ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS, WINE, OLIVE OIL
Holy Friday, Theodore of Sykeon, Nathaniel, Luke, & Clemente the Apostles, Gregory Gravanos of Nisyros, Nearchos the Martyr
ST. PAUL’S FIRST LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS 5:6-8
BRETHREN, a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (Galatians 3.13-14) Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us – for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree" – that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
On the next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore order the sepulcher to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead, ‘ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the sepulcher secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.
Great and Holy Friday
On Great and Holy Friday, Christ died on the Cross. He gave up His spirit with the words: “It is finished” (John 19:30). These words are better understood when rendered: “It is consummated.” He had accomplished the work for which His heavenly Father had sent Him into the world. He became a man in the fullest sense of the word. He accepted the baptism of repentance from John in the Jordan River. He assumed the whole human condition, experiencing all its alienation, agony, and suffering, concluding with the lowly death on the Cross. He perfectly fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he has poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
The Man of Sorrows
On the Cross Jesus thus became “the man of sorrows; acquainted with grief” whom the prophet Isaiah had foretold. He was “despised and forsaken by men” and “smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:3-4). He became the one with “no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). His appearance was “marred beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men” (Isaiah 52:14). All these Messianic prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus as he hung from the Cross.
As the end approached, He cried: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). This cry indicated His complete identification with the human condition. He had totally embraced the despised, forsaken and smitten condition of suffering and death—alienation from God. He was truly the man of sorrows.
Yet, it is important to note that Jesus’ cry of anguish from the Cross was not a sign of His loss of faith in His Father. The words which He exclaimed are the first verse of Psalm 22, a messianic Psalm. The first part of the Psalm foretells the anguish, suffering and death of the Messiah. The second part is a song of praise to God. It predicts the final victory of the Messiah.
The Formal Charges
The death of Christ had been sought by the religious leaders in Jerusalem from the earliest days of His public ministry. The formal charges made against Him usually fell into the following two categories:
1) violation of the Law of the Old Testament, e.g., breaking the Sabbath rest;
2) blasphemy: making Himself equal with God.
Matters were hastened (consummated) by the moment of truth which followed His entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He had the people behind Him. He spoke plainly. He said that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. He chastised the scribes and Pharisees for reducing religion to a purely external affair;
“You are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matthew 23:27-28).
It was the second formal charge; however, that became the basis for His conviction.
The Religious Trial
Christ’s conviction and death sentence required two trials: religious and political. The religious trial was first and took place during the night immediately after His arrest. After considerable difficulty in finding witnesses for the prosecution who actually agreed in their testimony, Caiaphas, the high priest, asked Jesus the essential question: “Are you Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus, who had remained silent to this point, now responded directly:
“I am; and you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61-62).
Jesus’ reply recalled the many other statements He had made beginning with the words, “I am.” “I am the bread of life . . . I am the light of the world. . . I am the way, the truth, and the life. . . before Abraham was, I am.” (John 6 through 15). The use of these words themselves was considered blasphemous by the religious leaders. The words were the Name of God. By using them as His own Name, Jesus positively identified Himself with God. From the burning bush the voice of God had disclosed these words to Moses as the Divine Name:
“Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:13-14).
Now Jesus, as He had done on many other occasions, used them as His own Name. The high priest immediately tore his mantle and “they all condemned Him as deserving death” (Mark 14:64). In their view He had violated the Law of the Old Testament:
“He who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death” (Leviticus 24:16).
The Political Trial
The Jewish religious leaders lacked the actual authority to carry out the above law: to put a man to death. Such authority belonged to the Roman civil administration. Jesus had carefully kept His activity free of political implications. He refused the temptation of Satan to rule the kingdoms of the world by the sword (Luke 4: 1-12). He often charged His disciples and others to tell no one that He was , the Christ, because of the political overtones that this title carried for many (Matthew 16: 13-20). He rebuked Peter, calling him Satan, when the disciple hinted at His swerving from the true nature of His mission (Matthew 16:23). To Pilate, the spineless and indifferent Roman Governor, He said plainly: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Jesus was not a political revolutionary who came to free the people from Roman control and establish a new kingdom based on worldly power.
Nevertheless, the religious leaders, acting in agreement with the masses, devised political charges against Him in order to get their way. They presented Christ to the Romans as a political , leader, the “King of the Jews” in a worldly sense, a threat to Roman rule and a challenge to Caesar. Pilate became fearful of his own position as he heard the charges and saw the seething mobs. Therefore, despite his avowed testimony to Jesus’ innocence, he passed formal sentence, “washed his hands” of the matter, and turned Jesus over to be crucified (John 19:16).
Crucifixion—The Triumph of Evil
Before succumbing to this cruel Roman method of executing political criminals, Jesus suffered still other injustices. He was stripped, mocked and beaten. He wore a “kingly” crown of thorns on His head. He carried His own cross. He was finally nailed to the cross between two thieves at a place called Golgotha (the place of the skull) outside Jerusalem. An inscription was placed above His head on the Cross to indicate the nature of His crime: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” He yielded up His spirit at about the ninth hour (3 p.m.), after hanging on the Cross for about six hours.
On Holy Friday evil triumphed. “It was night” (John 13:30) when Judas departed from the Last Supper to complete his act of betrayal, and “there was darkness over all the land” (Matthew 27:45) when Jesus was hanging on the Cross. The evil forces of this world had been massed against Christ. Unjust trials convicted Him. A criminal was released to the people instead of Him. Nails and a spear pierced His body. Bitter vinegar was given to Him to quench His thirst. Only one disciple remained faithful to Him. Finally, the tomb of another man became His place of repose after death.
The innocent Jesus was put to death on the basis of both religious and political charges. Both Jews and Gentile Romans participated in His death sentence.
“The rulers of the people have assembled against the Lord and His Christ.” (Psalm 2—the Prokeimenon of the Holy Thursday Vesperal Liturgy)
We, also, in many ways continue to participate in the death sentence given to Christ. The formal charges outlined above do not exhaust the reasons for the crucifixion. Behind the formal charges lay a host of injustices brought, on by hidden and personal motivations. Jesus openly spoke the truth about God and man. He thereby exposed the false character of the righteousness and smug security, both religious and material, claimed by many especially those in high places. The constantly occurring expositions of such smugness in our own day teach us the truly illusory nature of much so-called righteousness and security. In the deepest sense, the death of Christ was brought about by hardened, personal sin—the refusal of people to change themselves in the light of reality, which is Christ.
“He came to His very own, and His own received Him not” (John 1:11).
Especially we, the Christian people, are Christ’s very own. He continues to come to us in His Church. Each time we attempt to make the Church into something other than the eternal coming of Christ into our midst, each time we refuse to repent for our wrongs; we, too, reject Christ and participate in His death sentence.
The Vespers, celebrated in the Church on Holy Friday afternoon, brings to mind all of the final events of the life of Christ as mentioned above: the trial, the sentence, the scourging and mocking, the crucifixion, the death, the taking down of His body from the Cross, and the burial. As the hymnography indicates, these events remain ever-present in the Church; they constitute the today of its life.
The service is replete with readings from Scripture: three from the Old Testament and two from the New. The first of the Old Testament readings, from Exodus, speaks of Moses beholding the “back” of the glory of God—for no man can see the glory of God face to face and live. The Church uses this reading to emphasize that now, in the crucifixion and death of Christ, God is making the ultimate condescension to reveal His glory to man—from within man himself.
The death of Christ was of a wholly voluntary character. He dies not because of some necessity in His being: as the Son of God He has life in Himself! Yet, He voluntarily gave up His life as the greatest sign of God’s love for man, as the ultimate revelation of the Divine glory:
“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
The vesperal hymnography further develops the fact that God reveals His glory to us in this condescending love. The Crucifixion is the heart of such love, for the One being crucified is none other than He through whom all things have been created:
Today the Master of creation stands before Pilate. Today the Creator of all is condemned to die on the cross. . . The Redeemer of the world is slapped on the face. The Maker of all is mocked by His own servants. Glory to Thy condescension, 0 Lover of man! (Verse on “Lord I call”, and the Apostikha)
The verses also underscore the cosmic dimensions of the event taking place on the Cross. Just as God who revealed Himself to Moses is not a god, but the God of “heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible,” so the death of Jesus is not the culmination of a petty struggle in the domestic life of Palestine. Rather, it is the very center of the epic struggle between God and the Evil One, involving the whole universe:
All creation was changed by fear
when it saw Thee hanging on the cross, 0 Christ! The sun was darkened,
and the foundations of the earth were shaken.
All things suffered with the Creator of all.
0 Lord, who didst willingly endure this for us, glory to Thee!
(Verse I on “Lord, I Call”)
The second Reading from the Old Testament (Job 42:12 to the end) manifests Job as a prophetic figure of the Messiah Himself. The plight of Job is followed in the services throughout Holy Week, and is concluded with this reading. Job is the righteous servant who remains faithful to God despite trial, humiliation, and the loss of all his possessions and family. Because of his faithfulness, however, “The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” (Job 42: 12)
The third of the Old Testamental readings is by far the most substantial (Isaiah 52:13 to 54:1). It is a prototype of the Gospel itself. Read at this moment, it positively identifies Jesus of Nazareth as the Suffering Servant, the Man of Sorrows; the Messiah of Israel.
The Epistle Reading (I Corinthians 1:18 to 2:2) speaks of Jesus crucified, a folly for the world, as the real center of our Faith. The Gospel reading, a lengthy composite taken from Matthew, Luke and John, simply narrates all the events associated with the crucifixion and burial of Christ.
All the readings obviously focus on the theme of hope. As the Lord of Glory, the fulfillment of the righteous Job, and the Messiah Himself, humiliation and death will have no final hold over Jesus. Even the parental mourning of Mary is transformed in the light of this hope:
When she who bore Thee without seed
saw Thee suspended upon the Tree,
0 Christ, the Creator and God of all,
she cried bitterly: “Where is the beauty of Thy countenance, my Son?
I cannot bear to see Thee unjustly crucified. Hasten and arise,
that I too may see Thy resurrection from the dead on the third day!
(Verse IV on “Lord I call.”)
Near the end of the Vespers, the priest vests fully in dark vestments. At the appointed time he lifts the Holy Shroud, a large icon depicting Christ lying in the tomb, from the altar table. Together with selected laymen and servers, a procession is formed and the Holy Shroud is carried to a specially prepared tomb in the center of the church. As the procession moves, the troparion is sung:
The Noble Joseph, when he had taken down Thy most pure body from the tree, wrapped it in fine linen and anointed it with spices, and placed it in a new tomb.
At this ultimate solemn moment of Vespers, the theme of hope once again occurs—this time more strongly and clearly than ever. As knees are bent and heads are bowed, and often tears are shed, another troparion is sung which penetrates through this triumph of evil, to the new day which is contained in its very midst:
The Angel came to the myrrh-bearing women at the tomb and said: “Myrrh is fitting for the dead, but Christ has shown Himself a stranger to corruption.
A new Age is dawning. Our salvation is taking place. The One who died is the same One who will rise on the third day, to “trample down death by death,” and to free us from corruption.
Therefore, at the conclusion of Holy Friday Vespers, at the end of this long day of darkness, when all things are apparently ended, our eternal hope for salvation springs forth. For Christ is indeed a stranger to corruption:
“As by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” (I Cor. 15:21-32)
“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35)
– Father Paul Lazor
Saint Theodore the Sykeote was born in the mid-sixth century in the village of Sykeon, not far from the city of Anastasiopolis (in Galatia, Asia Minor), into a pious family. When his mother Maria conceived the saint, she had a vision of a bright star overshadowing her womb. A clairvoyant Elder, whom she consulted, explained that this was the grace of God being poured forth on the infant in her womb.
When the boy reached the age of six, his mother presented him with a golden belt, since she intended that her son should become a soldier. That night the Holy Great Martyr George (April 23) appeared to her in a dream, and he told her not to consider military service for her son, because the boy was destined to serve God. The saint’s father, Cosmas, had served as a messenger of the emperor Justinian the Great (527-565), and he died at an early age. The boy remained in the care of his mother, and his grandmother Elpis, his aunt Dispenia and his little sister Vlatta also lived with them.
In school, Saint Theodore displayed great apptitude in his studies, chief of which was an uncommon ability for reasoning and wisdom. He was quiet, mild, he always knew how to calm his comrades, and he did not permit fights or quarrels among them.
The pious Elder Stephen also lived at his mother’s house. Imitating him, Saint Theodore at the age of eight began to eat only a small morsel of bread in the evening during Great Lent. So that his mother should not force him to take supper with everyone, the boy returned home from school only toward evening, after he had partaken of the Holy Mysteries with Elder Stephen. At the request of his mother, the teacher began to send him home to supper at the end of his lessons. Saint Theodore, however, ran to the church of the Great Martyr George, where the saint appeared to him in the form of a youth, and ushered him into the church.
When Saint Theodore turned ten, he fell deathly ill. They brought him to the church of Saint John the Baptist and placed him in front of the altar. The boy was healed by two drops of water that fell from the face of the Savior in the dome of the temple. At this time the Great Martyr George began appearing to the boy at night, and also leading him to his own temple to pray until morning. His mother, fearing the dangers of the forest at night, urged her son not to go at night.
Once, when the boy had already gone, she angrily followed him to the church, and she dragged him out by the hair and tied him to his bed. But that very night the Great Martyr George appeared to her in a dream, and commanded her not to hinder the child from going to church. Both Elpis and Dispenia had the same vision. The women then understood Saint Theodore’s special calling, and they no longer hindered him. Even his little sister Vlatta began to imitate him.
At twelve years of age, the saint had a dream in which he saw Christ on the Throne of Glory, Who said to him, “Struggle, Theodore, so that you may obtain a perfect reward in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
From that time, Saint Theodore began to intensify his labors. He spent both the First Week of Great Lent and the Week of the Veneration of the Cross in complete silence.
The devil considered how to destroy him. He appeared to the saint in the form of his classmate Gerontius, and urged him to jump off a precipice, but the Great Martyr George saved the boy.
Another time, the boy went into the desert to obtain the blessing of the Elder Glycerius. Then there was a terrible drought throughout the land, and the Elder said, “Child, let us pray to the Lord on bended knee, asking Him to send rain. Then we shall learn whether our prayers are pleasing to the Lord.” The old man and the boy began to pray, and immediately it began to rain. Then the Elder said to Saint Theodore, that the grace of God was upon him, and he blessed him to become a monk when the time came.
When he was fourteen, Saint Theodore left home and lived near the church of the Great Martyr George. His mother brought him food, but Saint Theodore left everything on the stones by the church, and he ate only a single prosphora each day. Even at such a young age, Saint Theodore was granted the gift of healing. Through his prayers a demon-possessed youth was restored to health.
Saint Theodore then fled human glory and he withdrew into complete solitude. Under a large boulder not far from the church of Saint George, he dug a cave and persuaded a certain deacon to cover over the entrance with earth, leaving only a small opening for air. The deacon brought him bread and water and he told no one where the monk had hidden himself.
For two years Saint Theodore lived in this seclusion and complete quiet. His relatives mourned for the saint, thinking that he had been devoured by wild beasts.
The deacon finally revealed the secret, since he was afraid that Saint Theodore would perish in the narrow cave, and moreover he pitied the weeping mother. They took Saint Theodore out of the cave barely alive.
The mother wanted to take her son home and nurse him back to health, but the saint remained near the church of Saint George, and after several days he was completely well.
News of the youth’s exploits reached the local bishop Theodosius, who ordained him to the diaconate, and later to the holy priesthood, although the saint was only seventeen years old at the time.
After a certain while Saint Theodore went to venerate the holy places in Jerusalem, and there at the Chozeba Lavra near Jordan, he received monastic tonsure.
When he returned to his native land, he again continued to live near the church of Saint George. His grandmother Elpis, his sister Vlatta and his mother entered a women’s monastery on the saint’s advice, and his aunt died in a good confession.
The ascetic life of the young hieromonk attracted to him people seeking salvation. The saint tonsured the youth Epiphanius, and later on a pious woman, healed by the saint from her sickness, brought him her son Philoumenus. Then the virtuous youth John also came to him. Thus brethren gradually gathered around the monk.
Saint Theodore continued in his harsh labors. At his request a blacksmith made him an iron cage without a roof, and so narrow that it was scarcely possible to stand. In this cage the monk stood in heavy chains from Holy Pascha until the Nativity of Christ. From the Baptism of the Lord until Holy Pascha he secluded himself in his cave, from which he emerged only for church services on Saturdays and Sundays. Throughout the whole of the forty-day Fast the saint ate only greens, and bread on Saturdays and Sundays.
Living in such manner, he received from the Lord the power over wild animals. Bears and wolves came up to him and took food from his hand. Through the saint’s prayers, those afflicted with leprosy were healed, and demons were cast out from whole districts. In the nearby village of Magatia, when locusts threatened the crops, people turned to Saint Theodore for help. He sent them to church. After Divine Liturgy, which he served, the villagers returned home and learned that during the service all the locusts had died.
When the military commander Mauricius was returning to Constantinople by way of Galatia after a Persian war, the monk predicted that he would become emperor. The prediction came true, and the emperor Mauricius (582-602) fulfilled the saint’s request: he sent bread to the monastery each year for the multitude of people being fed there.
The small temple of Saint George could not accommodate all those who wanted to pray in it. Then through the efforts of the saint a beautiful new church was built. During this while the Bishop of Anastasiopolis happened to die. The people of the city requested Metropolitan Paul of Ancyra to install Saint Theodore as their bishop.
So that the saint would not resist, the messengers of the Metropolitan and the people of Anastasiopolis dragged him out of his cell by force and carried him into the city.
As bishop, Saint Theodore toiled much for the welfare of the Church, but his soul yearned for solitary communion with God. After several years he went to venerate the holy places in Jerusalem. And there, concealing his identity, he settled at the Lavra of Saint Savva, where he lived in solitude from the Nativity of Christ until Pascha. Then the Great Martyr George led him to return to Anastasiopolis.
Secret enemies tried to poison the saint, but the Mother of God gave him three small pieces of grain. The saint ate them and remained unharmed. Saint Theodore felt weighed down with the burden of being a bishop and he asked Patriarch Cyriacus of Constantinople (595-606) for a release to return to his own monastery and celebrate the services there.
Theodore’s sanctity was so evident that when he celebrated the Eucharist, the grace of the Holy Spirit appeared as a radiant purple light, overshadowing the Holy Gifts. One time, when the saint elevated the discus with the holy Lamb and proclaimed “Holy things are for the holy,” the holy Lamb floated up in the air, and then settled again upon the discus.
The Orthodox Church venerated Saint Theodore as a saint, even while he was still alive.
In one of the cities of Galatia, a terrible event occurred: during a church procession the wooden crosses being carried began to strike each other by themselves, with the result that Patriarch Thomas (607-610, March 21) summoned Saint Theodore, asking him the meaning of this terrible portent. Having the gift of foresight, Saint Theodore explained that this indicated coming misfortunes for the Church of God (he was prophetically indicating the future heresy of the Iconoclasts). In his grief the holy Patriarch Thomas begged the saint to pray that he would soon die, so that he would not witness the coming woe.
In the year 610 the holy Patriarch Thomas reposed, having asked the blessing of Saint Theodore. Saint Theodore also departed to the Lord.
The Transfer of the Relics of Holy Prince Vsevolod-Gabriel of Pskov (1834): See February 11.
Saint Nathanael, whose name means "the gift of God," was from Cana of Galilee (John 21:2). He was brought to the Savior by Phillip, as described in the Fourth Gospel (John 1:45-51). Christ calls him a true Israelite, which means "one who sees God." Nathanael was amazed when Christ says that He had seen him under the fig tree. Then He says that Nathanael will see even greater things; he will the heavens opened, and "the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."
Saints John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Epiphanios of Cyprus and other Fathers of the Church regard the Apostle Bartholomew (the son of Tholomai) as the same person as Nathanael. Thus, his name would be Nathanael, and his patronymic would be Bartholomew.
According to The Jerome Biblical Commentary (page 796), Nathanael was thought to be the same person as Bartholomew, because the latter's name followed Philip's in three lists of the Apostles (Matthew 10:2-5; Mark 3:14-19; and Luke 6:14-16). The Synoptic Gospels mention Bartholomew as one of the Twelve Apostles, but they do not mention Nathanael. On the other hand, Saint John's Gospel makes mention of Nathanael, but not of Bartholomew.
For the Life of Saint Bartholomew, see June 11.
The Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke, was a native of Syrian Antioch, a companion of the holy Apostle Paul (Phil.1:24, 2 Tim. 4:10-11), and a physician enlightened in the Greek medical arts. Hearing about Christ, Luke arrived in Palestine and fervently accepted the preaching of salvation from the Lord Himself. As one of the Seventy Apostles, Saint Luke was sent by the Lord with the others to preach the Kingdom of Heaven during the Savior’s earthly life (Luke 10:1-3). After the Resurrection, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to Saints Luke and Cleopas on the road to Emmaus.
Luke accompanied Saint Paul on his second missionary journey, and from that time they were inseparable. When Paul’s coworkers had forsaken him, only Luke remained to assist him in his ministry (2 Tim. 4:10-11). After the martyric death of the First-Ranked Apostles Peter and Paul, Saint Luke left Rome to preach in Achaia, Libya, Egypt and the Thebaid. He ended his life by suffering martyrdom in the city of Thebes.
Tradition credits Saint Luke with painting the first icons of the Mother of God. “Let the grace of Him Who was born of Me and My mercy be with these Icons,” said the All-Pure Virgin after seeing the icons. Saint Luke also painted icons of the First-Ranked Apostles Peter and Paul. Saint Luke’s Gospel was written in the years 62-63 at Rome, under the guidance of the Apostle Paul. In the preliminary verses (1:1-3), Saint Luke precisely sets forth the purpose of his work. He proposes to record, in chronological order, everything known by Christians about Jesus Christ and His teachings. By doing this, he provided a firmer historical basis for Christian teaching (1:4). He carefully investigated the facts, and made generous use of the oral tradition of the Church and of what the All-Pure Virgin Mary Herself had told him (2:19, 51).
In Saint Luke’s Gospel, the message of the salvation made possible by the Lord Jesus Christ, and the preaching of the Gospel, are of primary importance.
Saint Luke also wrote the Acts of the Holy Apostles at Rome around 62-63 A.D. The Book of Acts, which is a continuation of the four Gospels, speaks about the works and the fruits of the holy Apostles after the Ascension of the Savior. At the center of the narrative is the Council of the holy Apostles at Jerusalem in the year 51, a Church event of great significance, which resulted in the separation of Christianity from Judaism and its independent dissemination into the world (Acts 15:6-29). The theological focus of the Book of Acts is the coming of the Holy Spirit, Who will guide the Church “into all truth” (John 16:13) until the Second Coming of Christ.
The holy relics of Saint Luke were taken from Constantinople and brought to Padua, Italy at some point in history. Perhaps this was during the infamous Crusade of 1204. In 1992, Metropolitan Hieronymus (Jerome) of Thebes requested the Roman Catholic bishop in Thebes to obtain a portion of Saint Luke’s relics for the saint’s empty sepulchre in the Orthodox cathedral in Thebes.
The Roman Catholic bishop Antonio Mattiazzo of Padua, noting that Orthodox pilgrims came to Padua to venerate the relics while many Catholics did not even know that the relics were there, appointed a committee to investigate the relics in Padua, and the skull of Saint Luke in the Catholic Cathedral of Saint Vico in Prague.
The skeleton was determined to be that of an elderly man of strong build. In 2001, a tooth found in the coffin was judged to be consistent with the DNA of Syrians living near the area of Antioch dating from 72-416 A.D. The skull in Prague perfectly fit the neck bone of the skelton. The tooth found in the coffin in Padua was also found to fit the jawbone of the skull.
Bishop Mattiazzo sent a rib from the relics to Metropolitan Hieronymus to be venerated in Saint Luke’s original tomb in the Orthodox cathedral at Thebes.
Saint Luke is also commemorated on October 18.
Saint Apelles was an important figure in the early Church, who labored diligently to spread the message of the Gospel. His zeal led him to Rome, where he became a support for the faithful. He knew the Apostle Paul, who mentioned him in the Epistle to the Romans (16:10): "Greet Apelles, who is approved (or "has been tested") in Christ."
Saint Apelles is said to have died at Smyrna as a good soldier of Christ, laboring until his last breath to make firm the Gospel. Some say he was the Bishop of Heraklion in Trakhis.
Saint Luke (or Loukias)
Saint Luke, or Loukias (not the Evangelist), lived during the first century. Some lists of these Saints identify him as the Evangelist Luke, who was also one of the 70 Apostles, but Greek sources say he was someone other than the Evangelist Luke (άλλος του Ευαγγελιστή Λουκά). However, Saint Demetrios of Rostov, and Slavic Tradition say that he was the Evangelist Luke (See his Life on October 18).
Today's Saint was consecrated as the Bishop of Laodikeia in Syria, and completed the course of his life spreading the Gospel and caring for his flock, as a faithful servant of Jesus Christ.
Saint Paul refers to Clement in his Epistle to the Phillipians (4:3). After mentioning the women Euodia and Syntykhe, who assisted him in proclaiming the Gospel, he speaks of Clement as one of his coworkers, "whose names are in the Book of Life."
Saint Clement later became a bishop at Sardika in Asia Minor. Eusebius mistakenly identified him with Clement of Rome (History of the Church 3. 15, 1). Today's Saint reposed after enduring many trials in order to strengthen his flock, and to hand down to them the truth of the Gospel.
Saints Apelles, Luke (Loukios), and Clement are also commemorated together on September 10.
Saint Vitalius, a monk of the monastery of Saint Seridus, arrived in Alexandria when Saint John the Merciful (November 12) was Patriarch of Alexandria.
When he was sixty years old, undertook an extraordinary task: he wrote down from memory the names of all the prostitutes of Alexandria and he began to pray for them. He worked from morning to evening, earning twelve copper coins each day. In the evening the saint bought a single bean, which he ate after sunset. Then he would give the rest of the money to one of the harlots, whom he visited at night and said, “I beg you, take this money and do not sin with anyone tonight.” Then he stayed with the harlot in her room. While she slept, the Elder spent the whole night at prayer, reading the Psalms, and quietly left in the morning.
He did this each day, visiting all the harlots in turn, and he made them promise to keep the purpose of his visit secret. The people of Alexandria, not knowing the truth, became indignant over the the monk’s behavior, and they reviled him. However, he meekly endured their scorn, and he only asked that they not judge others.
The holy prayers of Saint Vitalius saved many fallen women. Some of them went to a monastery, others got married, and others found respectable work. But they were forbidden to tell anyone the reason why they had changed their life, and thereby stop the abuse heaped upon Saint Vitalius. They were bound by an oath they had made to the saint. When one of the women began to break her oath and stood up to defend the saint, she fell into a demonic frenzy. After this, the people of Alexandria had no doubt concerning the sinfulness of the monk.
Certain of the clergy, scandalized by the behavior of Saint Vitalius, reported him to the holy Patriarch John the Merciful. But the Patriarch did not believe the informers and he said, “Cease to judge, especially monks. Don’t you know what happened at the First Council of Nicea? Some of the bishops and the clergy brought letters of denunciation against each other to the emperor Saint Constantine the Great (May 21). He commanded that a burning candle be brought, and not even reading the letters, he burned them and said, ‘If I had seen with my own eyes a bishop sinning, or a priest, or a monk, then I would have veiled such with his garb, so that no one might see his sin.’” Thus the wise hierarch shamed the calumniators.
Saint Vitalius continued on with his difficult exploit: appearing himself before people under the guise of a sinner and a prodigal, he led the prodigal to repentance.
One time, emerging from an house of ill repute, the monk encountered a young man going there — a prodigal fellow, who with an insult struck him on the cheek and cried out, that the monk was a disgrace to the Name of Christ. The monk answered him: “Believe me, that after me, humble man that I be, thou also shalt receive such a blow on the cheek, that will have all Alexandria thronging to thine cry”.
A certain while afterwards Saint Vitalius settled into a small cell and in it at night he died. At that very hour a terrifying demon appeared before the youth who had struck the saint, and the demon struck the youth on the cheek and cried out: “Here is a knock from Saint Vitalius.” The youth went into a demonic madness. In a frenzy he thrashed about on the ground, tore the clothing from himself and howled so loudly, that a multitude of people gathered.
When the youth finally came to his senses after several hours, he then rushed off to the cell of the monk, calling out: “Have mercy on me, O servant of God, for I have sinned against thee.” At the door of the cell he came fully to his senses and he told those gathered there about his former encounter with Saint Vitalius. Then the youth knocked on the door of the cell, but he received no answer. When they broke in the door, they then saw that the monk was dead, on his knees before an icon. In his hand was a scroll with the words: “Men of Alexandria, judge not beforehand, til cometh the Lord, the Righteous Judge”.
At this moment there came up the demon-possessed woman, punished by the monk for wanting to violate the secret of his exploit. Having touched the body of the saint, she was healed and told the people about everything that had happened with her.
When the women who had been saved by Saint Vitalius learned about his death, they gathered together and told everyone about the virtues and mercy of the saint.
Saint John the Merciful also rejoiced, in that he had not believed the calumniators, and that a righteous man had not been condemned. And then together with the throng of repentant women, converted by Saint Vitalius, the holy Patriarch solemnly conveyed his remains throughout all the city and gave them reverent burial. And from that time many of the Alexandrian people made themselves a promise to judge no one.
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