FIRST MONDAY OF LENT – CLEAN MONDAY
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS, WINE, OLIVE OIL
The Holy Martyred Bishops of Cherson: Basileus, Ephraim, Eugene, Capito, Aetherius, Agathodorus, and Elpidius, Lavrentios of Megara, the Righteous, Paul the Simple
The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzzi'ah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezeki'ah, kings of Judah. Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: "Sons have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master's crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand.
Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.
Why will you still be smitten, that you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and bleeding wounds; they are not pressed out, or bound up, or softened with oil.
Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by aliens. And the daughter of Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a lodge in a cucumber field, like a besieged city.
If the Lord of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom, and become like Gomor'rah.
Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomor'rah! "What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats.
When you come to appear before me, who requires of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and the calling of assemblies — I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.
Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.
And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
And God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.
And God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. And God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth." And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.
The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:
That men may know wisdom and instruction, understand words of insight, receive instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity; that prudence may be given to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth — the wise man also may hear and increase in learning, and the man of understanding acquire skill, to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and reject not your mother's teaching; for they are a fair garland for your head, and pendants for your neck. My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, "Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood, let us wantonly ambush the innocent; like Sheol let us swallow them alive and whole, like those who go down to the Pit; we shall find all precious goods, we shall fill our houses with spoil; throw in your lot among us, we will all have one purse" — my son, do not walk in the way with them, hold back your foot from their paths; for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood. For in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird; but these men lie in wait for their own blood, they set an ambush for their own lives. Such are the ways of all who get gain by violence; it takes away the life of its possessors.
Wisdom cries aloud in the street; in the markets she raises her voice.
In the Orthodox Church, the last Sunday before Great Lent—the day on which, at Vespers, Lent is liturgically announced and inaugurated—is called Forgiveness Sunday. On the morning of that Sunday, at the Divine Liturgy, we hear the words of Christ:
“If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses…” (Mark 6:14-15).
Then after Vespers—after hearing the announcement of Lent in the Great Prokeimenon: “Turn not away Thy face from Thy child, for I am afflicted! Hear me speedily! Draw near unto my soul and deliver it!”, after making our entrance into Lenten worship, with its special melodies, with the prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian, with its prostrations—we ask forgiveness from each other, we perform the rite of forgiveness and reconciliation. And as we approach each other with words of reconciliation, the choir intones the Paschal hymns, filling the church with the anticipation of Paschal joy.
What is the meaning of this rite? Why is it that the Church wants us to begin the Lenten season with forgiveness and reconciliation? These questions are in order because for too many people Lent means primarily, and almost exclusively, a change of diet, the compliance with ecclesiastical regulations concerning fasting. They understand fasting as an end in itself, as a “good deed” required by God and carrying in itself its merit and its reward. But the Church spares no effort in revealing to us that fasting is but a means, one among many, towards a higher goal: the spiritual renewal of man, his return to God, true repentance and, therefore, true reconciliation. The Church spares no effort in warning us against a hypocritical and pharisaic fasting, against the reduction of religion to mere external obligations. As a Lenten hymn says:
“In vain do you rejoice in not eating, O soul!
For you abstain from food,
But from passions you are not purified.
If you persevere in sin, you will perform a useless fast!”
Now, forgiveness stands at the very center of Christian faith and of Christian life because Christianity itself is, above all, the religion of forgiveness. God forgives us, and His forgiveness is in Christ, His Son, whom He sends to us so that by sharing in His humanity we may share in His love and be truly reconciled with God. Indeed, Christianity has no other content but love. And it is primarily the renewal of that love, a growth in it, that we seek in Great Lent, in fasting and prayer, in the entire spirit and the entire effort of that season. Thus, truly forgiveness is both the beginning of, and the proper condition for, the Lenten season.
One may ask, however: Why should I perform this rite when I have no “enemies?” Why should I ask forgiveness from people who have done nothing to me, and whom I hardly know? To ask these questions is to misunderstand the Orthodox teaching concerning forgiveness. It is true that open enmity, personal hatred, real animosity may be absent from our life, though if we experience them, it may be easier for us to repent, for these feelings openly contradict Divine commandments. But the Church reveals to us that there are much subtler ways of offending Divine Love. These are indifference, selfishness, lack of interest in other people, of any real concern for them—in short, that wall which we usually erect around ourselves, thinking that by being “polite” and “friendly” we fulfill God’s commandments. The rite of forgiveness is so important precisely because it makes us realize—be it only for one minute—that our entire relationship to other men is wrong, makes us experience that encounter of one child of God with another, of one person created by God with another, makes us feel that mutual “recognition” which is so terribly lacking in our cold and dehumanized world.
On that unique evening, listening to the joyful Paschal hymns we are called to make a spiritual discovery: to taste of another mode of life and relationship with people, of life whose essence is love. We can discover that always and everywhere Christ, the Divine Love Himself, stands in the midst of us, transforming our mutual alienation into brotherhood. As I advance towards the other, as the other comes to me—we begin to realize that it is Christ who brings us together by His love for both of us.
And because we make this discovery—and because this discovery is that of the Kingdom of God itself: the Kingdom of Peace and Love, of reconciliation with God and, in Him, with all that exists—we hear the hymns of that Feast, which once a year “opens to us the doors of Paradise.” We know why we shall fast and pray, what we shall seek during the long Lenten pilgrimage.
Forgiveness Sunday: the day on which we acquire the power to make our fasting—true fasting; our effort—true effort; our reconciliation with God—true reconciliation.
—Father Alexander Schmemann
The Hieromartyrs Basil, Ephraim, Eugene, Elpidius, Agathodorus, Aetherius, and Capiton carried the Gospel of Christ into the North Black Sea region from the Danube to the Dniper, including the Crimea. They were bishops of Cherson at different times during the fourth century, and they sealed their apostolic activity with martyrdom. Only Aetherius died in peace.
Long before the Baptism of Rus under Saint Vladimir, the Christian Faith had already spread into the Crimea, which in antiquity was called Tauridia and was ruled by the Roman Emperor. The beginning of the enlightenment of Tauridia is attributed to the holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called (November 30).
The Church’s enemies unwillingly contributed to the further spread of Christianity. The Roman emperors often banished traitors to this area. During the first three centuries, Christians were regarded as traitors because they would not follow the state religion. In the reign of Trajan (98-117), Saint Clement, Bishop of Rome (November 25), was sent to work in a stone quarry near Cherson. There he continued his preaching, and suffered martyrdom.
The pagans inhabiting the Crimea stubbornly resisted the spread of Christianity. But the faith of Christ, through its self-sacrificing preachers, grew strong and was affirmed. Many missionaries gave their lives in this struggle.
At the beginning of the fourth century a bishop’s See was established at Cherson. This was a critical period when Cherson served as a base for the Roman armies which constantly passed through the area. During the reign of Diocletian (284-305), the Patriarch of Jerusalem sent many bishops to preach the Gospel in various lands. Two of them, Ephraim and Basil, arrived in Cherson and planted the Word of God there.
Later on, Saint Ephraim went to the peoples living along the Danube, where he underwent many tribulations and sorrows. He was beheaded at the start of the persecution. The preaching at Cherson was continued by Saint Basil, Saint Ephraim’s companion. He set many idol-worshippers on the path of truth. Other wayward inhabitants of the city, enraged at his activity, rose up against him. The saint was arrested, mercilessly beaten and expelled from the city.
He went to a mountain and settled in a cave, where he unceasingly prayed to God for those who had driven him out, asking that He might illumine them with the light of true knowledge. And the Lord provided the unbelievers with a miracle. The only son of an important citizen of Cherson died. The dead child appeared to his parents in a dream and said that a certain man named Basil could resurrect him from the dead by his prayers.
When the parents had found the saint and entreated him to work the miracle, Saint Basil replied that he himself was a sinful man and had not the power to raise the dead, but the Lord Almighty could fulfill their request if they were to believe in Him. For a long time the saint prayed, invoking the Name of the Holy Trinity. Then he blessed water, and sprinkled it on the dead one, who was restored to life. The saint returned to the city with honor, and many believed and were baptized.
Soon, by order of the emperor Maximian Galerius (305-311), the persecution against Christians spread with renewed force. The Christ-haters rose up also against Saint Basil. On March 7, 309 he was dragged from his house during the night. They tied him up, dragged him along the streets and beat him to death with stones and rods. The body of the saint was thrown out of the city to be eaten by dogs and birds, and for many days it was left unburied, but remained untouched. Then Christians secretly buried the body of the holy martyr in a cave.
A year after the martyrdom of Saint Basil, three of his companions, Bishops Eugene, Elpidius and Agathodorus, ceased their preaching in the Hellespont, and arrived at Cherson to continue his holy work. They endured many hardships for the salvation of human souls. All three bishops shared the fate of their predecessor: they were stoned to death by the pagans on March 7, 311.
When Constantine the Great (May 21) took the throne, Bishop Aetherius was sent by emperor Constantine to Cherson from Jerusalem. At first he also encountered hostility on the part of the pagans, but the holy emperor would not tolerate acts of violence against the preacher. He issued a decree permitting the Christians of Cherson to have church services without hindrance. Through the efforts of Saint Aetherius a church was built in the city, where the saint peacefully governed his flock.
Saint Aetherius journeyed to Constantinople to thank the emperor for protecting the Christians. He fell ill and died on the return trip.
The holy emperor Constantine then sent Bishop Capiton to Cherson to replace Saint Aetherius. The Christians met him with joy, but the pagans demanded a sign from the new bishop, so they might believe in the God Whom he preached. Placing all his hope on the Lord, Saint Capiton put on his omophorion and went into a burning furnace. He prayed in the fire for about an hour, and emerged from it unharmed. “Shall anyone bind fire in his bosom, and not burn his garments?” Solomon asks (Prov. 6:27). Saint Capiton carried red-hot coals in his phelonion, yet neither his body nor his garments were scorched. Many of the unbelievers were then persuaded in the power of the Christian God.
This miracle and the great faith of Saint Capiton were reported to Saint Constantine and the holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council (325), and they all glorified God.
After several years Saint Capiton journeyed to Constantinople on business, but the ship encountered a storm at the mouth of the Dniepr River. The local people (pagans) seized the ship and drowned all those on board, including Saint Capiton. Although this occurred on December 21, Saint Capiton is commemorated with the other hieromartyrs of Cherson on March 7.
Saint Paul the Simple of Egypt also lived in the fourth century and was called the Simple for his simplicity of heart and gentleness. He had been married, but when he discovered his wife’s infidelity, he left her and went into the desert to Saint Anthony the Great (January 17). Paul was already 60 years old, and at first Saint Anthony would not accept Paul, saying that he was unfit for the harshness of the hermit’s life. Paul stood outside the cell of the ascetic for three days, saying that he would sooner die than go from there. Then Saint Anthony took Paul into his cell, and tested his endurance and humility by hard work, severe fasting, with nightly vigils, constant singing of Psalms and prostrations. Finally, Saint Anthony decided to settle Paul into a separate cell.
During the many years of ascetic exploits the Lord granted Saint Paul both discernment, and the power to cast out demons. When they brought a possessed youth to Saint Anthony, he guided the afflicted one to Saint Paul saying, “I cannot help the boy, for I have not received power over the Prince of the demons. Paul the Simple, however, does have this gift.” Saint Paul expelled the demon by his simplicity and humility.
After living for many years, performing numerous miracles, he departed to the Lord. He is mentioned by Saint John, the Abbot of Sinai (Ladder 24:30): “The thrice-blessed Paul the Simple was a clear example for us, for he was the rule and type of blessed simplicity….”
Saint Paul is also commemorated on October 4.
Saint Paul the Confessor was bishop of the city of Plousias (in the province of Bithynia in Asia Minor) at a time when the iconoclasts raged against the Church of Christ. His zealous defense of the holy icons was based on Holy Scripture. Saint Paul was subjected to harassment and persecution together with Saint Theophylactus (March 8). The holy confessor was sent into exile, and reposed around the year 850.
Saint Emilian of Italy (in the world Victorinus) was a Roman by birth, and until he was an old man, he led a sinful life. He finally repented, withdrew to a monastery, and became a monk with the name of Emilian. For the remainder of his days he humbly served God, astounding the brethren by his uncomplaining obedience and strict fasting. The monks noticed that at night Emilian secretly visited a cave near the monastery. Once, the igumen followed him and found Saint Emilian in the cave, praying with tears of contrition, and illumined by an unearthly light. He heard a Voice saying, “Emilian, your sins are forgiven.”
Deeply moved by all that had happened, the igumen after morning services asked the Elder to tell the brethren his secret, and the saint told everyone of God’s great mercy toward him. Then the igumen said to the brethren, “The Lord could have forgiven him his sin in secret, but for our sake He revealed His mercy with light and a voice, so that we might behold His grace and mercy toward sinners who repent.”
Saint Emilian spent the remainder of his days in spiritual joy, and peacefully departed to the Lord.
The Icon of the Mother of God “Surety of Sinners” is known by this name because of the inscription on the icon: “I am the Surety of sinners for My Son Who has entrusted Me to hear them, and those who bring Me the joy of hearing them will receive eternal joy through Me.” The Mother of God embraces Her Child, Who holds Her right hand with both His hands so that Her thumb is in His right hand, and Her small finger in His left hand. This is the gesture of one who gives surety for another.
Although we do not know when or by whom the icon was originally painted, it is believed that the basis of the icon is to be found in the Akathist to the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos: “Rejoice, You Who offer Your hands in surety for us to God.”
This icon was first glorified by miracles at the Saint Nicholas Odrino men’s monastery of the former Orlov gubernia in the mid-nineteenth century (the “Assuage My Sorrows Icon” commemorated on October 9 is also from this monastery). The “Surety of Sinners” icon of the Mother of God was in an old chapel beyond the monastery gates, and stood between two other ancient icons. Because it was so faded and covered with dust, it was impossible to read the inscription.
In 1843 it was revealed to many of the people in dreams that the icon was endowed with miraculous power. They solemnly brought the icon into the church. Believers began to flock to it to pray for the healing of their sorrows and sicknesses. The first to receive healing was a crippled child, whose mother prayed fervently before the icon in 1844. The icon was glorified during a cholera epidemic, when many people fell deathly ill, and were restored to health after praying before the icon.
A large stone church with three altars was built at the monastery in honor of the wonderworking icon.
In 1848, through the zeal of Lt. Col. Demetrius Boncheskul, a copy of the wonderworking “Surety of Sinners” Icon was made and placed in his home. Soon it began to exude a healing myrrh, which was given to many so they might recover their health after grievous illnesses. Boncheskul donated this wonderworking copy to the church of Saint Nicholas at Khamovniki in Moscow, where a chapel was built in honor of the icon.
The “Surety of Sinners” Icon is also commemorated on May 29 and on Thursday of the week of All Saints.
The ancient Koretsk "Surety of Sinners" Icon of the Mother of God of had been kept in a castle for a long time, and was called "blessed."
After the death of Samuel, the last Orthodox Prince of Koretsk, his brother John offered to let his sister Igoumeness Serapima take the Icon from the Prince's chapel to Holy Resurrection Koretsk Maidens' Monastery. The ceremonial transfer of the holy image took place in 1622, on Thursday of Pentecost week. The annual commemoration in honor of the "Surety of Sinners" Icon of Koretsk was appointed for that day.
On August 12, 1880, the icon was transferred and returned to the Holy Trinity monastery church and placed in a carved wooden kiot near the left front column.
More than once, the wonderworking Icon was a blessed help to the suffering – in 1923, on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, a young man who was possessed by an unclean spirit, received healing before the Icon. The following year, between the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord and Thursday of Pentecost week, there were incessant downpours at Volhynia. Miraculously, after a procession around the church with the Icon, the rain began to subside.
Many believers who turn to the Queen of Heaven for her help and intercession when they experience disturbances, family troubles, and especially anguish of the soul, indicate that after praying before the Icon they receive spiritual relief and solace, for she is truly the "Surety of Sinners."
In the Icon the Mother of God is depicted with the Divine Child on her left hand, Who holds her right hand with both His hands, so that her thumb is in His right hand, and her small finger in His left hand. This is the gesture of one who gives surety for another.
The inscription reads: “I am the Surety of sinners for my Son Who has entrusted me to hear them, and through me, those who bring me the joy of hearing them shall receive everlasting joy."
On August 17, 1998, the Superior of Holy Trinity Koretsk women's monastery, Igoumeness Natalia (Ilchuk) petitioned Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow and All Russia to add the Koretsk Icon to the list of wonderworking Icons of the Mother of God on the Patriarchal Church Calendar. With the Patriarch's blessing, the celebration in honor of the Koretsk Icon was approved.
In November 2001, an attempt was made to steal the Icon, but the attackers only managed to carry off its valuable frame. People donated money for a new riza to be made, a copy of the the one which was lost.
The Koretsk "Surety of Sinners" Icon is also commemorated on the Thursday of Pentecost week.