2ND SATURDAY AFTER PASCHA
2nd Saturday after Pascha, Commemoration of the Precious Cross that appeared in the sky over Jerusalem in 351 A.D., Cyril, Archbishop of Jerusalem, Akakios the Centurion of Byzantium, Repose of St. Nilus, abbot of Sora, Pachomios the New Martyr of Patmos
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 26:1, 12-20
IN THOSE DAYS, King Agrippa said to Paul, "You have permission to speak for yourself." Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense: "I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining round me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.' And I said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and bear witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles-to whom I send you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.' "Wherefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those at Damascus, then at Jerusalem and throughout all the country of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and perform deeds worthy of their repentance."
At that time, when the people saw the sign which Jesus had done, they said, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!
Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, entered a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea rose because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat. They were frightened, but he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
On the next day the people who remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. However, boats from Tiberias came near the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the people saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves entered the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.
Commemoration of the Apparition of the Sign of the Precious Cross Over Jerusalem, in 351 AD
The Precious Cross appeared in the sky over Jerusalem on the morning of May 7, 351 during the reign of the emperor Constantius, the son of Saint Constantine (May 21).
At that time the heresy of Arianism, which taught that Christ was merely a creature and not God, was causing great turmoil and division throughout the Empire. Even after the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325, many people were drawn to this false teaching, and the Orthodox found themselves in the minority in many places.
Constantius, the ruler of the eastern part of the Empire, was a fervent supporter of Arianism. His brothers Constantine II and Constans, who were pious Orthodox Christians, ruled in the west. They were both killed in separate battles around 350, leaving Constantius as sole ruler. Also in 350, Saint Cyril (March 18) became Patriarch of Jerusalem and began his zealous struggle against Arianism.
In May of 351 a luminous Cross appeared over Jerusalem, stretching from Golgotha to the Mount of Olives, a distance of about five and a half miles. The Cross was wide as it was long, and shone more brightly than the sun. Many people left their homes and workplaces to gather in the church and glorify Christ. The historian Sozomen says that this wondrous sign led to the conversion of multitudes of pagans and Jews to Christianity.
A letter from Saint Cyril to the emperor describing this phenomenon, and admonishing him to become Orthodox, has been preserved. The apparition of the Cross remained over the city for a whole week.
The vision of the Cross over Jerusalem strengthened the Orthodox faithful and contributed to the return of many Arians to the Church. It is also a reminder of the awesome Second Coming of Christ, when “the sign of the Son of man shall appear in heaven” (Matthew 24:30).
Repose of Saint Alexis Toth, Confessor and Defender of Orthodoxy in America
Our holy Father Alexis, the defender of the Orthodox Faith and zealous worker in the Lord’s vineyard, was born in Austro-Hungary on March 18, 1854 into a poor Carpatho-Russian family. Like many others in the Austro-Hungarian empire, the Toths were Eastern Rite Catholics. Alexis’ father and brother were priests and his uncle was a bishop in the Uniate church. He received an excellent education and knew several languages (Carpatho-Russian, Hungarian, Russian, German, Latin, and a reading knowledge of Greek). He married Rosalie Mihalich, a priest’s daughter, and was ordained on April 18, 1878 to serve as second priest in a Uniate parish. His wife died soon afterwards, followed by their only child—losses which the saint endured with the patience of Job.
In May, 1879, Father Alexis was appointed secretary to the Bishop of Presov and also Administrator of the Diocesan Administration. He was also entrusted with the directorship of an orphanage. At Presov Seminary, Father Toth taught Church History and Canon Law, which served him well in his later life in America. Saint Alexis did not serve long as a professor or an administrator, for the Lord had a different future planned for him. In October, 1889 he was appointed to serve as pastor of a Uniate parish in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Like another Abraham, he left his country and his relatives to fulfill the will of God (Gen 12:1).
Upon his arrival in America, Father Alexis presented himself to the local Roman Catholic diocesan authority, Archbishop John Ireland, since there was no Uniate bishop in America at that time. Archbishop Ireland belonged to the party of American Catholics who favored the “Americanization” of all Roman Catholics. His vision for the future was founded on a common faith, customs, and the use of the English language for everything except liturgical celebrations. Naturally, ethnic parishes and non-Latin rite clergy did not fit into this vision. Thus, when Father Toth came to present his credentials, Archbishop Ireland greeted him with open hostility. He refused to recognize him as a legitimate Catholic priest or to grant permission for him to serve in his diocese.
As a historian and professor of Canon Law, Father Toth knew his rights under the terms of the Unia and would not accept Archbishop Ireland’s unjust decisions. In October of 1890, there was a meeting of eight of the ten Uniate priests in America at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania under the chairmanship of Father Toth. By this time the American bishops had written to Rome demanding the recall to Europe of all Uniate priests in America, fearing that Uniate priests and parishes would hinder the assimilation of immigrants into American culture. Uniate bishops in Europe refused to listen to the priests’ pleas for help.
Archbishop Ireland sent a letter to his parishes ordering their members not to attend Father Toth’s parish nor to accept any priestly ministrations from him. Expecting imminent deportation, Father Toth explained the situation to his parishioners and suggested it might be best for him to leave and return to Europe.
“No,” they said. “Let’s go to the Russian bishop. Why should we always submit ourselves to foreigners?” It was decided to write to the Russian consul in San Francisco in order to ask for the name and address of the Russian bishop. Ivan Mlinar went to San Francisco to make initial contact with Bishop Vladimir; then in February, 1891 Father Toth and his church warden, Paul Podany, also made the journey. Subsequently, Bishop Vladimir came to Minneapolis and on March 25, 1891 received Father Toth and 361 parishioners into the Orthodox Church of their ancestors. The parishioners regarded this event as a new Triumph of Orthodoxy, crying out with joy: “Glory to God for His great mercy!”
This initiative came from the people themselves, and was not the result of any coercion from outsiders. The Russian Orthodox Church was unaware of the existence of these Slavic Uniate immigrants to America, but responded positively to their petition to be reunited to the Orthodox Church.
The example of Saint Alexis and his parish in returning to Orthodoxy was an encouragement to hundreds of other Uniates. The ever-memorable one was like a candle upon a candlestick giving light to others (Mt.5:15), and his flock may be likened to the leaven mixed with meal which leavened the whole (Mt.13:33). Through his fearless preaching he uprooted the tares which had sprung up in the wheat of true doctrine, and exposed the false teachings which had led his people astray. Although he did not hesitate to point out errors in the doctrines of other denominations, he was careful to warn his flock against intolerance. His writings and sermons are filled with admonitions to respect other people and to refrain from attacking their faith.
While it is true that he made some strong comments, especially in his private correspondence with the church administration, it must be remembered that this was done while defending the Orthodox Church and the American Mission from unfounded accusations by people who used much harsher language than Father Toth. His opponents may be characterized by intolerance, rude behaviour, unethical methods and threats against him and his parishioners. Yet, when Father Alexis was offended or deceived by other people he forgave them, and he would often ask his bishop to forgive his omissions and mistakes.
In the midst of great hardships, this herald of godly theology and sound doctrine poured forth an inexhaustible stream of Orthodox writings for new converts, and gave practical advice on how to live in an Orthodox manner. For example, his article “How We should Live in America” stresses the importance of education, cleanliness, sobriety, and the presence of children in church on Sundays and Holy Days.
Although the Minneapolis parish was received into the Orthodox Church in March, 1891, it was not until July, 1892 that the Holy Synod of Russia recognized and accepted the parish into the Diocese of Alaska and the Aleutians. This resolution reached America only in October, 1892. During that time there was a climate of religious and ethnic hostility against the new converts. Father Alexis was accused of selling out his own Carpatho-Russian people and his religion to the “Muscovites” for financial gain.
In reality he did not receive any financial support for a long time, for his parish was very poor. Until his priestly salary began to arrive from Russia, the righteous one was obliged to work in a bakery in order to support himself. Even though his funds were meager, he did not neglect to give alms to the poor and needy. He shared his money with other clergy worse off than himself, and contributed to the building of churches and to the education of seminarians in Minneapolis. He was not anxious about his life (Mt.6:25), what he would eat or drink or wear. Trusting in God to take care of him, Saint Alexis followed the admonition of Our Savior to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Mt.6:33). So he bore the tribulation, slander, and physical attacks with patience and spiritual joy, reminding us that “godliness is stronger than all” (Wisdom of Solomon 10:12).
Bishops Vladimir, Nicholas, Saint Tikhon, and Platon recognized the special gifts of Father Toth, so they often sent him forth to preach and teach wherever there were people of Slavic background. Even though he was aware of his shortcomings and inadequacies, yet he was obedient to the instructions of the bishops. He did not hesitate or make excuses, but went immediately to fulfill his mission. Saint Alexis visited many Uniate parishes, explaining the differences between Orthodoxy, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism and Uniatism, stressing that the true way to salvation is in Orthodoxy.
Like Josiah, “he behaved himself uprightly in the conversion of his people” (Sir 49:2). He was instrumental in the formation or return of seventeen parishes, planting a vineyard of Christ in America, and increasing its fruitful yield many times over. By 1909, the time of his blessed repose, many thousands of Carpatho-Russian and Galician Uniates had returned to Orthodoxy. This was a major event in the history of the North American Mission, which would continue to shape the future of Orthodoxy in this country for many generations to come. Any future growth or success may truly be regarded as the result of Father Toth’s apostolic labors.
Who can tell of the saint’s spiritual struggles? Who can speak of the prayers which his pious soul poured forth unto God? He did not make a public display of his piety, but prayed to God in secret with all modesty, with contrition and inward tears. God, Who sees everything done in secret, openly rewarded the saint (Mt.6:6). It is inconceivable that Saint Alexis could have accomplished his apostolic labors unless God had blessed and strengthened him for such work. Today the Church continues to reap the fruits of his teaching and preaching.
Father Toth’s efforts did not go unrecognized in his own lifetime. He received a jeweled miter from the Holy Synod, as well as the Order of Saint Vladimir and the Order of Saint Anna from Czar Nicholas II for distinguished service and devotion to God and country. In 1907, he was considered as a candidate for the episcopal office. He declined this honor, however, humbly pointing out that this responsibility should be given to a younger, healthier man.
At the end of 1908, Saint Alexis’ health began to decline due to a complication of illneses. He went to the seashore in southern New Jersey in an attempt to regain his health, but soon returned to Wilkes-Barre, where he was confined to bed for two months. The righteous one reposed on Friday, May 7, 1909 (April 24 on the Old Calendar), the feast of Saints Savva and Alexius the Hermit of the Kiev Caves. Saint Alexis’ love and concern for his spiritual children did not cease with his death. Before closing the account of his life, it would be most appropriate to reveal but one example of his heavenly intercession:
In January, 1993 a certain man prayed to Saint Alexis to help him obtain information about his son from whom he had been separated for twenty-eight years. Placing his confidence in the saint’s boldness before God, he awaited an answer to his prayer. The very next day the man’s son telephoned him. It seems the young man was in church when he was suddenly filled with an overwhelming desire to contact his father. He had been taken to another state by his mother, and she changed his name when he was a child. This is why his father was unable to locate him. Having learned from his mother that his father was an Orthodox Christian, he was able with the help of an Orthodox priest to obtain his father’s phone number in a distant city. As a result of that telephone call, the young man later visited his father, who rejoiced to see what sort of man his son had become. The father gave thanks to God and to Saint Alexis for reuniting him with his son.
Saint Alexis was a true man of God who guided many Carpatho-Russian and Galician immigrants through the dark confusion of religious challenges in the New World and back to the unity of the Orthodox Church through his grace-filled words and by his holy example. In his last will and testament Saint Alexis commended his soul to God’s mercy, asking forgiveness from everyone and forgiving everybody. His holy relics now rest at Saint Tikhon Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania where the faithful may come to venerate them and to entreat Saint Alexis’ intercessions on their behalf.
Martyr Acacius the Centurion at Byzantium
The Holy Martyr Acacius, who lived mostly in the third century, was born at Cappadocia and was a centurion of the Martesian regiment under the military officer Firmus. When the persecution against Christians began on orders from the emperor Maximian Galerius (305-311), Firmus interrogated his soldiers one after the other about their faith. Saint Acacius firmly and openly confessed himself a Christian. Seeing the steadfastness of Saint Acacius, Firmus sent him to his superior officer, who was named Vivianus. Vivianus gave the saint over to fierce torture.
After the tortures they put him in heavy chains and locked him up in prison. A while later they led the martyr and other prisoners to Byzantium, to the prefect. The soldiers marched quickly, showing the prisoners no mercy. Saint Acacius weakened along the way from his wounds, from his chains, and from hunger and thirst. When finally they halted for the night, Saint Acacius offered thanks to God, for permitting him to suffer for His holy Name. As he prayed the saint heard a voice from the heavens, “Courage, Acacius, and be strong!” This voice was heard also by the other prisoners, and many of them believed in Christ and asked the saint to instruct them in the Christian Faith.
At Byzantium they placed the holy martyr in jail, while the other prisoners were held under less severe conditions. At night the other prisoners saw how radiant youths appeared to Saint Acacius and attended to him, washing his wounds and bringing him food. After seven days, Vivianus again summoned Saint Acacius before him and was struck by his fresh appearance. Supposing that the prison guard was bribed to give the prisoner both respite and food, he summoned the guard to question him. Since he did not believe his answers, Vivianus had the guard severely beaten. Saint Acacius himself then answered Vivianus, “My power and strength are given me by the Lord Jesus Christ, Who has healed my wounds.” Vivianus gave orders to beat the martyr about the face and to smash his teeth for his words.
Determined to intensify and prolong the torture of Saint Acacius, Vivianus sent him to the prefect Flaccinus with a letter. When he read the letter, Flaccinus became annoyed that Vivianus had tortured a centurion for so long and so cruelly, and he gave orders to behead the martyr without further delay.
At the place of execution Saint Acacius lifted up his eyes to the heavens, giving thanks to God for being granted a martyr’s death for His sake. Then he bowed his head beneath the sword. This occurred in the year 303.
Under Constantine the Great the relics of the holy martyr Acacius rested at Constantinople in a church built in his honor, and later they were transferred to Calabria, to the city of Scillatio. The holy martyr Acacius particularly helps those who struggle against temptations of the flesh, as attested by Saint Epiphanius, a disciple of Saint Andrew the Fool-for-Christ.
Repose of Venerable Nilus, Abbot of Sora
Saint Nilus of Sora, a great ascetic of the Russian Church, was descended from the Maikov nobility. He accepted monasticism at the monastery of Saint Cyril of White Lake (June 9). Here he made use of the counsels of the pious Elder Paisius Yaroslavov, who was afterwards igumen of the Trinity-Sergiev Lavra.
Saint Nilus journeyed much through the East, studying the monastic life in Palestine and on Mt. Athos. Returning to Rus, he withdrew to the River Sora in the Vologda lands, and built a cell and a chapel, where there soon grew up a monastery with a new (for that time in Rus) skete Rule adopted by Saint Nilus from Mt. Athos. Following the command of Saint Nilus, the monks had to sustain themselves by the work of their own hands, to accept charity only in extreme need, and to shun the love of things and splendor even in church. Women were not permitted in the skete, monks was not allowed to leave the skete under any pretext, and the possession of lands or estates was forbidden.
The monks lived in the forest around the small church in honor of the Meeting of the Lord, in separate cells of one or two but not more than three men. They gathered together in church for divine services. Moreover, readings from the holy Fathers were prescribed at the All-Night Vigil, which actually lasted the whole night. On other days, each one prayed and worked in his own cell.
The saint struggled constantly with his own thoughts and passions. Then peace would be born in his soul, clarity in his mind, contrition and love in his heart. In his written works, “A Tradition for my Disciple, Wishing to Live in the Wilderness,” and the “Rule,” Saint Nilus describes the steps of this salvific mental activity in detail. The first step is renunciation of the world, particularly, from every worldly distraction. The second is unceasing prayer, accompanied by the remembrance of death.
The saint was distinguished for his non-possessiveness and love for work. He dug a pond and a well, whose water had healing power. For his sanctity of life the Elder Nilus was deeply venerated by the Russian hierarchs of his time. He participated in the Councils of 1490 and 1503. Disdaining the honors and glories of this world, he told his disciples before his death either to throw his body to be eaten by beasts and birds, or to bury it without honor at the place of his struggles.
The saint died in his seventy-sixth year of life, on May 7, 1508. His relics, buried in the monastery he founded, were glorified by many miracles. The Russian Church has numbered him among the saints.
[In English, fragments of his “Tradition” and “Rule” may be found in G. Fedotov’s TREASURY OF RUSSIAN SPIRITUALITY.]
Saint John Zedazeni of Zaden, Georgia, with his 12 disciples
Our Holy Father John of Zedazeni and his twelve disciples, Abibus of Nekresi, Anthony of Martqopi, David of Gareji, Zenon of Iqalto, Thaddeus of Stepantsminda, Jesse of Tsilkani, Joseph of Alaverdi, Isidore of Samtavisi, Michael of Ulumbo, Pyrrhus of Breti, Stephen of Khirsa, and Shio of Mgvime, were Syrian ascetics and the founding fathers of Georgian monastic life.
Saint John received his spiritual education in Antioch. Early in his youth he was tonsured a monk and withdrew to the wilderness. The Lord, recognizing his humility, diligence in fasting, and devout watchfulness, blessed His faithful servant with the gift of healing the sick and casting out demons. Saint John was celebrated for his holy deeds and miracles. Curious crowds would swarm around him, and after some time he found it necessary to withdraw into even deeper seclusion.
Taking with him several of his disciples, he chose a remote area, fashioned for himself a cell, and began to labor as a hermit. Once the Most Holy Theotokos appeared to Saint John and told him, “Take twelve monks and go with them to Georgia, the nation enlightened by the Equal-to-the-Apostles Nino, and strengthen the Christian soul of its people.”
Saint John related the vision to his disciples, and after much fasting and prayer he chose twelve of them: Abibus, Anthony, David, Zenon, Thaddeus, Isidore, Joseph, Jesse, Michael, Pyrrhus, Stephen, and Shio. He left his remaining disciples in the wilderness in the care of the abbot, the blessed elder Euthymius, and set off for Georgia with the twelve he had chosen.
By divine revelation the Georgian king Parsman and Catholicos Evlavios received the good news that the venerable fathers were in Mesopotamia, on their way to Georgia, and they hurried to greet them with the proper honors. King Parsman and Catholicos Evlavios met the holy fathers as they were approaching Mtskheta.
The holy fathers venerated the myrrh-streaming wood of the Living Pillar and the Robe of Christ at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. From there Saint John and his disciples traveled throughout Georgia, visiting its many holy sites.
With the blessing of Catholicos Evlavios, Saint John and his disciples settled on Zedazeni Mountain, where a pagan temple to the idol Zadeni had previously stood. The monks lived in wretched cells, eating only plants and praying ceaselessly.
Having heard of the spiritual endeavors of Saint John and his disciples, Christian believers began to flock to Zedazeni Mountain. Many burned with longing for the monastic life, and some abandoned the world to join the holy fathers at Zedazeni. In such a way, Zedazeni Mountain was transformed into an abode of hermits.
One night the Most Holy Theotokos appeared again to Saint John and instructed him to send his disciples throughout the country to preach the Word of God. In the morning, having related the vision to his disciples, Saint John advised them: “Our Lord Jesus Christ sent us to perform good deeds for this country and its people, for they are newly planted seeds in the Christian Faith. Therefore, let us go forth, each in his own direction, to preach the Word of God!”
Saint John remained at Zedazeni and went about his usual labors in the company of the Deacon Ilia. Zedazeni Mountain was without water, but Saint John prayed to God for a spring, and the Lord sent him a healing spring at the mountain’s peak. Through Saint John’s holy prayers, a bear that often came to the spring to drink was tamed and became a guard and protector of Zedazeni Monastery.
(To this day, the beasts of Zedazeni forest have never disturbed a single soul). Through Saint John’s intercessions, a man mute and paralyzed from his childhood began to speak and walk.
After earnestly serving God for many years, Saint John received a sign that his death was approaching. He called his disciples, blessed them, bade them farewell, and left them to bury him in the cave where he had dwelt. After receiving Holy Communion, Saint John beheld the heavens open and the incorporeal powers with the armies of saints shining forth.
The Lord called Saint John to Himself, saying: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham. Come and I will give you rest from your labors.”
The holy father prayed and gave up his soul to the Lord. After his repose Saint John’s disciples reasoned among themselves that a dismal cave was unfit to serve as their holy father’s burial place, and with great reverence they buried his remains in a church at the foot of the mountain. But suddenly a violent earthquake shook the ground where they stood. The earth ceased to quake only after the frightened disciples remembered their shepherd’s will and realized that the tremors were a sign from God. So the disciples, a priest, and a deacon uncovered the holy relics and reburied Saint John according to his will. While they were being translated, Saint John’s holy relics healed many sick and demon-possessed people.
In the 10th century, during the time of Catholicos Clement (908-923), a church in honor of Saint John the Baptist was built on the south side of Saint John’s cave. The holy father’s grave is located near the altar of this church.
The Holy Martyr Abibus of Nekresi was consecrated bishop of Nekresi at the request of Parsman VI, King of Kartli, and Catholicos Evlavios. Filled with holy zeal, Bishop Abibus converted many pagans to the Christian Faith.
In the 6th century the Persians forced many Georgians to deny Christ and worship fire in accordance with their own custom. When Saint Abibus poured water on their altar of sacrifice to extinguish the “holy fire,” the enraged Persians beat him cruelly, then stoned him to death.
By order of the marzban (Persian viceroy), the holy relics of Martyr Abibus remained for three days under the open sky. But to the marzban’s great amazement, neither beast nor bird would touch them.
On the fourth night, monks from Rechi Monastery arrived and translated the holy relics to Samtavisi Monastery for proper burial. Later, by order of Stepanoz (600-619), the rightful ruler of Kartli, the holy relics of Saint Abibus were translated again, to Samtavro Monastery in Mtskheta, and buried in the sanctuary under the altar table.
Saint Anthony of Martqopi always carried with him an icon of the Savior “Not-Made-By-Hands” which he had brought from Edessa in Asia Minor.
A lover of solitude, Saint Anthony settled in Lonoati Gorge, but the many curious Christians, drawn by his prayers and miracles, disturbed his seclusion. So the holy father built a monastery for his faithful followers, withdrew in reclusion beyond the Alazani River, and later settled on Akriani Mountain. In his new hermitage, he ate mostly plants and the bark of trees, and God sent a bear to bring him food. Later Saint Anthony erected a pillar at the top of the mountain and dwelt upon it for eighteen years.
The venerable father received a sign from God when his death was imminent, and at the moment of his repose he was kneeling in prayer before the icon of the Savior. His disciples carried his holy relics down from the pillar and buried them in the monastery he had founded, in front of the icon of the Mother of God.
Saint David of Gareji first settled in the outskirts of Tbilisi, the new capital of Georgia. Through his wondrous preaching, Saint David converted many fire-worshippers and brought people of many creeds to the Christian Faith.
One day the fire-worshippers took revenge: they bribed a pregnant woman to agree to their scheme and accuse Saint David of adultery. But the wonderworker Saint David touched his staff to the woman’s womb and said, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I command you, infant, tell us who your real father is!” The infant uttered the name of his true father from inside his mother’s womb. The crowd of bystanders was outraged and began to stone the pagan slanderers.
Deeply disturbed by the rioting and unable to stop the bloodshed, Saint David departed with his disciple Lukiane.
Saints David and Lukiane settled in the Gareji Wilderness in southeastern Georgia. The Lord provided them with food in abundance: every day, except Wednesdays and Fridays, a herd of deer came to visit them. Lukiane milked the animals, and when David made the sign of the Cross over the milk, it was miraculously transformed into cheese.
News of the wonders performed by the holy fathers spread quickly, and soon the Gareji Wilderness became a refuge for the many Christians who hungered to lead a true ascetic life.
After some time a pious monk called Dodo came from Ninotsminda, a village in eastern Georgia, and, having received a blessing from his spiritual father, established the Monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos on the eastern side of the Gareji mountains. Since that time the eastern range has been called “Dodo’s Range.”
Saint David went to Jerusalem on pilgrimage, but when he arrived there, he suddenly judged himself unworthy and dared not enter the gates of the city. He prayed fervently before the city gates, then, in his profound humility, chose three stones to take with him as treasures and departed. That same night an angel appeared to Patriarch Elias of Jerusalem and told him that a monk named David, who had arrived from Georgia, was taking away all the grace of the Holy Land. The patriarch’s messengers found Saint David and seized from him two of the stones. The third stone he carried back to Gareji Monastery.
Having served the Lord his whole life, through much suffering and many tribulations, the God-pleasing Saint David reposed peacefully and was buried at David-Gareji Monastery.
Saint Jesse of Tsilkani was consecrated bishop of Tsilkani by Catholicos Evlavios, at the suggestion of Saint John of Zedazeni. The holy father preached to many crowds and converted many unbelievers. Before long, many followers had gathered around him. Saint Jesse, like Saint John’s other disciples, was endowed with the ability to work miracles.
Once Saint John decided to test the faith of his disciples, and he required each of them to perform a miracle. When it was Saint Isidore’s turn, he descended to the Ksani River, crossed over it, then touched his staff to the water and cried out, “In the name of the Lord, I command you to follow me!” Immediately the river began to flow in the opposite direction, and it followed every move of the venerable father’s staff. Saint Isidore led the river to Tsilkani Monastery.
Having witnessed this miracle, many people were converted to the true Faith.
Saint Isidore received a sign from heaven when his repose was near. He partook of the Holy Gifts and prayerfully gave up his soul to God. Saint Isidore is buried in the Tsilkani Church of the Most Holy Theotokos.
Saint Joseph of Alaverdi always carried with him a cross that had been formed from the wood of the Life-giving Cross of our Savior. With the blessing of his teacher, Saint Joseph preached the Gospel of Christ throughout the region of Kartli in eastern Georgia and later settled in the Alaverdi wilderness.
Once Saint Joseph encountered a pagan nobleman and preached to him the Word of God. Deeply inspired by Fr. Joseph’s grace-filled preaching, the nobleman founded a monastery in Alaverdi. Villagers from the surrounding region heard about the holy father’s great spiritual feats, and many of them left the world to labor with him. The number of ascetics in the region began to increase steadily from that time.
When his long and labor-filled life was drawing to an end, Saint Joseph appointed a new abbot for the monastery and reposed peacefully in the Lord. To this day many miracles have taken place over his grave at Alaverdi Monastery.
From his youth Saint Shio of Mgvime (of the cave) was a disciple of Saint John of Zedazeni, and he followed him to Georgia. Saint Shio settled in Sarkineti, a region northwest of Mtskheta. The Most Holy Theotokos blessed the monk, and he carried out his labors in accordance with her revelations.
A dove would bring food to the blessed father, and Saint Evagre (at that time the ruler of Tsikhedidi) witnessed this miracle one day while hunting in the area. Deeply inspired by his unceasing labors, the prince left the world to become Saint Shio’s disciple. It was not long before Saint Shio’s wilderness was filled with people who longed for the ascetic life. Saint Shio founded a monastery in Sarkineti, gathered nearly two thousand monks to labor there with him, and instructed them in a strict ascetic life.
Having performed countless miracles, Saint Shio finally vowed to God that he would spend the remainder of his life in a well that he had dug for himself. He appointed Evagre abbot of the monastery and went into reclusion at the bottom of the well. There he spent fifteen years and reposed peacefully in the Lord. Saint Shio’s holy relics are buried in that well, and to this day many miracles have taken place over his grave.
Saint Pyrrhus of Breti, called the “Divine Image of Repentance,” founded a monastery in Breti, on the bank of the Jvaristsqali River. His holy relics are buried in the church at that monastery.
Saint Isidore of Samtavisi preached the Christian Faith in Kartli for many years, in accordance with his teacher’s instruction. On the eastern bank of the Rekhula River, he founded Samtavisi Monastery of the Icon of the Savior “Not-Made-By-Hands.” He reposed and was buried at that monastery.
Saint Thaddeus of Stepantsminda first preached in Mtskheta, and later he founded a monastery at the foot of Zedazeni Mountain. After Saint John’s repose, Saint Thaddeus continued to preach throughout Kartli and erected many new churches. Among them, the Church of the Protomartyr Stephen in Urbnisi is a glorious example. Near the end of his life Saint Thaddeus withdrew to a cave at Tsleva Mountain not far from the city of Kaspi. He reposed peacefully and is buried in that place.
Saint Stephen of Khirsa and his companions preached throughout the region of Kakheti in eastern Georgia. Later Saint Stephen founded Khirsa Monastery near Kharnabuji Castle. He is buried in the sanctuary of the Church of the Protomartyr Stephen at Khirsa.
Saint Zenon of Iqalto preached the Christian Faith in northern Kakheti and founded Iqalto Monastery. He reposed peacefully, after accomplishing many good works on behalf of the true Faith. Saint Zenon is buried at Iqalto in the Church of the Icon of the Savior “Not-Made-By-Hands.”
Saint Michael of Ulumbo preached the Christian Faith in northern Kartli and Ossetia. He founded a monastery in the Ulumbo area (named after Mt. Olympus, a center of monasticism in Bythinia, Asia Minor), where his wonderworking relics were later buried.
Many Georgian children have been raised at the monasteries founded by the Thirteen Syrian Fathers. For centuries the Divine grace of the holy ascetics has spread among the Georgian people and throughout their land.
These monasteries and the holy fathers who founded them continue to protect the Georgian people against all manner of sin and unbelief.
Venerable Nilus the Myrrhgusher of Lavra of Mount Athos
Today we commemorate the uncovering of the relics of Saint Nilus in 1815.
On his deathbed, Saint Nilus told his disciples to bury his body in a small cave beneath the cave where he lived, sternly forbidding anyone to disturb his body. Although the saint did not seek human glory during his life or after his death, the Lord glorified him in the following way. From his grave, a fragrant myrrh began to flow through a small opening in the cave and down the side of the cliff into the sea. Soon this miracle became widely known, and ships would come to collect the myrrh. The myrrh had curative properties, and many people were healed of their illnesses.
Once, two monks came to the cave and tried to find the relics of Saint Nilus. While they were digging, a large rock fell from above, crushing the foot of one monk. Unable to help his companion, the other monk went to get a mule and someone to help him carry the injured brother from that place.
As he lay there in agony, the monk saw Saint Nilus before him. He asked the monk what was the matter. The monk explained what they intended to do and how he had been injured. The saint said, “How dare you, poor man, attempt something so dangerous without the saint’s express wish? Take care in future that you do not attempt a task beyond your ability, and without the will of God.”
Saint Nilus touched the monk’s leg, and he was made well. With great joy he started back to his cell. On the way, he met his companion who was leading a mule. The monk who was healed told the other how he had been healed by Saint Nilus. Then they both glorified God and Saint Nilus. After this, no one dared to disturb the saint’s relics.
In 1815, a certain monk called “Prisoner” was troubled by a demon, and he also had a hernia. Saint Nilus appeared to him several times and healed him. The saint predicted the Greek Revolution (1821), and many dangers which the Holy Mountain would face from the Turks. Then Saint Nilus told him he wanted a path made to his cave so that monks could go there to pray. He also wanted the Liturgy to be served in the cave church he himself had built.
When the Fathers heard this, they wished to build a new church in honor of Saint Nilus. As they were digging the foundation, they found the saint’s grave. From his relics an ineffable fragrance came forth. This took place on May 7, 1815.
Then the monks informed the Fathers of the Great Lavra of their discovery. They came and transferred the relics to the Lavra, leaving only a portion of the saint’s jaw at the cave to be venerated by those who came there.
See November 12 for the Life of Saint Nilus.
Monastic Martyr Pachomius of Mount Athos
The holy New Martyr Pachomius was from Little Russia, and was captured by Moslem Tatars who made him a slave. He was taken to Usaki, near the ancient city of Philadelphia in Asia Minor, where he was sold to a Moslem tanner.
While teaching Pachomius his occupation, the tanner also tried to instruct the young man in the Islamic religion and convert him. Although Pachomius was eager to learn his new master’s trade, he had no desire to become a Moslem. Since he would not deny Christ, he was sometimes beaten and denied food.
This faithful warrior of Christ lived for twenty-seven years as a slave, working for his master in the tannery. The tanner was so pleased by the work of his servant that he offered to give him his own daughter in marriage and make him his heir, even though the righteous one would not convert to Islam. Since he would have to become a Moslem in order to marry the tanner’s daughter and to inherit anything from him, Pachomius declined the offer. Impressed by the principled stand of his servant, the tanner freed the Saint and told him that he could go wherever he wished.
Saint Pachomius became ill just before he was to leave his master. Some Moslems spread the rumor that he had already denied Christ and accepted their religion. Due to his illness they did not circumcise him, but dressed him in green clothing such as Moslems wear. Christians were not permitted to wear green. When he recovered Pachomius traveled to Smyrna and became a merchant.
After some time had passed, the saint discarded his Moslem clothes and went to Saint Paul’s Monastery on Mount Athos. There he met Hieromonk Joseph, confessed the secrets of his heart to him, and told him he wished to become a monk. He lived with Elder Joseph for the next twelve years living the monastic life, and acquiring the virtues.
After hearing of Saint Acacius of Kavsokalyvia (April 12), he transferred to that monastery and became a disciple of Elder Acacius. For six years he devoted himself to the life of unceasing prayer, and became the very type and paradigm of a virtuous monk.
Day by day, the desire to become a martyr for Christ grew within him, because he feared that he might have spoken a careless word and denied the Lord when he was sick and not in his right mind. Saint Acacius tried to persuade him not to follow this course, because he thought that this desire might have arisen from Pachomius’s pride.
Saint Acacius did not want to let Pachomius go, and so he decided to test his resolve. For the next year, he imposed various rules and obediences on him, and both of them prayed that God would make His will known to them. They also consulted the most virtuous Fathers on the Holy Mountain, who all agreed that Pachomius should be blessed to leave the monastery and to seek martyrdom. He removed his monastic garb and dressed in the clothes of an ordinary Christian. He did this so that his actions would not lead to reprisals against the Athonite monasteries.
Accompanied by Elder Joseph, Pachomius returned to Usaki, the site of his supposed denial of Christ. Elder Joseph stayed at an inn, while Pachomius went to the home of his former master, and then walked through the marketplace, hoping to be recognized. It did not take long for him to be arrested and brought before the kadi. He was charged with accepting Islam, and then returning to the Christian faith, a “crime” which was punishable by death. His accusers pointed to the saint’s Christian clothing as evidence. “Behold what sort of garments he is wearing,” they shouted.
The kadi told Pachomius that he was not allowed to wear Christian garb, because he had previously denied Christ. He urged Pachomius to go back to being a Moslem, or to be put to death. With resolute courage, Saint Pachomius replied that he abhorred their religion, and that he would never deny the Savior. Furthermore, he declared that he was quite willing to endure any torture, and to die for Christ many times over, if such a thing were possible.
The holy one was thrown into prison, where he was deprived of food, sleep, and also of any sort of comfort. During this time he was sustained only by his trust in the Lord. After three days, he was sentenced to death. The martyr rejoiced, and told the kadi to carry out the sentence without delay.
Bound and dragged to the place of execution, Saint Pachomius was cursed and spat upon by some of the Turks in the crowd, while others urged him to return to Islam. As the holy athlete of Christ knelt for his beheading, even the executioner entreated him to save himself accepting the Moslem religion. Saint Pachomius remained firm in his resolve, and told the executioner to do as he was ordered without delay. The victorious martyr was beheaded on May 7, 1730 (which happened to be the Feast of the Ascension), thereby receiving an incorruptible crown from Christ.
The body of Saint Pachomius remained exposed to the elements for three days, and then the Orthodox were granted permission to bury him. After the burial, the executioner was possessed by demons, and ran through the city, shouting and foaming at the mouth. He died a few days afterward.
Elder Joseph left the inn where he was hiding, and went to the place where the saint’s body was. He spoke to Saint Pachomius as if he were still alive. “My dear Pachomius”, he said, “you have achieved what you desired. Intercede with the Lord for me, and for all who call upon you.”
Father Joseph was troubled at the thought of trying to leave the area without being captured. Saint Pachomius appeared to him in a dream and said, “Do not be afraid, O Elder, for no harm shall come to you.” Trusting in the words of the saint, he left the city and went back to the Holy Mountain without any trouble.
A local Christian woman, who had been suffering from severe headaches for many years, prayed to Saint Pachomius and asked for his help. She placed some of his blood on her head, and she was healed. She wrote to the monks on Mount Athos, asking them to paint an icon of the martyr for her. Since they had known him when he lived there, they remembered how he looked, and were able to paint the icon. The woman received the icon, and reverently honored the memory of Saint Pachomius every year on the anniversary of his martyrdom.
Later, his holy relics were taken to the Monastery of Saint John on the island of Patmos. On January 26, 1953 the Monastery of Saint John gave a piece of the relics of Saint Pachomius to the Monastery of Saint Paul on Mount Athos, where the saint had lived for a time.
Through the prayers of the holy New Martyr Pachomius, may we also be accounted worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Icon of the Mother of God of Zhirovits
The Zhirovits Icon of the Mother of God appeared in the year 1470 in the vicinity of Zhirovits on the Grodnensk frontier. In the forest, belonging to the Orthodox Lithuanian dignitary Alexander Solton, shepherds beheld an extraordinarily bright light, while peering through the branches of a pear tree that stood over a brook at the foot of a hill. The shepherds came closer and saw a radiant icon of the Mother of God on the tree. With reverence, the shepherds took the icon to Alexander Solton. Alexander Solton did not pay any attention to the report of the shepherds, but he took the icon and placed it in a chest.
On the following day Solton had guests, and he wanted to show them what had been found. To his amazement, he did not find the icon in the chest, although he had seen it shortly before this. After a certain time the shepherds again found the icon in the same place, and again they brought it to Alexander Solton. This time, however, he received the icon with great reverence and vowed to build a church in honor of the Most Holy Theotokos at the place of the icon’s discovery. Around the wooden church a settlement soon gathered and a parish was formed.
Around the year 1520 the church was completely burned, despite the efforts of the inhabitants to extinguish the blaze and save the icon. Everyone thought that the icon had been destroyed. However, some peasant children returning from school beheld a miraculous vision. The Virgin, extraordinarily beautiful and radiant, sat upon a stone at the burned church, and in Her hands was the icon which everyone believed had been destroyed. The children did not dare approach Her, but they hastened to tell their relatives and acquaintances about the vision.
Everyone accepted the story about the vision as a divine revelation and they went to the hill with the priest.The Zhirovits Icon of the Mother of God, totally unharmed by the fire, stood on a stone with a burning candle before it. For awhile they placed the icon in the priest’s house, and the stone was fenced in. When they built a stone church, they placed the wonderworking icon there. A men’s monastery later grew up around the church. Its brethren headed the struggle for Orthodoxy against the Unia and Latinism.
In 1609, the monastery was seized by the Uniates and remained in their hands until 1839. During this time the Zhirovits Icon of the Mother of God was venerated by both Uniates and Catholics. In 1839, the monastery was returned to the Orthodox and became the first place where Orthodox services were restored on the West Russian frontier.
During the First World War, they brought the Zhirovits Icon of the Mother of God to Moscow, and at the beginning of the 1920s it was returned to the monastery. At present it is in the Dormition cathedral of the Zhirovits monastery, Minsk diocese, and it is deeply revered for its grace-filled help. The icon was carved in stone and measured 43×56 cm.
Icon of the Mother of God of Lubech
The Lubech Icon of the Mother of God received its name from the city of Lubech, on the outskirts of Chernigov. The icon manifested itself during the eleventh century. The miracles of this icon were described by Saint Demetrius of Rostov. In 1653, when an invasion of the Poles against Lubech was imminent, they sent the icon to Kiev. In 1701 after the restoration, they returned the icon to the Lubech church in honor of the Resurrection of Christ, and an exact copy was left in the cathedral of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) in Kiev.
Saint Akaki Asistavi of Georgia
No information available at this time.
Martyr Quadratus and his companions
No information available at this time.