Monthly Archives: December 2022

Daily Readings for Saturday, December 31, 2022



Apodosis of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Melania the Younger, Nun of Rome, The Martyr and Presbyter Zoticus of Rome, Patron of Orphans


TIMOTHY, my son, those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion:
God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.


At that time, John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

Leavetaking of the Nativity of our Lord

Materials for the Leavetaking of the Nativity are taken from the service of the Feast day itself in the Menaion. The Scripture readings at Liturgy, however, are of the day, not of the Feast. The Prokeimenon, Alleluia verses, and Communion hymn are all of the Feast.

Venerable Melania the Younger of Rome

Saint Melania was born in Rome into a devout Christian family. Her parents, people of property and wealth, hoped that their daughter would marry and have children who would inherit their wealth.

At fourteen years of age Melania was married to the illustrious youth Apinianus. From the very beginning of their married life, Saint Melania asked her husband to live with her in chastity or else release her from the marriage. Apinianus answered, “I cannot agree to this right now. When we have two children to inherit the property, then we shall both renounce the world.”

Soon Melania gave birth to a daughter, whom the young parents dedicated to God. Continuing to live together in marriage, Melania secretly wore a hair shirt and spent her nights in prayer. The second child, a boy, was premature and had severe complications. They baptized him, and he departed to the Lord.

Seeing the suffering of his wife, Apinianus asked the Lord to preserve Saint Melania’s life, and he vowed to spend the rest of their life together in chastity. Recovering, Saint Melania stopped wearing her beautiful clothing and jewelry. Soon their daughter also died. The parents of Saint Melania did not support the young couple’s desire to devote themselves to God. It was only when Saint Melania’s father became deathly ill, that he asked their forgiveness and permitted them to follow their chosen path, asking them to pray for him.

The saints then left the city of Rome, and began a new life completely dedicated to the service of God. Apinianus at this time was twenty-four years of age, and Melania twenty. They began to visit the sick, to take in wanderers, and to help the indigent. They visited those who were exiled, and mine-convicts, and the destitute, there in debtor’s prison. After selling their estates in Italy and Spain, they generously helped monasteries, hospitals, widows and orphans in Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Phoenicia, and Palestine.

Many churches and hospitals were built with their assistance. Churches of both West and East benefited from them. Leaving their native land, they set sail for Africa, and a strong storm arose while they were at sea. The sailors said that this was because of the wrath of God, but Saint Melania said that it was not God’s will that they should go directly to their destination.

The waves carried the ship to an island on which barbarians had landed. The besiegers demanded a ransom from the inhabitants, or else they threatened to lay waste the city. The saints supplied the necessary ransom, and thus saved the city and its people from destruction.

Resuming their voyage, they landed in Africa and helped all the needy there. With the blessing of the local bishops, they made offerings to churches and monasteries. During this time Saint Melania continued to humble her flesh by strict fasting, and she fortified her soul by constantly reading the Word of God, making copies of the sacred books and distributing them to those who lacked them. She sewed a hairshirt for herself, put it on, and continued to wear it.

The saints spent seven years in Carthage, and then decided to visit Jerusalem. At Alexandria, they were welcomed by the bishop, Saint Cyril, and they met in church with the holy Elder Nestorius, who was possessed of the gift of prophecy and healing. The Elder turned to them and told them to have courage and patience in expectation of the Glory of Heaven.

At Jerusalem, the saints distributed their remaining gold to the destitute and then spent their days in poverty and prayer. After a short visit to Egypt, where the saints visited many of the desert Fathers, Saint Melania secluded herself in a cell on the Mount of Olives. Only occasionally did she see Saint Apinianus.

Later, she founded a monastery, where eventually ninety virgins lived in obedience to Saint Melania. Out of humility, she would not consent to be abbess, and lived and prayed in solitude as before. In her instructions, Saint Melania urged the sisters to be vigilant and to pray, to disdain their own opinions and cultivate first of all love for God and for one another, to keep the holy Orthodox Faith, and to guard their purity of soul and of body.

In particular, she exhorted them to be obedient to the will of God. Calling to mind the words of the Apostle Paul, she counselled them to keep the fasts “not with wailing, nor from compulsion, but in virtuous disposition with love for God”. By her efforts an oratory and altar were built in the monastery, where they enshrined the relics of saints: the Prophet Zachariah, the holy Protomartyr Stephen, and the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. About this time Saint Apinianus fell asleep in the Lord. Saint Melania buried his relics and there spent another four years in fasting and unceasing prayer.

Saint Melania wanted to build a men’s monastery on the Mount of the Ascension of the Lord. The Lord blessed her intent by sending a benefactor who provided the means for the monastery. Joyfully accepting it, Saint Melania finished the great work in a single year. In this monastery, saintly men began to lift up unceasing prayer in the church of the Ascension of Christ.

Having completed her tasks, the saint left Jerusalem for Constantinople, hoping to save the soul of her pagan uncle Volusianus who had traveled there from Rome. Along the way she prayed at the relics of Saint Laurence (August 10), at the place of his martyrdom, and received auspicious signs. Arriving in Constantinople, the saint found her uncle had fallen ill. Her demeanor and her inspired discourses had a profound influence on the sick man. He gave up pagan impiety and died a Christian.

During this time many inhabitants of the capital were deceived by the heretical teaching of Nestorius. Saint Melania accepted anyone who turned to her for proper explanation, converting many of them to Orthodoxy. Many miracles were worked through the prayers of the saint.

Returning to her own monastery, the saint sensed the approach of death, and told this to the priest and the sisters. They listened to her final instructions with deep sorrow and with tears. Having asked their prayers and commanding them to preserve themselves in purity, she received the Holy Mysteries with joy. Saint Melania peacefully gave up her soul to the Lord in the year 439.

Venerable Cyriacus of Bisericani, Romania

Saint Kyriakos of Bisericani is one of Romania’s greatest ascetics, and in his life he resembled the great Fathers of the Egyptian desert. He lived in Bisericani Monastery at the beginning of the XVII century, which then had more than a hundred monks. Longing for a life of solitude, Saint Kyriakos retreated into the wilderness, to a cave on Simon's Mountain, where he remained for sixty years.

Like Saint Onuphrios (June 12), Saint Kyriakos went about naked both in summer and in winter, and his body became covered with hair. He glorified God by his unceasing prayer and ascetical struggles. Therefore, Christ gave him the grace to overcome the forces of nature, and the demons which assailed him.

Attaining great holiness and perfecting himself in virtue, Saint Kyriakos fell asleep in the Lord in 1660. His relics were buried in his cave, where there is now a small chapel dedicated to him. Later, because of unsettled conditions in the land, the faithful took portions of his relics away and hid them in order to prevent them from being desecrated.

The holy Hierarch Dositheos, Metropolitan of Moldova (December 13), knew Saint Kyriakos during his lifetime. After the latter's repose, Saint Dositheos venerated his holy relics.

Saint Kyriakos is one of the great hesychasts of the Carpathians. His life was one of complete self-denial, humility, and unceasing prayer. He gave his soul to Christ, and is numbered with the Saints who are honored by the people. His relics were placed in the cave where he lived, a cave which may still be seen today, and where a Paraklesis is chanted in his honor.

The cave of Saint Kyriakos is located near the Voivodal Church of Bisericani, which is now on the property of a sanatorium. Over the centuries it has been a place of pilgrimage for the faithful.

Saint Kyriakos of Bisericani is commemorated on December 31, the day of his repose, and on October 1, the day of his glorification in 2008.

Venerable Cyriacus of Tazlau, Romania

Although few people who honor the Saints are familiar with Saint Kyriakos (Chiriac) of Tazlău, his was a life of exceptional holiness. Believers from the surrounding area have maintained their respect for this chosen vessel, passing his name down from father to son.

Saint Kyriakos was born into a peasant family, and became a monk at the Tazlău Monastery when Dositheos was the Igoumen. He was from the nearby village of Mastacăn, a village which today belongs to the community of Borlești.

Venerable Kyriakos of Tazlău lived on a knoll in front of the monastery, remaining in permanent communion with divine grace, which first entered his soul at Holy Baptism. He was so pure that he had attained the measure of perfect manhood (Ephesians 4:13). He did not choose such a life when he was an old man, after tasting the sweetness of this fleeting life, but embraced it from his youth, like a fool for the sake of Christ. Since he surpassed the other monks in humility, prayer, and virtue, he was found worthy of the grace of the priesthood.

Desiring to attain further perfection, Saint Kyriakos withdrew to a mountain called Măgura Tazlăului, where he lived for fifty years. There he struggled in a manner similar to the great hesychasts of old, sustaining himself with dried bread and fruits, keeping all-night vigils and shedding copious tears. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, he was able to forsee future events, and to cast out evil spirits.

Through solitary prayer in his cell, Saint Kyriakos uprooted the thorns of the passions from his body, and acquired the opposite virtues. The joy of Christ's Resurrection assuaged the sorrows of his soul, and his face shone with the uncreated light of Tabor. He did not experience any discouragement in his struggle with temptations and with evil spirits.

In time, many disciples flocked to him seeking his spiritual counsel. These, in turn, became hesychasts and lived in the mountains of Tazlău, Nichitu, and Tarcău.

After reaching an advanced age, Saint Kyriakos surrendered his soul to God on December 31, 1660. His disciples buried him in a cave on Măgura Tazlăului, and many miracles took place through his holy relics.

At the end of the seventeenth century Moldavia was threatened by great dangers, and many people took refuge in the forests. The relics of Saint Kyriakos were divided among the faithful so that they would not be desecrated by infidels. Thus, the mountain cave on Magura Tazlăului was deprived of its great treasure.

Saint Theophylactus of Ochrid

No information available at this time.

Venerable Sabiana, Abbess of the Samtskhe Monastery

The nuns of Georgian monasteries have historically been outstanding in their diligence. God entrusted them with the special duties of ceaseless prayer, fasting, needlework, and the raising of orphans. Nuns have been regarded as vessels of sanctity and wisdom, and even royalty would kneel before them.

Many Georgian noblemen would send their children to nuns to be brought up in the Christian Faith. According to the great church figure George the Lesser, when the parents of Saint George of the Holy Mountain decided to have their first-born daughter, Thekla, raised by nuns, they sent her to the “worthy and holy” Sabiana, who at that time was abbess of the Samtskhe Tadzrisi Monastery in southern Georgia.

Saint Sabiana welcomed Thekla and raised her as though she were her own natural daughter.

Before long Thekla’s brother, the seven-year-old George, was also brought to the monastery, and Saint Sabiana spent three years educating and instructing him in the spiritual life.

Further information on the life and labors of Saint Sabiana has sadly not been preserved. But as the Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew attests, the tree is known by his fruit (Matt. 12:33). The high level of monastic life during Saint Sabiana’s abbacy and the pious lives of her spiritual children attest to the great spiritual heights she attained.

Saint Dositheus the Confessor, Bishop of Serbia

No information available at this time.

“Unfading Flower” Icon of the Mother of God at Ardatov

There is an Icon of the Mother of God with this name in Moscow, in the Dormition church of the Mogil'tsy.

Another "Unfading Flower" Icon is in the third-class Ardatov women's monastery of the Protection, in the city of Ardatov, 50 versts from Arzamas.

The Unfading Flower Icon shows the Mother of God with her Divine Son on her lap. The Child's face is turned toward the right side of the icon, i. e. toward the left shoulder of His mother. She looks at her Son, Who holds a flower in His left hand. This is why the Icon is called the Unfading Flower, because the flower symbolically represents the unfading flower of the virginity and purity of the Theotokos.

The icon is adorned with a riza, and there are haloes around the faces of Christ and the Virgin. The Mother of God has a crown on her head, and at the bottom of the riza is the inscription: The Unfading Flower Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos.

This Icon is one of several icons which are revered at the monastery.

Information about other icons with the same name may be found under April 3.

Daily Readings for Friday, December 30, 2022



Anysia the Virgin-martyr of Thessaloniki, Gideon the New Martyr of Mount Athos, Holy Martyr Philetaerus, Righteous Father Leondus the Archimandrite, Afterfeast of the Nativity


Brethren, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. And it was not without an oath. Those who formerly became priests took their office without an oath, but this one was addressed with an oath, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘Thou art a priest for ever.'” This makes Jesus the surety of a better covenant. The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

MARK 12:1-12

The Lord said this parable, "A man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a pit for the wine press, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him, and sent him away empty handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed; and so with many others, some they beat and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son; finally he sent him to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But those tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' And they took him and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants, and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture: 'The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?" And they tried to arrest him, but feared the multitude, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them; so they left him and went away.

Afterfeast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

On December 30, the Afterfeast of the Nativity, let us offer thanks to Christ our God, Who is born of a Virgin for our salvation.

As the days begin to grow longer, we recall that the Lord is also called the Sun of Righteousness, and enlightens those who were in darkness. At this season of the year the daylight increases, and we remember the words of Saint John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Virgin Martyr Anysia at Thessalonica

The Holy Virgin Martyr Anysia lived in the city of Thessalonica during the reign of the the co-Emperor Maximian (286-305). Upon the death of her parents, who had raised her in Christian piety, Saint Anysia sold everything she owned, distributing her riches to the poor, and she began to lead a strict life of fasting, vigil, and prayer.

During his persecution against Christians, Maximian issued an edict stating that anyone had the right to kill Christians with no fear of punishment. Soon there were many bodies to be found in cities, towns, and by the roadside. Once, when Saint Anysia was on her way to church, a pagan soldier stopped her and demanded that she come along to the festival of the sun to offer sacrifice. Saint Anysia gently pulled herself away from him. When the soldier boldly grabbed her and attempted to tear the veil from her head, she shoved him, spit in his face and said, “My Lord Jesus Christ forbids you!”

In anger, the soldier ran her through with his sword. Those gathering over her body wept and loudly complained against the cruel emperor for issuing an edict that resulted in the death of many innocent people. Christians buried the martyr near the city gates, and a chapel was built over her grave.

Martyr Zoticus the Keeper of Orphans

The Hieromartyr Zoticus, Protector of Orphans, an illustrious and rich Roman, was in the service of Saint Constantine the Great (306-337). When the emperor transferred the capital from Rome to Constantinople, Zoticus also moved there. Soon, however, spurning worldly honors, Zoticus was ordained to the holy priesthood, and he began to provide for the destitute and orphaned in his own home. Then, receiving funds from Saint Constantine, he built a place of treatment for the sick, a shelter for the homeless, where he took in those afflicted with leprosy, rescuing them from the soldiers who had been ordered to drown them in the sea.

When Saint Constantine’s son, Constantius (337-361), an adherent of the Arian heresy, succeeded his father, Saint Zoticus was accused of receiving a large sum of money from the deceased emperor. When asked about this, Zoticus showed the emperor the homeless and sick home he had built. Constantius became angry, for he thought that Zoticus had purchased jewels with the money received from his father, and he wanted them back.

He ordered Saint Zoticus to be tied to wild mules, which dragged the saint over the stones. His whole body was lacerated, and the saint gave up his soul to God. A stream of pure water sprang forth at the place of his death, from which many received healing.

Apostle Timon the Deacon of the Seventy

The Holy Apostle Timon was one of the seven deacons appointed by the Apostles (Acts 6:5) to minister to destitute Christian widows. Later, he was chosen bishop of the city of Bosra in Syria, where he led many to Christianity. He was thrown into a red-hot furnace and received the crown of martyrdom. He is also commemorated on July 28.

Martyr Philetairus of Nicomedia

The Holy Martyr Philetairus of Nicomedia twice suffered torture for Christ: under the co-Emperors Diocletian (284-305) and Maximian (286-305). When Diocletian arrived in Nicomedia, Saint Philetairus, who was tall and handsome, was put on trial. Seeing him, the emperor compared him to one of the pagan gods. When questioned about his social rank and family the martyr answered, “I am the son of an eparch, I am a Christian, and I live with Christians.”

The emperor spoke insultingly of the Lord Jesus Christ, but the saint replied, “Let the mouth of anyone who dares to insult my Christ be silenced, whether he is the emperor or anyone else.” After these words the martyr was thrown into a red-hot oven, but he emerged from it unharmed. Then Diocletian, witnessing the miracle, and taking into account the saint’s illustrious rank and handsome appearance, set him free.

Later, the emperor Maximian was informed that Philetairus was a Christian. Brought to trial before the emperor, the holy martyr again confessed his faith in Christ. For this they subjected him to whippings. Then they threw him to be eaten by wild beasts, but he remained unharmed. Then they sentenced him to beheading by the sword, but the two servants who were entrusted the execution were unable to kill him. Just as they raised the sword over the head of the martyr, their hands ceased to function. Persuaded that the Lord invisibly was guarding the holy martyr, both executioners believed in Christ and they themselves were beheaded by the sword.

The holy Martyr Philetairus was sentenced to exile on Prokonnesos, one of the islands of the Sea of Marmora. On the journey, he performed many miracles and destroyed a heathen temple with its idols. Six soldiers and their commander, who accompanied the saint to his exile, came to believe in Christ.

On the way Saint Eubiotus (December 18), who had also undergone many sufferings for Christ, came to see him. The saints joyfully embraced, and they stayed at the cell of Saint Eubiotus for seven days, together with the soldiers and their commander. Saint Philetairus died there and was buried by Saint Eubiotus. The soldiers and their commander also died there eleven days later, and were buried beside Saint Philetairus.

Venerable Theodora of Caesarea, in Cappadocia

Saint Theodora of Caesarea, living during the eighth century, was the daughter of the patrician Theophilus and his wife Theodora. Her parents for a long time had been childless, and grieved over this. They prayed and vowed that if a child were born to them, it would be dedicated to God. When their daughter was of age, her mother took her to the monastery of Saint Anna in Caesarea, where the maiden entered under the guidance of an abbess. There she became familiar with spiritual literature.

The emperor Leo the Isaurian (716-741), an iconoclast heretic, wanted to give the maiden Theodora into marriage to one of his aides. They took her from the monastery against her will and brought her to Constantinople, where everything was already prepared for the wedding celebration.

But during the wedding feast the Scythians attacked the capital, and Saint Theodora’s husband, sent to help beat back the attack of the enemy, perished in the very first skirmish. Taking advantage of the general confusion, Saint Theodora got on a ship and returned to her convent. When an imperial emissary followed her there, he saw that she had already been tonsured a nun. Therefore, she could not be forced to leave the women’s monastery. She spent the remaining years of her life in fasting, vigil, and prayer. She wore heavy iron chains on her body, not removing them until death.

Venerable Theodora of Constantinople

Saint Theodora lived at Constantinople during the first half of the tenth century. She had been married, but was widowed early on and led a pious life, caring for the destitute and hopeless. Later, she became a nun and lived under the guidance of Saint Basil the New (March 26), living the monastic life in a solitary cell in her own home.

Saint Theodora died in great old age in the year 940. Gregory, a disciple of Saint Basil the New, asked his teacher to reveal to him the fate of the deceased nun. “Do you want this very much?” asked Saint Basil. “Yes, I do,” Gregory replied.

“You shall see her today, if you ask with faith, and if you believe that your request will be granted.”

Gregory was greatly surprised and he wondered how he would be able to see someone who had departed to eternal life. That same night, as Gregory was falling asleep, a youth of comely appearance came to him and said, “Get up. Father Basil summons you to visit Theodora. If you want to see her, then come along.”

Gregory immediately went to Saint Basil, but did not find him there. Those present said that Saint Basil had gone to visit the nun Theodora. They showed Gregory the path taken by Saint Basil. Gregory followed it until he found himself in a labyrinth. The narrow and difficult path led to a bolted gateway. Seeing through a crack that there was a courtyard beyond the gates, Gregory called out to a woman seated there. She explained that this courtyard belonged to Father Basil, who was wont to come there to visit his spiritual children.

“Open to me, for I am also a spiritual child of Saint Basil,” Gregory entreated. The servant girl, however, would not open the doors without Theodora’s permission. Gregory began to knock loudly on the doors. Saint Theodora heard it and let him through, exclaiming, “Here he is, the beloved son of my master, Basil!”

After greeting him, Theodora asked, “Brother Gregory, who has guided you here?” Then he related how through the prayer of Saint Basil he had the good fortune to behold her in the glory which she had attained by her ascetic life.

Gregory began to beg her to tell him, for his spiritual benefit, how she had parted from the body and come to this holy habitation. Saint Theodora replied, “Dear child Gregory, how can I tell you everything? After the point, in which I was with tribulation in fear and trembling, I have forgotten much, moreover, I saw such faces and heard such voices, as one would never see nor hear in one’s life.”

“I can say that death would have come upon me fiercely because of my unjust deeds, were it not for the prayers of our Father Basil. His prayers alone made my death easier.” After this Saint Theodora began to relate how a multitude of evil spirits suddenly appeared and accosted her before her end. They carried large books, in which were written all the sins of her whole life. They reviewed them impatiently, as though expecting the arrival of some sort of judge at any minute. Seeing all this, Saint Theodora felt such fear and terror, that finally she became exhausted. She glanced all around, hoping to see someone who would drive the devils away.

Finding herself in this tormenting situation, she then beheld two angels standing to the right of her. One was her Guardian Angel, the other she did not know. The evil spirits then withdrew farther off. An angel said, “Why do you, grim enemies of the race of man, seek to harass and torment the soul of the deceased? Do not rejoice, for she is not one of yours.” Then the shameless spirits began to recount everything that the saint had done from her youth, whether by word, or deed or thought. To all this they added much of their own invention, seeking to slander the saint.

Finally, Death came. It poured something into a bowl and offered it to the saint to drink, then taking a knife, it cut off her head. “Ah, my child,” continued Saint Theodora, “how bitter it was for me then, how bitter! At this moment Death snatched away my soul, which quickly separated from the body, just as a bird leaps off the fowler’s hand when he sets it free.” Radiant angels took the soul of Saint Theodora and began to lead it to Heaven, whereas her body was left to lie upon the earth like discarded clothing.

When the holy angels had the soul of the nun, the evil spirits returned saying, “We have a list of her many sins, answer for them.” Then the angels began to recount all the good deeds which the saint had done: her charity, her love of peace, her love for the temple of God, her patience, humility, fasting, and many other ascetic deeds which the nun had accomplished in life. They set her good deeds opposite her sins, which expiated them.

The evil spirits gnashed their teeth, wanting to abduct the holy soul and hurl it down into the abyss. Then suddenly, Saint Basil appeared in spirit and he said to the holy angels, “My protectors, this soul has rendered me many services, lessening the distress of my infirmity and old age. I have prayed concerning her to the Lord, and He bestowed this good thing.” With this Saint Basil gave the angels some sort of small chest, adding, “When you want the celestial trials to finish, take what is in this chest and give it to the wicked and evil spirits.” After giving them the chest, the saint disappeared.

Seeing all this, the evil spirits remained perplexed and speechless for a long time, and then suddenly, they howled, “Woe to us! In vain have we toiled, watching and following her, noting how and where she sinned.” Then they disappeared.

Then Saint Basil appeared again and brought with him many different vessels with fragrances, which he entrusted to the angels. Opening one vessel after the other, the angels poured out the fragrances upon Saint Theodora. She was filled with a spiritual sweetness and felt that she had changed and become very luminous. Saint Basil said, “My protectors! When you have done everything needful for her, and have brought her to the habitation prepared by the Lord for me, leave her there.” The holy angels took Saint Theodora and proceeded up to Heaven, rising up through the air.

Then suddenly, they encountered the First Trial, which is called the Trial of Idle and Nasty Words. The tormentors demanded an answer be given for every evil thing that Theodora had ever spoken about anyone, and they pointed out the indecorous laughter, mockery and crude songs. The saint had forgotten all this, since quite a long time had passed when she first began to lead a life pleasing to God. However, the angels defended her.

Then came the Trial of Lies. The evil spirits there were very nasty, stubborn and fierce. They furiously began to slander the saint, but the angels gave them something from the small chest and they passed by unhindered.

When Theodora reached the Third Trial, that of Judging and Slander, from among the evil spirits emerged one rather older, and it began to tell how the nun had slandered someone with vile words during her life. Much of what he said was false, but still it was amazing how the demons remembered things in detail and with exactness, things which the nun herself had forgotten.

The servants of the Fourth Trial, that of Gluttony and Drunkenness, were ready to devour the saint like ravenous wolves, recalling how she ate in the morning without praying to God, how she ate at lunch and supper without measure, and transgressed the fasts. Trying to snatch the nun from the hands of the angels, one of the evil spirits said, “Did you not promise the Lord God at holy Baptism to renounce Satan and all his works and everything that pertains to him? Having given such a vow, how could you have done the things which you have done?” And the devils even calculated all the cups of wine which Theodora had imbibed in her life. When she said, “Yes, this was so, and I remember that,” the angels again gave a portion from the small chest of Saint Basil, just as they had done at each of the trials, and went farther.

“Do the people on earth know what awaits them here and with what they will meet at the time of their death?” Theodora asked the angels. “Yes, they do know,” an angel replied, “but the pleasures and delights of life act so strongly upon them, and so occupy their attention, that they involuntarily forget what awaits them beyond the grave.”

“It is good for those who remember the Holy Scripture, or show charity, or do other good deeds, which can redeem them later from the eternal torments of Hell. But woe to those who live carelessly as though forever, thinking only of the sweets of the belly and their pride. If death should suddenly overtake them, they perish completely, since they have no good deeds in their defense. The souls of these people are fiercely tormented by the dark princes of these trials, they lead them off into the dark places of hell and will hold them until the Coming of Christ. So you would have suffered this too, Theodora, if you had not received the gift from Saint Basil, which saved you from all harm here.”

After the angel finished speaking, they came to the Fifth Trial, that of Laziness and Sloth, where sinners are tormented for all the hours of the day spent in idleness. Here the indolent are held, for they were too lazy to go to the Church of God on feastdays. Here the careless and the despondent are also tested, both the laity and the clergy, and each one shows a lack of attentiveness to his own soul. Many here are hurled off into the abyss. The angels made up for the insufficiencies of the nun with the gifts of Saint Basil, and proceeded farther.

The Sixth Trial was that of Theft, and they passed through freely. The Seventh Trial, that of Greed and Avarice, the angels managed to pass through unhindered because, by the mercy of God, Saint Theodora had always been satisfied with what God provided, and she distributed what she possessed to the needy.

The spirits of the Eighth Trial, that of Bribery, tormented those guilty of taking bribes and Flattery. They gnashed their teeth in malice when the angels moved on, for they had nothing against Saint Theodora.

So the angels proceeded freely through the Ninth Trial, that of Unrighteousness and Vanity; the Tenth Trial, that of Envy and Jealousy; and the Eleventh Trial, that of Pride.

Along the way they soon encountered the Twelfth Trial, that of Anger. The eldest of the spirits, full of anger and arrogance, commanded its servants to torment and torture the nun. The devils repeated all the words of the nun that she had spoken in anger. They even remembered how she had glared at her own children with anger, or strictly punished them. For all this the angels gave an answer, handing out things from the small chest.

Like robbers, the evil spirits of the Thirteenth Trial, that of Spitefulness, rushed out, but finding nothing in their records, they wailed bitterly. Then Saint Theodora made bold to ask one of the angels how the evil spirits know what evil things people do in life. The angel answered, “Every Christian receives a Guardian Angel at holy Baptism, who invisibly protects him from everything bad and urges him to everything good. He records all the good deeds done by this person. But on the other side, there is an evil angel keeping track of all the evil deeds people do, and writes them down in his book. He records all the sins which, as you have seen, accost people as they pass through these trials on their way to Heaven. These sins can deny a soul entry into Paradise, and lead directly into the abyss in which the evil spirits themselves dwell. And there these souls will dwell until the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, if they have no good deeds which can snatch them from the devil’s clutches.

People who truly believe in the Holy Trinity, and who have received the Holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ the Savior, ascend directly to Heaven without any hindrance. And the holy angels of God are shown as their defenders, and the saints pleasing to God intercede for the salvation of souls of righteous people. Concerning the impious and heretics of evil doctrine, and those who accomplish nothing useful in their lives, no one looks after them and the angels can say nothing in their defense.”

The angels then reached the Fourteenth Trial, that of Thuggery, where all who have lashed out with anger, smiting someone on the cheek or using some other weapon, are tested. The angels passed freely through this trial, too.

Suddenly, they found themselves at the Fifteenth Trial, that of Sorcery and Necromancy (Conjuring), in the midst of beckoning demons. Here are located the viperous-mannered spirits, the purpose of whose existence is to lead people into temptation and corruption. Through the grace of Christ Saint Theodora soon bypassed this trial. But after this she asked whether it is for every sin which a man commits in life that he is tormented with at the trials, or if it is possible, even during life, to expiate the sin in order to be cleansed of it and not be tormented with it at the trials.

The angels told Saint Theodora that not all experience the trials in that way, but only those like her who did not make a heart-cleansing confession before death. “If I had confessed to my spiritual Father all my sins without shame or fear, and if I had received absolution from him,” said Saint Theodora, “then I should have gone through all these trials unhindered, and not one of my sins would have tormented me. But since I was not in the habit of confessing all my sins to my spiritual Father, they torment me for them here.”

“Of course, it helped me a good deal that I strove and desired to flee sin all my life. Whoever strives diligently for repentance, always receives forgiveness from God, and also unencumbered passage from this life to the blessed life beyond the grave. The evil spirits, which are here during these trials with their records, open them find nothing written, because the Holy Spirit will make invisible everything that is written. They know that everything written by them is wiped out, thanks to Confession, and they are deeply saddened.”

“If a person is still among the living, then they aspire to write down some other sort of sins. Truly great is the saving power of Confession! It saves one from much woe and distress, it provides the possibility to go through all the trials without hindrance and come to God. Some do not come to Confession in the expectation that there will be time for salvation, and for the remission of their sins. Others simply are ashamed to tell the priest their sins in Confession. Such people will be severely tested by these trials. There are also those who are ashamed to tell everything to one spiritual Father, and they prefer to tell one sin to one priest, and others to another, and so forth. For such a Confession they will be punished, and they will suffer not a little in passing from trial to trial.”

Imperceptibly they approached the Sixteenth Trial, that of Fornication. The tormentors were astonished that the saint had reached them without hindrance, and when they began to relate what she had done in life, they gave much false testimony, while providing names and places in their account. So it also happened with the servants of the Seventeenth Trial, that of Adultery. The Eighteenth Trial, that of Sodomy, was where all the sins of fornication against nature and of incest are punished, all the nasty, secretly done deeds of which, in the words of the Apostle, it is shameful even to speak. Saint Theodora passed quickly through these. The angels said to her, “You saw the dreadful and loathsome fornications of that trial. Know that it is a rare soul that passes by them freely. All the world is immersed in the evil of temptations and filth, nearly all people are lascivious, and “the imagination of man is intently bent on evil from his youth” (Gen. 8: 21). Few are those who have mortified the passions of the flesh, and there are few who would freely pass through these trials. A large number of those who arrive here perish. The forces of the fornication trials boast that they, more than all the other trials, fill up the fiery raging in Hell. Give thanks to God, Theodora, that you have bypassed these tormentors of lewdness through the prayers of your spiritual Father, Saint Basil. You shall see no greater terror.”

At the Nineteenth Trial, that of Idol-Worship and Every Heresy, there was nothing with which to torment Saint Theodora.

At the Twentieth and final Trial, that of Lack of Pity and Hardness of Heart, was recorded everything unmerciful, cruel, spiteful and hateful. The soul of a person not following the command of God to be merciful, is flung from here into Hell and kept there until the general resurrection. The servants of the fierce demon swooped down like a swarm of bees, but finding nothing concerning the nun, they went away.

The rejoicing angels then transported the saint through the gates of Heaven. When she entered into Heaven the water on the ground parted, and joined together again behind her. A triumphant host of angels met the saint and conducted her to the Throne of God. As they went, two divine clouds descended upon them. At an inexplicable height stood the Throne of God, so white that it illumined all present before it.

Saint Theodora continued her narrative, “Everything there is so wonderful that it is not possible either to comprehend or explain it; the mind is clouded with perplexity, and memory fails, and I forgot where I was.” She bowed down to the Unseen God and heard a Voice, commanding that she be shown all the souls of the righteous and of sinners, and after this to grant her repose in a place where Saint Basil would indicate.

When all this had been shown her, one of the angels said, “You know, Theodora, that in the world it is the custom for the living to remember the departed on the fortieth day after death. So, there on earth Saint Basil remembers you today.”

“And so,” Theodora continued, “my spiritual child Gregory, after the fortieth day from the separation of my soul from the body, I am now in this place, which was prepared for our Father Saint Basil.” After this she led him through the heavenly habitations, where Gregory encountered Saint Basil in the courtyard beyond the trapeza. Afterwards, Saint Theodora led him into the garden. Astonished at all the good things, Gregory wanted to find out about them. But Saint Theodora merely said that all this is not of the earth, but is attainable for those who endure many sorrows and misfortunes in the earthly life, yet keep the commands of the Lord and precisely fulfill them. When Saint Theodora said that life in Heaven is distinctly different from life on earth, Gregory involuntarily pinched himself, wanting to know whether he was still in the flesh. His spirit was joyful, his senses and thoughts pure. He wanted to return from the garden which the nun had shown him, and go to the courtyard.

When he returned, there was no one there in the trapeza. Bowing to Saint Theodora, Gregory started to return home, and at that very moment he awoke and began to wonder where he was and what he had heard and seen. He was afraid that it was all just a demonic delusion, and he went to his teacher. Then Saint Basil himself recounted everything that Gregory had seen, and asked him to write down everything he had seen and heard, for the benefit of others.

For similar after death experiences, see the Life of Saint Salvius (Saint Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, VII, 1), and other examples in Saint Bede, HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH CHURCH AND PEOPLE, Book V, chs. 12-14).

Monastic Martyr Gideon of Karakalou, Mount Athos

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Saint Macarius, Metropolitan of Moscow and All Russia

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Opening of the relics of Saint Daniel of Pereyaslavl

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Daily Readings for Thursday, December 29, 2022



14, 000 infants (Holy Innocents) slain by Herod in Bethlehem, Our Righteous Father Marcellus, Abbot of the Monastery of the Unsleeping Ones, Our Righteous Father Thaddeus the Confessor, Afterfeast of the Nativity, George, Bishop of Nicomedia, Poet of Asmatikons, Kanons, and Troparia


BRETHREN, he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, ‘I will proclaim thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee.’ And again, ‘I will put my trust in him.’ And again, ‘Here am I, and the children God has given me. Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.

MATTHEW 2:13-23

When the wise men departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt have I called my son.
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more." But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead." And he rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaos reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene.

Afterfeast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

On December 29, the Afterfeast of the Nativity, we commemorate the 14,000 holy infants who were put to death by King Herod in his attempt to kill the new-born Messiah (Mt. 2:16).

Today there is also a commemoration of all Orthodox Christians who have died from hunger, thirst, the sword, and freezing.

14,000 Infants (the Holy Innocents) slain by Herod at Bethlehem

14,000 Holy Infants were killed by King Herod in Bethlehem. When the time came for the Incarnation of the Son of God and His Birth of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Magi in the East beheld a new star in the heavens, foretelling the Nativity of the King of the Jews. They journeyed immediately to Jerusalem to worship the Child, and the star showed them the way. Having worshipped the divine Infant, they did not return to Jerusalem to Herod, as he had ordered them, but being warned by God in a dream, they went back to their country by another way. Herod finally realized that his scheme to find the Child would not be successful, and he ordered that all the male children two years old and younger at Bethlehem and its surroundings be killed. He thought that the divine Infant, Whom he considered a rival, would be among the dead children.

The murdered infants thus became the first martyrs for Christ. The rage of Herod fell also on Simeon the God-Receiver (February 3), who declared before everyone in the Temple that the Messiah had been born. When the holy Elder died, Herod would not give permission for him to be properly buried. On the orders of King Herod, the holy prophet and priest Zachariah was also killed. He was murdered in Jerusalem between the Temple and the altar (Mt. 23:35) because he would not tell the whereabouts of his son John, the future Baptist of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The wrath of God soon fell upon Herod himself: a horrid condition struck him down and he died, eaten by worms while still alive. Before his death, the impious king murdered the chief priests and scribes of the Jews, and also his brother, and his sister and her husband, and also his own wife Mariam, and three of his sons, and seventy men of wisdom who were members of the Sanhedrin. He initiated this bloodbath so that the day of his death would not be one of rejoicing, but one of mourning.

The Christian Church very rightly proclaimed these murdered children as Saints, because they died at an innocent age, and were, in some way, the first martyrs of Christianity. They may not have been baptized in water, but they were baptized in the blessed blood of their martyrdom.

Last but not least, the relics (or perhaps some) of the Holy Infants are found in Constantinople, in the Church of Saint James the Brother of the Lord, which was built by Emperor Justin. Most of their Holy Relics are at the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Portions of their Holy Relics are also to be found in the Pantokrator Monastery on Mount Athos.

Venerable Marcellus, Abbot of the Monastery of the “Unsleeping Ones”

Saint Marcellus, igumen of the Monastery called “the Unsleeping Ones,” was a native of the city of Apamea in Syria. His parents were wealthy, but died when he was young. He received his education first at Antioch, and then at Ephesus. All his possessions left him by his parents he distributed to the poor, thereby sundering his ties to the world.

Under the guidance of an experienced elder at Ephesus, Marcellus entered upon the path of asceticism. He later went on to Byzantium to Saint Alexander, igumen of the monastery named “the Unsleeping.” The monastery received its name because in it psalmody was done constantly, both day and night, by alternating groups of monks. Saint Alexander accepted Marcellus and tonsured him into the monastic schema. Zealous in the works of watchfulness, fasting and prayer, the saint received great spiritual talents and the gift of clairvoyance. Marcellus foresaw the day of Abba Alexander’s death and his own election as igumen. However, since he was still young, he did not want to rule others. So he slipped out of the monastery to visit other provinces and other monasteries, where he received edification from the monks who lived there.

After the death of Saint Alexander, when Abba John had already been chosen as igumen, Marcellus returned to the great joy of the brethren. Abba John made Marcellus his own closest assistant. After John’s death, Saint Marcellus was chosen igumen of the monastery in spite of his own wishes, and in this position he remained for sixty years.

News of his saintly life spread far. People came to Marcellus from afar, both the illustrious and the common, rich and the poor. Many times they saw angels encircling the saint, attending and guarding him. With the help of God, the monastery of “the Unsleeping Ones” flourished. So many monks came to place themselves under the direction of Saint Marcellus that it became necessary to enlarge the monastery and the church.

Saint Marcellus received donations from believers for expansion, and built a beautiful large church, a hospital, and a hostel for the homeless. By his prayers the monk treated the sick, cast out devils and worked miracles. For example, one of the monks was sent to Ankara and fell ill. Being near death, he called out mentally to his abba. At that very hour Saint Marcellus heard his disciple in the monastery, and he began to pray for him. He who was sick recovered at once.

When a ship with his monks came into danger on the Black Sea, the saint calmed the tempest by his prayers. Another time, when they told him that a fire was raging at Constantinople, he prayed tearfully for the city, and the fire subsided as if extinguished by the tears of the monk.

John, the servant of a certain Arian nobleman named Ardaburios, was unjustly accused of something, and he hid out at the monastery to escape his master’s wrath. Ardaburios twice demanded that Saint Marcellus hand John over to him, but he refused. Ardaburios then sent out a detachment of soldiers, who surrounded the monastery, threatening to slay anyone who interfered with their mission. The brethren went to the abba, asking him to surrender John and save the monastery. Saint Marcellus signed himself with the Sign of the Cross, then boldly went out alone through the monastery gate towards the soldiers. Lightning flashed in the sky, thunder rumbled, and the Cross appeared shining brighter than the sun. The soldiers threw down their weapons and took to flight. Ardaburios, learning from the soldiers what had happened, was frightened, and because of Saint Marcellus he pardoned the servant.

Saint Marcellus peacefully departed to the Lord in the year 485. His faithful disciple Lukian grieved terribly over him, but on the fifth day after the death Saint Marcellus appeared to him and comforted him, foretelling his own impending end.

Venerable Mark the Grave-Digger, Theophilus, and John, of the Kiev Near Caves

Saints Mark the Grave-Digger, Theophilus and John are mentioned in the Kiev Caves Paterikon. Two brothers being monastics, Saints Theophilus and John, so loved each other that they prevailed upon Saint Mark to prepare a double grave so they could be buried side by side.

Many years later, the older of the two brothers was away on monastery business. During this time his brother John fell ill and died. Several days later, Saint Theophilus returned and went with the brethren to view his brother’s body. Seeing that he lay at the higher place in their common grave, he became indignant with Saint Mark and said, “Why did you put him in my place? I am older than he.”

The cave-dweller Mark, bowed humbly to Saint Theophilus and asked that he forgive him. Turning to the dead man, he said, “Arise, give this place to your older brother, and you lie down in the other place.” And the dead man moved to the lower place in the grave. Seeing this, Saint Theophilus fell down at the knees of Saint Mark begging his forgiveness. The cave-dweller Mark told Theophilus that he ought to be concerned for his own salvation, because soon he would join his brother in that place.

Hearing this, Saint Theophilus became terrified and decided that he would soon die. He gave away everything that he possessed, keeping only his mantle, and every day he awaited the hour of death. No one was able to stop his tears, nor to tempt him with tasty food. Tears were his bread by day and by night (Ps 41/42:3). God granted him several years more for repentance, which he spent in fasting and lamentation. He even went blind from continuous weeping.

Saint Mark forsaw the hour of his death and told Theophilus he would soon depart this life. Theophilus pleaded, “Father, either take me with you, or restore my sight.” Saint Mark said to Theophilus, “Do not desire death, it shall come in its own time, even if you do not wish it. Let this be the sign of your impending end: three days before you depart this world, your eyesight will return.”

The words of the saint were fulfilled. The body of Saint Theophilus was placed in the Antoniev Cave in the grave together with his brother Saint John, near the relics of Saint Mark. Their memory is celebrated also on September 28 and on the second Sunday of Great Lent.

Venerable Theophilos and Jacob, wonderworkers of Omuch

It is not known where or when Saints Theophilos and Jacob were born, but they spent some time on the island of Konevets with Saint Arsenios of Konevets (June 12), and perhaps it was there that they began their monastic labors.

Then, in 1395 or 1396, both ascetics left Konevets and crossed the Omuch River. There in Demyansk county, 65 versts from the city of Porkhov, they established a Hermitage in honor of the Dormition of the Mother of God. It appears that Saint Theophilos, the founder of the monastery, was highly revered, because it was known as the Theophilos Hermitage, but it was Elder Jacob who put it in order. The monastery dates from the beginning of the XV century, around 1412.

Saint Theophilos reposed on December 29, 1412, and was buried in the wooden church of the Dormition. We do not know when Saint Jacob went to the Lord, nor the specific place where he was buried.

Saints Theophilos and Jacob are commemorated together on October 21. They are also commemorated on the Synaxis of the Saints of Novgorod, Saint Petersburg, and Ladoga (the third Sunday of Pentecost).

The holy relics of these God-pleasers have rested in the church of the Dormition of the Mother of God ever since the parish was founded in 1764.

Venerable Thaddeus the Confessor of the Studion

Saint Thaddeus the Confessor, a disciple of Theodore the Studite, was a defender of the veneration of holy icons. He was brought to trial and suffered during the reign of Leo V (813-820). The heretics, mocking Saint Thaddeus, put an icon of the Savior on the ground, picked the saint up, and stood him upon it.

After this the judge said, “You have trampled upon the icon of Christ. There is no point in further resistance, so join us.” Thaddeus replied that he had been placed upon the icon involuntarily, and he cursed the impiety of the iconoclasts. Enraged by his bold words, they beat him with cudgels. Then they dragged the martyr by the legs and threw him outside the city walls. He appeared to be dead, but he was still alive. A certain Christian took him into his own home and washed his wounds. Saint Thaddeus lived another three days, and then surrendered his soul to God.

All Orthodox Christians who died as martyrs for the glory of Christ by hunger, thirst, freezing, and by
the sword

Today the Church remembers all Orthodox Christians who died as martyrs for the glory of Christ by hunger, thirst, freezing, and by the sword, whose names are not known to us.

This feast reminds us that God's sight is not like that of men. People usually glorify and honor those who are renowned and famous; whereas God sees both those who are known and and those who are unknown, the exalted and the humble, as long as each person sought to do His will.

Thus, at the time of the Last Judgment, the least of these Christians will shine forth incomparably more radiant than the most illustrious and prominent kings of this world.

Their Synaxis took place in the church of the Most Holy Theotokos at Chalkoprateia, a district in Constantinople, west of Hagia Sophia.

Venerable Basilisk the Hesychast of Siberia

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Daily Readings for Wednesday, December 28, 2022



20, 000 Martyrs burned in Nicomedia, Holy Martyr Glycerus, Simon the Myrrhbearer, Founder of Simonopetra, Monastery of Mount Athos, Afterfeast of the Nativity


Brethren, about Melchizedek we have much to say which is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need some one to teach you again the first principles of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food; for every one who lives on milk is unskilled in the work of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, with instruction about ablutions, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt. For land which has drunk the rain that often falls upon it, and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed; its end is to be burned.

LUKE 14:25-35

At that time, great multitudes accompanied Jesus; and he turned and said to them, "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build, and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill; men throw it away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Afterfeast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

On December 28, the Afterfeast of the Nativity Feast, the Orthodox Church remembers the 20,000 martyrs of Nicomedia who were burned in their church while celebrating the Nativity of the Lord in 302.

20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia

The Holy 20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia: At the beginning of the fourth century the emperor Maximian (284-305) gave orders to destroy Christian churches, to burn service books, and to deprive all Christians of rights and privileges of citizenship. At this time the bishop of the city of Nicomedia was Saint Cyril, who by his preaching and life contributed to the spread of Christianity, so that many members of the emperor’s court were also secret Christians.

The pagan priestess Domna was living in the palace at that time. Providentially, she obtained a copy of the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of Saint Paul. Her heart burned with the desire to learn more about the Christian teaching. With the help of a young Christian girl, Domna went secretly to Bishop Anthimus (Cyril’s successor) with her faithful servant, the eunuch Indes. Saint Anthimus catechized them, and both received holy Baptism.

Domna began to help the poor: she gave away her valuables with the assistance of Indes, and she also distributed food from the imperial kitchen. The chief eunuch, who was in charge of provisions for the imperial household, found out that Domna and Indes were not eating the food sent them from the emperor’s table. He had them beaten in order to find out why they did not partake of the food, but they remained silent. Another eunuch informed him that the saints were distributing all the emperor’s gifts to the poor. He locked them up in prison to exhaust them with hunger, but they received support from an angel and did not suffer. Saint Domna feigned insanity so she wouldn’t have to live among the pagans. Then she and Indes managed to leave the court, and she went to a women’s monastery. Abbess Agatha quickly dressed her in men’s clothing, cut her hair and sent her off from the monastery.

During this time the emperor returned from battle and ordered that a search be made for the former pagan priestess Domna. The soldiers sent for this purpose found the monastery and destroyed it. The sisters were thrown into prison, subjected to torture and abuse, but not one of them suffered defilement. Sent to a house of iniquity, Saint Theophila was able to preserve her virginity with the help of an angel of the Lord. The angel led her from the brothel and brought her to the cathedral.

At this time the emperor cleared the city square to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. When they began sprinkling the crowd with the blood of the sacrificial animals, Christians started to leave the square. Seeing this, the emperor became enraged, but in the middle of his rantings a great thunderstorm sprang up. People fled in panic, and the emperor had to retreat to the palace for his own safety.

Later Maximian went to the church with soldiers and told them they could escape punishment if they renounced Christ. Otherwise, he promised to burn the church and those in it. The Christian presbyter Glycerius told him that Christians would never renounce their faith, even under the threat of torture. Hiding his anger, the emperor exited the church, and a short time later commanded the presbyter Glycerius be arrested for trial. The executioners tortured the martyr, who did not cease to pray and to call on the Name of the Lord. Unable to force Saint Glycerius stop confessing Christ, Maximian ordered him to be burned to death.

On the Feast of the Nativity of Christ in the year 302, when about 20,000 Christians had assembled at the cathedral in Nicomedia, the emperor sent a herald into the church. He told the Christians that soldiers were surrounding the building, and that anyone who wished to leave had to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. Anyone who defied the emperor would perish when the soldiers set fire to the church. All those present refused to worship the idols.

As the pagans prepared to set fire to the church, Bishop Anthimus, baptized all the catechumens and communed everyone with the Holy Mysteries. All 20,000 of those praying died in the fire. Among them were the abbess Agatha and Saint Theophila who had been saved from the den of iniquity by a miracle. Bishop Anthimus, however, managed to escape the fire.

Maximian thought that he had exterminated all the Christians of Nicomedia. He soon learned that there were many more, and that they would confess their faith and were prepared to die for Christ. The emperor wondered how to deal with them. At his command they arrested the regimental commander Zeno, who was openly criticizing the emperor for his impiety and cruelty. Zeno was fiercely beaten and finally beheaded. They jailed the eunuch Indes, formerly a priest of the idols, for refusing to participate in a pagan festival.

The persecution against Christians continued. Dorotheus, Mardonius, Migdonius the deacon and others were thrown into prison. Bishop Anthimus encouraged them by sending letters to them. One of the messengers, the Deacon Theophilus, was captured. They subjected him to torture, trying to learn where the bishop was hiding. The holy martyr endured everything, while revealing nothing. Then they executed him and also those whom the bishop had addressed in his letter. Though they were executed in different ways, they all showed the same courage and received their crowns from God.

For weeks, Saint Domna concealed herself within a cave and sustained herself by eating plants. When she returned to the city, she wept for a long time at the ruins of the church, regretting that she was not found worthy to die with the others. That night she went to the sea shore. At that moment fishermen pulled the bodies of the martyrs Indes, Gorgonius and Peter from the water in their nets.

Saint Domna was still dressed in men’s clothing, and she helped the fishermen to draw in their nets. They left her the bodies of the martyrs. With reverence she looked after the holy relics and wept over them, especially over the body of her spiritual friend, the Martyr Indes.

After giving them an honorable burial, she did not depart from these graves so dear to her heart. Each day she burned incense before them, sprinkling them with fragrant oils. When the emperor was told of an unknown youth who offered incense at the graves of executed Christians, he gave orders to behead the youth. The Martyr Euthymius was also executed along with Domna.

Venerable Ignatius of Loma and Yaroslav

Saint Ignatius of Loma and Yaroslav: The circumstances of his life while still in the world are unknown. He started his ascetic path at the Priluki monastery of the Savior at Vologda, and he received monastic tonsure at the Saint Cyril of White Lake monastery. Saint Ignatius then departed to the vicinity of Loma and there founded a wilderness monastery, which gradually attracted disciples. Later, he withdrew to a forest skete and pursued asceticism in silence.

Apostle Nicanor the Deacon of the Seventy

Saint Nicanor, Apostle of the Seventy was among the first deacons in the Church of Christ.

In the Acts of the Holy Apostles (6: 1-6) it is said that the twelve Apostles chose seven men: Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicholas, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, and established them to serve as deacons.

The Holy Church celebrates their memory together on July 28, although they died at various times and in various places.

Saint Nicanor suffered on that day when the holy Protomartyr Stephen and many other Christians were killed by stoning.

Venerable Simon the Myrrh-gusher of Mount Athos

Saint Simon the Myrrh-Gusher lived an ascetical life on Mt Athos, and was glorified by many miracles. He was the founder of the New Bethlehem monastery, now known as Simonopetra. One night, he saw a star of such brightness that he thought it must be the Star of Bethlehem. Seeing the star remain motionless for several nights, he thought at first that it was a demonic temptation. On the eve of the Lord’s Nativity the star stood over a high rock, and Saint Simon heard a voice say, “Here, O Simon, you must lay the foundations of your monastery for the salvation of souls.” He built the monastery and called it New Bethlehem.

He reposed in the year 1287, and his holy relics exude myrrh.

Hieromartyr Νikόdēmos, Bishop of Belgorod

The Hieromartyr Νikόdēmos, Bishop of Belgorod (in the world Alexander Mikhailovich Kononov) was born on June 18, 1871 in Arkhangelsk province, the son of Father Michael Kononov and his wife Claudia. The Kononov family traces its roots back to the XVII century, and there were many remarkable priests who served as missionaries in the north.

Alexander Kononov graduated from the Arkhangelsk Theological Seminary and the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. In 1896 he was tonsured as a monk with the name Νikόdēmos, in honor of Saint Νikόdēmos of Kozha Lake (July 3), and he was ordained as a Hieromonk. At the same time, he was appointed Superintendent of the Alexander Nevsky Theological School in St. Petersburg, as well as the caretaker of the St. Petersburg Pedagogical Courses. For his work, Father Νikόdēmos received many awards. In 1901, he received a Bible from the Synod "in encouraging his love for children, which he showed in his deeds and in truth." On August 30 of that same year, he was elevated to the rank of Archimandrite.

After three years, Father Νikόdēmos was sent to Kaluga as rector of the Kaluga Spiritual seminary, and in 1909 he was appointed as rector of the Olonets Seminary. At this time Archimandrite Νikόdēmos received thanks from the Kaluga bishop for his "vigilant labors, recently incurred, especially his impact on the excitable minds of the pupils, so that they stopped fermenting and abandoned the thought, if not forever, then for a long time – not to obey the lawful orders of the authorities," as the bishop declared in expressing his gratitude.

The Holy Synod blessed Archimandrite Νikόdēmos to compose an Akathist to Saint John Chrysostom, which was printed by the Synod for ecclesiastical use.Hieromonk Νikόdēmos had originally written the Akathist to Saint John Chrysostom while he was still a student of St. Petersburg Theological Academy. However, at that time the censor had rejected the Akathist in approximately these terms: "An Akathist to a genius ought to be written by a genius, not by some unknown Hieromonk."

In 1911, at St. Petersburg, Father Νikόdēmos was consecrated as a bishop by Metropolitan Vladimir (Bogoyavlensky) of Moscow and Kolomensk. In 1913, Bishop Νikόdēmos became Bishop of Belgorod, and Vicar of the Kursk Diocese. During the time of his pastoral activities, Vladyka was a composer of Church hymns, he composed Akathists to his patron Saint Νikόdēmos of Kozha Lake Monastery, Tryphon of Pechenga (December 15), and the Monastic Martyr Job the Gorge-dweller, wonderworker of Solovki (August 5).

As a spiritual writer and Church historian, Bishop Νikόdēmos was the author of books about the ascetics of Arkhangelsk and Olonets, and he was also one of the main compilers of the multi-volume work "Biographies of the National Ascetics of Piety of the XVIII-XIX centuries." His book "Elder Father Naum of Solovki, the Ascetic of Karelia" was published in 1910. In addition, he wrote several collections of Lives of the Saints of the St. Petersburg.and Vologda dioceses, as well as those of the ascetics Solovki Monastery. He also wrote a history of Eldership.

Vladyka worked hard in connection with the discovery of the holy relics of St. Joasaph of Belgorod (on September 4, 1911). During his service in the Diocese, he composed two prayers to Saint Joasaph, as well as his great opus "The Life, Glorification and Miracles of Saint Joasaph." Under the direction of Bishop Νikόdēmos, and with his direct participation, three volumes of consistory cases related to the activities of Saint Joasaph were published. His chambers in the Holy Trinity Monastery were reconstructed, and a unique museum of Saint Joasaph was created, which contained an extensive collection of documents.

In 1918, on the second day of the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, the Belgorod Hierarch was arrested right in the altar of Trinity Cathedral by the Red Commissar Saenko, for preaching against robbery and violence.

At the request of the faithful who demanded Vladyka's release, the local Chekists "released" him for one day, and those who those who requested it were arrested. One of the groups of believers protesting against the Bishop's arrest was led by the wife of a priest, the head of the second women's gymnasium, Maria Dmitrievna Kiyanovskaya, who was arrested as a "leader of a counter-revolutionary demonstration" and was shot. The next day, Vladyka was arrested again.

Two days after his arrest on the orders of Commissar Saenko, Bishop Νikόdēmos was shot secretly and was buried in a common grave outside the city.

After the capture of Belgorod by the Volunteer White Army (six months after Vladyka's execution), his grave was opened. Medical examination of the remains found that in addition to the presence of a non-lethal gunshot wound in the Saint's chest, there was a skull fracture caused by a heavy blow with a blunt object, a huge bruise at the top of the head, and a break in the laryngeal cartilage, indicating that he had been strangled by someone.

The holy relics of Saint Νikόdēmos were given due honors, and were buried at Holy Trinity Monastery near the shrine of Saint Joasaph of Belgorod.

On October 29, 2017, Metropolitan John (Popov) performed the rite of the great consecration and the first Liturgy in the church dedicated to the Hieromartyr Νikόdēmos (Kononov), located in the Belgorod Metropolis at the place where the relics of the Saint were found. This coincides with the 100th anniversary of the start of the persecution of the Church, and the fifth anniversary of the discovery of the relics of the Hieromartyr Νikόdēmos.

1/1 announcements

January 1, 2023

Feast of the Circumcision of Christ; Feastday of St. Basil the Great

Colossians 2:8-12: Brethren, see to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in Him the whole fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness of life in Him, Who is the head of all rule and authority. In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, Who raised Him from the dead.

Luke 2:20-21, 40-52: And it came to pass that the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon Him. Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up according to custom; and when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing Him to be in the company they went a day’s journey, and they sought Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances; and when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. After three days they found Him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. And when they saw Him they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why hast Thou treated us so? Behold, Thy father and I have been looking for Thee anxiously.” And Jesus said to them, “How is it that you sought Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying which He spoke to them. And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.

Troparion of the Resurrection: Having learned the joyful message of the Resurrection from the angel, the women Disciples cast from them their parental condemnation, and proudly broke the news to the Disciples, saying, Death has been spoiled. Christ God is risen, granting the world Great Mercy.

Troparion of the Circumcision of Christ: Our human form hast Thou taken on Thyself without change, O greatly-compassionate Master, though being God by nature; fulfilling the Law, Thou willingly receivest circumcision in the flesh, that Thou mightest end the shadow and roll away the veil of our sinful passions. Glory be to Thy goodness unto us. Glory be to Thy compassion. Glory, O Word, to Thine inexpressible condescension.

Troparion of St. Basil the Great: Thy sound hath gone forth into all the earth, which hath received thy word. Thereby thou hast divinely taught the Faith; thou hast made manifest the nature of all things that be; thou hast adorned the ways of man. O namesake of the royal priesthood, our righteous Father Basil, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.

Troparion of the Chains of St. Peter: O Holy Apostle, Peter, thou dost preside over the Apostles by the precious chains which thou didst bear. We venerate them with faith and beseech thee that by thine intercessions we be granted the great mercy.

Kontakion of the Circumcision of Christ: Now the Lord of all that is doth undergo circumcision, in His goodness cutting off the sins and failings of mortals. He this day doth give salvation unto the whole world; and the hierarch and bright daystar of the Creator now rejoiceth in the highest, Basil the wise and divine initiate of Christ.


UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE: All services listed on the calendar will be available through streaming and webcast.

Sunday, January 1 (Circumcision of our Lord; Feastday of St. Basil the Great)

8:50 a.m. — Orthros (webcast)

10:00 a.m. — Divine Liturgy (webcast)

11:30 a.m. — Special Parish Meeting to select nominee for Metropolitan

Monday, January 2

Father Herman off

Tuesday, January 3

NO Services

Wednesday, January 4

6:30 p.m. — Daily Vespers

7:15 p.m. — Chanters’ Practice

Thursday, January 5


7:00 a.m. — Royal Hours

11:30 a.m. — Men’s Lunch

6:00 p.m. — Orthros followed by Divine Liturgy

Friday, January 6 (Theophany)

This Feast Day is one of the greatest days of the Christian year. In English, we are accustomed to hearing this Feast Day called “Epiphany,” a word which means “manifestation” or “appearance.” On this day, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist (he is called “the Baptist” because he baptized Christ). Epiphany is also called “Theophany” which means “God shows Himself to us.” The importance of this Feast Day lies in the fact that for the first time the Holy Trinity was revealed for all mankind to know and believe (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). When Jesus Christ was baptized in the River Jordan, a voice was heard from the heavens above saying, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.” The Father whose voice was heard from the heavens was God. The white dove was the symbol of the Holy Spirit which descended upon Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Thus, we have the Holy Trinity being revealed to all that day, almost 2000 years ago. This is why we call this day the day of illumination (light) and manifestation (appearance). The Holy Trinity made its appearance, and we have been illuminated by this wonderful truth and blessing. On this day we have the traditional blessing of the waters. Since the waters of the Jordan were blessed in the presence of Jesus Christ, it is a source of Divine Grace and blessing, and we bless ourselves and our homes with the waters of the “Sanctification Service” which is held during the Epiphany Services.

Theophany Day is a day of illumination and sanctification. Let us pledge ourselves to a greater participation in the sacramental life of the Church of Christ. When the Priest blesses our homes, let us all pray that the blessing of the Theophany Season be with us throughout the year and may our homes be sanctified with our prayers, Christian living and spiritual direction in our lifetime.

NO Services

Saturday, January 7 (Synaxis of the Forerunner)

4:45 p.m. — Choir Practice

6:00 p.m. — Great Vespers

Sunday, January 8 (Circumcision of our Lord; Feastday of St. Basil the Great)

8:50 a.m. — Orthros (webcast)

10:00 a.m. — Divine Liturgy (webcast)

4:00 p.m. — Outdoor Blessing of the Water at the Reservoir


The Eucharist Bread …was offered by the Joneses for the Divine Liturgy this morning. The Artos bread was offered for the Litia yesterday evening by the Dn. Richard Roots.

Eucharist Bread Schedule:

Eucharist Bread Coffee Hour

January 1 Jones Algood/Schelver

January 5 (Thurs. p.m.) Meadows Lasseter/Miller

(Feast of Theophany)

January 8 Davis D. Root/Baker

January 15 D. Root POT LUCK MEAL

(Chains of St. Peter) Henderson/Jones

January 22 Karam Lockhart/Karam/Snell

January 29 Brock Dansereau/Alaeetawi

Also, please remember that we still need your tithes and offerings which may be placed in the tray that is passed during the Divine Liturgy, in the tithe box at the back of the nave or be mailed to: St. Peter Orthodox Church, P.O. Box 2084, Madison, MS 39130-2084.

Schedule for Epistle Readers – Page numbers refer to the Apostolos (book of the Epistles) located on the Chanters’ stand at the front of the nave. Please be sure to use this book when you read.

Reader Reading Page#

January 1 Walt Wood Col. 2:8-1 356

January 5 (Thurs. p.m.) Kh. Sharon Meadows Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7 361

January 8 Ian Jones Eph. 4:7-13 364

January 15 Brenda Baker Acts12:1-11 50-51

January 22 Walt Wood I Tim. 4:9-15 252

January 29 Sam Habeeb II Cor. 6:16-7:1 173

Continue to pray for Metropolitan Paul (who is also the brother of our Patriarch) and the Syriac Archbishop John of Aleppo who were abducted while on a humanitarian mission in Syria.

Please remember Fr. Joseph and Kh. Joanna Bittle, and their daughter Abigail, in your prayers.

Please remember the following in your prayers: Aidan Milnor, the Milnor family; Lamia Dabit and her family; Mary Greene (Lee and Kh. Sharon’s sister); Jay and Joanna Davis; Fr. Leo and Kh. Be’Be’ Schelver and their family; Kathy Willingham; Marilyn (Kyriake) Snell; Jack and Jill Weatherly; Lottie Dabbs (Sh. Charlotte Algood’s mother), Sh. Charlotte and their family; Maria Costas (currently at St. Catherine’s Village); Reader Basil and Brenda Baker and their family; Buddy Cooper; Georgia and Bob Buchanan.

Instructions for streaming our services can be found on the parish website.

Congratulations to Andy and Rachel Anderton on the baptism if their son Drew on Friday, December 23rd at St. George Orthodox Church in Vicksburg. May God grant them all Many Years!

The Special Convention for the election of the New Metropolitan is scheduled to take place in Dallas, TX, on January 13, 2023. We will hold a special meeting at St. Peter’s TODAY to make our selection. Father Herman has sent out information on the candidates by email. There will be time set aside at our special parish meeting to answer any questions that you may have.

Calendar Items:

* The men of the parish meet for lunch at 11:30 a.m. on the first Thursday of the month.

* The Ladies meet at the church at 10:00 a.m. on the second Saturday of the month to pray the Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children on behalf of our children.

* The Ladies meet for lunch on the last Tuesday of the month.

* We will celebrate the Feast of Theophany with Royal Hours on Thursday morning January 5th, beginning at 7:00 a.m. and then Orthros followed by the Divine Liturgy, beginning at 6:00 p.m. that evening.

* As is our custom, we will have the Service for Blessing the Waters at the Ross Barnett Reservoir (weather permitting) on Sunday, January 8th, beginning at 4:00 p.m.

* Special Convention in Dallas, Texas January 12-13, 2023 for Nomination of new Metropolitan for our Archdiocese. Please continue to keep those convening in your prayers.

* Our Patronal Feast falls on a Monday this year. So, we will be celebrating it on Sunday, January 15th instead. We will also have a Pot Luck Meal that day in celebration of the feast.

* Baby Shower for Sara Miller at Coffee Hour on Sunday, January 29th.

Baby Shower for Sara Miller: We will have a Diaper/Frozen Casserole Shower for Sara Miller at Coffee Hour on Sunday, January 29, 2023. Reader Chad and Sara are expecting a new daughter in February. Please continue to keep all in your prayers!

The Clergy and Winter Retreat that was scheduled for the end of January has been cancelled due to the increased travel and “busyness” for our clergy with the Special Convention in Dallas.

Winter Camp will be held at Camp St. Thekla on February 17-20, 2023 for ages 12-17.

Fasting Discipline for January

There is no fasting of any kind from December 25th through January 4th. January 5th is a strict fast day when the traditional fasting discipline (no meat, dairy, eggs, fish, wine or oil) is observed. Following that, the traditional fasting discipline is observed on the remaining Wednesdays and Fridays of the month.

Major Commemorations for January

January 1 Circumcision of the Lord; Feastday of St. Basil the Great

January 6 Feast of Theophany

January 7 Synaxis of the Forerunner

January 11 Theodosios the Head of Monasteries

January 16 Veneration of the Chains of St. Peter

January 17 Anthony the Great

January 18 Athansios and Cyril of Alexandria

January 20 Euthymios the great

January 25 Gregory the Theologian

January 27 John Chrysostom

January 30 The Three Hierarchs

January 31 Cyros and John the Unmercenary Healers

Sunnybrook Children’s Home is beginning a Transitional Home for children aging out of foster care. Their goal is to make sure these children complete high school, and help them pursue further education and develop life skills to allow them to function well in their lives as adults. If you wish to make a donation to this worthwhile endeavor, please make your check out to St. Peter and be sure to mark “Sunnybrook” on the memo line. (This is separate from our annual St. Nicholas Offering.)

PARENTS, a problem has arisen due to the nursery room being left messy after Coffee Hour. No food of any kind should be taken into that room. Also, it is necessary for a parent to be in the room whenever their children are in there playing. Thank you for your assistance with this.

Quotable: “The question put to all who celebrate Christ’s Winter Pascha concerns their own relationship to the Lord. Are we ready to receive Him, and therefore to love as He has loved us, even to the point of death? Or are we among those who receive Him not, numbered with those who murder Him through our hatred and neglect of our neighbors? As Christ’s beloved disciple has said, ‘He who says he is in the light and hates his bother is in darkness still. . . Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren’ (I Jn. 2:9; 3:15-16).”

Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha

Worship: Sunday, January 8, 2023 (Sunday after Theophany)

Scripture: Ephesians 4:7-13; Matthew 4:12-17

Celebrant: Father Herman

Epistle Reader: Ian Jones

Prosphora: Davis

Coffee Hour: D. Root/Baker

Daily Readings for Tuesday, December 27, 2022



Stephen, Archdeacon & First Martyr, Afterfeast of the Nativity, Theodore the Confessor, brother of Saint Theophanes the Poet, Theodore, Patriarch of Constantinople

ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 6:8-15; 7:1-5, 47-60

In those days, Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, arose and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated men, who said, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God." And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and set up false witnesses who said, "This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us." And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
And the high priest said, "Is this so?" And Stephen said: "Brethren and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, 'Depart from your land and from your kindred and go into the land which I will show you.' Then he departed from the land of the Chaldeans, and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living; yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot's length, but promised to give it to him in possession and to his posterity after him, though he had no child.
But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands; as the prophet says, 'Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool. What house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?'
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God." But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

MATTHEW 21:33-42

The Lord said this parable, “There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit; and the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them. Afterward he sent his son to them, saying ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?'”

Third Day of the Nativity of our Lord

The third day of the Nativity is dedicated to the Protomartyr Saint Stephen. This is the third day of the three day Winter Pascha.

Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen

The Holy Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen was the eldest of the seven deacons, appointed by the Apostles themselves, and therefore he is called “archdeacon.” He was the first Christian martyr, and he suffered for Christ when he was about thirty. In the words of Asterias, he was “the starting point of the martyrs, the instructor of suffering for Christ, the foundation of righteous confession, since Stephen was the first to shed his blood for the Gospel.”

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Saint Stephen preached Christianity and defeated Jewish teachers of the Law in debate. The Jews maligned Saint Stephen, saying that he had uttered blasphemy against God and against Moses. Saint Stephen came before the Sanhedrin and the High Priest to answer these charges. He gave a fiery speech, in which he recounted the history of the Jewish nation, and denounced the Jews for persecuting the prophets, and also for executing the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ (Acts ch. 7).

During his speech, Saint Stephen suddenly saw the heavens opened and Jesus Christ standing at the right hand of God. The Jews shouted and covered their ears, and rushed at him. They dragged him out of the city and stoned him, but the holy martyr prayed for his murderers. Far off on the heights stood the Mother of God with the holy Apostle John the Theologian, and She prayed fervently for the martyr. Before his death Saint Stephen said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. O Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” Then he joyfully gave up his pure soul to Christ.

The body of the holy Protomartyr Stephen, left to be eaten by beasts, was secretly taken up by the Jewish teacher Gamaliel and his son Habib, who buried Stephen on his estate. They both believed in Christ, and later received holy Baptism.

Saint Stephen is also commemorated on August 2 (Translation of his relics) and on September 15 (Uncovering of his relics in the year 415).

Venerable Theodore Graptus, “the branded,” Confessor

Saint Theodore the Confessor, and his brother Theophanes (October 11) were born in Jerusalem of Christian parents. From early childhood Theodore shunned childish amusements and loved to attend church services. With his younger brother Theophanes (October 11), he was sent to the Lavra of Saint Savva to be educated by a pious priest. Both brothers became monks, and Saint Theodore was ordained to the holy priesthood.

The iconoclast emperor Leo V the Armenian (813-820) expelled and replaced the pious ruler Michael I Rhangabe (811-813). In the beginning, Leo concealed his heretical views, but later declared himself an iconoclast. The Patriarch of Jerusalem sent the two brothers to Constantinople to defend the holy icons. Theodore refuted Leo’s arguments, proving the falseness of his beliefs. Leo ordered that both brothers be beaten mercilessly, and then had them sent into exile, forbidding anyone to help them in any way.

Under the subsequent emperors, Michael II (820-829), and particularly under the iconoclast Theophilus (829-842), both brothers returned from exile. Again they were urged to accept iconoclasm, but they bravely endured all the tortures. They were sent into exile once more, but later returned. This time they were subjected to fierce torture, and finally, their faces were branded with the verses of a poem which mocked the holy confessors. Therefore, the brothers were called “the Branded.”

The city prefect asked Saint Theodore to take communion with the iconoclasts just once, promising him freedom if he did. But the holy martyr replied, “Your proposal is the same as saying: ‘Let me cut off your head once, and then you may go wherever you wish.’”

After torture the holy brothers were banished to Apamea in Bithynia, where Saint Theodore died around the year 840. Saint Theophanes survived until the end of the iconoclast heresy, and died as Bishop of Nicea. Saint Theophanes was author of many writings in defense of Orthodoxy. The relics of Saint Theodore were transferred to Chalcedon, where they worked many healings.

Saint Theodore, Archbishop of Constantinople

Saint Theodore, Archbishop of Constantinople, was a native of Constantinople, led a pious life, was ordained as a priest and served in the cathedral of Hagia Sophia, where he was also the keeper of the sacred vessels.

In the year 676 he was chosen to be Patriarch of Constantinople, although after two years he was deposed because of slander. But truth triumphed, and Saint Theodore was restored to the Patriarchal throne in 683. He then guided the Church of Constantinople to the very end of his life. He died around the year 686.

“All-Merciful Kykko” Icon of the Mother of God

The All-Merciful Kykko Icon of the Mother of God: This icon was painted, according to Tradition, by the holy Evangelist Luke. It received its name “Kykkiotisa” from Mount Kykkos, on the island of Cyprus. Here it was placed in an imperial monastery (so designated because it was built with donations from the Emperor), in a church named for it. Before coming to the island of Cyprus, the wonderworking icon of the Mother of God was brought throughout the region by the will of God. At first, it was in one the earliest Christian communities in Egypt, and then it was taken to Constantinople in 980, where it remained in the time of Emperor Alexius Comnenos (end of the eleventh to early twelfth century).

During these years it was revealed to the Elder Isaiah through a miraculous sign, that by his efforts the wonderworking image painted by the Evangelist Luke would be transferred to Cyprus. The Elder exerted much effort to fulfill the divine revelation.

When the icon of the Mother of God arrived on the island, many miracles were performed. The Elder Isaiah was instrumental in building a church dedicated to the Theotokos, and placing the Kykko Icon in it. From ancient times up to the present day, those afflicted by every sort of infirmity flock to the monastery of the Mother of God the Merciful, and they receive healing according to their faith. The Orthodox are not the only ones who believe in the miraculous power of the holy icon, but those of other faiths also pray before it in misfortune and illness.

Inexhaustible is the mercy of the Most Holy Theotokos, Mediatrix for all the suffering, and Her icon fittingly bears the name, the “Merciful.” The wonderworking “Kykkiotisa” Icon of the Mother of God possesses a remarkable peculiarity: from what time period is unknown, but it is covered by a half shroud from the upper left corner to the lower right, so that no one is able to see the faces of the Mother of God and the Divine Infant. The depiction of the Mother of God appears to be of the Hodēgḗtria (“Directress”) type, as is also the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God. The head of the Mother of God is adorned with a crown.

A copy of this icon is particularly venerated at the women’s Nikolsk monastery in the city of Mukachev.

Daily Readings for Monday, December 26, 2022



Synaxis of the Holy Theotokos, Afterfeast of the Nativity, Euthemios the Confessor, Bishop of Sardis, Holy New Hieromartyr Constantine of Russia, Who Struggled in Constantinople (1743), Constantius the Holy Martyr, Barlaam the Righteous of Valaam


BRETHREN, he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, ‘I will proclaim thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee.’ And again, ‘I will put my trust in him.’ And again, ‘Here am I, and the children God has given me. Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.

MATTHEW 2:13-23

When the wise men departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt have I called my son.
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more." But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead." And he rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaos reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene.

Commemoration of the Holy Righteous David the King, Joseph the Betrothed, and James the Brother of the Lord

The Holy Prophet-King David, Saint Joseph the Betrothed, and Saint James the Brother of the Lord are commemorated on the Sunday after the Nativity. If there is no Sunday between December 25 and January 1, their commemoration is moved to December 26.

At an early date, some churches in the East began to commemorate certain important figures of the New Testament at the time of Theophany, and later during the Nativity season. In Syria, for example, Saint Stephen (December 27), Saints James (April 30) and John (September 26), and Saints Peter and Paul (June 29) were commemorated near the end of December.

In Jerusalem, the saints mentioned above were combined with a feast that the Jews of Hebron celebrated on December 25 or 26 in honor of the Old Testament Patriarch Jacob. Later on, the Christians substituted Saint James (October 23) for Jacob, and then the commemoration of the Brother of the Lord became associated with his ancestor King David. In time, Saint Joseph was linked with Saints David and James.

Saint Joseph had four sons from his previous marriage: James, Judah, Joses, and Simon (or Symeon), and three daughters: Esther, Martha, and Salome, who was the mother of Saint John the Theologian.

Holy Righteous Joseph the Betrothed

Saint Joseph the Betrothed was of the lineage of King David. He had four sons from his previous marriage: James, Judah, Joses, and Simon (or Symeon), and three daughters: Esther, Martha, and Salome, who was the mother of Saint John the Theologian. After he became a widower, Saint Joseph led a life of strict temperance. He was chosen to be the husband and guardian of the Most Holy Theotokos, who had taken a vow of virginity.

An angel told him of the Incarnation of the Son of God through her. Saint Joseph was present when the shepherds and the Magi worshiped the new-born divine Infant. On the orders of the angel, he fled into Egypt with the Mother of God and the Infant Jesus, saving them from the wrath of King Herod. He lived in Egypt with the Virgin Mary and the divine Child, working as a carpenter. Saint Joseph reputedly died at the age of one hundred.

Saint Joseph is commemorated on the Sunday after the Nativity. If there is no Sunday between December 25 and January 1, his Feast is moved to December 26. The Righteous Joseph is also commemorated on the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers.

Holy Righteous David the King

The Holy Prophet-King David was a forefather of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh. The youngest son of Jesse, David shepherded a flock of sheep belonging to his father. He was distinguished by his deep faith, and he zealously fulfilled the will of God.

During a battle with the Philistines, he vanquished the giant Goliath in single combat, which decided the outcome of the war in favor of the Israelites. He endured many things from King Saul, who saw him as a favorite of the people and his rival. David, however, showed his own decency and magnanimity. Twice, when he had the possibility of killing Saul, he did not do so.

After Saul and his son perished, David was proclaimed king of the southern part of Israel, and after Saul’s second son was killed, he became king of all Israel. He built a new capital, Jerusalem (“the City of Peace”), and a new tabernacle. His great wish to build a Temple was not realized. It was foretold to him that his son would build the Temple.

The life of the Prophet David was darkened by a grievous falling: he took Uriah’s wife for himself, and sent Uriah to his death in battle. He was also an example of great repentance, humbly and with faith bearing the sorrows sent in punishment for his sins. Saint David gave a model for repentance in Psalm 50/51. King David died in great old age with steadfast faith in the coming of the promised Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. His divinely-inspired Psalter is widely used in the divine services and in personal prayers. (See the Books of Kings and Chronicles).

The holy Prophet-King David is invoked by those facing a difficult situation, such as an interview, etc.

Righteous James the Brother of the Lord

The Holy Apostle James, Brother of the Lord, was the eldest son of Joseph the Betrothed from his first marriage with Solomonia. The Apostle James is remembered after the Feast of the Nativity of Christ together with his father Joseph and the Prophet-King David, since he accompanied his family on the Flight into Egypt and lived there with the Infant Jesus, the Mother of God and Joseph. Later, he returned to Israel with them.

After the Ascension of the Lord, Saint James was the first Bishop of Jerusalem, gaining the great esteem not only of Christians, but also of Jews. He was thrown from the roof of the Jerusalem Temple because he had publicly preached to the people about the God-Manhood of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Apostle James is also commemorated on October 23.

Second Day of the Nativity of our Lord

On the day after the Nativity of Christ we celebrate the Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos, and come together to give her glory and praise. This is the second day of the three-day Winter Pascha.

Combining the hymns of the Nativity with those celebrating the Mother of God, the Church points to Mary as the one through whom the Incarnation was made possible. His humanity—concretely and historically—is the humanity He received from Mary. His body is, first of all, her body. His life is her life. This feast, the assembly in honor of the Theotokos, is probably the most ancient feast of Mary in the Christian tradition, the very beginning of her veneration by the Church.

Six days of post-feast bring the Christmas season to a close on December 31. At the services of all these days, the Church repeats the hymns and songs glorifying Christ’s Incarnation, reminding us that the source and foundation of our salvation is only to be found in the One who, as God before the ages, came into this world and for our sake was “born as a little Child.”

Father Alexander Schmemann, The Services of Christmas (1981)

Synaxis of the Most Holy Mother of God

On the second day of the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Church has established the celebration of the Synaxis of the Most Holy Mother of God. The name of today's festival signifies the gathering of the faithful in order to praise and glorify the All-Holy Virgin, who gave birth to our Savior.

On the first day of the Nativity of the Lord, the Church glorifies the Redeemer of the human race, and the blessed deliverance which freed the sinful world from the snares of the Enemy. On the second day of the Nativity of the Lord, which was such a great event for our salvation, the Church calls upon us to honor the Ever-Virgin Mary, the Mother of our Lord, in an appropriate manner.

The day after many of the Church's Feast Days is called the Synaxis – such as the day after the Nativity of the Theotokos, when the righteous Joachim and Anna are commemorated; or the day following the Feast of Theophany, when we honor Saint John the Baptist, etc.

The Feast of the Synaxis of the Mother of God dates back to very ancient times. In the IV century, some Holy Fathers, such as Saint Epiphanios of Cyprus (May 12), were already preaching about it.

In the ancient Menaia, the Feast of the Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos was called "the Nativity Gifts." This refers to the gifts which the Magi from the East brought to the newborn King of the Jews – the Divine Child Jesus. The Feast of the Synaxis of the Mother of God was also called "the Flight into Egypt."

On December 26, the early Church commemorated the Wise Men who came to worship the Savior, and the flight into Egypt, as well as the Synaxis of the Mother of God. That is why some icons of the Nativity of the Lord depict His Birth, the worship of the shepherds and the Magi, as well as the Flight into Egypt. Sometimes the inscription reads "The Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos."

Now, however, we commemorate "the Adoration of the Magi: Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthasar, and also the shepherds in Bethlehem who were watching their flocks and came to see the Lord" on the first day of the Nativity (December 25), but the Flight into Egypt is commemorated separately on December 26, the second day of the Nativity.

Before the massacre of the 14,000 Holy Innocents (December 29), an Angel warned Saint Joseph to take the Child and His Mother and flee to Egypt and to remain there until the Angel brought him word that it was safe for him to return to Nazareth, "for Herod will seek the child to destroy him" (Matthew 2:13).

In the icon of the Flight into Egypt there are mountains. The Virgin sits on a donkey with her Child, looking back at Joseph. He holds a staff, and his cloak is thrown over his shoulder. A young man (Tradition says this was Saint Joseph's son James, the Brother of the Lord) leads the donkey carrying a rush basket, and looks back at the Virgin. Behind them is a fortified town with idols toppling from the walls. This event was prophesied by Isaiah: "Behold, the Lord sits on a swift cloud,1 and shall come to Egypt, and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at His presence, and their heart shall faint within them" (Isaiah 19:1); and the Prophet Hosea alludes to it: "Out of Egypt have I called my Son" (Hosea 11:1). This is also mentioned in the Church's hymns.

1 On the Great Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord (Sticheron 4 on the Praises), that cloud is seen as an image, or type, of the Virgin.

Hieromartyr Euthymius, Bishop of Sardis

The Hieromartyr Euthymius, Bishop of Sardis, during the period of the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitos (780-797) and the empress Irene (797-802), was chosen Bishop of Sardis because of his virtuous life. He was also present at the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787), at which he denounced the Iconoclast heresy.

When the Iconoclast emperor Nikēphóros I (802-811) came to rule, Saint Euthymius and other Orthodox hierarchs were banished to the island of Patalareia, where they languished for a long time. Recalled from exile by the emperor Leo V (813-820), the bishop boldly denounced the Iconoclast heresy, and they sent him into exile to the city of Assia. The next emperor, Michael II the Stammerer (820-829), attempted to make him renounce icon-veneration, but without success.

Then the holy martyr was flogged and banished to the island of Crete. Michael was succeeded on the throne by the Iconoclast emperor Theophilus (829-842), on whose order Saint Euthymius was subjected to cruel tortures: they stretched him on four poles and beat him with ox thongs. Saint Euthymius fell asleep in the Lord several days after the torture.

Saint Euthymius is also commemorated on March 8.

Venerable Constantine of Synnada

Saint Constantine was a native of the city of Synnada and of Jewish descent. From his youth he was drawn to the Christian Faith. Careful study of the teachings of Christ set his heart aflame, and he left his parents to become a monk. He was baptized with the name Constantine and received monastic tonsure.

When they brought him the Holy Cross, he kissed it with love and touched it to his head. The image of the Holy Cross impressed itself upon him throughout all his life. Having spent his God-pleasing life in strict asceticism, Saint Constantine departed peacefully to the Lord.

Venerable Evarestus of the Studion Monastery

Saint Evarestus, a native of Galatia, was the son of illustrious parents. From his youth he longed for the monastic life, and in particular he loved to read the books of Saint Ephraim the Syrian. He went to the Studion monastery, pursuing asceticism in strict fasting, vigil and prayer, and wearing iron chains. He departed to the Lord at age 75 in the year 825.

Saint Νikόdēmos the Sanctified of Tismana, Romania

Our most holy and venerable Father Νικόdēmos the Sanctified was from Prilep, in southern Serbia. He was born in 1320, and his parents raised him in the Orthodox Faith. After receiving the holy and angelic monastic Schema and the grace of the priesthood, he wandered through many places, including Mount Athos and Constantinople, acquiring virtues through his love of labor.

Eventually, he came to the Romanian Principalities (Țara Românească, or Valakhia), enduring many trials and spiritual struggles, praying unceasingly in the mountains. Saint Νικόdēmos founded several monasteries; first by the water of Motru, then the Monastery of Vodiţa, which is dedicated to Saint Anthony the Great (January 17). There he established the cenobitic Rule for the many Fathers and brethren, and he lived in that monastery for a long time.

Later, prompted by divine revelation, he settled in a place called Tismana. By God’s will, he founded a monastery and dedicated it to the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos. Later, a great multitude of monks gathered where Saint Νικόdēmos lived with his brothers in Christ. He himself was an example of good works as he led them on the path of salvation. Receiving grace from God to perform miracles, and to have power over unclean spirits, he worked many miracles during his lifetime. He cast out demons and healed all manner of sicknesses and infirmities. It is said that he even walked into a fire and remained unharmed. The fire touched neither his clothing nor the hairs of his head.

Saint Νικόdēmos also performed other miracles by the power of Christ. After a life of holiness, he reached an advanced age, passing from this temporal life to the heavenly and immortal life on December 26, 1406. His relics and other holy objects were buried at Tismana Monastery, where he had performed the services.

After God had glorified his relics with the fragrance of myrrh, and the grace of working miracles, they were removed from the tomb and placed in the church, along with the relics of Saint Gregory the Decapolite (November 20) in the holy Monastery of Bistriţa. After many years, a certain ruler of the country wanted to take the relics of Saint Νικόdēmos from Tismana Monastery and keep them in Bucharest. It was not the Saint's will, however, that his relics should be removed from his monastery. It was a miracle that the man gave up his idea. Saint Νικόdēmos appeared in a vision to one of the monks, commanding him to tell the Igoumen to hide his relics, and to take only a finger from his hand, and to prevent the man from carrying out his intention. Saint Νικόdēmos also appeared in the same way to the Igoumen and told him the same things. A finger was taken from the Saint's hand and some myrrh from his relics, which were entrusted to the care of the Igoumen.

The finger and the holy myrrh were placed in a tin vessel, together with a cross made of lead which the Saint had worn around his neck, and they are kept in the holy monastery to this day as precious spiritual treasures. No one is permitted to take any of the holy myrrh. It is permissible to kiss the vessel, however, which fills everything with an indescribable spiritual fragrance. The Saint's relics were hidden to prevent them from being removed from the monastery, and that place is known only to the Igoumen and one other monk.

The aforementioned sacred items suffice for the consolation of the monks and the other Christian inhabitants. They still perform countless miracles. Unclean spirits are cast out by calling on the name of the Saint; healing of many kinds of illnesses is given to those who have recourse to the Saint with faith. The world and the country are protected by the prayers of Saint Νικόdēmos; and the holy Tismana Monastery, which preserves these treasures, is always defended from the attacks of visible and invisible enemies.

Following the decision of the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church, the first Service in honor of Saint Νικόdēmos took place in the Metropolitan cathedral of Oltenia in Craiova on October 28, 1955. His annual Feast Day is December 26.

Hieromartyr Constantine the Russian of Lavra on Mount Athos

No information available at this time

“Bethlehem” Icon of the Mother of God

Within the magnificent Basilica of Christ’s Nativity in Bethlehem, the wonderworking icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, known as Bethlehemitissa, stands out. It is located in a prominent proskynitarion on the right side of the southern entrance of the Holy Cave of the Nativity.

The infinite affection which emanates from the eyes of the Panagia’s icon, and her serene gaze, sweetens and exalts the hearts of the faithful. The clothing on the Icon of the Theotokos is covered with luxurious fabrics and precious gems, and makes a distinct impression.

There is no clear historical data concerning the origin of the icon. There is speculation that it came from Russia, and pious tradition particularly links it to the Russian Empress Catherine, who visited the Holy Land and Bethlehem after a miracle performed by the Virgin. She donated her imperial garments in order to clothe the “Mistress of the World” with them. According to tradition, she also gave her jewelry to be placed on the sacred icon, forcing empresses not to wear rubies (or diamonds, according to others) any longer, for this was the exclusive privilege of the “Queen of the Angels.”

Undoubtedly, the Bethlehem Icon has a special place in the hearts of all the Orthodox. The Virgin Mary, the Lady of the Holy Land, is the tender mother who obeyed God’s command and brought our Savior and Redeemer into the world; and at the same time she is the mother of us all and an intercessor before her Son in all our appeals. She is our guardian angel. In our moments of difficulty, we turn spontaneously to face her icon and her grace, always invoking her as “our fervent protector and helper.”

Icon of the Mother of God “the Blessed Womb”

There are at least four distinct types of the “Blessed Womb” Icon. The Barlov Icon is a variant of the Hodēgḗtria Icon. It appeared on December 26, 1392, and it is in the Annunciation Cathedral in Moscow.

The second example is similar to the “Milk-Giver” Icon (January 12), which itself is derived from the Greek “Galaktotrophousa” type. This “Blessed Womb” Icon does not have the angels crowning the Mother of God which are found in the Greek icon, and the Virgin is facing in the opposite direction from the “Milk-Giver” Icon. This variant sometimes has an inscription: “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee, and the breasts which Thou hast suckled” (Luke 11:27). The sun and moon appear at the top of the icon, and there are leafy plants in the background.

There is a third type which depicts Christ resting on His Mother’s right arm. Two angels crown her, and place a chain around her neck.

The fourth example shows the Mother of God with her hands folded above Christ, who is shown in half-length.

Venerable Isaac II of Optina

Saint Isaac II (Bobrikov) died as a martyr on December 26, 1938.

The Moscow Patriarchate authorized local veneration of the Optina Elders on June 13, 1996, glorifying them for universal veneration on August 7, 2000.

Daily Readings for Sunday, December 25, 2022



The Nativity of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, The Adoration of the Magi: Melchior, Gaspar, & Balthasar, The Commemoration of the Shepherds in Bethlehem who were watching their flocks and came to see the Lord


BRETHREN, when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir of God through Christ.

MATTHEW 2:1-12

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him." When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet: 'And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.'
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared; and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him." When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

The Nativity of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, was born of the Most Holy Virgin Mary in the city of Bethlehem during the reign of the emperor Augustus (Octavian). Caesar Augustus decreed that a universal census be made throughout his Empire, which then also included Palestinian Israel. The Jews were accustomed to be counted in the city from where their family came. The Most Holy Virgin and the Righteous Joseph, since they were descended from the house and lineage of King David, had to go to Bethlehem to be counted and taxed.

In Bethlehem they found no room at any of the city’s inns. Thus, the God-Man, the Savior of the world, was born in a cave that was used as a stable.

“I behold a strange and most glorious mystery,” the Church sings with awe, “Heaven, a Cave; the Virgin the Throne of the Cherubim; the Manger a room, in which Christ, the God Whom nothing can contain is laid.” (Irmos of the 9th Ode of the Nativity Canon).

Having given birth to the divine Infant without travail, the Most Holy Virgin “wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger” (Luke 2:7). In the stillness of midnight (Wisdom of Solomon 18:14-15), the proclamation of the birth of the Savior of the world was heard by three shepherds watching their flocks by night.

An angel of the Lord (Saint Cyprian says this was Gabriel) came before them and said: “Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). The humble shepherds were the first to offer worship to Him Who condescended to assume the form of a humble servant for the salvation of mankind. Besides the glad tidings to the Bethlehem shepherds, the Nativity of Christ was revealed to the Magi by a wondrous star. Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Theophylactus, commenting on Saint Matthew’s Gospel, say that this was no ordinary star. Rather, it was “a divine and angelic power that appeared in the form of a star.” Saint Demetrius of Rostov says it was a “manifestation of divine energy” (Narrative of the Adoration of the Magi). Entering the house where the Infant lay, the Magi “fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented Him gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh” (Mt. 2:11).

The present Feast, commemorating the Nativity in the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, was established by the Church. Its origin goes back to the time of the Apostles. In the Apostolic Constitutions (Section 3, 13) it says, “Brethren, observe the feastdays; and first of all the Birth of Christ, which you are to celebrate on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month.” In another place it also says, “Celebrate the day of the Nativity of Christ, on which unseen grace is given man by the birth of the Word of God from the Virgin Mary for the salvation of the world.”

In the second century Saint Clement of Alexandria also indicates that the day of the Nativity of Christ is December 25. In the third century Saint Hippolytus of Rome mentions the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, and appoints the Gospel readings for this day from the opening chapters of Saint Matthew.

In 302, during the persecution of Christians by Maximian, 20,000 Christians of Nicomedia (December 28) were burned in church on the very Feast of the Nativity of Christ. In that same century, after the persecution when the Church had received freedom of religion and had become the official religion in the Roman Empire, we find the Feast of the Nativity of Christ observed throughout the entire Church. There is evidence of this in the works of Saint Ephraim the Syrian, Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory the Theologian, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Ambrose of Milan, Saint John Chrysostom and other Fathers of the Church of the fourth century.

Saint John Chrysostom, in a sermon which he gave in the year 385, points out that the Feast of the Nativity of Christ is ancient, and indeed very ancient. In this same century, at the Cave of Bethlehem, made famous by the Birth of Jesus Christ, the empress Saint Helen built a church, which her mighty son Constantine adorned after her death. In the Codex of the emperor Theodosius from 438, and of the emperor Justinian in 535, the universal celebration of the day of the Nativity of Christ was decreed by law. Thus, Nikēphóros Callistus, a writer of the fourteenth century, says in his History that in the sixth century, the emperor Justinian established the celebration of the Nativity of Christ throughout all the world.

Patriarch Anatolius of Constantinople in the fifth century, Sophronius and Andrew of Jerusalem in the seventh, Saints John of Damascus, Cosmas of Maium and Patriarch Germanus of Constantinople in the eighth, the Nun Cassiane in the ninth, and others whose names are unknown, wrote many sacred hymns for the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, which are still sung by the Church on this radiant festival.

During the first three centuries, in the Churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Cyprus, the Nativity of Christ was combined together with the Feast of His Baptism on January 6, and called “Theophany” (“Manifestation of God”). This was because of a belief that Christ was baptized on anniversary of His birth, which may be inferred from Saint John Chrysostom’s sermon on the Nativity of Christ: “it is not the day on which Christ was born which is called Theophany, but rather that day on which He was baptized.”

In support of such a view, it is possible to cite the words of the Evangelist Luke who says that “Jesus began to be about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23) when He was baptized. The joint celebration of the Nativity of Christ and His Theophany continued to the end of the fourth century in certain Eastern Churches, and until the fifth or sixth century in others.

The present order of services preserves the memory of the ancient joint celebration of the Feasts of the Nativity of Christ and Theophany. On the eve of both Feasts, there is a similar tradition that one should fast until the stars appear. The order of divine services on the eve of both feastdays and the feastdays themselves is the same.

The Nativity of Christ has long been counted as one of the Twelve Great Feasts. It is one of the greatest, most joyful and wondrous events in the history of the world. “The angel said to the shepherds, ‘Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ Then suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts, glorifying God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ Those who heard these things were astonished at what the shepherds told them concerning the Child. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:10-20).

Thus the Nativity of Christ, a most profound and extraordinary event, was accompanied by the wondrous tidings proclaimed to the shepherds and to the Magi. This is a cause of universal rejoicing for all mankind, “for the Savior is Born!”

Concurring with the witness of the Gospel, the Fathers of the Church, in their God-inspired writings, describe the Feast of the Nativity of Christ as most profound, and joyous, serving as the basis and foundation for all the other Feasts.

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

See also: Discourse on the Nativity of Christ by Saint Gregory Thaumatourgos, Bishop of Neocaesarea.

The Adoration of the Magi: Melchior, Caspar, and Balthasar

The Nativity of Christ was revealed to the Magi by a wondrous star. Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Theophylactus, commenting on Saint Matthew’s Gospel, say that this was no ordinary star. Rather, it was “a divine and angelic power that appeared in the form of a star.” Saint Demetrius of Rostov says it was a “manifestation of divine energy” (Narrative of the Adoration of the Magi). Entering the house where the Infant lay, the Magi “fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented Him gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh” (Mt. 2:11).

The names of the three Wise Men (Magi) do not appear in the Gospels. The tradition that there were three visitors from the east is very ancient, but their names are only mentioned in the Middle Ages.

Bones reputed to be the relics of the three kings have been in the cathedral at Cologne, Germany since 1164.

Commemoration of the Shepherds in Bethlehem who were watching their flocks, and went to see the Lord

In the stillness of midnight (Wisdom of Solomon 18:14-15), the proclamation of the birth of the Savior of the world was heard by three shepherds watching their flocks by night.

An angel of the Lord (Saint Cyprian says this was Gabriel) came before them and said: “Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). The humble shepherds were the first to offer worship to Him Who condescended to assume the form of a humble servant for the salvation of mankind.

Priestmonk Jonah the Martyr of Pechenga

Based on the Synodikon of the Solovetsk Monastery in northern Russian about 1500 AD — the exact date is unknown — the Priestmonk Jonah was born in the Pomeranian village of Varzuga in Russia's northern Murmansk district. After serving as a parish priest, he entered the Pechenga Monastery, where he became a close disciple of Saint Tryphon.

Saint Jonah was martyred in December 1589 — one year before the beginning of the Russian-Swedish War — during an attack on the monastery by Swedish-Finnish invaders. Tradition holds that he and his concelebrant, the Priestmonk Herman, were martyred during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, as they were receiving the Eucharist. They, together with 115 monks and laypersons killed during the invasion, were venerated throughout the Novgorod region. In 2003, they were formally glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church for Church-wide veneration.