FOURTH SATURDAY OF LENT
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS
Fourth Saturday of Lent, Titus the Wonderworker, Theodora the Virgin-martyr of Palestine, Amphianos & Aedesios the Martyrs of Lycia
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE HEBREWS 6:9-12
BRETHREN, we feel sure of better things that belong to salvation. For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
At that time, Jesus returned from the region of Tyre, and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of Dekapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech; and they besought him to lay his hand upon him. And taking him aside from the multitude privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, "Ephphatha, " that is, "Be opened." And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And he charged them to tell no one; but the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done all things well: he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.
Saturday is the day which the Church has set aside for the commemoration of Orthodox Christians departed this life in the hope of resurrection and eternal life. Since the Divine Liturgy cannot be served on weekdays during Great Lent, the second, third, and fourth Saturdays of the Fast are appointed as Soul Saturdays when the departed are remembered at Liturgy.
In addition to the Liturgy, kollyva (wheat or rice cooked with honey and mixed with raisins, figs, nuts, sesame, etc.) is blessed in church on these Saturdays. The kollyva reminds us of the Lord’s words, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).The kollyva symbolizes the future resurrection of all the dead. As Saint Simeon of Thessalonica (September 15) says, man is also a seed which is planted in the ground after death, and will be raised up again by God’s power. Saint Paul also speaks of this (I Cor. 15:35-49).
It is also customary to give alms in memory of the dead. The angel who spoke to Cornelius testifies to the efficacy of almsgiving, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God” (Acts 10:4).
Memorial services for the dead may be traced back to ancient times. Chapter 8 of the Apostolic Constitutions recommends memorial services with Psalms for the dead. It also contains a beautiful prayer for the departed, asking that their voluntary and involuntary sins be pardoned, that they be given rest with the Patriarchs, Prophets, and Apostles in a place where sorrow, suffering, and sighing have fled away (Isaiah 35:10). Saint John Chrysostom mentions the service for the dead in one of his homilies on Philippians, and says that it was established by the Apostles. Saint Cyprian of Carthage (Letter 37) also speaks of our duty to remember the martyrs.
The holy Fathers also testify to the benefit of offering prayers, memorial services, Liturgies, and alms for the dead (Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, Saint John of Damascus, etc.). Although both the righteous and those who have not repented and corrected themselves may receive benefit and consolation from the Church’s prayer, it has not been revealed to what extent the unrighteous receive this solace. It is not possible, however, to transfer a soul from a state of evil and condemnation to a state of holiness and blessedness through the Church’s prayer. Saint Basil the Great points out that the time for repentance and forgiveness of sins is during the present life, while the future life is a time for righteous judgment and retribution (Moralia 1). Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Gregory the Theologian, and other patristic writers concur with Saint Basil’s statement.
By praying for others, we bring benefit to them, and also to ourselves, because “God is not so unjust as to forget your work and the love which you showed for His sake in serving the saints…” (Heb. 6:10).
Saint Titus the Wonderworker displayed zeal for the monastic life from his youth. He pursued asceticism in the ninth century at the Studion monastery near Constantinople. By his deeds of fasting, purity of life and mild disposition, Saint Titus gained the love of the brethren, and at their request he was ordained priest.
Fervent of faith, the saint stood up for the Orthodox veneration of icons during the Iconoclast persecution. Because of his virtuous life, God granted him the gift of wonderworking. The saint was translated to the Lord in his old age.
The Holy Martyrs Amphianus (Apphianus) and Edesius (Aidesius) were brothers. They lived in the city of Patara (province of Lycia) in the family of the pagan governor. They went to the city of Beirut to study the pagan sciences. There they became ardent followers of Christ.
The holy brothers left their pagan parents and went to Alexandrian Caesarea, where they found an instructor, Saint Pamphilius (February 16), and under his guidance they became accomplished in the spiritual life, spending their time in prayer and the study of sacred books.
By decree of the emperor Maximian (305-313), a zealous pagan and cruel persecutor of Christians, all the inhabitants of Caesarea were required to offer public sacrifice. Many Christians, including Saints Amphianus and Edesius, had to hide in order to avoid sacrificing to idols.
When the city prefect of Caesarea was about to offer sacrifice to idols, Saint Amphianus boldly went into the temple, took the prefect’s hand, and urged him to abandon his error and believe in Christ.
By order of the governor, soldiers seized Saint Amphianus, fiercely beat him and then threw him in prison. Two days later they led him to trial, where they beat him with iron rods and burned his body with bundles of flax soaked in oil.
The brave youth, steadfastly confessing his faith in Christ, was then thrown into the sea with a stone about his neck. Suddenly a storm arose, and the waves carried the martyr’s body to shore, where it was buried by Christians.
After a while they freed Saint Edesius and sent him to Alexandria. There he boldly denounced the governor Hierokles for his extreme cruelty towards Christians. Saint Edesius was tortured and then drowned.
The Holy Martyr Polycarp was killed after he denounced the impious Emperor Maximian (305-313) for shedding the blood of innocent Christians in the city of Alexandria. As a devout Christian who was filled with zeal for God, he could not simply stand by when every day he saw many of the faithful being tortured because they refused to deny Christ.
One day Saint Polycarp saw the ruler sitting in his chair and watching as the blood of Christians flowed like water. The Saint stood before him and questioned him saying, "Why have you so forgotten human nature, you insatiable dog, that you cut down your relatives and fellow countrymen with swords like wood, because they proclaim the one true God and refute the error of idolatry; just as I do, who am a servant of Christ?"
Because he angered the ruler by saying such things, Saint Polycarp was arrested and tortured. Finally, he was beheaded, dying with the name of Christ on his lips. By being cut down like a vine-branch, he offered much fruit to Christ, and received the crown of martyrdom.
A few biographical details about Saint George of Atsquri have been preserved in the writings of the famous 10th-century Georgian hagiographers George Merchule and Basil of Zarzma.
Saint George of Atsquri lived at the end of the 9th and the beginning of the 10th centuries. A member of the aristocratic and pious Shuartqeli family, Saint George was raised and educated in the environs of Georgia’s renowned Opiza Monastery in Klarjeti.
Four years after the death of the great feudal lord George Chorchaneli, Saint George succeeded him as ruler of the Samtskhe region. At that time a bitter conflict arose over who was the rightful heir to Chorchaneli’s inheritance.
While serving as the chief political leader of Samtskhe, Saint George also directed the region’s spiritual life, wisely administering the ancient Atsquri diocese for many years. According to tradition, the diocese of Atsquri was founded by the holy Apostle Andrew the First-called, who left there the “Not-Made-By-Hands” icon of the Most Holy Theotokos (known as the Atsquri Icon of the Mother of God) as an offering to the Georgian Church.
Though his literary works have not been preserved, Saint George is also commemorated as a great writer of the Church.
In his book The Life of Saint Grigol of Khandzta, Saint George Merchule notes that Saint George of Atsquri made some of the most significant contributions to the biographical writings on Saint Grigol of Khandzta. Saint George of Atsquri was a close companion of Saint Serapion of Zarzma. He was present at his burial and contributed much to the hagiographical writings on his life and works.
Saint Theodora came from Tyre in Phoenicia. When she was seventeen years of age, she was brought before Urban, the ruler of Palestine, who asked her if she really believed in Christ. With remarkable courage, the holy virgin confessed that she truly believed. Then they flayed her sides and her breasts. Afterward, they threw her into the sea, where she surrendered her soul to God, thereby receiving a martyr's crown.
Saint Νikόdēmos of the Holy Mountain thought it very likely that this Saint is the same as Saint Theodosia (May 29), because their Lives are almost identical.