SUNDAY OF THE HOLY CROSS
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS
Sunday of the Holy Cross, Martyr Matrona of Thessalonica, Paul, Bishop of Corinth
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE HEBREWS 4:14-16; 5:1-6
BRETHREN, since we have a high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not take the honor upon himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, ‘Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee’; as he says also in another place, ‘Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek.’
MARK 8:34-38; 9:1
The Lord said: "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." And he said to them, "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.
3rd Sunday of Great Lent: Veneration of the Cross
The Third Sunday of Lent is that of the Veneration of the Cross. The cross stands in the midst of the church in the middle of the lenten season not merely to remind men of Christ’s redemption and to keep before them the goal of their efforts, but also to be venerated as that reality by which man must live to be saved. “He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Mt.10:38). For in the Cross of Christ Crucified lies both “the power of God and the wisdom of God” for those being saved (1 Cor.1:24).
Martyr Matrona of Thessalonica
The Holy Martyr Matrona of Thessalonica suffered in the third or fourth century. She was a slave of the Jewish woman Pautila (or Pantilla), wife of one of the military commanders of Thessalonica. Pautila constantly mocked her slave for her faith in Christ, and tried to convert her to Judaism. Saint Matrona, who believed in Christ from her youth, still prayed to the Savior Christ, and secretly went to church unbeknownst to her vengeful mistress.
Pautila, learning that Saint Matrona had been to church, asked, “Why won’t you come to our synagogue, instead of attending the Christian church?” Saint Matrona boldly answered, “Because God is present in the Christian church, but He has departed from the Jewish synagogue.” Pautila went into a rage and mercilessly beat Saint Matrona, tied her up, and shut her in a dark closet. In the morning, Pautila discovered that Saint Matrona had been freed of her bonds by an unknown Power.
In a rage Pautila beat the martyr almost to death, then bound her even more tightly and locked her in the closet. The door was sealed so that no one could help the sufferer. The holy martyr remained there for four days without food or water, and when Pautila opened the door, she again found Saint Matrona free of her bonds, and standing at prayer.
Pautila flogged the holy martyr and left the skin hanging in strips from her body. The fierce woman locked her in the closet again, where Saint Matrona gave up her spirit to God.
Pautila had the holy martyr’s body thrown from the roof of her house. Christians took up the much-suffered body of the holy martyr and buried it. Later, Bishop Alexander of Thessalonica built a church dedicated to the holy martyr. Her holy relics, glorified by many miracles, were placed in this church.
The judgment of God soon overtook the evil Pautila. Standing on the roof at that very place where the body of Saint Matrona had been thrown, she stumbled and fell to the pavement. Her body was smashed, and so she received her just reward for her sin.
Martyrs Manuel and Theodosius
The Holy Martyrs Manuel and Theodosius suffered for their faith in Christ in 304 in Sirmium. Seeing how the pagans put Christians to death every day, they believed in Christ and resolved to suffer for their faith. They boldly confessed themselves as Christians before the governor. The governor and those around him marvelled at their bravery.
By order of the governor, Saints Manuel and Theodosius were thrown into prison, and a strict watch was set over them. After several days the governor gave orders to bring the saints from prison, and he urged them to renounce Christ and offer sacrifice to the idols. The holy martyrs, however, were steadfast in their confession.
Then the governor ordered Saints Manuel and Theodosius to be suspended from a tree, and scraped with sharp iron hooks. The martyrs were stabbed with a sharp trident, and then beheaded.
Venerable John the Clairvoyant, Anchorite, of Egypt
Saint John the Clairvoyant of Egypt was born at the beginning of the fourth century. He lived in the city of Likopolis (Middle Egypt) and was a carpenter. At the age of twenty-five he went to a monastery, where he received monastic tonsure.
For five years Saint John lived in various monasteries, and then wanting complete solitude, he went to the Thebaid and lived on Mount Bolcha. Saint John then spent many years in solitude, never leaving the spot. He conversed with visitors through a small window, through which he also received food and other necessities.
After thirty years of seclusion, Saint John received the gift of clairvoyance from God. He predicted to the emperor Theodosius the Great (379-395) victory over his adversaries Maximus and Eugenius, and a military victory over the Gauls. He also foretold future events in the lives of his visitors, and gave them guidance. The ascetic gave holy oil to the sick who visited him, and anointed them with it, healing them of various maladies.
Saint John predicted that the historian Palladius, who wrote his Life, would become a bishop. The prediction of the seer was fulfilled, and Palladius was made Bishop of Bithynia (Asia Minor).
Saint John in his instructions commanded first of all to have humility: “Imitate the virtuous life of the holy Fathers according to the measure of your strength and if you fulfill everything, do not become overconfident or praise yourself. For there are many people who reached perfection in virtue and became puffed up with pride, plunging from the heights into the abyss.
“Examine yourselves carefully to see if your conscience is pure, so that purity may not be driven from your mind. Do not allow your thoughts to wander during prayer. Do you, out of vanity, wish to gain a reputation for asceticism? Or do you wish to have only the appearance of asceticism? Take heed lest any passion overcome you. Take heed that thoughts of worldly things do not enter your mind during prayer, since there is nothing more foolish than to pray to God with your lips, while your thoughts are far from Him. This often happens with those who do not absolutely renounce the world, but rather seek approval from men. A man whose mind is given over to worldly and perishable things, cannot behold God with his spiritual eyes. It is fitting that one who seeks after God will remove his mind from every earthly thing, and direct the gaze of his understanding towards God. He who has attained a little knowledge of God (for no one can receive the whole of it), is able to acquire knowledge of many things, and will see the mysteries which the knowledge of God will show him. He sees future events before they happen, and like a saint he will receive glorious revelations. He will work miracles, and will receive everything that he asks from God.”
“Love silence, child, live always in divine contemplation and pray that God will grant you a pure mind, free from sinful thoughts. Worthy of praise is the ascetic who lives in the world, practices the virtues, renders kindness to strangers or distributes alms, or who helps others in their work, or lives without anger. Such a man is praiseworthy, since he dwells in virtue, fulfilling the commands of God, while not neglecting earthly affairs.”
“He who leaves the transitory things of this world to others is better and more worthy of praise, for he denies himself, takes up his cross, and cleaves to Christ. He constantly embraces the things of heaven, and escapes earthly things. He will not allow himself to be turned aside by any other cares. Such a man, through his good deeds and the praises which he offers to God, is free and unfettered by any ties whatsoever. He stands before God in security, and his mind is not distracted by any other cares. He who is in this condition continually converses with God.”
Saint John brought much spiritual benefit to people with these and similar salvific teachings, through his instructive discourses, and by his personal example in the angelic life.
Saint John of Egypt survived into old age and fell asleep in the Lord in 395, at the age of ninety.
Icon of the Mother of God of Mount Athos, “Sweet Kissing”
Like the Panagia Portaitissa, the Glykophilousa Icon is one of those which were saved during the iconoclastic period and brought miraculously to Mount Athos. It originally belonged to Victoria, the devout wife of the senator Symeon. Victoria was one who venerated the holy icons, especially that of the Most Holy Theotokos, before which she prayed each day. Her husband was an iconoclast who found her piety offensive, for he, like Emperor Theophilos (r. 829-842), found the veneration of icons distasteful. Symeon told his wife to give him her icon so that he could burn it. In order to save the icon from being destroyed, she threw it into the sea, and it floated away standing upright on the waves. After a few years, the icon appeared on the shores of Mount Athos near the Monastery of Philotheou, where it was received with great honor and rejoicing by the Abbot and Fathers of the Monastery, who had been informed of its impending arrival through a revelation of the Theotokos.
A spring of holy water sprouted forth on the very spot where they placed the icon on the shore. Every year on Monday of Bright Week there is a procession and blessing of water. Numerous miracles have occurred.
Although there are many miracles of the Glykophilousa Icon, we will mention only a few. In 1713, the Mother of God answered the prayers of the devout Ecclesiarch Ioannikios, who complained about the poverty of the monastery. She assured him that she would provide for the material needs of the monastery.
Another miracle took place in 1801. A pilgrim, after seeing the precious offerings having from the icon, planned to steal them. He stayed in the Temple after the Ecclesiarch closed it. Then he stole the offerings and left for the port of Ivḗron Monastery. There he found a boat that was leaving for Ierissos. After a while the ship sailed, but despite the excellent weather, it remained stationary in the sea. When the Ecclesiarch saw what had happened, the abbot sent monks out in various directions. Two went to the port of Ivḗron and when they saw the immobile ship, they realized what happened. The guilty man who committed this fearful sacrilege asked for forgiveness. The monks were magnanimous and did not want the thief to be punished.
A pilgrim from Adrianopolis visited Philotheou Monastery in 1830. He listened attentively to a monk tell the story of the holy Icon and the miracles associated with it, but he regarded the account as a fictitious tale which only a child might believe. The monk was grieved at the man’s unbelief, and tried to persuade him that everything he had said was absolutely true. The unfortunate pilgrim remained unconvinced.
That very day, as the pilgrim was walking on an upper balcony, he slipped and began to fall. He cried out, “Most Holy Theotokos, help me!” The Mother of God heard him and came to his assistance. The pilgrim landed on the ground completely unharmed.
The Glykophilousa Icon belongs to the Eleousa (the Virgin of Tenderness) category of icons, where the Mother accepts the affection shown by the Child Christ. The icon is commemorated by the Church on March 27 and also on Bright Monday. The icon depicts the Theotokos inclining toward Christ, Who embraces her. She seems to be embracing Him more tightly than in other icons, and her expression is more affectionate.
The Icon is located on a pillar on the left side of the katholikon (main church).
Icon of the Mother of God “of the Akathist”
There are other icons of this name which are commemorated on January 12 (Hilandar Icon “Of the Akathist”), and October 10 (Zographou Icon “Of the Akathist”).
The Prophet Hanani (Ananias) lived during the thirty-sixth year of the Kingdom of Judah, counting from the start of Rehoboam's reign. He is mentioned in 2 Chronicles (Paraleipomenon) 16: 7-10.
There was an ongoing war between King Asa of Judah and King Baasha of Israel (ninth century B.C.). When King Baasha of Israel fortified Ramah, thereby isolating the territory of Judah, Asa made a treaty with the Syrian King Ben-Hadad I (ruled circa 900–860 B.C.). Asa took all the silver and gold from the treasures of the house of the Lord and from the king's house and sent his servants to deliver it to Ben Hadad. This was a bribe to make the Syrian King break his treaty with King Baasha, and ally himself with King Asa (3 Kings 15:16-21). Ben Hadad sent an army against Israel, and the forces of Judah took the supplies from Ramah and built up Geba and Mizpah. This treaty, however, was not pleasing to God (1/3 Kings 15:16–22; 2 Chronicles/Paraleipomenon 16:1–10).
The Prophet Hanani went before King Asa and rebuked him harshly for this, saying, "Because you put your trust in the King of Syria, and not in the Lord your God, therefore the army of Syria has escaped out of your hand. Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans more numerous in chariots and in horsemen, and an exceedingly great multitude? Yet, because you trusted in the Lord, did He not deliver them into your hand? For the eyes of the Lord behold all the earth, and give strength to those who with a perfect heart trust in Him. But you have acted foolishly, therefore from this time wars shall arise against you."
Angered by these words, King Asa ordered that Hanani be thrown into prison. Later, the Prophet reposed in peace.
The name Hanani means "God has gratified me," or "God is gracious."