4TH SUNDAY OF MATTHEW
4th Sunday of Matthew, 45 Holy Martyrs of Nikopolis, Armenia, Our Holy Father Gregory, Bishop of Assa, Parthenios and Eumenios of Koudoumas, 10, 000 Fathers martyred in Egypt, Apollonios the Martyr, Deposition of the Precious Robe of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Moscow, Righteous Father Anthony of the Kiev Caves
ST. PAUL’S SECOND LETTER TO TIMOTHY 2:1-10
Timothy, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hardworking farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will grant you understanding in everything.
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David, as preached in my gospel, the gospel for which I am suffering and wearing fetters like a criminal. But the word of God is not fettered. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory.
At that time, as Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress." And he said to him, "I will come and heal him." But the centurion answered him, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go, ' and he goes, and to another, 'Come, ' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this, ' and he does it." When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, "Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." And to the centurion Jesus said, "Go; be it done for you as you have believed." And the servant was healed at that very moment.
Saint Anthony of the Kiev Caves was born in the year 983 at Liubech, not far from Chernigov, and was named Antipas in Baptism. Possessing the fear of God from his youth, he desired to be clothed in the monastic schema. When he reached a mature age, he wandered until he arrived on Mt. Athos, burning with the desire to emulate the deeds of its holy inhabitants. Here he received monastic tonsure, and the young monk pleased God in every aspect of his spiritual struggles on the path of virtue. He particularly excelled in humility and obedience, so that all the monks rejoiced to see his holy life.
The igumen saw in Saint Anthony the great future ascetic, and inspired by God, he sent him back to his native land, saying, “Anthony, it is time for you to guide others in holiness. Return to your own Russian land, and be an example for others. May the blessing of the Holy Mountain be with you.”
Returning to the land of Rus, Anthony began to make the rounds of the monasteries about Kiev, but nowhere did he find that strict life which had drawn him to Mt. Athos.
Through the Providence of God, Anthony came to the hills of Kiev by the banks of the River Dnieper. The forested area near the village of Berestovo reminded him of his beloved Athos. There he found a cave which had been dug out by the Priest Hilarion, who later became Metropolitan of Kiev (October 21). Since he liked the spot, Anthony prayed with tears, “Lord, let the blessing of Mt. Athos be upon this spot, and strengthen me to remain here.” He began to struggle in prayer, fasting, vigil and physical labor. Every other day, or every third day, he would eat only dry bread and a little water. Sometimes he did not eat for a week. People began to come to the ascetic for his blessing and counsel, and some decided to remain with the saint.
Among Anthony’s first disciples was Saint Nikon (March 23), who tonsured Saint Theodosius of the Caves (May 3) at the monastery in the year 1032.
The virtuous life of Saint Anthony illumined the Russian land with the beauty of monasticism. Saint Anthony lovingly received those who yearned for the monastic life. After instructing them how to follow Christ, he asked Saint Nikon to tonsure them. When twelve disciples had gathered about Saint Anthony, the brethren dug a large cave and built a church and cells for the monks within it.
After he appointed Abbot Barlaam to guide the brethren, Saint Anthony withdrew from the monastery. He dug a new cave for himself, then hid himself within it. There too, monks began to settle around him. Afterwards, the saint built a small wooden church in honor of the Dormition of the Mother of God over the Far Caves.
At the insistence of Prince Izyaslav, the igumen Barlaam withdrew to the Dimitriev monastery. With the blessing of Saint Anthony and with the general agreement of the brethren, the meek and humble Theodosius was chosen as igumen. By this time, the number of brethren had already reached a hundred men. The Kiev Great Prince Izyaslav (+ 1078) gave the monks the hill on which the large church and cells were built, with a palisade all around. Thus, the renowned monastery over the caves was established. Describing this, the chronicler remarks that while many monasteries were built by emperors and nobles, they could not compare with those which are built with holy prayers and tears, and by fasting and vigil. Although Saint Anthony had no gold, he built a monastery which became the first spiritual center of Rus.
For his holiness of life, God glorified Saint Anthony with the gift of clairvoyance and wonderworking. One example of this occurred during the construction of the Great Caves church. The Most Holy Theotokos Herself stood before him and Saint Theodosius in the Blachernae church in Constantinople, where they had been miraculously transported without leaving their own monastery. Actually, two angels appeared in Constantinople in their forms (See May 3, the account of the Kiev Caves Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos). Having received gold from the Mother of God, the saints commissioned master architects, who came from Constantinople to the Russian land on the command of the Queen of Heaven to build the church at the Monastery of the Caves. During this appearance, the Mother of God foretold the impending death of Saint Anthony, which occurred on July 10, 1073.
Through Divine Providence, the relics of Saint Anthony remain hidden.
The Forty-five Martyrs of Nicopolis in Armenia suffered during the reign of Emperor Licinius (311-324), who was then co-regent with Saint Constantine the Great (May 21). Licinius, the ruler of the Eastern Empire, fiercely persecuted Christians and issued an edict to put to death any Christian who would not return to paganism. When the persecutions began at Nicopolis, more than forty of those being persecuted for Christ decided to appear voluntarily before their persecutors, to confess openly their faith in the Son of God, and to accept martyrdom. The holy confessors were headed by Leontius, Mauricius, Daniel, Anthony, Alexander, Sisinius, Meneus, and Belerad (Virilad), and they were distinguished by their virtuous life.
Lycias, the procurator of the Armenian district, before whom the holy confessors presented themselves, was amazed at the boldness and bravery of those who condemned themselves voluntarily to torture and death. He tried to persuade them to renounce Christ and offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, but the saints remained steadfast. They refuted all the ruler’s arguments, pointing out to him the falseness of their vile and vice-filled pagan gods, leading those who worship them to ruin. The procurator ordered the confessors to be beaten about the face with stones, and then to be shackled and imprisoned.
In the prison the saints rejoiced and sang the Psalms of David. Saint Leontius inspired and encouraged the brethren, preparing them to accept new tortures for the true Faith, and telling them of the bravery of all those who had suffered previously for Christ. In the morning, after repeated refusals to offer sacrifice to the idols, the saints were subjected to further tortures.
Saint Leontius, seeing the intense suffering of the martyrs, and fearful that some of them might falter and lose faith, prayed to God that these torments would end quickly for all of them.
When the holy martyrs were singing Psalms at midnight, an Angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to them, and the prison blazed with light. The Angel declared to the martyrs that their contest was coming to an end, and their names already were inscribed in Heaven. Two of the prison guards, Meneus and Virilad, saw what was happening and believed in Christ.
On the following morning, Lysias decided to ask them if they had changed their minds and were willing to worship the idols. With one mouth, the Saints replied: “We are Christians! We are Christians!” Insane with rage, Lysias ordered that their hands and feet be cut off, and then threw them into the fire. After this, their bones were tossed into a river. Later on, when freedom had been given to the Church of Christ, a church was built on the spot and was dedicated to the 45 Holy Martyrs of Nikopolis.
The Placing of the Precious Robe of Our Lord Jesus Christ at Moscow (1625): The Savior’s precious Robe [ Greek “himatia”, literally “over-garments”] is not identically the same thing as His seamless coat [Greek “khiton”, literally “under-garb tunic”]. They are clearly distinct within Holy Scripture. “Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments (ta himatia) and divided them into four parts, to every soldier a part, and the coat (kai ton khitona). Now the coat was without seam, woven whole from the top down. Therefore, they said among themselves, let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it will become. Thus the saying in Scripture was fulfilled: they divided My raiment (ta imatia) among them, and upon My vesture (epi ton himatismon) did they cast lots” (John. 19: 23-24; Ps. 21 : 18-19).
According to the tradition of the Georgian Orthodox Church, the Chiton of the Lord was carried by the Hebrew rabbi Elioz from Jerusalem to Mtsket and at present is beneath a crypt in the foundations of the Mtsket Patriarchal cathedral of Svetitskhoveli (the Feast in honor of the Chiton of the Lord is celebrated on October 1). None of the Mohammedan invaders ever ventured to encroach upon this spot, glorified with a sign by the mercy of God, the Life-Creating Pillar.
The Robe of the Lord, actually one of its four parts, the lower portion specifically (other parts of the Robe of the Lord are also known in Western Europe: in the city of Trier in Germany, and in Argenteuil near Paris in France), just like the Chiton of the Lord, came to be in Georgia. In contrast to the Chiton, the Robe portion was not kept underground, but was in the treasury of the Svetitskhoveli cathedral right up to the seventeenth century. Then the Persian Shah Abbas I, in devastating Georgia, along with other treasures also carried off the Robe of the Lord. In order to ingratiate himself with Tsar Michael Feodorovich, the Shah sent the Robe of the Lord as a gift to Patriarch Philaret (1619-1633) and Tsar Michael in 1625. The authenticity of the Robe was attested by Nectarius, Archbishop of Vologda, also by Patriarch Theophanes of Jerusalem, who had come from Byzantium, and by Joannicius the Greek, but especially also by the miraculous signs worked by the Lord through the venerable relic.
Afterwards two parts of the Robe came to be in Peterburg: one in the cathedral at the Winter Palace, and the other in Saints Peter and Paul cathedral. A portion of the Robe was also preserved at the Dormition cathedral in Moscow, and small portions at Kiev’s Sophia cathedral, at the Ipatiev monastery near Kostroma and at certain other old temples. At Moscow annually on July 10 the Robe of the Lord is solemnly brought out of a chapel named for the holy Apostles Peter and Paul at the Dormition cathedral, and it is placed on a stand for veneration during the time of divine services. After Liturgy they carry the Robe to its former place.
On this day a service to the Life-Creating Cross of the Lord is proper, since the Placing of the Robe in the Dormition cathedral in 1625 took place on March 29, which happened to be the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross during the Great Fast.
The Holy Schemamonk Silvanus (Silouan) of the Kiev Caves, zealously preserved the purity of both soul and body, he subdued his flesh with fasting and vigils, and he cleansed his soul with prayer and meditation on God. The Lord granted him an abundance of spiritual gifts: a prayerful boldness towards God, constant joy in the Lord, clairvoyance and wonderworking. The monk lived at the end of the thirteenth and beginning of the fourteenth centuries. His relics rest in the Caves.
The Holy Martyr Apollonius came from the city of Sardis, located in Lydia (Asia Minor). He declared himself a Christian and was arrested. When they demanded that he swear an oath on the name of the emperor, he refused, saying that it was improper to swear on the name of a mortal man. They tortured Apollonius for a long time and then crucified him. This occurred at Iconium either under the emperor Decius (249-251) or the emperor Valerian (253-259).
Saint Bianor came from the Pisidia district of Asia Minor. As a confessor of Christianity they brought him to the prefect of the city of Isauria in Lykaonia, who demanded that Saint Bianor renounce Christ. The saint stood steadfast in the true Faith, in spite of the refined tortures. A man by the name of Silvanus beheld the suffering of the martyr. The endurance and bravery of Saint Bianor inspired the faith of Christ in Silvanus, and he openly declared this. They cut out his tongue and then cut off his head. Saint Bianor, after long torturing, was also beheaded.
The date of the suffering of the holy Martyrs Bianor and Silvanus is not precisely known. It is presumed that they died in Pisidia under the Roman emperor Diocletian (284-305).
These holy martyrs of Christ, who lived in the deserts and caves of the Nitrian desert, were delivered up by Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria to face a bitter death. He falsely accused them of Origenism, but in fact they incurred the patriarch’s anger by giving shelter to the priest Isidore.
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The Konevits Icon of the Mother of God: It was with this icon of Greek origin that John, igumen of one of the Athonite monasteries, blessed Saint Arsenius, founder of the Konevits monastery (June 12). The holy icon was glorified by many miracles.
In the year 1610, during an invasion of the Swedes into the Novgorod territory, the icon was transferred from the Konevits monastery to the Novgorod Derevianits monastery with the blessing of Archbishop Isidore of Novgorod. Each year on July 10 a festal celebration of the Most Holy Theotokos took place at this monastery in honor of Her holy icon. In the year 1799, with the blessing of the Metropolitan Gabriel of Petersburg and Novgorod (+ January 26, 1801), the wonderworking icon was returned to the Konevits monastery. The return of the icon to the Konevits Monastery is celebrated on September 3.
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