IGNATIUS THE GOD-BEARER, BISHOP OF ANTIOCH
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS, WINE, OLIVE OIL
Ignatius the God-Bearer, Bishop of Antioch, Forefeast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Our Righteous Father Philogonius, Bishop of Antioch, John the New Martyr of Thassos, Holy Father John of Kronstadt
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE HEBREWS 10:32-38
Brethren, recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised. "For yet a little while, and the coming one shall come and shall not tarry; but my righteous one shall live by faith.
At that time, Jesus and his disciples came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” John said to him, “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.”
Forefeast of the Nativity of our Lord
The Forefeast of the Nativity of the Lord begins on December 20. From now on, most of the liturgical hymns will be concerned with the birth of the Savior. Many of the Church’s hymns of this period are slightly modified versions of the hymns of Holy Week.
From December 20-23 we sing the Troparion (Tone 4) “Prepare, O Bethlehem, for Eden has been opened to all. Adorn yourself, O Ephratha, for the Tree of Life blossoms forth from the Virgin in the cave. Her womb is a spiritual paradise planted with the Divine Fruit; if we eat of it we shall live forever and not die like Adam. Christ comes to restore the image which He made in the beginning.”
We also sing the Kontakion (Tone 3) “Today the Virgin comes to the cave to give birth ineffably to the pre-eternal Word. Hearing this, rejoice, O inhabited earth! With the angels and the shepherds glorify the pre-eternal God, Whose will it was to appear as a young child!
Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-Bearer, Bishop of Antioch
The Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-Bearer, was a disciple of the holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, as was also Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (February 23). Saint Ignatius was the second bishop of Antioch, and successor to Bishop Euodius, Apostle of the Seventy (September 7).
Tradition suggests that when Saint Ignatius was a little boy, the Savior hugged him and said: “Unless you turn and become as little children, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt. 18:3). The saint was called “God-Bearer” (Theophoros), because he bore God in his heart and prayed unceasingly to Him. He also had this name because he was held in the arms of Christ, the incarnate Son of God.
Saint Ignatius was a disciple of the Apostle John the Theologian, together with Saint Polycarp of Smyrna. As Bishop of Antioch, Saint Ignatius was zealous and spared no effort to build up the church of Christ. To him is attributed the practice of antiphonal singing (by two choirs) during church services. He had seen a vision of the angels in heaven alternately singing praises to God, and divided his church choir to follow this example. In the time of persecution he was a source of strength to the souls of his flock, and was eager to suffer for Christ.
In the year 106 the emperor Trajan (98-117), after his victory over the Scythians, ordered everyone to give thanks to the pagan gods, and to put to death any Christians who refused to worship the idols. In the year 107, Trajan happened to pass through Antioch. Here they told him that Bishop Ignatius openly confessed Christ, and taught people to scorn riches, to lead a virtuous life, and preserve their virginity. Saint Ignatius came voluntarily before the emperor, so as to avert persecution of the Christians in Antioch. Saint Ignatius rejected the persistent requests of the emperor Trajan to sacrifice to the idols. The emperor then decided to send him to Rome to be thrown to the wild beasts. Saint Ignatius joyfully accepted the sentence imposed upon him. His readiness for martyrdom was attested to by eyewitnesses, who accompanied Saint Ignatius from Antioch to Rome.
On the way to Rome, the ship sailed from Seleucia stopped at Smyrna, where Saint Ignatius met with his friend Bishop Polycarp. Clergy and believers from other cities and towns thronged to see Saint Ignatius. He exhorted everyone not to fear death and not to grieve for him. In his Epistle to the Roman Christians, he asked them to assist him with their prayers, and to pray that God would strengthen him in his impending martyrdom for Christ: “I seek Him Who died for us; I desire Him Who rose for our salvation… In me, desire has been nailed to the cross, and no flame of material longing is left. Only the living water speaks within me, saying, ‘Hasten to the Father.’”
From Smyrna, Saint Ignatius went to Troas. Here he heard the happy news of the end of the persecution against Christians in Antioch. From Troas, Saint Ignatius sailed to Neapolis (in Macedonia) and then to Philippi.
On the way to Rome Saint Ignatius visited several churches, teaching and guiding the Christians there. He also wrote seven epistles: to the churches of Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna. He also addressed a letter to Saint Polycarp, who mentions a collection of the letters of Saint Ignatius in his letter to the Philippians (Ch. 13). Saint Irenaeus of Lyons quotes from Saint Ignatius’s letter to the Romans (AGAINST HERESIES 5:28:4). All these letters have survived to the present day.
The Roman Christians met Saint Ignatius with great joy and profound sorrow. Some of them hoped to prevent his execution, but Saint Ignatius implored them not to do this. Kneeling down, he prayed together with the believers for the Church, for love between the brethren, and for an end to the persecution against Christians.
On December 20, the day of a pagan festival, they led Saint Ignatius into the arena, and he turned to the people: “Men of Rome, you know that I am sentenced to death, not because of any crime, but because of my love for God, by Whose love I am embraced. I long to be with Him, and offer myself to him as a pure loaf, made of fine wheat ground fine by the teeth of wild beasts.”
After this the lions were released and tore him to pieces, leaving only his heart and a few bones. Tradition says that on his way to execution, Saint Ignatius unceasingly repeated the name of Jesus Christ. When they asked him why he was doing this, Saint Ignatius answered that this Name was written in his heart, and that he confessed with his lips Him Whom he always carried within. When the saint was devoured by the lions, his heart was not touched. When they cut open the heart, the pagans saw an inscription in gold letters: “Jesus Christ.” After his execution Saint Ignatius appeared to many of the faithful in their sleep to comfort them, and some saw him at prayer for the city of Rome.
Hearing of the saint’s great courage, Trajan thought well of him and stopped the persecution against the Christians. The relics of Saint Ignatius were transferred to Antioch (January 29), and on February 1, 637 were returned to Rome and placed in the church of San Clemente.
Venerable Ignatius, Archimandrite of the Kiev Caves
Saint Ignatius, Archimandrite of the Kiev Caves: In the general service to the Kiev Caves saints, it says of him: “Ignatius, monastic pastor and healer of the sick, in our infirmities you help us by your reverence, therefore let us offer song of praise unto your memory” (Ode 1 of the Canon). He was buried in the Far (Theodosiev) Caves, and his memory is celebrated together with the Fathers of these Far Caves, on August 28. The commemoration of the Saint Ignatius was established on December 20 because of his namesake, the Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-Bearer. There is also another commemoration: the Synaxis of all the Fathers of the Kiev Caves monastery on the second Sunday of Great Lent.
Saint Philogonius, Bishop of Antioch
Before becoming a bishop, Saint Philogonius was a laywer who defended the poor, the widowed and the orphaned. When his wife died, he was chosen as Bishop of Antioch.
Distinguished by profound theological knowledge, Saint Philogonius successfully defended Orthodoxy against the Arian heresy and by this prevented unrest in the Church.
During the persecution against Christians under the emperors Maximian (284-305)and Licinius (311-324), Saint Philogonius proved himself a confessor of the Orthodox Faith. He died peacefully in about the year 323. Saint John Chrysostom wrote a eulogy for Saint Philogonius in 386.
Saint Daniel II, Archbishop of Serbia
Saint Daniel of Serbia, the only son of rich and renowned parents, was a close associate of the Serbian king Stephan Urosh Milutin. Having renounced a secular career, he received monastic tonsure from the igumen of the Saint Nicholas monastery at Konchul near the River Ibar. Saint Daniel’s ascetic life was an example for all the brethren.
Archbishop Eustathius of Serbia ordained him presbyter and took him into his cell. When it was time to choose the igumen for the Hilandar monastery on Mount Athos, Saint Daniel received the appointment. The saint was igumen at a most difficult time for the Holy Mountain. After the Crusaders were expelled from Palestine, they joined with the Arabs to plunder and loot the Athonite monasteries, “not sparing anything sacred.”
Saint Daniel remained at the Hilandar monastery, enduring siege and hunger. When peace came to the Holy Mountain, the saint resigned as igumen and withdrew into complete silence in the cell of Saint Savva of Serbia (at Karyes). During the internecine war of Kings Milutin and Dragutin and Stephen of Dechani (November 11), the ascetic was summoned to Serbia, where he reconciled the adversaries.
In his native land Daniel was made Bishop of Banja and head of the renowned monastery of Saint Stephen, a royal treasury. After completing the construction of a cathedral church at Banja in honor of the holy Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen, Saint Daniel returned to his monastic labors on the Holy Mountain.
The saint was summoned from Athos again in 1325, when he was elected Archbishop of Serbia. He was consecrated on the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross of the Lord. The Protos [“head”] of the Holy Mountain, Garbasios, and other Athonite Elders took part in the solemnities.
Archbishop Daniel was a model of piety, and a wise archpastor. His tenure as archbishop was marked by complete non-covetousness, concern and toil for the needs of the Church and the flock, and the building of churches. In 1335 the saint built a church at Dechani in honor of the Ascension of the Lord, one of the finest Christian monuments in Serbia. He collected accounts about the Serbian past, and compiled the “Rodoslov” [Account about the homeland], writing about the lives of Serbian rulers and Serbian archpastors.
Even during his lifetime Saint Daniel was granted the gift of wonderworking and healing. After fourteen years as archbishop, Saint Daniel departed to the Lord on December 19, 1338.
Repose of Saint John of Kronstadt
Saint John of Kronstadt was born in the village of Sura in Archangel province on October 19, 1829, and was called John in honor of Saint John of Rila (August 18). His parents were very poor but were very devoted to the Church. Even though he was poor, as a young boy John learned to feel compassion for others in their misfortune. His neighbors frequently asked him to pray for them, as they noticed this special grace-endowed gift in him. When John was ten, his parents were able to raise some money and send him to the local school which was attached to the church. At first, the boy had an extremely difficult time with his studies. He worked for days on end, but still failed to keep up.
Writing about his life he once recalled an evening when everyone had already gone to bed. “I could not sleep, and I still failed to understand anything I was taught. I still read poorly and could not remember anything I was told. I became so depressed I fell to my knees and began to pray. I don’t know whether I had spent a long time in that position or not, but suddenly something shook my whole being. It was as if a veil had fallen from my eyes, and my mind had been opened, and I remembered clearly my teacher of that day and his lesson. I also recalled the topic and the examples he had given. I felt so light and joyous inside.” After this experience he did so well he became one of the first in his class to be chosen to go to seminary, and after seminary to the Theological Academy in Saint Petersburg (a great honor at that time).
Throughout his studies, John thought about the importance of forgiveness, meekness, and love, and came to believe that these were the very center and power of Christianity, and that only one path—the path of humble love—leads to God and the triumph of His righteousness. He also thought a great deal about the Savior’s death on the Cross at Golgotha, and pitied those who did not know Jesus Christ. He wished to preach to them about His death and Resurrection. He dreamed about becoming a missionary to distant China, but saw that there was a great deal of work for a genuine pastor of Christ’s flock both in his own city and the surrounding towns.
When John graduated from the Academy he met Elizabeth Nesvitsky who lived in the town of Kronstadt. They dated, he proposed, and they were married. After his studies, John still desired to learn more about his faith and his Church.
It was in this frame of mind that he prepared to be a priest and to enter public ministry. He was ordained a deacon on December 10, 1855, and then priest on December 12. He was assigned to Saint Andrew’s Cathedral in the city of Kronstadt. He said, “I made myself a rule to be as sincere as possible in my work, and of strictly watching myself and my inner life.”
Father John wanted most of all to earn the love of the people in his care, because only a loving attitude could provide the firm support and help he needed as he faced the difficult work of the priesthood. His constant thought was how he would come before the Last Judgment and have to give an account, not only for his own deeds, but also the deeds of his flock, for whose education and salvation he was responsible. To him no one was a stranger; everyone who came to him for help became a friend and relative. He would tell people “The Church is the best heavenly friend of every sincere Christian.” He conducted divine services daily and offered the prayers of the faithful. He called all who rarely receive Holy Communion to prepare themselves and live their lives in a Christian way so that they could receive more often. Listening to Father John, many people changed their lifestyle, repented sincerely, and joyfully received Holy Communion on a regular basis.
At that time the government exiled murderers, thieves and other criminals to Kronstadt. Life was horrible for the exiles. Even children of exiles would become thieves and criminals. He would go to their dugouts, hovels and shacks to visit with them. Not satisfied with staying for five or ten minutes to administer some rite and then leave, Father John believed he was coming to visit a priceless soul, his brothers and sisters. He would stay for hours, talking, encouraging, comforting, crying, and rejoicing together with them.
From the beginning he also concerned himself with the material needs of the poor. He would shop for food, go to the pharmacy for prescriptions, to the doctor for help, many times giving the poor his last few coins. The inhabitants of Kronstadt would see him returning home barefoot and without his cassock. Often parishioners would bring shoes to his wife, saying to her, “Your husband has given away his shoes to someone, and will come home barefoot.” He would also write articles for the newspaper exhorting the people of Kronstadt to “support the poor morally and materially.” These appeals touched the hearts of many and Father John organized many charitable efforts. Realizing that his individual charity was insufficient for aiding the needy, he founded the Orthodox Christian House Parish Trusteeship of Saint Andrew the First-Called. This brotherhood coordinated many charitable efforts throughout the city and helped many needy people.
In 1857, he began teaching in the local city schools. He would tell people, “If children cannot listen to the Gospel, it is only because it is taught like any other subject, with boredom and indifference. Such teaching defeats the purpose of the Gospel. It fails because it forces students only to read words and memorize them instead of making them live in their lives.” To Father John there were no incapable students. He taught in such a way that poor pupils as well as good ones were able to understand. His attention was aimed not so much at forcing students to memorize as to fill their souls with the joy of living according to Christian values, sharing with them the holy thoughts which filled his soul.
When speaking to other priests about their vocation he would say, “You are a representative of the faith of the Church, O priest; you are a representative of Christ the Lord Himself. You should be a model of meekness, purity, courage, perseverance, patience, and lofty spirit. You are doing the work of God and must not let anything discourage you.”
Saint John has performed more miracles than almost any other saint, with the possible exception of Saint Nicholas. Through his prayers he healed the sick, gave hope to the hopeless, and brought sinners to repentance.
Father John labored endlessly in his work for the Lord preaching, teaching, and helping those in need. Having spent his entire life serving God and His people, Father John fell ill and died on December 20, 1908. Almost immediately, people from near and far began to make pilgrimages to the monastery where he was buried. Even today millions of Orthodox Christians in Russia and around the world pray to him to intercede for them as he had always done from his childhood.
Saint John was glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church on June 8, 1990.
Icon of the Mother of God the “Rescuer of the Drowning”
In the village of Lenkov on the bank of the Desno River near Novgorod, Russia, there was a dangerous whirlpool, which made the river difficult to cross. Often, the powerful swirling waters would cause the demise of ships and their passengers. It was at that dangerous site that an Icon of the Mother of God was discovered, resting on the riverbank. In time, a church dedicated to the Mother of God was erected on the site, and the Icon of the Mother of God, the "Rescuer of the Drowning," was enshrined therein. Those who journeyed along the Desno River customarily stopped at Lenkov to offer prayers in the icon's presence, imploring the Mother of God to grant them a safe journey despite the dangerous whirlpool. It had been said that after the icon had been discovered, mishaps to sailors were rare, and later completely ceased.
Lenkov and its church were destroyed during an invasion by the Poles in the 17th century. A new church dedicated to the Archangel Michael soon rose on the site of the former Church of the Mother of God, and the icon was enshrined therein. Many miracles were ascribed to the Mother of God, and the icon came to be revered not only in area of Lenkov, but far beyond, especially in Russia's larger port cities.
In the 18th century, the Icon was transferred to the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Novgorod, where it remained until the Russian Revolution in 1917. History does not record what happened to the miraculous icon during Soviet times. However, in 2003, a pious man named Sergei Babushkin gave to the Church an identical antique copy of the long-lost original "Rescuer of the Drowning" Icon, which was subsequently enshrined in the Transfiguration Monastery, thus marking the beginning of its revival.
The icon is remarkably similar to the much older Korsun Icon of the Mother of God, which was said to have been a copy of an icon by Saint Luke the Evangelist that had been kept in Ephesus until it was brought to Kyiv in 988 AD.
New-martyr John of Thasos
The New Martyr John of Thasos was from the village of Marias on the island of Thasos. In his youth he was brought to Constantinople and apprenticed to a tailor. One day he was seized by the Turks and accused of insulting the Moslem religion. They tried to force him to accept Islam, but he would not agree to renounce the Christian Faith, for which he was beheaded at the age of eighteen in the year 1652.
Icon of the Mother of God of Novgorod
The Novgorod Icon of the Mother of God was painted by Saint Peter, Metropolitan of Moscow (December 21), during his stay as igumen of a monastery on the River Rata at the boundary of the Malyi Dvorets. During a time of persecution, the Uniates plundered the Novgorod monastery, and the icon was transferred by the hieromonk James to the Eletsk Chernigov monastery. Bishop Anthony (Stakovsky) of Chernigov later blessed Simeon, the organizer of the Surozh monastery (Chernigov diocese) with this icon. On August 14, 1677, during a church procession from the old church to a new one, the icon manifested miraculous signs.