20, 000 MARTYRS BURNED IN NICOMEDIA
20, 000 Martyrs burned in Nicomedia, Holy Martyr Glycerus, Simon the Myrrhbearer, Founder of Simonopetra, Monastery of Mount Athos, Afterfeast of the Nativity
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE HEBREWS 5:11-14; 6:1-8
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.