SATURDAY OF THE 3RD WEEK
Pelagia the Righteous, Pelagia the Virgin-martyr of Antioch, Phillip, Bishop of Gortyna, Taisia the Harlot of Egypt
ST. PAUL’S FIRST LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS 14:20-25
Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; be babes in evil, but in thinking be mature. In the law it is written, “By men of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” Thus, tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church assembles and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
At that time, as Jesus passed by, he saw a tax collector, named Levi, sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he left everything, and rose and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house; and there was a large company of tax collectors and others sitting at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes murmured against his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Venerable Pelagia the Penitent
Saint Pelagia the Penitent was converted to Christianity by Saint Nonnus, Bishop of Edessa (Saturday of Cheesefare Week). Before her acceptance of Christianity through Baptism, Pelagia was head of a dance troupe in Palestinian Antioch, living a life of frivolity and prostitution.
One day Pelagia, elegantly dressed, was making her way past a church where Saint Nonnus was preaching a sermon. Believers turned their faces away from the sinner, but the bishop glanced after her. Struck by the outer beauty of Pelagia and having foreseen the spiritual greatness within her, the saint prayed in his cell for a long time to the Lord for the sinner. He told his fellow bishops that the prostitute put them all to shame. He explained that she took great care to adorn her body in order to appear beautiful in the eyes of men. “We… take no thought for the adornment of our wretched souls,” he said.
On the following day, when Saint Nonnus was teaching in the church about the dread Last Judgment and its consequences, Pelagia came. The teaching made a tremendous impression upon her. With the fear of God and weeping tears of repentance, she asked the saint for Baptism. Seeing her sincere and full repentance, Bishop Nonnus baptized her.
By night the devil appeared to Pelagia, urging her to return to her former life. The saint prayed, signed herself with the Sign of the Cross, and the devil vanished.
Three days after her baptism, Saint Pelagia gathered up her valuables and took them to Bishop Nonnus. The bishop ordered that they be distributed among the poor saying, “Let this be wisely dispersed, so that these riches gained by sin may become a wealth of righteousness.” After this Saint Pelagia journeyed to Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives. She lived there in a cell, disguised as the monk Pelagius, living in ascetic seclusion, and attaining great spiritual gifts. When she died, she was buried in her cell.
Venerable Dositheus, Abbot of Verkneostrov, Pskov
Saint Dositheus, Abbot of Verkhneostrov and Pskov was a disciple of Saint Euphrosynus of Spasoeleazarov and Pskov (May 15). In 1470, he founded the Peter and Paul Verkhneostrov monastery at Lake Pskova, where he was igumen.
Venerable Tryphon, Abbot of Vyatka
Saint Tryphon, Archimandrite of Vyatka, came of pious parents, living in the Archangelsk diocese. His parents intended to marry Tryphon off, but from his youth, he desired the monastic life, and he secretly left his home for the city of Ustiug, where he took up residence with a parish priest who dwelt in strict fasting and prayer. He then lived in the town of Orletsa near the church, enduring hunger and cold, and from there he moved on to the Pyshkorsk monastery at the River Kama. Here Saint Tryphon was received into the monastic life and was tonsured under Igumen Barlaam. The 22-year-old monk did not miss a single church service, and he performed his obedience in the bakery. When he fell grievously ill, Saint Nicholas appeared to him and healed him, encouraging him in ascetic effort.
In search of solitude, the monk went to the Mulyanka River and settled at the place where the city Perm is now. Here he converted to Christianity the pagan Ostyaks and Voguli. Then Saint Tryphon withdrew to the River Chusova and founded a monastery in honor of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos.
In 1580 he arrived in the city of Khynov in Vyatsk diocese, and he also founded a monastery there in honor of the Dormition and was made Archimandrite. Being a strict ascetic, he wore a hairshirt on his body and also heavy chains. The soul of the Elder longed to enlighten the lost with the light of faith in Christ. He devoted all his energy to this holy effort.
Before his death, Saint Tryphon wrote a last testament to the brethren, in which he says, “Fathers and brethren, the flock gathered about Christ! Heed me, a sinner. Though I am coarse and worse than any, God and His All-Pure Mother have permitted me, a sinner, to manage His household. I beseech you, for the sake of the Lord and His Mother, to have spiritual love among yourselves. Without this no virtue is complete before God. The lips of Christ spoke to the disciples, ‘Love one another’ (John. 13:34). And in the words of the Apostle Paul, ‘Bear one another’s burdens’ (Gal. 6: 2). Do not condemn one another before God, whether in the temple or in the cell, either alone or in common with the brethren. Pray with the fear of God. And by no means neglect church singing; although there are other matters, hasten to church to God for spiritual song. First give to God what is God’s, and then fulfill the other matters.”
Saint Tryphon fell asleep in the Lord in old age in 1612. He was buried in the Vyatka monastery he founded.
Venerable Thais of Egypt
Saint Thais of Egypt, raised by her mother in a spirit far removed from Christian piety, led a depraved and dissolute life. She was famed for her beauty, leading many on the path to perdition.
The account about the prodigal Thais spread throughout all Egypt and reached even Saint Paphnutius, a strict ascetic who had converted many to salvation. Paphnutius dressed himself in worldly attire and went to Thais, giving her money as though he wished to pay for her favors. He pretended to be afraid that someone would see them, so he asked her if there were a place they would not be discovered. Thais said that they could lock the door and enjoy complete privacy. “But if you fear God,” she said, “there is no place where you can hide from Him.” Seeing that she knew about God and the punishment of the wicked, the Elder asked why she led a sinful life and enticed others to ruin their souls. He told her about the eternal punishment she would have to face for her own sins, and for the people who had been corrupted and destroyed by her.
The words of Saint Paphnutius so affected the sinner that she gathered up all her riches acquired through her shameful life, then set them afire in the city square. Then Saint Paphnutius shut her up in a small cell, where for three years she dwelt in seclusion. Turning toward the East, Thais constantly repeated the short prayer, “My Creator, have mercy on me!”
“From the moment I entered into the cell,” said Thais to the Elder before her death, “all my sins constantly were before my eyes, and I wept when I remembered them.”
Saint Paphnutius replied “It is for your tears, and not for the austerity of your seclusion, that the Lord has granted you mercy.”
Saint Thais was ill for three days, then fell asleep in the Lord. So this woman, who had been a harlot and a sinner, has entered the Kingdom of God before us (Mt. 21:31). Saint Paul the Simple (October 4) saw in a vision the place prepared for the penitant Thais in Paradise.
Virgin Martyr Pelagia of Antioch
The Holy Virgin Martyr Pelagia (Πελαγία) came from Antioch in Syria and was descended from a prominent family during the reign of Emperor Numerian (282- 284). When the ruler of Antioch discovered that Pelagia was a Christian, he sent soldiers to rape her. They had surrounded her house and were about to seize her.
When the Saint learned of this, she asked the soldiers to let her go and change her clothes. Lifting her hands and her eyes to heaven, she prayed fervently to God not to allow the soldiers to rape her, but that she might depart this life as a pure virgin. Then she opened a window and jumped out, sustaining fatal injuries. Thus, she delivered her pure soul to God, in order to preserve herself from being defiled by the boorish soldiers. She was just fifteen years old.
Saint John Chrysostom has written a famous encomium for this Saint, in which he suggests that when Saint Pelagia threw herself out of the window, she was probably hoping to escape in that way, even though she was risking her life because of the danger she was in, and not because she wanted to commit suicide.
There was a church at Antioch, and another in Constantinople, which were dedicated to Saint Pelagia.
Monastic Martyr Ignatius the Monk of Bulgaria
The holy New Martyr Ignatius was born in the village of Eski Zagora in the Trnovo region of Bulgaria, and was named John in Baptism. While he was still a young child, his parents George and Maria moved to the city of Philippopolis and enrolled him in a school there.
Although he did well at school, he had a strong desire for the monastic life. Upon reaching adulthood, he entered the Rila monastery in western Bulgaria. There he was assigned to an Elder, with whom he lived in obedience for six years. When the Elder’s strictness became unbearable, John returned home.
About that time the Serbs rose in revolt against the Moslem government. John’s father was asked to take command of an Ottoman brigade, but he refused to fight against other Orthodox Christians.
The Moslems attacked George with furious anger. He was stabbed and then beheaded. John’s mother and sisters were also taken by the Hagarenes, and they ultimately agreed to convert to Islam.
John fled and hid in the home of an elderly Orthodox woman. His mother and sisters learned where he was hiding, and they told the Moslems. Those sent to capture him did not know what he looked like, so the old woman told them she did not know him. The woman helped him escape to Bucharest, Romania, where he became acquainted with Saint Euthymius, who would also endure martyrdom.
John did not wish to stay in Bucharest, however, and so he left for Mt. Athos. On the way he visited the village of Soumla, where he ran into his friend Father Euthymius again. Learning that Euthymius had denied Christ and beome a Moslem, John became very sad and left the village.
He had not gotten very far when Turkish soldiers stopped him and took all his possessions. They demanded that he convert to Islam, and in his fright he told them that he would do so. Satisfied with this reply, they let him go.
John reached the village of Eski Zagora, where he met an Athonite monk from the monastery of Grigoriou. They journeyed to the Holy Mountain together, and John settled in the Skete of Saint Anna. There he met Father Basil.
One day John and Father Basil traveled to Thessalonica on monastery business. While they were there the monks David and Euthymius of Demetsana suffered martyrdom because they were Christians. John was inflamed with the desire for martyrdom. Father Basil, however, urged him to postpone his intention, and so they returned to the Holy Mountain. A short time after this, Father Basil died.
When a monk from the Skete of Saint Anna told him of the martyrdom of the New Martyr Euthymius (March 22), John was once more filled with zeal for martyrdom. He was placed under the spiritual direction of the Elder Acacius, who prescribed for him prayer, prostrations, and reading the Gospel.
In time, John was found worthy of monastic tonsure, and was given the new name Ignatius. The Elder Acacius blessed him to travel to Constantinople with the monk Gregory in order to bear witness to Christ. After receiving the Holy Mysteries in Constantinople, Ignatius felt he was ready for his ordeal.
Dressed in Moslem garb, Ignatius went before the kadi and proclaimed his faith in Christ. He told him how he had promised to become a Moslem when he was younger, but now he threw his turban at the kadi’s feet and said that he would never deny Christ.
Thinking that Ignatius was insane, the kadi warned him that if he did not come to his senses he would endure horrible torments before being put to death. On the other hand, if he embraced Islam, he would receive rich gifts and great honor from them.
The courageous martyr told the kadi to keep his gifts, for they were merely temporal gifts. “Your threats of torture and death are nothing new,” he said, “and I knew of them before I came here. In fact, I came here because of them, so that I might die for my Christ.”
Saint Ignatius went on to call Mohammed “a false prophet, a teacher of perdition, and a friend of the devil.” Then he invited the Moslems to believe in Christ, the only true God.
The kadi then became so angry he could not speak, so he motioned for a servant to lead Saint Ignatius out of the room. Ignatius turned and struck the servant, then knelt before the kadi and bent his neck, as if inviting him to behead him then and there. Other servants entered the room, however, and dragged him off to prison.
Later, Ignatius was brought before the kadi for questioning. When asked who had brought him to Constantinople, he replied, “My Lord Jesus Christ brought me here.”
Again the kadi urged him to reconsider, for he was about to experience unimaginable tortures. “Do not expect to be beheaded so that the Christians can collect your blood as a blessing,” he said, “for I intend to hang you.”
Ignatius replied, “You will be doing me a great service whether you hang me or put me to the sword. I accept everything for the love of Christ.”
Seeing that he could not turn Ignatius from his Christian Faith, the kadi ordered him to be hanged. He was taken to a place called Daktyloporta, where the sentence was carried out. The martyr’s body remained hanging there for three days, then some pious Christians paid a ransom for it and took it to the island of Prote for burial.
Saint Ignatius gave his life for Christ on October 8, 1814. He is also commemorated on May 1 with Saints Acacius and Euthymius.
The head of Saint Ignatius is in the Monastery of Saint Panteleimon on Mt Athos.