Daily Readings for Monday, December 19, 2022

MONDAY OF THE 14TH WEEK

ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS, WINE, OLIVE OIL

Martyrs Boniface, Probus, Ares, Timothy, Polyeuktos, Eutychios and Thessaloniki, Our Righteous Father Gregentius, Bishop of Ethiopia, Aglaia the Righteous of Rome

ST. PAUL’S SECOND LETTER TO TIMOTHY 2:20-26

Timothy, my son, in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and earthenware, and some for noble use, some for ignoble. If any one purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work. So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

MARK 9:42-50; 10:1

The Lord said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. For every one will be salted with fire and every sacrifice will be salted with salt. Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again; and again, as his custom was, he taught them.

Martyr Boniface at Tarsus in Cilicia, and Righteous Aglaϊa of Rome

The Holy Martyr Boniface was the slave of a rich young Roman woman named Aglaϊa, and he lived with her in iniquitous cohabitation. Both, however, felt the sting of conscience and they wanted to be cleansed of their sin somehow. The Lord granted them the possibility to wash away their sin with their blood and to finish their life in repentance.

Aglaϊa learned that whoever keeps relics of the Holy Martyrs in their home,and venerates them, receives great help in gaining salvation. Through their influence, sin is diminished and virtue prevails. She arranged for Boniface to go to the East, where there was a fierce persecution against Christians, and she asked him to bring back the relics of some Martyr, who would become their guide and protector.

As he was leaving, Boniface laughed and asked, “My lady, if I do not find any relics, and if I myself suffer for Christ, would you accept my relics with reverence?”

Aglaϊa scolded him, saying that he was setting off on a sacred mission, but he was not taking it seriously. Boniface pondered her words, and during the whole journey he thought that he was not worthy to touch the relics of the Martyrs.

Arriving at Tarsus in Cilicia, Boniface left his companions at the inn and proceeded to the city square, where they were torturing Christians. Stricken by the horrible torments, and seeing the faces of the holy Martyrs radiant with the grace of the Lord, Boniface marveled at their courage. He embraced them and kissed their feet, asking them to pray that he might be found worthy to suffer with them.

The judge asked Boniface who he was. He replied, “I am a Christian,” and he refused to offer sacrifice to idols. They stripped him and suspended him upside down, beating him so hard that the flesh fell from his body, exposing his bones. They stuck needles beneath his nails, and finally they poured molten tin down his throat, but by the power of the Lord he remained unharmed. The people who witnessed this miracle shouted, “Great is the God of the Christians!” Then they began to throw stones at the judge, and then they headed for the pagan temple, in order to topple the idols.

On the following morning, when things had quieted down somewhat, the judge directed that the Martyr be thrown into a cauldron of boiling tar, but this also caused the sufferer no harm. An Angel come down from Heaven and bedewed him as he stepped into the cauldron. The tar overflowed the cauldron, splattering and burning the torturers. Saint Boniface was then sentenced to be decapitated with a sword. Blood and a milky fluid flowed from his wounds. After witnessing such a miracle, about 550 men believed in Christ.

Saint Boniface’s companions waited two days for him at the inn, but in vain, so they began to search for him, thinking that he had gotten drunk somewhere. At first their search was unsuccessful, but finally they met a man who had been an eyewitness to the Martyr's death. The man also led them to the place where the decapitated body lay. Saint Boniface’s companions wept and begged his forgiveness for their unseemly thoughts about him. After ransoming his relics, they brought them back to Rome.

On the eve of their arrival, an Angel appeared to Aglaϊa in her sleep and told her to prepare herself to receive her former slave, now the brother and fellow servant of the Angels. Aglaϊa summoned the clergy, and she received the holy relics with great reverence. Then she built a church on the site of his grave and dedicated it to the Holy Martyr. There she enshrined his relics, which were glorified by numerous miracles.

After distributing all her wealth to the poor, Aglaϊa withdrew to a monastery, where she spent fifteen years in repentance, then she fell asleep in the Lord. She was buried beside Saint Boniface. The sins of the one were washed away by his blood, while the other was purified by her tears and asceticism. Both were found worthy to appear unsullied before our Lord Jesus Christ, Who desires not the death of a sinner, but that he should turn from his wickedness and live (Ezekiel 33:11).

We pray to Saint Boniface for deliverance from drunkenness.

Venerable Elias of Murom, Wonderworker of the Kiev Near Caves

Saint Elias Muromets of the Caves, nicknamed “Shoemaker” or “Cobbler,” was from the city of Murom. Popular legend identifies him with the famous warrior hero Elias Muromets, who was the subject of Russian ballads and of Gliere’s Symphony No. 3.

St Elias died with the fingers of his right hand formed to make the Sign of the Cross in the position accepted even today in the Orthodox Church: the first three fingers together, and the two outermost fingers folded onto the palm [in contrast to the Sign of the Cross used by the “Old Ritualists”]. During the struggle with the Old Ritualist Schism (seventeenth-nineteenth centuries), this information about the saint served as a powerful proof in favor of the present positioning of the fingers.

Martyrs Elias, Probus, and Ares in Cilicia

The Martyrs Elias, Probus, and Ares, natives of Egypt, and heedless of their own safety, cared for Christians locked up in prison during the persecution of Maximian (305-313). For this they were arrested, subjected to torture and given over to death (+308).

Saint Boniface the Merciful, Bishop of Ferentino

From his very childhood, Saint Boniface was distinguished by his non-covetousness and love for the poor. When he saw a destitute man on the street, he took his own clothes and gave them away to those in need, to the chagrin of his widowed mother.

Once, he gave away a year’s supply of grain, but the Lord worked a miracle through his prayer, and the family’s granary was filled again. Saint Boniface became bishop of the city of Ferentino (Florence), north of Rome (in Tuscany). Even in his lofty position as bishop he remained completely non-covetous and merciful towards people, and he directed his flock wisely, exhorting them to attend to even the least among their neighbors.

Saint Gregory, Archbishop of Omirits

Saint Gregory, Bishop of Homer (Omirits), the son of Agapius and Theodota, was filled with the grace of God and possessed gifts of healing and wonderworking even in his youth. The Providence of God led him to hierarchical service. While still a deacon at Mediolanum (Milan) he heard the foretelling of his destiny from a hermit, and then he received confirmation of these words from another spirit-bearing Elder who lived an ascetic life in the mountains.

When Gregory went to this holy schemamonk for guidance, a miracle occurred. As he approached the mountain, he saw a fiery column in the air. He soon realized that the fiery column was actually the man of God coming toward him. That night he saw the Elder standing in the air above the ground. The Elder revealed to Saint Gregory that he must go to Rome to pray in the church of Saints Boniface and Aglaida. Then he would go to Alexandria and to become a bishop. Then he would arrive in the city of Negran in the land of Homer (in southern Arabia) to proclaim the Gospel.

Saint Gregory felt himself unworthy of this, and wished to remain with the ascetic as his disciple. So that Gregory should have no doubts of the veracity of his words, the Elder revealed that he knew a secret about him. In a vision, Gregory had seen the First-Ranked Apostles Peter and Paul, and they had placed a bishop’s omophorion upon him.

Saint Gregory stayed a short time in Carthage (North Africa) serving as a deacon, then arrived in Rome. He went to the church of Saints Boniface and Aglaida, then to the tomb of Saint Peter. There he was granted a vision of the holy Apostle, who told him to walk the path of virtue and to live according to God’s will. That night he saw the Apostle Paul in a dream bringing to him a cup filled with oil, foretelling that he should receive the grace of the priesthood and the episcopacy.

During this time the armies of the Ethiopian emperor Elesbaan (October 24) vanquished the Himyarite king Dunaan, who was of Jewish background. The city of Negran was liberated, and Christianity restored in the land of Homer. But all the clergy had been cruelly exterminated by Dunaan, and therefore Elesbaan sent emissaries to the Patriarch of Alexandria asking him to send a bishop to Negran, and clergy for the churches. While he was praying, the holy Apostle Mark appeared to the patriarch, bidding him to find a deacon named Gregory, who was to be ordained to the priesthood, consecrated as a bishop, and then to be sent to Elesbaan. The patriarch did this. During the service a miracle took place. Saint Gregory’s face shone with the grace of the Holy Spirit, and from his vestments came a sweet fragrance like myrrh or incense, filling the whole church with the scent.

Arriving in Homer, Saint Gregory began to set the Church in order, preaching to both pagans and Jews. After three years Elesbaan returned to Ethiopia, leaving the noble Abramius behind as King of Homer. Saint Gregory crowned and anointed Abramius as king. Soon he issued a decree that all his subjects be baptized. Then certain prominent Jews turned to the emperor saying that it was better for people to believe willingly rather than under compulsion. They requested that he should permit a debate on faith to be held between them and the Christians, vowing that if the Christians proved victorious in this debate, the Jews would then accept Baptism.

The Jews were given forty days to prepare for the debate, which lasted for several days. Saint Gregory refuted all the arguments of the head Hebrew elder, Rabbi Ervan, using only texts from the Old Testament. In a vision Ervan beheld the holy Prophet Moses, who worshipped the Lord Jesus Christ. The prophet told Ervan that Ervan was in opposition to the truth and would be defeated.

By the grace of God Christian truth prevailed in the debate, but Ervan would not acknowledge his defeat. He made a last desperate attempt. He said, “If you want me to believe in your Christ, and to acknowledge that yours is the true God, then show Him to me, bishop!” The saint replied: “Your request is impertinent. It is not with man that you contend now, but with God. However, the Lord can do what you have asked in order to convince you.

Everyone waited to see what would happen. Saint Gregory, having steadfast faith in God and trusting in Him, began to pray aloud. He recalled the mystery of the Incarnation of God the Word, the miracles of His earthly life, the Three-day Resurrection and the Ascension into Heaven, and he invoked the power of the Life-Creating Cross. “Show Thyself to these people, O Lord,” he prayed, “and glorify Thy holy Name!”

When he finished the prayer, the earth quaked, and in the east the heavens were opened, and in a radiant cloud of light the Lord Jesus Christ came down on earth, and the Voice of the Lord was heard: “Through the prayers of Bishop Gregory, He Whom your fathers put to death will heal you.”

Like Saul, who was struck blind by the Heavenly light on the road to Damascus, the Jews were struck blind. Then they believed in Christ and they implored the holy bishop to heal them. Upon receiving holy Baptism, all of them were healed. Rabbi Ervan received the Christian name Leo (meaning “lion”).

After this most extraordinary miracle, Saint Gregory guided the flock of Homer for another thirty years. He reposed in the year 552 and was buried in a crypt in the cathedral of Afar.

Venerable George the Scribe, and Venerable Savva, of Khakhuli

Saints George and Savva of Khakhuli were brothers of Jacob, the father of Saint George of the Holy Mountain. George and Savva labored as monks at Khakhuli Monastery in southern Georgia.

The holy fathers were filled with divine grace. The elder brother, George, was a spiritual adviser in the court of King Bagrat III Kuropalates and, along with the king, he became an active participant in the production of ecclesiastical literature. (This period is known as the Golden Age of Georgian Letters, when many translations and copies of ecclesiastical writings were made.) The younger brother, Savva, is remembered as a righteous and blameless man by the renowned Church figure George the Lesser. According to George the Lesser, the brothers were generously endowed with both spiritual blessings and material wealth.

When the holy fathers heard about the piety of their nephew, the young George (later of the Holy Mountain), they suggested that Jacob bring him to them in Khakhuli in Klarjeti. With exceeding gladness Jacob brought his son to the God-fearing brothers.

At that time a certain Peris Jojikisdze, a nobleman married to the daughter of King Bagrat III, governed the village of Tvartsatapi. Peris thought it wise to invite an intelligent and experienced monk to his palace to serve as an instructor and spiritual guide, and he selected Saint George to fill this role. With great reluctance the venerable father consented, and he was entrusted with responsibility for all the spiritual and earthly affairs at the palace.

George of Khakhuli took the young George with him to the palace of Peris Jojikisdze. A year later, the Byzantine Emperor Basil II brought false accusations against Peris and ordered his execution. His wife and those in his court, among whom were Saint George and the young George of the Holy Mountain, were captured and escorted to Constantinople.

After twelve years in Byzantium, the captives were finally permitted to return home. Upon his return to Georgia, George of Khakhuli sent his nephew to Khakhuli Monastery, entrusting him to the care of his brother Savva.

The holy fathers reposed peacefully in the mid-11th century.