5TH SATURDAY OF LENT: THE AKATHIST HYMN
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS
5th Saturday of Lent: The Akathist Hymn, The Holy Martyr Eupsychius of Caesarea, Raphael, Nicholas, Irene, & Olympias of Mytilene, Vadim the Righteous of Persia
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE HEBREWS 9:1-7
BRETHREN, the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. For a tent was prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence; it is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain stood a tent called the Holy of Holies, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, which contained a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go continually into the outer tent, performing their ritual duties; but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people.
LUKE 1:39-49, 56
In those days, Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord." And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name." And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her home.
On the Fifth Saturday of Great Lent, the Saturday of the Akathist, we commemorate the “Laudation of the Virgin” Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos.
In 625, when the emperor Heraclius was fighting the Persians, the Khan sent forces to attack Constantinople by land and by sea. Patriarch Sergius urged the people not to lose heart, but to trust in God.
A procession was made around the city with the Cross of the Lord, the robe of the Virgin, the Icon of the Savior not made by hands, and the Hodēgḗtria Icon of the Mother of God. The Patriarch dipped the Virgin’s robe in the sea, and the city’s defenders beat back the Khan’s sea forces. The sea became very rough, and many boats sank. The invaders retreated, and the people of Constantinople gave thanks to God and to His Most Pure Mother.
On two other occasions, in 655 and 705, the Theotokos protected the city from Saracen invaders. A feastday dedicated to the Laudation of the Virgin was established to commemorate these victories. The Akathist to the Mother of God is believed to originate from this period, and its use has spread from Constantinople to other Orthodox lands.
The icon before which the Akathist was sung was given to the Dionysiou Monastery on Mt. Athos by Emperor Alexius Comnenos. There, it began to flow with myrrh. There were at least three wonderworking copies of this icon in Russia before the Revolution.
This icon shows the Mother of God seated on a throne, and surrounded by Prophets with scrolls.
The Holy Martyr Eupsychius was born in the city of Caesarea in Cappadocia and received a Christian upbringing by his illustrious parents.
During the reign of Julian the Apostate (361-363), Saint Eupsychius entered into a Christian marriage.
At Caesarea there was a pagan temple to the goddess Fortuna, whom Julian the Apostate revered. As Eupsychius was going to his wedding, the pagans were offering sacrifice to the goddess Fortuna.
Saint Eupsychius was filled with zeal for the Lord, and he destroyed the temple. He knew that this would inevitably result in his punishment. Saint Eupsychius distributed all his possessions to the poor and prepared himself for martyrdom.
The enraged emperor Julian loosed his wrath not only upon Saint Eupsychius, but against all the inhabitants of this city. Some of the citizens were executed, while the more respectable were sent into exile. Christian clergy were drafted into military service, and he looted the churches of anything valuable. The city was deprived of its title Caesarea [i.e. “Imperial”] and resumed its original name of Maza. He also imposed a severe tax on the inhabitants. The emperor threatened to annihilate the city altogether, if the people did not build a new pagan temple in place of the one destroyed.
Julian tried to compel Saint Eupsychius to offer sacrifice to idols. For many days they tormented the saint on a rack, and also with iron claws. But his faith was firm, and the judge sentenced the martyr to be beheaded with a sword.
Then Julian embarked on a campaign against the Persians, marching through Cappadocia and approaching Caesarea. Danger threatened the city, since the emperor intended to raze it to its foundations. But then Saint Basil the Great (January 1), showing Julian the proper respect as sovereign authority, came out to meet him carrying with him three loaves of barley bread, which he ate. The emperor ordered his retainers to take the loaves, and to give Saint Basil a pinch of hay saying, “You have given us barley, cattle fodder. Now receive hay from us in return.”
The saint answered, “O Emperor, we bring you that which we ourselves eat, and you give us cattle feed. You mock us, since you, by your might, are not able to transform hay into bread, the essential food of mankind.”
Julian angrily retorted, “I’ll shove this hay down your throat when I return here from Persia. I shall raze this city to its very foundations, and plow over this ground and turn it into a field. I know that it was on your advice that the people dared to destroy the statues and temple of Fortuna.”
After this the emperor continued on his way, but soon perished in his campaign against the Persians. He was struck down in the year 363 by the holy Great Martyr Mercurius (November 24).
After the emperor’s demise, the Christians of the city of Caesarea built a splendid church over the grave of Saint Eupsychius, and from his holy relics they received help and healing.
The Holy Martyrs Bishop Desan, Presbyter Mariabus, Abdiesus, and 270 others were put to death under the Persian emperor Sapor II. Imprisoned, they refused to turn away from the Christian Faith. In their number also was the Martyr Ia, who is commemorated also on September 11.
Monk Martyr Archimandrite Bademus (Vadim) was born in the fourth century in the Persian city of Bithlapata, and was descended from a rich and illustrious family. In his youth, he was enlightened with the Christian teaching. The saint gave away all his wealth to the poor and withdrew into the wilderness, where he founded a monastery. He would go up on a mountain for solitary prayer, and once was permitted to behold the Glory of God.
During this period the Persian emperor Sapor (310-381) began to persecute Christians. They arrested Saint Bademus and his seven disciples, and tortured them in prison, hoping that they would renounce Christ and worship the sun and fire. But Saint Bademus and his disciples held firmly to the Christian Faith. The confessors spent four months in jail. All this time Saint Bademus was a spiritual leader and support for the Christians living in Persia.
One of the associates of the emperor Sapor, Nirsanes, was a Christian and suffered imprisonment for this. He did not hold up under torture and denied Christ, promising to fulfill whatever the emperor commanded. Sapor demanded that Nirsanes personally cut off the head of Saint Bademus. For this he was promised a reprieve and great rewards. Nirsanes was not able to overcome his fear of new tortures, and he agreed to follow the path of betrayal walked by Judas.
When they brought Saint Bademus to him, he took the sword and turned toward him, but overcome by conscience, he trembled and stood petrified. Saint Bademus said to him, “Has your wickedness now reached this point, Nirsanes, that you should not only renounce God, but also murder His servants? Woe to you, accursed one! What will you do on that day when you stand before the Dread Judgment Seat? What answer will you give to God? I am prepared to die for Christ, but I don’t want to receive death at your hands.”
Nirsanes struck with the sword, but his hands shook, and he could not behead the saint immediately, and the fire-worshippers began to call him a coward. The holy martyr Bademus stood motionless, enduring many terrible blows, until the murderer succeeded in cutting off his head.
The just punishment for his misdeeds were not slow in overtaking the hapless fellow. Tormented by his conscience, he did away with himself, throwing himself on a sword. After the death of the emperor Sapor, the seven disciples of Saint Bademus were released from prison.
Saint Eleni (who was also called Susanna) is one of the New Martyrs of Lesbos who are commemorated on Bright Tuesday. She was Saint Irene’s older cousin, and suffered along with Saints Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene on April 9, 1463 (Bright Tuesday).
On November 12, 1961 Mrs. Basilike Rallis had a dream in which she saw herself by the church at Karyes near the town of Thermi on the Greek island of Lesbos. As she looked inside the church, she saw a young girl about fourteen or fifteen years old, with a dark complexion and dark hair. Since the girl was praying, Mrs Rallis also began to pray. The girl turned to her and said, “Do you know who I am? I am a martyr. Not like Renoula (a diminutive form of Irene), of course, but if you only knew what I endured! I lived with the mayor’s family, and I was also with them when the Turks tortured them here. They mistreated me and gave me such a horrible beating that I died from the pains. My name is Eleni.”
The saint also told Mrs Rallis about an icon of the Mother of God that she had been asking about, revealing to her the place where it would be found.
When she awoke, Mrs Rallis was reluctant to mention this dream to anyone. She said to herself, “If there really is another martyr named Eleni, I’ll see her again. Maybe someone else will see her, too, then I’ll tell. But who was this Eleni who lived with the mayor’s family? Perhaps she was their servant.”
The next night, she dreamed that she was in the village church. She saw three clerics coming out through the left door of the altar. She made the Sign of the Cross at once, for she thought that Satan might be tempting her. Then she saw the three clerics make the Sign of the Cross, too. They looked at her and smiled as they slowly proceeded to the center of the church.
“I recognized Saint Raphael and Saint Nicholas right away,” Mrs Rallis recalled, “but did not know the other saint. He was tall, middle-aged with a long grey beard and a lordly air about him.”
At that moment, a girl with a round face came out by the same door. She was beautiful, and she wore a rose-colored dress. Mrs Rallis approached her and, kneeling before her, she asked, “Are you also a saint?”
“Yes,” the girl replied. “Sit down beside me, watch quietly and I will explain some things to you.”
Then other people began to come out from the same door and approached the saints. First, a man of medium height with civilian clothes and a long grey jacket. The girl said to Mrs Rallis, “The teacher, Theodore.” He was followed by another well-formed man. The saint said, “The mayor, Basil (Saint Irene’s father).” Then a tall, stout woman of about forty came forth with two girls whom Mrs Rallis recognized at once.They were Saints Irene and Eleni, of whom she had dreamt the night before.
The unknown saint who had appeared with Saints Raphael and Nicholas identified the tall woman as Maria, the mayor’s wife, and the two girls as Renoula and Eleni. He asked Mrs Rallis, “Why, when you dreamed about her last evening, did you say that you would not say anything about it to anyone? Eleni is also a martyr, and she wishes to be remembered. She was not the mayor’s servant, but his orphaned niece who lived with them. Her proper name, which she signed on papers, was Eleni. However, they also called her Susanna. She also had that name.”
Mrs Rallis slowly approached Saint Irene. She embraced her and began to weep, saying, “O Renoula, my tortured little girl, how could these heartless evil-doers burn you?” Then Saint Irene also started to cry.
When Mrs Rallis woke up, her eyes were filled with tears, and she thought that she would faint. So powerful was the dream that she later said, “Ah, that tortured child! How I ached for her! Every time I go to Karyes I will sit by her little tomb and I will mourn as if she were my own child. Just think, they tortured the child in front of her father, in front of her mother who bore her. It seems to me that there does not exist a more terrible martyrdom for parents.”
The Newly-Appeared Martyrs of Lesbos are also commemorated on April 9. Detailed accounts of these saints may be found in A GREAT SIGN (in Greek) by Photios Kontoglou (Astir, 1964).
Newly-Appeared Martyrs of Lesbos, Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Irene were martyred by the Turks on Bright Tuesday (April 9, 1463) ten years after the Fall of Constantinople. For nearly 500 years, they were forgotten by the people of Lesbos, but “the righteous Judge… opened the things that were hid” (2 Macc. 12:41).
For centuries the people of Lesbos would go on Bright Tuesday to the ruins of a monastery near Thermi, a village northwest of the capital, Mytilene. As time passed, however, no one could remember the reason for the annual pilgrimage. There was a vague recollection that once there had been a monastery on that spot, and that the monks had been killed by the Turks.
In 1959, a pious man named Angelos Rallis decided to build a chapel near the ruins of the monastery. On July 3 of that year, workmen discovered the relics of Saint Raphael while clearing the ground. Soon, the saints began appearing to various inhabitants of Lesbos and revealed the details of their lives and martyrdom. These accounts form the basis of Photios Kontoglou’s 1962 book A GREAT SIGN (in Greek).
Saint Raphael was born on the island of Ithaka around 1410, and was raised by pious parents. His baptismal name was George, but he was named Raphael when he became a monk. He was ordained to the holy priesthood, and later attained the offices of Archimandrite and Chancellor.
In 1453, Saint Raphael was living in Macedonia with his fellow monastic, the deacon Nicholas, a native of Thessalonica. In 1454, the Turks invaded Thrace, so the two monks fled to the island of Lesbos. They settled in the Monastery of the Nativity of the Theotokos near Thermi, where Saint Raphael became the igumen.
In the spring of 1463, the Turks raided the monastery and captured the monks. They were tortured from Holy Thursday until Bright Tuesday. Saint Raphael was tied to a tree, and the ferocious Turks sawed through his jaw, killing him. Saint Nicholas was also tortured, and he died while witnessing his Elder’s martyrdom. He appeared to people and indicated the spot where his relics were uncovered on June 13, 1960.
Saint Irene was the twelve-year-old daughter of the village mayor, Basil. She and her family had come to the monastery to warn the monks of the invasion. The cruel Hagarenes cut off one of her arms and threw it down in front of her parents. Then the pure virgin was placed in a large earthen cask and a fire was lit under it, suffocating her within. These torments took place before the eyes of her parents, who were also put to death. Her grave and the earthen cask were found on May 12, 1961 after Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Irene had appeared to people and told them where to look.
Others who also received the crown of martyrdom on that day were Saint Irene’s parents Basil and Maria; Theodore, the village teacher; and Eleni, the fifteen-year-old cousin of Saint Irene.
The saints appeared separately and together, telling people that they wished to be remembered. They asked that their icon be painted, that a church service be composed for them, and they indicated the place where their holy relics could be found. Based on the descriptions of those who had seen the saints, the master iconographer Photios Kontoglou painted their icon. The ever-memorable Father Gerasimos of Little Saint Anne Skete on Mt Athos composed their church service.
Many miracles have taken place on Lesbos, and throughout the world. The saints hasten to help those who invoke them, healing the sick, consoling the sorrowful, granting relief from pain, and bringing many unbelievers and impious individuals back to the Church.
Saint Raphael is tall, middle-aged, and has a beard of moderate length. His hair is black with some grey in it. His face is majestic, expressive, and filled with heavenly grace. Saint Nicholas is short and thin, with a small blond beard. He stands before Saint Raphael with great respect. Saint Irene usually appears with a long yellow dress reaching to her feet. Her blonde hair is divided into two braids which rest on either side of her chest.
Saints Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene (and those with them) are also commemorated on Bright Tuesday. Dr. Constantine Cavarnos has given a detailed account of their life, miracles, and spiritual counsels in Volume 10 of his inspirational series Modern Orthodox Saints (Belmont, MA, 1990).