FIRST FRIDAY OF LENT
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS, WINE, OLIVE OIL
Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theodora the Righteous, Pionios the Presbyter, George the New Wonderworker of Constantinople, Trophimos and Thallos the Martyrs
For, behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, is taking away from Jerusalem and from Judah stay and staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water; the mighty man and the soldier, the judge and the prophet, the diviner and the elder, the captain of fifty and the man of rank, the counselor and the skillful magician and the expert in charms. And I will make boys their princes, and babes shall rule over them. And the people will oppress one another, every man his fellow and every man his neighbor; the youth will be insolent to the elder, and the base fellow to the honorable.
When a man takes hold of his brother in the house of his father, saying: "You have a mantle; you shall be our leader, and this heap of ruins shall be under your rule"; in that day he will speak out, saying: "I will not be a healer; in my house there is neither bread nor mantle; you shall not make me leader of the people." For Jerusalem has stumbled, and Judah has fallen; because their speech and their deeds are against the Lord, defying his glorious presence.
Their partiality witnesses against them; they proclaim their sin like Sodom, they do not hide it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil upon themselves. Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds. Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, for what his hands have done shall be done to him. My people — children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, your leaders mislead you, and confuse the course of your paths.
The Lord has taken his place to contend, he stands to judge his people. The Lord enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: "It is you who have devoured the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.
Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God say, 'You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'" But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" And he said, "I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" The man said, "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate." Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent beguiled me, and I ate." The Lord God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." To the woman he said, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it, ' cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; by his knowledge the deeps broke forth, and the clouds drop down the dew.
My son, keep sound wisdom and discretion; let them not escape from your sight, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. Then you will walk on your way securely and your foot will not stumble. If you sit down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden panic, or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes; for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught. Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.
Do not say to your neighbor, "Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it" — when you have it with you. Do not plan evil against your neighbor who dwells trustingly beside you. Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm. Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways; for the perverse man is an abomination to the Lord, but the upright are in his confidence. The Lord's curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the abode of the righteous. Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he shows favor.
Saint Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, was born in Damascus around 560. From his youth he was distinguished for his piety and his love for classical studies. He was especially proficient in philosophy, and so he was known as Sophronius the Wise. The future hierarch, however, sought the true philosophy of monasticism, and conversations with the desert-dwellers.
He arrived in Jerusalem at the monastery of Saint Theodosius, and there he became close with the hieromonk John Moschus, becoming his spiritual son and submitting himself to him in obedience. They visited several monasteries, writing down the lives and spiritual wisdom of the ascetics they met. From these notes emerged their renowned book, the LEIMONARION or SPIRITUAL MEADOW, which was highly esteemed at the Seventh Ecumenical Council.
To save themselves from the devastating incursions of the Persians, Saints John and Sophronius left Palestine and went to Antioch, and from there they went to Egypt. In Egypt, Saint Sophronius became seriously ill. During this time he decided to become a monk and was tonsured by Saint John Moschus.
After Saint Sophronius recovered his health, they both decided to remain in Alexandria. There they were received by the holy Patriarch John the Merciful (November 12), to whom they rendered great aid in the struggle against the Monophysite heresy. At Alexandria Saint Sophronius had an affliction of the eyes, and he turned with prayer and faith to the holy Unmercenaries Cyrus and John (January 31), and he received healing in a church named for them. In gratitude, Saint Sophronius then wrote the Lives of these holy Unmercenaries.
When the barbarians began to threaten Alexandria, Patriarch John, accompanied by Saints Sophronius and John Moschus, set out for Constantinople, but he died along the way. Saints John Moschus and Sophronius then set out for Rome with eighteen other monks. Saint John Moschus died at Rome. His body was taken to Jerusalem by Saint Sophronius and buried at the monastery of Saint Theodosius.
In the year 628, Patriarch Zacharias of Jerusalem (609-633) returned from his captivity in Persia. After his death, the patriarchal throne was occupied for two years by Saint Modestus (December 18). After the death of Saint Modestus, Saint Sophronius was chosen Patriarch. Saint Sophronius toiled much for the welfare of the Jerusalem Church as its primate (634-644).
Toward the end of his life, Saint Sophronius and his flock lived through a two year siege of Jerusalem by the Moslems. Worn down by hunger, the Christians finally agreed to open the city gates, on the condition that the enemy spare the holy places. But this condition was not fulfilled, and Saint Sophronius died in grief over the desecration of the Christian holy places.
Written works by Patriarch Sophronius have come down to us in the area of dogmatics, and likewise his “Excursus on the Liturgy,” the Life of Saint Mary of Egypt (April 1), and also about 950 troparia and stikheras from Pascha to the Ascension.
While still a hieromonk, Saint Sophronius reviewed and made corrections to the Rule of the monastery of Saint Savva the Sanctified (December 5). The saint’s three Canons for the Holy Forty Day Great Fast are included in the contemporary Lenten Triodion.
Saint Euthymius, in Baptism John, was born in answer to the fervent prayers of the presbyter Micah and his wife Anna. For many years they had been childless, and they vowed that if they had a son, they would dedicate him to God. The boy read priestly books and frequently attended church services, often helping his father in the small church of Saint Theodore. All this sanctified young John’s soul. In the year 1411, he left his parental home for a monastery at the age of fifteen.
Twelve versts from Novgorod, in a wilderness spot named Vyazhisch, three monks, Euphrosynus, Ignatius and Galacteon, settled in the forests and the swamps. They were soon joined by the priest Pimen, who was tonsured with the name Pachomius. Here they lived in complete solitude at a wooden chapel they built in honor of Saint Nicholas. They lived in unceasing prayer and struggled with the severe conditions of nature in the northern regions.
The young John also came to these ascetics seeking salvation. The igumen Pachomius accepted him fondly and tonsured him into monasticism with the name Euthymius. His tonsure at such a young age is an indication of the young ascetic’s outstanding spiritual traits.
During this time the See of Novgorod was occupied by Archbishop Simeon, a simple monk who became a hierarch. The virtuous life of Saint Euthymius became known to the archbishop. Saint Euthymius was summoned to Novgorod and after a long talk with Archbishop Simeon, he was appointed as the archbishop’s steward.
At that time the Archbishops of Novgorod occupied a unique position. Independent of princely authority, they were elected directly by the assembly and they assumed a large role in secular matters. Moreover, they administered vast land-holdings. Under these conditions, an archbishop’s steward had to combine administrative talent with the utmost non-covetousness and deep Christian humility. Saint Euthymius fervently entreated the archpastor to send him back to Vyazhisch, but then he agreed to stay.
Saint Euthymius evoked general astonishment and esteem, occupying such an important position, and being at the center of business life in a large city. As a monk he devoted himself to asceticism as fervently as he would have done in the deep forest.
Archbishop Simeon died in 1421. Under the new hierarch, Euthymius I, Saint Euthymius again withdrew to his monastery. Soon, however, the monks of a monastery on Lisich Hill chose the saint as their igumen. With the death of Archbishop Euthymius I in 1429, Saint Euthymius was then chosen as archbishop. On November 29, he entered into the temple of Saint Sophia. For four years the saint administered the Novgorod diocese, while putting off being installed as archbishop. Only on May 24, 1434 was he consecrated at Smolensk by Metropolitan Gerasimus.
Saint Euthymius wisely governed his diocese for twenty-nine years, zealous in fulfilling his archpastoral duty. Saint Euthymius labored in constructing and restoring churches, especially after the devastating fires of the years 1431 and 1442.
The Sophia cathedral was richly embellished by the saint, and several new churches were built in the Novgorod Kremlin. “If you wish to see a few of his great works,” writes Pachomius the Logothete, “go to the temple of Saint Sophia. There you will see the churches he built, standing like hillocks. They speak of their varied charm, not with words, but in deed. ‘This was given me by Archbishop Euthymius,’ proclaims one church. Another says, ‘He has adorned me so magnificently.’ A third exclaims, ‘He built me up from the very foundations.’
The church of Saint John Chrysostom, tall and beautiful, blesses with the hand of Chrysostom, and proclaims: “Since you have built me a temple, I in turn shall entreat the Creator to prepare a habitation in Heaven for you.”
The cathedral of the Wisdom of God, speaking across the years of its restoration by him, proclaims: “He has restored me to my original grandeur, he has adorned me with holy icons. He is my praise and beauty.”
Saint Euthymius built also a church in honor of his Guardian Angel [i.e. Russian idiom for “patron saint”], and in 1438 he built a stone church at Vyazhitsk monastery in honor of Saint Nicholas. The following year he built a stone church in honor of Saint John the Theologian with a trapeza and consistory.
Zealous for the glory of God, Saint Euthymius had more spiritual books printed. Many service books survive from this period, transcribed “under the authority of Archbishop Euthymius.” Despite his abundant works, the saint always promptly fulfilled the monastic Rule. Whatever he could not do by day he accomplished by night. An hour before Matins the saint rose up for his cell rule. He often spent the whole night without sleep, and he wore chains, but no one knew about them until his death. The saint spent the first week of Great Lent at Vyazhitsk monastery in silent prayer, eating nothing.
In 1446 the great-princely throne was usurped by Shemyaka, who established relations with Novgorod. The political situation in Novgorod was often quite strained. In 1451, Saint Jonah (March 31) in a special letter urged the people of Novgorod to cease their rowdiness and to heed their archpastor. “Heed our son and brother, your father and teacher, the God-beloved Archbishop Euthymius, in all things.”
Saint Euthymius, advanced in age, was troubled in soul that the actions of Shemyaka might cast a pall over his relations with the revered primate, and he sent a letter to Saint Jonah. Sensing the nearness of his death, Saint Euthymius asked his prayers and pardon.
In his reply, a letter of pardon, Saint Jonah wrote: “We remind you, my son, that you comported yourself too simply: you accepted one who was excommunicated for his transgressions by Our Humility, and found him worthy of your blessing. My son, offer repentance to God for this.”
Saint Jonah ordered that if the letter of pardon should arrive after the blessed end of Novgorod’s archpastor, then it should be read over his grave. Saint Euthymius reposed on March 10, 1458. The priest Eumenius, sent by Saint Jonah with the grammota of pardon, arrived in Novgorod sixteen days after the death of Saint Euthymius, whose grave was at the church of the Vyazhitsk monastery.
When they opened the grave in order to read the letter of pardon, they then saw that the body of the saint showed no sign of decay. Saint Euthymius lay there as though asleep, and his fingers were positioned for a blessing. “God preserve Novgorod, for which Saint Euthymius prays,” exclaimed Eumenius. Reading the letter of Saint Jonah, he placed it into the hand of the deceased hierarch.
Soon after the death of the saint, the Lord glorified him by working miracles for those who sought his prayerful intercession. Greatly revering the saint, the monks of the Vyazhitsk monastery built a church in honor of Saint Euthymius, which was noted in the census of 1500.
The commemoration of Saint Euthymius was established at the Moscow Council of 1549. The Life of Saint Euthymius was written by Pachomius the Logothete, having been commissioned by Saint Jonah, Archbishop of Novgorod (November 5)
The Hieromartyrs Pionius and Limnus, and the martyrs Sabina, Macedonia, and Asclepiades suffered during the persecution of Christians in the reign of Decius (249-251). They suffered at Smyrna, a mercantile city on the eastern shores of the Aegean Sea. The Church in Smyrna was founded by the holy Apostle John the Theologian (May 8 and September 26), and was made glorious by its martyrs and confessors.
Saint Pionius knew that he and his companions would be arrested on February 23, the anniversary of Saint Polycarp’s martyrdom, and a feastday for the Christians of Smyrna. The day before they were arrested, Saint Pionius entertained Asclepiades and Sabina in his house. Taking three lengths of woven chains, Saint Pionius placed them around his neck, and around the necks of the other two. He did this to show that they were all determined to be led off to prison rather than eat food sacrificed to idols.
The holy confessors were indeed arrested on February 23. After a brief interrogation they were dragged off by Polemon the verger in order to sacrifice to the idols and eat forbidden foods. They were brought to the forum, where a great crowd had gathered.
Saint Pionius addressed the people, chiding them for laughing and rejoicing at those Christians who had agreed to offer sacrifice. He quoted Homer to the pagans (Odyssey 22, 412) and said that it was shameful to gloat over those who were about to die. He reminded the Jews in the audience of the words of Solomon: “If your enemy falls, do not rejoice over him, and do not be glad when he stumbles” (Proverbs 24:17).
Polemon attempted once again to persuade Pionius to obey the law and offer sacrifice to the idols.
“If only I could persuade you to become Christians,” he replied.
The men laughed at him, saying that he did not have the power to do that, because they knew they would be burned alive if they converted.
Saint Pionius said, “It is far worse to burn after death.”
Saint Sabina laughed when she heard this. Then Polemon threatened to put her in a brothel, but she said she believed that God would protect her.
Under questioning, Saint Pionius stated repeatedly that he was a Christian, and could not sacrifice to the emperor or to the idols.
Before Polemon came to Sabina to question her, Saint Pionus told her to say that her name was Theodote. This he did so that she would not be returned to her former mistress Politta, an immoral woman. In an effort to turn her from Christ, Politta had bound Saint Sabina and cast her out on the mountains. She was secretly helped by the brethren, and hid in Saint Pionus’s house most of the time. That is how she came to be arrested.
Saints Sabina and Asclepiades were questioned, and they said they were Christians who worshiped Jesus Christ. Then they were thrown into jail.
In prison Saint Pionius and his companions met Limnus, a priest of the Church of Smyrna, and his wife Macedonia from the village of Karine. They had also been imprisoned for confessing Christ.
Many believers visited the holy confessors in prison, offering them whatever they could, but the saints did not accept it. The jailers were angry, because they used to keep a portion of the gifts given to prisoners for themselves.
The holy martyrs were brought to the marketplace, and were urged to offer sacrifice. When they refused, they were taken back to prison. On the way, they were beaten and mocked by the crowd. Someone said to Saint Sabina, “Why couldn’t you have died in your own city?”
Saint Sabina retorted, “What is my native city?”
Terentius, who was in charge of the gladiatorial games, said to Asclepiades, “After you are condemned, I shall ask that you compete in the games given by my son.”
“That does not scare me,” he said.
After many torments, the holy martyr was brought to the amphitheatre on March 11, 250. Since he still refused to offer sacrifice to the idols, Saint Pionius was sentenced to be burned alive. He was nailed to a cross, then they stacked wood around him and lit the fire. When the fire subsided, everyone saw the body of the saint was unharmed. Not even the hairs of his head had been singed. His face was radiant, and shone with divine grace. After his victory in the contest, Saint Pionius received an incorruptible crown of glory from the Savior Christ.
Saint Pionius transcribed the Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp of Smyrna (February 23) from an older copy made by Isocrates (or Socrates) in Corinth. This document in turn was transcribed from an earlier manuscript written by Gaius, and was based on the recollections of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (August 23), who knew Saint Polycarp. Saint Polycarp appeared to Pionius in a vision, telling him to search for the text of Isocrates. Saint Pionius collected the material which was nearly worn out with age, thus preserving the account for later generations. Now Saint Pionius rejoices in the heavenly Kingdom, glorifying the Life-Creating Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, throughout all ages.
The Holy Martyr Epimachus of Alexandria was a native of Egypt. For a long time he lived in seclusion on Mount Peleusium. During a persecution against Christians at Alexandria (about the year 250), Saint Epimachus in his fervent zeal came into the city, destroyed pagan idols, and fearlessly confessed Christ. For this the saint was put to torture. Among the people watching the torture was a woman who was blind in one eye. A drop of blood from the martyr healed her infirmity.
After fierce tortures, the saint was beheaded by the sword.
Today we commemorate the translation of the relics of Saint Epimachus.
No information on the life of this saint is available at this time.
Saint Sophronius the Hermit of the Caves was an ascetic of the Far Caves (the Theodosiev Caves), during the thirteenth century. The saint wore a hairshirt and a heavy iron belt, and read through the entire Psalter every day.