THURSDAY OF THE 9TH WEEK
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS
Gregory the Wonderworker & Bishop of Neo-Caesarea, Gennadios I and Maximus, Patriarchs of Constantinople, Righteous Mother Hilda of Whitby
ST. PAUL’S FIRST LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS 12:7-11
Brethren, to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
The Lord said this parable, "There was a rich man who had a steward, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. And he called him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.' And the steward said to himself, 'What shall I do, since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that people may receive me into their houses when I am put out of the stewardship.' So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' He said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?' He said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.' The master commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness; for the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations.
Saint Gregory, Wonderworker of Neocaesarea
Saint Gregory the Wonderworker, Bishop of Neocaesarea, was born in the city of Neocaesarea (northern Asia Minor) into a prominent pagan family (between 210 – 215), and his original name was Theodore.
After his elementary education, Saint Gregory and his brother Gregory, or Athēnódoros1 (according to some hagiological sources) they went to Beirut to study law. The great thinkers of antiquity were not able to quench his thirst for knowledge, however. Truth was revealed to him only in the Holy Gospel, and the young man became a Christian.
In order to continue his studies, Saint Gregory went to Alexandria, known at that time as a center for pagan and Christian learning. Eager to acquire knowledge, Gregory went to the Alexandrian Catechetical School, where the presbyter Origen taught. Origen was a famous teacher, possessing a great strength of mind and profound knowledge. Saint Gregory became a pupil of Origen. Afterward, the Saint wrote of his mentor: “This man received from God a sublime gift, to be an interpreter of the Word of God for people, to apprehend the Word of God, as God Himself did use it, and to explain it to people, insofar as they could understand it.” Saint Gregory studied for eight years with Origen, who baptized him.
Saint Gregory's ascetical life, his continence, purity, and lack of covetousness aroused the envy of his conceited and sin-loving peers, pagans that they were, and they decided to slander Saint Gregory. Once, when he was conversing with philosophers and teachers in the city square, a notorious harlot came up to him and demanded payment for a sin he had supposedly committed with her. At first Saint Gregory gently remonstrated with her, saying that perhaps she had mistaken him for someone else. But the profligate woman would not be silenced. Then he asked a friend to give her the money. Just as the woman took the unjustified payment, she fell to the ground in a demonic fit, and the fraud was revealed. Saint Gregory prayed over her, and the demon was expelled. This was the first of his miracles.
After returning to Neocaesarea, the Saint fled from worldly affairs, into which influential townsmen persistently sought to push him. He went into the desert, where by fasting and prayer he attained great spiritual heights, as well as the gifts of clairvoyance and prophecy. Saint Gregory loved his life in the wilderness and wanted to remain in solitude until the end of his days, but the Lord willed otherwise.
Learning of Saint Gregory’s ascetical life, Bishop Phaίdēmos of the Cappadocian city of Amaseia, decided to make him Bishop of Neocaesarea. But foreseeing in spirit the intention of Bishop Phaίdēmos, the Saint hid himself from the hierarch's messengers who were sent to find him. Then Bishop Phaίdēmos consecrated Saint in absentia as Bishop of Neocaesarea, entreating the Lord to bless the unusual ordination. Saint Gregory regarded the extraordinary event as a manifestation of God's will, and he did not dare to protest. This episode in the life of Saint Gregory was recorded by Saint Gregory of Nyssa (January 10). He relates that Saint Gregory of Neocaesarea received the episcopal rank only after Bishop Phaίdēmos had ordained him to all the canonical ranks.
During this time, the heresy of Sabellius and Paul of Samosata began to spread. They taught falsely concerning the Holy Trinity. Saint Gregory prayed fervently and diligently imploring God and His most pure Mother to reveal the truth to him. The Most Holy Theotokos appeared to him, as radiant as the sun, and with her was the Apostle John the Theologian dressed in hierarchal vestments.
By the command of the Mother of God, the Apostle John taught the Saint the correct way to speak of the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Saint Gregory wrote down all that Saint John revealed to him. The Symbol of the Faith, as written down by Saint Gregory, is a great divine revelation in the history of the Church. The teaching concerning the Holy Trinity in Orthodox Theology is based on it. Subsequently, it was accepted by the Holy Fathers of the Church: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and Gregory of Nyssa. Saint Gregory's Symbol (Creed) was later examined and affirmed in the year 325 by the First Ecumenical Council, showing its enduring significance for Orthodoxy. Even those who disagreed with Saint Gregory regarded him as a second Moses.2
After becoming a hierarch, Saint Gregory journeyed to Neocaesarea. Along his way from Amaseia, he cast out the demons from a pagan temple, the priest of which he converted to Christ. That convert was a witness to yet another of the Saint's miracles: at his word a large stone moved from its place.
The Saint's sermons were direct, lively and fruitful. He taught and worked miracles in the name of Christ: he healed the sick, helped the needy, and settled disputes and complaints. Two brothers who shared an inheritance were unable to agree about their dead father's property. A large lake was the cause of their dispute, for each brother wanted the lake for himself. Both of them gathered their friends together, and were ready to come to blows. Saint Gregory persuaded them to delay their fight until the following day, while he prayed all night long on the shore of the lake which had sparked the quarrel. When dawn came, everyone saw that the lake had dried up or gone underground. Now, by the Saint's intense prayer, there was only a stream, and its course defined the boundary line. Another time, during the construction of a church, he commanded a hill to move and make room for the foundation to be dug.
When the persecution of Christians began under Emperor Decius (249-251), Saint Gregory led his flock to a faraway mountain. A certain pagan, who knew where the Christians were hiding, informed the persecutors, and soldiers surrounded the mountain. The Saint went out into an open place, raised his hands to heaven, and ordered his deacon to do the same. The soldiers searched the entire mountain, and several times they went right past those who were praying. Unable to see them, they gave up and went away. In the city they reported that there was nowhere to hide on the mountain. There were no people, just two trees standing next to each other. The informer was struck with amazement, he repented of his ways and became a devout Christian.
Saint Gregory returned to Neocaesarea after the end of the persecution. With his blessing, Church Feasts were established in honor of the martyrs who had suffered for Christ.
By the holiness of his life, his effective preaching, his miracles, and inspired guidance of his flock, the Saint increased the number of converts to Christ. When Saint Gregory first came to his See, there were only seventeen Christians in Neocaesarea. At the time of his repose, only seventeen pagans were left in the city.
1 According to Greek usage, both of them are commemorated on November 7.
2 Saint Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, chapter 29.
Venerable Nikon, Abbot of Radonezh, disciple of Venerable Sergius
Saint Nikon, Abbot of Radonezh, a disciple and successor of Saint Sergius of Radonezh (September 25 and July 5), was born at Yuriev-Polsk. Having heard of the angelic life of the Radonezh Wonderworker, the young man came to Saint Sergius and requested to be tonsured into the angelic schema.
Saint Sergius did not accept Nikon, whether because of his youth or for some other reason. Instead, he sent him to his disciple Saint Athanasius (September 12) at Serpukhov. But Saint Athanasius would not accept him right away. Only after seeing the young man’s persistence did he tonsure him into the monastic schema.
Saint Nikon struggled in prayer, studied Holy Scripture and persevered in virtue and purity. Because of his humility and the way he fulfilled each task assigned him without argument, Saint Nikon was called a “zealot of obedience.” When he reached the age of thirty, he was ordained to the priesthood. After a certain while, Saint Athanasius blessed him to go see Saint Sergius. Saint Sergius, catching sight of him, said, “It is good that you have come, my child Nikon,” and happily received him.
At first, he gave orders for Saint Nikon to serve the brethren. The disciple passed whole days in monastic matters, and his nights in prayerful conversation with God. Saint Sergius was comforted by his virtuous life. Having received a special insight concerning him, Saint Sergius bade his disciple to dwell with him in his own cell, so that he might share in spiritual attainment. He instructed him in every monastic virtue, and explained much about the essence of spiritual life. Saint Sergius assigned Saint Nikon to the duty of assisting him, but six months before his repose, he appointed his disciple as his successor. Then Saint Sergius withdrew into seclusion.
After the death of Saint Sergius (September 25, 1392), Nikon carried out his duties exactly as he was instructed by the founder of the monastery. He had the habit of attending all the monastic services, and never did he forsake common tasks, working on a equal footing with all the brethren. But the burden of being the igumen of the monastery weighed upon Saint Nikon. Recalling his quiet life in the Serpukhov Vysotsk monastery with Saint Athanasius, and later with Saint Sergius, he gave up his position and retired to his own cell.
For six years the monastery was guided by Saint Savva of Storozhevsk (December 3). In the year 1400 Saint Savva founded his own monastery near Zvenigorod, and the brethren entreated Saint Nikon to again take over its direction. He consented, but allotted himself a certain time each day for silence, so as to stand alone before God.
When reports began to spread about an invasion of the Russian land by Khan Edigei (1408), Saint Nikon zealously prayed to God to spare the monastery. In a dream the Moscow hierarchs Peter (December 21) and Alexis (February 12) together with Saint Sergius appeared to him and said that he should not grieve over the destruction of the monastery, since it would not become desolate, but would flourish all the more.
The monks left the monastery, taking with them relics, books, and consecrated vessels. When they returned, they saw that their beloved place had been reduced to ashes. But Saint Nikon did not despair, and the brethren began to restore the monastery. First of all a wooden church was built in honor of the Most Holy Trinity. It was consecrated on September 25, 1411, the anniversary of the repose of Saint Sergius.
The monastery was restored, and Saint Nikon began construction of a stone church over the grave of his spiritual Father, Saint Sergius. The work crew digging the foundations uncovered the incorrupt relics of Saint Sergius on July 5, 1422. Amidst universal rejoicing they placed the relics in a new reliquary and at the new site a wooden church was built (now the church in honor of the Descent of the Holy Spirit is at this place). Saint Nikon later built a new stone church in the Name of the Most Holy Trinity. In honor and memory of his spiritual Father, he transferred the holy relics into this newly built church.
Saint Nikon brought in the finest iconographers, Saints Andrew Rublev (July 4) and Daniel Cherny (June 13) for the adornment of the temple. Then Saint Andrew painted the Icon of the Most Holy Trinity (Hospitality of Abraham), embodying what was revealed to Saint Sergius. Saint Nikon was occupied with the construction of the Trinity church until the end of his life.
Saint Nikon’s final resting place was revealed to him in a vision before his death. He summoned the brethren and gave them instructions. After receiving the All-Pure Body of Christ and His Precious Blood, Saint Nikon gave the brethren a last blessing and said, “Go forth, my soul, with joy to the place where repose is prepared for you. Christ is calling you.”
Having made the Sign of the Cross, Saint Nikon died on November 27, 1426. He was buried near the reliquary of Saint Sergius. Under the hierarch Jonah (1448-1461), the hieromonk Pachomius the Logothete wrote the Service and Life of Saint Nikon. In the year 1547 a generally observed celebration to him was established. In the year 1548 a church named for him was built over the grave of Saint Nikon. In 1623 a new one was constructed in its place, in which the relics of Saint Nikon rest in a crypt. The 500 year anniversary of the repose of Saint Nikon was solemnly observed in 1976 at the Trinity-Sergeev Lavra.
Venerable Lazarus the Iconographer, of Constantinople
Saint Lazarus the Iconographer lived in Constantinople. He was a priest, led a strict ascetic life and painted holy icons. He fought against all heresy, enduring many afflictions from the Nestorians, Eutychians, and iconoclasts. Under the iconoclast emperor Theophilus (829-842), he was arrested and after cruel tortures, thrown into prison. Theophilus ordered horseshoes to be placed in a fire until they glowed red with the heat. Then they were put upon the iconographer’s hands, because he dared to paint icons of Christ and the saints. He was saved from execution by the intervention of the empress Theodora.
Saint Lazarus died in the year 857 while returning from Rome, where he had been sent in a delegation on church matters to Pope Benedict III (855-858). His remains were taken to Constantinople and buried in the church of Saint Evandrus.
Martyr Gobron (Michael) and 133 soldiers, of Georgia
In the year 914 a certain prince by the name of Michael-Gobron distinguished himself in a battle against the Arab Muslim invaders. After they had captured the fortress of Kvelistsikhe in southern Georgia, the Muslims took captive those who remained alive, and Prince Gobron was among them. Deeply impressed by the Georgian soldier’s valor, the emir Abu al-Qasim ordered his army to treat him with respect.
King Adarnerse sent Abu al-Qasim a large sum of money as a ransom for his people, and some were released. Gobron, however, was not among them. The Georgian prince recognized clearly what the future would bring, and he prepared to be martyred for Christ’s sake. The Saracens escorted Gobron and 133 Georgian soldiers to their execution.
Abu al-Qasim tempted the faithful prince by offering him earthly glory and honor in exchange for his renunciation of the Christian Faith. But Saint Gobron firmly declined all of his offers. Then the furious Abu al-Qasim ordered that he be taken into the yard and shown his fallen countrymen on one side and the promised wealth on the other.
When the emir cunningly asked which one he would choose, Gobron answered, “I told you from the very start that I will not retreat from Christ my Lord!”
Then the emir devised a new, more cruel trial: “He knows not the grief of death. Lead him outside and execute every living Christian before his eyes!” he commanded.
They led the saint out in the midst of his brothers and proceeded to slaughter every one of them. The blood of the dead flew around Gobron in every direction, and the martyrs’ limp bodies collapsed at his feet, but none of these horrors could break his will.
Then they compelled him to bow his head and brandished their swords above him two times. Prince Gobron traced a cross on his brow with blood and said, “I thank Thee, Lord Jesus Christ, that Thou hast accounted me, the most contemptible and chief among sinners, worthy to lay down my life for Thy sake!”
Again they brought Saint Gobron before the emir. For the last time Abu al-Qasim tried to entice him to apostatize, but the saint, dripping with blood, declared, “Do as you wish. I am a Christian and will never retreat from the name of my Christ!”
Having lost all patience, Abu al-Qasim ordered that Saint Gobron’s head be chopped off and thrown in with the other mutilated bodies. Then they dug three large holes, tossed in the relics of the martyrs, refilled the holes with earth, and forbade all Christians to approach that place. At night the graves shone with a divine light visible to believers and unbelievers alike.
For laying down their lives for Christ, the valorous prince Michael-Gobron and the 133 martyrs were numbered among the saints by the Georgian Apostolic Church. The day of their commemoration was designated as November 17, the day of their martyrdom.
Venerable Gennadius of Vatopedi, Mount Athos
Saint Gennadius was the steward of the Vatopedi monastery on Mt Athos in the fourteenth century, and was in charge of supplies. When the monastery’s oil began to run low, he tried to be economical with what remained by using oil just for the needs of the church. The cook began to complain to the Igumen, saying that he had no oil for preparing meals. The Igumen ordered Saint Gennadius to place his trust in the Mother of God, and to supply the oil for all the monastery’s needs.
One day, Saint Gennadius went to the storeroom and saw the tank overflowing with oil covering the floor as far as the door. This miracle was ascribed to the Most Holy Theotokos, and to Her Elaiovrytissa icon which stood nearby. Since that time, the icon has hung in the storeroom and has emitted an ineffable fragrance.
The Elaiovrytissa (“Flowing with oil”) Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos is commemorated on Bright Friday.