Renewal Monday, George the Great Martyr and Triumphant, Mark the Apostle and Evangelist
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 12:1-11
About that time, Herod the king laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword; and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the Church.
The very night when Herod was about to bring him out, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison; and behold, an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, "Get up quickly." And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, "Wrap your mantle around you and follow me." And he went out and followed him; he did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened to them of its own accord, and they went out and passed on through one street; and immediately the angel left him. And Peter came to himself, and said, "Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.
No one has ever seen God; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.
And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ." And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" And he answered, "No." They said to him then, "Who are you? let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" He said, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord, ' as the prophet Isaiah said.
Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, "Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?" John answered them, "I baptize with water; but among you stands one whom you do not know, even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie." This took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
On Bright Monday the Church commemorates the Sweet-Kissing (Glykophilousa) Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos.
Like the Ivḗron Icon (March 31), the Sweet-Kissing Icon was also saved from the iconoclasts by a pious woman in the ninth century. It also traveled miraculously upon the sea, arriving at Mt. Athos, the “Garden of the Theotokos,” where it was honored by the monks.
A nobleman named Simeon was an iconoclast who shared the emperor Theophilus’s hatred for the holy icons. Simeon’s wife Victoria, on the other hand, venerated icons, especially a certain icon of the Mother of God before which she prayed each day. Simeon could not tolerate his wife’s piety, so he demanded that she give him the icon so he could burn it. Victoria threw the icon into the sea, hoping that it would be preserved through God’s providence.
Years later, the icon appeared on the shores of Mt. Athos near the monastery of Philotheou. The igumen and the brethren of the monastery retrieved the icon and placed it in the church, where it worked many miracles.
In 1830 a pilgrim came to the monastery from Adrianopolis. He listened to the history of the icon and the miracles associated with it, but regarded such things as childish fables. The monk who had related all this was surprised and grieved by the pilgrim’s disbelief, fearing that such doubts indicated an unhealthy spiritual state. He did all that he could to remove the pilgrim’s skepticism, but the man stubbornly adhered to his opinion.
The Mother of God, in her compassion, finally healed the pilgrim’s soul in a rather dramatic way. On the very day that he had his discussion with the monk, the pilgrim was walking on an upper balcony. Suddenly, he lost his footing and began to fall. In his distress he called out, “Most Holy Theotokos, help me!” The Mother of God heard him, and he landed on the ground completely unharmed.
The icon is one of the Eleusa (Tenderness) type. It is unusual in that it shows the Virgin kissing her Child. Christ raises His hand as if to repulse His mother’s caress.
Other Sweet-Kissing (Tenderness) icons are:
Lubyatov (March 19)
Novgorod (July 28)
Pskov (May 21, June 23, August 26, October 7)
Smolensk (March 19)
Sviatogorsk (July 17)
Yaroslavl (May 14)
Icon of the Mother of God of Mt. Athos, “Sweet Kissing”
Like the Panagia Portaitissa, the Glykophilousa Icon is one of those which were saved during the iconoclastic period and brought miraculously to Mount Athos. It originally belonged to Victoria, the devout wife of the senator Symeon. Victoria was one who venerated the holy icons, especially that of the Most Holy Theotokos, before which she prayed each day. Her husband was an iconoclast who found her piety offensive, for he, like Emperor Theophilos (r. 829-842), found the veneration of icons distasteful. Symeon told his wife to give him her icon so that he could burn it. In order to save the icon from being destroyed, she threw it into the sea, and it floated away standing upright on the waves. After a few years, the icon appeared on the shores of Mount Athos near the Monastery of Philotheou, where it was received with great honor and rejoicing by the Abbot and Fathers of the Monastery, who had been informed of its impending arrival through a revelation of the Theotokos.
A spring of holy water sprouted forth on the very spot where they placed the icon on the shore. Every year on Monday of Bright Week there is a procession and blessing of water. Numerous miracles have occurred.
Although there are many miracles of the Glykophilousa Icon, we will mention only a few. In 1713, the Mother of God answered the prayers of the devout Ecclesiarch Ioannikios, who complained about the poverty of the monastery. She assured him that she would provide for the material needs of the monastery.
Another miracle took place in 1801. A pilgrim, after seeing the precious offerings having from the icon, planned to steal them. He stayed in the Temple after the Ecclesiarch closed it. Then he stole the offerings and left for the port of Ivḗron Monastery. There he found a boat that was leaving for Ierissos. After a while the ship sailed, but despite the excellent weather, it remained stationary in the sea. When the Ecclesiarch saw what had happened, the abbot sent monks out in various directions. Two went to the port of Ivḗron and when they saw the immobile ship, they realized what happened. The guilty man who committed this fearful sacrilege asked for forgiveness. The monks were magnanimous and did not want the thief to be punished.
A pilgrim from Adrianopolis visited Philotheou Monastery in 1830. He listened attentively to a monk tell the story of the holy Icon and the miracles associated with it, but he regarded the account as a fictitious tale which only a child might believe. The monk was grieved at the man’s unbelief, and tried to persuade him that everything he had said was absolutely true. The unfortunate pilgrim remained unconvinced.
That very day, as the pilgrim was walking on an upper balcony, he slipped and began to fall. He cried out, “Most Holy Theotokos, help me!” The Mother of God heard him and came to his assistance. The pilgrim landed on the ground completely unharmed.
The Glykophilousa Icon belongs to the Eleousa (the Virgin of Tenderness) category of icons, where the Mother accepts the affection shown by the Child Christ. The icon is commemorated by the Church on March 27 and also on Bright Monday. The icon depicts the Theotokos inclining toward Christ, Who embraces her. She seems to be embracing Him more tightly than in other icons, and her expression is more affectionate.
The Icon is located on a pillar on the left side of the katholikon (main church).
Saint Basil of Poiana Marului
Saint Basil, the Elder of Saint Paisius Velichkovsky (November 15), was born toward the end of the seventeenth century. He received monastic tonsure at Dalhautsi-Focshani Skete in 1705 or 1706, laboring in asceticism with great fervor.
Saint Basil was ordained to the holy priesthood, and became igumen of Dalhautsi in 1715. He remained in that position for twenty years, and was a wise instructor of monks, teaching them obedience, humility, and the art of the Jesus Prayer.
The fame of this great spiritual Father began to spread, so that even Prince Constantine Mavrocordat heard of him. Saint Basil’s community became known as a spiritual school of hesychasm, based on the wisdom of the Holy Fathers. When the number of his disciples increased until there was no longer room for all of them at Dalhautsi, they settled in other Sketes in the area. In this way, his influence and teaching spread to other places, inspiring a spiritual renewal of Romanian monastic life in the eighteenth century.
Saint Basil renovated the Poiana Marului (Apple Orchard) Skete near the city of Romni-Sarat between 1730-1733, then moved there with twelve disciples. In addition to his duties as Igumen of Poiana Marului, Saint Basil was the spiritual guide of all the Sketes in the Buzau Mountains. One of his most famous disciples was Saint Paisius Velichkovsky, whom he tonsured on Mount Athos in 1750.
The holy Elder Basil also wrote introductions to the writings of Saints Gregory of Sinai, Nilus of Sora, and others who wrote about the spiritual life, guarding the mind, and on the Jesus Prayer. He taught that the Holy Scriptures are a “saving medicine” for the soul, and recommended reading the Holy Fathers in order to obtain a correct understanding of Scripture, and to avoid being led astray through misunderstanding. Saint Basil also warned against any inclination to excuse ourselves and our sins, for this hinders true repentance.
Saint Basil fell asleep in the Lord on April 25, 1767, leaving behind many disciples. His influence has been felt in other Orthodox countries beyond the borders of Romania.
Apostle and Evangelist Mark
The Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark, also known as John Mark (Acts 12:12), was one of the Seventy Apostles, and was also a nephew of Saint Barnabas (June 11). He was born at Jerusalem. The house of his mother Mary adjoined the Garden of Gethsemane. As Church Tradition relates, on the night that Christ was betrayed he followed after Him, wrapped only in a linen cloth. He was seized by soldiers, and fled away naked, leaving the cloth behind (Mark 14:51-52). After the Ascension of the Lord, the house of his mother Mary became a place where Christians gathered, and a place of lodging for some of the Apostles (Acts 12:12).
Saint Mark was a very close companion of the Apostles Peter and Paul (June 29) and Barnabas. Saint Mark was at Seleucia with Paul and Barnabas, and from there he set off to the island of Cyprus, and he traversed the whole of it from east to west. In the city of Paphos, Saint Mark witnessed the blinding of the sorcerer Elymas by Saint Paul (Acts 13:6-12).
After working with the Apostle Paul, Saint Mark returned to Jerusalem, and then went to Rome with the Apostle Peter. From there, he set out for Egypt, where he established a local Church.
Saint Mark met Saint Paul in Antioch. From there he went with Saint Barnabas to Cyprus, and then he went to Egypt again, where he and Saint Peter founded many churches. Then he went to Babylon. From this city the Apostle Peter sent an Epistle to the Christians of Asia Minor, in which he calls Saint Mark his son (1 Pet 5:13).
When the Apostle Paul came to Rome in chains, Saint Mark was at Ephesus, where Saint Timothy (January 22) was bishop. Saint Mark went with him to Rome. There he also wrote his holy Gospel (ca. 62-63).
From Rome Saint Mark traveled to Egypt. In Alexandria he started a Christian school, which later produced such famous Fathers and teachers of the Church as Clement of Alexandria, Saint Dionysius of Alexandria (October 5), Saint Gregory Thaumatourgos (November 5), and others. Zealous for Church services, Saint Mark composed a Liturgy for the Christians of Alexandria.
Saint Mark preached the Gospel in the inner regions of Africa, and he was in Libya at Nektopolis.
During these journeys, Saint Mark was inspired by the Holy Spirit to go again to Alexandria and confront the pagans. There he visited the home of Ananias, and healed his crippled hand. The dignitary happily took him in, listened to his words, and received Baptism.
Following the example of Ananias, many of the inhabitants of that part of the city where he lived were also baptized. This roused the enmity of the pagans, and they wanted to kill Saint Mark. Having learned of this, Saint Mark made Ananias a bishop, and the three Christians Malchos, Sabinos, and Kerdinos were ordained presbyters to provide the church with leadership after his death.
The pagans seized Saint Mark when he was serving the Liturgy. They beat him, dragged him through the streets and threw him in prison. There Saint Mark was granted a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who strengthened him before his sufferings. On the following day, the angry crowd again dragged the saint through the streets to the courtroom, but along the way Saint Mark died saying, “Into Your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”
The pagans wanted to burn the saint’s body, but when they lit the fire, everything grew dark, thunder crashed, and there was an earthquake. The pagans fled in terror, and Christians took up the body of Saint Mark and buried it in a stone crypt. This was on April 4, 63. The Church celebrates his memory on April 25.
In the year 310, a church was built over the relics of Saint Mark. In 820, when the Moslem Arabs had established their rule in Egypt and oppressed the Christian Church, the relics of Saint Mark were transferred to Venice and placed in the church named for him.
In the ancient iconographic tradition, which adopted symbols for the holy Evangelists borrowed from the vision of Saint John the Theologian (Rev 4:7) and the prophecy of Ezekiel (Ez. 1:10), the holy Evangelist Mark is represented by a lion, symbolizing the might and royal dignity of Christ (Rev 5:5).
Saint Mark wrote his Gospel for Gentile Christians, emphasizing the words and deeds of the Savior which reveal His divine Power. Many aspects of his account can be explained by his closeness to Saint Peter. The ancient writers say that the Gospel of Mark is a concise record of Saint Peter’s preaching.
One of the central theological themes in the Gospel of Saint Mark is the power of God achieving what is humanly impossible. The Apostles performed remarkable miracles with Christ (Mark 16:20) and the Holy Spirit (Mark 13:11) working through them. His disciples were told to go into the world and preach the Gospel to all creatures (Mark 13:10, 16:15), and that is what they did.
Venerable Sylvester, Abbot of Obnora
Saint Sylvester of Obnora was a disciple and novice under Saint Sergius of Radonezh (September 25 and July 5). After completing his obedience at the Trinity monastery, Saint Sylvester received a blessing to live alone in the wilderness.
In the deep forest at the River Obnora, flowing into the River Kostroma, he set up a cross at his chosen spot and began his ascetical labors. For a long time no one knew about the holy hermit. His cell was discovered by a peasant who had lost his way. He told the distraught hermit that people had seen bright rays, and a pillar of cloud above his habitation. The monk shed tears of sorrow, because the place of his solitude had been discovered. The pilgrim besought the saint to tell about himself.
Saint Sylvester said that he had been living there a long time, and that he ate tree bark and roots. At first he became weak without bread, and fell on the ground from his weakness. Then an angel appeared to him in the guise of a wondrous man and touched his hand. From that moment Saint Sylvester did not experience any distress. Another time, the peasant came back to the saint and brought him bread and flour for reserve supply.
This one meeting was sufficient for the exploits of the hermit to become known to many. Soon peasants began to come to him from the surrounding settlements. Saint Sylvester allowed them to build cells near his.
When the brethren had gathered, Saint Sylvester went to Moscow and petitioned Saint Alexis (February 12) to bless the construction of a temple in honor of the Resurrection of Christ. The hierarch gave him an antimension (a cloth containing relics of martyrs, necessary for celebrating the Divine Liturgy), and made him igumen of the monastery.
With the construction of the church the number of brethren quickly grew, and the saint frequently withdrew for solitary prayer in the dense forest. This spot received the name “Commanded Grove,” since Saint Sylvester commanded that no trees should be cut there. In this grove he dug three wells, and a fourth on the side of a hill at the River Obnora. When the saint returned from his solitude, a number of people awaited him at the monastery, and each wanted to receive his blessing and hear his advice.
The saint fell into a fatal illness, and the brethren, who were distressed whenever he went into seclusion, were even more distressed about his approaching death. “Do not grieve about this, my beloved brethren,” he said to console them, “for everything is according to the will of God. Keep the commandments of the Lord and don’t be afraid to suffer misfortune in this life, so you may receive a reward in Heaven. If I have found boldness before the Lord and my life is pleasing to Him, then this holy place will not diminish after my departure. Pray to the Lord God and His All-Pure Mother, that you may be delivered from temptation.” Saint Sylvester died on April 25, 1479 and was buried on the right side of the wooden Resurrection church.
A record of the saint’s miracles has been preserved from the year 1645, in which twenty-three miracles are described. The saint healed twelve people from demonic possession and delirium, and six others from eye afflictions.
An edifying miracle occurred in 1645. The hieromonk Job of the monastery ordered peasants to cut down the forbidden forest grove for firewood, and he was struck blind. After four weeks he acknowledged his sin, repented and vowed not to act on his own will, but to follow the advice of the brethren. The hieromonk served a Molieben in church, after which he was brought to the reliquary of Saint Sylvester, and there he regained his sight.
Constantinople Icon of the Mother of God
The Constantinople Icon of the Theotokos is locally venerated at Moscow’s Dormition church on Malaya Dimitrovka. This image is different from the Constantinople Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos celebrated on September 17, although it appears to be a copy of it.
The wonderworking Constantinople Icon appeared on April 25, 1071.