TUESDAY OF THE 4TH WEEK
Philip the Apostle of the 70, one of the 7 Deacons, Theophanes the Confessor, Bishop of Nicaea, Holy Martyrs Zenais and Philonilla, Nectarios, Arsakios, Sisinios and Philotheos Kokkinos, Patriarchs of Constantinople, Ethelburga, Abbess of Barking, Our righteous Father Kenneth, Founder of the Monastery of Aghaboe in Ireland.
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 8:26-39
In those days, an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert road. And he rose and went. And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasure, had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the scripture which he was reading was this: “As a sheep led to the slaughter or a lamb before its shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken up from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, pray, does the prophet say this, about himself or about some one else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus. And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?” And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.
At that time Jesus went on through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for him out of their means.
Saint Philotheus was a native of Thessalonica, and received the monastic tonsure at an early age. After living for a time at Mt Sinai, he went to Mt Athos and became the igumen of the Great Lavra.
In 1347 he became Metropolitan of Heraclea, Thrace. Later, he served as Patriarch of Constantinople from 1354-1355, and again from 1364-1376.
While living on the Holy Mountain and even after he left there, Saint Philotheus wrote religious books which reveal his great learning and spirituality. Many of his works are directed against the anti-hesychasts, and he also wrote on liturgical and hagiographical themes.
Saint Philotheus ordained that Saint Gregory Palamas (November 14) be commemorated on the second Sunday of Great Lent, presided at his glorification as a saint, and even composed the Service in his honor.
Saint Philotheus fell asleep in the Lord in 1379.
Holy Apostle Philip of the Seventy, one of the 7 Deacons is not to be confused with Saint Philip one of the Twelve Apostles (November 14). This Philip was born in Palestine, was married and had children.
After the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Twelve Apostles made Philip a deacon in the Church of Jerusalem. Along with the other six deacons, they appointed him to deal with the offerings of the faithful and attend to the concerns of the widowed, the orphaned and the needy. The eldest among the seven deacons was the holy Archdeacon Stephen. When the persecution of Christians began, the Jews stoned the Protomartyr Stephen. The Apostle Philip left Jerusalem and settled in Samaria. There he successfully preached Christianity. Among the disciple’s converts was the noted magician Simon, who “after being baptized, continued with Philip.” (Acts 8:9-13)
At the command of an angel of the Lord, Saint Philip set out upon the road connecting Jerusalem with Gaza. There he met an official of the empress of Ethiopia, whom also he converted to Christianity (Acts 8:26-39). The holy disciple Philip tirelessly preached the Word of God in many of the lands of the Near East adjoining Palestine. At Jerusalem the Apostles made him a bishop and sent him to Tralles in Asia Minor, where he also baptized many. Saint Philip died in old age.
Saint Theophanes, Confessor and Hymnographer, Bishop of Nicea was the younger brother of the Saint Theodore the Branded (December 27). The brothers received an excellent education and were particularly involved in philosophy. Striving towards the knowledge of God, they settled in the Lavra of Saint Savva. Here Saint Theophanes was tonsured, and later became a hieromonk.
The holy brothers were famed as advocates of icon veneration. They boldly fulfilled the mission entrusted them by the Patriarch of Jerusalem and went to Constantinople to denounce the iconoclast emperor Leo the Armenian (813-820). Afterwards, they also denounced the iconoclast emperors Michael Balbos (820-829) and Theophilus (829-842).
The saints had to endure imprisonment, hunger, even torture. The emperor Theophilus gave orders to inscribe a phrase insulting to the glorious confessors upon their faces with red-hot needles. Therefore, they are called “Branded”. “Write whatever you wish, but at the Last Judgment you shall read your own writing,” said the agonized brothers to the emperor. They sent Theodore to prison, where also he died (+ 833), but Theophanes was sent into exile. With the restoration of Icon veneration Saint Theophanes was returned from exile and consecrated Bishop of Nicea. The saint wrote about 150 canons, among which is a beautiful canon in defense of holy icons. He died peacefully around the year 850.
The epithet "Faster," by which the Venerable Theophanes is known, indicates that he drew closer to the Lord by means of his strict fasting. The relics of Saint Theophanes lie in the Near Caves of Saint Anthony. He lived during the XII century, but the details of his Life are not described in the commemoration books of the Kiev Caves Lavra.
Saint Theophanes is also commemorated on the Synaxis of the Venerable Fathers of the Near Caves of Saint Anthony (September 28), and on the Synaxis of All the Venerable Fathers of the Kiev Caves (The second Sunday of Great Lent).
Leo Nagolkin, the future Saint Leonid, was born in Karachev in the Orlov Province in 1768. As a young man he worked for a merchant, making long and frequent trips on his employer’s business. He met all sorts of people, and this experience helped him later in life when visitors of diverse backgrounds would come to him for spiritual advice.
Leo first entered Optina Monastery in 1797, but remained for only two years. Then he went to White Bluff monastery in the Orlov diocese, where Hieromonk Basil (Kiskin) was igumen. He tonsured Leo as a monk in 1801, giving him the new name Leonid. In December of that year, Father Leonid was ordained as a deacon and then as a priest.
Father Leonid’s rise to prominence was unusually rapid. He was an example to others in the way he fulfilled his obediences, and this attracted the notice of his superiors. In 1804, after only five years at White Bluff, he was appointed by Bishop Dorotheus of Orlov and Svensk to succeed Father Basil as igumen.
Before assuming his new duties, Father Leonid spent some time at Cholnsk monastery, where he met Schemamonk Theodore, a disciple of Saint Paisius Velichkovsky (November 15). Father Theodore, who was about ten years older than Father Leonid, was also from Karachev. Under his direction, Father Leonid learned a great deal about spiritual struggles and how to acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Father Leonid was saddened when he had to leave his wise Elder in order to assume his responsibilities at White Bluff. Their separation was not long, however, because Father Theodore moved to White Bluff in 1805. Their frequent conversations inspired him to even greater progress in the spiritual life.
Father Theodore longed for solitude, and was permitted to live in a cell about a mile from the monastery with his disciple Father Cleopas. Father Leonid joined them after resigning as igumen in 1808. It is possible that Father Leonid may have been tonsured into the Great Schema with the name Leo during this time.
The fame of these ascetics soon spread throughout the area, and many visitors came to seek their advice. They found these distractions detrimental to their spiritual struggles, and they resolved to move to a more remote place.
Father Theodore was the first to leave. In 1809 he stayed briefly at New Lake Monastery. Then Metropolitan Ambrose of Saint Petersburg sent him to the Palei Island Hermitage, where he remained for three years. Father Theodore moved to the All Saints Skete of Valaam Monastery in 1812. Father Leonid and Father Cleopas also moved there in 1812, and were reunited with Father Theodore. Hieroschemamonk Cleopas died in 1816, and Father Leonid and Father Theodore moved to the Saint Alexander of Svir monastery.
Tsar Alexander I visited the monastery in 1820 in order to meet these Elders, of whom he had heard. They replied to the Sovereign’s questions with the briefest of answers, since they did not want to seem too talkative. When he asked for their blessing, Father Theodore told him that he was not an ordained monk. The Tsar bowed and went on his way.
Father Theodore went to the Lord on April 7, 1822 (Bright Friday). After this Father Leonid left the monastery to live in a more secluded place with some like-minded disciples. Archbishop Ambrose (Podobedev) of Kazan knew about Father Leonid, and was willing to receive him in his diocese. Father Leonid was also invited to live at the Ploschansk Hermitage in the Orlov diocese. Father Leonid, however, chose to accept the invitation of Saint Moses (June 16) to live at Optina. Bishop Philaret of Kaluga also wanted Father Leonid to live at Optina, but it was not possible for him to do so just then.
Father Leonid had to remain at the Svir monastery for five more years before he was allowed to leave. In April of 1829 he arrived at Optina with six of his disciples. He was given a cell in the Skete, near the apiary. Cells were also found in the Skete for his disciples.
The arrival of Father Leonid marked a new chapter in Optina’s history, for it was he who introduced eldership at this monastery. Guidance by an Elder has always been recognized as a sure and reliable path to salvation. It spread from the deserts of Egypt and Palestine to Mt Athos, and later to Russia. Father Leonid received this teaching from Father Theodore, the disciple of Saint Paisius Velichkovsky. Through Father Leonid and his disciple Saint Macarius (September 7) eldership was established at Optina.
With the arrival of Father Leonid, the whole way of life at Optina was changed. Nothing important was ever done without his knowledge and blessing. Each evening the brethren came to him to discuss their spiritual needs and to reveal how they had sinned in thought, word, or deed during the day. He offered consolation in their sorrows, advice in their spiritual struggles, and help in resolving their problems.
Saint Leonid’s wisdom and spiritual counsels made him known outside of Optina. People from cities and villages, of all social classes, flocked to Optina seeking his help. He treated their spiritual afflictions with the knowledge and experience he had gained after thirty years of living in asceticism. Sometimes he healed their physical infirmities as well, anointing them with oil from the lamp that always burned before the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God in his cell.
Father Macarius (Ivanov) moved to Optina Skete from Ploschansk in 1834. He had been under the guidance of an Elder who had been a disciple of Saint Paisius Velichkovsky. After the Elder’s death Father Macarius felt orphaned, and prayed that God would send him an experienced spiritual guide. His prayers were answered when Father Leonid came to Ploschansk in 1828. Even after Father Leonid left Ploschansk Father Macarius stayed in touch with him through letters.
At Optina Father Macarius assisted the Elder with his correspondence, and in the spiritual care of the brethren and those who visited Father Leonid. After 1836 Father Macarius became the spiritual Father of the Monastery. Although he had been the spiritual Father of the Sevsk convent for more than seven years, he regarded himself as nothing. Disdaining human glory, he was content to submit his will to Father Leonid in all things. Father Leonid, in turn, showed similar humility toward Father Macarius, regarding him as a friend and fellow laborer rather than a disciple.
Even though he had a high regard for Father Macarius, he was mindful of the saying of Saint John of the Ladder that in the first place, a spiritual guide would be deprived of a reward himself if he did not correct those under them. Secondly, the spiritual guide acts unjustly when he might bring profit to others, but does not do so. Thirdly, even those who are hard-working and patient might suffer harm if they are left for a time without reproaches from the Superior, for then they can lose the meekness and patience they once had (Step 4:27). Therefore, he gave Father Macarius many opportunities to win the crown of victory by testing his patience so that others might benefit by the example of his humility.
One day Father Macarius was summoned by the igumen Father Moses, who asked him to sponsor some of the brethren at their tonsure. Regarding the igumen’s request as a command, he merely bowed and left. He went to see Father Leonid, who was surrounded many people seeking his advice, and informed him why Father Moses had sent for him.
Father Leonid gazed at him sternly and asked, “What did you do? Did you agree to it?”
“I almost agreed,” Father Macarius replied, “or perhaps it is better to say that I did not dare to refuse.”
“That is typical of your pride,” the Elder said. Then he raised his voice and reprimanded Father Macarius as though he were really angry with him.
Father Macarius bowed continually, asking forgiveness. Those who were present were astounded by this. Finally, when Father Leonid fell silent, he bowed and said, “Forgive me, Father. Do you bless me to refuse?”
“How can you refuse?” he demanded. “You asked for this yourself, and now you wish to refuse? You cannot refuse, it has been settled.”
On the other hand, Father Leonid showed his love and respect for Father Macarius by confiding him, and by making him his helper and coworker.
Father Leonid’s spiritual influence extended beyond Optina, and he established eldership in two other monasteries of the Kaluga diocese. There were also nuns from other dioceses who were guided by Father Leonid. In three women’s monasteries (in Belev, Sevsk, and Borisov), some of his disciples were more advanced in the spiritual life than others. These became Eldresses for the other sisters both during Father Leonid’s lifetime and after his repose.
Father Leonid endured persecution during 1835-1836 over the institution of eldership at Optina. Those who instigated the persecution were unlearned people who did not understand the concept of eldership, regarding it as an innovation. Even some of the monks complained to the bishop about Father Leonid, but they were not always successful.
Bishop Gabriel of Kaluga visited Optina and was favorably disposed toward Father Moses. In the presence of all the brethren, he reprimanded the malcontents and ordered them to correct themselves.
Some of the monks, however, remained unhappy with Father Leonid because of the many visitors who came to him. They sent reports to the bishop complaining that the peaceful routine of the monastery was being disrupted. Nicholas, the new Bishop of Kaluga ignored these reports at first. Then a false accusation against Father Moses and Father Leonid was sent anonymously to the bishop. Bishop Nicholas, for whatever reason, ordered that Father Leonid leave his cell near the apiary and go to live in the Monastery. He would not allow Father Leonid to receive the laity of either sex. Since there was no cell available in the Monastery, Father Leonid moved to a cell in the Skete. A directive was sent in 1836 ordering Father Leonid to move to the Monastery without fail. The igumen Fr. Moses and the Skete Superior Father Anthony were caught in the middle. They knew Father Leonid was innocent, yet they had to obey the bishop.
In 1837 Metropolitan Philaret of Kiev visited Optina accompanied by Bishop Nicholas of Kaluga. The Metropolitan had known Father Leonid previously at White Bluff Monastery, and he showed his respect for the Elder and for the igumen Father Moses. The detractors of Father Leonid and Father Moses were taken aback by this. Even Bishop Nicholas began to give less weight to the complaints, and Father Leonid’s position began to improve.
In the years before his death, Father Leonid had to endure another trial. This time it affected his spiritual children at the Belev Convent of the Exaltation of the Cross.
The nuns of Belev were under the Eldress Anthia, who had advanced under the guidance of Elder Leonid. Abbess Epaphrodite was pleased to see how Mother Anthia and those close to her had cut off their own will, purified their thoughts, and uprooted the passions. Seeing that the abbess loved these nuns for their spiritual progress, some of the other nuns became jealous. One in particular complained to her spiritual Father and spread false stories about Mother Anthia and the sisters.
The priest was already inclined to believe evil against Mother Anthia, and he also resented the fact that they went to Father Leonid for spiritual counsel. He began spreading accusations and slanders against Father Leonid, for he did not understand the nature of eldership. Hearing rumors that the priest had uncovered a new heresy at the Belev Convent, Bishop Damascene of Tula summoned him and Mother Epaphrodite in order to question them. He believed the priest’s erroneous opinions and decided to take action. In February of 1841 he ordered the expulsion of Mother Anthia and one of the other sisters from the convent.
Father Leonid was labeled as a troublemaker and a rebel against authority, but he bore everything with patience. He was ordered to leave his cell by the apiary and move to a cell as far as possible from the monastery gates. He was also forbidden to receive lay visitors.
In the end it was Metropolitan Philaret of Kiev who interceded with the Bishop of Tula on behalf of Father Leonid. He also helped Mother Anthia and the other nun. Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow also wrote to Bishop Damascene, who came to realize that he had been deceived by the priest’s misguided zeal which was not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2). Both of the expelled sisters were received back into the convent on October 4, 1841, just a week before Saint Leonid’s death.
Father Leonid’s health began to decline in September of 1841, and he was ill for five weeks. He refused to see a doctor or to take any medicine, however. He received Holy Unction on September 15, and from that time he began to prepare for death. He said farewell to the brothers who came to him, and blessed them. He also gave each one something as a remembrance, an icon, a book, etc.
He received Holy Communion on September 28, and requested that the Canon for the Departure of the Soul be read. The brethren were grieved by this, but the Elder told them that perhaps they would have to read the Canon several times for him. In fact, it was read eight times before his death.
Between September 28 and October 11, he took no food, but only a little water. He was strengthened by the life-giving Mysteries of Christ, however. During the last two weeks of his life, Father Leonid received Holy Communion twelve times. After October 6 he could no longer stand up, and he asked the brethren to pray that the Lord would shorten his sufferings.
On the morning of October 11, 1841 Saint Leonid received the Holy Mysteries, and was visited by Basil Braguzin, who was known in the area as a fool for the sake of Christ. Braguzin had foreseen the Elder’s repose and had journeyed more than 180 kilometers to bid him farewell.
At ten o’clock that morning, the Elder began to cross himself and say, “Glory to God.” After repeating this many times, he became quiet. Later, he spoke again to those around him saying, “Now the mercy of God will be with me.” After an hour or so, he became very joyful despite his physical pain. He could not hide his happiness at the blessings he was about to receive, and his face grew more radiant.
That evening he said farewell to those who were with him and silently blessed them. They left the room, and only one disciple remained with the Elder. At 7:30 he closed his eyes and surrendered his soul to God.
The saint’s body remained in the church for three days with no sign of an odor. His body was warm, and his hands remained soft. From morning until night the church was filled with people who came to pay their respects. Saint Moses served the funeral on October 13 with all the hieromonks and the hierodeacons who were present. Father Leonid was buried near the main church of the Entrance of the Theotokos, opposite the chapel of Saint Nicholas.
Bishop Nicholas of Kaluga visited Optina in 1843 and served a panikhida at the grave of Saint Leonid. He told the igumen and the brethren he regretted the fact that he had not properly appreciated the Elder during his lifetime, and had even believed some unsubstantiated rumors about him, which caused him to regard Father Leonid with suspicion and distrust. He acknowledged that he was wrong to believe what certain people had told him, and expressed a hope that the Elder’s biography would be published someday.
The Moscow Patriarchate authorized local veneration of the Optina Elders on June 13,1996. The work of uncovering the relics of Saints Leonid, Macarius, Hilarion, Ambrose, Anatole I, Barsanuphius and Anatole II began on June 24/July 7, 1998 and was concluded the next day. However, because of the church Feasts (Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, etc.) associated with the actual dates of the uncovering of the relics, Patriarch Alexey II of Moscow designated June 27/July 10 as the date for commemorating this event. The relics of the holy Elders now rest in the new church of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God.
The Optina Elders were glorified by the Moscow Patriarchate for universal veneration on August 7, 2000.
Today the Church honors the memory of the holy Elders of Optina Monastery:
Saint Leonid (October 11)
Saint Macarius (September 7)
Saint Moses (June 16)
Saint Anthony (August 7)
Saint Hilarion (September 18)
Saint Ambrose (June 27 and October 10)
Saint Anatole the Elder (January 25)
Saint Isaac I (August 22)
Saint Joseph (May 9)
Saint Barsanuphius (April 1)
Saint Anatole the Younger (July 30)
Saint Nectarius (April 29)
Saint Nikon (June 25)
Saint Isaac II (December 26)
The Martyrs Zenaida (Zenais) and Philonilla lived in Tarsus in Cilicia during the first century, and were related to the holy Apostle Paul. They were pious Christian women, and both of them shared a love of learning. By whatever means were available to them at that time, they acquired medical knowledge.
The two sisters left their home and settled in a cave near the city of Demetriada, where they lived in constant prayer and work. The citizens of Demetriada soon learned that there were two women doctors who gladly treated everyone who turned to them for help, yet did not require payment for their services. They also healed people’s souls by converting them to Christ.
One night, some pagans went to their cave and stoned them. Saints Zenaida and Philonilla suffered martyrdom for Christ, thereby receiving incorruptible crowns of glory from the Lord.
Commemoration of the Miracle of the Icon of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Beret: At the fourth session of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (in 787), Saint Peter, Bishop of Nicomedia, in defending the necessity of icon veneration, presented an account of Saint Athanasius about a miracle which occurred in the city of Beret, Phoenecia.
In this city, near the Jewish synagogue, lived a certain Christian. When he moved to another place, he left behind an icon of the Lord Jesus Christ. A Jew, who moved into the house, paid no attention to the icon. Once, his friend noticed of the image of Jesus Christ on the wall and said to the homeowner, “Why do you, a Jew, have an icon in your house?” He then went to the synagogue and reported this transgression of Jewish law.
The Jews expelled the owner of the house from the synagogue.They took the icon from the wall and began to scoff at it, “As once our fathers mocked Him, so we also mock Him.” They spit at the face of the Lord. Hurling abuses, they lashed at the icon, they placed thorns around the head, nailed it to a tree, and put a sponge with vinegar to the mouth. Finally, they took a spear, and one of the Jews thrust it into the side of the Savior. Suddenly, from the hole in the icon made by the spear, blood and water flowed. The Jewish rabbis, seeing the miracle, said, “The followers of Jesus Christ say that He could heal the sick. Let us take this blood and water into the synagogue and anoint those afflicted with infirmities. Then we shall see whether what is spoken of Him is true.”
A vessel with the blood was put in the synagogue. The inhabitants of Beret, once they learned of the miracle, began to bring those suffering from various illnesses into the synagogue. They all were healed, after being anointed with the blood from the icon of the Savior. Then the Jewish people believed in Christ and exclaimed, “Glory to You, O Christ, Whom our fathers crucified, Whom we also crucified in the form of Your icon. Glory to You, O Son of God, for having worked such a miracle! We believe in You, therefore be merciful to us and receive us!”
The Jews went to the Bishop of Beret. After showing him the wonderworking icon and the blood and water that flowed from it, they told him of their misdeed. The bishop, seeing their sincere repentance, accepted them, catechized them for many days and then baptized them. Then he consecrated the synagogue into a church of our Savior Jesus Christ. At the request of the Jews, he also consecrated other synagogues into churches dedicated to the holy martyrs. There was great joy in that city, not only because many people were healed, but because many were baptized due to the miracles worked by the icon of the Savior.
Saint Ethelburga (Aethelburh) was born into the royal family of East Anglia in the seventh century. She was the sister of Saint Erconwald (May 13), who founded the monastery of Barking (Berecingum) in Essex. Saint Ethelburga became the first abbess of this monastery.
Saint Bede (May 27) says (History of the English Church and People, Book IV, Chapters. 6-9) that she was worthy of her holy brother in every way. She led a virtuous life and guided those who were under her. It is said that many miracles took place at the monastery during her time.
Shortly before Saint Ethelburga’s death, a nun called Tortgith had a vision in which she saw a body wrapped in a shroud, and shining with a bright light. She watched as the body was drawn up to Heaven on cords which seemed brighter than gold. Sister Tortgith had no doubt that this vision signified the imminent death of one of the nuns. Not many days later, Saint Ethelburga fell asleep in the Lord.
Years later, when the nun Tortgith was dying, Saint Ethelburga appeared to her and told her that the hour of her passing was at hand.
This Saint Ethelburga should not be confused with another saint of the same name (April 5), who was married to the holy martyred King Edwin of Northumbria (October 12).