4TH WEDNESDAY OF LENT
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS, WINE, OLIVE OIL
John Climacus the Righteous, author of The Divine Ladder of Ascent, Sosthenes, Apollos, Cephas, Caesar, & Epaphroditos, the Apostles of the 70, Zacharias the New Martyr
For behold, the LORD is coming forth out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed upon her, and will no more cover her slain. In that day the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea. In that day: “A pleasant vineyard, sing of it! I, the LORD, am its keeper; every moment I water it. Lest any one harm it, I guard it night and day; I have no wrath. Would that I had thorns and briers to battle! I would set out against them, I would burn them up together. Or let them lay hold of my protection, let them make peace with me, let them make peace with me.” In days to come Jacob shall take root, Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots, and fill the whole world with fruit. Has he smitten them as he smote those who smote them? Or have they been slain as their slayers were slain? Measure by measure, by exile thou didst contend with them; he removed them with his fierce blast in the day of the east wind. Therefore by this the guilt of Jacob will be expiated, and this will be the full fruit of the removal of his sin: when he makes all the stones of the altars like chalkstones crushed to pieces, no Asherim or incense altars will remain standing.
The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah; and from these the whole earth was peopled.
Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father's nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, "Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers." He also said, "Blessed by the LORD my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave. God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his slave." After the flood Noah lived three hundred and fifty years. All the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died. These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth; sons were born to them after the flood.
A prudent man conceals his knowledge, but fools proclaim their folly. The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor. Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. A righteous man turns away from evil, but the way of the wicked leads them astray. A slothful man will not catch his prey, but the diligent man will get precious wealth. In the path of righteousness is life, but the way of error leads to death. A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. From the fruit of his mouth a good man eats good, but the desire of the treacherous is for violence. He who guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin. The soul of the sluggard craves, and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied. A righteous man hates falsehood, but a wicked man acts shamefully and disgracefully. Righteousness guards him whose way is upright, but sin overthrows the wicked. One man pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth. The ransom of a man’s life is his wealth, but a poor man has no means of redemption. The light of the righteous rejoices, but the lamp of the wicked will be put out.
Saint John of the Ladder is honored by Holy Church as a great ascetic and author of the renowned spiritual book called THE LADDER, from which he is also called “of the Ladder” (Climacus).
There is almost no information about Saint John’s origins. One tradition suggests that he was born in Constantinople around the year 570, and was the son of Saints Xenophon and Maria (January 26).
John went to Sinai when he was sixteen, submitting to Abba Martyrius as his instructor and guide. After four years, Saint John was tonsured as a monk. Abba Strategios, who was present at Saint John’s tonsure, predicted that he would become a great luminary in the Church of Christ.
For nineteen years Saint John progressed in monasticism in obedience to his spiritual Father. After the death of Abba Martyrius, Saint John embarked on a solitary life, settling in a wild place called Thola, where he spent forty years laboring in silence, fasting, prayer, and tears of penitence.
It is not by chance that in THE LADDER Saint John speaks about tears of repentance: “Just as fire burns and destroys the wood, so pure tears wash away every impurity, both external and internal.” His holy prayer was strong and efficacious, as may be seen from an example from the life of the God-pleasing saint.
Saint John had a disciple named Moses. Once, the saint ordered his disciple to bring dung to fertilize the vegetable garden. When he had fulfilled the obedience, Moses lay down to rest under the shade of a large rock, because of the scorching heat of summer. Saint John was in his cell in a light sleep. Suddenly, a man of remarkable appearance appeared to him and awakened the holy ascetic, reproaching him, “John, why do you sleep so heedlessly, when Moses is in danger?”
Saint John immediately woke up and began to pray for his disciple. When Moses returned in the evening, Saint John asked whether any sort of misfortune had befallen him.
The monk replied, “A large rock would have fallen on me as I slept beneath it at noon, but I left that place because I thought I heard you calling me.” Saint John did not tell his disciple of his vision, but gave thanks to God.
Saint John ate the food which is permitted by the monastic rule, but only in moderation. He did not sleep very much, only enough to keep up his strength, so that he would not ruin his mind by unceasing vigil. “I do not fast excessively,” he said of himself, “nor do I give myself over to intense all-night vigil, nor lay upon the ground, but I restrain myself…, and the Lord soon saved me.”
The following example of Saint John’s humility is noteworthy. Gifted with discernment, and attaining wisdom through spiritual experience, he lovingly received all who came to him and guided them to salvation. One day some envious monks reproached him for being too talkative, and so Saint John kept silence for a whole year. The monks realized their error, and they went to the ascetic and begged him not to deprive them of the spiritual profit of his conversation.
Concealing his ascetic deeds from others, Saint John sometimes withdrew into a cave, but reports of his holiness spread far beyond the vicinity. Visitors from all walks of life came to him, desiring to hear his words of edification and salvation. After forty years of solitary asceticism, he was chosen as igumen of Sinai when he was seventy-five. Saint John governed the holy monastery for four years. Toward the end of his life, the Lord granted him the gifts of clairvoyance and wonderworking.
At the request of Saint John, igumen of the Raithu monastery (Commemorated on Cheesefare Saturday), he wrote the incomparable LADDER, a book of instruction for monks who wished to attain spiritual perfection.
Knowing of the wisdom and spiritual gifts of Saint John of Sinai, the igumen of Raithu requested him to write down whatever was necessary for the salvation of those in the monastic life. Such a book would be “a ladder fixed on the earth” (Gen. 28:12), leading people to the gates of Heaven.
Saint John felt that such a task was beyond his ability, yet out of obedience he fulfilled the request. The saint called his work THE LADDER, for the book is “a fixed ladder leading from earthly things to the Holy of Holies….” The thirty steps of spiritual perfection correspond to the thirty years of the Lord’s age. When we have completed these thirty steps, we will find ourselves with the righteous and will not stumble. THE LADDER begins with renunciation of the world, and ends with God, Who is love (1 John 4:8).
Although the book was written for monks, any Christian living in the world will find it an unerring guide for ascending to God, and a support in the spiritual life. Saints Theodore the Studite (November 11 and January 26), Sergius of Radonezh (September 25 and July 5), Joseph of Volokolamsk (September 9 and October 18), and others relied on THE LADDER as an important guide to salvation.
The twenty-second step of THE LADDER deals with various forms of vainglory. Saint John writes: “When I fast, I am vainglorious; and when I permit myself food in order to conceal my fasting from others I am again vainglorious about my prudence. When I dress in fine clothing, I am vanquished by vanity, and if I put on drab clothing, again I am overcome by vanity. If I speak, vainglory defeats me. If I wish to keep silence, I am again given over to it. Wherever this thorn comes up, it stands with its points upright.
A vain person seems to honor God, but strives to please men rather than God.
People of lofty spirit bear insult placidly and willingly, but only the holy and righteous may hear praise without harm.
When you hear that your neighbor or friend has slandered you behind your back, or even to your face, praise and love him.
It is not the one who reproaches himself who shows humility, for who will not put up with himself? It is the one who is slandered by another, yet continues to show love for him.
Whoever is proud of his natural gifts, intelligence, learning, skill in reading, clear enunciation, and other similar qualities, which are acquired without much labor, will never obtain supernatural gifts. Whoever is not faithful in small things (Luke 16:10), is also unfaithful in large things, and is vainglorous.
It often happens that God humbles the vainglorious, sending a sudden misfortune. If prayer does not destroy a proud thought, we bring to mind the departure of the soul from this life. And if this does not help, let us fear the shame which follows dishonor. “For whoever humbles himself shall be exalted, and whoever exalts himself shall be humbled” (Luke 14:11). When those who praise us, or rather seduce us, start to praise us, let us recall our many sins, then we shall find that we are not worthy of what they say or do to honor us.”
In THE LADDER Saint John describes the ascent toward spiritual perfection, which is essential for anyone who wishes to save his soul. It is a written account of his thoughts, based on the collected wisdom of many wise ascetics, and on his own spiritual experience. The book is a great help on the path to truth and virtue.
The steps of THE LADDER proceed gradually from strength to strength on the path of perfection. The summit is not reached suddenly, but gradually, as the Savior says: “The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Mt.11:12).
Saint John is also commemorated on the fourth Sunday of Great Lent.
Saint Sophronius, Bishop of Irkutsk and Wonderworker of all Siberia, whose family name was Kristalevsky, was born in Malorussia in the Chernigov region in 1704. His father, Nazarius, was “a common man in his affairs,” and the saint was named Stephen, in honor of the protomartyr Saint Stephen. He had two brothers and a sister, Pelagia. The name of one brother was Paul. The name of the other older brother is unknown, but it is said that he was head of the Krasnogorsk Zolotonosh monastery.
Stephen’s childhood years were spent in the settlement of Berezan in the Pereyaslavl district of the Poltava governance, where the family settled after the father was discharged from service. When he came of age, Stephen entered the Kiev Theological Academy, where two other future hierarchs were studying: Joasaph, future Bishop of Belgorod (September 4 and December 10), and Paul, future Metropolitan of Tobolsk (June 10 and November 4).
After completing his religious education, Stephen entered the Krasnogorsk Transfiguration monastery [later renamed the Protection monastery. In 1789, it was transformed into a women’s monastery], where his elder brother already labored in asceticism. On April 23, 1730 he received monastic tonsure with the name of Sophronius, in honor of Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem (March 11).
On the night after his monastic tonsure, Saint Sophronius heard a Voice in the Protection church predicting his future service: “When you become bishop, build a church dedicated to All Saints.”
In 1732, he was summoned to Kiev. There he was ordained hierodeacon, and then hieromonk in the cathedral of Holy Wisdom. After Saint Sophronius had been a monk for two years, he became treasurer of the Zolotonosh monastery for two years, and then His Grace Bishop Arsenius (Berlov) of the Pereyaslavl diocese sent him into the house of his archbishop, where he was steward for eight years.
These facts testify to the connections of the saint with his original Protection monastery. During his obedience under the presiding hierarch at Pereyaslavl, he often visited his monastery, spending the day in quiet contemplation and work, serving as an example to the brethren.
When Hieromonk Sophronius traveled to the Holy Synod on behalf of his bishop, they paid close attention to him. In January 1742, the future saint was transferred to the Saint Alexander Nevsky Lavra in Saint Peterburg, the foremost monastery of the capital. A year later he was appointed treasurer of the monastery, and in 1746 he was appointed as Superior of the monastery.
He summoned his fellow countryman, the hieromonk Sinesios (Ivanoff), a native of the city of Priluki, and made him igumen of the Saint Sergius Hermitage, a dependancy of Saint Alexander Nevsky Lavra. From this time the friendship of the two ascetics, hieromonk Sophronius and hieromonk Sinesios, was strengthened by their joint pastoral effort, and they were inseparable until they died in Siberia.
During these years Saint Sophronius worked hard at managing the monastery and improvement of teaching at the seminary located nearby. He and Archbishop Theodosius made it their task to acquire more books for the monastic library.
Saint Sophronius built a two storey church: the upper church was dedicated to Saint Theodore, the older brother of Saint Alexander Nevsky; and the lower to Saint John Chrysostom.
Bishop Innocent II (Nerunovich) of Irkutsk died in 1747. For six years afterwards, the Irkutsk diocese remained without a spiritual head.
Finally, on February 23, 1753, the empress Elizabeth (1741-1761) recommended the pious Igumen Sophronius of the Alexander Nevsky monastery to the Holy Synod as “a person, not only worthy of episcopal rank, but also someone completely able to fulfill the wishes and the hopes of the state and the Synod, and take up the burden of episcopal service on the far frontier and satisfy the needs of his flock in that harsh land, among wild primitives and lawless people.”
On April 18, 1753, Thomas Sunday, Hieromonk Sophronius was consecrated Bishop of Irkutsk and Nerchinsk in the Dormition cathedral.
Foreseeing difficult service on the distant Siberian frontier, the new bishop did not immediately travel to the Irkutsk eparchy, but rather began to gather educated and spiritually experienced co-workers. During this period Saint Sophronius visited at his original Krasnogorsk monastery. At the holy places of Kiev, he also sought the blessings of the Kiev Caves Saints for his service. The constant companion of the saint, as had been before, was the hieromonk Sinesios, sharing in his friend’s work.
At Moscow, Archbishop Platon of Moscow and Sevsk provided him with further assistance. He gave him fatherly advice for his task, since he was quite familiar with the peculiarities of the Siberian religious life. He forewarned him about the self-willed local authorities, and advised him to surround himself with trustworthy helpers.
On March 20, 1754 the saint arrived at Irkutsk. He went first to the Ascension monastery, his predecessor’s residence, and prayed at the grave of Bishop Innocent (Kulchitz), asking his blessing as he took up his assignment.
Familiarizing himself with the state of affairs in the diocese, the saint began the reorganization of the Spiritual consistory, monasteries and parishes, and appealed to the Holy Synod to send worthy men to the Irkutsk eparchy for priestly service.
Before the arrival of Saint Sophronius, the Irkutsk monasteries had already a century-old history. The founders of these monasteries were motivated by a fervent desire for monastic life. The wise hierarch appointed people of piety, wisdom, virtue, and with great experience both of life and spiritual matters as heads of the monastic communities. In 1754, Bishop Sophronius elevated his friend and companion Hieromonk Sinesios to be Archimandrite of Ascension monastery. He served the monastery for thirty-three years until his blessed repose.
In September 1754, the bishop issued a decree in which he expressed concern for the education and upbringing of the children of the clergy. He wanted them to learn the HOROLOGION, the PSALTER, singing and letters, and this instruction “ought to be conducted with all industriousness and the utmost diligence, so that the children might be able to fulfill the responsibilities of sacristan and deacon.”
Studying both people and circumstances, the bishop in his sermons and conversations exhorted all to a higher moral ideal. He devoted particular attention to the reverent and correct performance of the divine services and the Holy Mysteries, and he also looked after the moral purity of laymen. He was concerned about the position of women in the family, and defended them against their unjust inequality. The bishop attempted to set straight the Rule of divine services, and so he summoned priests, deacons, subdeacons and sacristans, and those who sang in the choir during services.
Traveling about the diocese, the saint noticed that censing and the ringing of bells were not being done properly in all places, and therefore he issued a decree restoring the proper way of censing and bell-ringing.
Called to apostolic service in this frontier region, Saint Sophronius realized that his duty was to enlighten the Christians of the area, and also to convert the idol-worshippers, who were very numerous in Siberia.
It was difficult to bring pagans to the Church of Christ, especially because sometimes there was no one to serve in the churches, and to borrow priests for missionary activity only made matters worse. Knowing that the Church services would have a salutary effect on non-Russians, the saint not only served with reverence himself, but also required it of all his clergy.
Saint Sophronius also contributed to the development of a stable culture among the local people. He offered them monastic lands for settlements and in every way he endeavored to isolate them from the influence of paganism. A constant throng of visitors came from faraway places for his blessing.
Even with his many cares, he did not forget his own spiritual life and eternity. He also led an ascetical life. His cell-attendant said that the saint “used simple food in small quantities. He served often, spent the greater part of the night at prayer, sleeping on the floor under a sheepskin or a fur, a deerskin or bear hide, and a small simple pillow.”
The spirit of his ascetic life fit in with the general uplifting of the Christian spirit in Russia after the glorification of Saint Demetrius of Rostov (September 21), Theodosius of Chernigov (September 9), and the uncovering of the incorrupt relics of his predecessor, Saint Innocent of Irkutsk (February 9). This event inspired Saint Sophronius to greater efforts and encouraged him to ask for the help of Saint Innocent in his task of building up the diocese.
Until the end of his days Saint Sophronius kept his love for the Krasnogor Zolotonosh monastery, which had nurtured him in the days of his youth. He constantly contributed support for its upkeep, sending the necessary means for this.
Noticing a deterioration in his health, Saint Sophronius petitioned the Holy Synod to let him retire. The answer from Peterburg did not come right away, since it was difficult to choose a worthy successor.
The final days of Saint Sophronius’s life were spent in asceticism and prayer.
The light, which shone on the good deeds of Saint Sophronius, continues to the present time to testify to the glory of the Heavenly Father, “Who mercifully strengthens His saints.” Now the holy memory of Saint Sophronius is reverently preserved not only in Siberia at the place of his final deeds, but also at the place of his first deeds.
Saint Sophronius is also commemorated on June 30 (his glorification in 1918).
Holy Prophet Joad came from Samaria and prophesied during the tenth century before Christ (See 1/3 Kings 13). The prophet was sent by the Lord from Judea to Bethel to denounce the Israelite king Jereboam for polluting his nation with idol worship.
The Lord commanded the prophet, “Eat no bread, and drink no water, and do not return by the way you came” (1/3 Kings 13:9). The prophet Joad appeared to King Jereboam and prophesied to him concerning the wrath of the Lord. When the king tried to gesture with his hand to seize the prophet, his hand suddenly withered. The king entreated the prophet to pray to the Lord that his hand would be healed. By Joad’s prayer he received healing.
Deceived by the false prophet Emba of Bethel, Joad disobeyed the command given him by the Lord. The older man lied and told Joad that an angel had commanded him to bring him to his home and feed him. Because of his disobedience, the prophet Joad was killed by a lion. His body did not rest with his fathers, but was buried near the abode of the false prophet who led him astray.
The Holy Apostles Sosthenes was head of the Corinthian synagogue before his conversion. The Apostle Paul converted him to Christianity and made him his helper in his work. In addressing the Corinthian church, Saint Paul sent greetings from both of them: “Paul, by the will of God called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, and brother Sosthenes…” (1 Cor.1:1). Afterwards, Saint Sosthenes was made bishop at Colophon (Asia Minor).
Saint Sosthenes is also commemorated on December 8 and the Synaxis of the Seventy Apostles on January 4.
In the Acts of the Holy Apostles we read the following: “A certain Jew named Apollos, born in Alexandria, eloquent and well-versed in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. He was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spoke and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. Hearing him, Aquila and Priscilla took him and more precisely explained to him the way of the Lord. And when he resolved to go to Achaia, the brethren wrote and asked the disciples to receive him. When he got there, he greatly helped those who believed by grace, for he powerfully confounded the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 18:24-28).
The Holy Apostle Apollos assisted the Apostle Paul. Saint Paul speaks about the spread of Christianity among the Corinthians, “I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Cor.3:6). Saint Apollos was later bishop at Smyrna (Asia Minor).
Saint Apollos is also commemorated on December 8 and the Synaxis of the Seventy Apostles on January 4.
According to Tradition, the Holy Apostle Cephas was Bishop of Iconium. No accounts of him have been preserved. It is assumed that he is the one who is mentioned by the Apostle Paul (1 Cor.15:5).
Saint Cephas is also commemorated on December 8 and the Synaxis of the Seventy Apostles on January 4.
The Holy Apostle Caesar is also commemorated on December 8 and the Synaxis of the Seventy Apostles on January 4.
The Holy Apostle Epaphroditus was Bishop of Adrianium (Italy). He was also a companion of Saint Paul who sent him to the Christians of Philippi. Saint Paul speaks about his hard work in the vineyard of Christ: “I thought it necesary to send you Epaphroditus, my brother and coworker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my needs… he was sick and near to death; but God had mercy on him, and not only him but also on me, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow… Receive him in the Lord with all joy; and honor such men, for he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete your lack of service to me” (Phil 2: 25-30).
Saint Epaphroditus is also commemorated on December 8 and the Synaxis of the Seventy Apostles on January 4.
Saint Euboula, Mother of the Great Martyr Panteleimon (July 27), died peacefully around 303, before the martyrdom of her son.
Saint John the Silent Bishop of the city of Colonia, was a model of a good Christian life for his flock. Persecuted by the governor, he was deprived of the archbishop’s cathedra and went to the monastery of Saint Savva the Sanctified, where he was glorified in ascetic deeds of silence, prayer, and desert-dwelling. The monk died at age 104 (+ 558). See also December 3.
Saint Zosimus, Bishop of Syracuse, was born in answer to the fervent prayers of his parents, who were childless for a long time. When their son reached the age of seven, his parents sent him to a monastery to be educated. When the holy ascetic became an adult, he received monastic tonsure, and governed the monastery for forty years. Pope Theodore (641-649) consecrated him Bishop of Syracuse.
Saint Zosimus was distinguished by his charity and lack of avarice, and led his flock by word and by example. Toward the end of his life Saint Zosimus fell grievously ill, but endured his suffering with magnanimity and humility. He died in the year 662, after he had led his flock for thirteen years. Later, many of the sick received healing by merely touching his tomb.
The Meeting of the Most Holy Theotokos and Saint Elizabeth. The establishment of this Feast and the composition of the Service are the work of Archimandrite Antonin Kapustin (+ 1894), head of the Russian Orthodox Mission in Jerusalem.
The Gorneye Convent in Jerusalem, built on the site of the Meeting of the Theotokos and Saint Elizabeth, celebrates this Feast on March 30. If March 30 should fall between Lazarus Saturday and Pascha, however, the Feast is transferred to Bright Friday.