WEDNESDAY OF THE 10TH WEEK
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS, WINE, OLIVE OIL
Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium, Gregory, Bishop of Agrigentum, Dionysios, Patriarch of Constantinople, Ischyrion, Bishop of Egypt, Afterfeast of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple, Sisinios the Confessor
ST. PAUL’S FIRST LETTER TO THE THESSALONIANS 4:1-12
Brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from unchastity; that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the heathen who do not know God; that no man transgress, and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we solemnly forewarned you. For God has not called us for uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. But concerning the love of the brethren you have no need to have any one write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brethren throughout Macedonia. But we exhort you, brethren, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we charged you; so that you may command the respect of outsiders, and be dependent on nobody.
LUKE 18:15-17, 26-30
At that time, they were bringing infants to Jesus that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.
Those who heard it said, "Then who can be saved?" But he said, "What is impossible with men is possible with God." And Peter said, "Lo, we have left our homes and followed you." And he said to them, "Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.
Afterfeast of the Entry of the Most Holy Mother of God into the Temple
According to Holy Tradition, the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple took place in the following manner. The parents of the Virgin Mary, Saints Joachim and Anna, praying for an end to their childlessness, vowed that if a child were born to them, they would dedicate it to the service of God.
When the Most Holy Virgin reached the age of three, the holy parents decided to fulfill their vow. They gathered together their relatives and acquaintances, and dressed the All-Pure Virgin in Her finest clothes. Singing sacred songs and with lighted candles in their hands, virgins escorted Her to the Temple (Ps. 44/45:14-15). There the High Priest and several priests met the handmaiden of God. In the Temple, fifteen high steps led to the sanctuary, which only the priests and High Priest could enter. (Because they recited a Psalm on each step, Psalms 119/120-133/134 are called “Psalms of Ascent.”) The child Mary, so it seemed, could not make it up this stairway. But just as they placed Her on the first step, strengthened by the power of God, She quickly went up the remaining steps and ascended to the highest one. Then the High Priest, through inspiration from above, led the Most Holy Virgin into the Holy of Holies, where only the High Priest entered once a year to offer a purifying sacrifice of blood. Therefore, all those present in the Temple were astonished at this most unusual occurrence.
After entrusting their child to the Heavenly Father, Joachim and Anna returned home. The All-Holy Virgin remained in the quarters for virgins near the Temple. According to the testimony of Holy Scripture (Exodus 38; 1 Kings 1: 28; Luke 2: 37), and also the historian Josephus Flavius, there were many living quarters around the Temple, in which those who were dedicated to the service of God dwelt.
The earthly life of the Most Holy Theotokos from Her infancy until She was taken up to Heaven is shrouded in deep mystery. Her life at the Jerusalem Temple was also a secret. “If anyone were to ask me,” said Saint Jerome, “how the Most Holy Virgin spent the time of Her youth, I would answer that that is known to God Himself and the Archangel Gabriel, Her constant guardian.”
But there are accounts in Church Tradition, that during the All-Pure Virgin’s stay at the Temple, She grew up in a community of pious virgins, diligently read the Holy Scripture, occupied Herself with handicrafts, prayed constantly, and grew in love for God. From ancient times, the Church has celebrated the Feast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple. Indications that the Feast was observed in the first centuries of Christianity are found in the traditions of Palestinian Christians, which say that the holy Empress Helen (May 21) built a church in honor of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple.
Saint Gregory of Nyssa, in the fourth century, also mentions this Feast. In the eighth century Saints Germanus and Tarasius, Patriarchs of Constantinople, delivered sermons on the Feast of the Entry.
The Feast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple foretells God’s blessing for the human race, the preaching of salvation, the promise of the coming of Christ.
DISCOURSE ON THE FEAST OF THE ENTRY
OF OUR MOST PURE LADY THEOTOKOS
INTO THE HOLY OF HOLIES
by Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica
If a tree is known by its fruit, and a good tree bears good fruit (Mt. 7:17; Luke 6:44), then is not the Mother of Goodness Itself, She who bore the Eternal Beauty, incomparably more excellent than every good, whether in this world or the world above? Therefore, the coeternal and identical Image of goodness, Preeternal, transcending all being, He Who is the preexisting and good Word of the Father, moved by His unutterable love for mankind and compassion for us, put on our image, that He might reclaim for Himself our nature which had been dragged down to uttermost Hades, so as to renew this corrupted nature and raise it to the heights of Heaven. For this purpose, He had to assume a flesh that was both new and ours, that He might refashion us from out of ourselves. Now He finds a Handmaiden perfectly suited to these needs, the supplier of Her own unsullied nature, the Ever-Virgin now hymned by us, and Whose miraculous Entrance into the Temple, into the Holy of Holies, we now celebrate. God predestined Her before the ages for the salvation and reclaiming of our kind. She was chosen, not just from the crowd, but from the ranks of the chosen of all ages, renowned for piety and understanding, and for their God-pleasing words and deeds.
In the beginning, there was one who rose up against us: the author of evil, the serpent, who dragged us into the abyss. Many reasons impelled him to rise up against us, and there are many ways by which he enslaved our nature: envy, rivalry, hatred, injustice, treachery, slyness, etc. In addition to all this, he also has within him the power of bringing death, which he himself engendered, being the first to fall away from true life.
The author of evil was jealous of Adam, when he saw him being led from earth to Heaven, from which he was justly cast down. Filled with envy, he pounced upon Adam with a terrible ferocity, and even wished to clothe him with the garb of death. Envy is not only the begetter of hatred, but also of murder, which this truly man-hating serpent brought about in us. For he wanted to be master over the earth-born for the ruin of that which was created in the image and likeness of God. Since he was not bold enough to make a face to face attack, he resorted to cunning and deceit. This truly terrible and malicious plotter pretended to be a friend and useful adviser by assuming the physical form of a serpent, and stealthily took their position. By his God-opposing advice, he instills in man his own death-bearing power, like a venomous poison.
If Adam had been sufficiently strong to keep the divine commandment, then he would have shown himself the vanquisher of his enemy, and withstood his deathly attack. But since he voluntarily gave in to sin, he was defeated and was made a sinner. Since he is the root of our race, he has produced us as death-bearing shoots. So, it was necessary for us, if he were to fight back against his defeat and to claim victory, to rid himself of the death-bearing venomous poison in his soul and body, and to absorb life, eternal and indestructible life.
It was necessary for us to have a new root for our race, a new Adam, not just one Who would be sinless and invincible, but one Who also would be able to forgive sins and set free from punishment those subject to it. And not only would He have life in Himself, but also the capacity to restore to life, so that He could grant to those who cleave to Him and are related to Him by race both life and the forgiveness of their sins, restoring to life not only those who came after Him, but also those who already had died before Him. Therefore, Saint Paul, that great trumpet of the Holy Spirit, exclaims, “the first man Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam was made a quickening spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45).
Except for God, there is no one who is without sin, or life-creating, or able to remit sin. Therefore, the new Adam must be not only Man, but also God. He is at the same time life, wisdom, truth, love, and mercy, and every other good thing, so that He might renew the old Adam and restore him to life through mercy, wisdom and righteousness. These are the opposites of the things which the author of evil used to bring about our aging and death.
As the slayer of mankind raised himself against us with envy and hatred, so the Source of life was lifted up [on the Cross] because of His immeasurable goodness and love for mankind. He intensely desired the salvation of His creature, i.e., that His creature would be restored by Himself. In contrast to this, the author of evil wanted to bring God’s creature to ruin, and thereby put mankind under his own power, and tyrannically to afflict us. And just as he achieved the conquest and the fall of mankind by means of injustice and cunning, by deceit and his trickery, so has the Liberator brought about the defeat of the author of evil, and the restoration of His own creature with truth, justice and wisdom.
It was a deed of perfect justice that our nature, which was voluntarily enslaved and struck down, should again enter the struggle for victory and cast off its voluntary enslavement. Therefore, God deigned to receive our nature from us, hypostatically uniting with it in a marvelous way. But it was impossible to unite that Most High Nature, Whose purity is incomprehensible for human reason, to a sinful nature before it had been purified. Therefore, for the conception and birth of the Bestower of purity, a perfectly spotless and Most Pure Virgin was required.
Today we celebrate the memory of those things that contributed, if only once, to the Incarnation. He Who is God by nature, the Co-unoriginate and Coeternal Word and Son of the Transcendent Father, becomes the Son of Man, the Son of the Ever-Virgin. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8), immutable in His divinity and blameless in His humanity, He alone, as the Prophet Isaiah prophesied, “practiced no iniquity, nor deceit with His lips” (Is. 53: 9). He alone was not brought forth in iniquity, nor was He conceived in sin, in contrast to what the Prophet David says concerning himself and every other man (Ps. 50/51: 5). Even in what He assumes, He is perfectly pure and has no need to be cleansed Himself. But for our sake, He accepted purification, suffering, death and resurrection, that He might transmit them to us.
God is born of the spotless and Holy Virgin, or better to say, of the Most Pure and All-Holy Virgin. She is above every fleshly defilement, and even above every impure thought. Her conceiving resulted not from fleshly lust, but by the overshadowing of the Most Holy Spirit. Such desire being utterly alien to Her, it is through prayer and spiritual readiness that She declared to the angel: “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto Me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38), and that She conceived and gave birth. So, in order to render the Virgin worthy of this sublime purpose, God marked this ever-virgin Daughter now praised by us, from before the ages, and from eternity, choosing Her from out of His elect.
Turn your attention then, to where this choice began. From the sons of Adam God chose the wondrous Seth, who showed himself a living heaven through his becoming behavior, and through the beauty of his virtues. That is why he was chosen, and from whom the Virgin would blossom as the divinely fitting chariot of God. She was needed to give birth and to summon the earth-born to heavenly sonship. For this reason also all the lineage of Seth were called “sons of God,” because from this lineage a son of man would be born the Son of God. The name Seth signifies a rising or resurrection, or more specifically, it signifies the Lord, Who promises and gives immortal life to all who believe in Him.
And how precisely exact is this parallel! Seth was born of Eve, as she herself said, in place of Abel, whom Cain killed through jealousy (Gen. 4:25); and Christ, the Son of the Virgin, was born for us in place of Adam, whom the author of evil also killed through jealousy. But Seth did not resurrect Abel, since he was only a type of the resurrection. But our Lord Jesus Christ resurrected Adam, since He is the very Life and the Resurrection of the earth-born, for whose sake the descendents of Seth are granted divine adoption through hope, and are called the children of God. It was because of this hope that they were called sons of God, as is evident from the one who was first called so, the successor in the choice. This was Enos, the son of Seth, who as Moses wrote, first hoped to call on the Name of the Lord (Gen. 4:26).
In this manner, the choice of the future Mother of God, beginning with the very sons of Adam and proceeding through all the generations of time, through the Providence of God, passes to the Prophet-king David and the successors of his kingdom and lineage. When the chosen time had come, then from the house and posterity of David, Joachim and Anna are chosen by God. Though they were childless, they were by their virtuous life and good disposition the finest of all those descended from the line of David. And when in prayer they besought God to deliver them from their childlessness, and promised to dedicate their child to God from its infancy. By God Himself, the Mother of God was proclaimed and given to them as a child, so that from such virtuous parents the all-virtuous child would be raised. So in this manner, chastity joined with prayer came to fruition by producing the Mother of virginity, giving birth in the flesh to Him Who was born of God the Father before the ages.
Now, when Righteous Joachim and Anna saw that they had been granted their wish, and that the divine promise to them was realized in fact, then they on their part, as true lovers of God, hastened to fulfill their vow given to God as soon as the child had been weaned from milk. They have now led this truly sanctified child of God, now the Mother of God, this Virgin into the Temple of God. And She, being filled with Divine gifts even at such a tender age, … She, rather than others, determined what was being done over Her. In Her manner She showed that She was not so much presented into the Temple, but that She Herself entered into the service of God of her own accord, as if she had wings, striving towards this sacred and divine love. She considered it desirable and fitting that she should enter into the Temple and dwell in the Holy of Holies.
Therefore, the High Priest, seeing that this child, more than anyone else, had divine grace within Her, wished to set Her within the Holy of Holies. He convinced everyone present to welcome this, since God had advanced it and approved it. Through His angel, God assisted the Virgin and sent Her mystical food, with which She was strengthened in nature, while in body She was brought to maturity and was made purer and more exalted than the angels, having the Heavenly spirits as servants. She was led into the Holy of Holies not just once, but was accepted by God to dwell there with Him during Her youth, so that through Her, the Heavenly Abodes might be opened and given for an eternal habitation to those who believe in Her miraculous birthgiving.
So it is, and this is why She, from the beginning of time, was chosen from among the chosen. She Who is manifest as the Holy of Holies, Who has a body even purer than the spirits purified by virtue, is capable of receiving … the Hypostatic Word of the Unoriginate Father. Today the Ever-Virgin Mary, like a Treasure of God, is stored in the Holy of Holies, so that in due time, (as it later came to pass) She would serve for the enrichment of, and an ornament for, all the world. Therefore, Christ God also glorifies His Mother, both before, and also after His birth.
We who understand the salvation begun for our sake through the Most Holy Virgin, give Her thanks and praise according to our ability. And truly, if the grateful woman (of whom the Gospel tells us), after hearing the saving words of the Lord, blessed and thanked His Mother, raising her voice above the din of the crowd and saying to Christ, “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee, and the paps Thou hast sucked” (Luke 11:27), then we who have the words of eternal life written out for us, and not only the words, but also the miracles and the Passion, and the raising of our nature from death, and its ascent from earth to Heaven, and the promise of immortal life and unfailing salvation, then how shall we not unceasingly hymn and bless the Mother of the Author of our Salvation and the Giver of Life, celebrating Her conception and birth, and now Her Entry into the Holy of Holies?
Now, brethren, let us remove ourselves from earthly to celestial things. Let us change our path from the flesh to the spirit. Let us change our desire from temporal things to those that endure. Let us scorn fleshly delights, which serve as allurements for the soul and soon pass away. Let us desire spiritual gifts, which remain undiminished. Let us turn our reason and our attention from earthly concerns and raise them to the inaccessible places of Heaven, to the Holy of Holies, where the Mother of God now resides.
Therefore, in such manner our songs and prayers to Her will gain entry, and thus through her mediation, we shall be heirs of the everlasting blessings to come, through the grace and love for mankind of Him Who was born of Her for our sake, our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory, honor and worship, together with His Unoriginate Father and His Coeternal and Life-Creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Saint Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium
Saint Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium, was born in Caesarea in Cappadocia, a city which has given the world some of the greatest Fathers and teachers of the Orthodox Church. He was a first cousin to Saint Gregory the Theologian, and a close friend of Saint Basil the Great. He was their disciple, follower and of like mind with them.
Saint Amphilochius toiled hard in the field of Christ. He lived in the wilderness as a strict ascetic for about forty years, until the time when the Lord summoned him for hierarchic service. In the year 372 the Bishop of Iconium died. Angels of the Lord thrice appeared in visions to Saint Amphilochius, summoning him to go to Iconium to be the bishop. The truthfulness of these visions was proven when the angel, appearing to him the third time, sang together with the saint the angelic song: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth.” The heavenly messenger led the saint to the nearest church, where an assembly of angels consecrated Amphilochius bishop.
The saint, on the way back to his cell, encountered seven bishops who were seeking him at the command of God, in order to establish him as archpastor of Iconium. Saint Amphilochius told them that he was already consecrated by the angels.
For many years Saint Amphilochius tended the flock of Iconium entrusted to him by the Lord. The prayer of the righteous one was so intense that he was able to ask the Lord to heal the spiritual and bodily infirmities of his flock. The wise archpastor, gifted as writer and preacher, unceasingly taught piety to his flock. A strict Orthodox theologian, the saint relentlessly confronted the Arian and Eunomian heresies. He participated in the Second Ecumenical Council (381), and he headed the struggle against the heresy of Macedonius. Letters and treatises of Saint Amphilochius are preserved, which are profoundly dogmatic and apologetic in content. The holy Bishop Amphilochius of Iconium departed peacefully to the Lord in the year 394.
Saint Gregory, Bishop of Agrigentum
Saint Gregory, Bishop of Agrigentum, was born on the island of Sicily, in the village of Pretorium, not far from the city of Agrigentum, of the pious parents Chariton and Theodota. The infant Gregory was baptized by the bishop of Agrigentum, Pataimonus. At ten years of age the studious boy mastered writing and was able to read, and to sing church hymns. At twelve years of age Saint Gregory was given to the clergy, and he was put under the spiritual guidance of the archdeacon Donatus. Saint Gregory spent the next ten years in the Agrigentum church. Then, however, an angel of the Lord appeared to the holy youth, who had a fervent desire to visit Jerusalem, and said that God had blessed his intention.
At Jerusalem Saint Gregory was presented to Patriarch Macarius (563-574), who retained the pious youth for service in his own cathedral church, ordaining him deacon. The soul of Saint Gregory thirsted for monastic labors, and the Patriarch gave his blessing, allowing him go to a monastery on the Mount of Olives. After a year Saint Gregory departed this monastery for a desert Elder, who for four years taught him spiritual wisdom, humility and the principles of monastic life. The ascetic, foreseeing in Saint Gregory a future great luminary of the Church, gave him a blessing to forsake the solitary life.
Having left the Elder, Saint Gregory dwelt for a certain time at Jerusalem, and then went to Constantinople, where he was received with love by the brethren of the monastery of the holy Martyrs Sergius and Bacchus. The ascetic efforts of Saint Gregory were noticed by Patriarch Eutychius of Constantinople (552-565), at whose insistence the saint participated in the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553). At the completion of the Council Saint Gregory set off for Rome, to venerate the graves of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul.
During this time the bishop of Agrigentum died. The elder clergy and illustrious citizens of Agrigentum journeyed to Rome with a request for the Pope to determine a successor for their late hierarch from among a list of candidates they were presenting. The Pope, however, declined their proposal through divine inspiration, and instead summoned Saint Gregory to serve them as bishop.
For a few years Saint Gregory peacefully guided the flock entrusted to him by God. He was a defender of the down-trodden, a wise preacher, and miraculous healer. As archbishop, Saint Gregory led the life of an ascetic monk, fervently observing monastic vows. The flock loved their hierarch and trusted in him. But there were also malicious people who had resolved to slander him.
While Saint Gregory was in church, these vicious people secretly led a bribed harlot into his chambers, and then in front of the crowd which accompanied the bishop to the doors of his house after services, they led her out and accused Saint Gregory of the deadly sin of fornication. They placed the holy bishop under guard. The people attempted to defend their bishop, but were unsuccessful. At the trial the harlot gave false testimony against Saint Gregory. Just as she pronounced the words of slander, she went into a fit of frenzied rage. The judges accused the saint of sorcery. Saint Gregory was sent for judgment to the Roman bishop together with a report about his “crimes.”
The Pope, after reading the charges, did not want to see the accused, and gave orders to remand him to prison. The saint endured his humiliation humbly, dwelling in constant prayer. His prayerful effort and wonderworking gifts quickly became known through the city and the surrounding region. Pious Romans began to gather at the prison, whom the imprisoned saint taught about the righteous life, and he implored the Lord to heal the sick.
After two years, a clairvoyant Elder named Mark, who had known Saint Gregory since youth, came to the Pope. The Elder did not believe the charges and he persuaded the Pope to convene a Council to decide Gregory’s case. At the invitation of the Pope, many clergy from the city of Agrigentum came to the Council, together with all those making accusations against the saint, including the harlot. From Constantinople three bishops and the imperial dignitary Marcian came to Rome. Along the way Marcian had fallen grievously ill. On the advice of many people who had received healing through the prayers of Saint Gregory, servants carried the dying man to the prison where the wonderworking saint languished. Through the prayers of Saint Gregory the Lord granted healing to Marcian.
At the Council the slanderers attempted to renew their accusations, and as their chief proof they presented the deranged harlot to the judge, declaring that Gregory had bewitched her. But the saint prayed over her and cast out the devil. The woman came to her senses and told the Council the whole truth. The slanderers were brought to shame and judged. Marcian even wanted to execute them, but Saint Gregory implored forgiveness for them.
Saint Gregory returned in honor to his own cathedral, and surrounded by the love of his flock, he guided the Church until his own peaceful demise.
Repose of Saint Alexander Nevsky
The Holy Prince Alexander Nevsky was born on May 30, 1220 in the city of Pereslavl-Zalessk. His father Yaroslav II, Theodore in Baptism (+1246), “a gentle, kindly and genial prince”, was the younger son of Vsevolod III Large Nest (+ 1212), brother of the Holy Prince Yuri Vsevolodovich (February 4). Saint Alexander’s mother, Theodosia Igorevna, a Ryazan princess, was Yaroslav’s third wife. Their older son was the Holy Prince Theodore (June 5), who departed to the Lord at age fifteen. Saint Alexander was their second son.
His childhood was spent at Pereslavl-Zalessk, where his father was prince. The princely tonsure of the lad Alexander (a ceremony of initiation to be soldier) was done in the Savior Transfiguration Cathedral of Pereslavl by Saint Simon, Bishop of Suzdal (May 10), one of the compilers of the Kiev Caves Paterikon (Lives of the Fathers). From this Elder-hierarch, Saint Alexander received his first blessing for military service in the name of God, to defend the Russian Church and the Russian Land.
In 1227 Prince Yaroslav, at the request of the people of Novgorod, was sent by his brother Yuri, the Great Prince of Vladimir, to rule as prince in Novgorod the Great. He took with him his sons, Saints Theodore and Alexander. Dissatisfied with the Vladimir princes, the people of Novgorod soon invited Saint Michael of Chernigov (September 20), and in February 1229 Yaroslav with his sons departed to Pereslavl. The matter ended peacefully: in 1230 Yaroslav with his sons returned to Novgorod, and Saint Michael’s daughter Theodosia was betrothed to Saint Theodore, the elder brother of Saint Alexander. After the death of the bridegroom in 1233 the young princess went to a monastery and became famous in monastic exploits as the nun Saint Euphrosynē of Suzdal (September 25).
From his early years Saint Alexander went along on his father’s campaigns. In 1235 he participated in a battle at the River Emajogi (in present-day Estonia), where the forces of Yaroslav totally routed the Germans. In the following year Yaroslav went to Kiev, “settling” his son, Saint Alexander, to rule independently as prince at Novgorod. In 1239 Saint Alexander entered into marriage, taking as wife the daughter of the Polotsian prince Briacheslav. Some histories relate that the day the princess was baptized was the Name Day of her saintly spouse, and she was named Alexandra. His father, Yaroslav, blessed them at betrothal with the holy wonderworking icon of the Theodore Mother of God (the father was named Theodore in Baptism). Afterwards, Saint Alexander constantly prayed before this icon. Later, it was taken from the Gorodetsk Monastery, where he died, by his brother Basil of Kostroma (+1276), and transferred to Kostroma.
A very troublesome time had begun in Russian history: from the East came the Mongol Horde destroying everything in their path; from the West came the forces of the Teutonic Knights, which blasphemously and with the blessing of the Roman Pope, called itself “Cross-bearers” by wearing the Cross of the Lord. In this terrible hour the Providence of God raised up for the salvation of Russia holy Prince Alexander, a great warrior, man of prayer, ascetic and upholder of the Land of Russia. “Without the command of God there would not have been his prince.”
Abetted by the invasion of Batu, by the ruin of Russian cities, by the dismay and grief of the nation, by the destruction of its finest sons and leaders, a horde of crusaders made incursions into the borders of Russia. First were the Swedes. “A king of Roman faith from the midnight land,” Sweden, in 1240 gathered a great armed force and sent them to the Neva on many ships under the command of his son-in-law, Yarl (Prince) Birger. The haughty Swede sent his messengers to Novgorod to say to Saint Alexander: “Fight me if you have the courage, for I am already here and I am taking your land captive.”
Saint Alexander, then not yet twenty years old, prayed a long time in the church of Saint Sophia, the Wisdom of God. He recited the Psalm of David, saying: “Judge, O Lord, those who injure me, fight against those who fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler, and rise up to help me” (Ps. 34/35). Archbishop Spyridon blessed the holy prince and his army for the battle. Leaving the church, Saint Alexander exhorted his troops with words of faith: “The power of God is not in numbers, but in truth.” With a smaller force, trusting in the Holy Trinity, the prince hastened towards the enemy to await help from his father, not knowing whether the enemy would attack, nor when.
But there was a miraculous omen: at dawn on July 15 the warrior Pelgui, in Baptism Philip, saw a boat, and on it were the Holy Martyrs Boris and Gleb, in royal purple attire. Boris said: “Brother Gleb, let us help our kinsman Alexander.” When Pelgui reported the vision to the prince, Saint Alexander commanded that no one should speak about the miracle. Emboldened by this, he urged the army to fight valiantly against the Swedes.
“There was a great slaughter of the Latins, and a countless multitude was killed, and their leader was left with a mark upon his face from a sharp spear.” An angel of God invisibly helped the Orthodox army: when morning came, on the opposite bank of the River Izhora, where the army of Saint Alexander was unable to proceed, was a multitude of the slain enemy. Because of this victory at the River Neva on July 15, 1240, the nation called the saint Alexander Nevsky.
The Teutonic Knights remained a dangerous enemy. In a lightning-quick campaign in 1241 Saint Alexander recaptured the ancient Russian fortress of Kopore, expelling the knights. But in 1242, the Germans succeeded capturing Pskov. The enemy boasted of “subjecting all the Slavic nation.” Saint Alexander, setting forth in a winter campaign, liberated Pskov, that ancient home of the Holy Trinity, and in spring of the year 1242 fought a decisive battle against the Teutonic Order. On the ice of Lake Chud both armies clashed on April 5, 1242. Raising his hands towards the heavens, Saint Alexander prayed: “Judge me, O God, and judge my strife with a boastful nation and grant help to me, O God, as to Moses of old against Amalek, and to my great-grandfather Yaroslav the Wise against accursed Svyatopolk.”
By his prayer, by the help of God, and by military might the Crusaders were completely destroyed. There was a terrible slaughter, and there was such a crashing of striking spears and swords that it seemed as though the frozen lake were in motion and not solid ice, since it was covered with blood. When they turned to flee, the enemy was pursued and slashed by Alexander’s army “as if they sped through the air, and there was nowhere for the enemy to flee.” Later, they led a multitude of captives behind the holy prince, marching in disgrace.
Contemporaries clearly understood the universal historical significance of the Great Battle of the Ice, and the name of Saint Alexander was celebrated throughout Holy Russia, “through all the lands, from the Egyptian Sea to Mount Ararat, from both sides of the Varangian Sea to Great Rome.”
The western boundaries of the Russian land were safely secured, and it was time to guard Russia from the East. In 1242 Saint Alexander Nevsky and his father Yaroslav journeyed to the Horde. Metropolitan Cyril blessed them for this new service of many hardships: it was necessary to turn the Tatars from enemies and plunderers into honorable allies, and this required “the meekness of an angel and the wisdom of a snake.”
The Lord crowned the holy mission of the defenders of the Russian land with success, but this required years of hardship and sacrifice. Having made an alliance with Khan Batu, Prince Yaroslav was required to travel to faraway Mongolia, to the capital of all the nomadic empire. The situation of Batu himself being precarious, he sought the support of the Russian princes, wishing to break with his own Golden Horde from faraway Mongolia. And there in turn, they trusted neither Batu nor the Russians.
Prince Yaroslav was poisoned. He died in agony, surviving the Holy Martyr Michael of Chernigov, whose relative he nearly became, by only ten days. Since his father bequeathed him an alliance with the Golden Horde, it was necessary for Saint Alexander Nevsky to hold fast to it in order to avert a new devastation of Russia. Sartak, the son of Batu, had accepted Christianity, and was in charge of Russian affairs with the Horde. He became his friend, and like a brother to him. Vowing his support, Saint Alexander allowed Batu to launch a campaign against Mongolia, to become the chief power in all the Great Steppes, and to raise up the Tatar Christian leader, Khan Munke (most of his Tatar Christians were Nestorians) on the throne in Mongolia.
Not all the Russian princes possessed the wisdom of Saint Alexander Nevsky. Many hoped for European help in the struggle against the Mongol Yoke. Saint Michael of Chernigov, Prince Daniel of Galich, and Andrew, Saint Alexander’s brother, conducted negotiations with the Roman Pope. But Saint Alexander well knew the fate of Constantinople, seized and devastated by Crusaders in the year 1204. His own personal experience taught him not to trust the West. The alliance of Daniel of Galich with the Pope, giving him nothing in return, was a betrayal of Orthodoxy, a unia with Rome. Saint Alexander did not want this to happen to his Church.
When ambassadors of the Roman Pope appeared in 1248 to seduce him also, he wrote in answer that the Russians were faithful to the Church of Christ and to the belief of the Seven Ecumenical Councils: “These we know very well, but we do not accept your teaching.” Catholicism was unsuitable for the Russian Church, and a unia signified a rejection of Orthodoxy, a rejection of the source of spiritual life, a rejection of the historical future foreordained by God, and the dooming of itself to spiritual death.
In the year 1252 many Russian cities rose up against the Tatar Yoke, supporting Andrew Yaroslavich. The situation was very risky. Again there arose a threat to the very existence of Russia. Saint Alexander had to journey to the Horde once more, in order to prevent a punitive Tatar incursion on the Russian lands. Defeated, Andrew fled to the Swedes seeking the help of those very robbers whom his great brother had crushed with the help of God at the Neva.
Saint Alexander became the ruling Great Prince of All Rus: Vladimir, Kiev and Novgorod. A great responsibility before God and history lay upon his shoulders. In 1253, he repelled a new German incursion against Pskov; in 1254 he made a treaty with Norway concerning peacetime borders; in 1256 he went on a campaign to the Finnish land. The chronicler called it “the dark campaign,” because the Russian army went along through the polar night, “going to impassable places, unable to see either day or night”. Into the darkness of paganism Saint Alexander brought the light of Gospel preaching and Orthodox culture. All the coastal region was enlightened and opened up by the Russians.
In 1256 Khan Batu died, and soon his son Sartak was poisoned, the one who was like a brother to Alexander Nevsky. The holy prince journeyed a third time to Sarai in order to confirm peaceful relations of Rus and the Horde with the new Khan, Berke. Although the successor to Batu had accepted Islam, he needed the alliance with Orthodox Rus. In 1261, by the diligent efforts of Saint Alexander and Metropolitan Cyril, a diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church was established at Sarai, the capital of the Golden Horde.
There followed an epoch of great Christianization of the pagan East, and Saint Alexander Nevsky prophetically speculated about the historical vocation of Rus. The holy prince used every possibility to uplift his native land and the ease its allotted cross. In 1262 by his decree in many of the cities the Tatar collectors of tribute and the conscription of soldiers were stopped. They waited for a Tatar reprisal. But the great intercessor of the nation again journeyed to the Horde and he wisely directed the event into quite another channel. Having been dismissed for the uprising of the Russians, Khan Berke ceased to send tribute to Mongolia and proclaimed the Golden Horde an independent entity, making it a veritable shield for Russia from the East. In this great uniting of the Russian and Tatar lands and peoples the future multi-national Russian State was matured and strengthened. Later, within the bounds of the Russian Church, was encompassed nearly the entire legacy of Ghenghis Khan to the coasts of the Pacific Ocean.
This diplomatic journey of Saint Alexander Nevsky to Sarai was his fourth and last. The future of Rus was rescued, his duty before God was fulfilled. But his power was wholly devoted, and his life put to the service of the Russian Church. On the return journey from the Horde Saint Alexander fell deathly ill. Unable to reach Vladimir, in a monastery at Gorodets the prince-ascetic gave up his spirit to the Lord on November 14, 1263, completing his difficult earthly path by receiving the monastic schema with the name of Alexis.
Metropoltan Cyril, the spiritual Father and companion of the holy prince, said in the funeral eulogy: “Know, my child, that already the sun has set for the land of Suzdal. There will be no greater prince in the Russian land.” They took his holy body to Vladimir, the journey lasted nine days, and the body remained undecayed.
On November 23, before his burial at the Nativity Monastery in Vladimir, there was manifest by God “a wondrous miracle and worthy of memory.” When the body of Saint Alexander was placed in the crypt, the steward Sebastian and Metropolitan Cyril wanted to take his hand, in order to put in it the spiritual gramota (document of absolution). The holy prince, as though alive, reached out his hand and took the document from the hand of the Metropolitan. “Because of their terror, and they were barely able to stumble from his tomb. Who would not be astonished at this, since he was dead and the body was brought from far away in the winter time.”
Thus did God glorify the saintly Soldier-Prince Alexander Nevsky. The universal Church glorification of Saint Alexander Nevsky took place under Metropolitan Macarius at the Moscow Cathedral in 1547. The Canon to the saint was compiled at that time by the monk Michael of Vladimir.
Saint Metrophanes (in schema Macarius), Bishop of Voronezh
Saint Metrophanes, Bishop of Voronezh, in the world Michael, was born November 8, 1623. Since the saint’s book of commemorations begins with persons of priestly rank, it is assumed that he was born into a priestly family. We know from Saint Metrophanes’ will that he “was born of pious parents and was raised by them in the incorrupt piety of the Eastern Church, in the Orthodox Faith.”
Until he was forty, the saint lived in the world. He was married, had a son John, and served as a parish priest. The place of Father Michael’s pastoral activity was the village of Sidorovo, situated at the River Molokhta, a tributary of the Teza flowing to the Klyazma, not far from the city of Shui (now Vladimir district).
After his wife died, Father Michael received monastic tonsure with the name Metrophanes in the Zolotnikovskaya Dormition Monastery in 1663. In the Synodikon of the monastery the entry for Saint Metrophanes begins with the words: “Origin of the black clergy Metrophanes of Sidorovo.” After three years of monastic life the hieromonk Metrophanes was chosen igumen of the Saint Cosmas of Yakrom (February 18) monastery. He guided the monastery for ten years, showing himself zealous as its head. By his efforts a church was built here in honor of the Icon of the Savior Not-Made-by-Hands (August 16).
Patriarch Joachim (1674-1690), learning about the deep piety of Saint Metrophanes, raised him in 1675 to the rank of archimandrite of the Makariev-Unzha monastery. Under the supervision of the saint, a stone church was built there in honor of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos, together with a trapeza and bell-tower.
At the Moscow Council of 1681-1682 among the number of measures taken for the struggle against the old ritualist schism, and with the goal of improving Christian enlightenment among the Orthodox populace, it was resolved to increase the number of dioceses, and to open up new cathedrals at Voronezh, Tambov, Kholmogor and Great Ustiug. Saint Metrophanes was summoned to the capital and on April 2, 1682 was consecrated Bishop of Voronezh by Patriarch Joachim and sixteen archpastors.
The beginning of Saint Metrophanes’ tenure as bishop coincided with a dispute over the imperial succession, and a Church schism. Upon his arrival at Voronezh the saint first of all sent an encyclical to the pastors of his diocese, in which he urged his pastors to moral improvement. “Venerable priests of God Most High,” he wrote, “leaders of the flock of Christ! You ought to possess clear eyes of the mind, illumined by the light of reason, in order to lead others on the correct path. In the words of the Lord, you must be the light yourselves: ‘you are the light of the world’ (Mt. 5:14). When Christ the Savior entrusted His flock to the Apostle Peter, He said to him three times: ‘feed my sheep.’ This is because pastors care for their flock in three ways: by the words of teaching, by prayer and the power of the Holy Mysteries, and by their way of life. You must also act by all three methods: teach the people, set an example of a righteous life, and pray for them. Strengthen them by the Holy Mysteries; above all enlighten the unbelievers by holy Baptism, and try to lead sinners to repentance. Take care of the sick, so that they do not depart from this life without receiving Holy Communion and Holy Unction.”
Saint Metrophanes began his archpastoral activity with the building of a new cathedral church in honor of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos, replacing an old wooden temple. In 1692 the cathedral with chapels in honor of Saint Michael and Saint Nicholas was consecrated. In the twenty years that Saint Metrophanes was bishop, the number of churches increased from 182 to 239, and two monasteries were founded: the Korotoyaksk Ascension and the Bitiugsk Trinity monasteries. And in the existing monasteries, he concerned himself with eradicating the unseemly behavior and disorder, emphasizing a strict life according to the monastic rule.
The first Bishop of Voronezh eagerly concerned himself with the needs of his flock. He consoled both the poor and the wealthy, was a defender of widows and orphans, and an advocate of the wronged. His home served as a hostel for strangers and a hospice for the sick. The saint prayed not only for the living, but also for dead Christians, and particularly for soldiers fallen for the Fatherland, inscribing their names in the cathedral’s memorial list. Remembering them at Proskomedia [priest’s preparation of the gifts before Liturgy], Saint Metrophanes said: “If this is a righteous soul, then there is a greater portion of worthiness. If he is a sinner, however, then there is a connection with God’s mercy.”
There was a great friendship between Saint Metrophanes and Saint Pitirim, Bishop of Tambov (July 28). They not only kept up a correspondence, but also met for spiritual talks. The founding of the Tregulyaev monastery of Saint John the Forerunner was connected with the friendship of the bishops. On September 15, 1688 Saint Metrophanes visited Saint Pitirim. Three of them (the priest Basil was with them) took a stroll together to the Tambov archpastor’s place of solitary prayer, and there they chose the place for the future monastery.
Saint Metrophanes, an intensely patriotic man, by his own moral authority, kind-heartedness and prayers, contributed to the reforms of Peter I, the necessity and purpose of which he well understood. With the building of a fleet at Voronezh for a campaign against Azov, Saint Metrophanes urged the nation to fully support Peter I. This was particularly important, since many regarded the construction of a fleet as useless. The saint did not limit himself only to advice to the Tsar, but rendered also material support to the state treasury, which needed money for the construction of the fleet, and he provided all the means, aware that they would go for the benefit of the nation.
The saint’s patriotic feelings were combined in his soul with unflinching faith and strict Orthodox conviction, on account of which he did not fear incurring the Tsar’s wrath. The saint refused to go to court to see Peter I, since there were statues of pagan gods there, and although disgrace threatened the saint for disobeying the imperial will, he remained uncompromising. Peter gave orders to remove the statues and from that time was filled with greater respect for the bishop.
Saint Metrophanes died in 1703 in extreme old age, taking the schema with the name Macarius before his death. The funeral took place on December 4, conducted according to the saint’s monastic, not priestly rank. This became the established practice for the burial of a bishop. Tsar Peter I himself carried the coffin from the cathedral to the tomb. Taking leave, he said: “I no longer have a holy Elder such as he. Memory eternal to him.”
One of the remarkable memorials of the life and activity of Saint Metrophanes is his Spiritual Testament. In it he says: “By divine destiny I have arrived at old age and now I have exhausted my natural strength. Therefore I declare this my final writing … When my sinful soul is released from its union with the flesh, I entrust it to God Who created it, that it might find favor as the work of His hands. My sinful bones I grant to the mother of all (the earth), in expectation of the resurrection of the dead.” Further on, addressing pastors and the flocks, the saint says: “The simple sinner gives answer to God for his soul alone, but priests can come to torment for many, in neglecting the sheep, from which they gather milk and wool… For everyone the rule of wise men is: do work, preserve a balance, and you will be rich. Drink temperately, eat little, and you will be healthy. Do good, shun evil, and you will be saved.”
The commemoration of Saint Metrophanes was established in 1832. On August 7, we celebrate the translation of his holy relics.
Sisinius the Confessor, Bishop of Cyzicus
The Holy Confessor Sisinius was Bishop of Cyzicus in what is now Turkey. During the persecution of Diocletian he was slated for martyrdom, having been tied behind a horse in an effort to drag him through the streets until death. Sisinius survived, however, and died in the year 325 AD.
Martyr Theodore of Antioch
The Holy Martyr Theodore of Antioch, a fifteen-year-old youth, was condemned to fierce torments by the emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363). Because he was responsible for the translation of the relics of Saint Babylas (September 4) from Daphne to Antioch, he was arrested and tortured. The executioners were dismayed that the saint could rejoice during the torture, and didn’t seem to feel any pain. They reported this miracle to the emperor, and he gave orders to release the saint.
Saint Theodore later said that when they were tormenting him, an angel appeared and relieved his suffering. When the angel left after the torture, the saint began to feel the pain. The holy Martyr Theodore lived to old age and peacefully fell asleep in the Lord.
Venerable Anthony of Iezerul-Vilcea Skete
Saint Anthony the Hesychast was born in the sub-Carpathian Mountains of Vâlcea county in Romania, and he loved Christ from his early childhood. He visited many of the monasteries and sketes in that area, conversing with several hesychasts who sought quietude in the mountains. They had a profound effect upon his life, and in time, he entered the monastic life at Iezeru Skete in the beautiful wilderness of Vâlcea.
In 1690, after he had acquired experience in the ascetical life, the Igoumen blessed him to live as a solitary a few kilometers above Iezeru Skete on the mountain of the same name. He walked from place to place searching for a stone cave for his cell and a chapel. Finally he found a small cave, where he glorified God and struggled against the demons. Only true hesychasts know what great temptations and trials face those who wish to live as solitaries. Saint Anthony labored for three years, digging a chapel out of the cliffside with only a hammer and chisel. He worked during the day, and kept vigil by night. The cave was a shelter for his body, exhausted by his fasting and prostrations. Still, his soul was not at rest because there was no church nearby, where he could lift up his heart and hands in prayer day and night. From time to time, a hieromonk from the Skete would come to serve the Divine Liturgy on Feast Days and during the fasts.
After praying to the Mother of God, he began to hollow out a space for a small chapel. When it was finished, it was consecrated by Bishop Hilarion of Râmnicu Vâlcea. In this little chapel, the blessed one prayed unceasingly, together with the Angels in heaven, reading the daily services, and making hundreds of prostrations. Who can describe his long fasts for three days and more, his all-night vigils, his battles with unseen enemies who cannot abide the humility and hardships of the saints, his fervent prayer and incessant tears from his heart? He never slept for more than two or three hours a night, nor did he eat anything but breadcrumbs soaked in water and salt, with a few vegetables that he grew in his little garden. He repeated the Jesus Prayer unceasingly from his heart, and he read the Psalms with many tears of humility.
Saint Anthony’s holy life became known throughout the area, and many of the clergy and laity flocked to him for spiritual advice or consolation in their sorrows. He received them with love, gave them the help they needed, and then sent them home in peace. Through his influence, a genuine spiritual revival took place in sub-Carpathian Oltenia.
Saint Anthony fell asleep in the Lord in 1714 after twenty-five years of spiritual struggles. His disciples mourned him, and buried him beside his small chapel. The faithful still go there to light candles and to pray, asking for his blessing and assistance.
Saint Anthony the Hesychast was glorified by the Orthodox Church of Romania in 1992.
The inscription on St. Anthony's scroll reads “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”
Hieromartyr Gregory (Peradze) of Georgia
Archimandrite Gregory (Peradze) was born August 31, 1899, in the village of Bakurtsikhe, in the Sighnaghi district of Kakheti. His father, Roman Peradze, was a priest.
In 1918, Gregory completed his studies at the theological school and seminary in Tbilisi and enrolled in the philosophy department at Tbilisi University. Three years later, in 1921, he began to teach at the university, but the Georgian Church soon sent him to Germany to study theology. From 1922 to 1925, Gregory studied theology and eastern languages at the University of Berlin, and in 1925 he transferred to the philosophy department at the University of Bonn, where he received a doctoral degree in philosophy for his dissertation “The Monastic Life in Georgia from Its Origins to 1064.” Gregory continued to attend lectures in theology at the University of Louvain until 1927.
In 1927, Gregory moved to England to continue his career in academia, and there he became acquainted with the old patristic manuscripts that were preserved in the library collections of the British Museum and Oxford University. In July of that year, Gregory was named an associate professor at the University of Bonn, and he returned there to lecture on the history of Georgian and Armenian literature. In 1931, Gregory was tonsured a monk, ordained a priest, and appointed dean of the Georgian church in Paris. A year later he was invited to Oxford to lecture on Georgian history.
A new period in Saint Gregory’s life began later in 1932, when the Metropolitan of all Poland, Dionysius Waledinsky, invited him to be a professor of Patrology and the chair of Orthodox Theology at Warsaw University. He often delivered lectures at academic conferences and in academic centers throughout Europe. He sought tirelessly for ancient Georgian manuscripts and historical documents on the Georgian Church. His searches took him to Syria, Palestine, Greece, Bulgaria, Austria, Romania, Italy and England. As a result of his labors, many long-lost Georgian manuscripts surfaced again.
Humility and industriousness characterized the Hieromartyr Gregory throughout his life. In difficult moments he often repeated the words of Saint John Chrysostom: “Glory be to God for all things!”
In the 1920s, as the Red Army was securing its occupation of Georgia, the nation’s treasures were carried away to France for safekeeping. Later, in the 1940s, Georgian society was unaware that, due to Saint Gregory’s efforts alone, many treasures of Georgian national culture were spared confiscation by the Nazis in Paris. Risking execution at the hands of a firing squad, Saint Gregory wrote in the official documentation presented to the Nazis that these items were of no particular value but were precious to the Georgians as part of their national consciousness.
Nor did most of Georgian society know that, in Paris, Archimandrite Gregory had founded a Georgian church in honor of the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Nino and a parish journal called Jvari Vazisa, or “The Cross of Vines.”
In May of 1942, Saint Gregory was arrested by the Gestapo. The priceless Georgian manuscripts he had preserved and many sacred objects that had been crafted by ancient Georgian masters and collected by Saint Gregory during his travels (in hopes of returning them to Georgia) disappeared after his apartment was searched.
Archimandrite Gregory was arrested for sheltering and aiding Jews and other victims of the fascist persecutions. He was incarcerated at Pawiak Prison in Warsaw, and deported to Auschwitz at the beginning of November.
In the camp an inmate killed a German officer. The guards drove everyone out of the barracks absolutely naked, forcing them to stay in the below-freezing temperatures until someone confessed. Saint Gregory decided to take the blame for the murder, thus saving innocent prisoners from freezing to death. The guards let loose the dogs on the martyr, poured gasoline over him, and lit him on fire. Then they said, “Poles, go warm yourselves around him, your intercessor.”
According to the official German documentation, Gregory Peradze died on December 6, 1942 [November 23, old style], at 4:45 in the afternoon. (According to another account, the martyr entered the gas chamber in place of a Jewish man with a large family. This was reported by a former prisoner, who, after being liberated, visited Metropolitan Dionysius and gave him Saint Gregory’s cross.) In the end, like Christ Himself, Archimandrite Gregory died for having taken upon himself the sin of another.