4TH WEDNESDAY AFTER PASCHA – MID-PENTECOST
4th Wednesday after Pascha – Mid-Pentecost, Holy Martyrs: Peter, Dionysius, Andrew, Paul, Christina, Heraclius, Paulinus and Benedimus, Stephen I, Patriarch of Constantinople, Julian the Martyr, Euphrasia the Martyr of Nicea
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 14:6-18
In those days, the apostles fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country; and there they preached the gospel. Now at Lystra there was a man sitting, who could not use his feet; he was a cripple from birth, who had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking; and Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and walked. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, because he was the chief speaker, they called Hermes. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the people. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out among the multitude, crying, “Men, why are you doing this? We also are men, of like nature with you, and bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways; yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” With these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.
About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. The Jews marveled at it saying, "How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?" So Jesus answered them, "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me; if any man's will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teacher is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. He who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is not falsehood. Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?" The people answered, "You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?" Jesus answered them, "I did one deed, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man upon the sabbath. If on the sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the sabbath I made a man's whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.
Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, "Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? Yet we know where this man comes from; and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from." So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, "You know me, and you know where I come from? But I have not come of my own accord; he who sent me is true, and him you do not know. I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me." So they sought to arrest him; but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come.
Today’s celebration is the midpoint of the fifty days between the Feasts of Pascha and Pentecost. Saint John tells us (John 7:14) that “in the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the Temple, and taught.” The Feast in question is the Feast of Tabernacles (celebrated in September), not Pentecost.
The Church has appointed John 7:14-30 to be read for the Midfeast, thereby linking Pascha and Pentecost. In Chapter 8 of Saint John’s Gospel, the Lord came to the Temple again and taught the people who came to Him. After leaving the Temple, he encounters the man born blind. We will hear about him on the Sunday of the Blind Man.
The Troparion of the Midfeast (“In the middle of the Feast, O Savior, fill my thirsting soul with the waters of godliness, as Thou didst cry to all: If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink [John 7:37]. O Christ God, Fountain of our life, glory to Thee!”) hints at the encounter of Christ and the Samaritan Woman in just a few days.
Today we perform the Lesser Blessing of Water, and the Blessing of Fields.
The Holy Martyr Theodotus and the Holy Seven Virgins Tecusa, Phaine, Claudia, Matrona, Julia, Alexandra and Euphrasia lived during the second half of the third century in the city of Ancyra, Galatia, and died as martyrs for Christ at the beginning of the fourth century. Saint Theodotus was an innkeeper and was married.
Theoteknos, prefect of Ancyra, issued a proclamation informing Christians that they were obliged to offer sacrifice to idols, and if they refused, they would be tortured and killed. Pagans would deliver Christians over to torture, and then divide up their property.
Theodotus was not afraid to bury the remains of holy martyrs, either carrying them off secretly or ransoming them from the soldiers. When the Christian churches at Ancyra were destroyed and closed, the Divine Liturgy was celebrated in his inn. Knowing that martyrdom awaited him, Saint Theodotus predicted to the priest Phrontonos that soon they would bring him the relics of martyrs, at a place chosen by both of them. In surety of his words, Saint Theodotus gave the priest his ring.
At this time, seven holy virgins died for Christ. The eldest, Saint Tecusa, was the aunt of Saint Theodotus. The holy virgins Tecusa, Phaine, Claudia, Matrona, Julia, Alexandra and Euphrasia had dedicated themselves to God from their youth, living in constant prayer, fasting, temperance and good deeds. All of them had attained to an advanced age.
Brought to trial as Christians, the holy virgins bravely confessed their faith in Christ before Theoteknos and were given over to torture, yet remained steadfast. The prefect then gave them to shameless youths for defilement. The holy virgins prayed intensely, asking help from God. Saint Tecusa fell down at the feet of a youth, and pushing back her veil she showed him her grey hair. The young men were startled, and ran off weeping. The prefect then ordered that the saints take part in offering sacrifice to the idols, but again the holy virgins refused. For this they were sentenced to death. A heavy stone was tied to the legs of each, and all seven of the holy virgins were drowned in a lake.
On the following night Saint Tecusa appeared in a dream to Saint Theodotus, asking him to take her body and give it Christian burial. Saint Theodotus, taking with him his friend Polychronius and several other Christians, went to the lake. It was dark, and a torch illumined their way. The holy martyr Sosander appeared in front of the guard who was posted by the pagans at the shore of the lake. The frightened guard ran off in terror.
The Christians found the bodies of the holy martyrs and carried them to church, where they were buried. Learning that the bodies of the holy martyrs had been stolen, the prefect flew into a rage and gave orders to arrest all Christians and torture them. Polychronius also was seized. Unable to endure the torture, he accused Saint Theodotus of stealing the bodies. Saint Theodotus was prepared to die for Christ. Speaking with other Christians, he bequeathed his body to the priest Phrontonos, to whom he had given his ring.
The account of the life and martyrdom of Saint Theodotus and the suffering of the holy virgins was compiled by Nilus, a contemporary and companion of Saint Theodotus. Nilus lived in the city of Ancyra during the persecution of Christians under the emperor Diocletian, and witnessed the saint’s death.
Saint Theodotus is also commemorated on June 7.
The Holy Martyrs Peter, Dionysius, Andrew, Paul, and Christina suffered under emperor Decius (249-251). Peter suffered in the city of Lampsaka. Brought to trial before the prefect Optimines, he bravely confessed his faith in Christ. They tried to force the youth to deny the Lord and worship the goddess Venus. The martyr refused to do this, declaring for everyone to hear, that a Christian would not bow to the idol of a lecherous woman.
Saint Peter was subjected to fierce tortures, but he endured them with courage, giving thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ for giving him His all-powerful help. Then he was beheaded.
Dionysius, Nikomachus, and two soldiers, Andrew and Paul, who had been transferred from Mesopotamia, were put on trial. They all confessed their faith in Christ and refused to offer sacrifice to idols, so they were tortured. To the great sorrow of all the Christians, Nikomachus did not persevere. He denied the Lord Jesus Christ, and entered a pagan temple to offer sacrifice. He fell down in a terrible frenzy and died foaming at the mouth, tearing the skin from his body with his teeth.
On the following morning, Saints Dionysius, Andrew and Paul were again brought before the prefect. For confessing faith in Christ they were given to the pagans to be put to death. They bound the saints by the feet, dragged them to the place of execution, and stoned them to death.
Saint Christina watched the trial of Dionysius, Nikomachus, Andrew, and Paul, and all that happened. The sixteen-year-old Christina shouted, “Nikomachus, you cursed and lost man! Instead of enduring pain for a single hour, you have made yourself worthy of eternal torment!” The prefect gave orders to seize the holy virgin. Learning that she was a Christian, he gave her to dissolute men for their pleasure.
An angel appeared at the house where they had taken the holy virgin. Frightened by his terrible visage, the men tearfully begged the holy virgin’s forgiveness and asked her to pray that the Lord’s chastisement might not befall them. She was then beheaded by order of the prefect.
The Holy Martyrs Simeon, Isaac and Bachtisius were Christians and lived during the third century in Persia under the emperor Sapor, a fierce persecutor of Christians. They tried to force the saints to deny Christ and be converted to fire-worship. They refused and said, “We will not turn away from the Creator of all, and we will not worship fire or the sun.”
They cruelly tortured the holy martyrs, then threw them into prison, where they were not given food for seven days. Finally, the martyrs were beheaded.
The Holy Martyrs Heraclius, Paulinus and Benedimus suffered for Christ in the city of Athens. They taught the pagans about Christ and urged them to abandon the worship of senseless idols. These chosen vessels of God were brought to trial with their followers who had discerned the true path. After many torments they were thrown into a fiery oven, in which they surrendered their souls to God.
The holy martyrs David and Tarichan were born to Vardan and Tagine, pious Christians and relatives of the king. Vardan died while his sons were still young, and Tagine’s pagan brother Theodosius seized all the family’s possessions.
Concerned that the brothers would eventually claim their legal inheritance, Theodosius resolved to convert his sister and nephews to his own creed. “Leave behind the Faith of the crucified Christ and receive mine and I will adopt your children,” he told Tagine. But Tagine firmly guarded the family against her brother’s evil intent. “It is enough that you have seized my sons’ estate,” she said. “But you cannot seize the inheritance they will receive from their Father in heaven!”
Theodosius was thwarted by his sister’s resoluteness. So instead, he tried to convert his nephews directly. He called them, embraced them warmly, and tempted them with sweets. “Now you are my sons, and everything I have belongs to you,” he told them. “Trust me like obedient sons of a beloved father. Turn from the Faith of your father, and I will show you a better way!”
After a brief silence, the holy youths answered, “We are perfectly content with our father’s Faith and will remain loyal to this Faith until the day our souls depart from our flesh. We are prepared to suffer everything for the love of our Lord and Heavenly Father!”
Theodosius dared not try to sway his nephews since he feared the revenge of the Christian community, so he left them in peace and plotted to murder them in secret. But Tagine sensed that danger was near and escaped with her sons to the region of Tao in the south.
From his spies Theodosius learned that the brothers were now herding sheep at the top of a mountain, and he ordered an ambush. But the brothers heard the noise and saw the armed soldiers before they attacked. David rejoiced upon seeing his uncle and ran toward him, but Theodosius stabbed him before he could embrace him. The holy martyr released his staff from his hand, and when it fell to the ground it was miraculously transformed into a large tree. Two hundred years later a group of Christians chopped the tree down and divided the holy wood among themselves.
Having just witnessed his own brother’s murder, Tarichan raced toward the village of Divri for help. But his pursuers overtook him, stabbed him to death, and ran off. When they returned to Theodosius, they saw that God had punished him by taking away his sight. The soldiers were stunned, and they could neither utter a word nor move from the place of this miracle. After some time Theodosius’ eyes filled with bitter tears, and he was finally moved to repentance.
At first Tagine denounced her brother in a rage, and those who heard the cries of the inconsolable mother wept along with her. But while she was stroking the lifeless bodies of her sons, Theodosius turned to her, saying, “On you has shone the Inextinguishable Light from the Unapproachable and True Light, the Eternal Light. Pray to the holy martyrs that the Lord have mercy on me and make me, the unworthy, worthy of the seal of Christ, the All-merciful God, Who came into the world. Indeed, He is the One True God!” When Tagine heard these words, she recognized that God had received her sons as a holy sacrifice. Filled with new joy, she told her brother, “May God forgive you the murder of my sons!”
Then she took a piece of the earth that had been stained by her son David’s blood and anointed her brother’s eyes. Immediately his sight was restored.
This happened in the year 693. As a witness to the sanctity of His martyrs, our God, Who loves mankind, illumined their bodies with a radiant light each evening when night fell.
Theodosius repented before the catholicos himself. He was baptized into the Christian Faith and erected a church in honor of his nephew Saint David. The mayor of Divri took Saint Tarichan’s holy relics and built a church over them in his name. Blessed Tagine began a new life in the village of Tadzarani and later reposed there.