THE SATURDAY OF SOULS
The Saturday of Souls, Bartholomew the Holy Apostle, Barnabas the Holy Apostle, Revelation of the Hymn Axion Estin to a monk on Mt. Athos by the Archangel Gabriel, Luke of Simferopol
ST. PAUL’S FIRST LETTER TO THE THESSALONIANS 4:13-17
But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.
At that time, Jesus revealed himself to his disciples after he was raised from the dead, and he said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go." (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, "Follow me.
Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?" When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, "Lord, what about this man?" Jesus said to him, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!" So, the word went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die; but Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?" This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.
Today we remember all pious and Orthodox Christians who have fallen asleep in the Lord, and also recall the dread Day of Judgment. May Christ our God be merciful to them, and to us.
Two Epistles (Acts 28:1-31, I Thess. 4:13-17) and two Gospels (JN 21:14-25, JN 5:24-30) are appointed to be read at Liturgy. The readings from Acts and the Gospel of Saint John, which began on Pascha, now come to an end. The book of Acts does not end, as might be expected, with the death of Saints Peter and Paul, but remains open-ended.
In his article “With all the Saints,” Father Justin Popovich says that the Lives of the Saints are nothing less than a “continuation of the Acts of the Apostles.” Just as the book of Acts describes the works of Christ which the Apostles accomplished through Christ, Who was dwelling in them and working through them, the saints also preach the same Gospel, live the same life, manifest the same righteousness, love, and power from on High. As we prepare for the Sunday of All Saints, we are reminded that each of us is called to a life of holiness.
On this seventh Saturday of Pascha, Saint John Chrysostom’s “Homily on Patience and Gratitude” is appointed to be read in church. It is also prescribed to be read at the funeral service of an Orthodox Christian.
The Holy Apostle Bartholomew was born at Cana of Galilee and was one of the Twelve Apostles of Christ. After the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, it fell by lot to the holy Apostles Bartholomew and Philip (November 14) to preach the Gospel in Syria and Asia Minor. In their preaching they wandered through various cities, and then met up again. Accompanying the holy Apostle Philip was his sister, the holy virgin Saint Mariamnne.
Traversing the cities of Syria and Myzia, they underwent much hardship and tribulations, they were stoned and they were locked up in prison. In one of the villages they met up with the Apostle John the Theologian, and together they set off to Phrygia. In the city of Hieropolis by the power of their prayers they destroyed an enormous viper, which the pagans worshipped as a god. The holy Apostles Bartholomew and Philip with his sister confirmed their preaching with many miracles.
At Hieropolis there lived a man by the name of Stachys, who had been blind for 40 years. When he received healing, he then believed in Christ and was baptized. News of this spread throughout the city, and a multitude of the people thronged to the house where the apostles were staying. The sick and those beset by demons were released from their infirmities, and many were baptized. The city prefect gave orders to arrest the preachers and throw them in prison, and to burn down the house of Stachys. At the trial pagan priests came forth with the complaint that the strangers were turning people away from the worship of the ancestral gods.
Thinking that perhaps some sort of magic power was hidden away in the clothes of the apostles, the prefect gave orders to strip them. But Saint Mariamne became like a fiery torch before their eyes, and none dared touch her. They sentenced the saints to death. The Apostle Philip was crucified upside down. Suddenly there was an earthquake, and a fissure in the earth swallowed up the prefect of the city, together with the pagan priests and many of the people. Others took fright and rushed to take down the apostles from the crosses. Since the Apostle Bartholomew had not been suspended very high, they soon managed to take him down. The Apostle Philip, however, had died. After making Stachys Bishop of Hieropolis, the Apostle Bartholomew and Saint Mariamne left the city and moved on.
Preaching the Word of God, Mariamne arrived in Lykaonia, where she peacefully died (February 17). The Apostle Bartholomew went to India, where he translated the Gospel of Matthew into their language, and he converted many pagans to Christ. He also visited Greater Armenia (the country between the River Kura and the upper stretches of the Tigrus and Euphrates Rivers), where he worked many miracles and healed the daughter of King Polymios from the demons afflicting her. In gratitude, the king sent gifts to the apostle, who refused to accept them, saying that he sought only the salvation of the souls of mankind.
Then Polymios together with his wife, daughter, and many of those close to them accepted Baptism. And people from more than ten cities of Greater Armenia followed their example. But through the intrigues of the pagan priests, the Apostle Bartholomew was seized by the king’s brother Astiagus in the city of Alban (now the city of Baku), and crucified upside down. But even from the cross he did not cease to proclaim the good news about Christ the Savior. Finally, on orders from Astiagus, they flayed the skin from the Apostle Bartholomew and cut off his head. Believers placed his relics in a leaden coffin and buried him.
In about the year 508 the holy relics of the Apostle Bartholomew were transferred to Mesopotamia, to the city of Dara. When the Persians seized the city in 574, Christians took the relics of the Apostle Bartholomew with them when they fled to the shores of the Black Sea. But since the enemy overtook them there, they were compelled to leave the coffin behind, and the pagans threw it into the sea. By the power of God the coffin miraculously arrived on the island of Lipari. In the ninth century, after the taking of the island by the Arabs, the holy relics were transferred to the Neapolitan city of Beneventum in Italy, and in the tenth century part of the relics were transferred to Rome.
The holy Apostle Bartholomew is mentioned in the Life of Saint Joseph the Hymnographer (April 4). Having received from a certain man part of the relics of the Apostle Bartholomew, Saint Joseph conveyed them to his own monastery near Constantinople, and he built a church in the name of the Apostle Bartholomew, placing in it a portion of the relics. Saint Joseph ardently desired to compose hymns of praise in honor of the saint, and he fervently besought God to grant him the ability to do so.
On the Feast day in memory of the Apostle Bartholomew, Saint Joseph saw him at the altar. He beckoned to Joseph and took the holy Gospel from the altar table and pressed it to his bosom with the words, “May the Lord bless you, and may your song delight the whole world.” And from that time Saint Joseph began to write hymns and canons to adorn not only the Feast day of the Apostle Bartholomew, but also the Feast days of many other saints, composing about 300 canons in all. Saints John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Epiphanius of Cyprus and certain other teachers of the Church regard the Apostle Bartholomew as being the same person as Nathanael (John 1:45-51, 21:2).
Holy Apostle Barnabas of the Seventy was born on the island of Cyprus into the family of the tribe of Levi, and he was named Joseph. He received his education at Jerusalem, being raised with his friend and fellow student Saul (the future Apostle Paul) under the renowned teacher of the Law, Gamaliel. Joseph was pious, he frequented the Temple, he strictly observed the fasts and avoided youthful distractions. During this time period our Lord Jesus Christ began His public ministry. Seeing the Lord and hearing His Divine Words, Joseph believed in Him as the Messiah. Filled with ardent love for the Savior, he followed Him. The Lord chose him to be one of His Seventy Apostles. The other Apostles called him Barnabas, which means “son of consolation.” After the Ascension of the Lord to Heaven, Barnabas sold land belonging to him near Jerusalem and he brought the money to the feet of the Apostles, leaving nothing for himself (Acts 4:36-37).
When Saul arrived in Jerusalem after his conversion and sought to join the followers of Christ, everyone there was afraid of him since he had persecuted the Church only a short while before. Barnabas, however, came with him to the Apostles and reported how the Lord had appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:26-28).
Saint Barnabas went to Antioch to encourage the believers, “Having come and having seen the grace of God, he rejoiced and he urged all to cleave to the Lord with sincerity of heart” (Acts 11:23). Then he went to Tarsus, and brought the Apostle Paul to Antioch, where for about a year they taught the people. It was here that the disciples first began to be called Christians (Acts 11:26). With the onset of famine, and taking along generous alms, Paul and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem. When King Herod killed Saint James the son of Zebedee, and had the Apostle Peter put under guard in prison to please the Jews, Saints Barnabas and Paul and Peter were led out of the prison by an angel of the Lord.
They hid out at the house of Barnabas’ aunt Maria. Later, when the persecution had quieted down, they returned to Antioch, taking with them Maria’s son John, surnamed Mark. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the prophets and teachers there imposed hands upon Barnabas and Paul, and sent them off to do the work to which the Lord had called them (Acts 13:2-3). Arriving in Seleucia, they sailed off to Cyprus and in the city of Salamis they preached the Word of God in the Jewish synagogues.
On Paphos they came across a sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was close with the proconsul Sergius. Wishing to hear the Word of God, the proconsul invited the saints to come to him. The sorcerer attempted to sway the proconsul from the Faith, but the Apostle Paul denounced the sorcerer, who through his words suddenly fell blind. The proconsul believed in Christ (Acts 13:6-12).
From Paphos Barnabas and Paul set sail for Pergamum of Pamphylia, and then they preached to the Jews and the Gentiles at Pisidian Antioch and throughout all that region. The Jews rioted and expelled Paul and Barnabas. The saints arrived in Iconium, but learning that the Jews wanted to stone them, they withdrew to Lystra and Derben. There the Apostle Paul healed a man, crippled in the legs from birth. The people assumed them to be the gods Zeus and Hermes and wanted to offer them sacrifice. The saints just barely persuaded them not to do this (Acts 14:8-18).
When the question arose whether those converted from the Gentiles should accept circumcision, Barnabas and Paul went to Jerusalem. There they were warmly received by the Apostles and elders. The preachers related “what God had wrought with them and how He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27).
After long deliberations the Apostles collectively resolved not to impose any sort of burden upon Gentile Christians except what was necessary: to refrain from the pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood (Acts 15:19-20). Letters were sent with Barnabas and Paul, and they again preached at Antioch, and after a certain while they decided to visit the other cities where they had visited earlier. Saint Barnabas wanted to take Mark along with him, but Saint Paul did not want to, since earlier he had left them. A quarrel arose, and they separated. Paul took Silas with him and went to Syria and Cilicia, while Barnabas took Mark with him to Cyprus (Acts 15:36-41).
Having multiplied the number of believers, Saint Barnabas traveled to Rome, where he was perhaps the first to preach Christ.
Saint Barnabas founded the episcopal see at Mediolanum (now Milan), and upon his return to Cyprus he continued to preach about Christ the Savior. Then the enraged Jews incited the pagans against Barnabas, and they led him out beyond the city and stoned him, and then built a fire to burn the body. Later on, having come upon this spot, Mark took up the unharmed body of Saint Barnabas and buried it in a cave, placing upon the saint’s bosom, in accord with his final wishes, the Gospel of Matthew which he had copied in his own hand.
Saint Barnabas died in about the year 62, at age seventy-six. In time, the burial spot was forgotten, but numerous signs took place at this spot. In the year 448, during the time of the emperor Zeno, Saint Barnabas appeared three times in a dream to Archbishop Anthimus of Cyprus and indicated the place where his relics were buried. Starting to dig at the indicated spot, Christians found the incorrupt body of the saint, and upon his chest was the Holy Gospel.
It was during this time that the Church of Cyprus began to be regarded as Apostolic in origin, and received the right of choosing its head. Thus Saint Barnabas defended Cyprus against the pretensions of the opponent of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, the heretic surnamed Knapheios, who had usurped the patriarchal throne at Antioch and tried to gain dominion over the Church of Cyprus.
Saint Barnabas of Vetluga was born in Great Ustiug. Before going off into the wilderness he was a priest in one of the city churches. In 1417 the monk settled at one of the banks of the River Vetluga at Red Hill, where he labored in solitude for 28 years, “toiling for God in psalmody and prayer, he subsisted on grass and acorns.” In the words of the author of his Life, there came also to Saint Barnabas “wild animals, and many bears lived near his cell. He, however, walked among them, as though among cattle, watching after them and delighting with them; rejoicing in the great God that these beasts had become tame for him.”
There was not a single human habitation in the area of Red Hill as far off as 50 versts. Occasionally wilderness people would visit “for a blessing,” and he would predict to them that after his repose on the banks of the River Vetluga “God would multiply the human habitation, and upon the place of his dwelling monks would live.”
According to Tradition, in 1439, before he settled at the River Unzha, Saint Macarius (July 25) came there for instruction and guidance. Saint Barnabas died in old age on June 11, 1445. After the death of the ascetic, at the place of his efforts many monks came to dwell “from various lands” and “after them farmers” and “many people did spread all along this river all the way to the great River Volga.” At Red Hill the monks built two churches, one in honor of the Most Holy Trinity, and the other, over the grave of the monk, dedicated to Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker. They founded a cenobitic monastery, which received as its name “the Varnavinsk wilderness-monastery.” The Life of Saint Barnabas was written in 1639 by a monk of the Varnavinsk monastery, “the most venerable hieromonk Joseph (Dyadkin), who later, in the imperial city of Moscow, was in charge of the directory of book printing.” For the authentication and verification of the miracles, which occurred at the grave of the monk, in that same year of 1639 there was an uncovering of the holy relics under the direction of Patriarch Joasaph.
With the passing of time at the place of the Varnavinsk monastery there arose the district town Varnavin, and the chief church of the monastery became the cathedral church dedicated to the Holy Apostle Barnabas.
Transfer of the Relics of Saint Ephraim of Novy Torg (+ January 28, 1053) took place in the year 1572 under Archbishop Leonid of Novgorod. The Feast day was established under Metropolitan Daniel of Moscow (1584-1587).
According to Tradition, during the iconoclast persecution of Leo III the Isaurian (717-741), an Icon of the Theotokos was slashed by the sword of one of the Emperor’s soldiers. Blood flowed from the Icon into the sea. Shaken by this sign, the repentant sinner fled to Mount Athos. One day he saw the Icon, which had floated from Constantinople, lying on the shore, it was still bleeding and dyeing the water red. He ran toward it and, with fear and trembling, he carried it to the Protaton church. There the Icon stopped bleeding, indicating that the Panagia had forgiven him for desecrating her holy Icon.
Many years later, a certain Elder and his disciple were living in a cave near Karyes. On a Saturday night in 982, the Elder went to attend the All-Night Vigil at Karyes, leaving his disciple behind to read the service in their cell. When it was dark, an unknown monk came to the cell. He said that his name was Gabriel, and the disciple invited him to come in.
Since it was time for the Vigil, the two monks began to pray before the Icon of the Mother of God. When they finished the eighth Ode of the Canon, the disciple began to chant: “My soul magnifies the Lord…” and then he sang the Irmos of Saint Cosmas the Hymnographer (Oct. 14): “More honorable than the Cherubim…” The visitor then chanted the next verse: “For He hath regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden; for behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” Then, instead of singing “More honorable…” the visitor prefaced it with: “It is truly meet to bless thee, O Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God.” Then he continued with “More honorable.”
During the singing of this hymn, the Icon was illumined with a heavenly light, and the disciple was moved to tears He asked his guest to write down the new words, but there was no paper. The stranger took a roofing tile and wrote the entire hymn upon it with his finger, as though it were made of wax. The disciple then realized that this was no ordinary monk, but the Archangel Gabriel. The heavenly visitor told him, “Sing the hymn this way, and all of the Orthodox as well.” Then, he disappeared. The light continued to shine forth from the Icon for a long time.
The Eleousa (Merciful) Icon of the Mother of God, before which the hymn “It Is Truly Meet” was first sung, was transferred to the katholikon at Karyes. The tile, with the hymn written on it by the Archangel Gabriel, was taken to Constantinople when Saint Nicholas Chrysoberges (December 16) was Patriarch.
Numerous copies of the “It Is Truly Meet” Icon are revered in Russian churches. At the Galerna Harbor of St. Petersburg a church with five cupolas was built in honor of the “Merciful” Mother of God, and into it they placed a grace-bearing copy of the “Axion Estin” Icon sent from Mount Athos.
The inscription on the scroll held by Christ reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”
The Axion Estin Icon kept at the High Place in the sanctuary of the Holy Dormition katholikon at Karyes, the capital of Mount Athos. Enthroned on the Igoumen's stone chair, the Icon is an object of great veneration. The church is known as Protaton because it was the first church to be built on the Holy Mountain in 843 by Saint Athanasios the Athonite (July 5) The iconography of the church was done in the XIII century by the renowned iconographer Emmanuel Panselinos.
The Icon takes its name from the hymn we sing after the epiklesis during the Divine Liturgy. The cell where the miracle took place is known today by the name “Axion Estin.” The miracle occurred on June 11, 982 on a Sunday. The miraculous tile on which was the hymn was transcribed was transferred to the Patriarchate of Constantinople and was displayed for veneration by the faithful in the imperial palace Church of Saint Stephen. From that time on, the expanded hymn Axion Estin became part of the Divine Liturgy and other services of the Church.
The Icon is especially honored with festivities and a procession on Bright Monday, and many miracles take place on that day.
The Icon itself is a bit faded, but is now covered by a silver riza. It has been restored recently and is in good condition. There is an inscription: “Μήτηρ Θεού Καρυώτισσα” or “Mother of God Karyotissa (of Karyes).” Originally, it came from Constantinople, and belongs to the Panagia Eleousa type, which was first painted by the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke.
On the one thousand year anniversary of Mount Athos in 1963, the Axion Estin Icon left the Holy Mountain for the first time to be venerated in Athens by thousands of faithful. In 1985 it was brought to Thessaloniki aboard a military ship and received there with the same honors as a Head of State.
On the great and saving day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, as Christ had promised (John 16:7-15). The unlearned fishermen were made wise by divine grace, proclaiming the Gospel of Christ and teaching with authority. Most of them (except for Saint John the Theologian) sealed their labors with their own blood. This was the beginning of the Church's mission to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18), which continues even to the present day.
In 1685, the Russian Orthodox Church established an Orthodox mission in Peking (now Beijing). For more than two hundred years, some of the Chinese converted to Christianity, and married Russian spouses.
Because of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, against the foreign powers occupying China, these Chinese Christians were given the choice of renouncing Christianity, or being tortured and killed.
Two hundred and twenty-two members of the Peking Mission, led by their priest, Father Metrophanes Chang (Chang Tzi-tzung) refused to deny Christ, and received incorruptible crowns of glory.
Among these Holy New Martyrs are Saint Metrophanes, his wife Tatiana, his sons John and Isaiah, Isaiah's fiancée Maria; the church school teachers Paul Wang and Ia Wen; and many others.