GREGORY THE ILLUMINATOR, BISHOP OF ARMENIA
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS, WINE, OLIVE OIL
Gregory the Illuminator, Bishop of Armenia, Mardonios & Stratonikos the Martyrs
ST. PAUL’S FIRST LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS 16:13-24
Brethren, be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. Now, brethren, you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints; I urge you to be subject to such men and to every fellow worker and laborer. I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicos, because they have made up for your absence; for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such men. The churches of Asia send greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. All the brethren send greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. If any one has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.
The Lord said, “Watch, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Who then is the faithful and wise servant whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.”
Hieromartyr Gregory, Bishop of Greater Armenia, Equal of the Apostles, Enlightener of Armenia
The Hieromartyr Gregory, Enlightener of Greater Armenia, was born in the year 257. He was descended from a line of Parthian Arsakid kings. Anak, the father of Saint Gregory, was a Parthian by birth. In his quest for the Armenian throne, Anak and his brother attacked their kinsman, King Kursar with their swords, leaving him mortally wounded. The King's servants found him still alive, and he was able to tell them what had happened. Before he expired, the King ordered the execution of Anak, his brother, and also their wives and children. The murderers were caught by a river, where they were slain and their bodies were thrown into the water.
One of Anak's relatives saved Gregory and his brother, who were infants, and hid them in his home. There was a revolt in Armenia, and King Artasirus of Persia was able to conquer Armenia and bring it under his rule. As for Arak's sons, one was taken to Persia, and Gregory was sent to the Roman Empire.
When he reached adulthood, Gregory lived in Caesarea in Cappadocia, where he was converted to the Christian Faith. Gregory married, and had two sons, but soon was left a widower. Gregory raised his sons in piety. One of them, Orthanes, later became a priest, and the other, Arostanes, was tonsured as a monk and went into the wilderness to live in solitude.
In order to atone for the sin of his father, who had murdered the father of Tiridates, Gregory entered into the latter's service, and was a faithful servant to him. Tiridates, who was serving in the Roman army, loved Gregory like a friend, but when he learned that Gregory was a Christian, he became angry. Saint Gregory, however, ignored his master's unjust wrath.
When the Goths attacked the Roman Empire, the Prince of the Goths challenged the Emperor to single combat. The Emperor was afraid to fight the Prince, so he had Tiridates put on his armor and take his place. Tiridates defeated his adversary without using his sword, and led him as a captive to the Emperor. Then the entire Gothic army was defeated. In gratitude, the Emperor made Tiridates King of Armenia. When Tiridates offered sacrifice to his "gods" for his new position, he wanted Gregory to sacrifice with him. Gregory refused, and so Tiridates ordered that he be tortured.
The Saint was suspended head downward, with a stone about his neck, and for several days they choked him with a foul-smelling smoke, they beat and ridiculed him, and forced him to walk in iron sandals inset with nails.
During these torments, Saint Gregory sang Psalms. In prison the Lord healed all his wounds. When Gregory stood before the King cheerful and unharmed, he was astonished and ordered that the torments be repeated. Saint Gregory endured them, not wavering, with his former determination and bearing. They then poured hot tin over him and threw him into a pit filled with snakes, scorpions, and other poisonous creatures. The Lord, however, spared His chosen one, and he was left unharmed.
Some pious women kept him alive for fourteen years by feeding him with bread, secretly lowering it into the pit. A holy angel appeared to the martyr, strengthening and encouraging him. During this time King Tiridates killed the holy virgin Saint Ripsimia (Ριψιμία, or Ριψίμη), the Eldress Gaianḗ (Γαϊανή), and 32 other Virgin Martyrs (some sources say 35) from Asia Minor. Tiridates, who seemed to have lost his mind after this, recovered six days later. Then the wrath of God struck King Tiridates, his associates, and the soldiers who had participated in the execution of the virgins. Beset by demons, their appearance resembled wild boars, as once happened to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:30). Running through forests and fields, they tore their clothes and devoured their own flesh.
Saint Gregory was taken from from the pit, and then he was washed, dressed in clean clothes, and fed. Then he was led to the King. Everyone bowed before him, begging him to ask God to heal the King as well as the others responsible for killing the Holy Virgin Martyrs. First, the Saint asked about their relics, which remained unburied for nine days. Saint Gregory buried the bodies, and then began preaching to the people, urging them to turn away from the darkness of idolatry and toward Christ. The people came to believe in Christ, and wanted to build a large church. When it was completed, Saint Gregory had the relics of the holy nuns brought into it. Then he led King Tiridates to the church before the bodies of the Saints whom he had slain, so that they might pray to Christ for him. He repented, and at once his face was restored to its original appearance once more.
Soon all of Armenia was converted to Christ. The temples of the idols were destroyed, and churches for the worship of the only true God were built. Saint Gregory ordained priests, established schools, founded monasteries, and provided for the good order of the Church.
After this, Saint Gregory went into the wilderness, where he ended his earthly life in a manner pleasing to the Lord. His son Aristanes was made a bishop in Cappadocia, and was one of the 318 Holy Fathers of. the Council of Nicea.
Venerable Gregory, Abbot of Pelsheme and Wonderworker of Vologda
Saint Gregory of Pelsheme, Vologda, was born in the city of Galich, Kostroma governia. He came from the line of the Lopotov nobility. When the youth reached age fifteen, his parents wanted him to marry, but they died, without seeing this come to pass. Young Gregory distributed the inheritance left him to the poor, and entered the monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos on the shore of Lake Galich.
The Igumen of the monastery regarded the new monk with mistrust because of his youth and noble parentage. Therefore, he placed Gregory in obedience to an experienced Elder. With great humility Saint Gregory served all the brethren. After a certain while he was ordained a priest. Soon Saint Gregory’s fame as a pastor spread, and many began to arrive for spiritual guidance and counsels.
The Galich prince asked the monk to be godfather for his children. Burdened by fame and the nearness of his relatives, the monk went to Rostov to venerate the relics of Saint Leontius (May 23), and he settled in the monastery of Saint Abramius, (October 29). But here also news of the saint’s ascetic feats quickly spread.
The monks of the Savior (Yakovlev) monastery turned to Archbishop Dionysius of Rostov (1418-1425) with a request to assign Saint Gregory to head their monastery. Out of humility the monk accepted the guidance over the monastery, but after two years he secretly left the monastery and withdrew into the Vologda forest.
In the Sosnovetsk wilderness he became acquainted with Saint Dionysius of Glushitsa (June 1). When the Lord prompted the holy ascetic to found his own monastery, Saint Dionysius approved his friend’s intention. With a cross on his shoulders, Saint Gregory crossed over the River Pelsheme and planted the cross in a thicket by the river bank.
The first monk in the new monastery was the priest Alexis, in monasticism Alexander. In 1426 a church was built at the monastery in honor of the Most Holy Theotokos. Its icons were painted by Saint Dionysius, and Saint Gregory himself copied the sacred texts for the monastery. Gradually the number of monks increased, the monastery grew and became more famous.
Saint Gregory concerned himself with the nurturing of piety at the monastery, and at the same time he shared in the destiny of his country. In the year 1433, he went to Moscow in order to prevail upon the Galich prince Yuri Dimitrievich, who had seized the Moscow principality from Basil the Dark, to return Moscow to Prince Basil. Prince Yuri obeyed the monastic Elder.
But in 1434 the son of Prince Yuri, Demetrius Shemyaka, began to ravage the Vologda lands belonging to the Great Prince. Saint Gregory, distraught over the discord and violence, went to Demetrius Shemyaka and addressed him with bold words. “Prince Demetrius,” said the monk, “you do things that are not Christian. It would be better if you had gone into a pagan land to a vile people ignorant of God. Widows and orphans cry out against you to God. How many people will perish from hunger and cold because of you, and if you don’t stop the fratricide, the bloodshed and violence soon, then you shall lose both your glory and your princedom.”
After this bold denunciation, Shemyaka gave orders to throw the holy Elder off a bridge. For several hours the monk lay there unmoving. His denunciations produced the desired effect, and Shemyaka soon quit Vologda. The courage of the monk only increased the veneration of him. Before his death, he received the Holy Mysteries, spoke a word of guidance to the brethren, and appointed as igumen of the monastery his fellow ascetic Alexander. Saint Gregory reposed on September 30, 1442 and was buried in the monastery he founded.
Saint Michael, first Metropolitan of Kiev
Saint Michael the first Metropolitan of Kiev, according to the Joakimov chronicle, was a Syrian by birth, but according to other chronicles, he was a Bulgarian or Serb. In the year 989, he arrived at Korsun with other clergy for holy Prince Vladimir (July 15), not long after Vladimir’s Baptism (988).
As first metropolitan of the Russian Church his service was difficult, but grace-filled. He zealously made the rounds of the newly-enlightened Russian Land, preaching the Holy Gospel, baptizing and teaching the newly-illumined people, founding the first churches and religious schools.
In Rostov he established the first wooden church in honor of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos and installed Theodore the Greek there as bishop. Saint Michael was a wise and gentle, but also strict hierarch. The Russian Church has preserved the memory of the saint’s praiseworthy deeds. In the Synodikon of the Novgorod and Kiev Sophia cathedrals he is rightfully called the initiator.
Saint Michael died in the year 992 and was buried in the Desyatin-Tithe church of the Most Holy Theotokos in Kiev. In about the year 1103, under the Igumen Saint Theoctistus (afterwards Bishop of Chernigov, August 5), his relics were transferred to the Antoniev Cave, and on October 1, 1730 into the Great Church of the Caves. Thus his memory was celebrated on September 30, and also July 15, the day of his repose.
Formerly, his memory was celebrated on September 2, along with Saints Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves. There is a trace of this earlier celebration in the service to Saint Michael. In the second verse of the “Praises” we sing: “Having begun the new year, we offer you our first songs, O blessed one, for you were the beginning of the hierarchy in the Russian land.”
Martyrs Rhipsime and Gaianḗ of Armenia and those with them
Saint Ripsimia (Ριψιμία or Ριψίμη) suffered martyrdom in the year 292, during the reign of Diocletian (284-304). She was very beautiful in terms of her outward appearance, and modest in her character. In those days, Diocletian sent men throughout the Empire to find a maiden fairer than all others for him to marry. They found Saint Ripsimia, who had consecrated her virginity to Christ, and was living in a community of women in Asia Minor, of which Saint Gaianḗ was the Superior. The messengers had a portrait of Ripsimia made and sent it to Diocletian. The Emperor was captivated by her beauty, and he sent her a letter, asking her to be his wife. Ripsimia, who had Christ as her heavenly Bridegroom, did not want to marry anyone else. Therefore, the nuns decided to take refuge in Armenia. On the way, they endured hunger, thirst, and many other trials.
They settled in a vineyard on the slopes of Mount Ararat, and the stronger women would go into the city to work for people in order to earn money to purchase food and other necessities. All the women were willing to endure exile, and to bear every burden and sorrow for the sake of purity.
When Diocletian was informed that Ripsimia had fled to Armenia, he wrote to his friend King Tiridates saying, "If you find her, send her to me, or, if you wish, marry her yourself."
Tiridates sent his men to search for Ripsimia, and when they found her they surrounded the area so that she could not escape. When he learned how beautiful she was, Tiridates sent her presents and raiment worthy of a queen, so that she might appear before him in a suitable fashion. Ripsimia, however, acting in accordance with the instructions of Saint Gaianḗ, who had raised her from childhood, rejected these gifts and refused to go to the King. Saint Gaianḗ told the messengers that these virgins were already betrothed to Christ, and that it was impossible for them to enter into an earthly marriage.
When the messengers told Tiridates what had happened, he became very angry. He sent one of his princes and an army of soldiers to kill all the virgins and to bring Ripsimia to him by force. When she saw the soldiers approach the virgins with drawn swords, Saint Ripsimia told the Prince, "Take me to your King, but do not harm these virgins."
Saint Ripsimia was taken to the royal bedchamber, weeping and praying that God would preserve her virginity. Recalling how He had helped His servants in the past, how He saved Israel from Pharoah's hands, keeping Jonah in the belly of the whale for three days, and how He protected the Three Holy Youths in the fiery furnace, she believed that He would also rescue her from Tiridates.
When the King entered the chamber he attempted to rape her, but with God's help she became stronger than Tiridates, and he was not able to harm her. Leaving the chamber, the King commanded that Saint Gaianḗ be brought to him, since he had discovered that she had raised Ripsimia. The King told her to persuade Ripsimia to submit to him, but when the Eldress spoke to her she counseled her to preserve her virginity, which she had dedicated to Christ, and to remember the crown which her Bridegroom had prepared for her. Finally, she said that if the King should put her to death, she would enjoy even greater favor from Christ.
Seeing that he had accomplished nothing, even though he had struggled with Ripsimia for a long time, the King began to tremble and roll around on the floor. That night, Saint Ripsimia escaped and fled from the city. She found the sisters and told them how she had remained undefiled.
The next morning some soldiers found Ripsimia and arranged a cruel death for her. First they cut out her tongue, stripped her, tied her hands and feet to columns, and burned her with candles. Then they tore her stomach open with a sharp stone, so that her entrails fell out. Finally, they plucked her eyes out and cut off her members. Having completed her contest, she departed to Christ, the bestower of crowns.
The Eldress Gaianḗ and two other virgins suffered even greater torments. The pagans drilled through their legs, suspended them upside down, and skinned them alive. Cutting their necks from behind, they pulled their tongues out and cut them off. Next, their stomachs were cut with sharp stones so that their entrails fell to the ground. Finally, they were beheaded.
Thirty-two other Virgin Martyrs (some sources say there were thirty-five) suffered horrible tortures, and died by the sword, then their bodies were thrown to the wild animals.
In addition to these holy women, seventy men who were hiding in that area also suffered martyrdom.