Daily Readings for Thursday, February 23, 2023



Polycarp the Holy Martyr & Bishop of Smyrna, Proterios, Archbishop of Alexandria, Gorgonia the Righteous, sister of Gregory the Theologian, Damian the New Martyr of Mount Athos, Boswell, Abbot of Melrose Abbey


Beloved, woe to the ungodly, for they walk in the way of Cain, and abandon themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam's error, and perish in Korah's rebellion. These are blemishes on your love feasts, as they boldly carouse together, looking after themselves; waterless clouds, carried along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars for whom the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved for ever.
It was of these also that Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam prophesied, saying, "Behold, the Lord came with his holy myriads, to execute judgment on all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness which they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him." These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own passions, loud-mouthed boasters, flattering people to gain advantage.
But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; they said to you, "In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions." It is these who set up divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And convince some, who doubt; save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.
Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen.

LUKE 23:1-31, 33, 44-56

At that time, the chief priests, the scribes, and elders of the people brought Jesus before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, "We found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ a king." And Pilate asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" And he answered him, "You have said so." And Pilate said to the chief priests and the multitudes, "I find no crime in this man." But they were urgent, saying, "He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.
When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length; but he made no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then, arraying him in gorgeous apparel, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.
Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, "You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him; neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Behold, nothing deserving death has been done by him; I will therefore chastise him and release him." Now he was obliged to release one man to them at the festival.
But they all cried out together, "Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas" — a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city, and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus; but they shouted out, "Crucify, crucify him!" A third time he said to them, "Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no crime deserving death; I will therefore chastise him and release him." But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave sentence that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, whom they asked for; but Jesus he delivered up to their will.
And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people, and of women who bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning to them said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck!' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us'; and to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?
And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left.
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, and said, "Certainly this man was innocent!" And all the multitudes who assembled to see the sight, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance and saw these things.
Now there was a man named Joseph from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their purpose and deed, and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud, and laid him in a rock hewn tomb, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and saw the tomb, and how his body was laid; then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.
On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

Hieromartyr Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna

Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, who was “fruitful in every good work” (Col. 1:10), was born in the first century, and lived in Smyrna in Asia Minor. He was orphaned at an early age, but at the direction of an angel, he was raised by the pious widow Kallista. After the death of his adoptive mother, Polycarp gave away his possessions and began to lead a chaste life, caring for the sick and the infirm. He was very fond of and close to Saint Bucolus, Bishop of Smyrna (February 6). He ordained Polycarp as deacon, entrusting to him to preach the Word of God in church. He also ordained him to the holy priesthood.

The holy Apostle John the Theologian was still alive at this time. Saint Polycarp was especially close to Saint John, and sometimes accompanied him on his apostolic journeys.

Shortly before his death, Saint Bucolus expressed his wish that Polycarp be made Bishop of Smyrna. When Saint Polycarp was consecrated as a bishop, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him. Saint Polycarp guided his flock with apostolic zeal, and he was also greatly loved by the clergy. Saint Ignatius the God-Bearer of Antioch (December 20) also had a high regard for him. Setting out for Rome where execution awaited him, he wrote to Saint Polycarp, “This age is in need of you if it is to reach God, just as pilots need winds, and as a storm-tossed sailor needs a port.”

The emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180) came to the Roman throne and started up a most fierce persecution against Christians. The pagans demanded that the judge search for Saint Polycarp, “the father of all the Christians” and “the seducer of all Asia.”

During this time Saint Polycarp, at the persistent urging of his flock, stayed in a small village not far from Smyrna. When the soldiers came for him, he went out to them and invited them in to eat. He asked for time to pray, in order to prepare himself for martyrdom. His suffering and death are recorded in the “Epistle of the Christians of the Church of Smyrna to the Other Churches,” one of the most ancient memorials of Christian literature.

Having been brought to trial, Saint Polycarp firmly confessed his faith in Christ, and was condemned to be burned alive. The executioners wanted to nail him to a post, but he declared that God would give him the strength to endure the flames, so they could merely tie him with ropes. The flames encircled the saint but did not touch him, coming together over his head in the shape of a vault. Seeing that the fire did him no harm, the pagans stabbed him with a dagger. So much blood flowed from this wound that it extinguished the flames. The body of the hieromartyr Polycarp was then cremated. The Christians of Smyrna reverently gathered up what remained of his holy relics, and each year they celebrated the day of his martyrdom.

A story has been preserved about Saint Polycarp by his disciple, Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, which Eusebius cites in his ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY (V, 20):

“I was still very young when I saw you in Asia Minor at Polycarp’s,” writes Saint Irenaeus to his friend Florinus, “but I would still be able to point out the place where Blessed Polycarp sat and conversed, and be able to depict his walk, his mannerisms in life, his outward appearance, his speaking to people, his companionable wandering with John, and how he himself related, together with other eyewitnesses of the Lord, those things that he remembered from the words of others. He also told what he heard from them about the Lord, His teachings and miracles….

“Through the mercy of God to me, I then already listened attentively to Polycarp and wrote down his words, not on tablets, but in the depths of my heart. Therefore, I am able to bear witness before God, that if this blessed and apostolic Elder heard something similar to your fallacy, he would immediately stop up his ears and express his indignation with his usual phrase: ‘Good God! That Thou hast permitted me to be alive at such a time!’”

During his life the holy bishop wrote several Epistles to the flock and letters to various individuals. The only one that has survived to the present day is his Epistle to the Philippians which, Saint Jerome testifies, was read in the churches of Asia Minor at divine services. It was written by the saint in response to the request of the Philippians to send them some letters of the hieromartyr Ignatius (December 20) which Saint Polycarp had in his possession.

The composer H.I.F. Bibier (1644-1704) has written a Sonata “Scti Polycarpi” for eight trumpets in honor of the holy martyr.

Venerable Polycarp of Briansk

Saint Polycarp of Briansk, in the world, was Prince Peter Ivanovich Boryatinsky, a descendant of Saint Michael, Prince of Chernigov (September 20). This supposition has been put forward because Boryatinsky is connected with the destiny of the Briansk Savior Transfiguration monastery.

The name of Prince Peter Boryatinsky is often encountered in documents of the sixteenth century. Thus, he was among those sent off to wage war against the Swedish king at the river Sestra. In 1576, he was named voevod at Tula. In 1580, Boryatinsky, having been appointed voevod at Kholm, was captured by the Lithuanians under a siege headed by Panin. Upon his release from captivity under Boris Godinov, Boryatinsky returned home in disgrace.

In 1591 he was named voevod at Tiumen, but after several years he left the world, settled at Briansk and received monastic tonsure with the name Polycarp. From his means the monk built a monastery of the Transfiguration of the Lord and established in it a Rule of strict ascetical life. Saint Polycarp was the first Superior of this monastery. He died and was buried there in 1620 or 1621.

Venerable John, Ascetic of the Syrian Deserts

Saint John, disciple of Saint Limnaeus (February 22), lived in Syria in the fifth century, and chose for himself the ascetic struggle of “a shelterless life.” He settled on a hill, sheltered from the wind on all sides, and lived there for twenty-five years. He ate only bread and salt, and he exhausted his body under heavy chains. When one of the nearby ascetics planted an almond tree on the hill so that Saint John could enjoy its shade and get out of the vicious heat, the saint told him to cut it down. This he did in order to deny his body any respite.

Venerable Antiochus and Antoninus, ascetics of the Syrian Deserts

Saints Antiochus and Antoninus also lived in asceticism with Saint John. They continued their ascetical struggles until they reached an advanced age, offering an example of spiritual strength, and overcoming every obstacle.

Venerable Moses, Ascetic of the Syrian Deserts

Saint Moses lived in Syria in the fifth century. Imitating Saint John, he settled on a high mountain near the village of Rama. He was a disciple of Saint Polychronius, and lived with him. Emulating his Elder in everything, Saint Moses was the very model of an austere ascetical life.

Saint Moses died in Syria in the fifth century.

Venerable Zebinas, Ascetic of the Syrian Deserts

Saint Zebinas lived in Syria during the fifth century. He lived an ascetical life on the same mountain as Saint Moses. He never sat down during his Rule of prayer, but sometimes he leaned on his staff. The neighboring inhabitants venerated Saint Zebinas, and they received great help in their sorrows and needs through his prayers.

He reached a great old age, then departed to the Lord.

Venerable Polychronius, Ascetic of the Syrian Deserts

Saint Polychronius lived in Syria in the fifth century. He was the disciple of Saint Zebinas, and imitated the life of his Elder, spending both day and night in fasting and vigil. Saint Polychronius had no chains, but he dug up a heavy oaken root from the earth and carried it on his shoulders when he prayed. Saint Polychronius asked God to send rain during a drought, and he filled up a stone vessel with oil for the needy.

Venerable Damian, Ascetic of the Syrian Deserts

Saint Damian lived in Syria in the fifth century. He withdrew to a monastery named Ieros and lived there in asceticism. In his cell he had only a small box of lentils from which he ate.

Venerable Alexander, founder of the Monastery of the “Unsleeping Ones”

Saint Alexander, Founder of the Monastery of the “Unsleeping Ones,” was born in Asia and received his education at Constantinople. He spent some time in military service but, sensing a calling to other service, he left the world and received monastic tonsure in one of the desert monasteries near Antioch under the guidance of Igumen Elias.

Having advanced through all the degrees of monastic obedience, he received a blessing from the igumen to dwell in the wilderness. The saint lived an ascetical life in the wilderness, taking only the Holy Gospel with him. Afterwards, the Lord summoned him to preach to pagans. He converted to the faith the local city-head Rabbul, who afterwards prospered in the service of the Church, attaining the rank of bishop, and for thirty years, he occupied the bishop’s cathedra in the city of Edessa.

Finally, Saint Alexander settled not far from the Euphrates River. Monks gathered around him, attracted by the loftiness of his prayerful asceticism and spiritual experience. A monastery of 400 monks eventually sprang up there.

Then the holy igumen in his prayerful zeal decided to offer never-ceasing praise to the Lord at the monastery both by day and by night. For three years the holy abba prayed that God might reveal to him whether it was pleasing to Him to establish such a monastic rule. He received an answer by divine revelation. All the monks were divided into twenty-four watches of prayer. Changing shifts each hour, two choirs sang the holy Psalms both day and night, except when divine services were celebrated in church. Hence the name “Monastery of Unsleeping Ones,” since the ascetics offered unceasing praise to God.

Saint Alexander guided the monastery on the Euphrates for twelve years. Thereafter, having left the experienced Elder Trophimus as igumen, he set off with some chosen brethren through the cities bordering on Persia, to preach the Gospel. Having arrived at Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, he also established a monastery there with his Rule of unceasing praise. The abba died at a great old age after fifty years of monastic struggles. His death occurred in the year 430.

Saint Alexander is also commemorated on July 3.

Venerable Damian of Esphigmenou of Mount Athos

Saint Damian lived in the thirteenth century. He was a hesychast on Mt. Athos, and struggled in the skete of Esphigmenou monastery, on a mountain called Samareia, between the monasteries of Hilandar and Esphigmenou, and also in one of the caves where the Father of Russian Monasticism, Saint Anthony of the Caves (July 10), had lived in asceticism.

Known for his ascetic life and for the miracles he performed, he was truly obedient and kept the injunctions of the Fathers.

Saint Damian reposed in his cell in the year 1280, and a miraculous fragrance issued from his grave for forty days. His Life was written by his friend Saint Cosmas of Zographou Monastery (September 22).

Monastic Martyr Damian of Philotheou

Saint Damian of Philotheou was a disciple of Saint Dometius (August 7). He was from the village of Richovon (Merichovon) near Agrapha. He went to Mt. Athos when he was quite young, and received the monastic tonsure at Philotheou Monastery. After spending some time there, he withdrew to a hermitage under the guidance of an Elder named Dometius.

After three years, he heard a voice telling him to go forth and teach. He obeyed these instructions, preaching in many areas of Greece. He urged his fellow Christians to repent of their sins, to abstain from all vices, to obey God’s commandments, and to devote themselves to God-pleasing works.

As he was on his way to a village, Saint Damian was arrested by the Turks and thrown into prison. After fifteen days of torture, he was hanged and then thrown into a fire.

Saint Damian received the crown of martyrdom on February 23, 1568.

New Hieromartyr Nicholas (Dmitrov) of Tver

No information available at this time.

Saint Gorgonia, Sister of Saint Gregory the Theologian

Most of the information about Saint Gorgonia (Γοργονία) comes from her brother, Saint Gregory Nazianzus (January 25) in his Oration VIII, "On his Sister Gorgonia," which was delivered sometime after their brother Saint Caesarius (March 9) went to the Lord in 369, and before the repose of their father, the elder Saint Gregory Nazianzus, in 374.

She was the daughter of Saint Gregory Nazianzus (January 1) and Saint Nonna (August 5), and was named for her maternal grandmother Gorgonia. Saint Gregory the Theologian tells us that she derived her existence and her reputation from their parents, because they sowed in her the seeds of piety.

In praising her virtues, Saint Gregory states that her modesty surpassed those of her own time, and those who lived before her. She blended the excellence of the married state with that of the unmarried state, avoiding the disadvantages of each, while combining all that is best in both. Thus, Saint Gorgonia proved that "neither of them absolutely binds us to, or separates us from, God or the world." It is the mind which nobly presides over marriage and virginity, arranging and working on them as "the raw material of virtue."

Saint Gorgonia had consecrated herself to God, and also won her husband Alypios to her side. He was from the city of Iconium, where Faustinus was the bishop. She made Alypios "a good fellow servant, instead of an unreasonable master." This pious couple had five children; two sons who became bishops, and three daughters: Alypianḗ, Eugenia, and Nonna. Moreover, she made her children and their children's children the fruit of her spirit, dedicating to God not only her soul, but also her entire family and household. As long as she lived, she showed herself as an example of all that is good. Her devoted brother even compared her to King Solomon's virtuous woman (Proverbs 31:10-31).

This daughter of a saintly family took both her natural and spiritual parents as her models of virtue, and they were the source of her goodness. She did not wear fine clothes or expensive jewelry, nor did she use pigments to enhance her beauty. The only red coloring dear to her was the blush of modesty; and her only white coloring was the tint of temperance.

She adorned the churches with offerings, and thereby presented herself to God as a living temple. She opened her house to members of her family who were in want, and even to strangers. She was sympathetic to those in trouble, and compassionate toward widows. She "dispersed abroad" and "gave to the poor" (Psalm 111/112:9). The only wealth she left to her children was the excellence of her example.

In her fasting, her chanting of the Psalms, her vigils, her tears, and her prayers, she surpassed not only women, but also the most devout men, thereby demonstrating that the distinction between male and female is one of body, not of soul.

One day, as Saint Gorgonia was riding in her carriage, the mules bolted and the carriage was overturned. She was dragged over the ground and suffered serious injury. Those who were not Christians were scandalized that God would permit such a thing to happen to this righteous woman. Although she was bruised in her bones and limbs, she would not allow a physician to examine her, in order to preserve her modesty. She trusted that God would heal her, and He did. Seeing her unexpected recovery, people concluded that the accident had occurred so that by her patient endurance and her miraculous healing, God would be glorified.

Saint Gorgonia longed for death, preferring to be with Christ rather than remain on earth. She had a vision in which the day of her death was revealed to her so that she might prepare herself. As that time drew near she took to her bed, and spent her last day giving instructions to her husband, her children, and her friends. After discoursing about spiritual matters, she reposed in the year 370 at the age of thirty-eight. Her last words were, “I will both lie down in peace and sleep” (Psalm 4:8).