GREAT AND HOLY PASCHA
Great and Holy Pascha, Elizabeth the Wonderworker, Savvas the General of Rome, Nicholas the New-Martyr of Magnesia, Mellitus, Archbishop of Canterbury
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 1:1-8
In the first book, O Theophilos, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of lsrael?" He said to them, "it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John bore witness to him, and cried, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.'”) And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
HOLY PASCHA: The Resurrection of Our Lord
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith; receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.
(Sermon of Saint John Chrysostom, read at Paschal Matins)
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the center of the Christian faith. Saint Paul says that if Christ is not raised from the dead, then our preaching and faith are in vain (I Cor. 15:14). Indeed, without the resurrection there would be no Christian preaching or faith. The disciples of Christ would have remained the broken and hopeless band which the Gospel of John describes as being in hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. They went nowhere and preached nothing until they met the risen Christ, the doors being shut (John 20: 19). Then they touched the wounds of the nails and the spear; they ate and drank with Him. The resurrection became the basis of everything they said and did (Acts 2-4): “. . . for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39).
The resurrection reveals Jesus of Nazareth as not only the expected Messiah of Israel, but as the King and Lord of a new Jerusalem: a new heaven and a new earth.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. . . the holy city, new Jerusalem. And I heard a great voice from the throne saying “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people. . . He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away (Rev. 21:1-4).
In His death and resurrection, Christ defeats the last enemy, death, and thereby fulfills the mandate of His Father to subject all things under His feet (I Cor. 15:24-26).
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing (Rev. 5: 12)
THE FEAST OF FEASTS
The Christian faith is celebrated in the liturgy of the Church. True celebration is always a living participation. It is not a mere attendance at services. It is communion in the power of the event being celebrated. It is God’s free gift of joy given to spiritual men as a reward for their self-denial. It is the fulfillment of spiritual and physical effort and preparation. The resurrection of Christ, being the center of the Christian faith, is the basis of the Church’s liturgical life and the true model for all celebration. This is the chosen and holy day, first of sabbaths, king and lord of days, the feast of feasts, holy day of holy days. On this day we bless Christ forevermore (Irmos 8, Paschal Canon).
Twelve weeks of preparation precede the “feast of feasts.” A long journey which includes five prelenten Sundays, six weeks of Great Lent and finally Holy Week is made. The journey moves from the self-willed exile of the prodigal son to the grace-filled entrance into the new Jerusalem, coming down as a bride beautifully adorned for her husband (Rev. 21:2) Repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and study are the means by which this long journey is made.
Focusing on the veneration of the Cross at its midpoint, the lenten voyage itself reveals that the joy of the resurrection is achieved only through the Cross. “Through the cross joy has come into all the world,” we sing in one paschal hymn. And in the paschal troparion, we repeat again and again that Christ has trampled down death—by death! Saint Paul writes that the name of Jesus is exalted above every name because He first emptied Himself, taking on the lowly form of a servant and being obedient even to death on the Cross (Phil. 2:5-11). The road to the celebration of the resurrection is the self-emptying crucifixion of Lent. Pascha is the passover from death to life.
Yesterday I was buried with Thee, O Christ.
Today I arise with Thee in Thy resurrection.
Yesterday I was crucified with Thee:
Glorify me with Thee, O Savior, in Thy kingdom (Ode 3, Paschal Canon).
The divine services of the night of Pascha commence near midnight of Holy Saturday. At the Ninth Ode of the Canon of Nocturn, the priest, already vested in his brightest robes, removes the Holy Shroud from the tomb and carries it to the altar table, where it remains until the leave-taking of Pascha. The faithful stand in darkness. Then, one by one, they light their candles from the candle held by the priest and form a great procession out of the church. Choir, servers, priest and people, led by the bearers of the cross, banners, icons and Gospel book, circle the church. The bells are rung incessantly and the angelic hymn of the resurrection is chanted.
The procession comes to a stop before the principal doors of the church. Before the closed doors the priest and the people sing the troparion of Pascha, “Christ is risen from the dead…”, many times. Even before entenng the church the priest and people exchange the paschal greeting: “Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!” This segment of the paschal services is extremely important. It preserves in the expenence of the Church the primitive accounts of the resurrection of Christ as recorded in the Gospels. The angel rolled away the stone from the tomb not to let a biologically revived but physically entrapped Christ walk out, but to reveal that “He is not here; for He has risen, as He said” (Matt. 28:6).
In the paschal canon we sing:
Thou didst arise, O Christ, and yet the tomb remained sealed, as at Thy birth the Virgin’s womb remained unharmed; and Thou has opened for us the gates of paradise (Ode 6).
Finally, the procession of light and song in the darkness of night, and the thunderous proclamation that, indeed, Christ is risen, fulfill the words of the Evangelist John: “The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
The doors are opened and the faithful re-enter. The church is bathed in light and adorned with flowers. It is the heavenly bride and the symbol of the empty tomb:
Bearing life and more fruitful than paradise
Brighter than any royal chamber,
Thy tomb, O Christ, is the fountain or our resurrection (Paschal Hours).
Matins commences immediately. The risen Christ is glorified in the singing of the beautiful canon of Saint John of Damascus. The paschal greeting is repeatedly exchanged. Near the end of Matins the paschal verses are sung. They relate the entire narrative of the Lord’s resurrection. They conclude with the words calling us to actualize among each other the forgiveness freely given to all by God:
This is the day of resurrection.
Let us be illumined by the feast.
Let us embrace each other.
Let us call “brothers” even those who hate us,
And forgive all by the resurrection. . .
The sermon of Saint John Chrysostom is then read by the celebrant. The sermon was originally composed as a baptismal instruction. It is retained by the Church in the paschal services because everything about the night of Pascha recalls the Sacrament of Baptism: the language and general terminology of the liturgical texts, the specific hymns, the vestment color, the use of candles and the great procession itself. Now the sermon invites us to a great reaffirmation of our baptism: to union with Christ in the receiving of Holy Communion.
If any man is devout and loves God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. . . the table is fully laden; feast you all sumptuously. . . the calf is fatted, let no one go hungry away. . .
THE DIVINE LITURGY
The sermon announces the imminent beginning of the Divine Liturgy. The altar table is fully laden with the divine food: the Body and Blood of the risen and glorified Christ. No one is to go away hungry. The service books are very specific in saying that only he who partakes of the Body and Blood of Christ eats the true Pascha. The Divine Liturgy, therefore, normally follows immediately after paschal Matins. Foods from which the faithful have been asked to abstain during the lenten journey are blessed and eaten only after the Divine Liturgy.
THE DAY WITHOUT EVENING
Pascha is the inauguration of a new age. It reveals the mystery of the eighth day. It is our taste, in this age, of the new and unending day of the Kingdom of God. Something of this new and unending day is conveyed to us in the length of the paschal services, in the repetition of the paschal order for all the services of Bright Week, and in the special paschal features retained in the services for the forty days until Ascension. Forty days are, as it were, treated as one day. Together they comprise the symbol of the new time in which the Church lives and toward which she ever draws the faithful, from one degree of glory to another.
O Christ, great and most holy Pascha.
O Wisdom, Word and Power of God,
grant that we may more perfectly partake of Thee in the never-ending day of Thy kingdom
(Ninth Ode, Paschal Canon).
The V. Rev. Paul Lazor
New York, 1977
Martyr Savva Stratelates “the General” of Rome, and 70 soldiers with him
Saint Savva Stratelates came from a Gothic tribe. For his bravery he attained the high rank of military commander or “stratelates,” and he served under the Roman emperor Aurelian (270-275).
From his youth, Savva was a Christian and he fervently followed the commands of Christ. He helped the needy, and visited Christians in prison. Because of his pure and virtuous life the saint received from the Lord the gift of wonderworking, healing the sick and casting out demons in the name of Christ.
When the emperor learned that Saint Savva was a Christian, he demanded that he apostasize. The martyr threw down his military belt and declared that he would not forsake his faith. They beat him, burned him with torches, and threw him into a cauldron with tar, but the martyr remained unharmed.
Looking on at his torments, seventy soldiers came to believe in Christ. They were beheaded by the sword. Saint Savva was thrown in prison. At midnight, while he was praying, Christ appeared to the martyr and shone on him the light of His Glory. The Savior bade him not to fear, but to stand firm. Encouraged, the Martyr Savva underwent new torture in the morning, and was drowned in a river in 272.
Venerable Savva the Recluse of the Kiev Far Caves
Saint Savva of the Caves lived in the Near Caves of the Kiev Caves monastery during the thirteenth century. In the manuscripts, in the “Book of the Saints,” and in the Canon of the Services to the Fathers of the Kiev Caves, he is called a wonderworker.
His memory is celebrated on April 24 because of his namesake, the Holy Martyr Savva Stratelates. The memory of Saint Savva is also celebrated on the Synaxis of the Monastic Fathers of the Near Caves (September 28), and on the Synaxis of all the Wonderworkers of the Kiev Caves (Second Sunday of Great Lent).
Venerable Alexius the Recluse of the Kiev Far Caves
Saint Alexius, Hermit of Caves, lived a life of asceticism in the Near Caves of the Kiev Caves monastery during the thirteenth century. His relics were uncovered after 1675. The memory of Saint Alexius is celebrated on April 24, because his relics rest beside the relics of Saint Savva of Caves. His memory is also celebrated on the Synaxis of the Monastic Fathers of the Near Caves (September 28) and on the Synaxis of all the Wonderworkers of the Kiev Caves (Second Sunday of Great Lent).
Martyrs Valentine and Pasikrates in Moesia, Bulgaria
The Martyrs Valentine and Pasikrates came from the city of Durostorum, Silistria (now Bulgaria) and were soldiers under the governor Absolanus. Pasikrates was twenty-two years old, and Valentine was thirty.
When a persecution against Christians began, Saints Pasikrates and Valentine openly confessed their faith in Christ. At the trial Pasikrates spit at the idol of Apollo, and refused to offer sacrifice.
The brother of Saint Pasikrates wept and urged him merely to appear to offer sacrifice to the idols. The martyr placed his hand on the sacrifice in the fire and said, “The body is mortal and burns in the fire, the soul, however, is immortal and is not harmed by these torments.” Saint Valentine also showed his readiness to suffer for Christ.
When they led the martyrs to execution, the mother of Saint Pasikrates followed them and exhorted her son not to fear death for Christ. Both martyrs were tortured and then beheaded in 288.
Martyrs Eusebius, Neon, Leontius, Longinus, and others, at Nicomedia
The Martyrs Eusebius, Neon, Leontius, Longinus, and 40 Others were present at the sufferings of the Great Martyr George (April 23), through which they came to believe in Christ. They were then locked up in prison. After the execution of Saint George, the emperor Diocletian (284-305) issued an edict stating that all the prisoners were to offer sacrifice to the idols. The martyrs refused. They were beaten with iron rods, almost exposing their inner organs, and then their heads were cut off with a sword.
Venerable Thomas the Fool of Syria
Saint Thomas the Fool-for-Christ was a monk in one of the monasteries in Caesarea of Cappadocia (Asia Minor). His obedience was to collect alms for the monastery. When the Blessed Thomas arrived in the city of Antioch, Syria he began his exploit of foolishness for the sake of Christ.
The steward of one of the churches, a certain Anastasius, became annoyed with the entreaties of Saint Thomas, and struck him on the cheek. Those present reproached Anastasius for his inappropriate manner of dealing with the fool, but Saint Thomas quieted them saying, “From this moment I shall accept nothing further from Anastasius, nor will Anastasius be able to give me anything further.” These words proved prophetic. Anastasius died the very next day, and the saint also died along the road to his monastery, at the church of Saint Euthymius in the suburb of Daphne. They buried him at a place set aside for the burial of strangers.
After a certain while they buried another stranger in the saint’s grave. After four hours the ground on the grave of the stranger was thrown aside. They again covered the grave, but in the morning the ground on the grave again lay open. They reburied the stranger in another place.
The same thing happened when they buried two women nearby. Everyone realized that Saint Thomas did not wish to have a woman buried over him. The occurrence was reported to Patriarch Domnus of Antioch (546-560). At his command the relics of Saint Thomas were transferred to Antioch and placed in a cemetery where the relics of many holy martyrs rested. A small church was built over these relics, from which many healings occurred.
Through the prayers of Saint Thomas a deadly plague ceased at Antioch. From that time the inhabitants began to honor the memory of Saint Thomas every year.
Saint Elizabeth, Wonderworker of Constantinople
Saint Elizabeth the Wonderworker was from Constantinople, and was chosen for the service of God at birth. It was revealed to her mother that the girl would become a chosen vessel of the Lord (Acts 9:15).
The parents sent their daughter to a monastery as a child. She grew up in an atmosphere of fasting and constant prayer, and received the gift of healing physical and spiritual infirmities.
The sisters chose her to be abbess of the Saints Cosmas and Damian Monastery. She wore a coarse hairshirt all year round. Her body was chilled in winter, but her spirit blazed with ardent love for God.
The saint’s asceticism was very strict. For many years she ate only grass and vegetables, but would not partake of bread, wine, or oil. Many times Saint Elizabeth ate nothing at all during the forty days of the Great Fast. Imitating the Publican in humility, for three years she did not lift up her eyes to the heavens, but she looked constantly to God with her spiritual eyes. At midnight prayers, the saint shone with a heavenly light.
Saint Elizabeth performed many miracles: a vicious serpent was killed by her prayer, she healed a woman with issue of blood who had been ill for many years, and she cast out unclean spirits from people. At her tomb many were healed of various illnesses, and the blind received their sight. Many were cured with just some earth from her grave.
We do not know exactly when Saint Elizabeth lived, but it was probably between the sixth and ninth centuries.
Saint Iorest, Metropolitan of Ardeal, Confessor of Romania
Saint Iorest the Confessor was born into a peasant family of Transylvania, and received the name Elias in Baptism.
At an early age he entered the Puta Monastery and was tonsured with the name Iorest. He made great progress in the spiritual life, and was also a calligrapher and an iconographer. Because of his virtuous life, the igumen of the monastery recommended him to be ordained to the holy priesthood. Saint Iorest served in the altar with great compunction and fear of God, edifying others by his sermons.
In 1640, Prince Basil Lupu of Moldavia proposed Saint Iorest to succeed Metropolitan Gennadius of Ardeal, who had reposed. By God’s will, Saint Iorest was chosen to lead the church in Transylvania, and was installed as Metropolitan in 1641.
For three years the holy archpastor defended his flock from the snares of the devil, and from the false teachings of the Calvinists. He traveled throughout his diocese appointing priests, consecrating churches, and teaching the people.
Saint Iorest was thrown into prison in 1643 because of his zealous opposition to the activities of foreign missionaries who wished to convert the Orthodox faithful. For nine months he endured beatings and abuse, then he was released and ordered to pay a fine.
Saint Iorest returned to Moldavia in 1656-1657, and was appointed as Bishop of Hushi. Here too, he served the Church well, laboring for the salvation of the flock which God had entrusted to him. The Lord called Saint Iorest to himself on April 24, 1657.
Saint Savva Brancovici, Metropolitan of Ardeal, Confessor of Romania
Saint Savva was born into an old Serbian family from Hertzegovina who took refuge near Arad in Transylvania at the end of the sixteenth century. The future saint was born at Inau around 1620, and received the name Simeon in Baptism. His parents were named John and Maria.
At first he was tutored at home, then he traveled in Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria. After visiting his uncle, Metropolitan Longinus, at the Comana Monastery south of Bucharest, he decided to stay there to complete his education. The Metropolitan tutored him in religious and secular subjects. After completing his studies, Simeon returned home and got married at the age of thirty. He was ordained to the holy priesthood, but his wife died soon after this. Not long afterward, his mother became a nun. Father Simeon continued to serve in the Lord’s vineyard for ten years, converting many Moslems, and reconverting Christians who had embraced Islam.
In 1656, a council of clergy and laymen at Alba Iulia elected the widowed Father Simeon as Metropolitan of Ardeal in Transylvania (western Romania). He traveled to the cathedral in Tirgovishte in Wallachia, and there he received monastic tonsure with the name Savva. On September 16, 1656 he was consecrated as a bishop by Metropolitan Stephen of Wallachia.
Saint Savva’s episcopal service was plagued by the missionary activities of Calvinists who tried to convert the Orthodox, and who were supported by the princes of Transylvania. In addition, frequent wars threatened the stability of the area during his first years as Metropolitan. The saint, however, proved to be a faithful defender of the Church.
In the face of these difficulties, Saint Savva set up a print shop and published service books, manuals of instruction for clergy and laity, and a catechism. He also preached sermons based on the writings of Fathers, and using the Lives of the Saints as models for his flock.
Saint Savva was driven from his See between 1660-1662 because of his labors to strengthen his flock in Orthodoxy. Although he returned to his duties and served without interruption until 1680, Metropolitan Savva was often harassed because of his refusal to cooperate with the prince and the Calvinists.
In 1668 Metropolitan Savva journeyed to Russia seeking help. This led to his persecution by Prince Michael Apaffi and Protestant leaders, who did not appreciate his fierce opposition to their attempts to convert the Orthodox of Transylvania to Calvinism. In February of 1669 the prince issued a decree imposing many duties and restrictions on him.
Saint Savva convened a council at Alba Iulia in 1675. Among other things, the council decided to celebrate the Liturgy in the Romanian language rather than Slavonic, and to improve the spiritual and moral life of the clergy and laity.
In 1680 the Calvinist Superintendent of Transylvania made false accusations against Saint Savva and had him put on trial and thrown into prison. This effectively ended his career. Old and sickly, the Metropolitan endured three years of cruel torture in the Blaj Castle prison. He was finally released through the efforts of Prince Sherban of Wallachia, but died of his injuries on April 24, 1683.
Saint Savva served as Metropolitan for almost twenty-five years under very trying circumstances. In spite of this, he defended his clergy and his flock against the activities of the proselytizers. Since he endured all things with Christian patience, even the bitter sufferings to which he was subjected at the end of his life, Saint Savva is regarded as a martyr and a Confessor of the Orthodox Faith.
Saint Savva was glorified by the Church of Romania on October 21, 1955.
Hieromartyr and Confessor Elijah (Ilie) the Wallachian
No information available at this time.
Icon of the Mother of God of Molcha
There are, in fact, two wonderworking Icons called Molcha. One of them is located in the Molcha Sophroniev Nativity of the Theotokos men's Monastery. The other is in the women's Monastery of the Nativity of the Theotokos at Molcha. Both monasteries are located in the Putivl Konotop Diocese, in Ukraine (formerly Kursk province).
Tradition says that in the early XIV century, two monks moved into this area from the Tatar-ravaged city of Kiev. They settled in a cave on Wondrous Mountain not far from the Molcha swamp. These monks brought with them an Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, before which they prayed. When the hermits departed to the Lord, they were gradually forgotten, and the place where they had lived became overgrown with dense forests.
On September 18, 1405, a beekeeper who was searching for wild bees in the forest, saw the Icon of the Theotokos in a linden tree, surrounded by a bright light, and he heard a voice say: "Let a church be built in this place, and dedicated to the Most Holy Theotokos."
The beekeeper hastened to Putivl with news of this unusual phenomenon. The clergy and many of the people went at once to the specified place, and they all saw the Icon shining with a wondrous radiance. A Moleben was served before it, and many people received healing from their various illnesses. Subsequently, the Molcha Nativity of the Theotokos men's Monastery was built on this site.
In 1605 the Monastery was plundered by the Poles, so the Igoumen and the brethren were forced to leave their ruined cloister and the Icon was transferred to the city's Putivl Monastery on April 24, 1605. Since the monks had brought the Molcha Icon with them, the Putivl Monastery was also called Molcha.
In 1653, the Nativity of the Theotokos Monastery was restored through the efforts of a certain builder named Sophronios, that is why the Monastery received yet another name – Sophroniev.
The wonderworking Icon was destroyed in a fire at the Monastery in 1752, but fortunately several ancient copies of the Icon were preserved, which were also renowned for their many miracles.
During the Soviet era, the monastery was destroyed and the Icon was believed to be lost. Both Molcha Monasteries were restored in the nineteen-nineties. A lost Icon was also found. It turned out that the Icon had been hidden by the residents in order to save it from being desecrated. On May 7, 1995 there was a Cross Procession to transfer the Icon to the Transfiguration of the Savior Cathedral of the Molcha Putivl Monastery.
There is also a wonderworking copy of the Molcha Icon of the Mother of God, which appeared in the village of Businovo near Moscow. Currently, this Molcha Icon of the Theotokos is located in the temple of Saint Sergius of Radonezh in Businov. According to Tradition, the Icon was brought to the temple in the XIX century by a blind girl who lived in the village of Businovo
Hieromartyr Branko (Dobrosavljevic) the Newmartyr
No information available at this time.
Saint Joseph the Confessor of Maramures
Saint Joseph was born in the seventeenth century, and was consecrated as a bishop in Moldavia (northern Romania) in 1690 by Metropolitan Dositheus. This was a period of great trials and sufferings for the people of Maramures (in northern Romania) because the Roman Catholic authorities wanted to wipe out Orthodoxy in the region.
St Joseph was a zealous defender of the Orthodox Faith, and therefore he was jailed by the civil authorities. He died in 1711 after suffering for the truth and defending his flock.
St Joseph the Confessor was glorified by the Orthodox Church of Romania in 1992.
Hieromartyr Branko, parish priest of Veljusa
No information available at this time.