BLAISE THE HEIROMARTYR OF SEBASTIA
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS
Blaise the Heiromartyr of Sebastia, Theodora the Empress, Finding of the relics of Zachariah the Prophet, Father of the Holy Forerunner, George the Serbian
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE HEBREWS 4:14-16; 5:1-6
BRETHREN, since we have a high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not take the honor upon himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, ‘Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee’; as he says also in another place, ‘Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek.’
MATTHEW 10:1, 5-8
At that time, Jesus called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity. These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay.”
The Hieromartyr Blaise (Blasius), Bishop of Sebaste, was known for his righteous and devout life. Unanimously chosen by the people, he was consecrated Bishop of Sebaste. This occurred during the reign of the Roman emperors Diocletian (284-305) and Licinius (307-324), fierce persecutors of Christians. Saint Blaise encouraged his flock, visited the imprisoned, and gave support to the martyrs.
Many hid themselves from the persecutors by going off to desolate and solitary places. Saint Blaise also hid himself away on Mount Argeos, where he lived in a cave. Wild beasts came up to him and meekly waited until the saint finished his prayer and blessed them. The saint also healed sick animals by laying his hands upon them.
The refuge of the saint was discovered by servants of the governor Agrilaus, who had come to capture wild beasts to loose on the Christian martyrs. The servants reported to their master that Christians were hiding on the mountain, and he gave orders to arrest them. But those sent out found there only the Bishop of Sebaste. Glorifying God Who had summoned him to this exploit, Saint Blaise followed the soldiers.
Along the way the saint healed the sick and worked other miracles. Thus, a destitute widow complained to him of her misfortune. A wolf had carried off a small pig, her only possession. The bishop smiled and said to her, “Do not weep, your pig will be returned to you…” To the astonishment of everyone, the wolf came running back and returned his prey unharmed.
Agrilaus, greeting the bishop with words of deceit, called him a companion of the gods. The saint answered the greeting, but he called the gods devils. Then they beat him and led him off to prison.
On the next day, they subjected the saint to tortures again. When they led him back to the prison, seven women followed behind and gathered up the drops of blood. They arrested them and tried to compel them to worship the idols. The women pretended to consent to this and said that first they needed to wash the idols in the waters of a lake. They took the idols and threw them in a very deep part of the lake, and after this the Christians were fiercely tortured. The saints stoically endured the torments, strengthened by the grace of God, their bodies were transformed and became white as snow. One of the women had two young sons, who implored their mother to help them attain the Kingdom of Heaven, and she entrusted them to the care of Saint Blaise. The seven holy women were beheaded.
Saint Blaise was again brought before Agrilaus, and again he unflinchingly confessed his faith in Christ. The governor ordered that the martyr be thrown into a lake. The saint, going down to the water, signed himself with the Sign of the Cross, and he walked on it as though on dry land.
Addressing the pagans standing about on shore, he challenged them to come to him while calling on the help of their gods. Sixty-eight men of the governor’s retinue entered the water, and immediately drowned. The saint, however, heeding the angel who had appeared to him, returned to shore.
Agrilaus was in a rage over losing his finest servants, and he gave orders to behead Saint Blaise, and the two sons of the woman martyr entrusted to him. Before his death, the martyr prayed for the whole world, and especially for those honoring his memory. This occurred in about the year 316.
The relics of the Hieromartyr Blaise were brought to the West during the time of the Crusades, and portions of the relics are preserved in many of the lands of Europe [and his memory traditionally honored there on February 3].
We pray to Saint Blaise for the health of domestic animals, and for protection from wild beasts.
Saint Demetrius of Priluki, Wonderworker, was born into a rich merchant’s family in Pereyaslavl-Zalessk. From his youth the saint was uncommonly handsome. Receiving monastic tonsure at one of the Pereyaslavl monasteries, the saint later founded the Saint Nicholas cenobitic monastery on the Saints Boris and Gleb Hill at the shore of Lake Plescheevo near the city, and became its igumen.
In 1334 Saint Demetrius first met with Saint Sergius of Radonezh, who had come to Pereyaslavl to see Metropolitan Athanasius. From that time, he frequently conversed with Saint Sergius and became close with him. The fame of the Pereyaslavl igumen was so widespread that he became godfather to the children of Great Prince Demetrius Ioannovich. Under the influence of the Radonezh wonderworker, Saint Demetrius decided to withdraw to a remote place, and went north with his disciple Pachomius.
In the Vologda forests, at the River Velika, near the Avnezh settlement, they built a church of the Resurrection of Christ and they prepared to lay the foundations for a monastery. The local inhabitants were fearful that if a monastery were built there, their village would become monastery property. They demanded that the monks leave their territory, and wishing to be a burden to no one, they moved farther away.
Not far from Vologda, at the bend of a river in an isolated spot, Saint Demetrius decided to form the first of the cenobitic monasteries of the Russian North. The people of Vologda and the surrounding gladly consented to help the saint. The owners of the land intended for the monastery, Elias and Isidore, even trampled down a grain field, so that a temple might be built immediately. In 1371 the wooden Savior cathedral was built, and brethren began to gather.
Many disciples of the monk came there from Pereyaslavl. Saint Demetrius combined prayer and strict asceticism with kindliness. He fed the poor and hungry, he took in strangers, he conversed with those in need of consolation, and he gave counsel. He loved to pray in solitude. His Lenten food consisted of prosphora with warm water. Even on feastdays, he would not partake of the wine and fish permitted by the Rule. Both winter and summer he wore an old sheepskin coat, and even in his old age he went with the brethren on common tasks. The saint accepted contributions to the monastery cautiously, so that the welfare of the monastery would not be detrimental to those living nearby.
The Lord granted His servant the gift of clairvoyance, and he attained a high degree of spiritual perfection. Saint Demetrius died at an advanced age on February 11, 1392. The brethren approaching found him as though asleep, and his cell was filled with a wondrous fragrance.
Miracles from the relics of Saint Demetrius began in the year 1409, and during the fifteenth century his veneration spread throughout all Rus. And no later than the year 1440, the Priluki monk Macarius recorded his Life (Great Reading Menaion, February 11) based on the narratives of Saint Demetrius’s disciple Igumen Pachomius.
Holy Prince Vsevolod of Pskov, in Baptism Gabriel, a grandson of Vladimir Monomakh, was born at Novgorod, where in the years 1088-1093 and 1095-1117 his father ruled as prince. His father was the holy prince Saint Mstislav-Theodore the Great (April 15). In the year 1117, when Great Prince Vladimir Monomakh gave Mstislav Kievan Belgorod as his “udel” (land-holding), practically making him co-ruler, young Vsevolod remained as his father’s vicar in the Novgorod principality.
Holy Prince Vsevolod did much good for Novgorod. Together with the Archbishop of Novgorod, Saint Niphon (April 8), he raised up many churches, among which were the cathedral of the Great Martyr George at the Yuriev monastery, and the church of Saint John the Forerunner at Opokakh, built in honor of the “angel” (i.e. patron saint) of his first-born son John, who had died in infancy (+ 1128).
In his Ustav (Law code) the prince granted a special charter of lands and privileges to the cathedral of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) and other churches. During a terrible famine, he exhausted his entire treasury to save people from perishing. Prince Vsevolod was a valiant warrior, he marched victoriously against the Yam and Chud peoples, but he never took up the sword for lucre or power.
In 1132, upon the death of holy Great Prince Mstislav, Vsevolod’s uncle Prince Yaropolk of Kiev fulfilled the last wishes of his brother and transferred Vsevolod to Pereyaslavl, then regarded as the eldest city after Kiev itself. But the younger sons of Monomakh, Yuri Dolgoruky and Andrew Dobry, were apprehensive lest Yaropolk make Vsevolod his successor at Kiev, and so they marched out against their nephew. Hoping to avoid internecine strife, Saint Vsevolod returned to Novgorod, but was received there with disaffection. The Novgorodians felt that the prince had been “raised” by them and should not have left them earlier. “Vsevolod went to Rus, to Pereslavl,” noted the Novgorod chronicler, “and kissed the cross against the Novgorodians, saying, ‘I will kill you.’”
Striving to restore good relations with Novgorod, the prince undertook a victorious campaign against the Chud people in 1133, and he annexed Yuriev to the Novgorod domain. But a harsh winter campaign in 1135-1136 against Suzdal was unsuccessful. The stubborn people of Novgorod would not heed their chastisement by God, and they could not forgive the prince for their defeat. The assembly decided to summon a prince from the hostile Monomakh line of the Olgovichi, and they condemned Saint Vsevolod to banishment. “You suffered exile at the hands of your own people,” we sing in the troparion to the saint. For a month and a half they held the prince and his family under guard at the archbishop’s palace. When Prince Svyatoslav Olgovich arrived on July 15, 1136, Vsevolod was released from his captivity.
Vsevolod went again to Kiev, and his uncle Yaropolk gave him the Vyshgorod district near Kiev, the place where Saint Olga (July 11) had lived in the tenth century during the rule of her son Svyatoslav, “preferring the cities of Kiev and Pskov.” Saint Olga came to the defense of her descendant in 1137 when the people of Pskov, recalling the campaigns of the Novgorod-Pskov army led by the prince, invited him to the Pskov principality, the native region of Saint Olga. He was the first Pskov prince, chosen by the will of the Pskov people.
Among the glorious works of Saint Vsevolod-Gabriel at Pskov was the construction of the first stone church dedicated to the Life-Creating Trinity, replacing a wooden church from the time of Saint Olga. On the icons of the saint, he is often depicted holding the church of the Holy Trinity.
Saint Vsevolod ruled as prince at Pskov for only a year. He died on February 11, 1138 at the age of forty-six. All of Pskov gathered at the funeral of the beloved prince, and the chanting of the choir could scarcely be heard over the people’s wailing.
The people of Novgorod sent an archpriest from the Sophia cathedral to take his holy relics back to Novgorod. The prince, however, did not want his body to rest in Novgorod. He would not allow Pskov to be deprived of his relics by the people of Novgorod, who had driven him out, and the coffin would not move from the spot. The Novgorod people wept bitterly and repented in their misfortune. Then they asked to be given just a small piece of his relics “for the protection of their city.” Through their prayers a fingernail fell from the saint’s hand. The Pskov people put Saint Vsevolod into the temple of the holy Great Martyr Demetrius. Beside the grave they placed the military armaments of the prince, a shield and sword, in the shape of a cross, with the Latin inscription, “I will yield my honor to no one.”
On November 27, 1192, the relics of holy Prince Vsevolod were uncovered and transferred into the Trinity cathedral, in which a chapel was consecrated in his honor.
The deep spiritual bond of the city of Saint Olga with the holy Prince Vsevolod was never broken. He always remained a Pskov wonderworker. At the siege of Pskov by Stephen Bathory in 1581, when the walls of the fortress were already breached and the Poles were ready to rush into the city, they brought the holy relics of Prince Vsevolod from the Trinity cathedral to the place of battle, and the enemy withdrew.
On April 22, 1834, on the first day of Pascha, the saint’s holy relics were solemnly transferred to a new shrine in the main church of the cathedral.
At the appearance of the wonderworking Pskov-Protection Icon (October 1), holy Prince Vsevolod-Gabriel stood among the heavenly defenders of Pskov.
Holy Empress Theodora was the wife of the Byzantine emperor Theophilus the Iconoclast (829-842), but she did not share in the heresy of her husband and secretly venerated the holy icons. After the death of her husband, Saint Theodora governed the realm because her son Michael was a minor.
She convened a Council, at which the Iconoclasts were anathematized, and the veneration of icons was reinstated. Saint Theodora established the annual celebration of this event, the Triumph of Orthodoxy, on the first Sunday of the Great Fast. Saint Theodora did much for Holy Church and fostered a firm devotion to Orthodoxy in her son Michael.
When Michael came of age, she was retired from governing and spent eight years in the monastery of Saint Euphrosynē, where she devoted herself to ascetic struggles, and reading books that nourished her soul.
A copy of the Gospels, copied in her own hand, is known to exist. She died peacefully around the year 867.
In 1460, her relics were given by the Turks to the people of Kerkyra (Corfu).
The Holy Martyr George the New was born into an illustrious Bulgarian family, living in the capital city of Bulgaria, Sredets (now the city of Sofia). Saint George’s childless parents, John and Mary, in their declining years entreated the Lord to send them a child. Their prayer was answered, and they baptized the infant with the name of the holy Great Martyr George (April 23).
Young George received a fine upbringing, he attentively studied the Holy Scriptures, and he was pious and chaste. His parents died when George was twenty-five. At that time Bulgaria found itself under the rule of the Turks, who forcibly converted Christians to Islam.
Once, several Moslems tried to convert George. They put a fez on the saint’s head. This is a red circular hat which Moslems wear to enter their house of prayer. But George threw the fez on the ground. The Turks brought the martyr to their governor with beatings and abuse.
The governor was impressed with Saint George’s appearance and bearing, and he urged him to accept Islam, promising honors and wealth from Sultan Selim (1512-1520). The saint boldly and steadfastly confessed his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and reproached the errors of Islam. The governor in a rage gave orders to beat Saint George with rods, but the saint persevered in his confession of faith in Christ.
The governor ordered the tortures to be increased. The passion-bearer bore all his sufferings, calling on the Lord Jesus Christ for help. Then they led the martyr through the city to the beat of a drum and shouts: “Do not insult Mohammed nor abase the Moslem faith”.
Finally, a large fire was lit in the city, to burn Saint George. Weakened by his wounds, the saint fell to the ground. They threw him into the fire still alive, and they threw corpses of dogs on top of him so that Christians would not be able to find the relics of the martyr.
Suddenly, a heavy rain fell and extinguished the fire. With the onset of darkness, the place where the body of the martyr was thrown was illumined with a bright light. They gave permission to a certain Christian priest to take the venerable relics of the martyr for burial. Informed about the occurrence, Metropolitan Jeremiah and his clergy went to the place of execution. In the ashes of the fire they located the body of the holy Martyr George and carried it to the church of Saint George the Great Martyr in the city of Sredets.
On May 26, 1515 the holy relics of Saint George were removed from the grave, placed in a coffin, and then brought into the church, where they have remained ever since. The Church honors Saint George twice during the year: on February 11, the day of his martyrdom, and on May 26, the uncovering of his holy relics.
Saint Gobnata was born in Co.Clare at the end of the fifth, or the beginning of the sixth century. Later she fled to the Aran Islands to escape from some enemy. An angel appeared to her one day and told her to leave that place and to keep walking until she found nine white deer. She saw three white deer at Clondrohid, Co. Cork, and decided to follow them. Then at Ballymakeera, she saw six white deer. Finally, at Ballyvourney she came upon nine white deer grazing in a wood. There she was given land for a women’s monastery by her spiritual Father Saint Abban of Kilabban, Co. Laois (March 16), and he installed her as abbess. Excavations in 1951 proved that indeed there had been an early Christian settlement on the site.
Saint Gobnata was renowned for her gift of healing, and there is a story of how she kept the plague from Ballyvourney. She is also famous for her skill as a bee-keeper.
One day, Saint Gobnata was watching from a hill overlooking a valley as an invading chieftain and his army came through, destroying crops and driving off cattle. She sent the bees to attack them, and they were thrown into such confusion that they left without their plunder.
The holy virgin Saint Gobnata fell asleep in the Lord on February 11. The exact year of her death is not known, but it probably occurred in the sixth century. Although she is regarded as the patron saint of Ballyvourney, she is venerated throughout southern Ireland. There are churches dedicated to her in Waterford and Kerry, for example, and she is also revered in Scotland.