7TH THURSDAY AFTER PASCHA
Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, 3 Virgin-martyrs of Chios, 5 Nuns beheaded in Persia: Thecla, Mariamne, Martha, Mary, & Enmatha, Righteous Father Columba of Iona, Righteous Father Cyril of Belozersk
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 25:13-19
IN THOSE DAYS, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to welcome Festus. And as they stayed there many days, Festus laid Paul's case before the king, saying, "There is a man left prisoner by Felix; and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews gave information about him, asking for sentence against him. I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up any one before the accused met the accusers face to face, and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him. When therefore they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought in. When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed; but they had certain points of dispute with him about their own superstition and about one Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive.
The Lord said to his disciples, "Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name. Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
I have said this to you in figures; the hour is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in figures but tell you plainly of the Father. In that day you will ask in my name; and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from the Father. I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father.
His disciples said, "Ah, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure! Now we know that you know all things, and need none to question you; by this we believe that you came from God." Jesus answered them, "Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, every man to his home, and will leave me alone; yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace.
Saint Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria
Saint Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria, a distinguished champion of Orthodoxy and a great teacher of the Church, came from an illustrious and pious Christian family. He studied the secular sciences, including philosophy, but most of all he strove to acquire knowledge of the Holy Scriptures and the truths of the Christian Faith. In his youth Cyril entered the monastery of Macarius in the Nitreia hills, where he stayed for six years. Theophilus (385-412), the Patriarch of Alexandria, ordained him as a deacon, numbered him among the clergy and entrusted him to preach.
Upon the death of Patriarch Theophilus, Cyril was unanimously chosen to the patriarchal throne of the Alexandrian Church. He led the struggle against the spread of the Novatian heresy in Alexandria, which taught that any Christian who had fallen away from the Church during a time of persecution, could not be received back into it.
Cyril, seeing the futility of admonishing the heretics, sought their expulsion from Alexandria. The Jews appeared a greater danger for the Church, repeatedly causing riots, accompanied by the brutal killing of Christians. The saint long contended with them. In order to wipe out the remnants of paganism, the saint cast out devils from an ancient pagan temple and built a church on the spot, and the relics of the Holy Unmercenaries Cyrus and John were transferred into it. A more difficult struggle awaited the saint with the emergence of the Nestorian heresy.
Nestorius, a presbyter of the Antiochian Church, was chosen in 428 to the see of Constantinople and there he was able to spread his heretical teaching against the dogma about the uncommingled union of two natures in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Nestorius called the Mother of God not the Theotokos, but rather Christotokos or “Birth-giver of Christ,” implying that she gave birth not to God, but only to the man Christ. The holy Patriarch Cyril repeatedly wrote to Nestorius and pointed out his error, but Nestorius continued to persevere in it. Then the saint sent out epistles against Nestorianism to the clergy of Constantinople and to the holy emperor Theodosius the Younger (408-450), denouncing the heresy. Cyril wrote also to other Churches, to Pope Celestine and to the other Patriarchs, and even to monks of several monasteries, warning of the emergence of a dangerous heresy.
Nestorius started an open persecution against the Orthodox. In his presence one of his partisans, Bishop Dorotheus, pronounced an anathema against anyone who would call the Most Holy Virgin Mary the Theotokos.
Nestorius hated Cyril and brought out against him every kind of slander and fabrication, calling him a heretic. The saint continued to defend Orthodoxy with all his powers. The situation became so aggravated, that it became necessary to call an Ecumenical Council, which convened in the city of Ephesus in the year 431. At the Council 200 bishops arrived from all the Christian Churches. Nestorius, awaiting the arrival of Bishop John of Antioch and other Syrian bishops, did not agree to the opening of the Council. But the Fathers of the Council began the sessions with Cyril presiding. Having examined the teaching of Nestorius, the Council condemned him as a heretic. Nestorius did not submit to the Council, and Bishop John opened a “robber council”, which decreed Cyril a heretic. The unrest increased. By order of the emperor, Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria and Archbishop Memnon of Ephesus were locked in prison, and Nestorius was deposed.
Soon Saints Cyril and Memnon were freed, and the sessions of the Council continued. Nestorius, not submitting himself to the determinations of the Council, was deprived of priestly rank. By order of the emperor he was sent to the faraway place Sasim in the Libyan wilderness, where he died in grievous torments. His tongue, having blasphemed the Mother of God, was overtaken by punishment — in it there developed worms. Even Bishop John of Antioch and the remaining Syrian bishops signed the decrees of the Council of Ephesus.
Cyril guided the Alexandrian Church for 32 years, and towards the end of his life the flock was cleansed of heretics. Gently and cautiously Cyril approached anyone, who by their own simpleness and lack of knowledge, fell into false wisdom. There was a certain Elder, an ascetic of profound life, who incorrectly considered the Old Testament Priest Melchizedek to be the Son of God. Cyril prayed for the Lord to reveal to the Elder the correct way to view the righteous one. After three days the Elder came to Cyril and said that the Lord had revealed to him that Melchizedek was a mere man.
Cyril learned to overcome his prejudice against the memory of the great John Chrysostom (November 13). Theophilus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, and uncle of Cyril, was an antagonist of John, and presided in a council in judgment of him. Cyril thus found himself in a circle antagonistic to John Chrysostom, and involuntarily acquired a prejudice against him. Isidore of Pelusium (February 4) repeatedly wrote to Cyril and urged him to include the name of the great Father of the Church into the diptychs of the saints, but Cyril would not agree.
Once in a dream he saw a wondrous temple, in which the Mother of God was surrounded by a host of angels and saints, in whose number was John Chrysostom. When Cyril wanted to approach the All-Holy Lady and venerate her, John Chrysostom would not let him. The Theotokos asked John to forgive Cyril for having sinned against him through ignorance. Seeing that John hesitated, the Mother of God said, “Forgive him for my sake, since he has labored much for my honor, and has glorified me among the people calling me Theotokos.” John answered, “By your intercession, Lady, I do forgive him,” and then he embraced Cyril with love.
Cyril repented that he had maintained anger against the great saint of God. Having convened all the Egyptian bishops, he celebrated a solemn feast in honor of John Chrysostom.
Cyril died in the year 444, leaving behind many works. In particular, the following ought to be mentioned: commentaries On the Gospel of Luke, On the Gospel of John, On the Epistles of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians and to the Hebrews; also an Apologia in Defense of Christianity against the Emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363). Of vast significance are his Five Books against Nestorius; a work on the Most Holy Trinity under the title Thesaurus, written against Arius and Eunomios. Also two dogmatic compositions on the Most Holy Trinity, distinguished by a precise exposition of the Orthodox teaching on the Procession of the Holy Spirit. Cyril wrote Against Anthropomorphism for several Egyptians, who through ignorance depicted God in human form. Among Cyril’s works are also the Discussions, among which is the moving and edifying Discourse on the Exodus of the Soul, inserted in the Slavonic “Following Psalter”.
Today we commemorate the repose of this great Father of the Church. He is also remembered on January 18, the date of his flight from Alexandria.
Venerable Cyril, Igoumen of White Lake
Saint Cyril, Igoumen of White Lake, (in the world Cosmas) was born in Moscow of pious parents. In his youth he was left an orphan and lived with his kinsman, the boyar (nobleman) Timothy Vasil’evich Vel’yaminov, in the surroundings of the court of the Great Prince Demetrius Donskoy (1363-1389). Secular life bored the youth. Knowing that Timothy would never consent to Cosmas to become a monk, Saint Stephen of Makhra (July 14), clothed him in the riasson and named him Cyril, leaving the rest to God's will.
Saint Stephen went to see Timothy, who was delighted by his visit. He met his guest at the door, asking for his blessing. The Saint replied, "Cyril, who entreats God for you, blesses you." The boyar asked who this Cyril was. Saint Stephen said, "Cosmas, your former kinsman, but now a monk laboring for the Lord, and praying for you."
At first, the boyar was very angry, and spoke harshly to Saint Stephen, who left the house. Timothy's wife reproached him for offending the Elder. The boyar repented and sent someone to ask him to return. Both men asked forgiveness of one another, and Timothy agreed to let Cosmas fulfill his heart's desire. Saint Stephen rejoiced, and told Cyril the good news. He gave away all his possessions to the poor, keeping nothing for himself.
Before returning to Makhra, Igoumen Stephen brought the new monk to Simonov Monastery, which had been established in a new place by Archimandrite Theodore (November 28), the nephew of Saint Sergius. He accepted Cyril into the Monastery and then tonsured him.
Cyril fulfilled his monastic obediences under the supervision of Elder Michael, who later became the Bishop of Smolensk. By night the Elder read the Psalter, and Cyril bowed and made prostrations, but at the first ringing of the bell, he went to the church for Matins.
He asked the Elder permission to partake of food every second or third day. The experienced Elder did not permit this, but blessed him instead to eat with the brethren, only not to the extent of satiety. Cyril fulfilled his obedience in the bakery: he carried water, chopped firewood, and distributed bread. When Saint Sergius of Radonezh came to the Simonov monastery to see his nephew Theodore, he would seek Cyril in the bakery and converse with him about spiritual matters before seeing anyone else.
After a while, Cyril was transferred from the bakery to the kitchen. He gazed into the burning fire and told himself, “Have patience, Cyril, so that by this fire you might save yourself from the eternal fire." Cyril toiled for nine years in the kitchen and God granted him such a tender heart that he was not able to eat the bread he baked without tears, and all the brethren regarded him not as a man, but as an Angel of God.
Fleeing the glory of man, he began to behave as a fool-for-Christ. As punishment for transgressing against propriety, the Superior of the monastery placed him on bread and water for forty days. Cyril underwent this punishment with joy. But the Saint could not conceal his spirituality, and the experienced Superior discovered that Cyril was not behaving as a fool out of pride, but out of humility. Against his will, they compelled him to accept ordination to the priesthood. When he was not serving in church, Cyril occupied himself with heavy work. When Theodore was made Archbishop of Rostov, the brethren chose Cyril as Archimandrite of the monastery in 1388.
Wealthy and important people began to visit the monk to hear his counsels. This disturbed the Saint's humble spirit. Despite the entreaties of the brethren, he would not remain as Igoumen, but secluded himself in his former cell. Even here he was disturbed by frequent visitors, and he went to the old Simonov Monastery of the Nativity of the Theotokos.
Saint Cyril’s soul yearned for solitude, and he asked the Mother of God to show him a place conducive for salvation. One night he was reading an Akathist in his cell before the Hodēgḗtria icon of the Mother of God, and had just reached the eighth Kontakion, “Seeing the strange Nativity, let us become strangers to the world and transport our minds to Heaven.” Then he heard a voice say, “Go to White Lake (Belozersk), where I have prepared a place for you.”
There at the desolate and sparsely populated White Lake, he found the place which he had seen in the vision. Saint Cyril and his companion Saint Therapon of White Lake and Mozhaisk (May 27), set up a cross and dug a cell in the ground near Mount Myaura at Siversk Lake.
Saint Therapon soon went to another place, and Saint Cyril remained where he was. However, he was not able to live in his underground cell for even one year.
Once Cyril, troubled by a strange dream, lay down to sleep under a pine tree, but just as he closed his eyes, he heard a voice cry, “Run, Cyril!” Cyril barely managed to jump away as the pine tree came crashing down. From this pine tree, the ascetic fashioned a cross.
Another time, Cyril nearly perished from flames and smoke when he was clearing the forest, but God preserved His Saint. A certain peasant attempted to burn down the monk's cell, but try as he might, he did not succeed. Then he repented with tears, and confessed his sin to Cyril, who tonsured him into monasticism.
Two monks whom Cyril loved, Zebediah and Dionysios, came to him from Simonov monastery, and then Nathanael, who afterward was steward of the monastery. Many began to come to him seeking to be tonsured. The holy Elder perceived that his time of silence was ended. In the year 1397 he constructed a temple in honor of the Dormition of the Mother of God.
When the number of brethren had multiplied, the monk gave the monastery a Rule of cenobitic life, which he sanctified by the example of his own life. Thus, no one could talk in church, and no one could leave before the end of services. They also came to venerate the Gospel according to seniority. At meals they sat at their own place, and there was silence. From the trapeza, each went quietly to his own cell. No one was able to receive either letters or gifts without having shown them to Cyril, nor did anyone write a letter without his blessing.
Money was kept in the monastery treasury, and no one had any personal possessions. They went to the trapeza even to drink water. The cells were not locked, and nothing was kept in them but icons and books. In the final years of Saint Cyril’s life, the boyar Roman decided to give the monastery a village and sent the deed. Cyril knew that if the monastery came to possess a village, the brethren would become concerned about the land and settlements would disrupt the monastic solitude, so he refused the gift.
The Lord rewarded His Saint with the gift of clairvoyance and healing. A certain Theodore desired to enter the monastery, but the Enemy of mankind instilled in him such hatred for Cyril that he could not look at him, nor listen to the sound of his voice. He approached Cyril’s cell and, seeing his grey hair, he was not able to say a word from shame. The Saint said to him, “Don’t be sad, my brother, for all are mistaken about me. You alone know the truth and my unworthiness. I am actually a worthless sinner.” Then Cyril blessed Theodore, promising that he would not be troubled by such thoughts in the future. From that time Theodore lived at peace in the monastery.
Once, there was no wine for the Divine Liturgy, and the priest told the Saint about this. Cyril ordered a monk to bring him the empty wine vessel, and when he opened it, it was full of wine. During a time of famine Cyril distributed bread to all the needy and he did not stop, even though the normal reserves hardly sufficed for the brethren. Despite this, the more that bread was distributed, the more it increased. The monks then realized that God would provide for their needs, through the prayers of Saint Cyril.
The Saint calmed a storm on the lake which threatened the fishermen. He predicted that none of the brethren would die until after his death, despite a plague that would rage. Then many would follow after him.
The Saint served his final Divine Liturgy on the day of Pentecost. After giving final instructions to the brethren to preserve love among themselves,1 Saint Cyril reposed in the ninetieth year of his life on June 9, 1427 on the Feast day of his namesake Saint Cyril of Alexandria. Within a year after the Saint's death, more than thirty of the fifty-three brethren reposed. He often appeared to the survivors in dreams, offering advice and guidance.
Saint Cyril loved spiritual enlightenment and he instilled this love in his disciples. In 1635 there were more than two thousand books in the monastery, including sixteen “of the Wonderworker Cyril.” Three of his letters to Russian princes survive down to our time. They are remarkable specimens of his spiritual instruction, love, peace, and consolation.
The veneration of the holy ascetic began not later than 1447-1448. The Life of Saint Cyril was commissioned by Metropolitan Theodosios and Great Prince Basil the Dark. It was written by the Athonite monk Pakhomios the Logothete, who dwelt at the Cyrilov monastery in 1462 and met with many eyewitnesses and disciples of Saint Cyril. He learned the most from Martinian (January 12), who had lived with the Saint from his youth.
1 In the Icon of Saint Cyril, his words appear on the scroll in his hand: "Preserve love among yourselves."
Venerable Alexander, Abbot of Kushta, Vologda
Saint Alexander, Hegoumen of Kushta Monastery in Vologda, was born about the year 1371, and his name in the world was Alexei. He was tonsured at the Savior-Stone (Spaso-Kamen) monastery by Hegoumen Dionysios of the Holy Mountain, who brought the Athonite Rule to the monastery. Later, he became the Archbishop of Rostov. Here Saint Alexander went through all the phases of obedience and strict fasting, and was ordained as a Hieromonk. He was constantly at work or at prayer. The brethren looked upon him as upon an angel of God, and this troubled Saint Alexander. He left the monastery secretly by night and came to the River Syazhem, where there was a thick forest and lake. Here he built a cell and lived his life in prayer and austere abstinence. Little by little, people started coming to him.
Saint Alexander went from this place to the shore of Lake Kuben, at the mouth of the River Kushta. At that time Saint Euthymios (April 11) was living there. Saint Alexander offered to exchange cells with him, and Saint Euthymios agreed to this. When they parted, he gave Saint Alexander his cross as a blessing. The quiet wilderness was very dear to Saint Alexander. Going to the lake, he immersed the cross in the water and prayed to God, asking that he might gather in this place those who were zealous for the way of the Cross. After some time, a certain Elder came to Saint Alexander, with whom he dwelt for five years. When a third brother arrived, Saint Alexander decided to build a church in honor of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos. The saint journeyed to Rostov to see his former Hegoumen, Archbishop Dionysios (1418-1425), who blessed the construction of the temple.
One day, Tatars came when Prince Demetrios of Zaozersk was away, and five of them galloped up to the Kushta monastery. Saint Alexander met them calmly and he blessed them with the cross. The Tatars fell down as if they were dead; and they lay senseless for several hours, after which Saint Alexander roused them from their torpor in the name of the Life-creating Trinity.
When Prince Demetrios reposed, his widow, Princess Maria, who had great respect for Saint Alexander, offered a village for the support of the monastery in remembrance of her husband. Once she came to the monastery and went into the church, where Saint Alexander was reading the Psalter, while insects attacked his bare chest. The monk was distressed by her visit and said, “It is not necessary, O Princess, for you to observe our misery.” The princess humbly asked for pardon. The monk blessed her, but said, “Feed your poverty at home.” When she reached her home, the princess fell sick and asked him to pray for the recovery of her health. Saint Alexander foresaw her end and said, “Let her prepare for that life.” Princess Maria died twenty days later.
Wheat was gathered on the floor of the monastery; and a certain peasant decided to steal a sack, but he was not able to lift it. The saint happened upon him and said, “My son, it is in vain that you try to lift what is beyond your strength.” The astounded thief threw himself at the feet of the venerable one, asking his forgiveness, but Saint Alexander ordered him to add more wheat to the sack. After admonishing him not to steal from others in future, he blessed him to take the sack and to go with God. The peasant easily carried the burden which was blessed, and thanked the generous Elder.
Sensing that the time of his death was near, Saint Alexander said to those dwelling with him, “I am growing weak, but I urge you to endure in this place, preserving humility and mutual love.” On Sunday he served the Divine Liturgy, and partook of the Holy Mysteries. Then he prayed on his knees for himself and for his monastery, and at age of sixty-eight, he peacefully surrendered his soul to the Lord on June 9, 1439.
According to Saint Alexander’s last instructions in his will, his body was placed at the south side of the altar. A year afterward, a Rowan-berry tree grew up over his grave. Once, on the Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, a peasant child broke off a branch from this tree and suddenly his hand began to hurt. His parents prayed and brought their son to the saint’s grave, and he was healed. From that time people began to pick berries from this tree for healing purposes. His disciples built a heated church in honor of Saint Nicholas over the saint’s grave and it was dedicated on the anniversary of his repose. Many of the sick who were brought to the church said that they saw Saint Alexander and Saint Nicholas praying together, or censing the temple. Many of the sick received healing at Saint Alexander’s grave.
Five Nuns beheaded in Persia: Martyrs Thecla, Mariamne, Martha, Mary, and Ennatha
During the time of the Persian king Saphor II (ca. 330 A.D.), a priest by the name of Paul was living near the village of Aza. He was wealthy and a lover of money, and he had with him five women who had consecrated their virginity to God. Saints Thekla, Mariamne, Martha, Maria, and Ennatha were adorned with the splendor of virtues. They were wealthy, and they entrusted their Spiritual Father with all their money. The greedy man prayed and chanted the Psalms with them, but he kept their money for himself.
When they learned that the priest Paul was rich, the Persians threatened to kill him and the five virgins if he did not deny Christ and give them some of his treasure. Since he preferred earthly riches, he accepted the Persian religion. The holy virgins said that they would rather suffer torture and death than deny Christ. Paul beheaded the women with a sword when they refused to follow his treacherous example. He did not enjoy his wealth for very long, however. The Persians drowned him the following evening in order to obtain all of the money. The holy virgins received their incorruptible crowns of glory from Christ in the year 346.
The five Virgin Martyrs are also commemorated on September 26.
Saint Columba of Iona, Enlightener of Scotland
Saint Columba (or Colum Cille, "the dove of the Church") was of noble birth, a member of the powerful Ui Néill clan, which traced its descent to Niall of the Nine Hostages, who died around the year 450. His parents were Fedelmid mac Ferguso and Eithne. Although it is difficult to determine the date of Saint Columba's birth with any degree of certainty, it is believed that he was born in County Donegal on December 7, 521.
His parents may have been pagans, and named their son Crimthann. He was brought up by a foster-father, according to the custom of that time, a priest named Cruithnechan. We do not know what happened in Saint Columba's life from the time he completed his studies until his departure from Ireland in 563. He may have been baptized with the name Colum, which later became Columba (dove). Some sources state that after being ordained as a priest, Saint Columba preached in Ireland, and established monasteries at Derry and Durrow. It is said that he also founded one hundred churches.
Adomnan says (I: 7) that the Saint left Ireland two years after the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne (561), supposedly for causing the deaths of so many men. Adomnan does not explain why the Saint blamed himself. However, in a different Life of Saint Columba it is stated that there was a dispute between Saints Columba and Finnian of Moville (September 10), concerning the ownership of a copy of Saint Jerome’s Latin Vulgate version of the Bible (some sources say it was a Psalter). The dispute involved the ownership of the copy. Saint Finnian claimed that the copy was his, since he owned the original manuscript. Saint Columba maintained that the copy was his, since he had copied the original. The High King Diarmait mac Cerbaill, who was a pagan, decided in favor of Finnian. He said, "To every cow belongs her calf, therefore to every book belongs its copy."
The Saint is said to have been so angry that he stirred up his relatives of the Uí Néill clan to make war against the High King. The Battle of Cúl Dreimhne led to the loss of many Christian lives. In his remorse, Saint Columba decided that he must gain as many souls for Christ as had been slain on the battlefield.
Adomnan also mentions the Synod of Teltown in County Meath (III:3) which met in 562, one year after the battle, and one year before Saint Columba left Ireland. He declares that "Saint Columba was excommunicated for some trivial and quite excusable offenses by a Synod which, as eventually became known, had acted wrongly. The Saint himself came to the assembly that had been convoked against him."
When Saint Brendan of Birr (November 29) saw Saint Columba approaching at a distance, after the Synod had excommunicated him in absentia, he ran out to meet him, kissing him with reverence. When the members of the Synod saw this they criticized him, saying, "Why did you get up to kiss a man who has been excommunicated?” Saint Brendan replied, “If you had seen what the Lord has deigned to reveal to me today, concerning this chosen one whom you refuse to honor, you would never have excommunicated him. For God does not excommunicate in accordance with your erroneous judgement, but instead, He glorifies him more and more."
Then they became incensed and said that they should like to know just how God had glorified Saint Columba, whom they had excommunicated, as they asserted, with good reason. Saint Brendan replied, "I saw a very bright column of light going before the man of God, whom you despise, and holy angels as his companions traveling over the plain." After hearing this, the Synod dropped the charges and honored Saint Columba with much reverence.
In 563, Saint Columba left Ireland, saying that he wished to be a pilgrim for Christ. Taking twelve companions with him, the Saint settled on the island of Iona, off the southwestern coast of Mull. He prayed that God would permit him to live there for thirty years more, and then call him to the heavenly Kingdom. It is not known whether the island was inhabited when they arrived, but there is archaeological evidence of prehistoric occupation.
After building cells and a chapel, the monks began a period of missionary activity, proclaiming the Gospel, making converts, and founding churches. They sailed to other islands, and even went inland in their labors to bring people to Christ. As a result, Iona became an important center of Christianity for northern England and Scotland. By 574, Abbot Columba had at least one dependency on the island of Hinba. There were others on the various islands, all under the authority of Iona. Saint Columba also maintained ties with his churches in Ireland and people in other places.
There is an account of Saint Columba anointing Aedan mac Gabrain in 574 to succeed King Conall as the King of Dalriada, just as King Saul and King David had been anointed by Samuel. Some regard this as the first time in European history that Christian ritual was used to consecrate a King. There is much debate on the significance of this event, although Saint Columba did have a special relationship with the ruling dynasty of Dalriada.
Adomnan has not written a Saint's Life according to the traditional pattern. Rather than presenting a continuous narrative from birth to death, he describes Saint Columba's prophetic revelations in Book I; his miracles of power in Book II; and his visions of angels in Book III.
In Book III:22, Adomnan relates how Saint Columba beheld the angels who had come to receive his soul in the thirtieth year after his arrival on Iona. Suddenly he raised his eyes to Heaven, and he was filled with great joy and gladness. Then, a moment later, his joy had turned to sorrow. Two monks stood outside his hut when this occurred, and they asked him about it. He told them to go in peace, and not to ask him to tell them the cause of his gladness, nor of his sorrow. They fell to the ground with profuse tears and begged him to reveal what he had been told.
Seeing their distress, the holy Elder said, "Because I love you, I do not wish to grieve you. First, you must promise not to betray to anyone, as long as I am alive, the mystery that you seek to know."
After they had given their word, Saint Columba said that day was exactly thirty years since he had begun to live "in pilgrimage in Britain." He had asked God to call him to Heaven at the end of thirty years. That is why he seemed so glad. He had seen the angels who had been sent to separate his soul from his body, but now they seemed to be delayed. They were waiting on a rock across the Sound from Iona. It was as if they wished to accomplish their task, but they were not permitted to come any closer. Soon they would return to Heaven. Even though he desired to go with them, the prayers of many churches had caused this change in plans. "Even though I do not wish it, I must remain in this flesh four years longer. This sorrowful delay is the cause of my great distress today."
Then the holy Abbot predicted that at the end of four years, he would die suddenly, and without pain, when the angels would come for him again, and he would depart to the Lord. That is precisely what happened.
In April of 597, on the radiant Feast of Christ's Resurrection, Saint Columba was longing to depart from this life in order to be with Him. God would have granted his wish right then, but he did not want to turn the paschal joy of his disciples into sorrow, and so his death was delayed for the sake of the monks.
In May, as the brethren were working on the western side of Iona, Saint Columba was taken there in a cart, for he was then an old man of seventy-five. He began to speak to them of his approaching death, so that they would be prepared. When he told them how his death had been merely postponed in April, they became very sorrowful. The Saint tried to console them as much as he could. Then he looked toward the east and blessed the island, and those who dwelt there. A few days later, during the Sunday liturgy, Saint Columba looked up and his face became suffused with joy and exultation. Only he could see the angel hovering over them inside the church. Then the angel passed right through the roof of the church, leaving no trace of his passing.
When the monks noticed the Elder looking upward they asked him why he seemed so happy. He told them that an angel had been sent to recover a loan, and had been watching and blessing them during the service.
None of the monks understood what sort of loan the angel had been sent to recover, but Saint Columba was referring to his soul, which the angel would take sometime between the following Saturday evening and Sunday morning.
At the end of the week, on Saturday, Saint Columba and his servant Diarmait went to bless the nearest barn. The venerable Elder said that he was glad to know that the monks would have enough bread to last for a year, in case he had to "go away somewhere." Diarmait was saddened by his words and said, "Father, this year you have made us sad too often by speaking frequently about your passing."
Saint Columba said that he would speak more plainly about his departure if Diarmait promised not to tell anyone until after he had reposed. When Diarmait had given his word, the Saint explained that the Sabbath is a day of rest, and on this Saturday he would go the way of his fathers. "I shall go to the Lord when He calls me, in the middle of this night. The Lord Himself has revealed this to me."
At these words, Diarmait began to weep. Then they started back to the monastery, but Saint Columba had to stop and rest when they reached the halfway point. Later, a cross was set up on that spot and set in a millstone. Then a white horse, which used to carry pails of milk to the monastery, came and placed its head on the Saint's bosom. Tears fell from its eyes, and the horse mourned like a person. Diarmait would have driven the horse away, but the Elder stopped him saying, "Leave him alone! Let him who loves us pour out the tears of bitterest mourning here at my breast. Behold, though you have a man's rational soul, you would not know of my departure if I hadn't told you just now. According to His will, the Creator has revealed to this brute and unreasoning animal that his master is going away." Then he blessed the horse as it turned away.
When he returned to the monastery, Saint Columba went to his hut to copy some Psalms. He copied as far as Psalm 33/34:10: "The rich have become poor and hungry; but those who seek the Lord diligently shall not want any good thing." Then he said, "Here at the end of the page I must stop. Let Baithene write what follows."
When he finished writing, Saint Columba went to church for Vespers, and then he returned to his lodging and rested on his bed. Instead of a bed of straw, he always slept upon bare rock, with a stone for his pillow. Then he gave his last instructions to Diarmait, commanding the brethren to love one another, and to follow the example of the Holy Fathers. He continued, "God, Who strengthens the good, will help you, and I, dwelling with Him, shall intercede for you."
When the bell rang for the Midnight Office, Saint Columba hastened to the church before the others, and then he knelt before the altar in prayer. Diarmait, following at a distance, saw the church filled with angelic light around the Saint. As he reached the door, the light vanished, although some of the brethren had seen it as well. Diarmait entered the church and called out in a tearful voice, "Father, where are you?"
The lamps carried by the brethren had not yet been brought into the church. Feeling his way in the dark, Diarmait found the Elder lying before the altar. Raising him a little, he sat by his side and cradled his head on his bosom. The other monks related that before Saint Cuthbert's soul had left his body, he opened his eyes and looked about with joy and gladness upon his face, for he saw angels coming to meet him. Diarmait held up the Saint's right hand to bless the monks. The venerable Father, as much as he could, also moved his hand to bless the brethren, though he was unable to speak. Then at once his soul departed.
Two men had separate visions of the Saint's soul being carried to Heaven by angels. Lugaid mac Tailchain, "a just man and a sage," told a man named Fergnae of his vision. Although Lugaid had never been to Iona, he saw it, in the Spirit, bathed in a bright light. He beheld the radiance of countless angels who had been sent to carry the Saint's soul to Heaven, accompanied by the sweetest songs of the angelic hosts.
Another soldier of Christ, Ernene moccu Fir Roide had a vision at the same hour. When he was an old man, he related it to Adomnan, who was then a young man. Ernene and some other men were fishing in the River Finn, when suddenly, the entire sky lit up. Looking toward the east, they saw a fiery pillar rising upwards and lighting the area like the summer sun at Noon. When the pillar passed out of sight, the darkness returned once more.
After Saint Columba's blessed repose, the Matins hymns were chanted, and his body was carried from the church to his lodging. For three days and nights, the funeral rites were performed in a manner befitting one of his honor and rank. His holy relics were wrapped in linen and placed in the grave with due reverence, from which he shall rise in bright, and everlasting light.
The following miracle is mentioned in Book I:1. In the year 634, at Heavenfield in Northumbria, on the eve of a battle, Saint Columba appeared to Saint Oswald (August 5), revealing his name to the King. He promised to help Saint Oswald, ordering him to march on his enemy Cadwallon that night. He said that the enemy would be put to flight, and that Cadwallon would be delivered into King Oswald's hands. Abbot Failbe, Adomnan's predecessor, told him of this vision, swearing that he had the story from the lips of Saint Oswald himself.
Saint John of Shavta-Gelati
The great Georgian hymnographer, philosopher, and orator Saint John of Shavta labored in the 12th and 13th centuries, during the reign of the holy queen Tamar. Few details of his life have been preserved, but we know that he received his education at Gelati Academy, where he studied theology, ancient and Arabic history, philosophy, and literature. He was later tonsured a monk and labored at Vardzia Monastery.
When the Georgian army under the command of Queen Tamar’s husband, Davit Soslan, entered into battle [The Battle of Basiani (ca. 1203)] with the sultan Rukn al-Din, Queen Tamar journeyed to Odzrkhe Monastery to pray for help. Catholicos Tevdore of Kartli and many hierarchs and monastics accompanied her there. Among them, Saint John of Shavta stood out as a wise theologian and philosopher and a brilliant hymnographer.
During the Liturgy at Odzrkhe Monastery a miracle occurred: endowed by God with the gift of prophecy, Saint Eulogius the Fool for-Christ fell to his knees, lifted his hands to the heavens and cried out: “Glory to God! Almighty Christ!…Do not fear the Persians, but rather depart in peace, for the mercy of God has descended upon the house of Tamar!”
Eulogius’s words were clearly a divine revelation. Saint John of Shavta turned to Queen Tamar, rejoicing, “Your Highness! The Almighty has made known to us our victory in the war from the lips of a fool-for-Christ!” Eulogius confided his secret to Saint John: disguised as a fool, he had been concealing his God-given gift. But now it seemed that the gift would become apparent to all, so Eulogius quickly disappeared out of sight to escape the people’s attention.
Saint John of Shavta composed his “Hymns to the Theotokos of Vardzia” in thanksgiving for Georgia’s victory in the Battle of Basiani. He is also recognized as the composer of “Abdul-Messiah,” (Abdul-Messiah: servant of Christ) a famous ode to the holy queen Tamar.
Our Holy Father John of Shavta lived to an advanced age and was canonized soon after his repose.
Saint David Gareji, and Venerable Lucian, spiritual son of Saint David
Saint David of Gareji was Syrian by birth. The future ascetic became a disciple of Saint John of Zedazeni and journeyed with him to Georgia. Saint David and his spiritual son Lucian settled on a mountain above Tbilisi, the capital of Kartli.
At that time Kartli was constantly under threat of the Persian fire-worshippers. Saint David would spend entire days in prayer, beseeching the Lord for forgiveness of the sins of those who dwelt in the city. When he was finished praying for the day, he would stand on the mountain and bless the whole city. Once a week Saints David and Lucian would go down into the city to preach. A church dedicated to Saint David was later built on the mountain where he labored.
Saint David’s authority and popularity alarmed the fire-worshippers, and they accused him of adultery, in an attempt to discredit him in the eyes of the people. As a “witness” they summoned a certain expectant prostitute, who accused him of being the child’s father. Hoping in God, the holy father touched his staff to the prostitute’s womb and ordered the unborn child to declare the truth. From out of the womb the infant uttered the name of his true father.
Outraged at this slander, the bystanders savagely stoned the woman to death. Saint David pleaded with them to stop, but he was unable to placate the furious crowd. Deeply disturbed by these events, Saint David departed the region with his disciple Lucian.
The holy fathers settled in a small cave in the wilderness and began to spend all their time in prayer. They ate nothing but herbs and the bark of trees. When the herbs withered from the summer heat, the Lord sent them deer. Lucian milked them and brought the milk to Saint David, and when the elder made the sign of the Cross over the milk it was miraculously transformed into cheese.
Shaken by the holy father’s miracle, Lucian told him, “Even if my body rots and wastes away from hunger and thirst, I will not permit myself to fret over the things of this temporal life.”
The fathers kept a strict fast on Wednesdays and Fridays—they ate nothing, and even the deer did not come to them on those days.
A frightful serpent inhabited a cave not far from where they lived and attacked all the animals around it. But at Saint David’s command the serpent deserted that place.
Once local hunters were tracking the fathers’ deer, and they caught sight of Lucian milking them as they stood there quietly, as though they were sheep. The hunters paid great respect to Saint David and, having returned to their homes, reported what they had seen.
Soon the Gareji wilderness filled with people who longed to draw nearer to Christ. A monastery was founded there, and for centuries it stood fast as a center and cornerstone of faith and learning in Georgia.
After some time Saint David set off on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He entrusted Lucian to fulfill his responsibilities at the monastery and took some of the other brothers with him. When the pilgrims were approaching the place called the “Ridge of Grace,” from which the holy city of Jerusalem becomes visible, Saint David fell to his knees and glorified God with tears. Judging himself unworthy to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, he was satisfied to gaze upon the city from afar.
Then he stood at the city gates and prayed fervently while his companions entered the Holy City and venerated the holy places. Returning, Saint David took with him three stones from the “Ridge of Grace.” That night an angel appeared to the patriarch of Jerusalem and informed him that a certain pious man named David, who was visiting from afar, had taken with him all the holiness of Jerusalem.
The angel proceeded to tell him that the venerable one had marched through the city of Nablus, clothed in tatters and bearing on his shoulders an old sack in which he carried the three holy stones. The patriarch sent messengers after the stranger with a request that he return two of the stones and take only one for himself. Saint David returned the two stones, but he declined the patriarch’s invitation to visit him. He took the third stone back with him to the monastery, and to this day it has been full of the grace of miraculous healing.
After Saint David brought the miraculous stone from Jerusalem, the number of brothers at the monastery doubled. The venerable father ministered to all of them and encouraged them. He also visited the cells of the elder hermits to offer his solace. In accordance with his will, a monastery in the name of Saint John the Baptist was founded in the place called “Mravalmta” (the Rolling Mountains).
The Lord God informed Saint David of his imminent departure to the Kingdom of Heaven. Then he gathered the fathers of the wilderness and instructed them for the last time not to fall into confusion, but to be firm and ceaselessly entreat the Lord for the salvation of their souls.
He received Holy Communion, lifted up his hands to the Lord, and gave up his spirit.
Saint David’s holy relics have worked many miracles: approaching them, those blind from birth have received their sight. To this day, believers have been healed of every spiritual and bodily affliction at his grave.