SATURDAY OF PRODIGAL SON
The Holy Apostles of the Seventy Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, and Onesimus, Philothei the Righteous Martyr of Athens, Niketas the Younger
ST. PAUL’S FIRST LETTER TO TIMOTHY 6:11-16
Timothy, my son, aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, and King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
LUKE 20:46-47; 21:1-4
The Lord said to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and love salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury; and he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had.” Having said this, he proclaimed, “He who has ears let him hear.”
Saints Archippus, Philemon and Apphia, Apostles of the Seventy were students and companions of the holy Apostle Paul. In the Epistle to Philemon, the Apostle Paul names Saint Archippus as his companion, and mentions him again in the Epistle to the Colossians (Col. 4:17).
Saint Archippus was bishop of the city of Colossae in Phrygia. Saint Philemon was an eminent citizen of this city, and the Christians gathered in his home to celebrate church services. He was also made a bishop by Saint Paul and he went about the cities of Phrygia, preaching the Gospel. Later on, he became archpastor of the city of Gaza. Saint Apphia, his wife, took the sick and vagrants into her home, zealously attending to them. She was her husband’s co-worker in proclaiming the Word of God.
During the persecution against Christians under the emperor Nero (54-68), the holy Apostles Archippus and Philemon and Apphia were brought to trial by the ruler Artocles for confessing faith in Christ. Saint Archippus was brutally slashed with knives. After torture, they buried Saints Philemon and Apphia up to the waist in the ground, and stoned them until they died.
Saint Archippus is also commemorated on November 22.
The Holy Martyrs Maximus, Theodotus, Hesychius and Asclepiodota suffered for the Faith at Adrianopolis, during the persecution under the emperor Maximian (305-311). The holy martyrs endured many sufferings. At first they tied them to a tree and tore them with iron hooks. After this, they led them from city to city, and then gave them to be eaten by wild beasts.
Kept safe by the grace of God, the holy martyrs remained unharmed. Finally, they received a martyr’s death at the hands of the torturers. Saint Asclepiodota was thrown to the ground and beaten, and then they tied her to a tree and threw stones at her. Finally, she was beheaded.
The Holy Confessors Eugene and Macarius were presbyters of the Antiochian Church. During the reign of Julian the Apostate (361-363) they were brought to the emperor for trial for their refusal to participate in pagan orgies. The presbyters boldly denounced him for his apostasy and they were given over to fierce tortures, which they underwent with prayer and spiritual rejoicing.
After the tortures, they sent them off to exile at Oasim, an oasis in the Arabian desert, and they intended to settle there upon a hill. The local people warned the saints that they should immediately abandon the place, since an enormous snake lived there. The holy martyrs asked them to point out this place, and through their prayer a lightning bolt struck the cave, reducing the monster to ashes.
Saints Eugene and Macarius began to live in this cave. The confessors prayed that they might die together. The Lord heard their prayer, and they died in 363 at the same time.
Saint Dositheus, a disciple of Saint Abba Dorotheus (June 5), lived during the sixth-seventh centuries, and was raised in a rich and renowned family. Young Dositheus listened to tales of the holy city of Jerusalem from the servants of his grandfather, a military commander, and this kindled within him the desire to go there. Soon his wish came true.
At Gethsemane, he gazed for a long time at a picture of the Dread Last judgment. Suddenly he saw beside him a woman, who explained to him what was depicted in the image. The youth asked, “How is it possible to avoid the eternal torments?”
She replied, “Fast, do not eat meat, and pray constantly to God.” After this, his strange guide suddenly became invisible. She who conversed with him had been the Most Holy Theotokos. The appearance of the Mother of God produced a strong impression on the youth, and he decided to enter a monastery headed by Abba Seridus (August 13), and populated by such great ascetics as Saints Barsanuphius (February 6) and John (June 19).
Dositheus, asking to be accepted among the brethren, was sent to the Elder Dorotheus. Saint Dositheus fulfilled his obedience in the monastery infirmary, caring for all the sick. Saint Dorotheus trained his disciple in abstinence and fasting, gradually decreasing the quantity of food he consumed each day.
He also weaned the youth from vexation and anger, by constantly reminding him that every unkind word said to a sick person, is said to Jesus Christ Himself. By revealing his thoughts to the Elder and through unhesitating obedience, Saint Dositheus liberated his soul from passions. After five years of tending the sick and obeying his Elder, Saint Dositheus fell into serious sickness. Patiently enduring his sufferings, he prayed constantly and never complained.
Not long before his death he asked a message be sent to Saint Barsanuphius: “Father, grant me pardon, I cannot live much longer.” He replied, “Have patience, my son, for the mercy of God is near.” After several days Saint Dositheus again sent this message to the Elder: “My master, I cannot live any longer.” Then Saint Barsanuphius blessed him to depart to God, and he asked the dying one to pray for all the brethren when he stood before the Holy Trinity.
The brethren were astonished that the great Abba Barsanuphius would ask the prayers of a monk who had lived at the monastery for only five years without any great ascetic accomplishments (they had not seen his vigils and his abstinence). But after the death of the young monk, a certain experienced ascetic was praying that the final resting place of the departed fathers of the monastery might be revealed to him, and in a dream he saw young Dositheus among these saints. Saint Dositheus was given great glory in the Kingdom of Heaven for his perfect obedience to his Elder and for cutting off his own will.
Saint Rabulas was born in the Syrian city of Samosata and he received an excellent education. While still young, he became a monk and struggled in the deserts and on the mountains, following the example of the holy Prophet Elias (July 20) and Saint John the Baptist of the Lord (January 7, February 24, May 25, June 24, August 29, September 23, October 12).
Somewhat later, Saint Rabulas went to Phoenicia, where for a long while he lived in asceticism and was glorified by spiritual gifts. The emperor Zeno gave Saint Rabulas monetary help to build a monastery, built with the assistance of Bishop John of Beruit.
Around the new monastery lived many pagans, who were gradually converted to Christianity through the efforts of the monks. Under Xeno’s successor Anastasius (491-518), Saint Rabulas came to Constantinople, and having received financial help from the emperor, he built several more monasteries in various places. One of them was named after the holy ascetic.
Saint Rabulas spent all his life at work, and he was gentle and kind and well-disposed towards people. He was also a man of great prayer. He lived to be eighty, and before his death he heard a voice: “Come unto Me all ye who labor and are heavy laden” (Mt. 11:28).
Saint Rabulas fell asleep in the Lord around the year 530 after a short illness.
Saint Theodore was born near the town of Romanov in the province of Yaroslavl in 1719, the son of Prince Ignatius Ushakov and his wife Paraskevḗ (or Irene). At his Baptism, he was named John.
As a young man, John Ushakov enlisted in the Preobrazhensky Guard Regiment in Petersburg, and attained the rank of sergeant. Life in the capital was fraught with great spiritual danger for a young person, but God delivered John from the wrong path.
When John was twenty, at a drinking party with his friends, one of them suddenly collapsed and died. They all experienced fear and sadness, but this seemed to affect John more than the others.This incident is remarkably similar to the circumstances surrounding the death of Major Andrew Petrov, the husband of Blessed Xenia of Saint Petersburg (January 24), but it may be only coincidental.
In any case, John decided to leave Saint Petersburg and live in the wilderness, dedicating himself to God. While walking near the city of Yaroslavl disguised as a laborer, he saw his uncle out with his servants. His uncle did not recognize him because of his poor clothing, but John was reminded of his former life of luxury and ease. He soon banished this thought and resolved to dwell in the wilderness.
While walking in the forests near the White Sea, John came upon an abandoned cell, so he decided to remain there in solitude and pray to God. He lived there for three years in great hardship and affliction. Government regulations of the time enjoined citizens not to permit monks to live in the forests. When John came to the village for supplies, he was beaten within an inch of his life, and was forced to flee.
John eventually came to the region south of Kiev, reaching the Ploschansk Monastery. He begged the igumen to accept him, saying that he was the son of a priest. He could not admit to being a sergeant of the Guard, since legal obstacles would have made it very difficult for him to enter monastic life.
The igumen would not accept him for a long time, since he did not have the proper identification papers. Finally, he did accept John and assigned him to read in church. After hearing him read, the igumen realized that John was not from a priestly family, but probably belonged to the nobility. Fearing trouble with the authorities, he ordered John to live in the forest near the monastery where other ascetics were living. He found an empty cell and received the blessing of these Fathers to remain there.
When a team of investigators came to the forest looking for monks living there illegally, John was caught. Since he had no documents and admitted to being a sergeant in the Guard, he was brought to Saint Petersburg and taken to the empress Elizabeth. When he was taken to the empress, she asked, “Why did you desert my regiment?”
John explained that he had done so in order to save his soul. Elizabeth forgave him and was willing to restore him to his former rank, but John said that he did not want his former life or rank.
The empress then asked why he had snuck away in secret instead of asking to be discharged. John replied, “If I had troubled Your Majesty with such a request, you would not have believed that a young man such as I could have borne such a burden. I have now been tested in the spiritual life, and I ask Your Majesty to bless me to continue in it until my death.”
Elizabeth agreed to this, but stipulated that he should remain in the Saint Alexander Nevsky Lavra in Saint Petersburg. Soon, at her express command, John was tonsured in August of 1748 at the age of twenty-nine. Archbishop Theodosius, who then governed the monastery, ordered that he be named Theodore, in honor of Saint Theodore of Yaroslavl (September 19).
While Father Theodore was in the Lavra, people would visit and ask him about how to please God while living in the world. He tried to tell them that there were older, wiser monks there who would be able to instruct them better than he could. Still, they insisted, so he tried to help them. He found, however, that he could not always answer their questions or find solutions to their problems, so he began to read patristic books, especially the works of Saint John Chrysostom, asking God to enlighten him so he could understand the Scriptures and the teachings of the Fathers. He learned many things from his reading, and he was able to instruct people for their spiritual profit. This caused jealousy among some of the older monks, who complained to the archbishop that this young monk was attracting people to himself and disturbing the tranquility of the monastery. The hierarch ordered that no visitor requesting to see Father Theodore should be admitted.
Father Theodore went to the steward of the monastery, asking him why people could not see him. He was told that because he presumed to instruct people, attracting many visitors, that the routine of the monastery was disrupted.
“If there is something in my teaching which seems unlawful to His Eminence,” Father Theodore responded, “then he should question me. It is sinful, however, to cause unnecessary sorrow to those seek spiritual profit.”
The archbishop was furious, but he ordered that people should be allowed to see Father Theodore again. The jealousy and difficulties continued for ten years, and Father Theodore endured his trials with patience. In 1757, he wanted to transfer to Sarov Monastery, and when the brethren of the Lavra found out about this, they insisted that he submit a written request for transfer.
Obtaining his release, Father Theodore left Saint Petersburg with many of his disciples, male and female. Along the way they stopped at Saint Nicholas Convent in Arzamas, where he settled his women disciples. Soon they moved to the vacant Alexeyevsky Convent. The male disciples went with him to Sarov.
In 1759, after two years at Sarov, Father Theodore asked Igumen Ephraim to let him have the Sanaxar Monastery, because the number of his disciples had increased. Sanaxar had been founded in 1659, but was closed by Tsar Peter I in the first half of the eighteenth century, and the property was administered by the Sarov Monastery. After moving to Sanaxar Hermitage, Father Theodore began the work of building cells and storerooms. Bishop Pachomius of Tambov appointed Father Theodore as the Superior. He also ordained the reluctant Father Theodore to the holy priesthood on December 13, 1762. Father Theodore began setting things in order, establishing a Rule for the reverent, unhurried celebration of the services. He also set down a cell Rule for the monks to follow. Everyone shared in the work (except those who were too old or too sick), including the Superior.
The number of monks at Sanaxar continued to increase, but not all of them had been tonsured. It was necessary to obtain permission to have them tonsured, for the number of monks allowed to live in a monastery was regulated by law. On April 23, 1763 Empress Catherine II decreed that all of Father Theodore’s monks should be tonsured. The following year, she issued a decree limiting the number of monasteries, those not specifically approved would be closed.
Sanaxar Hermitage was among the monastic institutions scheduled to be closed, but it remained open through Father Theodore’s efforts. Father Theodore was raised to the rank of igumen in October of 1764, and Sanaxar was reclassified as a Monastery on March 7, 1765.
Because of the number of brethren, it became necessary to build a larger stone church to replace the small wooden one. A foundation was dug and a Molieben served at the site. Suddenly, a swarm of bees came and settled on the spot where the altar would be. This was taken as a sign of an increase in the number of brethren, and an abundance of grace in the monastery.
According to N. Subbotin’s 1862 book on Archimandrite Theophanes of the Saint Cyril of New Lake Monastery (who was a novice at Sanaxar at the same time that Saint Herman was), Igumen Theodore ordered a monk named Herman to brush the bees into a hive. It is probable that this was the future Saint Herman of Alaska (December 13). In another edition of the book, the brother’s name is given as Gerasimus. After this account, Subbotin mentions “Father Herman, who is now in America.” The discrepency in names may be explained if Saint Herman’s name before his tonsure was Gerasimus. Saint Herman, in one of his letters to Father Nazarius, says that he had friends at Sarov and Sanaxar, so Saint Theodore may have been one of Saint Herman’s early instructors.
Saint Theodore once visited Saint Tikhon (August 13) at the Zadonsk Monastery. It is not known how long the two had known one another, but the retired bishop received him with love. This visit was providential, because Saint Tikhon also knew what it was to suffer offenses from superiors, from worldly-minded monks, and from laymen. Perhaps he even advised Father Theodore on how to endure the trials which lay ahead of him.
When Father Theodore returned to Sanaxar a royal edict was delivered to him by a courier. It ordered him to be sent as an exile to Solovki Monastery as a troublemaker. He was deprived of the rank of Igumen and Hieromonk, and the Superior of Solovki was ordered to keep a close eye on him. Father Theodore remained there for nine years (1774-1783).
His release came about thanks to his disciple Archimandrite Theophanes (Sokolov), who found himself assigned as cell attendant to Metropolitan Gabriel of Saint Petersburg. Desiring to help his Elder, Father Theophanes made the Metropolitan aware of Father Theodore’s situation. His Eminence asked Father Theophanes to prepare a memorandum setting forth the facts of the case in detail. As a result, Metropolitan Gabriel asked Empress Catherine II to release Father Theodore and permit him to return to Sanaxar.
On April 18, 1783 she issued a decree authorizing his release. Because of his weakened condition from the cold and fumes from smoky stoves, it took him a long time to make his way back to Sanaxar. He arrived at Arzamas Monastery on October 9, 1783 where he was greeted by the sisters, and by two hieromonks from Sanxar. Others were also on hand to meet the Elder: superiors from other monasteries, respected nobles, merchants, and ordinary men and women. He stayed about a week, instructing the nuns each day. Finally, he prepared to return to Sanaxar. The entire brotherhood came to meet him at the ferry on the Moksha River. After receiving his blessing, they accompanied him on the walk to Sanaxar. Father Theodore thanked the brethren for their continued love, and for completing the church without him.
Within a few days after his return, Father Theodore faced renewed persecution. Hierodeacon Hilarion accused him of being “a heretic and an atheist,” and placed these accusations before the Holy Synod. They determined that Hierodeacon Hilarion was at fault and should be punished. He later asked Father Theodore’s forgiveness in front of the whole community.
The Superior of the Monastery, Father Benedict, was jealous of Father Theodore because of the crowds of visitors who came to see him. He complained to the local bishop, saying that the quiet of the monastery was being disturbed by so many people. Investigators were sent, but they did not interview anyone who might have said anything favorable to Father Theodore. As a result, Father Theodore was forbidden to receive visitors.
Once again, Father Theophanes brought the Elder’s plight to the attention of Metropolitan Gabriel. His Eminence sent a note saying that he was well-disposed toward Father Theodore. As a result, he was given a bit more freedom, but his disciples could only seek his advice by writing letters.
Father Benedict became ill, and Father Theodore went to his cell to ask his forgiveness. Father Benedict turned his face to the wall and refused to speak to the Elder. After suffering for a while, Father Benedict died on December 27, 1778.
After the Superior’s death, Father Theodore was once again permitted to visit the nuns of the Alexeyevsky Convent at Arzamas. After delivering a moving homily on Psalm 136 (“By the rivers of Babylon”) he left Arzamas and stopped at the monastery in Sarov. There he asked forgiveness of everyone, then rushed back to Sanaxar. He arrived on Wednesday of Cheesefare Week and spoke to his disciples in his cell around noon. Then he dismissed them to return to their cells.
Two noble disciples of Saint Theodore remained behind to ask his advice. Suddenly his expression changed and he began to weep for about fifteen minutes, lamenting how he had sinned in his youth. Then he ordered them to their cells, saying that he was feeling weak.
It was not rare for the Elder to be ill, but this weakness seemed unusual. His two disciples left and returned to their cells. Soon after this, his cell attendant knocked on the door with the customary prayer, but received no reply. He entered the cell and found Father Theodore lying on his bed and praying, so he left and told the brethren about this. They all came to see him, but he would not speak.
About five hours later, around nine o’clock on the evening of February 19, 1791, Saint Theodore surrendered his soul to God.
Saint Theodore’s relics were uncovered on April 21, 1999, and he was glorified for local veneration on June 28, 1999. He was glorified for national veneration by the Orthodox Church of Russia in 2004.
Saint Theodore of Sanaxar, who is also commemorated on April 21 (the uncovering of his relics in 1999), should not be confused with his famous relative Saint Theodore (Ushakov), Admiral of the Russian Fleet (October 2).
The Cyprus Icon of the Mother of God. In this icon the Mother of God is depicted sitting on a throne with the Divine Infant in Her arms. There is an angel on either side of Her.
The prototype of this holy icon manifested itself in the year 392 on the island of Cyprus at the tomb of Righteous Lazarus, the friend of Christ (October 17), and is kept there in a monastery. Renowned copies of the Cyprus Icon are at the Moscow’s Dormition Cathedral, and in the Nikolo-Golutvin church in the village of Stromyn, Moscow diocese (Commemorated on the Sunday of Orthodoxy).
During the week of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, the Greek Synaxarion has an account of an icon which is probably the Cyprus Icon. On the island of Cyprus a certain Arab was passing by a church dedicated to the Most Holy Theotokos. In order to display his hatred for Christianity, the man shot an arrow at an icon of the Mother of God which hung by the gate. The arrow struck the Virgin’s knee, from which blood began to flow. Overcome with fear, the Arab spurred his horse and rode for home, but was struck dead before he could get there. In this way, he was punished for his impiety.
Other days commemorating the Cyprus Icon are the Day of the Holy Spirit, April 20, and July 9. Some copies of the Cyprus Icon have additional names such as “Cleansing,” “Knife,” and “Hawk.”
The “Stromyn” Cyprus Icon became famous in 1841. An eighteen-year-old girl from Stromyn, a village not far from Moscow, was close to death from an illness. In a dream she saw the Cyprus Icon standing over the entrance to the church, and a voice came from the icon: “Take me into your home and have the priest serve a Molieben with the Blessing of Water, and you will be cured.”
The sick girl was brought to the church and finally located the icon after a long search. The girl obeyed the command of the Most Holy Theotokos, and after the Molieben she felt strong enough to carry the icon back to the church herself. Shortly thereafter, she was completely healed. The “Stromyn” Cyprus Icon continued to work miracles of healing, which the rector of the church reported to the holy Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow (November 19).
Saint Conan was born in Cilicia. While still at an early age he became a monk at the Pethukla monastery near the Jordan River, where he was ordained presbyter. Archbishop Peter of Jerusalem learned about the strict ascetic and sent people to him for Baptism. Saint Conan baptized those who came and anointed them with holy chrism, but he would not baptize women. Saint John the Forerunner appeared to him, promising to help him in his struggle with temptations.
A girl came from Persia seeking Baptism. She was so beautiful that Saint Conan could not anoint her with the holy chrism, since she was naked. For two days the girl remained without being baptized or anointed with the holy chrism. Saint Conan wanted to find a pious woman to anoint her, but it was difficult to find such a woman, since the area was so remote.
The ascetic decided to leave the monastery, but on the way Saint John the Forerunner again appeared to him and said, “Return to your monastery, for I shall relieve you of your conflict.” Saint Conan tried to argue and to refuse, saying that when Saint John the Forerunner had appeared before, he had promised to free him from temptation.
Saint John the Baptist then signed the ascetic with the Sign of the Cross and said that he would receive a reward for his struggle with temptations. Then he commanded him to return to the monastery and to have no further doubts.
Saint Conan obediently fulfilled the advice of Saint John, and he anointed the Persian maiden with chrism without even noticing that she was a woman. After this the ascetic lived at the monastery for twenty years. Having achieved perfect dispassion, he peacefully fell asleep in the Lord about the year 555.
The Monastic Martyr Philothea was born in Athens in 1522. Her parents, Syriga and Angelos Benizelos, were renowned not only for being eminent and rich, but also deeply devout. Often the kind-hearted Syriga had implored the Most Holy Theotokos for a child. Her fervent prayers were heard, and a daughter was born to the couple. They named her Revoula.
The parents raised their daughter in deep piety and right belief, and when she was twelve years old they gave her away in marriage. Her husband turned out to be an impious and crude man, who often beat and tormented his wife. Revoula patiently endured the abuse and she prayed to God, that He might bring her husband to his senses.
After three years Revoula’s husband died, and she began to labor in fasting, vigil and prayer. The saint founded a women’s monastery in the name of the Apostle Andrew the First-Called (November 30 and June 30). When the monastery was completed, the saint was the first to accept monastic tonsure, with the name Philothea.
During this time Greece was suffering under the Turkish Yoke, and many Athenians had been turned into slaves by their Turkish conquerors. Saint Philothea utilized all her means to free her fellow countrywomen, ransoming many from servitude. Once, four women ran away from their Turkish masters, who demanded that they renounce their Christianity, and took refuge in the monastery of Saint Philothea.
The Turks, having learned where the Greek women had gone, burst into the saint’s cell, and beat her. They took her to the governor, who threw the holy ascetic into prison. In the morning, a mob of Turks had gathered, and they led her out of the prison. The governor said that if she did not renounce Christ, she would be hacked to pieces.
Just when Saint Philothea was ready to accept a martyr’s crown, a crowd of Christians assembled by the grace of God. They pacified the judges and freed the holy ascetic. Returning to her monastery, Saint Philothea continued with her efforts of abstinence, prayer and vigil, for which she was granted the gift of wonderworking. In Patesia, an Athens suburb, she founded a new monastery, where she struggled in asceticism with the sisters.
During the Vigil for Saint Dionysius the Areopagite (October 3), the Turks seized Saint Philothea and tortured her. Finally, they threw her down on the ground half-dead. The sisters tearfully brought the holy martyr, flowing with blood, to Kalogreza, where she died on February 19, 1589. Shortly thereafter, the relics of the holy Monastic Martyr Philothea were brought to the Athens cathedral church.