SATURDAY BEFORE THEOPHANY
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
ST. PAUL’S FIRST LETTER TO TIMOTHY 3:13-16; 4:1-5
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.