5TH WEDNESDAY OF LENT
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS, WINE, OLIVE OIL
Mark, Bishop of Arethusa, Martyr Cyril the Deacon and Those with him, The Holy Martyrs Jonas and Barachesius, Eustathios the Confessor, Bishop of Bithynia
Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am He. The coastlands have seen and are afraid, the ends of the earth tremble; they have drawn near and come. Every one helps his neighbor, and says to his brother, “Take courage!” The craftsman encourages the goldsmith, and he who smoothes with the hammer him who strikes the anvil, saying of the soldering, “It is good”; and they fasten it with nails so that it cannot be moved. But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish. You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all. For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I will help you.” Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I will help you, says the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish man despises his mother. Folly is a joy to him who has no sense, but a man of understanding walks aright. Without counsel plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed. To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is! The wise man’s path leads upward to life, that he may avoid Sheol beneath. The LORD tears down the house of the proud, but maintains the widow’s boundaries. The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD, the words of the pure are pleasing to him. He who is greedy for unjust gain makes trouble for his household, but he who hates bribes will live. The mind of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things. The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous. The light of the eyes rejoices the heart, and good news refreshes the bones. He whose ear heeds wholesome admonition will abide among the wise. He who ignores instruction despises himself, but he who heeds admonition gains understanding. The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility goes before honor. The plans of the mind belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit. Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established. The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble. Every one who is arrogant is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished. By loyalty and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD a man avoids evil. When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice. A man’s mind plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.
Hieromartyr Mark, Bishop of Arethusa, who suffered under Julian the Apostate
Hieromartyr Mark, Bishop of Arethusa, suffered for his faith in Christ under the emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363). By order of the emperor Constantine (May 21), Saint Mark had once destroyed a pagan temple and built a Christian church.
When Julian came to the throne, he persecuted Christians and tried to restore paganism. Some citizens of Arethusa renounced Christianity and became pagans. Then Saint Mark’s enemies decided to take revenge on him. The old bishop hid himself from the persecutors at first, but then gave himself up when he learned that the pagans had tortured many people in their search for him.
The holy Elder was led through the city and given over to torture. They tore out his hair, slashed his body, dragged him along the street, dumped him in a swamp, tied him up, and cut him with knives.
The pagans demanded that the holy bishop pay them a large sum of money to rebuild the pagan temple, and he refused to do so. The persecutors invented several new torments: they squeezed the Elder in a foot-press, and they cut off his ears with linen cords. Finally, they smeared the holy martyr’s body with honey and grease, then hung him up in a basket in the hot mid-day sun to be eaten by bees, wasps, and hornets. Saint Mark did not seem to notice the pain, and this irritated the tormentor all the more.
The pagans kept lowering the price he had to pay for their temple, but Saint Mark refused to give them a single coin. Admiring him for his courage and endurance, the pagans stopped asking him for money and set him free. Many of them returned to Christ after hearing his talks.
Saint Gregory the Theologian (January 25) describes the sufferings of Saint Mark in his First Oration against Julian. Theodoritus of Cyrrhus also mentions him in his Church History (Book 3, Ch. 6)
Martyr Cyril the Deacon of Heliopolis, and those with him, who suffered under Julian the Apostate
The historian Theodoritus relates that during the reign of Saint Constantine the Great, Saint Cyril destroyed many idols and pagan temples in Heliopolis, Phoenicia. He was put to death for this during the reign of Julian the Apostate. Pagans cut open his stomach and, like wild beasts, they ate his liver and intestines, for which the Lord punished them with blindness, boils and other terrible afflictions.
During this time the pagans killed many Christians in the Palestinian cities of Ascalon and Gaza: priests, women and children who had dedicated themselves to God. The torturers cut up their bodies, covered them with barley and fed them to pigs.
The holy martyrs received crowns of victory in the Kingdom of Heaven, and the torturers also received their just recompense: eternal torment in Hell.
Venerable John the Anchorite of Egypt
Saint John the Anchorite: During a persecution against Christians, the devout widow Juliania of Armenia hid from pursuers together with her two young children John and Themistea. She taught her children to pray and to read the Holy Scriptures.
From time to time John secretly visited a nearby monastery, thereby placing himself in danger. Once, a pious old man advised him to find a more secluded place for prayer. Returning home, the saint told his mother that he was going to visit the Elder. Thinking that her son would soon return, she let him go.
John went to the desert-dweller Pharmutios and received his blessing to live alone in the wilderness. The young ascetic found an abandoned well, which was filled with snakes, scorpions and other vile creatures. He lowered himself into the well and lived there for ten years in fasting, vigil, and prayer.
The angel who brought food to the hermit Pharmutios also brought bread for Saint John. The angel did not bring the bread directly to John, however, lest the young ascetic become filled with pride. Food was sent to him through his spiritual Father, Pharmutios.
Saint John had many temptations from the devil to test him. Demons assumed the appearance of his mother, his sister, his relatives and acquaintances in order to sadden the ascetic and compel him to give up his ascetic struggles. With tears they approached the well one after the other, begging Saint John to leave with them. All this time the saint did not cease to pray. Finally he said, “Be gone from me,” and the demons vanished.
Saint John lived in the well until the time of his blessed repose. Through God’s providence Saint Chrysikhios, who had struggled in the desert for thirty years, came to bury him. On the eve of his repose, Saint John told Chrysikhios of his life and struggles for salvation. After his death, numerous miracles occurred at the place of his ascetic deeds.
Saint Eustathius (Eustace) the Confessor, Bishop of Bithynia
Saint Eustathius the Confessor, Bishop of Bithynia, was already at the beginning of his spiritual struggle a pious monk, meek and wise, filled with great faith and love for his neighbor. For his virtuous life he was made bishop of the city of Bithynia (a Roman province in northwest Asia Minor) and for many years he guided his flock, giving them an example of virtuous life and perfection.
During the Iconoclast heresy, Saint Eustathius boldly came out against the heretics and defended the veneration of holy icons. Iconoclasts denounced him to the emperor, and the saint suffered imprisonment and fierce beatings. Finally, they deprived Saint Eustathius of his See and sent him to prison.
The holy confessor died in exile during the ninth century, after suffering insults, deprivation, hunger, and want for three years.
Venerable Mark, Jonah, and Bassa of the Pskov Caves
Saints Mark, Jonah and Bassa are venerated as the founders of the Pskov Caves monastery.
It is not known exactly when the first hermit monks settled by the Kamenets stream in the natural caves of the hill, which the local inhabitants called “the holy hill.” The monastery Chronicle presents an account of eyewitnesses, hunter-trappers from Izborsk nicknamed Selishi: “We came with our father to the outlying hill where the church of the Mother of God is now, and heard what seemed to be church singing. They sang harmoniously and reverently, but the singers could not be seen, and the air was filled with the fragrance of incense.”
Of the first Elders of the Pskov Caves monastery only Mark is known by name. The Chronicle says of him: “In the beginning, a certain Elder was living at the Kamenets near the cave. Some fishermen saw him by the three rocks above the cave of the Most Holy Theotokos church, but they were unable to discover who he was, his lineage, how and from whence he came to this place, how long he dwelt there, or how he died.”
The second igumen of the Caves monastery is identified as Elder Mark in the monastery Synodikon. Saint Cornelius (February 20) doubted the veracity of this inscription and ordered that the name be removed from the Synodikon. Suddenly he became grievously ill and it was revealed to him that this was his punishment for ordering the name of Saint Mark to be stricken from the monastery diptychs.
After begging forgiveness at the grave of the Elder Mark, Igumen Cornelius restored his name. When the cave church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos was dug out and the burial caves expanded, the igumen Dorotheus found the grave of Saint Mark in a state of neglect, but his relics and clothing were preserved.
In the year 1472, the peasant Ivan Dementiev cut down the forest on the hill. One of the felled trees rolled down the hill, uprooting another tree from the ground. The slide opened up the entrance to a cave, over which was the inscription: “The cave built by God.” There is a tradition that Saint Barlaam, a fool-for-Christ, frequently came to the cave and wiped out this inscription, but it miraculously reappeared every time.
The priest John (nicknamed “Shestnik”) came to this holy spot, where the first ascetics prayed. He was a native of “the Moscow lands” and served as priest at Iuriev (now Tartu) in “a right-believing church, established by people from Pskov” and dedicated to Saint Nicholas and the Great Martyr George. He and the priest Isidore spiritually nourished the Russians living there.
In 1470, Father John was compelled to flee to Pskov with his family because of persecution by the German Catholics. When he learned of the martyric death of Saint Isidore (January 8), Father John decided to settle in the newly-appeared “cave built by God,” so that there, on the very boundary with the Livonians, he might found a monastery as an outpost of Orthodoxy.
Soon his wife fell ill and died after receiving monastic tonsure with the name Bassa. Her righteousness was evidenced immediately after her death. Her husband and her spiritual Father buried Saint Bassa (March 19) in the wall of “the cave built by God,” but at night her coffin was “taken from the ground by an invisible power of God.”
Father John and Saint Bassa’s Father Confessor were upset, thinking that this had occurred because they had not done the complete Service for the Departed. So they sang the funeral service a second time, and they buried the body again. In the morning, however, it was found above ground. Then it was clear that this was a sign from God, so they dug Saint Bassa’s grave on the left side of the cave. Shaken by the miracle, John became a monk with the name Jonah and devoted himself even more fervently to spiritual struggles.
He dug out the cave church and built two cells on pillars, then petitioned the clergy of the Pskov Trinity cathedral to consecrate it, but they decided not to do so at the time “because of its unusual location.” Then Saint Jonah sought the blessing of Archbishop Theophilus of Novgorod.
On August 15, 1473 the cave church was consecrated in honor of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos. During the consecration there was a miracle from an icon of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos:1 a blind woman “sent by the merciful God, beginning His great gifts to His All-Pure Mother” received her sight.
The date of the consecration of the cave church is regarded as the official date of the founding of the Pskov Caves monastery. Saint Jonah labored at the Cave monastery until 1480, then peacefully fell asleep in the Lord. Upon his death they discovered a chain mail coat on his body. This was hung over his grave as a sign of his secret asceticism, but it was stolen during a German invasion.
The relics of Saint Jonah rest in the Caves beside the relics of the Elder Mark and Saint Bassa. Once, when the monastery was besieged, the Livonian knights wanted to open the lid of Saint Bassa’s coffin with a sword, but fire spurted forth from the coffin. Traces of this punishing fire may still be seen on the coffin of Saint Bassa.
1 This icon, which they call the “old” to distinguish it from another wonderworking icon of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos with scenes of Her life around the borders, was painted around 1421 by the Pskov iconographer Alexis Maly, and is now kept in the altar of the Dormition church. The icon with scenes around the border is the Cave church’s patronal icon.
Saint Nikḗtas of the Roslavl Forests
The holy Schema-monk Nikḗtas was born in the city of Orel in 1695. From childhood, he loved to go on pilgrimages to the holy places. As a youth, he left his parents and lived about a mile or so from the White Bluff (Beloberezhsk) Hermitage. It is not known when he received the monastic tonsure, or from whom. In 1780 he built a cell on a hillock, and he dug a well by the hill. He ate bread that passersby would leave in his basket, which hung by the roadside on a tree. This was in a dense part of the forest, and animals were often seen by the hermit’s cell. Mosquitoes bit him mercilessly, until he was covered in blood. They tormented him terribly, but Saint Nikḗtas bore everything with patience. He received the gift of tears from God, and he always shed tears for his own sins and for the sins of others.
Once, in March, he became ill, and lay down without moving. The day before the Feast of the Annunciation arrived. Father Nikḗtas lay there and heard the bells ringing in the Hermitage for the all-night service. He tried to sing the Troparion of the Feast, but being so weak, and because he had lost his voice, he was unable to do so. The Elder wept bitterly, heartbroken because he could not meet the Feast Day in an appropriate way. Suddenly, his cell became awash with light, and Nikḗtas saw the Most Holy Theotokos surrounded by angels. The Mother of God blessed him, and he began to sing the Troparion of the Feast feebly, but with an unearthly ecstasy. The angels joined him in the singing, and his cell was filled with the praises of the inhabitants of heaven. The vision ended, but Saint Nikḗtas remained under its impression for a long time.
As soon as he regained his health, he went to the White Bluff Hermitage for a time. When he got there, he found only ashes where his cell had once stood. Some evil person had burnt it down while the Elder was away. Father Nikḗtas sat down on the hillock weeping bitter tears. Later, he moved to the monastery, where he humbly fulfilled all the obediences that were laid upon him, serving the monks without sparing himself. Once, during a Church service, he fell on the floor from exhaustion. Hearing about the Roslavl solitaries, he moved in with them and lived there on the southern edge of Monks’ Gorge, near the village of Yakimovskoe (Akimovka) on the property of Alexandra Bronevskaya, a zealous protector of the hermits who lived on her lands in great numbers. She reposed in 1853, and was more than eighty years of age. Saint Nikḗtas lived there for over ten years, and again he moved to White Bluff Hermitage. In 1792, however, he wanted to return to his Hermitage before his death. At his request, the Roslavl hermit Father Dositheos rented a horse from a peasant, and in late 1792 he came over to the Hermitage for Father Nikḗtas, and found him very ill. Dositheos asked him to wait until summer, but the Elder was in a hurry to see his Hermitage.
Receiving the Superior’s blessing, Dositheos took Nikḗtas and laid him on the wagon, and covered him with a tarp and some straw. He took the ailing Elder some 90 miles to the Roslavl Forest. Here Nikḗtas lived for another six months, departing to the Lord on March 29, 1793. After preparing his body for burial, Father Dositheos put it into a beehive, called in the nearby priest and neighboring hermits, and they buried him near his cell. Since Monks’ Gorge always had water in it, Father Dositheos, after a certain revelation, dug up the grave of Elder Nikḗtas after seven years, in order to move it to higher ground. The beehive was whole, and the body and clothing of the Elder were incorrupt. Only a birch (linden?) bark shoe which was made by a disciple and not by the Elder himself was found to have rotted. The other shoe was whole.
When the beehive was opened, Father John from the village of Luga was there with other hermits. One of these, Father Arsenios, wanted to exchange his prayer ropes for those of the Elder. But no matter how hard he tried, he could not take them from Saint Nikḗtas’s hand. The body of Father Nikḗtas was taken out of the beehive and placed in a coffin. After a Memorial Service, he was buried on the hillock. At the burial there was a sick monk who suffered from a stomachache. He drank water from the grave site and was healed. About fifteen years after Elder Nikḗtas’s death, the coffin was opened again, and his body was found incorrupt just as before. On his grave were two memorial stones, and one was very large. Hermits came here on Pascha to sing the Paschal Canon. Elder Dositheos honored the memory of Schema-monk Nikḗtas until the time of his own death, and he always remembered him every year at Pascha.
Saint Nikḗtas was approved for local veneration in the Smolensk Diocese on August 31, 2017.