FRIDAY OF THE 15TH WEEK
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS, WINE, OLIVE OIL
Isidore of Pelusium, Nicholas the Confessor, Hieromartyr Abramius, John the Righteous, Bishop of Irinopolis, Theodosios the Righteous, Joseph the New Martyr of Aleppo, Afterfeast of the Presentation of Our Lord and Savior in the Temple
ST. PETER’S FIRST UNIVERSAL LETTER 1:1-25; 2:1-10
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontos, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Without having known him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls.
The prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired about this salvation; they inquired what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of Christ within them when predicting the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things which have now been announced to you by those who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." And if you invoke as Father him who judges each one impartially according to his deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake. Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord abides for ever." That word is the good news which was preached to you.
So put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander. Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation; for you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.
Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: 'Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.' To you therefore who believe, he is precious, but for those who do not believe, 'The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner,' and 'A stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall'; for they stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.
The Lord said this parable, "A man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a pit for the wine press, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him, and sent him away empty handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed; and so with many others, some they beat and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son; finally he sent him to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But those tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' And they took him and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants, and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture: 'The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?" And they tried to arrest him, but feared the multitude, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them; so they left him and went away.
The second day of the Afterfeast of the Meeting of the Lord falls on February 4.
Saint Isidore of Pelusium lived during the fourth-fifth centuries. He was a native of Alexandria, and was raised among pious Christians. He was a relative of Theophilus, Archbishop of Alexandria, and of his successor, Saint Cyril (January 18). While still a youth he quit the world and withdrew to Egypt to Mount Pelusium, which became the site of his monastic efforts.
Saint Isidore’s spiritual wisdom and strict asceticism, combined with his broad learning and innate knowledge of the human soul, enabled him to win the respect and love of his fellow monks in a short time. They chose him as their head and had him ordained a priest (the earliest sources for his life, however, say nothing of him being an igumen).
Following the example of Saint John Chrysostom, whom he had managed to see and hear during a trip to Constantinople, Saint Isidore devoted himself primarily to Christian preaching, that “practical wisdom” which, in his own words, is both “the foundation of the edifice and the edifice itself”, while logic is “its embellishment, and contemplation its crown”.
He was a teacher and a willingly provided counsel for anyone who turned to him for spiritual encouragement, whether it was a simple man, a dignitary, a bishop, the Patriarch of Alexandria, or even the emperor. He left behind about 10,000 letters, of which 2,090 have survived. A large portion of these letters reveal profound theological thought and contain morally edifying interpretations of Holy Scripture. Saint Photius (February 6) calls Isidore a model of priestly and ascetical life, and also a master of style.
Saint Isidore’s love for Saint John Chrysostom resulted in his support of Saint John when he was persecuted by the empress Eudoxia and Archbishop Theophilus. After the death of Saint John, Saint Isidore persuaded Theophilus’ successor Saint Cyril to inscribe the name of Saint John Chrysostom into the Church diptychs as a confessor. Through the initiative of Saint Isidore the Third Ecumenical Council was convened at Ephesus (431), at which the false teaching of Nestorius concerning the person of Jesus Christ was condemned.
Saint Isidore lived into old age and died around the year 436. The Church historian Evagrius (sixth century) writes of Saint Isidore, “his life seemed to everyone the life of an angel upon the earth.” Another historian, Nikēphóros Callistus (ninth century), praises Saint Isidore thus: “He was a vital and inspired pillar of monastic rules and divine vision, and as such he presented a very lofty image of most fervent example and spiritual teaching.”
Holy Great Prince George was a son of Great Prince Vsevolod, nicknamed “Big Nest.” He was born in the year 1189, and he assumed the great princely throne of Vladimir in 1212. He was distinguished for his military valor and his piety. In the year 1237 the Tatar (Mongol) Horde of Batu descended upon the Russian land. Saint George was compelled to leave the capital city in charge of his sons, and went north to meet up with the other princes.
On March 4, 1238 the Battle at the River Sita was fought, in which the Tatars destroyed the small but valiant company of the Great Prince. The saint himself fell in this fight, and Bishop Cyril buried his body at the Rostov cathedral. Two years later, it was transferred to Vladimir’s Dormition cathedral with great solemnity.
The Church glorification of the saint occurred in 1645.
Saint Cyril of New Lake was born into a pious family. The Lord marked him as one of the chosen even before he was born. Cyril’s mother was praying in church during the Divine Liturgy, and the infant in her womb cried out, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth!”
From the time of his childhood the saint was fond of solitude and prayer, and he dreamt of monastic life. At fifteen years of age Cyril secretly left his parental home, intending to enter the Pskov Caves monastery. He did not know the way to the monastery, and took nothing from home for the journey. He went his way, putting all his trust in the Lord and His All-Pure Mother. Twenty versts from the city the youth met a magnificent monastic Elder, who led him to the monastery. As he left, he blessed him with the words, “May God bless you, my child, and grant you the angelic schema, and may you be a chosen vessel of the Divine Spirit.” Having said this, the Elder became invisible. The boy realized that this had been a messenger from God, and he gave thanks to the Lord.
The igumen Saint Cornelius (February 20) saw with his clairvoyant eye the grace manifest in the young man. He provided him with much guidance and tonsured him into the monastic schema with the name Cyril. The fifteen-year-old monk astonished the brethren with his efforts. He emaciated the flesh through fasting and prayer, and zealously fulfilled obediences. Day and night he was ready to study the Word of God. Even then he thought to end his days in solitude in the wilderness.
The boy’s parents mourned him as one dead, but once an Elder of the monastery of Saint Cornelius came to them and told them about their son and his life at the monastery. The joyful news confirmed in Cyril’s mother her love for God. She spoke with her husband about leaving to the monastery her portion of the inheritance, then left the world and became a nun with the name Elena (Helen). She died in peace a short time later.
The saint’s father came to the monastery, and Igumen Cornelius told Cyril to meet with him. The saint was troubled, but not daring to disobey the igumen, he fell down at his father’s feet, imploring forgiveness for secretly leaving home. The father forgave his son, and he himself remained at the monastery. Saint Cornelius tonsured him into monasticism with the name Barsanuphius, and gave him to his son for instruction.
Three years later, he peacefully fell asleep in the Lord. His son continued to toil more fervently for the Lord, disdaining his own will, and in was obedient not only to the igumen, but also to the brethren. He thirsted to go about all the Russian land, venerating its holy shrines and to find for himself a wilderness place for a life of silence.
With the blessing of Saint Cornelius, Saint Cyril left the monastery in which he had grown strong spiritually, and he went to the coastal regions, roaming through the forests and the wild places, eating tree roots and berries. The saint spent about twenty years in this difficult exploit of wanderer, and he went to the outskirts of Moscow, Novgorod and Pskov, but he never entered any house nor did he accept alms. He wandered about during the day, and spent his nights at prayer on church porches, and he attended the church services.
Once while at prayer, Saint Cyril saw a heavenly light indicating the direction where he should found a monastery. He set off on his way at once, and having reached the Tikhvin monastery, he spent three days and three nights there in ceaseless prayer to the Most Holy Theotokos. The Mother of God appeared to him in a dream. Showing Her approval of him, She said, “My servant Cyril, pleaser of the Most Holy Trinity, go to the Eastern region of White Lake, and the Lord My Son will show you the place of rest for your old age.”
The saint proceeded to White Lake, weeping copious tears at the miraculous vision. On the lake he saw a small island, from which a pillar of fire rose up to the sky. There, beneath a centuries-old spruce tree, Saint Cyril built a hut, and then set up two cells: one for himself, the other for future brethren. The hermit also constructed two small churches, one in honor of the Resurrection of Christ and the other in honor of the Mother of God Hodēgḗtria. He underwent many temptations from invisible enemies, and from idlers roving about, but he overcame everything by brave endurance and constant prayer. News of his holy life spread everywhere, and brethren gathered around him.
There were many instances of healing through his prayers, and the Lord also granted His saint the gift of foresight. Sensing his impending end, Saint Cyril summoned the brethren. With tears of humility the saint instructed his spiritual children one last time, until his voice gave out. For a long time then he was silent, but suddenly he cried out with loud sobbing, “I go to the Lord unto life eternal, but I entrust you to God the Word and His Grace, bestowing an inheritance and sanctification upon all. May it help you. But I beseech you, do not become lax in fasting and prayers, guard yourself from the snares of the Enemy, and the Lord in His ineffable mercy will not condemn your humility.”
Having said this, the saint gave a final kiss to the brethren, received the Holy Mysteries, signed himself with the Sign of the Cross, and with the words “Glory to God for everything!” he gave up his pure soul to the Lord on February 4, 1532.
Saints Abraham and Coprius of Pechenga in 1492 founded the Savior wilderness monastery at the River Pechenga, in Gryazovetsk district, 21 versts from Vologda. It required great work to bring in the necessities to the wilderness spot, in order to build the monastery and set everything in proper order. The blessed toilers did not spare themselves, zealously living in asceticism until their death.
Saint Jadorus suffered martyrdom with Saint Isidore (not Isidore of Pelusium) in the reign of Decius (249-251).
The Hieromartyr Abramius, Bishop of Arbela, suffered during a persecution against Christians in Persia under the emperor Sapor II. When they demanded that the saint renounce Christ and worship the sun, he answered, “How foolish to forsake the Creator and instead worship creatures! Isn’t the sun just a creation of my God?”
After this, they fiercely beat and tortured him. Saint Abramius prayed during torture, echoing the words of the Savior: “Lord, do not count this sin against them, for they know not what they do!” The hieromartyr was beheaded by the sword in the village of Felman.
Saint Nicholas the Confessor, Igumen of the Studion Monastery, lived during the ninth century. He was born on the island of Crete in the village of Kedonia into a Christian family. When he was ten, his parents sent him to Constantinople to his uncle, Saint Theophanes (October 11), who was a monk at the Studion monastery. With the approval of Saint Theodore (November 11), the head of the Studion monastery, the boy was enrolled in the monastery school. When he finished school at sixteen years of age, he was tonsured a monk. After several years, he was ordained a priest.
During this time there was a fierce persecution, initiated by the Byzantine emperor Leo the Armenian (813-820), against those who venerated the holy icons. Saint Nicholas and Saint Theodore the Studite were repeatedly locked up in prison, tortured in various ways, and humiliated. However, they zealously continued to defend Orthodoxy.
Under the holy Empress Theodora (February 11), who ruled the realm while her son Michael was still a minor, icon veneration was restored, and a time of relative peace followed. Saint Nicholas returned to the Studite monastery and was chosen its head. But this calm did not last very long.
The Empress Theodora was removed from the throne, and the emperor’s uncle, Bardas, a man who defiled himself by open cohabitation with his son’s wife, came to power. The attempts of Patriarch Ignatius (October 23) to restrain the impiety of Bardas proved unsuccessful. On the contrary, he was deposed from the patriarchal throne and sent into exile.
Unwilling to witness the triumph of iniquity, Saint Nicholas left Constantinople. He spent seven years at various monasteries. Later on, he returned as a prisoner to the Studite monastery, where he spent two years imprisoned, until the death of the emperor Michael (855-867) and Bardas. When the emperor Basil I the Macedonian (867-886) ascended the throne, Saint Nicholas was set free, and again became igumen on the orders of the emperor. Because of his life as a confessor and ascetic he received from God the gift of healing, which continued even after his repose in the year 868.
Saint Evagrisi was born to God-fearing and pious parents who read the Holy Scriptures to him from the earliest years of his childhood. When he reached manhood, Evagrisi became ruler of Tsikhedidi.
One day Evagrisi went hunting in the Sarkineti Mountains where Shio of Mgvime had settled. While he was hunting, his companions dispersed in various directions, and he was left alone to survey his surroundings. There he beheld a bird, resembling a dove, on its way to bring food to Fr. Shio, and noted the place where it landed.
The next day he located the hermit’s cave dwelling.
Astonished at Fr. Shio’s strict asceticism, Saint Evagrisi was filled with holy envy, having a desire to emulate the hermit, and he told him, “God is truly alive. I will not leave you, I will not go back.” Saint Shio advised him to be wary of such an impulsive decision, since it would be quite difficult for a man who had grown up in luxury to suddenly begin a new life in the wilderness. But Evagrisi answered him firmly, “Even if it means I must die here with you today, I will not depart from this place.”
In order to test his faith, Saint Shio entrusted Evagrisi with his staff and instructed him, saying, “Put my staff in the Mtkvari River; it will part the water and clear a path for you to cross. Secure your home and return to me. On your return when you reach the Mtkvari, use my staff again to clear a path for yourself. If it fails, then continue on your way as before. That would mean that it is not God’s will to fulfill your desire.”
Evagrisi obediently took Saint Shio’s staff and touched it to the water of the Mtkvari. The river parted, and he crossed confidently to the other side.
Having returned to the palace, Evagrisi distributed all his possessions to the poor, secured his home, and set off again to find Fr. Shio. He performed the same miracle on his return: the river parted in two, and the faithful Evagrisi passed through.
Fr. Shio tonsured Evagrisi into the monastic life, and the former ruler settled near the holy father’s cave. There he learned to be patient and watchful and how to pray, while acquiring other virtues as fruits of his ascetic labors.
Saint Shio anticipated that the number of monks in the wilderness would multiply, and he built a church for them in a place that God had revealed. The great gifts of the holy fathers were soon made known, and many pilgrims journeyed to the Sarkineti Mountains to receive their blessings. When King Parsman heard, belatedly, that his beloved army chief had been tonsured a monk, he became sorrowful and personally traveled to Saint Shio’s wilderness. His hope was to bring Evagrisi back into the world, but the blessed father responded with monastic composure: “O King! Why are you disturbing me, a man born to serve God, by asking me to become like a dog who returns to his own vomit (c.f. Prov. 26:11)?”
The news of Saint Shio, Evagrisi, and the other holy strugglers spread throughout Georgia, and many laymen were inspired to enter the monastic life.
After many years Saint Shio grew old, and he gathered the brotherhood of monks around him. “You must choose one from among you to lead this community. From now on I will labor in the well that I have prepared for my grave,” he told them. The brothers were exceedingly sorrowful at having to part with their beloved teacher, and in vain they pleaded with him to remain at the monastery. At last they asked Fr. Shio to appoint a successor, and he chose Evagrisi as the monastery’s next abbot.
The humble, gracious Evagrisi objected to this appointment, considering himself unfit to fulfill such a difficult responsibility. He begged Saint Shio to reconsider his decision, but the elder simply responded, “If you consent to our will, you will receive a joyous reward from God: when He returns in His glory, He will repay you for your obedience.”
At last Saint Evagrisi accepted his teacher’s counsel, and he directed the monastery’s activity with the help of God from that day forward.