FOREFEAST OF THE THEOPHANY OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST
Forefeast of the Theophany of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Synaxis of the 70 Holy Apostles, Our Righteous Father Theoctistus, Abbot of Cucomo in Sicily, Nikephoros the Leper, Zosimos the Monk and Athanasios the Notary, Righteous Apollinaria the Senator, Martyrs Chrysanthos and Euphemia, Righteous Euthymios the Younger, New Martyr Onuphrios, Righteous Euthymios of Vatopedi, Righteous John Scholarios, Eustathios Archbishop of Serbia
ST. PAUL’S FIRST LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS 4:9-16
Brethren, God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are ill-clad and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the off-scouring of all things. I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.
No one has ever seen God; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.
And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ." And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" And he answered, "No." They said to him then, "Who are you? let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" He said, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord, ' as the prophet Isaiah said.
Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, "Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?" John answered them, "I baptize with water; but among you stands one whom you do not know, even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie." This took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Forefeast of the Theophany of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
The third day of the Forefeast of Theophany falls on January 4. The hymns compare the Feast of the Nativity with the coming Feast. “There shepherds saw the Child and were amazed; here the voice of the Father proclaims the only-begotten Son.”
Synaxis of the Seventy Apostles
The Synaxis of the Seventy Apostles was established by the Orthodox Church to indicate the equal honor of each of the Seventy. They were sent two by two by the Lord Jesus Christ to go before Him into the cities He would visit (Luke 10:1).
Besides the celebration of the Synaxis of the Holy Disciples, the Church celebrates the memory of each of them during the course of the year:
Saint James the Brother of the Lord (October 23); Mark the Evangelist (April 25); Luke the Evangelist (October 18); Cleopas (October 30), brother of Saint Joseph the Betrothed, and Simeon his son (April 27); Barnabas (June 11); Joses, or Joseph, named Barsabas or Justus (October 30); Thaddeus (August 21); Ananias (October 1); Protomartyr Stephen the Archdeacon (December 27); Philip the Deacon (October 11); Prochorus the Deacon (28 July); Nicanor the Deacon (July 28 and December 28); Timon the Deacon (July 28 and December 30); Parmenas the Deacon (July 28); Timothy (January 22); Titus (August 25); Philemon (November 22 and February 19); Onesimus (February 15); Epaphras and Archippus (November 22 and February 19); Silas, Silvanus, Crescens or Criscus (July 30); Crispus and Epaenetos (July 30); Andronicus (May 17 and July 30); Stachys, Amplias, Urban, Narcissus, Apelles (October 31); Aristobulus (October 31 and March 16); Herodion or Rodion (April 8 and November 10); Agabus, Rufus, Asyncritus, Phlegon (April 8); Hermas (November 5, November 30 and May 31); Patrobas (November 5); Hermes (April 8); Linus, Gaius, Philologus (November 5); Lucius (September 10); Jason (April 28); Sosipater (April 28 and November 10); Olympas or Olympanus (November 10 ); Tertius (October 30 and November 10); Erastos (November 30), Quartus (November 10); Euodius (September 7); Onesiphorus (September 7 and December 8); Clement (November 25); Sosthenes (December 8); Apollos (March 30 and December 8); Tychicus, Epaphroditus (December 8); Carpus (May 26); Quadratus (September 21); Mark (September 27), called John, Zeno (September 27); Aristarchus (April 15 and September 27); Pudens and Trophimus (April 15); Mark nephew of Barnabas, Artemas (October 30); Aquila (July 14); Fortunatus (June 15) and Achaicus (January 4).
With the Descent of the Holy Spirit the Seventy Apostles preached in various lands. Some accompanied the Twelve Apostles, like the holy Evangelists Mark and Luke, or Saint Paul’s companion Timothy, or Prochorus,the disciple of the holy Evangelist John the Theologian, and others. Many of them were thrown into prison for Christ, and many received the crown of martyrdom.
There are two more Apostles of the Seventy: Saint Cephas, to whom the Lord appeared after the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:5-6), and Simeon, called Niger (Acts 13:1). They also were glorified by apostolic preaching.
There are discrepancies and errors in some lists of the Seventy Apostles. In a list attributed to Saint Dorotheus of Tyre (June 5) some names are repeated (Rodion, or Herodion, Apollos, Tychicus, Aristarchus), while others are omitted (Timothy, Titus, Epaphras, Archippus, Aquila, Olympas). Saint Demetrius of Rostov consulted the Holy Scripture, the traditions passed down by the Fathers, and the accounts of trustworthy historians when he attempted to correct the mistakes and uncertainties in the list in compiling his collection of Lives of the Saints.
The Church in particular venerates and praises the Seventy Apostles because they taught us to honor the Trinity One in Essence and Undivided.
In the ninth century Saint Joseph the Hymnographer composed the Canon for the Synaxis of the Seventy Apostles of Christ.
Venerable Theoctistus, Abbot at Cucomo, in Sicily
Saint Theoktistos lived in the second half of the eighth century, during a period of widespread iconoclastic heresy. The Venerable one was the founder and Igoumen of Cucomo Monastery on the island of Sicily. During that difficult time for the Church, the Orthodox were persecuted by iconoclastic Emperors. Orthodox churches were closed, and the Holy Icons were desecrated and destroyed. The monks, in particular, were affected by the iconoclastic persecution because they protected the Holy Icons. The monks were expelled from their monasteries, which were destroyed, and they were forced to flee their homeland. Saint Theoktistos sheltered these Greek monks in his monastery.
The Seventh Ecumenical Council, which was convened in 787, condemned the iconoclast heresy, but even after that, the heresy, supported by iconoclastic Emperors, continued to disturb the peace of the Church. Only in the reign of the Holy Empress Theodora, at the Council of 842, was iconoclasm finally condemned. The Triumph of Orthodoxy was appointed to be celebrated every year on the first Sunday of Great Lent.
Saint Theoktistos did not live to see that Triumph, for he fell asleep in the Lord in the year 800.
Saint Theoktistos of Sicily should not be confused with Saint Theoktistos of Palestine (September 3), the companion of Saint Euthymios (January 20) in the ascetic life.
Repose of Saint Eustathius I, Archbishop of Serbia
Saint Eustathius, Archbishop of Serbia, lived in the second half of the thirteenth century, during the reign of the Serbian king Stephen Urosh (1262-1320).
He was born in the diocese of Budim into a pious Christian family, where he received a spiritual upbringing. Distinguished by remarkable talents, Eustathius was given a tutor by his parents to train him in spiritual wisdom. He studied Holy Scripture with particular diligence, perfecting himself in piety and good deeds. Having finished his education, the youth entered the Monastery of the Archangel Michael in the Zeta district (Montenegro) and led a strict monastic life. Soon he became known as a great ascetic. From thence he undertook a journey to Jerusalem, to venerate the Holy Sepulchre of the Lord. On the return journey he visited Mount Athos and settled there in the Serbian Hilandar monastery.
Saint Eustathius gained general renown and love as a strict ascetic and good teacher, and many came to him for spiritual advice. Later, he became igumen of the monastery.
After several years he was consecrated as Bishop of Zeta, and the saint returned to his native land. Experienced in spiritual life and in churchly matters, he won the love of his fellow countrymen, and continued to set an example for his flock.
Saint Eustathius was chosen as Archbishop of Serbia after the death of Archbishop Joannicius. Saint Eustathius guided the Serbian Church for seven years, and died about the year 1285. His body was buried in the Zhicha monastery, and later it was transferred to Pech and placed in the cathedral church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul.
Saint Aquila, Deacon, of the Kiev Caves
Saint Aquila the Deacon of the Kiev Caves (14th Century), became famous as a great faster, having spent a long while as a hermit. He ate neither vareny (pirogi) nor sweet food, he ate vegetables seldom and only in small quantities. During fasting periods, he ate only a single prosphoron.
Those thirsting for deliverance from “the enslavement of the passions of the stomach,” and those wishing to learn temperance turn to Saint Aquila entreating his help (Third Ode of the Canon to the monks venerated in the Far Caves).
Saint Aquila the Deacon is also commemorated on August 28 and on the second Sunday of Great Lent.
Confessors Zosimus the Hermit and Athanasius the Commentarisius (Superintendent of Prisoners), Anchorites, of Cilicia
The Monk Confessor Zosimus came from Cilicia and was an inhabitant of the wilderness. During a time of persecution against Christians under the emperor Diocletian (284-305) Saint Zosimus was seized and subjected to fierce torture for the Faith, but by the power of God he was preserved unharmed.
Having beheld such a miracle of God, the prison warden named Athanasius believed in Christ and was baptized. Saints Zosimus and Athanasius were released and went into the wilderness where they lived in the crevice of a mountain until their death.
Saint Nikephoros the Leper
Father Nikephoros (Nicholas Tzanakakis in the world) was born in 1890 in a mountainous village in Khania, in Sikari, Kastanohori to the west of the prefecture with a healthy climate, with beautiful forests, rich waters, gorges and caves. This village has a peculiarity that we do not often encounter: it is divided into eleven neighborhoods, which have also been named after the families who first settled there. So Saint Nikephoros was born in the neighborhood of Kostoyianides.
His parents were simple and pious villagers, who died when he was still a young child, leaving him as an orphan. So, at the age of thirteen, he left his home. His grandfather, who had undertaken to raise him, went to Khania to work there in a barber shop in order to learn the job. Then he showed the first signs of Hansen’s disease, i.e. leprosy. The lepers were isolated on the island of Spinalonga because leprosy was a contagious disease and it was treated with fear and dismay.
Nicholas was sixteen years old when signs of the disease began to become more conspicuous, so he left on a boat to Egypt in order to avoid being confined to Spinalonga. He remained in Alexandria, working in a barber shop again, but the signs of the disease became more and more apparent, especially on his hands and face. That is why, through the intervention of a cleric, he went to Chios, where there was a church for lepers at that time, and the priest was Father Anthimos Vagianos, later Saint Anthimos (February 15).
Nicholas arrived in Chios in 1914 at the age of twenty-four. In the leper hospital of Chios, which was a complex with many homesteads, there was a chapel of Saint Lazarus, where the wonderworking icon of Panagia Ypakoe1 (Feb. 2) was kept. In this space, the course of virtues was opened for Nicholas. Within two years Saint Anthimos considered him ready for the angelic Schema and tonsured him with the name Nikephoros. The disease progressed and evolved in the absence of suitable drugs, causing many large lesions (a drug was found in 1947).
Father Nikephoros lived with unquestioning, genuine obedience to his Spiritual Father, and with austere fasting, working in the gardens. He also recorded the miracles of Saint Anthimos, which he had witnessed with his own eyes (many of these were related to the deliverance of those possessed by demons).
There was a special spiritual relationship between Saint Anthimos and the monk Nikephoros, who always remained close to him, as Father Theoklitos Dionysiatis writes in his book Saint Anthimos of Chios. Father Nikephoros prayed at night for hours on end making countless metanias, he did not quarrel with anyone, nor injure anyone's heart, and he was the master chanter of the temple. Because of his illness, however, he slowly lost his sight, and so he chanted the troparia and the Epistles from memory.
The Chios leprosarium was closed in 1957 and the remaining patients, together with Father Nikephoros, were sent to Saint Barbara’s home for lepers in Athens, in Aigaleo. At that time, Father Nikephoros was about 67 years old. His members and his eyes were completely altered and distorted by the disease.
There, Father Eumenios also lived there at the home for lepers. He also suffered from Hansen’s disease, but with the medication he received, he was completely cured. However, he decided to remain in the home for lepers for the rest of his life near his fellow sufferers, caring for them with much love. Thus he submitted to Father Nikephoros, to whom the Lord had given many gifts as a reward for his patience. A crowd of people gathered in the humble cell of the leper Nikephoros, in Saint Barbara in Aigaleo to obtain his prayers. Here are some testimonies of those who met him:
“While he was prostrate with wounds and pains, he did not complain, but he showed great patience.”
“He had the charisma of consoling those who were sad. His eyes were permanently irritated, and he had limited sight. He also had stiffness in his hands and paralysis in his lower limbs. Nonetheless, he endured all of this in the sweetest, meek, smiling, delightful way, and he was also pleasant and lovable.”
“His face, which was eaten away by the marks of his illness, and his wounds, shone. It was a joy for those who saw this destitute and seemingly feeble man saying, May His holy name be glorified.”
Father Nikephoros reposed on January 4, 1964 at the age of 74. After three years, his holy relics were exhumed and found to be fragrant. Father Eumenios and other believers reported many cases where miracles occurred by calling on Saint Nikephoros to intercede with God.
The life of Saint Nikephoros was a brilliant example and model for everyone. He was pleasing to God because he had endured so much. For this reason, we have many testimonies that our saint received from the Holy Spirit the gift of discernment as and a host of other charisms. We should note that most of the miracles are recorded, and today the saint gives generous help to anyone in need. Surely there will be many more miracles which not have not yet been made manifest.
1 The name of the icon honors the obedience of the Theotokos to God’s will for her to give birth to His Son, so by her obedience people would also obey His will. The Greek word Υπακοή means “obedience.“
Venerable Euthymius and twelve other Monks, martyred at Vatopedi
The Monk Martyr Euthymius, Igumen of the Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos, and twelve other monks suffered martyrdom for denouncing the Latinizing Patriarchs Michael Paleologos (1261-1281) and John Bekkos (1275-1282) as heretics. Saint Euthymius was drowned in the sea, and the monks were hanged.
Venerable New Martyr Onuphrius of Hilandar (Mount Athos)
The New Martyr Onuphrius, in the world Matthew, was born in Bulgaria in Gabrovo in the Trnovo diocese. Matthew became angry with his parents one day, and said he wished to become a Moslem. Unfortunately, he was overheard by the Hagarenes, who wished to take him away. He regretted these words as soon as he uttered them, and he went to Athos to the Hilandar monastery as soon as he came of age. There he became a monk with the name Manassas.
Tormented by his conscience, Manassas decided to suffer for Christ. Therefore, he asked the blessing of his Elder Nikēphóros to pursue the path of martyrdom. The Elder tonsured him a schemamonk with the name Onuphrius. After four months of intense prayer, fasting, and spiritual struggle, he went with Gregory of the Peloponnesos to the island of Chios. There the Monk Martyr Onuphrius openly confessed the Christian Faith, for which he was seized and subjected to cruel tortures.
After the torture they beheaded him and threw him into the sea. He died in 1818 at the age of thirty-two.
Holy Fathers of the Shio-Mgvime Monastery
The Thirteen Syrian fathers arrived in Georgia in the 6th century, having received a blessing for their journey from the Most Holy Theotokos. They settled on Zedazeni Mountain, living an ascetic life of prayer and fasting. Their spiritual leader, Ioane, then sent them to perform good works throughout various regions of Georgia. The founding of many monasteries and the revival of monastic life in Georgia today are linked to the names of the Thirteen Syrian Fathers.
Saint Ioane sent one of his disciples, Shio, the son of a God-fearing Antiochian nobleman, to take up his abode in the nearby Sarkineti Mountains. By the grace of God, a dove brought food to Saint Shio in the deserted highlands where he labored.
A certain ruler, Evagre of Tsikhedidi, would often go hunting in the area where Saint Shio lived. On one of his excursions he happened upon venerable Shio and was so awed by his wondrous way of life that he decided to remain there with him. Saint Evagre gave up all his possessions and was found worthy to be appointed abbot at the time of Saint Shio’s death.
Saint Ioane remained on Zedazeni Mountain with only one disciple, the holy deacon Ilia. Fr. Ilia was a great consolation to Saint Ioane in his infirmities. Saint Ilia was also a great ascetic in his own right, laboring in prayer, fasting, and mortification of the flesh.
The mountain on which they lived was completely lacking water. Saint Ilia labored in the sweat of his brow carrying water from the Aragvi River, which flows around the foot of Zedazeni Mountain. Seeing the great ascetic labors of his disciple, Saint Ioane besought God with tears that He would supply them with a spring of water on top of this high mountain. God heard the prayer of His servant and a spring of delicious water began to flow.
Saint Ilia the Deacon often accompanied Saint Ioane on his travels. Fr. Ioane once took him to the monastery of Saint Shio, and Ilia the Deacon, as requested, presented Saint Ioane with a cup of wine in the refectory. The blessed Ioane made the sign of the Cross over the cup, raised it aloft, prayed to God, and left the cup suspended in the air. It remained where he had placed it, as if supported by an invisible hand.
One day Saint Ilia went to the spring to draw water. Glancing up he saw opposite him a bear of enormous size approaching the spring. Ilia was terrified and, leaving his bucket, turned and fled to the great schemamonk Ioane to tell him about the bear. Saint Ioane followed his disciple to the well and saw the bear drinking water. Saint Ioane meekly said, “Drink if you are thirsty and go away from here. But I tell you that henceforth, you and your kind shall never dare to cause any harm to anyone on this mountain.” Hearing the words of the saint and inclining its head like an obedient servant, the bear immediately left the spring. And to this day the animals continue to obey Saint Ioane’s command.
The holy deacon Ilia remained with Saint Ioane the rest of his life. The Georgian Apostolic Church beseeches the protection of the venerable Evagre, Ilia the Deacon, and all the blessed and pious elders who dwelt with the Thirteen Syrian Fathers and continued laboring in holiness to the end of their lives.