Renewal Thursday, The Holy Nine Martyrs of Cyzicus, John the Martyr of Romania, Memnon the Wonderworker
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 2:38-43
In those days, Peter said to the people, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
At that time, there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nikodemos, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him." Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nikodemos said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' The Spirit blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, and you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." Nikodemos said to him, "How can this be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen; but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
On Bright Thursday the Gospel reading is John 3:1-15, which mentions the Pharisee Νikόdēmos who came by night to speak to Christ. The Lord told him that a man could not see the Kingdom of God unless he were born again. Νikόdēmos, taking Him much too literally, could not understand how such a thing was possible.
The Savior then clarified His words, saying that one must be born “of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5), referring to Baptism. Νikόdēmos, however, still found it difficult to understand Him.
The Lord said, “If I have told you of earthly things, and you believe not, how shall you believe if I tell you of heavenly things?” (John 3:12).
The reading from Acts 2:38-41 also speaks of Baptism. Saint Peter told the crowd, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you… and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
The main focus of today’s readings is on Baptism, but they also point to other things. We are to raise our mind and understanding from earthly to heavenly things, and to seek the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Apostle Jason was from Tarsus (Asia Minor). He was the first Christian in the city. The Apostle Sosipater was a native of Patra, Achaia. He is thought to be the same Sosipater mentioned in Acts 20:4. They both became disciples of Saint Paul, who even called them his kinsmen (Rom 16:21). Saint John Chrysostom (Homily 32 on Romans) says that this is the same Jason who is mentioned in Acts 17:5-9. Saint Jason was made bishop in his native city of Tarsus, and Saint Sosipater in Iconium. They traveled west preaching the Gospel, and in 63 they reached the island of Kerkyra [Korfu] in the Ionian Sea near Greece.
There they built a church in the name of the Protomartyr Stephen and they baptized many. The governor of the island learned of this and locked them up in prison, where they met seven thieves: Saturninus, Iakischolus, Faustianus, Januarius, Marsalius, Euphrasius and Mammius. The Apostles converted them to Christ. For their confession of Christ, the seven prisoners died as martyrs in a cauldron of molten tar, wax and sulfur.
The prison guard, after witnessing their martyrdom, declared himself a Christian. For this they cut off his left hand, then both feet and finally his head. The governor ordered the Apostles Jason and Sosipater to be whipped and again locked up in prison.
When the daughter of the governor of Kerkyra (Korfu), the maiden Kerkyra, learned how Christians were suffering for Christ, she declared herself a Christian and gave away all her finery to the poor. The infuriated governor attempted to persuade his daughter to deny Christ, but Saint Kerkyra stood firm against both persuasion and threats. Then the enraged father devised a terrible punishment for his daughter: he gave orders that she be placed in a prison cell with the robber and murderer Murinus, so that he might defile the betrothed of Christ
But when the robber approached the door of the prison cell, a bear attacked him. Saint Kerkyra heard the noise and she drove off the beast in the name of Christ. Then, by her prayers, she healed the wounds of Murinus. Then Saint Kerkyra enlightened him with the faith of Christ, and Saint Murinus declared himself a Christian and was executed.
The governor gave orders to burn down the prison, but the holy virgin remained alive. Then on her enraged father’s order, she was suspended upon a tree, choked with bitter smoke and shot with arrows. After her death, the governor decided to execute all the Christians on the island of Kerkyra. The Martyrs Zeno, Eusebius, Neon and Vitalis, after being enlightened by Saints Jason and Sosipater, were burned alive.
The inhabitants of Kerkyra, escaping from the persecution, crossed to an adjoining island. The governor set sail with a detachment of soldiers, but was swallowed up by the waves. The governor succeeding him gave orders to throw the Apostles Jason and Sosipater into a cauldron of boiling tar. When he beheld them unharmed, he cried out with tears, “O God of Jason and Sosipater, have mercy on me!”
Having been set free, the Apostles baptized the governor and gave him the name Sebastian. With his help, the Apostles Jason and Sosipater built several churches on the island, and increased the flock of Christ by their fervent preaching. They lived there until they reached old age.
The Martyrs Dada, Maximus and Quinctilian suffered under the emperor Diocletian (284-305), who issued a decree requiring everyone to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods during the public festivals, and to put Christians to death.
Tarquinius and Gabinius, the emperor’s representatives in Dorostolum, made a sumptuous feast, attended not only by the inhabitants of the city, but also people from the surrounding villages.
After the festivities, someone reported to the emperor that three brothers, Dada, Maximus and Quinctilian, did not obey the imperial decree and withdrew themselves into the Ozovia forest. Soldiers were sent after them, who caught the holy brothers at prayer and led them forth for trial.
The governors interrogated the brothers, who confessed themselves Christians. Tarquinius offered to make Saint Maximus a pagan priest of Zeus, but the saint called Zeus a foul adulterer and again confessed the True God.
Tarquinius attempted to reason with Saints Dada and Quinctilian. They said that their brother was well versed in the Holy Scripture and they would follow him in everything. They threw the martyrs into prison, but they thought only of the salvation of their souls. At midnight when the saints were asleep, the devil appeared to them. When the martyrs woke, they beheld an angel who said, “Fear not, for God your hope brings you to Himself. He is not far from you and will sustain you.”
In the morning, Tarquinius told the brothers that the gods had revealed their will to him in a dream: they were to be put to death if they did not offer sacrifice. The martyrs answered that the Lord had commanded them to endure torments for His sake.
The tortures and interrogations continued for several days from morning to evening. Finally, they sentenced the martyrs to death, led them out under guard to their forest and beheaded them with a sword.
Saint Cyril, Bishop of Turov, was born of rich parents in the thirties of the twelfth century in the city of Turov at the River Pripyat.
From his early years Saint Cyril eagerly read the sacred books and attained a profound understanding of them. He studied not only in Russian, but also in Greek. When he reached maturity Saint Cyril refused his inheritance and was tonsured in Turov’s Saint Boris and Gleb monastery. He struggled much in fasting and prayer and taught the monks to obey the igumen. A monk who is not obedient to the igumen does not fulfill his vow, and therefore is not able to be saved.
Three writings of Saint Cyril on monastic life have survived, one of which, “A Narrative on the Black Clergy from the Old Law and from the New,” may be ascribed to a period of his being in the monastery.
After a certain while Saint Cyril lived on a pillar, where he increased his asceticism, and meditated on the Holy Scripture. Many turned to him for counsel in the spiritual life.
Saint Cyril’s holiness of life and profound enlightenment became known to many, and so he was chosen as Bishop of Turov. In 1169 Saint Cyril took part in a council censuring Bishop Theodore, who occupied the Vladimir-Suzdal cathedra and who sought to separate from the metropolitanate of Kiev. Saint Cyril denounced the heresy of Theodore and wrote many letters to the holy prince Andrew Bogoliubsky (July 4), in which he provided him instruction and guidance in discovering the cause of church disorders in the Rostov region.
Because of his love for solitude, Saint Cyril left his See (by the year 1182, Bishop Laurence is mentioned as the Bishop of Turov) and he devoted himself fully to spiritual writing. He composed a discourse on the yearly cycle of the Lord’s Feasts, but not all of them have been preserved. The works of Saint Cyril deserve a place beside the works of the holy Fathers in book collections.
The most complete collection of works by Saint Cyril of Turov, published by Bishop Eugenius of Turov in 1880, includes:
Sermon on Palm Sunday, from Gospel accounts
Sermon on Holy Pascha on the Radiant Day of the Resurrection of Christ, from the prophetic accounts
Sermon on the Sunday after Pascha, on the Renewal of the Resurrection, on the Artos [loaf blessed on Pascha], and on Thomas Touching the Side of the Lord
Sermon on Taking down the Body of Christ and on the Myrrh-bearing Women, from the Gospel account, and in praise of Joseph on the Third Sunday After Pascha
Sermon on the Paralytic from Genesis and from the Gospel account, on the Fourth Sunday After Pascha
Sermon on the Blind man and the enmity of the Jews from the Gospel account, on the Fourth Sunday After Pascha
Sermon on the Ascension of the Lord, on Thursday of the Sixth Week After Pascha, from prophetic decrees, and on Raising the Race of Adam from Hades
Sermon on the Holy 318 Fathers, from the Holy Books, on Christ the Son of God, and in praise of the Fathers of the Holy Council of Nicea, on the Sunday Before Pentecost
Parable on the Blind and the Lame
Parable on the Human Soul, and on the Body, and on Breaking God’s Commandments, and on the Resurrection of the Human Body, and on the Future Judgment, and on the Torment
Narrative on the Black Clergy, from the Old Testament and from the New, bearing a common form, and the accomplishing of this matter
To Igumen Basil: a Parable on the White Clergy, and on Monasticism, and on the Soul, and on Repentance
Letter of a certain Elder to the Blessed Archimandrite Basil on the Schema
Four Prayers on Sunday (after Matins, Hours, and two after Vespers)
Four Prayers on Monday
Four Prayers on Tuesday
Five Prayers on Wednesday (after Matins, Hours, and three after Vespers)
Three Prayers on Thursday (after Matins, Hours, Vespers)
Four Prayers on Friday (after Matins, Hours, and two after Vespers)
Six Prayers on Saturday (two after Matins, one after Hours, and three after Vespers)
Confession and Remembrance.
Later, the “Sermon on the Enlightenment of our Lord Jesus Christ” was discovered. The saint also composed a “Great Canon of Repentance to the Lord in Alphabetic Chapters.” As a theologian Saint Cyril believed his task was to discern the true and hidden meaning of various texts of Holy Scripture.
Saint Cyril died on April 28, 1183. His contemporaries regarded him as a Russian Chrysostom. The saint humbly wrote of himself: “I am not a harvester, but I gather sheaves of grain; I am not an artist in literary matters.” He was always conscious of the sublime hierarchical service to which the Lord had called him: “If I were to speak of my own opinions, you would do well not to come to church, but I proclaim to you the Word of God. I read to you the accounts of Christ. I present to you the words of God, finer than gold or other stones, sweeter than mead or honeycomb, and you would be deprived of them by not coming to church, … but I praise and bless those of you who do come.”