ABSTAIN FROM MEAT
Cheesefare Saturday, Conon the Gardener, Parthenios the New Martyr who contested in Didymoteichos, Mark the Ascetic, Righteous Father Mark of Athens, John the Bulgarian, Mark the Faster, George the New-Martyr of Rapsani, Eulogios the Martyr, Eulabios the Martyr, Conon the Isaurian, Archelaos the Martyr of Egypt
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS 5:22-26; 6:1-2
Brethren, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another. Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
The Lord said, ‘Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
Our Father who are in heaven, ‘Hallowed be your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors; And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever. Amen.
On this day, we commemorate all the righteous and God-bearing Fathers and Mothers, both known and unknown, who shone forth in asceticism. With these two weeks of Meatfare and Cheesefare, the Church gradually eases us into the full fasting which begins on Monday.
The holy acetics are virtuous men and women who contended against the devil and their own passions. By examining their lives and their struggles against the Enemy, we take courage from the victory they have achieved, and are inspired to imitate their God-pleasing conduct. They also teach us that fasting is not merely abstinence from food, but involves refraining from inappropriate speech and unseemly actions.
Since these holy ascetics share the same human nature that we have, their example is an encouragement to us as we embark on our own spiritual struggles. Their lives are a model for us to follow as we seek to acquire and practice the various virtues and to turn away from everything evil. If we undertake these same struggles of prayer, fasting, and good works, we shall receive from God the same reward they did.
Most of the holy ascetics commemorated today have their own separate Feast Day during the year, while some are remembered only on this day.
The Holy Martyr Conon of Isauria was born in Bethany, a village near the Asia Minor city of Isauria, whose inhabitants had accepted Christianity from the Apostle Paul. From his youth, Saint Conon was accorded the special protection of the “Archistrategos” (“Leader of the Heavenly Hosts”) Michael, who appeared to him and assisted him in many difficult circumstances in life.
At the insistence of his parents, Conon was betrothed to a maiden named Anna. He persuaded her to live with him in virginity after the wedding. The young couple lived as brother and sister, devoting themselves entirely to God. Saint Conon brought also his parents to the Christian Faith. His father, Saint Nestor, received a martyr’s death for denouncing idol-worshippers.
After burying both his mother and wife, Saint Conon continued his service to God, devoting himself entirely to monastic works, fasting and prayer. In his declining years the holy ascetic was glorified with the gift of wonderworking. By virtue of his preaching and miracles many pagans were converted to Christ. It is said that even the evil spirits were forced to serve him.
When a persecution against Christians broke out in Isauria, one of the first to suffer was Saint Conon. He was subjected to fierce torments for his refusal to offer sacrifice to idols. When the people of Isauria learned of the tortures to which the saint was being subjected, they came forth bearing arms to defend the martyr. Frightened by the people’s wrath, the torturers fled, and the Isaurians found the martyr wounded and bloodied at the place of torture.
Saint Conon wished to endure martyrdom for the Lord, but he lived two more years. Saint Conon died in the second century and was buried beside his parents and wife.
On March 5, 1463, the relics of holy Prince Theodore and his sons, David and Constantine were uncovered at Yaroslavl. The chronicler, an eyewitness to the event, wrote: “At the city of Yaroslavl in the monastery of the Holy Savior they unearthed three Great Princes: Prince Theodore Rostislavich and his sons David and Constantine, and brought them above the ground. The Great Prince Theodore was a man of great stature, and they placed his sons David and Constantine beside him. They were shorter than he was. All three had lain in a single grave.”
The physical appearance of the holy prince so impressed the eyewitnesses and those present at the uncovering of the relics, that an account of this event was entered into the Prologue (lives of saints) in Saint Theodore’s Life, and also into the text of the Manual for Iconographers.
Saints Theodore, David and Constantine are also commemorated on September 19.
Saint Adrian of Poshekhonye was born at Rostov the Great at the end of the sixteenth century, of pious parents named Gregory and Irene. Saint Adrian received monastic tonsure at the monastery of Saint Cornelius of Komel (May 19).
Among the brethren gathered around Saint Cornelius were some capable builders and iconographers, so the monastery churches were constructed and adorned by the saints themselves. In the final years of Saint Cornelius’s life, Kazan Tatars invaded the territory around the monastery, and he led all the brethren to the River Ukhtoma. But the Tatars did not touch the monastery, being frightened off by the sight of the many soldiers defending it, and they soon withdrew from the Vologda district. Saint Cornelius returned to the monastery with the brethren and reposed there on May 19, 1537.
Three years after the death of Saint Cornelius, Saint Adrian, then a hierodeacon, greatly desired to go into a wilderness place and found a monastery in honor of the Most Holy Theotokos. The Lord helped him fulfill his intention. A certain unknown Elder of striking appearance came to the Corniliev monastery. Saint Adrian asked him his name, and the Elder referred to himself as “the lowly one.”
When Saint Adrian invited him to his own cell and asked him to say something beneficial for the soul, the Elder said that he would show Saint Adrian the spot where he should build the church and monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos.
Saint Adrian immediately went to the Superior, Igumen Laurence, and sought his blessing to live in the wilderness. Recalling Saint Cornelius’s order that any monks who wished to withdraw into the wilderness should be released from the monastery, Igumen Laurence did not hinder Saint Adrian but gave him his blessing. He also sent with him his assistant, Elder Leonid. After they prayed at the grave of Saint Cornelius, Saint Adrian and Elder Leonid went on their way, led by the mysterious black-robed monk. Saint Adrian carried with him an icon of the Dormition of the Mother of God, which he also painted.
On September 13, 1540, the eve of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross of the Lord, Saint Adrian and Elder Leonid arrived in the wild Poshekhonye forest, near the settlements of Belta, Patrabolsha, Shelshedolsk and Ukhorsk.
They halted at the banks of the River Votkha. There the Elder leading them suddenly became invisible. The astonished travelers began to chant the Canon and service of the Feast, with tears of thanks to God. Indeed this was a portent of the future fame of the monastery, a place where God would be glorified.
For three years Saint Adrian and the Elder Leonid survived in the wilderness solitude, suffering want, overcoming temptations from the devil and the whisperings of wicked folk, and then they began to fulfill their intention. Choosing a suitable moment, the ascetics went to Moscow to ask the blessing of Metropolitan Macarius to establish a monastery and church in honor of the Dormition of the Mother of God on the Poshekhonye side of the River Votkha.
Saint Macarius gave his blessing to the ascetics to build the monastery, and he gave them a written document to that effect. He ordained Adrian to the priesthood and elevated him to the rank of igumen. In the document he had given to Saint Adrian, the hierarch bade “priests, deacons, monks and laymen to listen to him and obey him in everything, as befits a pastor and teacher.”
At Moscow the Poshekhonye ascetics found generous benefactors who gave the monks abundant offerings to build their church. Returning to their wilderness spot on May 31, 1543, Saint Adrian laid the foundations for the church with a trapeza, in honor of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos.
Having embellished and consecrated the new church, Saint Adrian began the construction of the monastery. The strict monastic Rule of Saint Cornelius was introduced at the monastery. Having nothing of their own, a little being sufficient for everyone, the saints devoted a large portion of their time to prayer, both in church and in their cells, and no small time was allotted to the reading of Holy Scripture. This reading was done “not in an elegant voice, nor for effect, but in a humble and mild voice. One reads, and another speaks of what is read.” They also read in private.
In addition to his duties as igumen, Saint Adrian also occupied himself with painting icons. When his holy soul longed for complete silence, he withdrew into the depths of the forest into the cell and chapel he had built one verst away from the monastery.
Six years after the founding of the monastery, Elder Leonid reposed. Saint Adrian and the brethren buried him with reverence. The number of the brethren had increased during this time. They built three cells as dwellings, and a fourth for preparing food and baking bread.
Saint Adrian began to make plans for the construction of a large stone church, and he gathered a sum of money for this purpose. One year after the repose of Elder Leonid, during Great Lent of 1550, on the eve of the commemoration of the 42 Ammoreian Martyrs (March 6), armed robbers burst into the monastery and murdered Saint Adrian after beating him.
The holy relics of Saint Martyr Adrian were uncovered on December 17, 1626, solemnly transferred into the monastery church and placed in an open crypt by the right kliros (choir). Many miracles occurred at the grave of Saint Adrian.
The Holy Martyr Onesimus (Onisius) lived in Palestine. He was beheaded with the sword for confessing faith in Christ.
The Holy Martyr Conon the Gardener was born in Nazareth of Galilee, but he lived in the city of Mandona, where he occupied himself with gardening. He was a God-fearing man, sincere in heart, and without malice. The saint suffered for his faith in Christ under the emperor Decius (249-251). When they brought him to trial, he unwaveringly and firmly confessed his faith. The torturers drove nails into his feet and dragged him behind a chariot until the sufferer collapsed from exhaustion. With a prayer, he surrendered his spirit to the Lord.
No information on the life of this saint is available at this time.
The Holy Martyr Eulogius was a native of Palestine. After the death of his pagan parents he gave away all his inheritance to the poor, and he himself became a wanderer and went through Palestine, converting pagans to Christianity. During the time of a persecution he was arrested, subjected to terrible tortures and beheaded.
The Holy Martyr Eulampius lived in Palestine. He was beheaded for his faith in Christ.
Saint Mark the Ascetic was born in Athens during the fifth century, and became a monk in the Nitrian desert (Lower Egypt). From his youth his fondest pursuit was the reading of Holy Scripture. It is said that he knew the whole Bible by heart.
Nine of his thirty discourses have come down to us. Three of them are in Volume I of the English PHILOKALIA. The Byzantines had such a high regard for his writings that they said, “Sell everything and buy Mark.”
He was noted for his gentleness and purity of soul. He was known as “the Ascetic” because of his abstinence. He lived for ninety years as a solitary, then surrendered his soul to God when he was one hundred and twenty years old.
Saint Hesychius the Faster was born in the eighth century in the coastal city of Adrineia in Bithynia. Raised since his youth in piety, he left his parental home and practiced asceticism in a wilderness spot on Mount Maionis. Despite the threat of demons and wild animals and robbers living there, the holy ascetic in seeking greater solitude settled there and built himself a cell, digging himself a garden and eating from the fruit of his labors. After a certain while disciples began to throng to him. At a spring of water in a valley not far off Saint Hesychius built a church in the name of the holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called. Even during his lifetime he was granted the gift of wonderworking.
One time they brought a demon-possessed girl to him. Her parents, falling down at the feet of the holy ascetic, implored his holy prayers for her healing. The holy ascetic made prayer for the unfortunate one, and the devils left her. Turning to the parents of the healed girl, Saint Hesychius predicted that a women’s holy monastery would arise at the place their daughter was healed. And actually the prophecy was fulfilled in the future.
An angel appeared to Saint Hesychius three days before his end and predicted to him his approaching demise. He accepted the news with joy. And before his blessed end, the saint summoned his disciples and for a long while he instructed them. At midnight the cell of the saint and the surrounding area suddenly gleamed with a heavenly light, and Saint Hesychius fell asleep in the Lord with the words: “Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”
At the place of his efforts, in accord with the prediction of Saint Hesychius, was later on built a women’s monastery. The holy relics of Saint Hesychius, buried at the church of the holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called, were later transferred by Theophylactus, Bishop of Amasea, to the city of Amasea (Asia Minor).
Today’s saint should not be confused with Saint Hesychius the Theologian, the priest of Jerusalem (March 28), whose writings are in the Philokalia.
In the Icon called “Nurturing,” the Mother of God is depicted with her eternal Child sitting on her left arm. Christ’s right hand is extended upward to the face of the All-Pure Virgin.
Before 1917, the holy image was located in the Kazan Cathedral on Red Square, but it was lost after the destruction of that church in 1936. The church was rebuilt in 1993, and it houses a copy of the Nurturing Icon. At that place there is a list of wonderworking icons glorified throughout Russia for their miracles.
The title of the Icon speaks for itself. Parents pray for their children in her presence, asking the Most Holy Theotokos to take them under her protection, to send them understanding, and to fill their hearts with wisdom.
Until our own time, a brief prayer has been associated with this image:
O All-Holy Lady, Virgin Theotokos, save and keep under your protection my children (names), all boys and girls and infants, both those who are baptized and those who are nameless and those being carried in their mother's womb. Cover them with your own maternal mantle. Preserve them in the fear of God and in obedience to their parents. Implore your Son and our Lord to grant them what is needful for their salvation. I entrust them to your maternal providence, for you are the divine protection of your servants. Amen.
The holy New Martyr John was born in Bulgaria in 1775. Since fanatical Moslems believed that they would be assured of an eternal “paradise” where they would enjoy beautiful virgins and an abundance of food if they could force Christians to deny Christ and follow Mohammed, they spared no effort to convert Christians through flattery or by threats of death.
When John was still a boy, he fell in with Moslem companions. Through various ways, he was led to renounce Christ and to follow Islam. He came to his senses when he was about sixteen, and was stricken with grief at his denial of Christ. He fled to Mt. Athos to the Great Lavra. Here he spent his time in repentence under the guidance of an Elder.
He lived a monastic life of great strictness for three years, yet his conscience continued to trouble him. With the blessing of his Elder, he decided to travel to Constantinople to wipe out his apostasy by confessing Christ in a public way and by shedding his blood.
The young monk dressed himself as a Turk, which a Christian was not permitted to do. Arriving in Constantinople, he went directly to the church of Hagia Sophia, which had been turned into a mosque. Right in front of the Moslems, he made the Sign of the Cross and began to recite Christian prayers. Then he said in a loud voice that he had been born a Christian, but had fallen into error and renounced Christ. Now, he declared, he wished to renounce the false religion of Mohammed in order to follow Christ once more.
The Turks fell into a frenzied rage when they heard his words. They seized him and began to torture him in various ways. “Renounce Christ,” they said, “and return to the Moslem faith, or you will be killed.”
Saint John replied, “Without Christ, there is no salvation.”
The furious Hagarenes dragged the saint out to the courtyard to behead him. In this manner, Saint John received the crown of martyrdom in 1784 at the age of nineteen.