion, and built a beautiful large church, a hospital, and a hostel for the homeless. By his prayers the monk treated the sick, cast out devils and worked miracles. For example, one of the monks was sent to Ankara and fell ill. Being near death, he called out mentally to his abba. At that very hour Saint Marcellus heard his disciple in the monastery, and he began to pray for him. He who was sick recovered at once.
When a ship with his monks came into danger on the Black Sea, the saint calmed the tempest by his prayers. Another time, when they told him that a fire was raging at Constantinople, he prayed tearfully for the city, and the fire subsided as if extinguished by the tears of the monk.
John, the servant of a certain Arian nobleman named Ardaburios, was unjustly accused of something, and he hid out at the monastery to escape his master’s wrath. Ardaburios twice demanded that Saint Marcellus hand John over to him, but he refused. Ardaburios then sent out a detachment of soldiers, who surrounded the monastery, threatening to slay anyone who interfered with their mission. The brethren went to the abba, asking him to surrender John and save the monastery. Saint Marcellus signed himself with the Sign of the Cross, then boldly went out alone through the monastery gate towards the soldiers. Lightning flashed in the sky, thunder rumbled, and the Cross appeared shining brighter than the sun. The soldiers threw down their weapons and took to flight. Ardaburios, learning from the soldiers what had happened, was frightened, and because of Saint Marcellus he pardoned the servant.
Saint Marcellus peacefully departed to the Lord in the year 485. His faithful disciple Lukian grieved terribly over him, but on the fifth day after the death Saint Marcellus appeared to him and comforted him, foretelling his own impending end.
Saints Mark the Grave-Digger, Theophilus and John are mentioned in the Kiev Caves Paterikon. Two brothers being monastics, Saints Theophilus and John, so loved each other that they prevailed upon Saint Mark to prepare a double grave so they could be buried side by side.
Many years later, the older of the two brothers was away on monastery business. During this time his brother John fell ill and died. Several days later, Saint Theophilus returned and went with the brethren to view his brother’s body. Seeing that he lay at the higher place in their common grave, he became indignant with Saint Mark and said, “Why did you put him in my place? I am older than he.”
The cave-dweller Mark, bowed humbly to Saint Theophilus and asked that he forgive him. Turning to the dead man, he said, “Arise, give this place to your older brother, and you lie down in the other place.” And the dead man moved to the lower place in the grave. Seeing this, Saint Theophilus fell down at the knees of Saint Mark begging his forgiveness. The cave-dweller Mark told Theophilus that he ought to be concerned for his own salvation, because soon he would join his brother in that place.
Hearing this, Saint Theophilus became terrified and decided that he would soon die. He gave away everything that he possessed, keeping only his mantle, and every day he awaited the hour of death. No one was able to stop his tears, nor to tempt him with tasty food. Tears were his bread by day and by night (Ps 41/42:3). God granted him several years more for repentance, which he spent in fasting and lamentation. He even went blind from continuous weeping.
Saint Mark forsaw the hour of his death and told Theophilus he would soon depart this life. Theophilus pleaded, “Father, either take me with you, or restore my sight.” Saint Mark said to Theophilus, “Do not desire death, it shall come in its own time, even if you do not wish it. Let this be the sign of your impending end: three days before you depart this world, your eyesight will return.”
The words of the saint were fulfilled. The body of Saint Theophilus was placed in the Antoniev Cave in the grave together with his brother Saint John, near the relics of Saint Mark. Their memory is celebrated also on September 28 and on the second Sunday of Great Lent.
It is not known where or when Saints Theophilos and Jacob were born, but they spent some time on the island of Konevets with Saint Arsenios of Konevets (June 12), and perhaps it was there that they began their monastic labors.
Then, in 1395 or 1396, both ascetics left Konevets and crossed the Omuch River. There in Demyansk county, 65 versts from the city of Porkhov, they established a Hermitage in honor of the Dormition of the Mother of God. It appears that Saint Theophilos, the founder of the monastery, was highly revered, because it was known as the Theophilos Hermitage, but it was Elder Jacob who put it in order. The monastery dates from the beginning of the XV century, around 1412.
Saint Theophilos reposed on December 29, 1412, and was buried in the wooden church of the Dormition. We do not know when Saint Jacob went to the Lord, nor the specific place where he was buried.
Saints Theophilos and Jacob are commemorated together on October 21. They are also commemorated on the Synaxis of the Saints of Novgorod, Saint Petersburg, and Ladoga (the third Sunday of Pentecost).
The holy relics of these God-pleasers have rested in the church of the Dormition of the Mother of God ever since the parish was founded in 1764.
Saint Thaddeus the Confessor, a disciple of Theodore the Studite, was a defender of the veneration of holy icons. He was brought to trial and suffered during the reign of Leo V (813-820). The heretics, mocking Saint Thaddeus, put an icon of the Savior on the ground, picked the saint up, and stood him upon it.
After this the judge said, “You have trampled upon the icon of Christ. There is no point in further resistance, so join us.” Thaddeus replied that he had been placed upon the icon involuntarily, and he cursed the impiety of the iconoclasts. Enraged by his bold words, they beat him with cudgels. Then they dragged the martyr by the legs and threw him outside the city walls. He appeared to be dead, but he was still alive. A certain Christian took him into his own home and washed his wounds. Saint Thaddeus lived another three days, and then surrendered his soul to God.
Today the Church remembers all Orthodox Christians who died as martyrs for the glory of Christ by hunger, thirst, freezing, and by the sword, whose names are not known to us.
This feast reminds us that God's sight is not like that of men. People usually glorify and honor those who are renowned and famous; whereas God sees both those who are known and and those who are unknown, the exalted and the humble, as long as each person sought to do His will.
Thus, at the time of the Last Judgment, the least of these Christians will shine forth incomparably more radiant than the most illustrious and prominent kings of this world.
Their Synaxis took place in the church of the Most Holy Theotokos at Chalkoprateia, a district in Constantinople, west of Hagia Sophia.