THE PLACING OF THE HONORABLE SASH OF THE MOST HOLY THEOTOKOS
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS, WINE, OLIVE OIL
The Placing of the Honorable Sash of the Most Holy Theotokos, Cyprian the Hieromartyr & Bishop of Carthage, Gennadius Scholarus, Patriarch of Constantinople, Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne, Eanswythe, Abbess of Folkestone, Cuthburga the Queen, Abbess of Wimborne
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE HEBREWS 9:1-7
BRETHREN, the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. For a tent was prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence; it is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain stood a tent called the Holy of Holies, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, which contained a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go continually into the outer tent, performing their ritual duties; but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people.
LUKE 10:38-42, 11:27-28
At that time, Jesus entered a village; and a woman called Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve you alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” As he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
The Placing of the Cincture (Sash) of the Mother of God
The Placing of the Venerable Belt of the Most Holy Theotokos in a church of Constantinople’s Chalcoprateia district took place during the reign of the emperor Theodosius the Younger. Before this the holy relic, entrusted to the Apostle Thomas by the Mother of God Herself, was kept by pious Christians at Jerusalem after Her Dormition. During the reign of Emperor Leo the Wise (886-911), his wife Zoe was afllicted with an unclean spirit, and he prayed that God would heal her.
The empress had a vision that she would be healed of her infirmity if the Belt of the Mother of God were placed upon her. The emperor then asked the Patriarch to open the coffer. The Patriarch removed the seal and opened the coffer in which the relic was kept, and the Belt of the Mother of God appeared completely whole and undamaged by time. The Patriarch placed the Belt on the sick empress, and immediately she was freed from her infirmity. They sang hymns of thanksgiving to the Most Holy Theotokos, then they placed the venerable Belt back into the coffer and resealed it.
In commemoration of the miraculous occurrence and the twofold Placing of the venerable Belt, the Feast of the Placing of the Venerable Belt of the Most Holy Theotokos was established. Parts of the holy Belt are in the Vatopedi monastery on Mt. Athos, in Trier monastery, and in Georgia.
Hieromartyr Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage
The Hieromartyr Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, was born in about the year 200 in the city of Carthage (Northern Africa), where all his life and work took place. Thascius Cyprianus was the son of a rich pagan senator, and received a fine secular education becoming a splendid orator, and a teacher of rhetoric and philosophy in the school of Carthage. He often appeared in the courts to defend his fellow citizens.
Cyprian afterwards recalled that for a long time “he remained in a deep dark mist.., far from the light of Truth.” His fortune, received from his parents and from his work, was spent on sumptuous banquets, but they were not able to quench in him the thirst for truth. He became acquainted with the writings of the Apologist Tertullian, and became convinced of the truth of Christianity. The holy bishop later wrote that he thought it was impossible for him to attain to the regeneration promised by the Savior, because of his habits.
He was helped by his friend and guide, the presbyter Cecilius, who assured him of the power of God’s grace. At 46 years of age the studious pagan was received into the Christian community as a catechumen. Before accepting Baptism, he distributed his property to the poor and moved into the house of the presbyter Cecilius.
When Saint Cyprian was finally baptized, he wrote in the Treatise To Donatus: “When the water of regeneration cleansed the impurity of my former life, a light from on high shone into my heart… and the Spirit transformed me into a new man by a second birth. Then at once, in a miraculous manner, certainty replaced doubt, mysteries were revealed, and darkness became light…. Then it was possible to acknowledge that what was born of the flesh and lived for sin was earthly, but what the Holy Spirit had vivified began to be of God…. In God and from God is all our strength…. Through Him we, while living upon the earth, have a hint of future bliss.”
Two years after his Baptism, the saint was ordained to the priesthood. When Bishop Donatus of Carthage died, Saint Cyprian was unanimously chosen as bishop. He gave his consent, having complied with his guide’s request, and was consecrated Bishop of Carthage in the year 248.
The saint first of all concerned himself about the welfare of the Church and the eradication of vices among the clergy and flock. The saintly life of the archpastor evoked in everyone a desire to imitate his piety, humility and wisdom. The fruitful activity of Saint Cyprian became known beyond the bounds of his diocese. Bishops from other sees often turned to him for advice on how to deal with various matters.
A persecution by the emperor Decius (249-251), revealed to the saint in a vision, forced him to go into hiding. His life was necessary to his flock for the strengthening of faith and courage among the persecuted. Before his departure from his diocese, the saint distributed the church funds among all the clergy for the aid of the needy, and in addition he sent further funds.
He kept in constant touch with the Carthaginian Christians through his epistles, and he wrote letters to presbyters, confessors and martyrs. Some Christians, broken by torture, offered sacrifice to the pagan gods. These lapsed Christians appealed to the confessors, asking to give them what is called a letter of reconciliation, i.e. a certificate for accepting them back into the Church. Saint Cyprian wrote a general letter to all the Carthaginian Christians, stating that those who lapsed during a time of persecution might be admitted into the Church, but this must be preceded by an investigation of the circumstances under which the falling away came about. It was necessary to determine the sincerity of contrition of the lapsed. To admit them was possible only after penance, and with the permission of the bishop. Some of the lapsed insistently demanded their immediate re-admittance into the Church and caused unrest in the whole community. Saint Cyprian wrote the bishops of other dioceses asking their opinion, and from all he received full approval of his directives.
During his absence the saint authorized four priests to examine the lives of persons preparing for ordination to the priesthood and the deaconate. This met with resistance from the layman Felicissimus and the presbyter Novatus, roused to indignation against their bishop. Saint Cyprian excommunicated Felicissimus and six of his followers. In his letter to the flock, the saint touchingly admonished all not to separate themselves from the unity of the Church, to be subject to the lawful commands of the bishop and to await his return. This letter kept the majority of Carthaginian Christians faithful to the Church.
In a short while, Saint Cyprian returned to his flock. The insubordination of Felicissimus was put to an end at a local Council in the year 251. This Council decreed that it was possible to receive the lapsed back into the Church after a penance, and it affirmed the excommunication of Felicissimus.
During this time there occurred a new schism, led by the Roman presbyter Novatian, and joined by the Carthaginian presbyter Novatus, a former adherent of Felicissimus. Novatian asserted that those who lapsed during a time of persecution could not be readmitted, even if they repented of their sin. Besides this, Novatian with the help of Novatus convinced three Italian bishops during the lifetime of the lawful Roman bishop Celerinus to place another bishop on the Roman cathedra. Against such iniquity, Saint Cyprian wrote a series of encyclicals to the African bishops, and later a whole book, On the Unity of the Church.
When the discord in the Carthage church began to quiet down, a new calamity began: a pestilential plague flared up. Hundreds of people fled from the city, leaving the sick without help, and the dead without burial. Saint Cyprian, providing an example by his firmness and his courage, tended the sick and buried the dead himself, not only Christians but also pagans. The plague was accompanied by drought and famine. A horde of barbarian Numidians, taking advantage of the misfortune, fell upon the inhabitants, taking many into captivity. Saint Cyprian moved many rich Carthaginians to offer up means for feeding the starving and ransoming captives.
When a new persecution against Christians spread under the emperor Valerian (253-259), the Carthaginian proconsul Paternus ordered the saint to offer sacrifice to idols. He steadfastly refused to do this. He also refused to give the names and addresses of the presbyters of the church of Carthage. They sent the saint to the city of Curubis, and Deacon Pontus voluntarily followed his bishop into exile.
On the day the saint arrived at the place of exile he had a vision, predicting for him a quick martyr’s end. While in exile, Saint Cyprian wrote many letters and books. Desiring to suffer at Carthage, he returned there. Taken before the court, he was set at liberty until the following year. Nearly all the Christians of Carthage came to take leave of their bishop and receive his blessing.
At the trial, Saint Cyprian calmly and firmly refused to offer sacrifice to idols and was sentenced to beheading with a sword. Hearing the sentence, Saint Cyprian said, “Thanks be to God!” All the people cried out with one voice, “Let us also be beheaded with him!”
Coming to the place of execution, the saint again gave his blessing to all and arranged to give twenty-five gold coins to the executioner. He then tied a handkerchief over his eyes, and gave his hands to be bound to the presbyter and archdeacon standing near him and lowered his head. Christians put their cloths and napkins in front of him so as to collect the martyr’s blood. Saint Cyprian was executed in the year 258. The body of the saint was taken by night and given burial in a private crypt of the procurator Macrobius Candidianus.
Some say that his holy relics were transferred to France in the time of King Charles the Great (i.e. Charlemagne, 771-814).
Saint Cyprian of Carthage left the Church a precious legacy: his writings and 80 letters. The works of Saint Cyprian were accepted by the Church as a model of Orthodox confession and read at two Ecumenical Councils (Ephesus and Chalcedon).
In the writings of Saint Cyprian the Orthodox teaching about the Church is stated: It has its foundation upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and was proclaimed and built up by the Apostles. The inner unity is expressed in an unity of faith and love, and the outer unity is actualized by the hierarchy and sacraments of the Church.
In the Church Christ comprises all the fulness of life and salvation. Those having separated themselves from the unity of the Church do not have true life in themselves. Christian love is shown as the bond that holds the Church together. “Love is the foundation of all the virtues, and it continues with us eternally in the Heavenly Kingdom.”
Saint Gennadius, Patriarch of Constantinople
Saint Gennadius, Patriarch of Constantinople, ascended the throne of the Church of Constantinople in the year 458, during the reign of the holy emperor Leo the Great (457-474). His life is known from the book The Spiritual Meadow in which tales of Saints Sophronius and John, monks of Salamis monastery near Alexandria, were recorded. These monks were clergy of the Church of Constantinople under Patriarch Gennadius.
Saint Gennadius was distinguished for his mildness, tolerance, purity and abstinence. One may get some idea of the power of his prayer from the following instance: in the church of the holy Martyr Eleutherius at Constantinople was a disreputable reader Charisius, spending his life in idleness, impurity and even occupying himself with murder and sorcery. For a long time, Saint Gennadius admonished him with gentleness and patience, but Charisius did not change his conduct. The Patriarch resorted to strictness and gave orders to chastize and discipline the disreputable cleric. But even after the punishment, he did not correct himself.
Patriarch Gennadius then sent his emissary in his name to the holy Martyr Eleutherius (August 4) in whose church Charisius served as a reader. Entering the temple, the emissary of the Patriarch came before the altar, stretched out his hand to the grave of the martyr and said: “Holy Martyr Eleutherius! Patriarch Gennadius declares to you, through me a sinner, that the cleric Charisius, serving in your temple, does much iniquity and creates great scandal; therefore, either improve him or cut him off from the Church.”
On the following morning, Charisius was found dead.
Another instance, displaying the great strength of prayer of Saint Gennadius, occurred with one of the portrait painters who dared to paint an image of Christ, giving the Savior the features of the pagan god Zeus. The hand of the painter, having done such blasphemy, immediately withered. The repentant painter was brought in the church and confessed all his sins to the Patriarch. Saint Gennadius prayed over the sinner, and the hand of the painter was healed.
To settle iniquitous actions and false teachings arising in the Church, Saint Gennadius summoned a local Council which condemned the Eutychian heresy and prohibited simony (ordination for a payment of money). The saint would not ordain a man to the priesthood unless he was quite knowledgeable in Holy Scripture, and knew the Psalter by heart.
During the patriarchate of Saint Gennadius, a temple was built in honor of Saint John the Forerunner. Then a certain senator Studius of Rome founded a monastery which later became known as the Studion. The church steward under the holy Patriarch Gennadius was Saint Marcian (January 10). The Patriarch also ordained Saint Daniel the Stylite (December 11) to the priesthood.
Saint Gennadius was the author of dialogues and commentaries on the Prophet Daniel (the works have not survived). There is also his Encyclical Against Simony, affirmed by a Council of the year 459. Saint Gennadius governed the Church of Constantinople for thirteen years. He died peacefully in the year 471.
One night while he was praying, it was revealed to the saint that a powerful enemy would fall upon his flock. He incessantly offered up prayer for the peace of the Church, that the Lord would preserve it invincible against the gates of Hades.
Saint Aidan, Bishop of Lindesfarne
Saint Aidan, a steadfast defender of Celtic practices against the imposition of Roman usage, was born in Ireland (then called Scotland) in the seventh century. As a monk of the monastery founded by Saint Columba (June 9) on the island of Iona, he was known for his strict asceticism.
When the holy King Oswald of Northumbria (August 5) wanted to convert his people to Christianity, he turned to the Celtic monks of Iona, rather than the Roman clergy at Canterbury. The first bishop sent to lead the mission proved unsuitable, for he alienated many people by his harshness, and he blamed the hostile disposition of the English for his failure. Saint Aidan said that the bishop was to blame, and not the English. Instead of being very severe with an ignorant people, he should have fed them with milk rather than solid food (I Cor. 3:2). The bishop was recalled, and an ideal candidate was found to replace him.
Saint Aidan was consecrated bishop and sent to Northumbria to take charge of the mission. King Oswald gave him the island of Lindisfarne near the royal residence of Bamburg for his episcopal See. Saint Aidan also founded the famous monastery on Lindisfarne in 635.
Saint Bede (May 27), in his ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH PEOPLE praises Aidan for his humility and piety, recommending him as a model for other bishops and priests to follow. He was not attached to the things of this world, nor did he seek earthly treasures. Whenever he received gifts from the king or from rich men, he distributed them to the poor. On Wednesdays and Fridays he would fast from all food until the Ninth Hour (about 3 P.M.), except during the paschal season.
From Lindisfarne, Saint Aidan traveled all over Northumbria, visiting his flock and establishing missions. Saint Oswald, who knew Gaelic from the time he and his family were exiled to Iona, acted as an interpreter for Bishop Aidan, who did not speak English. Thus, the king played an active role in the conversion of his people.
One year, after attending the services of Pascha, King Oswald sat down to a meal with Bishop Aidan. Just as the bishop was about to bless the food, a servant came in and informed the king that a great number of needy folk were outside begging for alms. The king ordered that his own food be served to the poor on silver platters, and that the silver serving dishes be broken up and distributed to them.There is a charming illustration of this incident in the thirteenth century Berthold Missal in New York’s Pierpont Morgan Library (Morgan MS 710, fol. 101v). Aidan, deeply moved by Saint Oswald’s charity, took him by the right hand and said, “May this hand never perish.” According to Tradition, Saint Oswald’s hand remained incorrupt for centuries after his death. Saint Bede says that the hand was kept in the church of Saint Peter at Bamburgh, where it was venerated by all. The present location of the hand, if it still survives, is not known.
Saint Oswald was killed in battle against the superior forces of King Penda on August 5, 642 at a place called Maserfield. He was only thirty-eight years old. Saint Aidan was deeply grieved by the king’s death, but his successor Saint Oswin (August 20) was also very dear to him.
King Oswin once gave Saint Aidan a horse and a cart for his journeys (the bishop usually traveled on foot). Soon after this, Bishop Aidan met a beggar and gave him the horse and cart. The king heard of this and was disturbed by it. He asked Saint Aidan why he had given the royal gift away when there were ordinary horses in the stables which were more suitable for a beggar. Aidan rebuked him, asking if the king regarded the foal of a mare more highly than the Son of God. At first, he did not understand. Then he fell at the bishop’s feet, weeping tears of repentance. Asking for forgiveness, Oswin promised never again to judge Saint Aidan’s charitable deeds.
Saint Aidan raised the king to his feet, declaring that he had never seen a king who was so humble. He prophesied that Oswin would soon depart from this life, since the people did not deserve such a ruler. His prophecy was soon fulfilled, for Saint Oswin was murdered at Gilling on August 20, 651. Saint Aidan departed to the Lord on August 31, less than two weeks later. He died at Bamburgh, by the west wall of the church. The beam on which he was leaning to support himself still survives, even though the church was twice destroyed by fire. The beam may still be seen in the ceiling of the present church, above the baptismal font.
On the day Saint Aidan died, Saint Cuthbert (March 20) was a young man tending his master’s sheep. Looking up, Cuthbert saw a vision of angels bearing someone’s soul to heaven in a sphere of fire. Later, he learned that Bishop Aidan had died at the very hour that he had seen the vision.
At first, the holy bishop Aidan was buried at Lindisfarne on the right side of the altar in the church of Saint Peter. In 664 the Synod of Whitby declared that all the churches of Britain must follow Roman practices, and that Celtic customs were to be suppressed. Saint Colman (February 18), the third Bishop of Lindisfarne, was unable to accept this decision. Therefore, he decided to retire to Iona, taking the bones of Saint Aidan with him. Celtic customs survived on Iona until the eighth century.
Saint Eanswythe, Abbess of Folkestone
Saint Eanswythe was born around 614, the only daughter of King Eadbald of Kent and his wife Emma, who was a Frankish princess. At the time of Eanswythe’s birth, her father was probably a pagan, while her mother was almost certainly a Christian. Therefore, it is highly likely that Eanswythe was baptized and raised as a Christian.
When she was two years old, her paternal grandfather King Ethelbert of Kent (February 25) died. Saint Ethelbert had been baptized at Saint Martin’s church in Canterbury by Saint Augustine of Canterbury (May 28). It was Saint Augustine who came to England in 597 with several monks in order to re-establish Christianity, which had almost been wiped out by the pagan Anglo-Saxons. These monks carried out their missionary work under the protection of King Ethelbert.
Eanswythe’s father King Eadbald offered no opposition to Christianity while his father was alive. When Saint Ethelbert died, however, Eadbald’s attitude changed. Not only did he embrace idolatry, he also married his father’s second wife (Bede, ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH PEOPLE Book 2, ch. 1). While this practice was prohibited by Church law, it was quite common among the pagan royalty.
About this time, King Sabert of the East Saxons (and a convert to Christianity) passed away. His three sons were pagans, and so idolatry returned to that territory as well.
Saint Laurence of Canterbury (February 3), Saint Mellitus of London (April 24), and Saint Justus of Rochester (November 10) held a council to determine what they should do. They decided that they should not waste their time among the pagans, and to go where people would be more receptive to their preaching. Appalled by the King’s behavior and by the rise of paganism, Saints Mellitus and Justus went to Gaul.
The night before he was to leave Canterbury, Saint Laurence decided to sleep in the church of Saints Peter and Paul. Saint Peter appeared to him and rebuked him for even thinking of leaving his flock. He also beat Saint Laurence, who remained with his flock and even converted King Eadbald.
The king ended his unlawful marriage and was baptized. Within a year, Saint Justus returned to Rochester. The people of London, who lived in the realm of the East Saxons, refused to accept Saint Mellitus back to his See. Following the death of Saint Laurence in 619, Saint Mellitus succeeded him as Archbishop of Canterbury.
From her childhood, Saint Eanswythe showed little interest in worldly pursuits, for she desired to dedicate her virginity to God and to serve Him as a nun. Her father, on the other hand, wanted her to marry. Saint Eanswythe told him that she would not have any earthly suitor whose love for her might also be mixed with dislike. There was a high rate of mortality for children in those days, so she knew it was likely that at least some of hers would also die. All of these sorrows awaited her if she obeyed her father. The young princess told her father that she had chosen an immortal Bridegroom Who would give her unceasing love and joy, and to Whom she had dedicated herself. She went on to say that she had chosen the good portion (Luke 10:42), and she asked her father to build her a cell where she might pray.
The king ultimately gave in to his daughter, and built her a monastery in Folkestone in Kent. While the monastery was under construction, a pagan prince came to Kent seeking to marry Eanswythe. King Eadbald, whose sister Saint Ethelburga (April 5) married the pagan King Edwin (October 12) two or three years before, recalled that this wedding resulted in Edwin’s conversion. Perhaps he hoped that something similar would happen if Eanswythe married the Northumbrian prince. Eanswythe, however, insisted that she would not exchange heavenly blessings for the things of this world, nor would she accept the fleeting joys of this life in place of eternal bliss.
Around the year 630, the building of the monastery was completed. This was the first women’s monastery to be founded in England. Saint Eanswythe lived there with her companions in the monastic life, and they may have been guided by some of the Roman monks who had come to England with Saint Augustine in 597.
Saint Eanswythe was not made abbess at this time, for she was only sixteen years old. We do not know of any other abbess before Saint Eanswythe, but a few experienced nuns may have been sent from Europe to teach the others the monastic way of life. A temporary Superior could have been appointed until the nuns were able to elect their own abbess.
There are many stories of Saint Eanswythe’s miracles before and after her death. Among other things, she gave sight to a blind man, and cast out a demon from one who had been possessed.
We know few details about the rest of Saint Eanswythe’s life. Following the monastic Rule, she prayed to God day and night. When she was not in church, she spent her waking hours reading spiritual books and in manual labor. This may have consisted of copying and binding manuscripts. The nuns probably wove cloth for their clothing, and also for church vestments. They cared for the sick and aged nuns of their own community, as well as for the poor and infirm from outside. Then there was the daily routine of cooking and cleaning.
According to Tradition, Saint Eanswythe fell asleep in the Lord on the last day of August 640 when she was only in her mid-twenties. Her father King Eadbald also died in the same year.
The monastery at Folkestone did not last very long after the saint’s death. Some say it was destroyed by the sea, while others say it was sacked by the Danes in 867. Saint Eanswythe’s holy relics were moved to the nearby church of Saints Peter and Paul, which was farther away from the sea. In 927 King Athelstan granted the land where the monastery had stood to the monks of Christchurch, Canterbury.
As time passed, the sea continued to encroach on the land. In 1138 a new monastery and church, dedicated to Saint Mary and Saint Eanswythe, were built farther inland. The relics of Saint Eanswythe were transferred once again, this time from the church of Saints Peter and Paul to the new priory church. During the Middle Ages, this second transfer of her relics was celebrated on September 12, which is the present Feast Day of the church of Saint Mary and Saint Eanswythe.
On November 15, 1535 the priory was seized by the officers of the King, who plundered the church of its valuables. The shrine of Saint Eanswythe was destroyed, but her relics had been hidden to protect them.
On June 17, 1885 workmen in the church discovered a niche in the walls which had been plastered up. Removing the plaster, they found a reliquary made of lead, about fourteen inches long, nine inches wide, and eight inches high. Judging by the ornamentation on the reliquary, it dated from the twelfth century. A number of bones were found inside, which experts said were those of a young woman. Today the niche is lined with alabaster, and is covered by a brass door and a grille.
At first, the holy relics were brought out for veneration every year on the parish Feast Day. This practice ended when several parishioners accused the Vicar of “worshiping” the relics. Although Saint Eanswythe’s relics are no longer offered for public veneration, candles and flowers are sometimes placed before the brass door where they are immured.
An Orthodox iconographer has presented the parish of Saint Mary and Saint Eanswythe with an icon of the saint.
The restoration of the church of the Theotokos at Neorion
The church, which was the property of the patrician Anthony, was located in the courtyard of his home at Neorion.1 During its restoration, the church received miraculous grace, working many miracles for those who came to it with faith.
After the patrician Anthony reposed, the church was abandoned and stripped bare. When Emperor Romanos Lekapēnós (reigned 919-944) was preparing to demolish it, the foreman in charge of the church's demolition was prevented from doing so by a vision of the Theotokos.
It was then decided to restore the church and a chrysoboulos was obtained, providing an annual grant for its maintenance.
1 Neorion was in the eastern part Constantinople, on the south coast.