SUNDAY OF ORTHODOXY
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS
Sunday of Orthodoxy, Conon the Gardener, Parthenios the New Martyr who contested in Didymoteichos, Mark the Ascetic, Righteous Father Mark of Athens, John the Bulgarian, Mark the Faster, George the New-Martyr of Rapsani, Eulogios the Martyr, Eulabios the Martyr, Conon the Isaurian, Archelaos the Martyr of Egypt
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE HEBREWS 11:24-26, 32-40
Brethren, by faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he looked to the reward.
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets — who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign enemies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated — of whom the world was not worthy — wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
At that time, Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael, and he said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”
1st Sunday of Great Lent: Sunday of Orthodoxy
The first Sunday of Great Lent is called the Sunday of Orthodoxy because it commemorates the restoration of the Holy Icons and the triumph of the Orthodox Faith against the terrible heresy of the Iconoclasts, i.e. those heretics who refused to honor the Holy Icons. For more than a hundred years the Church was disturbed by the evil doctrine of iconoclasm.
The first Emperor to persecute the Church was Leo the Isaurian, and the last was Theophilos, the spouse of Saint Theodora (February 11), who reigned after her husband's death and re-established Orthodoxy in the time of Patriarch Methodios (June 14). Empress Theodora proclaimed publicly that we do not kiss the Icons as a sign of worship, nor do we honor them as "gods," but as images of their prototypes.
In the year 843, on the first Sunday of the Fast, Saint Theodora and her son, Emperor Michael, venerated the Holy Icons together with the clergy and the people. Since that time this event has been commemorated every year, because it was definitively determined that we do not worship the Icons, but we honor and glorify all the Saints who are depicted on them. We worship only the Triune God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and no one else, neither a Saint, nor an Angel.
Originally, the Holy Prophets Moses, Aaron, and Samuel were commemorated on this Sunday. The Alleluia verses appointed for today’s Liturgy reflect this older usage.
Martyr Conon of Isauria
The Holy Martyr Conon of Isauria was born in Badinḗ (Βαδινή), a village near the city of Isauria in Asia Minor, whose inhabitants had received the Christian Faith from the Apostle Paul. From his youth, Saint Conon was protected by the Archangel Michael, who helped him in many difficult situations during his life.
At the insistence of his parents, Conon was betrothed to a girl named Anna, and on their wedding night, he persuaded her that they should remain virgins. He took a candle and put it under a vessel and asked his bride: "Which is better, light or darkness?"
"Light," she replied.
Then he spoke to her about Christ, and how the spiritual life was far superior and more desirable than the physical. Thus, Conon and Anna lived together as brother and sister. Later, Conon brought his wife and her parents to the Christian Faith.His father, Saint Nestor, rebuked the idolaters, but they opposed him, saying that there is no other God but the idols. He converted them and prepared them to confess Christ with a loud voice, and to be baptized. As a result, Saint Nestor was put to death, thereby receiving a Martyr's crown.
Shortly thereafter, Conan's wife and her parents died, and he withdrew completely from this earthly life, devoting himself to the monastic labors of prayer, fasting and divine contemplation.
By the grace of God, Saint Conan received so much power and authority over the demons, that he was able to order some of them to farm the land. Others were sent to protect the fruit, and then he enclosed the rest in clay vessels, which he sealed. He hid and buried these in the foundation of his house.
In his old age, the holy ascetic received the gift of working miracles.Through his preaching and miracles, many pagans were turned to Christ. When a persecution of Christians began in Isauria, Saint Conon was one of the first to suffer. He was tortured severely for refusing to sacrifice to the idols. However, when the inhabitants of Isauria learned of the torments to which the Saint was subjected, they went armed with weapons in order to protect the Martyr. Fearing the people's wrath, the torturers fled, and the Isaurians found the Martyr wounded and bloodied. Those who were sick anointed themselves with his blood, and they were healed. Saint Conon was saddened because he had not been found worthy of being martyred for the Lord. He lived in Isauria for two more years, and then he departed to the Lord in the second century.
After the Saint's repose, some Christians wanted to convert his house into a church. As they were digging, they found the clay vessels containing the evil spirits. When one of the jars was opened the demons came forth in the form of fire. The building collapsed, the wood and the ropes were burnt, and no one was able to approach that place until after sunset. After some time, that place was freed from the influence of the demons, by the prayers of Saint Conon, and through the prayer and fasting of the Christians who lived there.
Finding of the relics of Saint Theodore, Prince of Smolensk and Yaroslavl, and his children
On March 5, 1463, the relics of holy Prince Theodore and his sons, David and Constantine were uncovered at Yaroslavl. The chronicler, an eyewitness to the event, wrote: “At the city of Yaroslavl in the monastery of the Holy Savior they unearthed three Great Princes: Prince Theodore Rostislavich and his sons David and Constantine, and brought them above the ground. The Great Prince Theodore was a man of great stature, and they placed his sons David and Constantine beside him. They were shorter than he was. All three had lain in a single grave.”
The physical appearance of the holy prince so impressed the eyewitnesses and those present at the uncovering of the relics, that an account of this event was entered into the Prologue (lives of saints) in Saint Theodore’s Life, and also into the text of the Manual for Iconographers.
Saints Theodore, David and Constantine are also commemorated on September 19.
Monastic Martyr Adrian of Poshekhonye, Yaroslavl
Saint Adrian of Poshekhonye was born at Rostov the Great at the end of the sixteenth century, of pious parents named Gregory and Irene. Saint Adrian received monastic tonsure at the monastery of Saint Cornelius of Komel (May 19).
Among the brethren gathered around Saint Cornelius were some capable builders and iconographers, so the monastery churches were constructed and adorned by the saints themselves. In the final years of Saint Cornelius’s life, Kazan Tatars invaded the territory around the monastery, and he led all the brethren to the River Ukhtoma. But the Tatars did not touch the monastery, being frightened off by the sight of the many soldiers defending it, and they soon withdrew from the Vologda district. Saint Cornelius returned to the monastery with the brethren and reposed there on May 19, 1537.
Three years after the death of Saint Cornelius, Saint Adrian, then a hierodeacon, greatly desired to go into a wilderness place and found a monastery in honor of the Most Holy Theotokos. The Lord helped him fulfill his intention. A certain unknown Elder of striking appearance came to the Corniliev monastery. Saint Adrian asked him his name, and the Elder referred to himself as “the lowly one.”
When Saint Adrian invited him to his own cell and asked him to say something beneficial for the soul, the Elder said that he would show Saint Adrian the spot where he should build the church and monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos.
Saint Adrian immediately went to the Superior, Igumen Laurence, and sought his blessing to live in the wilderness. Recalling Saint Cornelius’s order that any monks who wished to withdraw into the wilderness should be released from the monastery, Igumen Laurence did not hinder Saint Adrian but gave him his blessing. He also sent with him his assistant, Elder Leonid. After they prayed at the grave of Saint Cornelius, Saint Adrian and Elder Leonid went on their way, led by the mysterious black-robed monk. Saint Adrian carried with him an icon of the Dormition of the Mother of God, which he also painted.
On September 13, 1540, the eve of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross of the Lord, Saint Adrian and Elder Leonid arrived in the wild Poshekhonye forest, near the settlements of Belta, Patrabolsha, Shelshedolsk and Ukhorsk.
They halted at the banks of the River Votkha. There the Elder leading them suddenly became invisible. The astonished travelers began to chant the Canon and service of the Feast, with tears of thanks to God. Indeed this was a portent of the future fame of the monastery, a place where God would be glorified.
For three years Saint Adrian and the Elder Leonid survived in the wilderness solitude, suffering want, overcoming temptations from the devil and the whisperings of wicked folk, and then they began to fulfill their intention. Choosing a suitable moment, the ascetics went to Moscow to ask the blessing of Metropolitan Macarius to establish a monastery and church in honor of the Dormition of the Mother of God on the Poshekhonye side of the River Votkha.
Saint Macarius gave his blessing to the ascetics to build the monastery, and he gave them a written document to that effect. He ordained Adrian to the priesthood and elevated him to the rank of igumen. In the document he had given to Saint Adrian, the hierarch bade “priests, deacons, monks and laymen to listen to him and obey him in everything, as befits a pastor and teacher.”
At Moscow the Poshekhonye ascetics found generous benefactors who gave the monks abundant offerings to build their church. Returning to their wilderness spot on May 31, 1543, Saint Adrian laid the foundations for the church with a trapeza, in honor of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos.
Having embellished and consecrated the new church, Saint Adrian began the construction of the monastery. The strict monastic Rule of Saint Cornelius was introduced at the monastery. Having nothing of their own, a little being sufficient for everyone, the saints devoted a large portion of their time to prayer, both in church and in their cells, and no small time was allotted to the reading of Holy Scripture. This reading was done “not in an elegant voice, nor for effect, but in a humble and mild voice. One reads, and another speaks of what is read.” They also read in private.
In addition to his duties as igumen, Saint Adrian also occupied himself with painting icons. When his holy soul longed for complete silence, he withdrew into the depths of the forest into the cell and chapel he had built one verst away from the monastery.
Six years after the founding of the monastery, Elder Leonid reposed. Saint Adrian and the brethren buried him with reverence. The number of the brethren had increased during this time. They built three cells as dwellings, and a fourth for preparing food and baking bread.
Saint Adrian began to make plans for the construction of a large stone church, and he gathered a sum of money for this purpose. One year after the repose of Elder Leonid, during Great Lent of 1550, on the eve of the commemoration of the 42 Ammoreian Martyrs (March 6), armed robbers burst into the monastery and murdered Saint Adrian after beating him.
The holy relics of Saint Martyr Adrian were uncovered on December 17, 1626, solemnly transferred into the monastery church and placed in an open crypt by the right kliros (choir). Many miracles occurred at the grave of Saint Adrian.
Martyr Onesimus of Isauria
The Holy Martyr Onesimus (Onisius) lived in Palestine. He was beheaded with the sword for confessing faith in Christ.
Martyr Conon the Gardener of Pamphylia
The Holy Martyr Conon the Gardener was born in Nazareth of Galilee, but he lived in the city of Mandona, where he occupied himself with gardening. He was a God-fearing man, sincere in heart, and without malice. The saint suffered for his faith in Christ under the emperor Decius (249-251). When they brought him to trial, he unwaveringly and firmly confessed his faith. The torturers drove nails into his feet and dragged him behind a chariot until the sufferer collapsed from exhaustion. With a prayer, he surrendered his spirit to the Lord.
Virgin Martyr Irais (Rhais) of Antinoe in Egypt
No information on the life of this saint is available at this time.
Martyr Eulogius of Palestine
The Holy Martyr Eulogius was a native of Palestine. After the death of his pagan parents he gave away all his inheritance to the poor, and he himself became a wanderer and went through Palestine, converting pagans to Christianity. During the time of a persecution he was arrested, subjected to terrible tortures and beheaded.
Martyr Eulampius of Palestine
The Holy Martyr Eulampius lived in Palestine. He was beheaded for his faith in Christ.
Saint Mark the Ascetic of Egypt
Saint Mark the Ascetic was born in Athens during the fifth century, and became a monk in the Nitrian desert (Lower Egypt). From his youth his fondest pursuit was the reading of Holy Scripture. It is said that he knew the whole Bible by heart.
Nine of his thirty discourses have come down to us. Three of them are in Volume I of the English PHILOKALIA. The Byzantines had such a high regard for his writings that they said, “Sell everything and buy Mark.”
He was noted for his gentleness and purity of soul. He was known as “the Ascetic” because of his abstinence. He lived for ninety years as a solitary, then surrendered his soul to God when he was one hundred and twenty years old.
Saint Hesychius the Faster of Bithynia
Saint Hesychius the Faster was born in the eighth century in the coastal city of Adrineia in Bithynia. Raised since his youth in piety, he left his parental home and practiced asceticism in a wilderness spot on Mount Maionis. Despite the threat of demons and wild animals and robbers living there, the holy ascetic in seeking greater solitude settled there and built himself a cell, digging himself a garden and eating from the fruit of his labors. After a certain while disciples began to throng to him. At a spring of water in a valley not far off Saint Hesychius built a church in the name of the holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called. Even during his lifetime he was granted the gift of wonderworking.
One time they brought a demon-possessed girl to him. Her parents, falling down at the feet of the holy ascetic, implored his holy prayers for her healing. The holy ascetic made prayer for the unfortunate one, and the devils left her. Turning to the parents of the healed girl, Saint Hesychius predicted that a women’s holy monastery would arise at the place their daughter was healed. And actually the prophecy was fulfilled in the future.
An angel appeared to Saint Hesychius three days before his end and predicted to him his approaching demise. He accepted the news with joy. And before his blessed end, the saint summoned his disciples and for a long while he instructed them. At midnight the cell of the saint and the surrounding area suddenly gleamed with a heavenly light, and Saint Hesychius fell asleep in the Lord with the words: “Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”
At the place of his efforts, in accord with the prediction of Saint Hesychius, was later on built a women’s monastery. The holy relics of Saint Hesychius, buried at the church of the holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called, were later transferred by Theophylactus, Bishop of Amasea, to the city of Amasea (Asia Minor).
Today’s saint should not be confused with Saint Hesychius the Theologian, the priest of Jerusalem (March 28), whose writings are in the Philokalia.
Icon of the Mother of God “The Nurturer”
In the Icon called “Nurturing,” the Mother of God is depicted with her eternal Child sitting on her left arm. Christ’s right hand is extended upward to the face of the All-Pure Virgin.
Before 1917, the holy image was located in the Kazan Cathedral on Red Square, but it was lost after the destruction of that church in 1936. The church was rebuilt in 1993, and it houses a copy of the Nurturing Icon. At that place there is a list of wonderworking icons glorified throughout Russia for their miracles.
The title of the Icon speaks for itself. Parents pray for their children in her presence, asking the Most Holy Theotokos to take them under her protection, to send them understanding, and to fill their hearts with wisdom.
Until our own time, a brief prayer has been associated with this image:
O All-Holy Lady, Virgin Theotokos, save and keep under your protection my children (names), all boys and girls and infants, both those who are baptized and those who are nameless and those being carried in their mother's womb. Cover them with your own maternal mantle. Preserve them in the fear of God and in obedience to their parents. Implore your Son and our Lord to grant them what is needful for their salvation. I entrust them to your maternal providence, for you are the divine protection of your servants. Amen.
Saint John, New Martyr of Bulgaria
The holy New Martyr John was born in Bulgaria in 1775. Since fanatical Moslems believed that they would be assured of an eternal “paradise” where they would enjoy beautiful virgins and an abundance of food if they could force Christians to deny Christ and follow Mohammed, they spared no effort to convert Christians through flattery or by threats of death.
When John was still a boy, he fell in with Moslem companions. Through various ways, he was led to renounce Christ and to follow Islam. He came to his senses when he was about sixteen, and was stricken with grief at his denial of Christ. He fled to Mt. Athos to the Great Lavra. Here he spent his time in repentence under the guidance of an Elder.
He lived a monastic life of great strictness for three years, yet his conscience continued to trouble him. With the blessing of his Elder, he decided to travel to Constantinople to wipe out his apostasy by confessing Christ in a public way and by shedding his blood.
The young monk dressed himself as a Turk, which a Christian was not permitted to do. Arriving in Constantinople, he went directly to the church of Hagia Sophia, which had been turned into a mosque. Right in front of the Moslems, he made the Sign of the Cross and began to recite Christian prayers. Then he said in a loud voice that he had been born a Christian, but had fallen into error and renounced Christ. Now, he declared, he wished to renounce the false religion of Mohammed in order to follow Christ once more.
The Turks fell into a frenzied rage when they heard his words. They seized him and began to torture him in various ways. “Renounce Christ,” they said, “and return to the Moslem faith, or you will be killed.”
Saint John replied, “Without Christ, there is no salvation.”
The furious Hagarenes dragged the saint out to the courtyard to behead him. In this manner, Saint John received the crown of martyrdom in 1784 at the age of nineteen.