5TH FRIDAY AFTER PASCHA
The Holy Hieromartyr Helladius, John the Russian of Evia, Theodora the Virgin-martyr & Didymos the Martyr, Venerable Bede
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 15:5-12
IN THOSE DAYS, some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up, and said, "it is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses." The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them, "Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will." And all the assembly kept silence; and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
The Lord said to the Jews who came to him, "For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father."
There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. Many of them said, "He has a demon, and he is mad; why listen to him?" Others said, "These are not the sayings of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?
It was the feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered round him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life.
The Hieromartyr Therapon, Bishop of Sardis suffered for Christ during the third century (the city of Sardis was in Lydia, Asia Minor). In fulfilling his priestly service, Saint Therapon enlightened many of the pagan Greeks with the light of the Christian Faith and baptized them. For this, he was brought to trial before the governor Julian and fearlessly declared himself a Christian bishop.
They threw him into prison, where he languished with hunger and thirst, and then they gave him over to cruel tortures. These torments did not break the saint’s valiant confession of faith. They led the saint off in chains to the city of Sinaion in Phrygia, and then to Ancyra.
In these cities they tortured him again. They took him to the River Astala, where they stretched him naked upon the ground, fastened to four stakes, and fiercely beat him. After this torture, they took the passion-bearer to the outskirts of the Satalia diocese, part of the Sardis metropolitanate, and here after long beatings Saint Therapon ended his martyric contest.
The stakes to which the saint had been tied, and which were soaked with his blood, put forth green shoots and grew into large trees, whose leaves were found to have curative powers. Many people received healing through them.
Saint Nilus of Stolobensk reposed on December 7, 1554 (see his Life under December 7).
Many years afterwards, hieromonk Germanus came to the island of Lake Seliger, where the holy ascetic had struggled, and immediately after him the hill-dweller and wanderer Boris. They settled together on the island and built a church in honor of the Theophany, with a chapel dedicated to Saint Basil of Moscow (August 2).
On the site where Saint Nilus had struggled, a monastery named for him was built. An icon of Saint Nilus was painted by the monks of the Orshin monastery, and numerous miracles of healings of the sick began to occur at the saint’s grave.
Later, Saint Nectarius, Archbishop of Sibirsk and Tobolsk lived at the monastery, and he decided to build a stone church to replace the former wooden one. When the foundations were dug, the earth crumbled away and revealed the incorrupt relics of Saint Nilus. The Uncovering of the Relics occurred on May 27, 1667, and a Feast day was established in honor of the event.
The Holy Confessor John the Russian was born in Little Russia around 1690, and was raised in piety and love for the Church of God. Upon attaining the age of maturity he was called to military service, and he served as a simple soldier in the army of Peter I and took part in the Russo-Turkish War. During the Prutsk Campaign of 1711 he and other soldiers were captured by the Tatars, who handed him over to the commander of the Turkish cavalry. He took his Russian captive home with him to Asia Minor, to the village of Prokopion.
The Turks tried to convert the Christian soldiers to the Moslem faith with threats and flattery, but those who resisted were beaten and tortured. Some, alas, denied Christ and became Moslems, hoping to improve their lot. Saint John was not swayed by the promise of earthly delights, and he bravely endured the humiliation and beatings.
His master tortured him often in the hope that his slave would accept Islam. Saint John resolutely resisted the will of his master saying, “You cannot turn me from my holy Faith by threats, nor with promises of riches and pleasures. I will obey your orders willingly, if you will leave me free to follow my religion. I would rather surrender my head to you than to change my faith. I was born a Christian, and I shall die a Christian.”
Saint John’s bold words and firm faith, as well as his humility and meekness, finally softened the fierce heart of his master. He left John in peace, and no longer tried to make him renounce Christianity. The saint lived in the stable and took care of his master’s animals, rejoicing because his bed was a manger such as the one in which the Savior was born.
From morning until late evening the saint served his Turkish master, fulfilling all his commands. He performed his duties in the winter cold and summer heat, half naked and barefoot. Other slaves frequently mocked him, seeing his zeal. Saint John never became angry with them, but on the contrary, he helped them when he could, and comforted them in their misfortune.
The saint’s kindness and gentle nature had its effect on the souls of both the master and the slaves. The Agha and his wife came to love him, and offered him a small room near the hayloft. Saint John did not accept it, preferring to remain in the stable with the animals. Here he slept on the hay, covered only by an old coat. So the stable became his hermitage, where he prayed and chanted Psalms.
Saint John brought a blessing to his master simply by living in his household. The cavalry officer became rich, and was soon one of the most powerful men in Prokopion. He knew very well why his home had been blessed, and he did not hesitate to tell others.
Sometimes Saint John left the stable at night and went to the church of the Great Martyr George, where he kept vigil in the narthex. On Saturdays and Feast days, he received the Holy Mysteries of Christ.
During this time Saint John continued to serve his master as before, and despite his own poverty, he always helped the needy and the sick, and shared his meager food with them.
One day, the officer left Prokopion and went to Mecca on pilgrimage. A few days later, his wife gave a banquet and invited her husband’s friends and relatives, asking them to pray for her husband’s safe return. Saint John served at the table, and he put down a dish of pilaf, his master’s favorite food. The hostess said, “How much pleasure your master would have if he could be here to eat this pilaf with us.” Saint John asked for a dish of pilaf, saying that he would send it to his master in Mecca. The guests laughed when they heard his words. The mistress, however, ordered the cook to give him a dish of pilaf, thinking he would eat it himself, or give it to some poor family.
Taking the dish, Saint John went into the stable and prayed that God would send it to his master. He had no doubt that God would send the pilaf to his master in a supernatual manner. The plate disappeared before his eyes, and he went into the house to tell his mistress that he had sent the pilaf to his master.
After some time, the master returned home with the copper plate which had held the pilaf. He told his household that on a certain day (the very day of the banquet), he returned from the mosque to the home where he was staying. Although the room was locked, he found a plate of steaming pilaf on the table. Unable to explain who had brought the food, or how anyone could enter the locked room, the officer examined the plate. To his amazement, he saw his own name engraved on the copper plate. In spite of his confusion, he ate the meal with great relish.
When the officer’s family heard this story, they marveled. His wife told him of how John had asked for a plate of pilaf to send to his master in Mecca, and how they all laughed when John came back and said that it had been sent. Now they saw that what the saint had said was true (Compare the story of Habakkuk, who miraculously brought a dish of pottage to Daniel in the lions’ den [Dan. 14:33-39], in the Septuagint).
Toward the end of his difficult life Saint John fell ill, and sensed the nearness of his end. He summoned the priest so that he could receive Holy Communion. The priest, fearing to go to the residence of the Turkish commander openly with the Holy Gifts, enclosed the life-giving Mysteries in an apple and brought them to Saint John.
Saint John glorified the Lord, received the Body and Blood of Christ, and then reposed. The holy Confessor John the Russian went to the Lord Whom he loved on May 27, 1730. When they reported to the master that his servant John had died, he summoned the priests and gave them the body of Saint John for Christian burial. Almost all the Christian inhabitants of Prokopion came to the funeral, and they accompanied the body of the saint to the Christian cemetery.
Three and a half years later the priest was miraculously informed in a dream that the relics of Saint John had remained incorrupt. Soon the relics of the saint were transferred to the church of the holy Great Martyr George and placed in a special reliquary. The new saint of God began to be glorified by countless miracles of grace, accounts of which spread to the remote cities and villages. Christian believers from various places came to Prokopion to venerate the holy relics of Saint John the Russian and they received healing through his prayers. The new saint came to be venerated not only by Orthodox Christians, but also by Armenians, and even Turks, who prayed to the Russian saint, “Servant of God, in your mercy, do not disdain us.”
In the year 1881 a portion of the relics of Saint John were transferred to the Russian monastery of the holy Great Martyr Panteleimon by the monks of Mount Athos, after they were miraculously saved by the saint during a dangerous journey.
Construction of a new church was begun in 1886, through the contributions of the monastery and the inhabitants of Prokopion. This was necessary because the church of the holy Great Martyr George, where the relics of Saint John were enshrined, had fallen into disrepair.
On August 15, 1898 the new church dedicated to Saint John the Russian was consecrated by the Metropolitan John of Caesarea, with the blessing of the Ecumenical Patriarch Constantine V.
In 1924, an exchange of the populations of Greece and Turkey took place. Many Moslems moved out of Greece, and many Christians moved out of Turkey. The inhabitants of Prokopion, when they moved to the island of Euboia, took with them part of the relics of Saint John the Russian.
For several decades the relics were in the church of Saints Constantine and Helen at New Prokopion on Euboia, and in 1951 they were transferred into a new church dedicated to Saint John the Russian. Thousands of pilgrims flocked here from all the corners of Greece, particularly on his Feast, May 27. Saint John the Russian is widely venerated on Mount Athos, particularly in the Russian monastery of Saint Panteleimon.
Saint John’s help is sought by travelers, and by those transporting things.
Saint Therapon of White Lake, Wonderworker of Luzhetsk, in the world Theodore, was born in the year 1337 at Volokolamsk into the noble Poskochin family. From his childhood, he was raised in faith and piety, which he displayed throughout his life as a holy ascetic.
At the age of forty he was tonsured a monk by the igumen of Moscow’s Simonov monastery, Saint Theodore, a nephew of Saint Sergius (November 28). As a monk in this monastery Therapon became close to Saint Cyril of White Lake (June 9). Together they passed through their ascetic struggles of prayer and fasting. They were under the spiritual guidance of Saint Sergius of Radonezh (September 25 and July 5), who visited the monastery to instruct the brethren. Saint Therapon went north, to the frontier of White Lake, on monastery matters. The harsh northern land attracted the ascetic, and he decided to remain there for his ascetic endeavors.
After returning with Saint Cyril, to whom the Mother of God had appeared, also ordering him to go to the north, Saint Therapon received the blessing of the igumen to go to White Lake. For a while the ascetics lived together in a cell that they had built, but later and by mutual consent, Saint Therapon moved to another place fifteen versts away from Cyril, between two lakes, Borodava and Pava.
Having cleared a small plot for a garden, and building a cell in the deep forest near a river, Saint Therapon continued his ascetic efforts as a hermit in silence. At first he endured much deprivation and tribulation in his solitude. More than once he was set upon by robbers, who tried to chase away or even kill the ascetic. In time monks began to gather to the saint, and the wilderness place was gradually transformed into a monastery, afterwards called the Theraponov.
In 1398 Saint Therapon built a wooden church in honor of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos, and the monastery was gradually set in order. The monks toiled together with their saintly guide building cells, copying books, and adorning the church. (At the end of the fifteenth century on the place of the former wooden church a stone cathedral was built in honor of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos. It was painted in the years 1500-1501 by the renowned Russian iconographer Dionysius and his sons, Vladimir and Theodosius. The frescoes are devoted to the Praise of the Most Holy Theotokos. The unique frescoes of the Saint Therapon monastery have been preserved up to the present time and are an outstanding memorial of Russian church art and painting, having world significance).
A cenobitic monastic rule was introduced at the monastery, strictly observed by the monks. Saint Therapon declined to head the monastery out of humility, and instead entrusted the position of igumen to one of his disciples. The holy ascetic, endowed with the gift of counsel, turned to his friend, Saint Cyril of White Lake for spiritual guidance just as before. News about the ascetic deeds of the saint spread far beyond the White Lake frontier.
At the beginning of the fifteenth century, the lands on which the Saint Cyril and Saint Therapon monasteries were built, were part of the holdings of the Mozhaisk prince Andrew (1382-1432), son of Great Prince Demetrius Donskoy (1363-1389). In the year 1408 Prince Andrew Dimitrievich, learning of the high level of spiritual life of the White Lake ascetic, asked the monastic Elder Therapon to establish a monastery in the city of Mozhaisk.
It was difficult for the saint to leave his own monastery, where he had labored for more than ten years. Saint Therapon was met at Mozhaisk with great honor. Soon, not far from Mozhaisk, in the locality of Lushko, Saint Therapon founded his second monastery on a hilly part of the right bank of the Moscow River. Its chief temple was in honor of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos, in memory of the White Lake monastery. Prince Andrew, esteeming the saint for his true humility, provided generous help in the construction and establishment of the monastery. With the blessing of Saint Photius, Metropolitan of Moscow (July 2 and May 27), the monastery was to be headed by an archimandrite, and Saint Therapon was elevated to the rank of archimandrite.
Saint Therapon dwelt at this new monastery for eighteen years. He reposed at an advanced age, on May 27, 1426. His body was buried at the north wall of the cathedral of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos. Over his grave a church was built in honor of Saint John of the Ladder (March 30), and renamed in 1730 for Saint Therapon.
Veneration of the saint began soon after his death. In 1514, the incorrupt relics of the holy ascetic were uncovered and glorified by numerous miracles. After the Moscow Council of 1547 the canonization of Saint Therapon of Mozhaisk took place after the igumen of the Saint Therapon monastery brought to Metropolitan Macarius (1543-1564) a Life of the saint.
Among the numerous disciples and conversers of Saint Sergius of Radonezh, the Russian Church venerates the memory of Saint Therapon, who in following the counsel of his great teacher and guide, combined the ascetic feats of silence and solitude with active service to his neighbor and the spiritual enlightenment of his Fatherland.
The memory of Saint Therapon is celebrated twice, May 27 (his repose in 1426), and December 27 (Uncovering of his relics, 1514).
The Uncovering and Transfer of Relics of Holy Hierarchs Cyprian, Photius and Jonah occured on May 27, 1472 during the construction of the new stone Dormition cathedral in the Kremlin, under Metropolitan Philip (January 9) and Great Prince Ivan III (1462-1505). The saints are also commemorated separately: Metropolitan Cyprian (September 16), Metropolitan Photius (July 2), Metropolitan Jonah (March 31).
Saint Therapon of Monza (+ 1597): Today the holy ascetic’s namesake Saint Therapon of Sardis is celebrated. See account of Saint Therapon under December 12, the day of his repose.
The Holy Martyrs Theodora the Virgin and Didymus the Soldier suffered for Christ during the persecution against Christians under the emperor Diocletian (284-305), in the city of Alexandria in either the year 303 or 304.
The Virgin Martyr Theodora, standing trial before the prefect Eustratius of Alexandria, bravely confessed herself a Christian. When the prefect asked why she had not married, the saint replied that she had dedicated herself to God, and had resolved to remain a virgin for the name of Christ.
Eustratius ordered the holy virgin to be taken to prison, giving her three days to make up her mind, and he threatened to have her taken to a brothel if she persisted in her disobedience. Brought again to trial three days later, Saint Theodora remained as resolute in her faith as before.
The saint was taken to the brothel, where dissolute youths began to argue which of them should be the first to have her. At this moment the Christian Didymus, dressed in soldier’s garb, entered the brothel without hindrance. He chased the frightened profligates out and saved the holy virgin, giving her his clothes so she could escape.
Upon learning what had happened, Eustratius interrogated Saint Didymus. Brought before the angry judge, Saint Didymus told how he had set the holy virgin free, and for this he was sentenced to death. Saint Theodora appeared at the place of execution, and said that she wanted to die with Saint Didymus. The prefect gave orders to execute both of them . The first to bend the neck beneath the sword was the holy martyr Theodora, and then the holy Martyr Didymus. The bodies of the martyrs were then burned.
Saint Bede was a church historian who recorded the history of Christianity in England up to his own time. He was probably born around 673 in Northumbria. We do not know exactly where he was born, but it is likely that it was somewhere near Jarrow.
When he was seven, Bede was sent to Saint Benedict Biscop (January 12) at the monastery of Saint Peter at Wearmouth to be educated and raised. Then he was sent to the new monastery of Saint Paul founded at Jarrow in 682, where he remained until his death. There he was guided by the abbot Saint Ceolfrith (September 25), who succeeded Saint Benedict in 690, ruling both Wearmouth and Jarrow.
There is an incident in the anonymous Life of Ceolfrith which may refer to the young Bede. A plague swept through Ceolfrith’s monastery in 686, taking most of the monks who sang in the choir for the church services. Only the abbot and a young boy raised and educated by him remained. This young boy “is now a priest of the same monastery and commends the abbot’s admirable deeds both verbally and in writing to all who desire to learn them.”
Grieved by this catastrophe, Ceolfrith decided that they should sing the Psalms without antiphons, except at Matins and Vespers. After a week of this, he went back to chanting the antiphons in their proper place. With the help of the boy and the surviving monks, the services were performed with difficulty until other monks could be brought in and trained to sing.
Saint Bede was ordained as a deacon when he was nineteen, and to the holy priesthood at the age of thirty by Saint John of Beverley (May 7), the holy Bishop of Hexham (687), and later (705) of York. Bede had a great love for the church services, and believed that since the angels were present with the monks during the services, that he should also be there. “What if they do not find me among the brethren when they assemble? Will they not say, ‘Where is Bede?’
Bede began as a pupil of Saint Benedict Biscop, who had been a monk of the famous monastery at Lerins, and had founded monasteries himself. Saint Benedict had brought many books with him to England from Lerins and from other European monasteries. This library enabled Bede to write his own books, which include biblical commentary, ecclesiastical history, and hagiography.
Bede was not an objective historian. He is squarely on the Roman side in the debate with Celtic Christianity, for example. He was, however, fair and thorough. His books, derived from “ancient documents, from the traditions of our ancestors, and from my own personal knowledge” (Book V, 24) give us great insight into the religious and secular life of early Britain. To read Saint Bede is to enter a world shaped by spiritual traditions very similar to those cherished by Orthodox Christians. These saints engage in the same heroic asceticism shown by saints in the East, and their holiness fills us with love and admiration. Christians were expected to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, and there was a forty day Nativity Fast (Book IV, 30).
Saint Bede became ill in 735. For about two weeks before Pascha, he was weak and had trouble breathing, but experienced little pain. He remained cheerful and gave daily lessons to his students, then spent the rest of the day singing Psalms and giving thanks to God. He would often quote the words of Saint Ambrose, “I have not lived in such a way that I am ashamed to live among you, and I do not fear to die, for God is gracious” (Paulinus, Life of Saint Ambrose, Ch. 45).
In addition to giving daily lessons and chanting the Psalms, Saint Bede was also working on an Anglo-Saxon translation of the Gospel of Saint John, and also a book of extracts from the writings of Saint Isidore of Seville (April 4). On the Tuesday before the Feast of the Lord’s Ascension, the saint’s breathing became more labored, and his feet began to swell. “Learn quickly,” he told those who were taking dictation from him, “for I do not know how long I can continue. The Lord may call me in a short while.”
After a sleepless night, Saint Bede continued his dictation on Wednesday morning. At the Third Hour, there was a procession with the relics of the saints in the monastery, and the brethren went to attend this service, leaving a monk named Wilbert with Bede. The monk reminded him that there remained one more chapter to be written in the book which he was dictating. Wilbert was reluctant to disturb the dying Bede, however. Saint Bede said, “It is no trouble. Take your pen and write quickly.”
At the Ninth Hour, Bede paused and told Wilbert that he had some items in his chest, such as pepper, incense, and linen. He asked the monk to bring the priests of the monastery so that he could distribute these items to them. When they arrived, he spoke to each of them in turn, requesting them to pray for him and to remember him in the services. Then he said, “The time of my departure is at hand, and my soul longs to see Christ my King in His beauty.”
That evening, Wilbert said to him, “Dear Master, there is one sentence left unfinished.”
Bede said, “Very well, write it down.”
Then the young monk said, “It is finished now.”
Saint Bede replied, “You have spoken truly, it is well finished.” Then he asked Wilbert to raise his head so that he could see the church where he used to pray. After chanting, “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit” to its ending, Saint Bede fell asleep in the Lord Whom he had loved.
Although Saint Bede reposed on May 25, the eve of the Ascension, he is commemorated on the 27th, since the Feast of Saint Augustine of Canterbury is appointed for the 26th. His body was first buried in the south porch of the monastery church, then later transferred to a place near the altar. Today his holy relics lie in Durham Cathedral, in the Galilee chapel. Saint Bede is the only Englishman mentioned by Dante in the DIVINE COMEDY (Paradiso).
Saint Basil, the son of King Bagrat III, lived in the 11th century and labored at Khakhuli Monastery (in southwestern Georgia, present-day Turkey). He was a major figure in the spiritual and educational life of southern Georgia.
The famous 19th-century scholar Prince John Bagrationi describes Saint Basil in his work Kalmasoba: (the tradition of monks journeying throughout the land to collect alms for the Church. In his book Prince John follows a fictional monk traveling throughout the country on kalmasoba. With this literary device he describes the contemporary situation, the life of the people, diverse branches of knowledge, and Georgian literature and folk culture, creating a veritable Georgian encyclopedia.) “Basil Bagrationi was highly educated in philosophy and theology. He was fluent in several languages and translated many books. He was the composer of many distinguished rhetorical works. Perfected in the monastic life and in the spiritual learning of the Church, our Holy Father Basil was known among the people as the ‘Jewel of the Georgian Church.’”
The 18th-century historian and geographer Prince Vakhushti Bagrationi examined the cultural development of Georgia during the rule of King Bagrat IV in his book The Ancient History of Georgia, and Basil is among the major Church figures he mentions: “The great translators of the time were Basil, son of Bagrat….” In his work The Life of Saint Giorgi of the Holy Mountain, Giorgi the Lesser recalls the pious laborer of Khakhuli Monastery: “The great Basil, son of King Bagrat III, shepherd and enlightener of our country at that time.”
Saint Basil eventually moved from Georgia to Mt. Athos and labored there until his death. It was there that he composed his “Praises to Holy Father Ekvtime.”
Saint Michael of Parekhi was a native of the village of Norgiali in the Shavsheti region of southern Georgia. He was tonsured a monk in the Midznadzori Wilderness.
Fr. Michael journeyed to Khandzta Monastery, and with the blessing of the brotherhood, he built a small chapel and dwelling for the monks nearby. Built in a cave on the side of a cliff, Saint Michael’s establishment was difficult to reach (the new monastery was called “Parekhi,” or “Cave”). God was pleased with his good works, and He granted Saint Michael the gift of working wonders. In a divine revelation, Saint Michael was instructed to send his disciples Serapion and John to the region of Samtskhe. There they established a beautiful monastery in the village of Zarzma.
After some time Father Michael abandoned his cell and settled at the top of a large boulder. Once the devil caused him to stumble off the rock, but the Lord protected him and he remained unharmed.
Frightened by the incident, Michael sent his disciples to bring Saint Gregory of Khandzta, and he related to him all that had happened. The blessed Gregory assuaged his brother’s fears, erected a cross on either side of Michael’s cell, and told him, “These two crosses of Christ will protect you, and the mercy of the Most Holy Trinity and the Precious Cross will be upon you.”
Saint Michael lived to an old age, and he was buried at Parekhi Monastery. Many faithful pilgrims who have visited his grave have been healed of their infirmities.
According to Basil of Zarzma, Saint Michael’s disciples wrote accounts of his labors, wisdom, and miracles after his repose, but these works have unfortunately not been preserved. What we know about the life of Saint Michael of Parekhi was preserved in the hagiographical writings of the 10th and 11th centuries.