FOREFEAST OF THE THEOPHANY OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST
Forefeast of the Theophany of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Malachi the Prophet, Gordios the Martyr of Caesarea, Righteous Genevieve of Paris, Righteous Peter of Atroas, Righteous Akakios the Wonderworker, Righteous Thomais of Lesbos
ST. PAUL’S FIRST LETTER TO TIMOTHY 3:13-16; 4:1-5
TIMOTHY, my son, those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion:
God was manifested in the flesh, <br />justified in the Spirit, <br />seen by angels, <br />preached among the nations, <br />believed on in the world, <br />taken up in glory.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
At that time, John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
The second day of the Forefeast of Theophany falls on January 3. Today’s hymns invite us to go in spirit to the Jordan River where the Creator comes to be baptized. He is the Light which shines in the darkness (John 1:5), and today He begins to overcome that darkness.
The Holy Prophet Malachi lived 400 years before the Birth of Christ, at the time of the return of the Jews from the Babylonian Captivity. Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets, therefore the holy Fathers call him “the seal of the prophets.”
Manifesting himself an image of spiritual goodness and piety, he astounded the nation and was called Malachi, i.e., an angel. His prophetic book is included in the Canon of the Old Testament. In it he upbraids the Jews, foretelling the coming of Jesus Christ and His Forerunner, and also the Last Judgment (Mal 3:1-5; 4:1-6).
The Martyr Gordius was born at the end of the third century in the city of Caesarea of Cappadocia into a Christian family. When he came of age, he entered military service. Because of his valor and military skill, he was made a centurion. During the persecution of Christians at the beginning of the fourth century, he left the world and settled in the Sinai desert to prepare himself for the good deed of confessing the Name of Christ the Savior.
In the year 320, Gordius openly appeared before the prefect of a city where pagan games were being held, and identified himself as a Christian. He was arrested, suffered terrible torments, then was beheaded.
Saint Genevieve was born of wealthy parents in Gaul (modern France) in the village of Nanterre, near Paris, around 422. Her father’s name was Severus, and her mother was called Gerontia. According to the custom of the time, she often tended her father’s flocks on Mt. Valerien.
When she was about seven years old, Saint Germanus of Auxerre (July 31) noticed her as he was passing through Nanterre. The bishop kissed her on the head and told her parents that she would become great in the sight of God, and would lead many to salvation. After Genevieve told him that she wished to dedicate herself to Christ, he gave her a brass medal with the image of the Cross upon it. She promised to wear it around her neck, and to avoid wearing any other ornaments around her neck or on her fingers.
When it was reported that Attila the Hun was approaching Paris, Genevieve and the other nuns prayed and fasted, entreating God to spare the city. Suddenly, the barbarians turned away from Paris and went off in another direction.
Years later, when she was fifteen, Genevieve was taken to Paris to enter the monastic life. Through fasting, vigil and prayer, she progressed in monasticism, and received from God the gifts of clairvoyance and of working miracles. Gradually, the people of Paris and the surrounding area regarded Genevieve as a holy vessel (2 Tim. 2:21).
Saint Genevieve considered the Saturday night Vigil service to be very important, since it symbolizes how our whole life should be. “We must keep vigil in prayer and fasting so that the Lord will find us ready when He comes,” she said. She was on her way to church with her nuns one stormy Saturday night when the wind blew out her lantern. The nuns could not find their way without a light, since it was dark and stormy, and the road was rough and muddy. Saint Genevieve made the Sign of the Cross over the lantern, and the candle within was lit with a bright flame. In this manner they were able to make their way to the church for the service.
There is a tradition that the church which Saint Genevieve suggested that King Clovis build in honor of Saints Peter and Paul became her own resting place when she fell asleep in the Lord around 512 at the age of eighty-nine. Her holy relics were later transferred to the church of Saint Etienne du Mont in Paris. Most of her relics, and those of other saints, were destroyed during the French Revolution.
In the Middle Ages, Saint Genevieve was regarded as the patron saint of wine makers.
Saint Ekvtime (Euthymius) Takaishvili, called the “Man of God,” was born January 3, 1863, in the village of Likhauri, in the Ozurgeti district of Guria, to the noble family of Svimeon Takaishvili and Gituli Nakashidze. He was orphaned at a young age and raised by his uncle.
From early childhood Saint Ekvtime demonstrated a great passion for learning. Having completed his studies at the village grammar school, he enrolled at Kutaisi Classical High School. In 1883 he graduated with a silver medal and moved to Saint Petersburg to continue his studies in the department of history-philology at Saint Petersburg University. In 1887, having successfully completed his studies and earned a degree in history, Saint Ekvtime returned to Georgia and began working in the field of academia. His profound faith and love for God and his motherland determined his every step in this demanding and admirable profession.
In 1895, Ekvtime married Nino Poltoratskaya, daughter of the famous Tbilisi attorney Ivan Poltoratsky, who was himself a brother in-law and close friend of Saint Ilia Chavchavadze the Righteous. From the very beginning of his career Saint Ekvtime began to collect historical-archaeological and ethnographical materials from all over Georgia. His sphere of scholarly interests was broad, including historiography, archaeology, ethnography, epigraphy, numismatics, philology, folklore, linguistics, and art history. Above all, Saint Ekvtime strove to learn more about Georgian history and culture by applying the theories and methodologies of these various disciplines to his work.
In 1889, Saint Ekvtime established the Exarchate Museum of Georgia, in which were preserved ancient manuscripts, sacred objects, theological books, and copies of many important frescoes that had been removed from ancient churches. This museum played a major role in rediscovering the history of the Georgian Church.
In 1907, Saint Ekvtime founded the Society for Georgian History and Ethnography. Of the many expeditions organized by this society, the journey through Muslim (southwestern) Georgia was one of the most meaningful. Having witnessed firsthand the aftermath of the forced isolation and Islamization of this region, Saint Ekvtime and his fellow pilgrims acquired a greater love for the Faith of their forefathers and became more firmly established in their national identity. Though they no longer spoke the Georgian language, the residents of this region received the venerable Ekvtime with great respect, having sensed from his greeting and kindness that he had come from their far-off motherland.
There was not a single patriotic, social or cultural movement in Georgia during the first quarter of the 20th century in which Saint Ekvtime did not actively take part. Among his other important achievements, he was one of the nine professors who founded Tbilisi University in 1918. Saint Ekvtime also vigorously advocated the restoration of the autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
On March 11, 1921, the Georgian government went into exile in France. The government archives and the nation’s spiritual and cultural treasures were also flown to France for protection from the Bolshevik danger. Saint Ekvtime was personally entrusted to keep the treasures safe, and he and his wife accompanied them on their flight to France. Saint Ekvtime bore the hardships of an emigrant’s life and the horrors of World War II with heroism, while boldly resisting the onslaught of European and American scholars and collectors and the claims of other Georgian emigrants to their “family relics.”
In 1931 Saint Ekvtime’s wife, Nino, his faithful friend and companion, died of starvation. The elderly widower himself often drew near to the brink of death from hunger, cold, and stress, but he never faltered in his duty before God and his motherland—he faithfully protected his nation’s treasures.
The perils were great for Saint Ekvtime and the treasures he protected: British and American museums sought to purchase the Georgian national artifacts; a certain Salome Dadiani, the widow of Count Okholevsky, declared herself the sole heir of the Georgian national treasure; during World War II the Nazis searched Saint Ekvtime’s apartment; even the French government claimed ownership of the Georgian treasures.
Finally, the Soviet victory over fascist Germany created conditions favorable for the return of the national treasures to Georgia. According to an agreement between Stalin and De Gaulle, the treasures and their faithful protector were loaded onto an American warplane and flown back to their motherland on April 11, 1945. When he finally stepped off the plane and set foot on Georgian soil, Saint Ekvtime bowed deeply and kissed the earth where he stood. Georgia greeted its long-lost son with great honor. The people overwhelmed Saint Ekvtime with attention and care, restored his university professorship, and recognized him as an active member of the Academy of Sciences. They healed the wounds that had been inflicted on his heart.
Exhausted by the separation from his motherland and the woes of emigration, Saint Ekvtime rejoined society with the last of his strength. But mankind’s enemy became envious of the victory of good over evil and rose up against Saint Ekvtime’s unshakable spirit. In 1951 the Chekists arrested his stepdaughter, Lydia Poltoratskaya. Saint Ekvtime, who by that time was seriously ill, was now left without his caregiver.
In 1952, without any reasonable explanation, Saint Ekvtime was forbidden to lecture at the university he himself had helped to found, and he was secretly placed under house arrest. The people who had reverently greeted him upon his return now trembled in fear of his persecution and imminent death. Many tried to visit and support Saint Ekvtime, but they were forbidden. On February 21, 1953, Saint Ekvtime died of a heart attack, and three days later a group of approximately forty mourners accompanied the virtuous prince to his eternal resting place.
On February 10, 1963, the centennial of Saint Ekvtime’s birth, his body was reburied at the Didube Pantheon in Tbilisi. When his grave was uncovered, it was revealed that not only his body, but even his clothing and footwear had remained incorrupt. Saint Ekvtime’s relics were moved once again, to the Pantheon at the Church of Saint Davit of Gareji on Mtatsminda, where they remain today.
The body of Nino Poltoratskaya-Takaishvili was brought from Leville (France) and buried next to Saint Ekvtime on February 22, 1987.
The Holy Synod of the Georgian Apostolic Orthodox Church canonized Saint Ekvtime on October 17, 2002, and joyously proclaimed him a “Man of God.”
The holy New Martyr and wonderworker Ephraim was born in Greece on September 14, 1384. His father died when the saint was young, and his pious mother was left to care for seven children by herself.
When Ephraim reached the age of fourteen, the all-good God directed his steps to a monastery on the mountain of Amoman near Nea Makri in Attica. The monastery was dedicated to the Annunciation and also to Saint Paraskevḗ. Here he took on his shoulders the Cross of Christ, which all His followers must bear (Matt. 16:24). Being enflamed with love for God, Saint Ephraim eagerly placed himself under the monastic discipline. For nearly twenty-seven years he imitated the life of the great Fathers and ascetics of the desert. With divine zeal, he followed Christ and turned away from the attractions of this world. By the grace of God, he purified himself from soul-destroying passions and became an abode of the All-Holy Spirit. He was also found worthy to receive the grace of the priesthood, and served at the altar with great reverence and compunction.
On September 14, 1425, the barbarous Turks launched an invasion by sea, destroying the monastery and and looting the surrounding area. Saint Ephraim was one of the victims of their frenzied hatred. Many of the monks had been tortured and beheaded, but Saint Ephraim remained calm. This infuriated the Turks, so they imprisoned him in order to torture him and force him to deny Christ.
They locked him in a small cell without food or water, and they beat him every day, hoping to convince him to become a Moslem. For several months, he endured horrible torments. When the Turks realized that the saint remained faithful to Christ, they decided to put him to death. On Tuesday May 5, 1426, they led him from his cell. They turned him upside down and tied him to a mulberry tree, then they beat him and mocked him. “Where is your God,” they asked, “and why doesn’t he help you?” The saint did not lose courage, but prayed, “O God, do not listen to the words of these men, but may Thy will be done as Thou hast ordained.”
The barbarians pulled the saint’s beard and tortured him until his strength ebbed. His blood flowed, and his clothes were in tatters. His body was almost naked and covered with many wounds. Still the Hagarenes were not satisfied, but wished to torture him even more. One of them took a flaming stick and plunged it violently into the saint’s navel. His screams were heart-rending, so great was his pain. The blood flowed from his stomach, but the Turks did not stop. They repeated the same painful torments many times. His body writhed, and all his limbs were convulsed. Soon, the saint grew too weak to speak, so he prayed silently asking God to forgive his sins. Blood and saliva ran from his mouth, and the ground was soaked with his blood. Then he lapsed into unconsciousness.
Thinking that he had died, the Turks cut the ropes which bound him to the tree, and the saint’s body fell to the ground. Their rage was still not diminished, so they continued to kick and beat him. After a while, the saint opened his eyes and prayed, “Lord, I give up my spirit to Thee.” About nine o’clock in the morning, the martyr’s soul was separated from his body.
These things remained forgotten for nearly 500 years, hidden in the depths of silence and oblivion until January 3, 1950. By then a women’s monastery had sprung up on the site of the old monastery. Abbess Makaria (+ April 23, 1999) was wandering through the ruins of the monastery, thinking of the martyrs whose bones had been scattered over that ground, and whose blood had watered the tree of Orthodoxy. She realized that this was a holy place, and she prayed that God would permit her to behold one of the Fathers who had lived there.
After some time, she seemed to sense an inner voice telling her to dig in a certain spot. She indicated the place to a workman whom she had hired to make repairs at the old monastery. The man was unwilling to dig there, for he wanted to dig somewhere else. Because the man was so insistent, Mother Makaria let him go where he wished. She prayed that the man would not be able to dig there, and so he struck rock. Although he tried to dig in three or four places, he met with the same results. Finally, he agreed to dig where the abbess had first indicated.
In the ruins of an old cell, he cleared away the rubble and began to dig in an angry manner. The abbess told him to slow down, for she did not want him to damage the body that she expected to find there. He mocked her because she expected to find the relics of a saint. When he reached the depth of six feet, however, he unearthed the head of the man of God. At that moment an ineffable fragrance filled the air. The workman turned pale and was unable to speak. Mother Makaria told him to go and leave her there by herself. She knelt and reverently kissed the body. As she cleared away more earth, she saw the sleeves of the saint’s rasson. The cloth was thick and appeared to have been woven on the loom of an earlier time. She uncovered the rest of the body and began to remove the bones, which appeared to be those of a martyr.
Mother Makaria was still in that holy place when evening fell, so she read the service of Vespers. Suddenly she heard footsteps coming from the grave, moving across the courtyard toward the door of the church. The footsteps were strong and steady, like those of a man of strong character. The nun was afraid to turn around and look, but then she heard a voice say, “How long are you going to leave me here?”
She saw a tall monk with small, round eyes, whose beard reached his chest. In his left hand was a bright light, and he gave a blessing with his right hand. Mother Makaria was filled with joy and her fear disappeared. “Forgive me,” she said, “I will take care of you tomorrow as soon as God makes the day dawn.” The saint disappeared, and the abbess continued to read Vespers.
In the morning after Matins, Mother Makaria cleaned the bones and placed them in a niche in the altar area of the church, lighting a candle before them. That night Saint Ephraim appeared to her in a dream. He thanked her for caring for his relics, then he said, “My name is Saint Ephraim.” From his own lips, she heard the story of his life and martyrdom.
Since Saint Ephraim glorified God in his life and by his death, the Lord granted him the grace of working miracles. Those who venerate his holy relics with faith and love have been healed of all kinds of illnesses and infirmities, and he is quick to answer the prayers of those who call upon him.
Saint Ephraim is also commemorated on May 5.