GREGORY THE THEOLOGIAN, ARCHBISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE
Gregory the Theologian, Archbishop of Constantinople, Kastinos, Archbishop of Constantinople
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE HEBREWS 7:26-28; 8:1-2
Brethren, it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself. Indeed, the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect for ever. Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent which is set up not by man but by the Lord.
The Lord said, "I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.
Saint Gregory the Theologian, Archbishop of Constantinople
Saint Gregory the Theologian, Archbishop of Constantinople, a great Father and teacher of the Church, was born into a Christian family of eminent lineage in the year 329, at Arianzos (not far from the city of Cappadocian Nazianzos). His father, also named Gregory (January 1), was Bishop of Nazianzus. The son is the Saint Gregory Nazianzus encountered in Patristic theology. His pious mother, Saint Nonna (August 5), prayed to God for a son, vowing to dedicate him to the Lord. Her prayer was answered, and she named her child Gregory.
When the child learned to read, his mother presented him with the Holy Scripture. Saint Gregory received a complete and extensive education: after working at home with his uncle Saint Amphilochius (November 23), an experienced teacher of rhetoric, he then studied in the schools of Nazianzos, Caesarea in Cappadocia, and Alexandria. Then the saint decided to go to Athens to complete his education.
On the way from Alexandria to Greece, a terrible storm raged for many days. Saint Gregory, who was just a catechumen at that time, feared that he would perish in the sea before being cleansed in the waters of Baptism. Saint Gregory lay in the ship’s stern for twenty days, beseeching the merciful God for salvation. He vowed to dedicate himself to God, and was saved when he invoked the name of the Lord.
Saint Gregory spent six years in Athens studying rhetoric, poetry, geometry, and astronomy. His teachers were the renowned pagan rhetoricians Gymorias and Proeresias. Saint Basil, the future Archbishop of Caesarea (January 1) also studied in Athens with Saint Gregory. They were such close friends that they seemed to be one soul in two bodies. Julian, the future emperor (361-363) and apostate from the Christian Faith, was studying philosophy in Athens at the same time.
Upon completing his education, Saint Gregory remained for a certain while at Athens as a teacher of rhetoric. He was also familiar with pagan philosophy and literature.
In 358 Saint Gregory quietly left Athens and returned to his parents at Nazianzus. At thirty-three years of age, he received Baptism from his father, who had been appointed Bishop of Nazianzus. Against his will, Saint Gregory was ordained to the holy priesthood by his father. However, when the elder Gregory wished to make him a bishop, he fled to join his friend Basil in Pontus. Saint Basil had organized a monastery in Pontus and had written to Gregory inviting him to come.
Saint Gregory remained with Saint Basil for several years. When his brother Saint Caesarius (March 9) died, he returned home to help his father administer his diocese. The local church was also in turmoil because of the Arian heresy. Saint Gregory had the difficult task of reconciling the bishop with his flock, who condemned their pastor for signing an ambiguous interpretation of the dogmas of the faith.
Saint Gregory convinced his father of the pernicious nature of Arianism, and strengthened him in Orthodoxy. At this time, Bishop Anthimus, who pretended to be Orthodox but was really a heretic, became Metropolitan of Tyana. Saint Basil had been consecrated as the Archbishop of Caesarea, Cappadocia. Anthimus wished to separate from Saint Basil and to divide the province of Cappadocia.
Saint Basil the Great made Saint Gregory bishop of the city of Sasima, a small town between Caesarea and Tyana. However, Saint Gregory remained at Nazianzos in order to assist his dying father, and he guided the flock of this city for a while after the death of his father in 374.
Upon the death of Patriarch Valentus of Constantinople in the year 378, a council of bishops invited Saint Gregory to help the Church of Constantinople, which at this time was ravaged by heretics. Obtaining the consent of Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory came to Constantinople to combat heresy. In the year 379 he began to serve and preach in a small church called “Anastasis” (“Resurrection”). Like David fighting the Philistines with a sling, Saint Gregory battled against impossible odds to defeat false doctrine.
Heretics were in the majority in the capital: Arians, Macedonians, and Appolinarians. The more he preached, the more did the number of heretics decrease, and the number of the Orthodox increased. On the night of Pascha (April 21, 379) when Saint Gregory was baptizing catechumens, a mob of armed heretics burst into the church and cast stones at the Orthodox, killing one bishop and wounding Saint Gregory. But the fortitude and mildness of the saint were his armor, and his words converted many to the Orthodox Church.
Saint Gregory’s literary works (orations, letters, poems) show him as a worthy preacher of the truth of Christ. He had a literary gift, and the saint sought to offer his talent to God the Word: “I offer this gift to my God, I dedicate this gift to Him. Only this remains to me as my treasure. I gave up everything else at the command of the Spirit. I gave all that I had to obtain the pearl of great price. Only in words do I master it, as a servant of the Word. I would never intentionally wish to disdain this wealth. I esteem it, I set value by it, I am comforted by it more than others are comforted by all the treasures of the world. It is the companion of all my life, a good counselor and converser; a guide on the way to Heaven and a fervent co-ascetic.” In order to preach the Word of God properly, the saint carefully prepared and revised his works.
In five sermons, or “Theological Orations,” Saint Gregory first of all defines the characteristics of a theologian, and who may theologize. Only those who are experienced can properly reason about God, those who are successful at contemplation and, most importantly, who are pure in soul and body, and utterly selfless. To reason about God properly is possible only for one who enters into it with fervor and reverence.
Explaining that God has concealed His Essence from mankind, Saint Gregory demonstrates that it is impossible for those in the flesh to view mental objects without a mixture of the corporeal. Talking about God in a positive sense is possible only when we become free from the external impressions of things and from their effects, when our guide, the mind, does not adhere to impure transitory images. Answering the Eunomians, who would presume to grasp God’s Essence through logical speculation, the saint declared that man perceives God when the mind and reason become godlike and divine, i.e. when the image ascends to its Archetype. (Or. 28:17). Furthermore, the example of the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets and also the Apostles has demonstrated, that the Essence of God is incomprehensible for mortal man. Saint Gregory cited the futile sophistry of Eunomios: “God begat the Son either through His will, or contrary to will. If He begat contrary to will, then He underwent constraint. If by His will, then the Son is the Son of His intent.”
Confuting such reasoning, Saint Gregory points out the harm it does to man: “You yourself, who speak so thoughtlessly, were you begotten voluntarily or involuntarily by your father? If involuntarily, then your father was under the sway of some tyrant. Who? You can hardly say it was nature, for nature is tolerant of chastity. If it was voluntarily, then by a few syllables you deprive yourself of your father, for thus you are shown to be the son of Will, and not of your father” (Or. 29:6).
Saint Gregory then turns to Holy Scripture, with particular attention examining a place where it points out the Divine Nature of the Son of God. Saint Gregory’s interpretations of Holy Scripture are devoted to revealing that the divine power of the Savior was actualized even when He assumed an impaired human nature for the salvation of mankind.
The first of Saint Gregory’s Five Theological Orations is devoted to arguments against the Eunomians for their blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Closely examining everything that is said in the Gospel about the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, the saint refutes the heresy of Eunomios, which rejected the divinity of the Holy Spirit. He comes to two fundamental conclusions. First, in reading Holy Scripture, it is necessary to reject blind literalism and to try and understand its spiritual sense. Second, in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit operated in a hidden way. “Now the Spirit Himself dwells among us and makes the manifestation of Himself more certain. It was not safe, as long as they did not acknowledge the divinity of the Father, to proclaim openly that of the Son; and as long as the divinity of the Son was not accepted, they could not, to express it somewhat boldly, impose on us the burden of the Holy Spirit” (Or. 31:26).
The divinity of the Holy Spirit is a sublime subject. “Look at these facts: Christ is born, the Holy Spirit is His Forerunner. Christ is baptized, the Spirit bears witness to this… Christ works miracles, the Spirit accompanies them. Christ ascends, the Spirit takes His place. What great things are there in the idea of God which are not in His power? What titles appertaining to God do not apply also to Him, except for Unbegotten and Begotten? I tremble when I think of such an abundance of titles, and how many Names they blaspheme, those who revolt against the Spirit!” (Or. 31:29).
The Orations of Saint Gregory are not limited only to this topic. He also wrote Panegyrics on Saints, Festal Orations, two invectives against Julian the Apostate, “two pillars, on which the impiety of Julian is indelibly written for posterity,” and various orations on other topics. In all, forty-five of Saint Gregory’s orations have been preserved.
The letters of the saint compare favorably with his best theological works. All of them are clear, yet concise. In his poems as in all things, Saint Gregory focused on Christ. “If the lengthy tracts of the heretics are new Psalters at variance with David, and the pretty verses they honor are like a third testament, then we also shall sing Psalms, and begin to write much and compose poetic meters,” said the saint. Of his poetic gift the saint wrote: “I am an organ of the Lord, and sweetly… do I glorify the King, all atremble before Him.”
The fame of the Orthodox preacher spread through East and West. But the saint lived in the capital as though he still lived in the wilderness: “his food was food of the wilderness; his clothing was whatever necessary. He made visitations without pretense, and though in proximity of the court, he sought nothing from the court.”
The saint received a shock when he was ill. One whom he considered as his friend, the philosopher Maximus, was consecrated at Constantinople in Saint Gregory’s place. Struck by the ingratitude of Maximus, the saint decided to resign the cathedra, but his faithful flock restrained him from it. The people threw the usurper out of the city. On November 24, 380 the holy emperor Theodosius arrived in the capital and, in enforcing his decree against the heretics, the main church was returned to the Orthodox, with Saint Gregory making a solemn entrance. An attempt on the life of Saint Gregory was planned, but instead the assassin appeared before the saint with tears of repentance.
At the Second Ecumenical Council in 381, Saint Gregory was chosen as Patriarch of Constantinople. After the death of Patriarch Meletius of Antioch, Saint Gregory presided at the Council. Hoping to reconcile the West with the East, he offered to recognize Paulinus as Patriarch of Antioch.
Those who had acted against Saint Gregory on behalf of Maximus, particularly Egyptian and Macedonian bishops, arrived late for the Council. They did not want to acknowledge the saint as Patriarch of Constantinople, since he was elected in their absence.
Saint Gregory decided to resign his office for the sake of peace in the Church: “Let me be as the Prophet Jonah! I was responsible for the storm, but I would sacrifice myself for the salvation of the ship. Seize me and throw me… I was not happy when I ascended the throne, and gladly would I descend it.”
After telling the emperor of his desire to quit the capital, Saint Gregory appeared again at the Council to deliver a farewell address (Or. 42) asking to be allowed to depart in peace.
Upon his return to his native region, Saint Gregory turned his attention to the incursion of Appolinarian heretics into the flock of Nazianzus, and he established the pious Eulalius there as bishop, while he himself withdrew into the solitude of Arianzos so dear to his heart. The saint, zealous for the truth of Christ, continued to affirm Orthodoxy through his letters and poems, while remaining in the wilderness. He died on January 25, 389, and is honored with the title “Theologian,” also given to the holy Apostle and Evangelist John.
In his works Saint Gregory, like that other Theologian Saint John, directs everything toward the Pre-eternal Word. Saint John of Damascus (December 4), in the first part of his book AN EXACT EXPOSITION OF THE ORTHODOX FAITH, followed the lead of Saint Gregory the Theologian.
Saint Gregory was buried at Nazianzos. In the year 950, his holy relics were transferred to Constantinople into the church of the Holy Apostles. Later on, a portion of his relics was transferred to Rome.
In appearance, the saint was of medium height and somewhat pale. He had thick eyebrows, and a short beard. His contemporaries already called the archpastor a saint. The Orthodox Church, honors Saint Gregory as a second Theologian and insightful writer on the Holy Trinity.
“O glorious Father Gregory, Your knowledge has overcome the pride of false wisdom. The church is clothed with your teaching as a robe of righteousness. We your children celebrate your memory crying out: Rejoice, O father of unsurpassable wisdom!” [Kontakion].
Saint Moses, Archbishop of Novgorod
Saint Moses, Archbishop of Novgorod (1325-1330, 1352-1359), in the world Metrophanes, was born at Novgorod. In his youth he secretly left his home and entered Tver’s Otroch monastery, where he became a monk. His parents found him, and at their insistence he transferred to a monastery near Novgorod. At this monastery he was ordained as a hieromonk, and later he was appointed archimandrite of the Yuriev monastery.
After the death of Archbishop David of Novgorod, Saint Peter (December 21) consecrated Moses as Archbishop of Novgorod in 1325. This was the first episcopal consecration to be performed in Moscow. Saint Moses did not guide his Novgorod flock for long, however. The quarrels and contentious factions, the conflagrations and other misfortunes weighed heavily on his soul, which sought monastic solitude. After four years, he petitioned to be allowed to retire and live in asceticism. He was succeeded by Saint Basil.
In 1330 the saint withdrew to the Kolmov monastery for tranquillity. He did not remain here very long, either. He found a desolate spot at Derevyanitsa, where he built the stone church of the Resurrection of Christ. At this place the monk spent more than twenty years at monastic deeds. After Basil’s death, Saint Moses yielded to the requests of the Novgorod people to be their archpastor once again. The ancient chronicler describes Saint Moses in this way: “He shepherded his flock as a good pastor; he defended the downtrodden, and protected destitute widows; he employed a company of copyists, and because of him many books were written, and he confirmed many in piety by his guidance.”
In the year 1354 Patriarch Philotheus of Constantinople (1354-1355, 1364-1376), as a token of his deep respect for Saint Moses gave him permission to wear polystavrion vestments (“many crosses”), and even sent him a set. He also permitted Saint Moses to deal directly with the Patriarch of Constantinople without intermediaries.
Archbishop Moses continued as hierarch for seven years, a period marked by the building of many churches in Novgorod and its environs. In 1352 the saint built a stone church in honor of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos at Volotova; in 1355 a monastery was built in a place named Skovorodka, with a stone church in honor of the holy Archangel Michael. In 1357, churches were also built at three monasteries: at Radogovitsa near the Volotov Dormition church, at the Holy Spirit monastery, and at a women’s monastery. The churches were named for Saint John the Theologian (the first and third of these monasteries were founded by Saint Moses).
In 1359, feeling weak and sick, the saint withdrew into the Monastery of the Archangel Michael in Skovorodsk which he had founded. Saint Moses labored here in asceticism until his death on January 25, 1362. He was buried at the cathedral church.
The Feast of Saint Moses on April 19 commemorates the uncovering of his incorrupt relics in 1686.
Martyr Felicitas of Rome, and her seven sons
The Holy Martyr Felicitas with her Seven Sons, Januarius, Felix, Philip, Silvanus, Alexander, Vitalius and Marcial. Saint Felicitas was born of a rich Roman family. She boldly confessed before the emperor and civil authorities that she was a Christian. The pagan priests said that she was insulting the gods by spreading Christianity. Saint Felicitas and her sons were turned over to the Prefect Publius for torture.
Saint Felicitas witnessed the suffering of her sons, and prayed to God that they would stand firm and enter the heavenly Kingdom before her. All the sons died as martyrs before the eyes of their mother, who was being tortured herself.
Saint Felicitas soon followed her sons in martyrdom for Christ. They suffered at Rome about the year 164. Saint Gregory Dialogus mentions her in his Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Matthew (Mt.12:47).
Saint Publius the Ascetic of Syria
Saint Publius of Syria was born in the city of Zeugma on the Euphrates and was a senator. Renouncing the world, he gave away his possessions, became a monk, and lived an ascetical life in a cave on a mountain in the Syrian wilderness.
Saint Publius founded two monasteries: one for Greeks, and another for Syrians. He died in the year 380. Of his disciples, Saints Theoteknos, Theodotus, Gregory, and Aphthonius were particularly known for the sanctity of their life.
Saint Publius guided the monastery for over forty years and was eventually made an archimandrite. Though elevated in rank, he changed neither his garb nor his manner of life, but remained a strict ascetic.
Saint Mares the Singer in Syria
Saint Mares the Singer lived in a hut in fasting and prayer for thirty-seven years in the village of Homeron, not far from the city of Cyrrhus in Syria. He ate rough food, and wore clothes made from the hide of wild goats. He was handsome, and had a pleasant singing voice. Saint Mares reposed in the year 430.
Translation to Moscow of the Icon of the Mother of God “Assuage my Sorrow”
The “Assuage my Sorrows” Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos was glorified at Moscow by many miracles in the second half of the eighteenth century, particularly during a plague in 1771. The icon had been brought to Moscow by Cossacks in 1640 in the reign of Tsar Michael (1613-1645), and placed in the church of Saint Nicholas in the Pupishevo district of Moscow.
Once, perhaps after a fire and the rebuilding of the temple, the icon was carelessly put in a bell tower. However, the abundant mercies manifested by the Mother of God would one day bring about a renewed veneration of this holy icon.
The Feast of the wonderworking icon on January 25 was established in 1760 to commemorate the healing of a sick woman who had seen the icon in a vision. A voice instructed her to go to the church of Saint Nicholas in the Pupishevo district of Moscow where she would find this icon. “Pray before it, and you will receive healing.”
She obeyed and went to Moscow, where she found an icon, darkened by age and dust, in the church’s bell tower. When the sick woman saw the face and inscription she cried out, “It is She!” The woman, who previously had been unable to move her arms and legs, walked out of church on her own after a Molieben was served before the icon on January 25.
In 1760 an honored place was set aside for the Icon in the church, and later a chapel was built for it. The Church Services and the Akathist for the Icon date from this period. Copies of the “Assuage my Sorrows” Icon are to be found in some churches of Moscow and other cities. The church of Saint Nicholas at Pupishevo was destroyed in the 1930s, but by the grace of God the Icon has survived. It is now in the church of Saint Nicholas near Kuznetskaya Sloboda.
The “Assuage my Sorrows” Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos is also commemorated on September 25 and October 9.
Icon of the Mother of God “The Unexpected Joy”
The “Unexpected Joy” Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, is painted in this way: in a room is an icon of the Mother of God, and beneath it a youth is kneeling at prayer. The tradition about the healing of some youth from a bodily affliction through this holy icon is recorded in the book of Saint Demetrius of Rostov, The Fleece of Prayer [See Judges 6: 36-40].
The sinful youth, who was nevertheless devoted to the Theotokos, was praying one day before the icon of the All-Pure Virgin before going out to commit a sin. Suddenly, he saw that wounds appeared on the Lord’s hands, feet, and side, and blood flowed from them. In horror he exclaimed, “O Lady, who has done this?” The Mother of God replied, “You and other sinners, because of your sins, crucify My Son anew.” Only then did he realize how great was the depth of his sinfulness. For a long time he prayed with tears to the All-Pure Mother of God and the Savior for mercy. Finally, he received the unexpected joy of the forgiveness of his sins.
The “Unexpected Joy” icon is also commemorated on January 25 and May 1.
Saint Vladimir, Metropolitan of Kiev and Gallich
The holy Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev was the first bishop to be tortured and slain by the Communists at the time of the Russian Revolution.
Basil Nikephorovich Bogoyavlensky was born in the province of Tambov of pious parents on January 1, 1848. His father, a priest, was later murdered. The young Basil graduated from the Theological Academy in Kiev in 1874, and taught in the Tambov seminary for seven years before he was ordained to the holy priesthood.
His wife died in 1886, and their only child died shortly thereafter. The bereaved widower entered the Kozlov monastery in Tambov and was given the name Vladimir. In 1888 he was consecrated bishop of Staraya Rus, and served as a vicar bishop of the Novgorod diocese. In 1891 he was assigned to the diocese of Samara. In those days people of his diocese suffered from a cholera epidemic and a crop failure. Bishop Vladimir devoted himself to caring for the sick and suffering, inspiring others to follow his example.
In 1892 he became Archbishop of Kartalin and Kahetin, then in 1898 he was chosen as Metropolitan of Moscow and Kolomna. He served fifteen years in this position.
Metropolitan Vladimir was distinguished by his compassion for the poor, and for widows and orphans. He also tried to help alcoholics and those who had abandoned the Church. The Metropolitan was also interested in the education of children in school, especially those who were studying in the theological schools.
In 1912, after the death of Metropolitan Anthony, he was appointed Metropolitan of Petrograd, administering that diocese until 1915. Because he disapproved of Rasputin, Metropolitan Vladimir fell out of favor with the Tsar, and so he was transferred to Kiev. On November 5, 1917 it was he who announced that Saint Tikhon (April 7) had been elected as Patriarch of Moscow.
The “Ukrainian Congress” was also calling for an autonomous Ukraine and for the creation of a Ukrainian Church independent from the Church of Russia. Metropolitan Vladimir suffered and grieved because of this question, warning that such a division in the Church would allow its enemies to be victorious. However, at the end of 1917, a Ukrainian Dominion was formed, and also a separate Ukrainian church administration (“rada”) led by the retired Archbishop Alexis Dorodnitzin. This uncanonical group forbade the commemoration of Patriarch Tikhon during church services, and demanded that Metropolitan Vladimir leave Kiev.
In January 1918 the civil war came to Kiev, and the two forces vied for control of the city. Many churches and monasteries were damaged by the cannon fire. The Bolsheviks seized the Kiev Caves Lavra on January 23, and soldiers broke into the churches. Monks were taken out into the courtyard to be stripped and beaten. At six thirty on the night of January 25, five armed soldiers and a sailor came looking for Metropolitan Vladimir. The seventy-year-old hierarch was tortured and choked in his bedroom with the chain of his cross. The ruffians tortured the Metropolitan and demanded money.
When they emerged, the Metropolitan’s cell attendant approached and asked for a blessing.The sailor pushed him aside and told him, “Enough bowing to these blood-drinkers. No more of it.” After blessing and kissing him, the Metropolitan said, “Good-bye, Philip.” Then he walked calmly with his executioners, just as if he were on his way to serve the Liturgy.
Metropolitan Vladimir was driven from the monastery to the place of execution. As they got out of the car, the holy martyr asked, “Do you intend to shoot me here?”
“Why not?” they replied.
After praying for a short time and asking forgiveness for his sins, Metropolitan Vladimir blessed the executioners, saying, “May God forgive you.” Then several rifle shots were heard.
In the morning, some women came to the gates of the Lavra and told the monks where the Metropolitan’s body could be found. He was lying on his back, with bullet wounds near his right eye and by his right collarbone. There were also several cuts and gashes on the body, including a very deep chest wound. The hieromartyr was carried into the Lavra church of Saint Michael, where he had spent his last days at prayer.
In Moscow, the All-Russian Church Council was in session when word came of Metropolitan Vladimir’s death. Patriarch Tikhon and his clergy performed a Memorial Service for the New Martyr Vladimir. A commission was formed to investigate the circumstances of Metropolitan Vladimir’s murder, but it was unable to carry out its duties because of the Revolution.The Council decided that January 25, the day of his death, would be set aside for the annual commemoration of all of Russia’s martyrs and confessors killed by the Soviets.
The holy New Martyr Vladimir of Kiev was glorified by the Orthodox Church of Russia in 1992. On the Sunday closest to January 25 (the day of Metropolitan Vladimir’s martyrdom) we also observe the Synaxis of Russia’s New Martyrs and Confessors.
New Martyr Auxentius of Constantinople
The holy New Martyr Auxentius was born in 1690 in the diocese of Vellas, part of the Metropolitan district of Ioannina in Greece. When he was a young man, he moved to Constantinople with his parents and became a furrier.
Later, he left his trade and went to work on the ships, leading a sinful life in pursuit of worldly pleasures. His Moslem coworkers turned against him and accused him of denying Christ to embrace Islam. Fearing that they would denounce him to the captain of the ship, Auxentius jumped ship and returned to Constantinople.
Auxentius bought a small boat and earned his living with it. He began to regret his previous conduct, and the desire for martyrdom grew within him. One day, a monk got into his boat in order to cross the water. This was Father Gregory, a monk of Xeropotamou Monastery on Mt. Athos.
He revealed to Father Gregory his desire to be a martyr for Christ. The wise monk praised his desire, but urged caution lest he should weaken under torture and deny Christ. He recommended that Auxentius move to a quiet place and become a monk. Heeding Father Gregory’s advice, Auxentius continued to work with his boat for a time, giving most of his money to the poor, and living as an ascetic.
Auxentius often prayed at the church of the Life-Giving Fountain, asking God to give him strength to become a martyr. Then he returned to his old ship, where his former shipmates began to beat him. They dragged him before the kadi, stating that he had converted to Islam, but then returned to Christianity.
Auxentius said, “I was, and am, an Orthodox Christian. I am prepared to suffer thousands of tortures for the sake of Christ.”
The furious Hagarenes began to beat Auxentius with an iron bar. He lost an eye and several teeth as a result. He remained steadfast in confessing Christ, in spite of all the tortures that were inflicted upon him, and absolutely refused to become a Moslem.
Father Gregory went to see Auxentius in prison, and was asked to bring him Holy Communion on his next visit. The monk did this, also urging him to remain strong in the Orthodox Faith.
The holy martyr was brought before the vizier, who urged him to respect Islam as good and true, instead of treating it with contempt. Saint Auxentius answered that he would never abandon his faith. In fact, he even urged the vizier to become a Christian. This enraged the vizier, and he sentenced Auxentius to death.
After praying for all Orthodox Christians, and for the whole world, Saint Auxentius was beheaded on January 25, 1720 at 9:00 A.M. Two days later, a heavenly light was seen by Christians and Moslems, shining on the body of the martyr.
The sultan’s tailor, an Orthodox Christian named Michael, went to the sultan and asked for the body. Patriarch Jeremiah III accompanied the body to the Church of the Life-Giving Fountain for the funeral and burial.
Two years later, when the saint’s relics were exhumed, a sweet fragrance came forth from them.
Venerable Anatole I of Optina
Saint Anatole (Zertsalov) was born with the name Alexis in the village of Bobolya on March 24, 1824. His father, Moses Kopev, was a deacon, and his mother’s name was Anna. The parents were exceptionally devout Christians who hoped that their children would enter the monastic life.
Their only son Alexis was taught to read from the age of five. He studied at the Saint Boris Theological Seminary, then later he entered the seminary at Kaluga. When he was fourteen, Alexis was stricken with a fever which kept him out of school for a year.
From a very early age, Alexis wanted to become a monk. He even thought about going to the Roslavl forests to live with the hermits at that place. His plans were not fulfilled, however, because a thunderstorm prevented him from continuing on his way. He decided to turn back, regarding the storm as a sign that God did not wish him to proceed on his journey.
The young man returned to seminary, where he was renamed Anatole M. Zertsalov. Sometimes students at Russian seminaries were given new names, as was the case with Saint Innocent Veniaminov (March 31).
After being healed of tuberculosis, he arrived at Optina Monastery with his mother. Saint Macarius (September 7) praised her for setting her son on such a good path. The Elder took Anatole under his wing, instructing him in the Jesus Prayer, and in the principles of the spiritual life. When Father Macarius was too busy, he blessed Anatole to seek advice from Father Ambrose or Father Anthony.
Anatole fulfilled various obediences in the monastery, beginning in the kitchen. He did not get much sleep, and then only on the wood pile. He was frequently transferred from cell to cell, and he experienced many sorrows and trials. These difficulties taught him the virtues of humility and patience.
Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov (April 30) once visited Optina hoping to meet and converse with monks experienced in the spiritual life, and was referred to Father Anatole, who was then a deacon. The bishop was impressed with Father Anatole, and related the details of their conversation to Father Macarius. The Elder began to beat him with his staff, and ordered him out of the room. When someone asked why he had been so harsh, Father Macarius said, “Why shouldn’t I scold him? It’s easy to become proud.”
After Father Macarius reposed in 1860, Father Anatole became very close to Father Ambrose. When Father Ambrose noticed that Father Anatole was mature enough to guide others, he began to train him for this service, just as Father Macarius had trained him.
Father Anatole was ordained to the priesthood in 1870. On August 3, 1871 he was assigned as Superior of the Spassky-Orlov Monastery, and raised to the rank of archimandrite. Father Anatole did not wish to leave Optina, and Father Ambrose made a formal request to have him assigned as his assistant, and so the appointment was made. Father Anatole was made Superior of the Skete in 1874, at the urging of Father Ambrose. Father Anatole accepted these duties out of obedience to his Elder, and fulfilled them to the best of his ability. Even in his new position, Father Anatole continued to respect and obey Father Ambrose.
Father Ambrose’s cell was to the right of the doors to the Skete, while that of Father Anatole was to the left. Visitors to one often went to see the other, as well. In addition to receiving visitors, Father Anatole maintained a correspondence with many people who relied on his advice.
Father Ambrose, because of his illness, relied greatly on Father Anatole in ordering life at the Shamordino Convent. He told the nuns that he rarely visited them because of his confidence in Father Anatole. Father Ambrose called him a great practicioner of the Jesus Prayer, who had received grace and the gift of unceasing prayer. Only one in a thousand received such grace, he informed the nuns.
Near the end of his life, Father Anatole had atained the same spiritual wisdom, discernment, and clairvoyance possessed by Father Macarius and Father Ambrose. He saw the secrets of the human soul, and was able to foretell future events.
After Father Ambrose’s repose in 1891, the bishop (who did not approve of Father Ambrose) forbade Father Anatole to visit Shamordino. This caused him deep sorrow, which affected his health. He traveled to Saint Petersburg in 1892 and met with Saint John of Kronstadt (December 20). On October 10, the anniversary of Father Ambrose’s death, they served together. Doctors in the capital examined him and found that his heart and lungs were not good.
Father Anatole’s health grew worse during 1893, and on October 10, he was secretly tonsured into the Great Schema.
Saint Anatole fell asleep in the Lord on January 25, 1894, and was buried near his beloved instructors Saint Ambrose and Saint Macarius.
The Moscow Patriarchate authorized local veneration of the Optina Elders on June 13,1996. The work of uncovering the relics of Saints Leonid, Macarius, Hilarion, Ambrose, Anatole I, Barsanuphius and Anatole II began on June 24/July 7, 1998 and was concluded the next day. However, because of the church Feasts (Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, etc.) associated with the actual dates of the uncovering of the relics, Patriarch Alexey II designated June 27/July 10 as the date for commemorating this event. The relics of the holy Elders now rest in the new church of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God.
The Optina Elders were glorified by the Moscow Patriarchate for universal veneration on August 7, 2000.
Saint Dositheus of Tbilisi
No information available at this time.
Saint Gabriel, Bishop of Imereti
Bishop Gabriel (Kikodze) was born November 15, 1825, in the village of Bachvi, in the western Georgian district of Ozurgeti in Guria. His father was the priest Maxime Kikodze.
From 1840 to 1845, Gabriel (Gerasime in the world) studied in Tbilisi and at the theological seminaries in Pskov and Saint Petersburg. In 1849, he graduated from the Saint Petersburg Theological Academy with a master’s degree, and in the same year he was married and returned to Georgia. Upon his return he was appointed dean of Tbilisi Seminary. In 1854 Saint Gabriel was ordained a deacon, and later a priest.
In 1856 a terrible grief befell Saint Gabriel: his wife and five children died during an epidemic that swept through the capital. After this tragedy Saint Gabriel received a blessing from the exarch Isidore to be tonsured a monk at Davit-Gareji Monastery, and in 1858 he was enthroned as abbot of this monastery. In the same year he was consecrated bishop of Gori, and then on July 2, 1860, he was transferred to the Imereti region. He shepherded the flock of this diocese to the end of his life. In 1869 the Abkhazeti diocese was also brought under his leadership. Saint Gabriel strove tirelessly to strengthen the faith of his flock, and to this end he traveled constantly throughout the villages, preaching and helping those in need. In the end it was his own character and example that proved to have the most powerful influence on his spiritual children.
There existed no differentiation among petitioners in the eyes of Bishop Gabriel: old or young, prince or pauper, relative, acquaintance or stranger—all were equal to him and equally deserving of his help, support, and protection. He would not tolerate lawlessness or immorality.
The simplicity of his character was evident even in his clothing, his dwelling, and the food he ate. It was not unusual for visitors, seeing the elder clad in a shabby monk’s robe, to take him for a servant. Bishop Gabriel was a merciful almsgiver and generously distributed aid to the widows and orphans in his community.
He sympathized deeply with the struggles of simple people and sought to establish a system of universal primary education. He offered his help to many young people by providing them with shelter and by often funding their studies. He would host dinners for the youth, leading long discussions to instill in them virtuous thoughts and to cultivate a love of humility in their young souls. Bishop Gabriel lived by the axiom: “Nothing is my own; all belongs to God.”
We know from Bishop Gabriel’s diaries the number of beggars he buried, the naked he clothed, the people for whom he paved the way to survival, the students for whom he created an opportunity for study, and the sick for whom he purchased medicine. Often in the winter Saint Gabriel would anonymously send firewood and money to families that were suffering from hunger and cold.
Despite all of this, Bishop Gabriel would receive letters accusing him of unrighteousness, injustice, immorality, ambition, and the selling of Church property without permission.
Bishop Gabriel’s strong nationalist sentiments (especially those pertaining to the Georgian language) often caused conflicts with the Russian exarch Evsevi. For this reason Bishop Gabriel became entangled in the politics of Georgian-Russian relations and he was held in high suspicion by officials of the Russian rule in Georgia. Bishop Gabriel began to be regarded as “untrustworthy” by his own government, and the officials assigned spies to watch over his every action.
In 1885 Bishop Gabriel’s secretary, the publicist Evstati Mchedlidze (Bosleveli), was killed. The bishop himself began to receive threatening letters, and he decided to leave Georgia. “My spiritual weakness was such that I became frightened,” he wrote in his memoirs. “It was not only for myself that I was afraid, seeing how I had already grown old and had little time remaining in the world. Rather, if they had killed me, a great disgrace would have fallen on the nation that had devoted itself so faithfully to its shepherd.”
But Bishop Gabriel never left Georgia. In his last years he began to suffer severe inner torment, and he often saw terrible visions—the enemy of mankind launched a final campaign to spiritually defeat the already physically weakened elder. Bishop Gabriel ceaselessly repeated the prayer “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Breathing his last, he prayed, “Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom!”
Bishop Gabriel reposed in Kutaisi on January 25, 1896. The winter was unusually harsh in western Georgia that year. The roads were covered with snow, and it was impossible to translate his holy relics from Kutaisi to nearby Gelati. The people waited for more agreeable weather, and until it arrived Bishop Gabriel’s relics remained at the City Cathedral in Kutaisi (this cathedral was destroyed during the Communist period).
For forty-six days all of Georgia mourned Bishop Gabriel’s passing, and during that time his body showed no signs of decay. In accordance with his will, the hierarch’s personal possessions were distributed to widows, orphans, and the poor. His parting address, in which he remitted the sins of all his flock and asked for the forgiveness of his own sins, was published as a final, enduring testament to his great faith.
Saint Vetranion of Tomis
Saint Vetranion (or Bretanion) lived during the IV century, and was the Bishop of Tomis, (now Constanța, Romania) in the Province of Scythia Minor.1 Little is known about his life except that he came from Cappadocia, and was elected to the See of Tomis about the year 360.2 He confessed the Orthodox Faith, and suffered a great deal from the heretical Emperor Valens (364 – 378), an adherent of the Arian heresy, and who persecuted the Church. During his reign, many Orthodox Christians were put to death.
Saint Vetranion, who possessed every virtue, was Bishop of all the cities of Scythia. According to Sozomen (a Church historian of the V century), when the Emperor Valens was campaigning against the Goths of Scythia, he stopped at Tomis and ordered its citizens to become Arians and to reject the Nicene Creed. Filled with divine zeal, the courageous hierarch rebuked Valens for distorting the Faith, and for his unjust persecution of the saints.Then the Saint repeated the following words of the Prophet-King David: “I spoke of thy testimonies before kings, and was not ashamed” (Psalm 118/119:46).3
As a result, Saint Vetranion was sent into exile. Later, Valens was forced by the public outcry against the Bishop's banishment to let him return to his flock.
In 373 or 374, Saint Basil the Great requested Junius Soranus, the ruler of Scythia Minor, to send him some relics of the Saints from that region. Junius sent the relics of Saint Savva the Goth (April 15) to Saint Basil along with a letter: the Epistle of the Church of God in Gothia to the Church of God in Cappadocia, and to all the local churches of the holy catholic Church. The sending of the relics and the writing of the letter have been attributed to Bishop Vetranion. The letter, written in Greek, is the oldest known document written on what is now Romanian soil.
Perhaps Bishop Vetranion did represent Tomis at the Third Ecumenical Council in 381; but it could be that his name was confused with that of Bishop Gerontius (or Terentius) of Tomis.
1 (Greek) ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ: Ὁ Ἅγιος Βρετάννιος ὁ Ὁμολογητής. 25 Ιανουαρίου.
2 (Romanian) Vetranion – Dictionarul Teologilor Romani
3 Theodoret of Cyrrhus, A History Of The Church In Five Books, Chapter 35.