MONDAY OF THE 3RD WEEK
Dionysios the Areopagite, Rusticus and Eleutherios the Martyrs, John the Chozebite, Bishop of Caesaria
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 17:16-34
In those days, while Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the market place every day with those who chanced to be there. Some also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers met him. And some said, “What would this babbler say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities” – because he preached Jesus and the resurrection. And they took hold of him and brought him to the Areopagos, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you present? For you bring some strange things to our ears; we wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. So Paul, standing in the middle of the Areopagos, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead.” Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked; but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from among them. But some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysios the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
The Lord said to the Jews who had come to him, "Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger.
Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again.
Saint Dionysius lived originally in the city of Athens. He was raised there and received a classical Greek education. He then went to Egypt, where he studied astronomy at the city of Heliopolis. It was in Heliopolis, along with his friend Apollophonos where he witnessed the solar eclipse that occurred at the moment of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ by Crucifixion. “Either the Creator of all the world now suffers, or this visible world is coming to an end,” Dionysius said. Upon his return to Athens from Egypt, he was chosen to be a member of the Areopagus Council (Athenian high court).
When the holy Apostle Paul preached at the place on the Hill of Ares (Acts 17:16-34), Dionysius accepted his salvific proclamation and became a Christian. For three years Saint Dionysius remained a companion of the holy Apostle Paul in preaching the Word of God. Later on, the Apostle Paul selected him as bishop of the city of Athens. And in the year 57 Saint Dionysius was present at the repose of the Most Holy Theotokos.
During the lifetime of the Mother of God, Saint Dionysius had journeyed from Athens to Jerusalem to meet Her. He wrote to his teacher the Apostle Paul: “I witness by God, that besides the very God Himself, there is nothing else filled with such divine power and grace. No one can fully comprehend what I saw. I confess before God: when I was with John, who shone among the Apostles like the sun in the sky, when I was brought before the countenance of the Most Holy Virgin, I experienced an inexpressible sensation. Before me gleamed a sort of divine radiance which transfixed my spirit. I perceived the fragrance of indescribable aromas and was filled with such delight that my very body became faint, and my spirit could hardly endure these signs and marks of eternal majesty and heavenly power. The grace from her overwhelmed my heart and shook my very spirit. If I did not have in mind your instruction, I should have mistaken Her for the very God. It is impossible to stand before greater blessedness than this which I beheld.”
After the death of the Apostle Paul, Saint Dionysius wanted to continue with his work, and therefore went off preaching in the West, accompanied by the Presbyter Rusticus and Deacon Eleutherius. They converted many to Christ at Rome, and then in Germany, and then in Spain. In Gaul, during a persecution against Christians by the pagan authorities, all three confessors were arrested and thrown into prison. By night Saint Dionysius celebrated the Divine Liturgy with angels of the Lord. In the morning the martyrs were beheaded. According to an old tradition, Saint Dionysius took up his head, proceeded with it to the church and fell down dead there. A pious woman named Catulla buried the relics of the saint.
The writings of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite hold great significance for the Orthodox Church. Four books of his have survived to the present day:
On the Celestial Hierarchy
On the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy
On the Names of God
On Mystical Theology
In additional, there are ten letters to various people.
The book On the Celestial Hierarchies was written actually in one of the countries of Western Europe, where Saint Dionysius was preaching. In it he speaks of the Christian teaching about the angelic world. The angelic (or Celestial-Heavenly) hierarchy comprises the nine angelic Ranks:
The account of the Synaxis of the Bodiless Powers of Heaven is located under November 8.
The purpose of the divinely-established Angelic Hierarchy is the ascent towards godliness through purification, enlightenment and perfection. The highest ranks are bearers of divine light and divine life for the lower ranks. And not only are the sentient, bodiless angelic hosts included in the spiritual light-bearing hierarchy, but also the human race, created anew and sanctified in the Church of Christ.
The book of Saint Dionysius On the Ecclesiastical Hierarchies is a continuation of his book On the Celestial Hierarchies. The Church of Christ, like the Angelic ranks, in its universal service is set upon the foundation of priestly principles established by God.
In the earthly world, for the children of the Church, divine grace comes down indescribably in the holy Mysteries of the Church, which are spiritual in nature, though perceptible to the senses in form. Few, even among the holy ascetics, were able to behold with their earthly eyes the fiery vision of the Holy Mysteries of God. But outside of the Church’s sacraments, outside of Baptism and the Eucharist, the light-bearing saving grace of God is not found, neither is divine knowledge nor theosis (deification).
The book On the Names of God expounds upon the way of divine knowledge through a progression of the Divine Names.
Saint Dionysius’ book On Mystical Theology also sets forth the teaching about divine knowledge. The theology of the Orthodox Church is totally based upon experience of divine knowledge. In order to know God it is necessary to be in proximity to Him, to have come near to Him in some measure, so as to attain communion with God and deification (theosis). This condition is accomplished through prayer. This is not because prayer in itself brings us close to the incomprehensible God, but rather that the purity of heart in true prayer brings us closer to God.
The written works of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite are of extraordinary significance in the theology of the Orthodox Church, and also for late Medieval Western theology. For almost four centuries, until the beginning of the sixth century, the works of this holy Father of the Church were preserved in an obscure manuscript tradition, primarily by theologians of the Alexandrian Church. The concepts in these works were known and utilized by Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Dionysius the Great, pre-eminent figures of the catechetical school in Alexandria, and also by Saint Gregory the Theologian. Saint Dionysius of Alexandria wrote to Saint Gregory the Theologian a Commentary on the “Areopagitum.” The works of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite received general Church recognition during the sixth-seventh centuries.
Particularly relevant are the Commentaries written by Saint Maximus the Confessor (January 21). (trans. note: although many scholars suggest that the “Areopagitum” was actually written by an anonymous sixth century figure who employed the common ancient device of piously borrowing an illustrious name, this in no way diminishes the profound theological significance of the works.)
In the Russian Orthodox Church the teachings of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite about the spiritual principles and deification were at first known through the writings of Saint John of Damascus (December 4). The first Slavonic translation of the “Areopagitum” was done on Mt. Athos in about the year 1371 by a monk named Isaiah. Copies of it were widely distributed in Russia. Many of them have been preserved to the present day in historic manuscript collections, among which is a parchment manuscript “Works of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite” belonging to Saint Cyprian, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Rus (September 16) in his own handwriting.
According to one tradition, he was killed at Lutetia (ancient name of Paris, France) in the year 96 during the persecution under the Roman emperor Dometian (81-96). Today most scholars and theologians believe that Saint Dionysius the Areopagite did not die in Gaul, and that Saint Dionysius (or Denys) of Paris is a different saint with the same name.
Saint Demetrius of Rostov says that the Hieromartyr Dionysius was beheaded in Athens, and that many miracles were worked at his grave.
Saints Rusticus and Eleutherius were disciples of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite. They suffered martyrdom in Athens during the persecution of the emperor Domitian (81-96).
Saint Dionysius, Hermit of the Kiev Caves, Far Caves, called Schepa, is mentioned briefly in the Kiev Caves Paterikon. In the year 1463 during Paschal Matins, Dionysius went around censing the relics of the God-pleasers buried in the Kiev Caves. When the monk cried out: “Holy Fathers and brethren, today is the great day! Christ is Risen!” their reply resounded like thunder: “Truly, He is Risen!”
From that very day Saint Dionysius lived as a recluse, and after many labors he fell asleep in the Lord. The miracle involving Saint Dionysius is mentioned in the 8th Ode of the Canon of the Kiev Caves Saints. He is also commemorated on August 28, and on the second Sunday of Great Lent.
Saint John the Chozebite, Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine (587-596), was famed for his struggle against the Eutychian heresy, and also for his grace-filled gifts of discernment and wonderworking. He was born in the Egyptian city of Thebes and while still a youth he spent a long time in the Thebaid desert with his uncle, who was an ascetic.
The emperor, who learned of John’s holy life, decided to make him bishop of the city of Caesarea. But the saint, yearning for solitude, left his cathedra and withdrew into the Chozeba wilderness (between Jerusalem and Jericho) where he struggled in asceticism until the end of his life.
Once, while on his way to visit some of the brethren, he met a woman on the road. She entreated him to follow her to her home so that he might bless it and sanctify it by his prayers. Once they entered the house, however, the vile woman locked the door and removed all her clothing, and tried to tempt the saint into sinning with her. He opened the door and fled from the place.
After this, he performed many miracles until he fell asleep in the Lord. It is said that whenever he served the Divine Liturgy, he would see a heavenly light in the altar.
Saint Hesychius the Silent of Mt. Horeb, lived during the sixth century at one of the monasteries on Mt. Horeb, and at first he was not a very fervent monk. Hesychius died after a serious illness, but through a wondrous act of Divine Providence, he came back to life an hour later. After this, the saint secluded himself in his cell as a recluse, and for twelve years he dwelt in complete solitude. He would not converse with any of the brethren, but devoted himself to the singing of Psalms and penitential weeping. Before his death, Blessed Hesychius said to the assembled monks: “Forgive me, brethren. He who acquires the remembrance of death cannot sin.”
The holy hesychasts (those who keep silence) are the spiritual descendants of Saint Hesychius. These ascetics devote themselves to contemplating God, and to unceasing prayer of the heart.
Saint Damaris was the first Athenian woman to believe in Christ, through the preaching of the Apostle Paul. She is mentioned in Acts 17:34: “Some men joined him and believed; among whom were both Dionysios the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.”
The name Damaris (“heifer”) is not Greek, but may be a Hellenized form of the Hebrew name Thamar (“palm tree”). The name Thamar appears in both the Old and New Testaments (Genesis 38:6, and Matthew 1:3). From her name, it may be inferred that Saint Damaris was not a Greek by nationality, but she may have been a Jewish woman who moved to Athens.
After Saint Paul left Beroia and visited Athens in the year 52 AD, Saint Damaris had the opportunity to hear him preach Christianity to the Athenians on the Areopagus. Only a few people accepted Saint Paul’s message, but Saint Damaris was one of them. We do not know anything for certain concerning her life beyond that. Some have speculated that she came from a wealthy Jewish family of social prominence, but there is no documentation of this. Neither is there any concrete evidence for the opinion of some patristic writers, and of Saint Dimitry of Rostov, that she was married to Saint Dionysios the Areopagite, or that they were baptized by Saint Paul, together with their two sons, and their entire household.