SUNDAY OF ST. GREGORY PALAMAS
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS
Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas, Righteous Fathers slain at the Monastery of St. Savas, Myron the New Martyr of Crete, Cuthbert the Wonderworker, Bishop of Lindisfarne, Photini the Samaritan Woman
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE HEBREWS 1:10-14; 2:1-3
IN THE BEGINNING, Thou, Lord, didst found the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of thy hands; they will perish, but thou remainest; they will all grow old like a garment, like a mantle thou wilt roll them up, and they will be changed. But thou art the same, and thy years will never end." But to what angel has he ever said, "Sit at my right hand, till I make thy enemies a stool for thy feet?" Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?
Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For if the message declared by angels was valid and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him.
At that time, Jesus entered Capernaum and it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, "Why does this man speak thus? It is a blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven, ' or to say, 'Rise, take up your pallet and walk? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins"-he said to the paralytic-"I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!
This Sunday was originally dedicated to Saint Polycarp of Smyrna (February 23). After his glorification in 1368, a second commemoration of Saint Gregory Palamas (November 14) was appointed for the Second Sunday of Great Lent as a second “Triumph of Orthodoxy.”
Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, was born in the year 1296 in Constantinople. Saint Gregory’s father became a prominent dignitiary at the court of Andronicus II Paleologos (1282-1328), but he soon died, and Andronicus himself took part in the raising and education of the fatherless boy. Endowed with fine abilities and great diligence, Gregory mastered all the subjects which then comprised the full course of medieval higher education. The emperor hoped that the youth would devote himself to government work. But Gregory, barely twenty years old, withdrew to Mount Athos in the year 1316 (other sources say 1318) and became a novice in the Vatopedi monastery under the guidance of the monastic Elder Saint Νikόdēmos of Vatopedi (July 11). There he was tonsured and began on the path of asceticism. A year later, the holy Evangelist John the Theologian appeared to him in a vision and promised him his spiritual protection. Gregory’s mother and sisters also became monastics.
After the demise of the Elder Νikόdēmos, Saint Gregory spent eight years of spiritual struggle under the guidance of the Elder Nikēphóros, and after the latter’s death, Gregory transferred to the Lavra of Saint Athanasius (July 5). Here he served in the trapeza, and then became a church singer. But after three years, he resettled in the small skete of Glossia, striving for a greater degree of spiritual perfection. The head of this monastery began to teach the young man the method of unceasing prayer and mental activity, which had been cultivated by monastics, beginning with the great desert ascetics of the fourth century: Evagrius Pontikos and Saint Macarius of Egypt (January 19).
Later on, in the eleventh century Saint Simeon the New Theologian (March 12) provided detailed instruction in mental activity for those praying in an outward manner, and the ascetics of Athos put it into practice. The experienced use of mental prayer (or prayer of the heart), requiring solitude and quiet, is called “Hesychasm” (from the Greek “hesychia” meaning calm, silence), and those practicing it were called “hesychasts.”
During his stay at Glossia the future hierarch Gregory became fully embued with the spirit of hesychasm and adopted it as an essential part of his life. In the year 1326, because of the threat of Turkish invasions, he and the brethren retreated to Thessalonica, where he was then ordained to the holy priesthood.
Saint Gregory combined his priestly duties with the life of a hermit. Five days of the week he spent in silence and prayer, and only on Saturday and Sunday did he come out to his people. He celebrated divine services and preached sermons. For those present in church, his teaching often evoked both tenderness and tears. Sometimes he visited theological gatherings of the city’s educated youth, headed by the future patriarch, Isidore. After he returned from a visit to Constantinople, he found a place suitable for solitary life near Thessalonica the region of Bereia. Soon he gathered here a small community of solitary monks and guided it for five years.
In 1331 the saint withdrew to Mt. Athos and lived in solitude at the skete of Saint Savva, near the Lavra of Saint Athanasius. In 1333 he was appointed Igumen of the Esphigmenou monastery in the northern part of the Holy Mountain. In 1336 the saint returned to the skete of Saint Savva, where he devoted himself to theological works, continuing with this until the end of his life.
In the 1330s events took place in the life of the Eastern Church which put Saint Gregory among the most significant universal apologists of Orthodoxy, and brought him great renown as a teacher of hesychasm.
About the year 1330 the learned monk Barlaam had arrived in Constantinople from Calabria, in Italy. He was the author of treatises on logic and astronomy, a skilled and sharp-witted orator, and he received a university chair in the capital city and began to expound on the works of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite (October 3), whose “apophatic” (“negative”, in contrast to “kataphatic” or “positive”) theology was acclaimed in equal measure in both the Eastern and the Western Churches. Soon Barlaam journeyed to Mt. Athos, where he became acquainted with the spiritual life of the hesychasts. Saying that it was impossible to know the essence of God, he declared mental prayer a heretical error. Journeying from Mount Athos to Thessalonica, and from there to Constantinople, and later again to Thessalonica, Barlaam entered into disputes with the monks and attempted to demonstrate the created, material nature of the light of Tabor (i.e. at the Transfiguration). He ridiculed the teachings of the monks about the methods of prayer and about the uncreated light seen by the hesychasts.
Saint Gregory, at the request of the Athonite monks, replied with verbal admonitions at first. But seeing the futility of such efforts, he put his theological arguments in writing. Thus appeared the “Triads in Defense of the Holy Hesychasts” (1338). Towards the year 1340 the Athonite ascetics, with the assistance of the saint, compiled a general response to the attacks of Barlaam, the so-called “Hagiorite Tome.” At the Constantinople Council of 1341 in the church of Hagia Sophia Saint Gregory Palamas debated with Barlaam, focusing upon the nature of the light of Mount Tabor. On May 27, 1341 the Council accepted the position of Saint Gregory Palamas, that God, unapproachable in His Essence, reveals Himself through His energies, which are directed towards the world and are able to be perceived, like the light of Tabor, but which are neither material nor created. The teachings of Barlaam were condemned as heresy, and he himself was anathemized and fled to Calabria.
But the dispute between the Palamites and the Barlaamites was far from over. To these latter belonged Barlaam’s disciple, the Bulgarian monk Akyndinos, and also Patriarch John XIV Kalekos (1341-1347); the emperor Andronicus III Paleologos (1328-1341) was also inclined toward their opinion. Akyndinos, whose name means “one who inflicts no harm,” actually caused great harm by his heretical teaching. Akyndinos wrote a series of tracts in which he declared Saint Gregory and the Athonite monks guilty of causing church disorders. The saint, in turn, wrote a detailed refutation of Akyndinos’ errors. The patriarch supported Akyndinos and called Saint Gregory the cause of all disorders and disturbances in the Church (1344) and had him locked up in prison for four years. In 1347, when John the XIV was replaced on the patriarchal throne by Isidore (1347-1349), Saint Gregory Palamas was set free and was made Archbishop of Thessalonica.
In 1351 the Council of Blachernae solemnly upheld the Orthodoxy of his teachings. But the people of Thessalonica did not immediately accept Saint Gregory, and he was compelled to live in various places. On one of his travels to Constantinople the Byzantine ship fell into the hands of the Turks. Even in captivity, Saint Gregory preached to Christian prisoners and even to his Moslem captors. The Hagarenes were astonished by the wisdom of his words. Some of the Moslems were unable to endure this, so they beat him and would have killed him if they had not expected to obtain a large ransom for him. A year later, Saint Gregory was ransomed and returned to Thessalonica.
Saint Gregory performed many miracles in the three years before his death, healing those afflicted with illness. On the eve of his repose, Saint John Chrysostom appeared to him in a vision. With the words “To the heights! To the heights!” Saint Gregory Palamas fell asleep in the Lord on November 14, 1359. In 1368 he was canonized at a Constantinople Council under Patriarch Philotheus (1354-1355, 1364-1376), who compiled the Life and Services to the saint.
On the second Sunday of Great Lent, we commemorate the Synaxis of all the Venerable Fathers of the Kiev Caves Monastery: those who rest in the Near Caves of Saint Anthony (see September 28), as well as those who rest in the Far Caves of Saint Theodosios (see August 28).
The Canon, which was added to the Service for today's Feast, was composed by Hieromonk Meletios during the second half of the XVII century.
Saints John, Sergius, Patrick and others were slain in the Monastery of Saint Savva. During the VIII century the area around Jerusalem was subjected to frequent incursions by the Saracens. The monastery of Saint Chariton was devastated and fell into ruin. Twice the Saracens tried to plunder the Lavra of Saint Savva the Sanctified, but God’s Providence protected the monastery. The monks would have been able to escape the barbarians by going to Jerusalem, but they decided not to forsake the place where they had sought salvation for so many years.
On March 13, the Saracens broke into the monastery and demanded all the valuables. The monks told them that there was nothing in the monastery but a meager supply of food and old clothing. Then the Saracens began shooting arrows at the monks.
Thirteen men were killed and many wounded, and monastery cells were set afire. The Saracens intended to torch the monastery church, but seeing a throng of people in the distance, they mistook this for an army sent from Jerusalem. The Saracens managed to get away, carrying off the little they were able to plunder. After the enemy fled, Father Thomas, an experienced physician, began to help those who remained alive.
On Great Thursday, March 20, the Saracens again descended upon the Lavra with a larger force and started to beat the monks. The survivors were driven into the church, where they were tortured in order to force them to reveal where any treasure might be hidden. The monastery was surrounded, so no one could save himself by fleeing. The barbarians seized Saint John, a young monk, who had cared for vagrants. They beat him savagely, then they cut the sinews of his hands and feet and dragged him over stones by his feet, which tore the skin from the martyr’s back.
The keeper of the Church vessels, Saint Sergius, hid them and attempted to flee, but he was captured and beheaded. Several of the monks nevertheless managed to hide themselves outside the monastery in a cave, but they were spotted by a sentry on a hill, and they ordered everyone to come out. Inside the cave Saint Patrick whispered to the brethren with him, “Fear not, I will go alone and meet my death. Meanwhile, sit and pray.”
The Saracens asked whether there was anyone else in the cave, and Patrick said that he was alone. They led him to the Lavra, where the captives awaited their fate. The Saracens demanded of them a ransom of 4,000 gold pieces and the sacred vessels. The monks were not able to give such a ransom. Then they led them into the cave of Saint Savva inside the monastery walls. They lit a fire on which they piled up dung in front of the entrance to the cave, hoping to suffocate the monks with the poisonous fumes. Eighteen men perished in the cave, among whom were Saints John and Patrick. The Saracens continued to torture those who were still alive, but got nothing out of them. Finally, they left the monastery.
Later, on the night of Great Friday, the monks hidden in the hills returned to the Lavra, they took up the bodies of the murdered Fathers to the church and buried them there.
The barbarians who plundered the monastery were punished by God. They were stricken with a sudden illness, and they all perished. Their bodies were devoured by wild beasts.
The Saints commemorated today should not be confused with other martyrs of the Saint Savva Lavra, who suffered in 610, and are commemorated on May 16. The two dates reflect separate attacks on the monastery at different times. History tells us that barbarians raided Saint Savva Lavra on several occasions.
Saint Euphrosynos of Blue Jay Lake, (Ephraim in the world) was born in Karelia near Lake Ladoga in the second half of the XVI century. When he was young he lived near Valaam Monastery, and later he moved to Novgorod the Great. After spending some time there, the Saint then withdrew to a place on the outskirts of Novgorod – the Bezhetsk “pentary” (one fifth of the “Pyatiny Novgorodskiya,” comprising five outlying districts of Novgorod the Great).
He became a Reader for the Church services in the village of Doloska, twenty versts from the city of Ustiuzhna of Zhelezopolska. He was tonsured at the Tikhvin Dormition Monastery with the name Euphrosynos. After living there for some time, he told the Superior of his desire to go into the wilderness for greater solitude, and a life of fasting and silence. The Superior told him about some of the dangers of the eremetic life, and then gave his blessing. So, in 1600 he began his solitary life in the wild marshlands by the shore of Blue Jay Lake. Here the Saint planted a Cross and dug a cave. He lived here for two years, eating nothing but wild vegetation, berries, and mushrooms.
Unexpectedly, people from neighboring villages found him, and they came to him for instruction, prayer, and spiritual counsel. Several of them remained with him. Soon it became necessary to build a church, where all the brethren could pray together. They cleared the forest, hewed the timber, and built a log church. Since the Elder, out of humility, had not been ordained, the church was consecrated by his fellow ascetic Saint Gurias of Shalatsk (November 15), and dedicated to the Annunciation to the Most Holy Theotokos. This was done with the blessing of Archbishop Isidore of Novgorod (1603-1609). Saint Gurias sometimes visited Blue Jay Lake in order to pray with the brethren, converse with them about spiritual matters, and to give them Holy Communion. On one of these visits Saint Euphrosynos was tonsured into the Great Schema by Saint Gurias.
In 1612, when Polish troops were laying waste to Russia, many people saved their lives by hiding at the Monastery of the Annunciation in the wilderness. On March 19, Saint Euphrosynos revealed to everyone that the Poles were on their way to the monastery, and he advised everyone to flee.
"My brethren and beloved children in Christ, whoever wishes to escape certain death, leave the Monastery of the Mother of God and save yourselves from this great calamity, for it is pleasing to God's righteous judgment that enemies will come soon to this holy place."
Many did not believe him. “Then why don’t you leave this place yourself?” they asked.
The Elder replied, “I have come here to die for Christ.”
Those who obeyed the Saint and left the monastery were spared, but all those who remained met a horrible death.
Saint Jonah was one of the monks at the monastery. Frightened by the Elder's clairvoyant prediction, he wanted to flee with the others, but Saint Euphrosynos held him back, inspiring him with zeal for the house of God.
“Brother Jonah,” he said, "why do you allow faint-hearted fear into your soul? When the battle begins, that is the time for courage. For the love of Christ, let us not be afraid of some passing fear. We have vowed to live and die here in the wilderness. We must be faithful to our vow, made before the Lord. It is different for laymen, who are not bound by a vow. They must spare themselves for the sake of their children.”
Becoming inflamed in spirit, Saint Jonah placed all his hope in God, and decided to die there in the wilderness with his Elder.
After this Saint Euphrosynos clothed himself in the Great Schema, and spent the entire night in prayer. On the following day, March 20, Polish forces descended upon the monastery. In the garb of a Schema-monk, the Saint emerged from his cell and stood beside the Cross he had planted. The enemy said to him, “Old man, give us all the monastery’s possessions."
“All my possessions, and those of this monastery, are in the church of the All-Pure Theotokos,” he replied.
He was referring to spiritual treasures which cannot be stolen (Matthew 6:19-21). Failing to comprehend this, the Poles rushed to the church. One of them drew a sword and struck Saint Euphrosynos. His neck was cut half way through, and the holy Elder fell to the ground dead. When the Poles returned, angry because they had found nothing in the church, one of them struck the Saint's head with an axe. Saint Jonah perished in the attack along with his Elder, and he is also commemorated today with Saint Euphrosynos.
A certain pious Christian, Ioann Suma, had also stayed at the monastery with the monks. When the Poles attacked, he was in the Elder's cell. Despite the grievous wounds he received from these ruffians, Ioann remained alive, but unconscious. After the Poles left, he regained his senses and told his son Emilian what had transpired. From them, the nearby inhabitants learned about the destruction of the monastery and the martyric death of Saint Euphrosynos.
On March 28, the bodies of Saint Euphrosynos, Saint Jonah, and all the others who had perished by the sword, were buried with due reverence by the Cross where they suffered martyrdom.
Thirty-four years after the death of the Saint, a new church was built by a man named Moses, and dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity. With the blessing of Metropolitan Makarios of Novgorod, the incorrupt relics of Saint Euphrosynos were transferred to a new reliquary beneath the belfry on March 25, 1655.
According to the Monastery's records, the Monastic Martyr Euphrosynos was of medium height, with wide shoulders and a broad chest. His hair was brown, with traces of gray. His beard was long, and divided in two at the bottom.
Saint Euphrosynus was glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church on June 29, 1912.
The Holy Martyr Photinḗ (Svetlana) the Samaritan Woman, her sons Victor (named Photinos) and Iosḗs; and her sisters Anatolḗ, Photó, Photida, Paraskevḗ, Kyriakḗ, Nero’s daughter Domnina; and the Martyr Sebastian.
The holy Martyr Photinḗ was the Samaritan Woman, with whom the Savior conversed at Jacob’s Well (John. 4:5-42).
During the time of the Emperor Nero (54-68), who displayed excessive cruelty against Christians, Saint Photinḗ lived in Carthage with her younger son Iosḗs, and fearlessly preached the Gospel there. Her eldest son Victor fought bravely in the Roman army against barbarians, and was appointed as military commander of the city of Attalia (Asia Minor). Later, Nero called him to Italy to arrest and punish Christians.
Sebastian, an official in Italy, said to Saint Victor, “I know that you, your mother and your brother, are followers of Christ. As a friend I advise you to submit to the will of the Emperor. If you inform on any Christians, you will receive their wealth. I shall write to your mother and brother, asking them not to preach Christ in public. Let them practice their faith in secret.”
Saint Victor replied, “I want to be a preacher of Christianity like my mother and brother.” Sebastian said, “O Victor, we all know what woes await you, your mother and brother.” Then Sebastian suddenly felt a sharp pain in his eyes. He was dumbfounded, and his face was somber.
For three days he lay there blind, without uttering a word. On the fourth day he declared, “The God of the Christians is the only true God.” Saint Victor asked why Sebastian had suddenly changed his mind. Sebastian replied, “Because Christ is calling me.” Soon he was baptized, and immediately he regained his sight. After witnessing the miracle Saint Sebastian’s servants were also baptized.
Reports of this reached Nero, and he commanded that the Christians be brought to him at Rome. Then the Lord Himself appeared to the confessors and said, “Fear not, for I am with you. Nero, and all who serve him, shall be vanquished.”
The Lord said to Saint Victor, “From this day forward, your name will be Photinos, because through you, many will be enlightened and will believe in me." The Lord then told the Christians to strengthen and encourage Saint Sebastian to persevere until the end. All these things, and even future events, were revealed to Saint Photinḗ. She left Carthage in the company of several Christians and joined the confessors in Rome.
In Rome the Emperor ordered the Saints to be brought before him and he asked them whether they truly believed in Christ. All the confessors refused to renounce the Savior. Then Nero ordered that the joints of the martyrs' fingers be broken. During their torments, the confessors felt no pain, and their hands remained unharmed.
Nero ordered that Saints Sebastian, Photinos and Iosḗs be blinded and locked up in prison, and Saint Photinḗ and her five sisters Anatolḗ, Photó, Photida, Paraskevḗ and Kyriakḗ were sent to the imperial court under the supervision of Nero’s daughter Domnina. Saint Photinḗ converted both Domnina and all her servants to Christ. She also converted a sorcerer, who had brought her poisoned food.
Three years passed, and Nero sent to the prison for one of his servants, who had been locked up. The messengers reported to him that Saints Sebastian, Photinos and Iosḗs, who had been blinded, had recovered their sight, and that people were visiting them to hear their preaching, and indeed the whole prison had been transformed into a bright and fragrant place where God was glorified.
Nero then commanded the Saints to be crucified, and their naked bodies to be beaten with straps. On the fourth day the Emperor sent servants to see whether the martyrs were still alive. But, approaching the place of the tortures, the servants became blind. An Angel of the Lord freed the martyrs from their crosses and healed them. The Saints took pity on the blinded servants, and restored their sight by their prayers to the Lord. Those who were healed came to believe in Christ and were soon baptized.
Enraged, Nero ordered that the skin to be flayed from from Saint Photinḗ's body, and then to throw her into a well. Sebastian, Photinos and Iosḗs had their legs amputated, and they were thrown to dogs. Then their was skin flayed off. Saint Photinḗ's sisters also suffered terrible torments. Nero ordered soldiers to cut off their breasts, and then to flay their skin. An expert in cruelty, the Emperor prepared the most painful execution for Saint Photida. Her feet were tied to the tops of two trees which had been bent to the ground. When the ropes were cut the trees sprang upright, tearing the martyr apart. The Emperor ordered the others beheaded. Saint Photinḗ was removed from the well and locked up in prison for twenty days.
After this Nero had her brought to him and asked if she would now relent and offer sacrifice to the idols. The courageous Photinḗ spat in the Emperor's face. Mocking him she said, “O most impious of the blind, you profligate and stupid man! Do you think me so deluded that I would consent to renounce my Lord Christ and instead offer sacrifice to idols which are as blind as you are?"
After hearing such words, Nero ordered that the martyr be thrown into the well again. There she surrendered her soul to God (+ ca. 66).
In Greek usage Saint Photinḗ is commemorated on February 26.
In Constantinople there were two churches dedicated to Saint Photinḗ, where many miracles occurred, especially the healing of eye diseases.
The head of Saint Photinḗ is kept at Grigoriou Monastery on Mount Athos.
The holy virgin martyrs Alexandra, Claudia, Euphrasia, Matrona, Juliania, Euphemia and Theodosia were arrested in the city of Amisa (on the coastal region of the Black Sea) during the persecution against Christians under the emperor Maximian Galerius (305-311). Under interrogation they confessed their faith and were subjected to cruel tortures for this. The malefactors scourged and beat them with rods, and cut off their breasts. After this, they were suspended and torn with sharp hooks. Finally, the holy virgins were burned alive in a red-hot oven (+ 310).
Saint Nikḗtas the Confessor, Archbishop of Apollonias in Bithynia, was noted for his profound knowledge of Holy Scripture, and was a pious and kindly man. During the reign of the Iconoclast emperor Leo the Armenian (813-820), the saint championed the veneration of holy icons, and so was exiled and died in prison.
Saint Cuthbert, the wonderworker of Britain, was born in Northumbria around 634. Very little information has come down to us about Cuthbert’s early life, but there is a remarkable story of him when he was eight.
As a child, Cuthbert enjoyed games and playing with other children. He could beat anyone his own age, and even some who were older, at running, jumping, wrestling, and other exercises. One day he and some other boys were amusing themselves by standing on their heads with their feet up in the air. A little boy who was about three years old chided Cuthbert for his inappropriate behavior. “Be sensible,” he said, “and give up these foolish pranks.”
Cuthbert and the others ignored him, but the boy began to weep so piteously that it was impossible to quiet him. When they asked him what the matter was, he shouted, “O holy bishop and priest Cuthbert, these unseemly stunts in order to show off your athletic ability do not become you or the dignity of your office.” Cuthbert immediately stopped what he was doing and attempted to comfort the boy.
On the way home, he pondered the meaning of those strange words. From that time forward, Cuthbert became more thoughtful and serious.This incident reveals Saint Cuthbert as God’s chosen vessel (2 Tim. 2:20-21), just like Samuel, David, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and others who, from an early age, were destined to serve the Lord.
On another occasion, he was suffering from an injured knee. It was quite swollen and the muscles were so contracted that he limped and could scarcely place his foot on the ground. One day a handsome stranger of noble bearing, dressed in white, rode up on horseback to the place where Cuthbert was sitting in the sun beside the house. The stranger asked courteously if the boy would receive him as a guest. Cuthbert said that if only he were not hampered by his injuries, he would not be slow to offer hospitality to his guest.
The man got down from his horse and examined Cuthbert’s knee, advising him to cook up some wheat flour with milk, and to spread the warm paste on his sore knee. After the stranger had gone, it occurred to him that the man was really an angel who had been sent by God. A few days later, he was completely well. From that time forward, as Saint Cuthbert revealed in later years to a few trusted friends, he always received help from angels whenever he prayed to God in desperate situations.
In his prose Life of Saint Cuthbert, Saint Bede of Jarrow (May 27) reminds skeptics that it is not unknown for an angel to appear on horseback, citing 2 Maccabees 11:6-10 and 4 Maccabees 4:10.
While the saint was still young, he would tend his master’s sheep in the Lammermuir hills south of Edinburgh near the River Leader. One night while he was praying, he had a vision of angels taking the soul of Saint Aidan (August 31) to heaven in a fiery sphere. Cuthbert awakened the other shepherds and told them what he had seen. He said that this must have been the soul of a holy bishop or some other great person. A few days later they learned that Bishop Aidan of Lindisfarne had reposed at the very hour that Cuthbert had seen his vision.
As an adult, Saint Cuthbert decided to give up his life in the world and advanced to better things. He entered the monastery at Melrose in the valley of the Tweed, where he was received by the abbot Saint Boisil (February 23). Saint Cuthbert was accepted into the community and devoted himself to serving God. His fasting and vigils were so extraordinary that the other monks marveled at him. He often spent entire nights in prayer, and would not eat anything for days at a time.
Who can describe his angelic life, his purity or his virtue? Much of this is known only to God, for Saint Cuthbert labored in secret in order to avoid the praise of men.
A few years later, Saint Eata (October 26) chose some monks of Melrose to live at the new monastery at Ripon. Among them was Saint Cuthbert. Both Eata and Cuthbert were expelled from Ripon and sent back to Melrose in 661 because they (and some other monks) refused to follow the Roman calculation for the date of Pascha. The Celtic Church, which followed a different, older reckoning, resisted Roman practices for a long time. However, in 664 the Synod of Whitby determined that the Roman customs were superior to those of the Celtic Church, and should be adopted by all. Saint Bede discusses this question in his HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH CHURCH AND PEOPLE (Book III, 25).
Saint Cuthbert was chosen to be abbot of Melrose after the death of Saint Boisil, guiding the brethren by his words and by his example. He made journeys throughout the surrounding area to encourage Christians and to preach the Gospel to those who had never heard it. Sometimes he would be away from the monastery for a month at a time, teaching and preaching. He also worked many miracles, healing the sick and freeing those who were possessed by demons.
In 664, Cuthbert went with Saint Eata to Lindisfarne, and extended his territory to include the inhabitants of Northumberland and Durham. Soon Saint Eata appointed Cuthbert as prior of Lindisfarne (Holy Island). At that time both monasteries were under the jurisdiction of Saint Eata. While at Lindisfarne, Saint Cuthbert continued his habit of visiting the common people in order to inspire them to seek the Kingdom of Heaven.
Though some of the monks prefered their negligent way of life to the monastic rule, Saint Cuthbert gradually brought them around to a better state of mind. At first he had to endure many arguments and insults, but eventually he brought them to obedience through his patience and gentle admonition. He had a great thirst for righteousness, and so he did not hesitate to correct those who did wrong. However, his gentleness made him quick to forgive those who repented. When people confessed to him, he often wept in sympathy with their weakness. He also showed them how to make up for their sins by doing their penances himself.
Saint Cuthbert was a true father to his monks, but his soul longed for complete solitude, so he went to live on a small island (Saint Cuthbert’s Isle), a short distance from Lindisfarne. After gaining victory over the demons through prayer and fasting, the saint decided to move even farther away from his fellow men. In 676, he retired to Inner Farne, an even more remote location. Saint Cuthbert built a small cell which could not be seen from the mainland. A few yards away, he built a guest house for visitors from Lindisfarne. Here he remained for nearly nine years.
A synod at Twyford, with the holy Archbishop Theodore (September 19) presiding, elected Cuthbert Bishop of Hexham in 684. Letters and messengers were sent to inform him of the synod’s decision, but he refused to leave his solitude. King Ecgfrith and Bishop Trumwine (February 10) went to him in person, entreating him in Christ’s name to accept. At last, Saint Cuthbert came forth and went with them to the synod. With great reluctance, he submitted to the will of the synod and accepted the office of bishop. Almost immediately, he exchanged Sees with Saint Eata, and became Bishop of Lindisfarne while Saint Eata went to Hexham.
Bishop Cuthbert remained as humble as he had been before his consecration, avoiding finery and dressing in simple clothing. He fulfilled his office with dignity and graciousness, while continuing to live as a monk. His virtue and holiness of life only served to enhance the authority of his position.
His life as Bishop of Lindisfarne was quite similar to what it had been when he was prior of that monastery. He devoted himself to his flock, preaching and visiting people throughout his diocese, casting out demons, and healing all manner of diseases. He served as a bishop for only two years, however.
Once, Saint Cuthbert was invited to Carlisle to ordain seven deacons to the holy priesthood. The holy priest Hereberht was living in solitude on an island in that vicinity. Hearing that his spiritual friend Cuthbert was staying at Carlisle, he went to see him in order to discuss spiritual matters with him. Saint Cuthbert told him that he should ask him whatever he needed to ask, for they would not see one another in this life again. When he heard that Saint Cuthbert would die soon, Hereberht fell at his feet and wept. By God’s dispensation, the two men would die on the very same day.
Though he was only in his early fifties, Saint Cuthbert felt the time of his death was approaching. He laid aside his archpastoral duties, retiring to the solitude of Inner Farne shortly after the Feast of the Lord’s Nativity in 686 to prepare himself. He was able to receive visitors from Lindisfarne at first, but gradually he weakened and was unable to walk down to the landing stage to greet them.
His last illness came upon him on February 27, 687. The pious priest Herefrith (later the abbot of Lindisfarne) came to visit him that morning. When he was ready to go back, he asked Saint Cuthbert for his blessing to return. The saint replied, “Do as you intend. Get into your boat and return safely home.”
Saint Cuthbert also gave Father Herefrith instructions for his burial. He asked to be laid to rest east of the cross that he himself had set up. He told him where to find a stone coffin hidden under the turf. “Put my body in it,” he said, “and wrap it in the cloth you will find there.” The cloth was a gift from Abbess Verca, but Saint Cuthbert thought it was too fine for him to wear. Out of affection for her, he kept it to be used as his winding sheet.
Father Herefrith wanted to send some of the brethren to look after the dying bishop, but Saint Cuthbert would not permit this. “Go now, and come back at the proper time.”
When Herefrith asked when that time might be, Saint Cuthbert replied, “When God wishes. He will show you.”
Herefrith returned to Lindisfarne and told the brethren to pray for the ailing Cuthbert. Storms prevented the brethren from returning to Inner Farne for five days. When they did land there, they found the saint sitting on the beach by the guest house. He told them he had come out so that when they arrived to take care of him they would not have to go to his cell to find him. He had been sitting there for five days and nights, eating nothing but onions. He also revealed that during those five days he had been more severely assailed by demons than ever before.
This time, Saint Cuthbert consented to have some of the brethren attend him. One of these was his personal servant, the priest Bede. He asked particularly for the monk Walhstod to remain with him to help Bede take care of him. Father Herefrith returned to Lindisfarne and informed the brethren of Cuthbert’s wish to be buried on his island.
Herefrith and the others, however, wanted to bury him in their church with proper honor. Therefore, Herefrith went back to Cuthbert and asked for permission to do this. Saint Cuthbert said that he wanted to be buried there at the site of his spiritual struggles, and he pointed out that the peace of the brethren would be disturbed by the number of pilgrims who would come to Lindisfarne to venerate his tomb.
Herefrith insisted that they would gladly endure the inconvenience out of love for Cuthbert. Finally, the bishop agreed to be buried in the church on Lindisfarne so the monks would always have him with them, and they would also be able to decide which outsiders would be allowed to visit his tomb.
Saint Cuthbert grew weaker and weaker, so the monks carried him back into his cell. No one had ever been inside, so they paused at the door and asked that at least one of them be permitted to see to his needs. Cuthbert asked for Wahlstod to come in with him. Now Wahlstod had suffered from dysentery for a long time. Even though he was sick, he agreed to care for Cuthbert. As soon as he touched the holy bishop, his illness left him. Although he was sick and dying, Saint Cuthbert healed his servant Wahlstod. Remarkably, the holy man’s spiritual power was not impaired by his bodily weakness. About three o’clock in the afternoon Wahlstod came out and announced that the bishop wanted them to come inside.
Father Herefrith asked Cuthbert if he had any final instructions for the monks. He spoke of peace and harmony, warning them to be on guard against those who fostered pride and discord. Although he encouraged them to welcome visitors and offer them hospitality, he also admonished them to have no dealings with heretics or with those who lived evil lives. He told them to learn the teachings of the Fathers and put them into practice, and to adhere to the monastic rule which he had taught them.
After passing the evening in prayer, Saint Cuthbert sat up and received Holy Communion from Father Herefrith. He surrendered his holy soul to God on March 20, 687at the time appointed for the night office
Eleven years later, Saint Cuthbert’s tomb was opened and his relics were found to be incorrupt. In the ninth century, the relics were moved to Norham, then back to Lindisfarne. Because of the threat of Viking raids, Saint Cuthbert’s body was moved from place to place for seven years so that it would not be destroyed by the invaders.
Saint Cuthbert’s relics were moved to Chester-le-Street in 995. They were moved again because of another Viking invasion, and then brought to Durham for safekeeping. Around 1020 the relics of Saints Bede (May 27), Aidan (August 31), Boisil (February 23), Aebbe (August 25), Eadberht (May 6), Aethilwald (February 12), and other saints associated with Saint Cuthbert were also brought to Durham.
The tomb was opened again on August 24, 1104, and the incorrupt and fragrant relics were placed in the newly-completed cathedral. Relics of the other saints mentioned above were placed in various places around the church. The head of Saint Oswald of Northumbria (August 5), however, was left in Saint Cuthbert’s coffin.
In 1537 three commissioners of King Henry VIII came to plunder the tomb and desecrate the relics. Saint Cuthbert’s body was still incorrupt, and was later reburied. The tomb was opened again in 1827. A pile of bones was found in the outer casket, probably the relics of the various saints which had been collected seven centuries before, then replaced after the Protestant commissioners had completed their work.
In the inner casket was a skeleton wrapped in a linen shroud and five robes. In the vestments a gold and garnet cross was found, probably Saint Cuthbert’s pectoral cross. Also found were an ivory comb, a portable wood and silver altar, a stole (epitrachilion), pieces of a carved wooden coffin, and other items. These may be seen today in the Dean and Chapter library of Durham Cathedral. The tomb was opened again in 1899, and a scientific examination determined that the bones were those of a man in his fifties, Cuthbert’s age when he died.
Today Saint Cuthbert’s relics (and the head of Saint Oswald) lie beneath a simple stone slab on the site of the original medieval shrine in the Chapel of the Nine Altars, and Saint Bede’s relics rest at the other end of the cathedral. The relics and the treasures in the Library make Durham an appropriate place for pilgrims to visit.
No information available at this time.