4TH FRIDAY OF LENT
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS, WINE, OLIVE OIL
Mary of Egypt, Euthemios of Suzdal, Gerontios & Vasilides the Martyrs
And the Lord said: "Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment of men learned by rote; therefore, behold, I will again do marvelous things with this people, wonderful and marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hid." Woe to those who hide deep from the LORD their counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, "Who sees us? Who knows us?" You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay; that the thing made should say of its maker, "He did not make me"; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, "He has no understanding"? Is it not yet a very little while until Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be regarded as a forest? In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. For the ruthless shall come to nought and the scoffer cease, and all who watch to do evil shall be cut off, who by a word make a man out to be an offender, and lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate, and with an empty plea turn aside him who is in the right. Therefore thus says the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob: "Jacob shall no more be ashamed, no more shall his face grow pale. For when he sees his children, the work of my hands, in his midst, they will sanctify my name; they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves." So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions which they had gathered, and the persons that they had gotten in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, "To your descendants I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.
The simple believes everything, but the prudent looks where he is going. A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool throws off restraint and is careless. A man of quick temper acts foolishly, but a man of discretion is patient. The simple acquire folly, but the prudent are crowned with knowledge. The evil bow down before the good, the wicked at the gates of the righteous. The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends. He who despises his neighbor is a sinner, but happy is he who is kind to the poor. Do they not err that devise evil? Those who devise good meet loyalty and faithfulness. In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to want. The crown of the wise is their wisdom, but folly is the garland of fools. A truthful witness saves lives, but one who utters lies is a betrayer. In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.
Venerable Mary of Egypt
Saint Zosimas (April 4) was a monk at a certain Palestinian monastery on the outskirts of Caesarea. Having dwelt at the monastery since his childhood, he lived there in asceticism until he reached the age of fifty-three. Then he was disturbed by the thought that he had attained perfection, and needed no one to instruct him. “Is there a monk anywhere who can show me some form of asceticism that I have not attained? Is there anyone who has surpassed me in spiritual sobriety and deeds?”
Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Zosimas, you have struggled valiantly, as far as this is in the power of man. However, there is no one who is righteous (Rom 3:10). So that you may know how many other ways lead to salvation, leave your native land, like Abraham from the house of his father (Gen 12:1), and go to the monastery by the Jordan.”
Abba Zosimas immediately left the monastery, and following the angel, he went to the Jordan monastery and settled in it.
Here he met Elders who were adept in contemplation, and also in their struggles. Never did anyone utter an idle word. Instead, they sang constantly, and prayed all night long. Abba Zosimas began to imitate the spiritual activity of the holy monks.
Thus much time passed, and the holy Forty Day Fast approached. There was a certain custom at the monastery, which was why God had led Saint Zosimas there. On the First Sunday of Great Lent the igumen served the Divine Liturgy, everyone received the All-Pure Body and Blood of Christ. Afterwards, they went to the trapeza for a small repast, and then assembled once more in church.
The monks prayed and made prostrations, asking forgiveness one of another. Then they made a prostration before the igumen and asked his blessing for the struggle that lay before them. During the Psalm “The Lord is my Light and my Savior, whom shall I fear? The Lord is defender of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps 26/27:1), they opened the monastery gate and went off into the wilderness.
Each took with him as much food as he needed, and went into the desert. When their food ran out, they ate roots and desert plants. The monks crossed the Jordan and scattered in various directions, so that no one might see how another fasted or how they spent their time.
The monks returned to the monastery on Palm Sunday, each having his own conscience as a witness of his ascetic struggles. It was a rule of the monastery that no one asked how anyone else had toiled in the desert.
Abba Zosimas, according to the custom of the monastery, went deep into the desert hoping to find someone living there who could benefit him.
He walked into the wilderness for twenty days and then, when he sang the Psalms of the Sixth Hour and made the usual prayers. Suddenly, to the right of the hill where he stood, he saw a human form. He was afraid, thinking that it might be a demonic apparition. Then he guarded himself with the Sign of the Cross, which removed his fear. He turned to the right and saw a form walking southward. The body was black from the blazing sunlight, and the faded short hair was white like a sheep’s fleece. Abba Zosimas rejoiced, since he had not seen any living thing for many days.
The desert-dweller saw Zosimas approaching, and attempted to flee from him. Abba Zosimas, forgetting his age and fatigue, quickened his pace. When he was close enough to be heard, he called out, “Why do you flee from me, a sinful old man? Wait for me, for the love of God.”
The stranger said to him, “Forgive me, Abba Zosimas, but I cannot turn and show my face to you. I am a woman, and as you see, I am naked. If you would grant the request of a sinful woman, throw me your cloak so I might cover my body, and then I can ask for your blessing.”
Then Abba Zosimas was terrified, realizing that she could not have called him by name unless she possessed spiritual insight.
Covered by the cloak, the ascetic turned to Zosimas: “Why do you want to speak with me, a sinful woman? What did you wish to learn from me, you who have not shrunk from such great labors?”
Abba Zosimas fell to the ground and asked for her blessing. She also bowed down before him, and for a long time they remained on the ground each asking the other to bless. Finally, the woman ascetic said: “Abba Zosimas, you must bless and pray, since you are honored with the grace of the priesthood. For many years you have stood before the holy altar, offering the Holy Gifts to the Lord.”
These words frightened Saint Zosimas even more. With tears he said to her, “O Mother! It is clear that you live with God and are dead to this world. You have called me by name and recognized me as a priest, though you have never seen me before. The grace granted you is apparent, therefore bless me, for the Lord’s sake.”
Yielding finally to his entreaties, she said, “Blessed is God, Who cares for the salvation of men.” Abba Zosimas replied, “Amen.” Then they rose to their feet. The woman ascetic again said to the Elder, “Why have you come, Father, to me who am a sinner, bereft of every virtue? Apparently, the grace of the Holy Spirit has brought you to do me a service. But tell me first, Abba, how do the Christians live, how is the Church guided?”
Abba Zosimas answered her, “By your holy prayers God has granted the Church and us all a lasting peace. But fulfill my unworthy request, Mother, and pray for the whole world and for me a sinner, that my wanderings in the desert may not be useless.”
The holy ascetic replied, “You, Abba Zosimas, as a priest, ought to pray for me and for all, for you are called to do this. However, since we must be obedient, I will do as you ask.”
The saint turned toward the East, and raising her eyes to heaven and stretching out her hands, she began to pray in a whisper. She prayed so softly that Abba Zosimas could not hear her words. After a long time, the Elder looked up and saw her standing in the air more than a foot above the ground. Seeing this, Zosimas threw himself down on the ground, weeping and repeating, “Lord, have mercy!”
Then he was tempted by a thought. He wondered if she might not be a spirit, and if her prayer could be insincere. At that moment she turned around, lifted him from the ground and said, “Why do your thoughts confuse you, Abba Zosimas? I am not an apparition. I am a sinful and unworthy woman, though I am guarded by holy Baptism.”
Then she made the Sign of the Cross and said, “May God protect us from the Evil One and his schemes, for fierce is his struggle against us.” Seeing and hearing this, the Elder fell at her feet with tears saying, “I beseech you by Christ our God, do not conceal from me who you are and how you came into this desert. Tell me everything, so that the wondrous works of God may be revealed.”
She replied, “It distresses me, Father, to speak to you about my shameless life. When you hear my story, you might flee from me, as if from a poisonous snake. But I shall tell you everything, Father, concealing nothing. However, I exhort you, cease not to pray for me a sinner, that I may find mercy on the Day of Judgment.
“I was born in Egypt and when I was twelve years old, I left my parents and went to Alexandria. There I lost my chastity and gave myself to unrestrained and insatiable sensuality. For more than seventeen years I lived like that and I did it all for free. Do not think that I refused the money because I was rich. I lived in poverty and worked at spinning flax. To me, life consisted in the satisfaction of my fleshly lust.
“One summer I saw a crowd of people from Libya and Egypt heading toward the sea. They were on their way to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. I also wanted to sail with them. Since I had no food or money, I offered my body in payment for my passage. And so I embarked on the ship.
“Now, Father, believe me, I am very amazed, that the sea tolerated my wantonness and fornication, that the earth did not open up its mouth and take me down alive into hell, because I had ensnared so many souls. I think that God was seeking my repentance. He did not desire the death of a sinner, but awaited my conversion.
“So I arrived in Jerusalem and spent all the days before the Feast living the same sort of life, and maybe even worse.
“When the holy Feast of the Exaltation of the Venerable Cross of the Lord arrived, I went about as before, looking for young men. At daybreak I saw that everyone was heading to the church, so I went along with the rest. When the hour of the Holy Elevation drew nigh, I was trying to enter into the church with all the people. With great effort I came almost to the doors, and attempted to squeeze inside. Although I stepped up to the threshold, it was as though some force held me back, preventing me from entering. I was brushed aside by the crowd, and found myself standing alone on the porch. I thought that perhaps this happened because of my womanly weakness. I worked my way into the crowd, and again I attempted to elbow people aside. However hard I tried, I could not enter. Just as my feet touched the church threshold, I was stopped. Others entered the church without difficulty, while I alone was not allowed in. This happened three or four times. Finally my strength was exhausted. I went off and stood in a corner of the church portico.
“Then I realized that it was my sins that prevented me from seeing the Life-Creating Wood. The grace of the Lord then touched my heart. I wept and lamented, and I began to beat my breast. Sighing from the depths of my heart, I saw above me an icon of the Most Holy Theotokos. Turning to Her, I prayed: ‘O Lady Virgin, who gave birth in the flesh to God the Word! I know that I am unworthy to look upon your icon. I rightly inspire hatred and disgust before your purity, but I know also that God became Man in order to call sinners to repentance. Help me, O All-Pure One. Let me enter the church. Allow me to behold the Wood upon which the Lord was crucified in the flesh, shedding His Blood for the redemption of sinners, and also for me. Be my witness before Your Son that I will never defile my body again with the impurity of fornication. As soon as I have seen the Cross of your Son, I will renounce the world, and go wherever you lead me.’
“After I had spoken, I felt confidence in the compassion of the Mother of God, and left the spot where I had been praying. I joined those entering the church, and no one pushed me back or prevented me from entering. I went on in fear and trembling, and entered the holy place.
“Thus I also saw the Mysteries of God, and how God accepts the penitent. I fell to the holy ground and kissed it. Then I hastened again to stand before the icon of the Mother of God, where I had given my vow. Bending my knees before the Virgin Theotokos, I prayed:
‘O Lady, you have not rejected my prayer as unworthy. Glory be to God, Who accepts the repentance of sinners. It is time for me to fulfill my vow, which you witnessed. Therefore, O Lady, guide me on the path of repentance.’
“Then I heard a voice from on high: ‘If you cross the Jordan, you will find glorious rest.’
“I immediately believed that this voice was meant for me, and I cried out to the Mother of God: ‘O Lady, do not forsake me!’
“Then I left the church portico and started on my journey. A certain man gave me three coins as I was leaving the church. With them I bought three loaves of bread, and asked the bread merchant the way to the Jordan.
“It was nine o’clock when I saw the Cross. At sunset I reached the church of Saint John the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan. After praying in the church, I went down to the Jordan and washed my face and hands in its water. Then in this same temple of Saint John the Forerunner I received the Life-Creating Mysteries of Christ. Then I ate half of one of my loaves of bread, drank water from the holy Jordan, and slept there that night on the ground. In the morning I found a small boat and crossed the river to the opposite shore. Again I prayed that the Mother of God would lead me where She wished. Then I found myself in this desert.”
Abba Zosimas asked her, “How many years have passed since you began to live in the desert?”
“‘I think,” she replied, “it is forty-seven years since I came from the Holy City.”
Abba Zosimas again asked, “What food do you find here, Mother?”
And she said, “I had with me two and a half loaves of bread when I crossed the Jordan. Soon they dried out and hardened. Eating a little at a time, I finished them after a few years.”
Again Abba Zosimas asked, “Is it possible you have survived for so many years without sickness, and without suffering in any way from such a complete change?”
“Believe me, Abba Zosimas,” the woman said, “I spent seventeen years in this wilderness [after she had spent seventeen years in immorality], fighting wild beasts: mad desires and passions. When I began to eat bread, I thought of the meat and fish which I had in abundance in Egypt. I also missed the wine that I loved so much when I was in the world, while here I did not even have water. I suffered from thirst and hunger. I also had a mad desire for lewd songs. I seemed to hear them, disturbing my heart and my hearing. Weeping and striking myself on the breast, I remembered the vow I had made. At last I beheld a radiant Light shining on me from everywhere. After a violent tempest, a lasting calm ensued.
“Abba, how shall I tell you of the thoughts that urged me on to fornication? A fire seemed to burn within me, awakening in me the desire for embraces. Then I would throw myself to the ground and water it with my tears. I seemed to see the Most Holy Virgin before me, and She seemed to threaten me for not keeping my vow. I lay face downward day and night upon the ground, and would not get up until that blessed Light encircled me, dispelling the evil thoughts that troubled me.
“Thus I lived in this wilderness for the first seventeen years. Darkness after darkness, misery after misery stood about me, a sinner. But from that time until now the Mother of God helps me in everything.”
Abba Zosimas again inquired, “How is it that you require neither food, nor clothing?”
She answered, “After finishing my bread, I lived on herbs and the things one finds in the desert. The clothes I had when I crossed over the Jordan became torn and fell apart. I suffered both from the summer heat, when the blazing heat fell upon me, and from the winter cold, when I shivered from the frost. Many times I fell down upon the earth, as though dead. I struggled with various afflictions and temptations. But from that time until the present day, the power of God has guarded my sinful soul and humble body. I was fed and clothed by the all-powerful word of God, since man does not live by bread alone, but by every word proceeding from the mouth of God (Dt 8:3, Mt.4:4, Luke 4:4), and those who have put off the old man (Col 3:9) have no refuge, hiding themselves in the clefts of the rocks (Job 24:8, Heb 11:38). When I remember from what evil and from what sins the Lord delivered me, I have imperishible food for salvation.”
When Abba Zosimas heard that the holy ascetic quoted the Holy Scripture from memory, from the Books of Moses and Job and from the Psalms of David, he then asked the woman, “Mother, have you read the Psalms and other books?”
She smiled at hearing this question, and answered, “Believe me, I have seen no human face but yours from the time that I crossed over the Jordan. I never learned from books. I have never heard anyone read or sing from them. Perhaps the Word of God, which is alive and acting, teaches man knowledge by itself (Col 3:16, 1 Thess 2:13). This is the end of my story. As I asked when I began, I beg you for the sake of the Incarnate Word of God, holy Abba, pray for me, a sinner.
“Furthermore, I beg you, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, tell no one what you have heard from me, until God takes me from this earth. Next year, during Great Lent, do not cross the Jordan, as is the custom of your monastery.”
Again Abba Zosimas was amazed, that the practice of his monastery was known to the holy woman ascetic, although he had not said anything to her about this.
“Remain at the monastery,” the woman continued. “Even if you try to leave the monastery, you will not be able to do so. On Great and Holy Thursday, the day of the Lord’s Last Supper, place the Life-Creating Body and Blood of Christ our God in a holy vessel, and bring it to me. Await me on this side of the Jordan, at the edge of the desert, so that I may receive the Holy Mysteries. And say to Abba John, the igumen of your community, ‘Look to yourself and your brothers (1 Tim 4:16), for there is much that needs correction.’ Do not say this to him now, but when the Lord shall indicate.”
Asking for his prayers, the woman turned and vanished into the depths of the desert.
For a whole year Elder Zosimas remained silent, not daring to reveal to anyone what he had seen, and he prayed that the Lord would grant him to see the holy ascetic once more.
When the first week of Great Lent came again, Saint Zosimas was obliged to remain at the monastery because of sickness. Then he remembered the woman’s prophetic words that he would not be able to leave the monastery. After several days went by, Saint Zosimas was healed of his infirmity, but he remained at the monastery until Holy Week.
On Holy Thursday, Abba Zosimas did what he had been ordered to do. He placed some of the Body and Blood of Christ into a chalice, and some food in a small basket. Then he left the monastery and went to the Jordan and waited for the ascetic. The saint seemed tardy, and Abba Zosimas prayed that God would permit him to see the holy woman.
Finally, he saw her standing on the far side of the river. Rejoicing, Saint Zosimas got up and glorified God. Then he wondered how she could cross the Jordan without a boat. She made the Sign of the Cross over the water, then she walked on the water and crossed the Jordan. Abba Zosimas saw her in the moonlight, walking toward him. When the Elder wanted to make prostration before her, she forbade him, crying out, “What are you doing, Abba? You are a priest and you carry the Holy Mysteries of God.”
Reaching the shore, she said to Abba Zosimas, “Bless me, Father.” He answered her with trembling, astonished at what he had seen. “Truly God did not lie when he promised that those who purify themselves will be like Him. Glory to You, O Christ our God, for showing me through your holy servant, how far I am from perfection.”
The woman asked him to recite both the Creed and the “Our Father.” When the prayers were finished, she partook of the Holy Mysteries of Christ. Then she raised her hands to the heavens and said, “Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen Your salvation.”
The saint turned to the Elder and said, “Please, Abba, fulfill another request. Go now to your monastery, and in a year’s time come to the place where we first time spoke.”
He said, “If only it were possible for me to follow you and always see your holy face!”
She replied, “For the Lord’s sake, pray for me and remember my wretchedness.”
Again she made the Sign of the Cross over the Jordan, and walked over the water as before, and disappeared into the desert. Zosimas returned to the monastery with joy and terror, reproaching himself because he had not asked the saint’s name. He hoped to do so the following year.
A year passed, and Abba Zosimas went into the desert. He reached the place where he first saw the holy woman ascetic. She lay dead, with arms folded on her bosom, and her face was turned to the east. Abba Zosimas washed her feet with his tears and kissed them, not daring to touch anything else. For a long while he wept over her and sang the customary Psalms, and said the funeral prayers. He began to wonder whether the saint would want him to bury her or not. Hardly had he thought this, when he saw something written on the ground near her head: “Abba Zosimas, bury on this spot the body of humble Mary. Return to dust what is dust. Pray to the Lord for me. I reposed on the first day of April, on the very night of the saving Passion of Christ, after partaking of the Mystical Supper.”
Reading this note, Abba Zosimas was glad to learn her name. He then realized that Saint Mary, after receiving the Holy Mysteries from his hand, was transported instantaneously to the place where she died, though it had taken him twenty days to travel that distance.
Glorifying God, Abba Zosimas said to himself, “It is time to do what she asks. But how can I dig a grave, with nothing in my hands?” Then he saw a small piece of wood left by some traveler. He picked it up and began to dig. The ground was hard and dry, and he could not dig it. Looking up, Abba Zosimas saw an enormous lion standing by the saint’s body and licking her feet. Fear gripped the Elder, but he guarded himself with the Sign of the Cross, believing that he would remain unharmed through the prayers of the holy woman ascetic. Then the lion came close to the Elder, showing its friendliness with every movement. Abba Zosimas commanded the lion to dig the grave, in order to bury Saint Mary’s body. At his words, the lion dug a hole deep enough to bury the body. Then each went his own way. The lion went into the desert, and Abba Zosimas returned to the monastery, blessing and praising Christ our God.
Arriving at the monastery, Abba Zosimas related to the monks and the igumen, what he had seen and heard from Saint Mary. All were astonished, hearing about the miracles of God. They always remembered Saint Mary with faith and love on the day of her repose.
Abba John, the igumen of the monastery, heeded the words of Saint Mary, and with the help of God corrected the things that were wrong at the monastery. Abba Zosimas lived a God-pleasing life at the monastery, reaching nearly a hundred years of age. There he finished his temporal life, and passed into life eternal.
The monks passed on the life of Saint Mary of Egypt by word of mouth without writing it down.
“I however,” says Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem (March 11), “wrote down the Life of Saint Mary of Egypt as I heard it from the holy Fathers. I have recorded everything, putting the truth above all else.”
“May God, Who works great miracles and bestows gifts on all who turn to Him in faith, reward those who hear or read this account, and those who copy it. May he grant them a blessed portion together with Saint Mary of Egypt and with all the saints who have pleased God by their pious thoughts and works. Let us give glory to God, the Eternal King, that we may find mercy on the Day of Judgment through our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom is due all glory, honor, majesty and worship together with the Unoriginate Father, and the Most Holy and Life-Creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.”
Venerable Euthymius of Suzdal
Saint Euthymius of Suzdal was born in the year 1316 at Nizhni-Novgorod. From early childhood he was taught his letters and received a spiritual upbringing. He received monastic tonsure at the Nizhegorod Caves monastery under its founder, Saint Dionysius (later the Archbishop of Suzdal, commemorated June 26 and October 15).
The ascetic struggles of Saint Euthymius were so great that Saint Dionysius advised him to lessen them. In 1352 Prince Boris of Suzdal sought to establish a men’s monastery in his city, and he requested the Nizhegorod Caves monastery to send a monk to establish the monastery. The choice of the saintly igumen fell upon Saint Euthymius.
After the arrival of Saint Euthymius in the northern part of the city beyond the Kamenka River, Saint John of Suzdal (October 15) set up a cross on the site of the future monastery cathedral before a tremendous crowd of people. The prince himself began to dig the ground for the foundation, and Saint Euthymius made three grave stones for himself, vowing to remain in the new monastery until the very end of his life.
So, the the Savior-Euthymius monastery was founded, where soon more than three hundred monks gathered under the guidance of the saint. The monastery adopted the cenobitic rule. The saint insisted that each of the monks be prepared to fulfill whatever obedience they were given. Saint Euthymius went often to the Trinity-Sergiev monastery to Saint Sergius of Radonezh (September 25 and July 5). Saint Euthymius was a strict ascetic and a great man of prayer. He toiled incessantly for the benefit of all the brethren. Saint Euthymius died on April 1, 1404.
On July 4, 1507 while a foundation trench was being dug for a new cathedral church, his incorrupt relics were uncovered. The saint was glorified at a Council in 1549.
Martyr Abraham of Bulgaria
The Holy Martyr Abraham the Bulgar, Vladimir Wonderworker, lived during the thirteenth century, and was descended from the Kamska Bulgars and brought up as a Moslem. He was good and kindly towards the destitute, and when the Lord enlightened him with the light of reason, he accepted Christianity.
In the city of Bolgara, on the lower stretches of the Volga, Saint Abraham began to preach to his fellow countrymen about the true God. They seized him and tried to force him to renounce Christ, but the saint remained firm in his confession. They tortured the martyr fiercely and for a long while, but he endured everything with unshakable patience.
On April 1, 1229 they quartered the holy Martyr Abraham, and then cut off his venerable head. Russian Christians living in the city buried the saint’s body in the Christian cemetery. On March 6, 1230, the relics of Saint Abraham were transferred by the Great Prince Saint George Vsevolodovich of Vladimir (February 4) to the Dormition cathedral of the Knyaginin (Princess) monastery. His memory began to be celebrated from that time.
Venerable Gerontius the Canonarch of the Kiev Far Caves
Saint Gerontius lived during the fourteenth century. He was a monk of the Kiev Caves Monastery and fulfilled the obedience of canonarch (leader of church singing). He spent all his life at the monastery, in ascetic deeds of abstinence, obedience, and prayer.
Saint Gerontius was buried in the Far Caves. His memory is celebrated also together with the Synaxis of the Saints of the Far Caves, on August 28.
Venerable Makarios, Igoumen of Pelēketḗ
Saint Makarios (Christóphoros in the world) was born at Constantinople in 785. He lost both his parents when he was still a child, and a pious uncle assumed responsibility for his upbringing and education, and also taught him to love God. In a short time his knowledge of Holy Scripture increased, and he realized that there are earthly and corruptible things, and also things which are heavenly, incorruptible, and eternal.
Since he was drawn to the monastic life, he forsook the world and fled to the monastery of Saint John the Theologian, also called Pelēketḗ, at Triglia of Proussa in Bithynia, where the renowned ascetic, Saint Hilarion (March 28) was the Igoumen. After receiving the monastic tonsure, he was given the name Makarios. The young monk began to engage in ascetical struggles and prayer. Later, by God's will, Saint Makarios was chosen as the Igoumen of the Monastery after Saint Hilarion's repose.
Saint Makarios became a Spiritual Father for all, not only for the monks, but also for the faithful, who flocked to him seeking his advice, his prayers, and for the healing of both soul and body, since God had given him the extraordinary gift (χάρισμα) of working miracles.
Patriarch Tarasios (784 – 806) was aware of the Saint's reputation, so he sent to him to the patrician Paul, who was suffering from an incurable illness. Saint Makarios healed him, and later he healed Paul's wife of the same illness. After that, Patriarch Tarasios took the Saint to Constantinople, and ordained him to the holy priesthood. The holy Elder submitted to the Patriarch's will because, as he said himself, "I hate disobedience and love obedience."
The heresy of iconoclasm erupted during the reign of the Byzantine Emperors Leo V the Armenian (813-820) and Michael II the Stammerer (820-829). Leo exiled the holy Patriarch Nikēphóros, and he had many monks and priests tortured, exiled, or thrown into prison.
Saint Makarios also suffered as a confessor because of his veneration of the Holy Icons. Since he was loved and respected, he was sentenced to prison, where he remained until Leo's death. Emperor Michael the Stammerer succeeded Leo in the year 820, and released the Elder from prison. He was an iconoclast, however; therefore, he tried to flatter the Saint, urging him to condemn the veneration of icons, but he remained steadfast in his faith.
Seeing that torture and threats were ineffective, Michael had the Saint exiled to the small island of Aphousia, which is in the Sea of Marmara, near Alona. There he lived in hardship and deprivation for many years continually giving thanks to God.
Saint Makarios went to the Lord around the year 830, and was succeeded as Igoumen by the monk Sergius the Solitary, who wrote his Life.
Martyrs Gerontius and Basilides
The Martyrs Gerontius and Basilides suffered martyrdom for Christ in the third century. They were beheaded by the sword.
Righteous Achaz (Ahaz)
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Saint John Shavteli, Bishop of Gaenati and Saint Eulogius, Prophet and Fool-for-Christ of Salosi
The great Georgian hymnographer, philosopher, and orator Saint John of Shavta labored in the 12th and 13th centuries, during the reign of the holy queen Tamar. Few details of his life have been preserved, but we know that he received his education at Gelati Academy, where he studied theology, ancient and Arabic history, philosophy, and literature. He was later tonsured a monk and labored at Vardzia Monastery.
When the Georgian army under the command of Queen Tamar’s husband, Davit Soslan, entered into battle (The Battle of Basiani (ca. 1203)) with the sultan Rukn al-Din, Queen Tamar journeyed to Odzrkhe Monastery to pray for help. Catholicos Tevdore of Kartli and many hierarchs and monastics accompanied her there. Among them, Saint John of Shavta stood out as a wise theologian and philosopher and a brilliant hymnographer.
During the Liturgy at Odzrkhe Monastery a miracle occurred: endowed by God with the gift of prophecy, Saint Eulogius the Fool for-Christ fell to his knees, lifted his hands to the heavens and cried out: “Glory to God! Almighty Christ!…Do not fear the Persians, but rather depart in peace, for the mercy of God has descended upon the house of Tamar!”
Eulogius’s words were clearly a divine revelation. Saint John of Shavta turned to Queen Tamar, rejoicing, “Your Highness! The Almighty has made known to us our victory in the war from the lips of a fool-for-Christ!” Eulogius confided his secret to Saint John: disguised as a fool, he had been concealing his God-given gift. But now it seemed that the gift would become apparent to all, so Eulogius quickly disappeared out of sight to escape the people’s attention.
Saint John of Shavta composed his “Hymns to the Theotokos of Vardzia” in thanksgiving for Georgia’s victory in the Battle of Basiani. He is also recognized as the composer of “Abdul-Messiah,” (Abdul-Messiah: servant of Christ) a famous ode to the holy queen Tamar.
Our Holy Father John of Shavta lived to an advanced age and was canonized soon after his repose.
Venerable Barsanuphius of Optina
Paul I. Plikhanov was born in the city of Samara on July 5,1845, the son of John and Natalia Plikhanov. His mother died in childbirth, and his father later remarried so that his son would have a mother. Although his stepmother was very strict, she was a real mother to him, and he loved her very much.
As a descendant of the Orenburg Cossacks, Paul was enrolled in the Polotsk Cadet Corps. He completed his studies at the Orenburg Military School and received an officer’s commission. He later graduated from the Petersburg Cossack Staff Officers’ School, and also served at the headquarters of the Kazan military district and eventually rose to the rank of colonel.
Once, as he was sick with pneumonia, Paul sensed that he was about to die. He asked his orderly to read the Gospel to him, and passed out. Then he had a vision in which the heavens seemed to open, and he was afraid because of the great light. His whole sinful life passed before him, and he was overcome with repentance. A voice told him he should go to Optina Monastery, but the doctors did not think he would recover. His health did improve, however, and the colonel visited Optina. In August 1889 the Elder of the Monastery was Saint Ambrose (October 10), who told Paul to set his worldly affairs in order. Two years later, Saint Ambrose blessed him to cut all ties to the world and told him to enter Optina within three months.
It was not easy for the colonel to resign his commission within the specified three month period, because obstacles were placed in his way. In fact, he was offered a promotion to the rank of general, and was asked to delay his retirement. Some people even tried to arrange a marriage for him, laughing at his intention to go to the monastery. Only his stepmother was happy that he wished to become a monk. On the very last day of the three months he concluded his affairs and arrived at Optina. However, Saint Ambrose was already laid out in his coffin in the church.
Saint Anatole I (January 25) succeeded Father Ambrose as Elder, and he assigned Paul to Hieromonk Nectarius (April 29) as his cell attendant. He was accepted as a novice in 1892, and tonsured as a rassophore in 1893. Over the next ten years he advanced through the various stages of monastic life, including ordination as deacon (1902), and as priest (1903). The monk Paul was secretly tonsured into the mantiya in December of 1900 because of a serious illness. When they asked him what name he wished to receive, he said it did not matter. They named him in honor of Saint Barsanuphius of Tver and Kazan (April 11). Although he recovered, they did not give him the mantiya until December of 1902 after the Liturgy when it was revealed that he had been tonsured on his sickbed.
On September 1, 1903 Father Barsanuphius was appointed to assist Elder Joseph, the skete Superior, in the spiritual direction of the skete brethren and the sisters of the Shamordino convent.
At the beginning of the Russo-Japanese war in 1904, Father Barsanuphius was sent to the Far East as a military chaplain, where he ministered to wounded soldiers. The war ended in August 1905, and Saint Barsanuphius returned to Optina on November 1, 1905.
Since Elder Joseph had become too old and frail to administer the skete’s affairs, Father Barsanuphius was appointed as Superior of the skete in his place. Father Barsanuphius soon reestablished order and discipline, paid off debts, repaired buildings, etc. As Superior, he combined strictness with paternal concern and tenderness for those under him.
Saint Barsanuphius, like the other Elders of Optina, possessed the gifts of clairvoyance and of healing people afflicted with physical and spiritual ailments. One of his spiritual sons, Father Innocent Pavlov, recalled his first Confession with the Elder. He became fearful because Father Barsanuphius seemed to know his innermost thoughts, reminding him of people and events which he had forgotten. The saint spoke gently and told him that it was God who had revealed to him these things about Father Innocent. “During my lifetime, do not tell anyone about what you are experiencing now,” he said, “but you may speak of it after my death.”
Saint Barsanuphius loved spiritual books, especially the Lives of the Saints. He often told people that those who read these Lives with faith benefit greatly from doing so. The answers to many of life’s questions can be found by reading the Lives of the Saints, he said. They teach us how to overcome obstacles and difficulties, how to stand firm in our faith, and how to struggle against evil and emerge victorious. Although the Lives of the Saints were widely available, it saddened the Elder that more people did not read them.
Saint Barsanuphius commemorated many saints each day during his Rule of prayer, and this was not accidental. Each saint, he once explained, had some particular importance in his life. If, for example, some significant event took place, he would look to see which saints were commemorated on that day, then he would begin to commemorate them each day. Later he noticed that on their Feast Day, they would often deliver him from some danger or trouble. On December 17, 1891, the commemoration of the Prophet Daniel and the three holy youths, he left Kazan and never returned. That was the day he decided to leave the world, and Saint Barsanuphius felt that God had delivered him from a furnace of passions. Just as the three youths were delivered from the fiery furnace because they would not bow down before idols, the Elder always believed that he left the world unharmed because he refused to bow down before the idols of lust, pride, gluttony, etc.
By 1908, Saint Barsanuphius seemed to fall ill more frequently, and began to speak of his approaching death. In April of that year, someone sent him a package containing the Great Schema. Father Barsanuphius had long desired to be tonsured into the Great Schema before his death, but he had told no one of this except for the archimandrite. Therefore, he regarded this as a sign that he would soon die.
One night in July 1910, the Elder became so ill that he had to leave church during Vigil and return to his cell. The next morning, July 11, he was so weak that he could not sit up by himself. That evening he was tonsured into the Great Schema.
Father Barsanuphius began to recover, but there were new problems in the monastery. New monks came in from spiritually lax environments. They did not understand the ascetical nature of monasticism or the whole notion of eldership, and so they began to clamor for reform and change. They wanted to assume positions of authority, and to close the skete. Because of their complaints, Father Barsanuphius was removed from Optina and assigned as igumen of the Golutvinsky Monastery. When he arrived to take up his duties, Father Barsanuphius found the monastery in a state of physical and spiritual decline. Nevertheless, he did not lose heart, and soon the monastery began to revive. More people began to visit, once they heard that an Optina Elder had come to Goluvinsky, and the monastery’s financial position also began to improve. However, the rebellious brethren caused him great sorrow, and he had to expel some of them
At the beginning of 1913, Saint Barsanuphius became ill again and asked Metropolitan Macarius of Moscow for permission to retire to Optina, but that was not to be. He fell asleep in the Lord on April 1, and his body remained in the church of Golotvino until April 6 (which was also Lazarus Saturday). After the funeral, his body was placed on a train and sent to Optina for burial. The train arrived at Kozelsk Station on April 8, and the coffin was carried to Optina by clergy.
The Moscow Patriarchate authorized local veneration of the Optina Elders on June 13, 1996. The work of uncovering the relics of Saints Leonid, Macarius, Hilarion, Ambrose, Anatole I, Barsanuphius and Anatole II began on June 24/July 7, 1998 and was concluded the next day. However, because of the church Feasts (Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, etc.) associated with the actual dates of the uncovering of the relics, Patriarch Alexey II designated June 27/July 10 as the date for commemorating this event. The relics of the holy Elders now rest in the new church of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God.
The Optina Elders were glorified by the Moscow Patriarchate for universal veneration on August 7, 2000.