Daily Readings for Wednesday, February 23, 2022



Polycarp the Holy Martyr & Bishop of Smyrna, Proterios, Archbishop of Alexandria, Gorgonia the Righteous, sister of Gregory the Theologian, Damian the New Martyr of Mount Athos, Boswell, Abbot of Melrose Abbey


Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already. Little children, you are of God, and have overcome them; for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world, therefore what they say is of the world, and the world listens to them. We are of God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and he who is not of God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

MARK 14:43-72; 15:1

At that time, while Jesus was speaking to the disciples, Judas Iscariot came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him and lead him away under guard.” And when he came, he went up to him at once, and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. And they laid hands on him and seized him. But one of those who stood by drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” And they all forsook him, and fled. And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked. And they led Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes were assembled. And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, and warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council sought testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, and their witness did not agree. And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.'” Yet not even so did their testimony agree. And the high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he was silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments, and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows. And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the maids of the high priest came; and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him, and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway, and the cock crowed. And the maid saw him, and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while again the bystanders said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the cock crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. And as soon as it was morning the chief priests, with the elders and scribes, and the whole council held a consultation; and they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him to Pilate.

Hieromartyr Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna

Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, who was “fruitful in every good work” (Col. 1:10), was born in the first century, and lived in Smyrna in Asia Minor. He was orphaned at an early age, but at the direction of an angel, he was raised by the pious widow Kallista. After the death of his adoptive mother, Polycarp gave away his possessions and began to lead a chaste life, caring for the sick and the infirm. He was very fond of and close to Saint Bucolus, Bishop of Smyrna (February 6). He ordained Polycarp as deacon, entrusting to him to preach the Word of God in church. He also ordained him to the holy priesthood.

The holy Apostle John the Theologian was still alive at this time. Saint Polycarp was especially close to Saint John, and sometimes accompanied him on his apostolic journeys.

Shortly before his death, Saint Bucolus expressed his wish that Polycarp be made Bishop of Smyrna. When Saint Polycarp was consecrated as a bishop, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him. Saint Polycarp guided his flock with apostolic zeal, and he was also greatly loved by the clergy. Saint Ignatius the God-Bearer of Antioch (December 20) also had a high regard for him. Setting out for Rome where execution awaited him, he wrote to Saint Polycarp, “This age is in need of you if it is to reach God, just as pilots need winds, and as a storm-tossed sailor needs a port.”

The emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180) came to the Roman throne and started up a most fierce persecution against Christians. The pagans demanded that the judge search for Saint Polycarp, “the father of all the Christians” and “the seducer of all Asia.”

During this time Saint Polycarp, at the persistent urging of his flock, stayed in a small village not far from Smyrna. When the soldiers came for him, he went out to them and invited them in to eat. He asked for time to pray, in order to prepare himself for martyrdom. His suffering and death are recorded in the “Epistle of the Christians of the Church of Smyrna to the Other Churches,” one of the most ancient memorials of Christian literature.

Having been brought to trial, Saint Polycarp firmly confessed his faith in Christ, and was condemned to be burned alive. The executioners wanted to nail him to a post, but he declared that God would give him the strength to endure the flames, so they could merely tie him with ropes. The flames encircled the saint but did not touch him, coming together over his head in the shape of a vault. Seeing that the fire did him no harm, the pagans stabbed him with a dagger. So much blood flowed from this wound that it extinguished the flames. The body of the hieromartyr Polycarp was then cremated. The Christians of Smyrna reverently gathered up what remained of his holy relics, and each year they celebrated the day of his martyrdom.

A story has been preserved about Saint Polycarp by his disciple, Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, which Eusebius cites in his ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY (V, 20):

“I was still very young when I saw you in Asia Minor at Polycarp’s,” writes Saint Irenaeus to his friend Florinus, “but I would still be able to point out the place where Blessed Polycarp sat and conversed, and be able to depict his walk, his mannerisms in life, his outward appearance, his speaking to people, his companionable wandering with John, and how he himself related, together with other eyewitnesses of the Lord, those things that he remembered from the words of others. He also told what he heard from them about the Lord, His teachings and miracles….

“Through the mercy of God to me, I then already listened attentively to Polycarp and wrote down his words, not on tablets, but in the depths of my heart. Therefore, I am able to bear witness before God, that if this blessed and apostolic Elder heard something similar to your fallacy, he would immediately stop up his ears and express his indignation with his usual phrase: ‘Good God! That Thou hast permitted me to be alive at such a time!’”

During his life the holy bishop wrote several Epistles to the flock and letters to various individuals. The only one that has survived to the present day is his Epistle to the Philippians which, Saint Jerome testifies, was read in the churches of Asia Minor at divine services. It was written by the saint in response to the request of the Philippians to send them some letters of the hieromartyr Ignatius (December 20) which Saint Polycarp had in his possession.

The composer H.I.F. Bibier (1644-1704) has written a Sonata “Scti Polycarpi” for eight trumpets in honor of the holy martyr.

Venerable Polycarp of Briansk

Saint Polycarp of Briansk, in the world, was Prince Peter Ivanovich Boryatinsky, a descendant of Saint Michael, Prince of Chernigov (September 20). This supposition has been put forward because Boryatinsky is connected with the destiny of the Briansk Savior Transfiguration monastery.

The name of Prince Peter Boryatinsky is often encountered in documents of the sixteenth century. Thus, he was among those sent off to wage war against the Swedish king at the river Sestra. In 1576, he was named voevod at Tula. In 1580, Boryatinsky, having been appointed voevod at Kholm, was captured by the Lithuanians under a siege headed by Panin. Upon his release from captivity under Boris Godinov, Boryatinsky returned home in disgrace.

In 1591 he was named voevod at Tiumen, but after several years he left the world, settled at Briansk and received monastic tonsure with the name Polycarp. From his means the monk built a monastery of the Transfiguration of the Lord and established in it a Rule of strict ascetical life. Saint Polycarp was the first Superior of this monastery. He died and was buried there in 1620 or 1621.

Venerable John, Ascetic of the Syrian Deserts

Saint John, disciple of Saint Limnaeus (February 22), lived in Syria in the fifth century, and chose for himself the ascetic struggle of “a shelterless life.” He settled on a hill, sheltered from the wind on all sides, and lived there for twenty-five years. He ate only bread and salt, and he exhausted his body under heavy chains. When one of the nearby ascetics planted an almond tree on the hill so that Saint John could enjoy its shade and get out of the vicious heat, the saint told him to cut it down. This he did in order to deny his body any respite.

Venerable Antiochus and Antoninus, ascetics of the Syrian Deserts

Saints Antiochus and Antoninus also lived in asceticism with Saint John. They continued their ascetical struggles until they reached an advanced age, offering an example of spiritual strength, and overcoming every obstacle.

Venerable Moses, Ascetic of the Syrian Deserts

Saint Moses lived in Syria in the fifth century. Imitating Saint John, he settled on a high mountain near the village of Rama. He was a disciple of Saint Polychronius, and lived with him. Emulating his Elder in everything, Saint Moses was the very model of an austere ascetical life.

Saint Moses died in Syria in the fifth century.

Venerable Zebinas, Ascetic of the Syrian Deserts

Saint Zebinas lived in Syria during the fifth century. He lived an ascetical life on the same mountain as Saint Moses. He never sat down during his Rule of prayer, but sometimes he leaned on his staff. The neighboring inhabitants venerated Saint Zebinas, and they received great help in their sorrows and needs through his prayers.

He reached a great old age, then departed to the Lord.

Venerable Polychronius, Ascetic of the Syrian Deserts

Saint Polychronius lived in Syria in the fifth century. He was the disciple of Saint Zebinas, and imitated the life of his Elder, spending both day and night in fasting and vigil. Saint Polychronius had no chains, but he dug up a heavy oaken root from the earth and carried it on his shoulders when he prayed. Saint Polychronius asked God to send rain during a drought, and he filled up a stone vessel with oil for the needy.

Venerable Damian, Ascetic of the Syrian Deserts

Saint Damian lived in Syria in the fifth century. He withdrew to a monastery named Ieros and lived there in asceticism. In his cell he had only a small box of lentils from which he ate.

Venerable Alexander, founder of the Monastery of the “Unsleeping Ones”

Saint Alexander, Founder of the Monastery of the “Unsleeping Ones,” was born in Asia and received his education at Constantinople. He spent some time in military service but, sensing a calling to other service, he left the world and received monastic tonsure in one of the desert monasteries near Antioch under the guidance of Igumen Elias.

Having advanced through all the degrees of monastic obedience, he received a blessing from the igumen to dwell in the wilderness. The saint lived an ascetical life in the wilderness, taking only the Holy Gospel with him. Afterwards, the Lord summoned him to preach to pagans. He converted to the faith the local city-head Rabbul, who afterwards prospered in the service of the Church, attaining the rank of bishop, and for thirty years, he occupied the bishop’s cathedra in the city of Edessa.

Finally, Saint Alexander settled not far from the Euphrates River. Monks gathered around him, attracted by the loftiness of his prayerful asceticism and spiritual experience. A monastery of 400 monks eventually sprang up there.

Then the holy igumen in his prayerful zeal decided to offer never-ceasing praise to the Lord at the monastery both by day and by night. For three years the holy abba prayed that God might reveal to him whether it was pleasing to Him to establish such a monastic rule. He received an answer by divine revelation. All the monks were divided into twenty-four watches of prayer. Changing shifts each hour, two choirs sang the holy Psalms both day and night, except when divine services were celebrated in church. Hence the name “Monastery of Unsleeping Ones,” since the ascetics offered unceasing praise to God.

Saint Alexander guided the monastery on the Euphrates for twelve years. Thereafter, having left the experienced Elder Trophimus as igumen, he set off with some chosen brethren through the cities bordering on Persia, to preach the Gospel. Having arrived at Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, he also established a monastery there with his Rule of unceasing praise. The abba died at a great old age after fifty years of monastic struggles. His death occurred in the year 430.

Saint Alexander is also commemorated on July 3.

Venerable Damian of Esphigmenou of Mount Athos

Saint Damian lived in the thirteenth century. He was a hesychast on Mt. Athos, and struggled in the skete of Esphigmenou monastery, on a mountain called Samareia, between the monasteries of Hilandar and Esphigmenou, and also in one of the caves where the Father of Russian Monasticism, Saint Anthony of the Caves (July 10), had lived in asceticism.

Known for his ascetic life and for the miracles he performed, he was truly obedient and kept the injunctions of the Fathers.

Saint Damian reposed in his cell in the year 1280, and a miraculous fragrance issued from his grave for forty days. His Life was written by his friend Saint Cosmas of Zographou Monastery (September 22).

Monastic Martyr Damian of Philotheou

Saint Damian of Philotheou was a disciple of Saint Dometius (August 7). He was from the village of Richovon (Merichovon) near Agrapha. He went to Mt. Athos when he was quite young, and received the monastic tonsure at Philotheou Monastery. After spending some time there, he withdrew to a hermitage under the guidance of an Elder named Dometius.

After three years, he heard a voice telling him to go forth and teach. He obeyed these instructions, preaching in many areas of Greece. He urged his fellow Christians to repent of their sins, to abstain from all vices, to obey God’s commandments, and to devote themselves to God-pleasing works.

As he was on his way to a village, Saint Damian was arrested by the Turks and thrown into prison. After fifteen days of torture, he was hanged and then thrown into a fire.

Saint Damian received the crown of martyrdom on February 23, 1568.

New Hieromartyr Nicholas (Dmitrov) of Tver

No information available at this time.

Saint Gorgonia, Sister of Saint Gregory the Theologian

Most of the information about Saint Gorgonia (Γοργονία) comes from her brother, Saint Gregory Nazianzus (January 25) in his Oration VIII, "On his Sister Gorgonia," which was delivered sometime after their brother Saint Caesarius (March 9) went to the Lord in 369, and before the repose of their father, the elder Saint Gregory Nazianzus, in 374.

She was the daughter of Saint Gregory Nazianzus (January 1) and Saint Nonna (August 5), and was named for her maternal grandmother Gorgonia. Saint Gregory the Theologian tells us that she derived her existence and her reputation from their parents, because they sowed in her the seeds of piety.

In praising her virtues, Saint Gregory states that her modesty surpassed those of her own time, and those who lived before her. She blended the excellence of the married state with that of the unmarried state, avoiding the disadvantages of each, while combining all that is best in both. Thus, Saint Gorgonia proved that "neither of them absolutely binds us to, or separates us from, God or the world." It is the mind which nobly presides over marriage and virginity, arranging and working on them as "the raw material of virtue."

Saint Gorgonia had consecrated herself to God, and also won her husband Alypios to her side. He was from the city of Iconium, where Faustinus was the bishop. She made Alypios "a good fellow servant, instead of an unreasonable master." This pious couple had five children; two sons who became bishops, and three daughters: Alypianḗ, Eugenia, and Nonna. Moreover, she made her children and their children's children the fruit of her spirit, dedicating to God not only her soul, but also her entire family and household. As long as she lived, she showed herself as an example of all that is good. Her devoted brother even compared her to King Solomon's virtuous woman (Proverbs 31:10-31).

This daughter of a saintly family took both her natural and spiritual parents as her models of virtue, and they were the source of her goodness. She did not wear fine clothes or expensive jewelry, nor did she use pigments to enhance her beauty. The only red coloring dear to her was the blush of modesty; and her only white coloring was the tint of temperance.

She adorned the churches with offerings, and thereby presented herself to God as a living temple. She opened her house to members of her family who were in want, and even to strangers. She was sympathetic to those in trouble, and compassionate toward widows. She "dispersed abroad" and "gave to the poor" (Psalm 111/112:9). The only wealth she left to her children was the excellence of her example.

In her fasting, her chanting of the Psalms, her vigils, her tears, and her prayers, she surpassed not only women, but also the most devout men, thereby demonstrating that the distinction between male and female is one of body, not of soul.

One day, as Saint Gorgonia was riding in her carriage, the mules bolted and the carriage was overturned. She was dragged over the ground and suffered serious injury. Those who were not Christians were scandalized that God would permit such a thing to happen to this righteous woman. Although she was bruised in her bones and limbs, she would not allow a physician to examine her, in order to preserve her modesty. She trusted that God would heal her, and He did. Seeing her unexpected recovery, people concluded that the accident had occurred so that by her patient endurance and her miraculous healing, God would be glorified.

Saint Gorgonia longed for death, preferring to be with Christ rather than remain on earth. She had a vision in which the day of her death was revealed to her so that she might prepare herself. As that time drew near she took to her bed, and spent her last day giving instructions to her husband, her children, and her friends. After discoursing about spiritual matters, she reposed in the year 370 at the age of thirty-eight. Her last words were, “I will both lie down in peace and sleep” (Psalm 4:8).