ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS, OLIVE OIL
Holy Saturday, Crescens the Martyr, Leonidas, Bishop of Athens, Michael the New Martyr of Smyrna, The 9 Monk-martyrs of Corinth, Padarn, Bishop and Founder of Llandabarn Fawr
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE ROMANS 6:3-11
Brethren, all who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death. We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. The death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
After the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulcher. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. Lo, I have told you." So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, "Hail!" And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.
While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sum of money to the soldiers and said, "Tell people, 'His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.' And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." So they took the money and did as they were directed; and this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age. Amen.
Great and Holy Saturday
Great and Holy Saturday is the day on which Christ reposed in the tomb. The Church calls this day the Blessed Sabbath.
“The great Moses mystically foreshadowed this day when he said:
God blessed the seventh day.
This is the blessed Sabbath
This is the day of rest,
on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works….”
(Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Saturday)
By using this title the Church links Holy Saturday with the creative act of God. In the initial account of creation as found in the Book of Genesis, God made man in His own image and likeness. To be truly himself, man was to live in constant communion with the source and dynamic power of that image: God. Man fell from God. Now Christ, the Son of God through whom all things were created, has come to restore man to communion with God. He thereby completes creation. All things are again as they should be. His mission is consummated. On the Blessed Sabbath He rests from all His works.
Holy Saturday is a neglected day in parish life. Few people attend the Services. Popular piety usually reduces Holy Week to one day—Holy Friday. This day is quickly replaced by another—Easter Sunday. Christ is dead and then suddenly alive. Great sorrow is suddenly replaced by great joy. In such a scheme Holy Saturday is lost.
In the understanding of the Church, sorrow is not replaced by joy; it is transformed into joy. This distinction indicates that it is precisely within death that Christ continues to effect triumph.
TRAMPLING DOWN DEATH BY DEATH
We sing that Christ is “…trampling down death by death” in the troparion of Easter. This phrase gives great meaning to Holy Saturday. Christ’s repose in the tomb is an “active” repose. He comes in search of His fallen friend, Adam, who represents all men. Not finding him on earth, he descends to the realm of death, known as Hades in the Old Testament. There He finds him and brings him life once again. This is the victory: the dead are given life. The tomb is no longer a forsaken, lifeless place. By His death Christ tramples down death by death.
THE ICON OF THE DESCENT INTO HADES
The traditional icon used by the Church on the feast of Easter is an icon of Holy Saturday: the descent of Christ into Hades. It is a painting of theology, for no one has ever seen this event. It depicts Christ, radiant in hues of white and blue, standing on the shattered gates of Hades. With arms outstretched He is joining hands with Adam and all the other Old Testament righteous whom He has found there. He leads them from the kingdom of death. By His death He tramples death.
“Today Hades cries out groaning:
I should not have accepted the Man born of Mary.
He came and destroyed my power.
He shattered the gates of brass.
As God, He raised the souls I had held captive.
Glory to Thy cross and resurrection, O Lord!”
(Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Saturday)
THE VESPERAL LITURGY
The Vespers of Holy Saturday inaugurates the Paschal celebration, for the liturgical cycle of the day always begins in the evening. In the past, this service constituted the first part of the great Paschal vigil during which the catechumens were baptized in the “baptisterion” and led in procession back into the church for participation in their first Divine Liturgy, the Paschal Eucharist. Later, with the number of catechumens increasing, the first baptismal part of the Paschal celebration was disconnected from the liturgy of the Paschal night and formed our pre-paschal service: Vespers and the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great which follows it. It still keeps the marks of the early celebration of Pascha as baptismal feast and that of Baptism as Paschal sacrament (death and resurrection with Jesus Christ—Romans 6).
On “Lord I Call” the Saturday Resurrectional stichiras of Tone 1 are sung, followed by the the special stichiras of Holy Saturday, which stress the death of Christ as descent into Hades, the region of death, for its destruction. But the pivotal point of the service occurs after the Entrance, when fifteen lessons from the Old Testament are read, all centered on the promise of the Resurrection, all glorifying the ultimate Victory of God, prophesied in the victorious Song of Moses after the crossing of the Red Sea (“Let us sing to the Lord, for gloriously has He been glorified”), the salvation of Jonah, and that of the three youths in the furnace.
Then the epistle is read, the same epistle that is still read at Baptism (Romans 6:3-11), in which Christ’s death and resurrection become the source of the death in us of the “old man,” the resurrection of the new, whose life is in the Risen Lord. During the special verses sung after the epistle, “Arise, O God, and judge the earth,” the dark lenten vestments are put aside and the clergy vest in the bright white ones, so that when the celebrant appears with the Gospel the light of Resurrection is truly made visible in us, the “Rejoice” with which the Risen Christ greeted the women at the grave is experienced as being directed at us.
The Liturgy of Saint Basil continues in this white and joyful light, revealing the Tomb of Christ as the Life-giving Tomb, introducing us into the ultimate reality of Christ’s Resurrection, communicating His life to us, the children of fallen Adam.
One can and must say that of all services of the Church that are inspiring, meaningful, revealing, this one: the Vespers and Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great and Holy Saturday is truly the liturgical climax of the Church. If one opens one’s heart and mind to it and accepts its meaning and its light, the very truth of Orthodoxy is given by it, the taste and the joy of that new life which shines forth from the grave.
Rev. Alexander Schmemann
Apostle Aristarchus of the Seventy
Saint Aristarchus was one of the Seventy Apostles, whom the Lord Jesus Christ sent to proclaim the good news of the Gospel (Luke. 10:1-24).
Saint Aristarchus, a co-worker of the holy Apostle Paul, became bishop of the Syrian city of Apamea. His name is repeatedly mentioned in the Acts of the Holy Apostles (Acts 19:29, 20:4, 27:2) and in the Epistles of Saint Paul (Col. 4:10, Philemon 1:24). He accompanied Saint Paul on his travels (Acts 16:29), and was Bishop of Apamea, Syria.
Saint Aristarchus is commemorated on April 15 with Saints Pudens and Trophimus and on September 27 together with Saints Mark and Zenas.
Apostle Pudens of the Seventy
Saint Pudens was one of the Seventy Apostles whom the Lord Jesus Christ sent before him with the good news of the Gospel (Luke 10:1-24).
Saint Pudens is mentioned in Saint Paul’s second Epistle to Timothy (2 Tim. 4:21). He occupied high position as a member of the Roman Senate. The saint received the foremost Apostles Peter and Paul in his home, where believing Christians gathered. His house was converted into a church, receiving the name “Pastorum”. According to Tradition, the holy Apostle Peter himself served in it as priest.
Saint Pudens suffered martyrdom at Rome under the emperor Nero (54-68). He is also commemorated on January 4.
Apostle Trophimus of the Seventy
Saint Trophimus was one of the Seventy Apostles, whom the Lord Jesus Christ sent to proclaim the good news of the Gospel (Luke. 10:1-24).
Saint Trophimus hailed from the city of Edessa. His name is mentioned in the Acts of the Holy Apostles (Acts 20:4) and in Saint Paul’s second Epistle to Timothy (2 Tim. 4:20). He was a disciple and companion of the Apostle Paul, sharing with him all the sorrows and persecution.
Saint Trophimus is also commemorated on January 4.
Martyrs Basilissa and Anastasia of Rome, disciples of Apostles Peter and Paul
The Holy Women Martyrs Basilissa (Vasilissa) and Anastasia lived in Rome and were converted to Christianity by the holy Apostles Peter and Paul. They devoted themselves to the service of the Lord.
When the emperor Nero (54-68) persecuted Christians and gave them over to torture and execution, Saints Basilissa and Anastasia took the bodies of the holy martyrs and gave them reverent burial. Rumors of this reached Nero, so Saints Basilissa and Anastasia were locked up in prison. They subjected them to cruel tortures: they scourged them with whips, scraped their skin with hooks, and burned them with fire. The holy martyrs remained unyielding, however, and bravely confessed their faith in Christ the Savior. By Nero’s command, they were beheaded with the sword (+ ca. 68).
Martyr Suchias and his Soldiers in Georgia
The Holy Martyr Suchias and his 16 Georgian Companions were illustrious dignitaries who served at the court of the Albanian (Hagbanite) ruler (i.e. “Caucasian Albania” on the present day territory of Azerbaizhan).
Escorting the Albanian ruler’s daughter Satenika, wife of the Armenian emperor Artaxar (88-123), Saint Suchias and his sixteen companions arrived in Artashat, the ancient capital of Armenia (the city was later destroyed by the Romans in the year 163).
Preaching there at the time was a Greek Christian named Chrysos, who had been enlightened and ordained by the holy Apostle Thaddeus (August 21). The Georgian dignitaries came to believe in Christ the Savior, and they resolved to devote their lives to the service of God. All seventeen of the newly-converted followed Chrysos into Mesopotamia. When Bishop Chrysos baptized them in the waters of the Euphrates, they were permitted to behold the Lord of Glory, Jesus Christ.
The holy martyrs set up a cross at the place of their Baptism and named it the “Cross of the Annunciation.” Bishop Chrysos gave all the saints new names: the eldest was called Suchias (replacing his old name Bagadras), and his companions were named Andrew, Anastasius, Talale, Theodoritus, Ivherion, Jordan, Kondrat, Lukian, Mimnenus, Nerangius, Polyeuctus, James, Phoka, Domentian, Victor and Zosimas.
After the martyric death of Bishop Chrysos, Saint Suchias became the spiritual leader of the brethren. All soon resettled in a wild locality on Mount Sukaketi, not far from the mountain village of Bagrevandi. Here the former dignitaries led very strict ascetic lives. The scant mountain vegetation served as their food, and they drank from a cold spring of water.
The new ruler of pagan Albania, Datianos, learned that his former officials had accepted Christianity and had gone into solitude. He sent his associate Barnapas with a detachment of soldiers to persuade them to return to court and return also to their former faith. Barnapas searched for Saint Suchias and his companions, but keeping their vow of service to God, they refused all entreaties.
Then by order of Barnapas, Saint Suchias and his companions were stretched out and nailed to the ground, and then burned. After this, their bodies were dismembered and scattered all about Mount Sukaketi, from which the martyrs received also the title the “Mesukevians” (more correctly, “Sukaketians”). This occurred in the year 123 (by another account, in the year 130; although an Athos manuscript of the eleventh century from the Ivḗron monastery gives the year as 100).
The holy relics of the martyrs remained incorrupt and unburied until the fourth century, when they were placed in graves and consigned to the earth by local Christians (the names of the holy martyrs were found written on a cliff).
The holy hieromartyr Gregory, Enlightener of Armenia (September 30), built a church on this spot and established a monastery. And afterwards, a curative spring of water was discovered there.
Martyr Savva the Goth of Wallachia
The Holy Martyr Savva, a Goth, lived during the fourth century. At this time the Arian bishop Wulfilas preached Christianity among the Goths, and Saint Savva was among those who were baptized.
Saint Savva led a virtuous life, devout, peaceful, temperate, simple, and quiet. He avoided women, and spent all his days in prayer. He often sang in church and devoted himself to its welfare, boldly preaching Christianity.
The Gothic princes and judges, under the influence of the pagan priests, began a persecution against the Christians and demanded that they eat meat offered to idols. Many of the pagans, to save the lives of their friends and relatives who had accepted Christianity, gave them ordinary meat instead of meat offered to idols.
Some Christians agreed to such a ruse, but Saint Savva refused and declared that Christians ought to confess their faith without dissimulation. After this, Saint Savva was driven out by those who lived in his village, but they later asked him to return. When the persecution of Christians had intensified, the fellow villagers of Saint Savva decided to go to the judge and swear that there were no Christians among them. Saint Savva declared, “Do not swear for me, because I am a Christian.”
The inhabitants then swore that there was only one Christian in their village. On the judge’s orders, Saint Savva was brought to him. The judge, seeing his poverty, decided that he could neither help nor harm anyone, so he set him free.
Meanwhile, the persecution continued. Soon, Atharid, one of the Gothic military commanders, descended on the village during the Feast of Holy Pascha. Saint Savva was preparing to greet the Great Feast with Bishop Guthik, but along the way an angel returned him to his own village. The priest Sapsal had recently arrived there from Greece. Soldiers arrested Sapsal and Saint Savva, whom they did not even allow to get dressed.
The priest rode on a cart, but Saint Savva had to walk naked behind the cart through the thorns, and they beat him with rods and switches. The Lord preserved the martyr, so that in the morning when they reached the city, Saint Savva said to his oppressors, “Look at my body, and see whether there are any traces of the thorns or of your blows.”
The soldiers were astonished, seeing the martyr healthy and unharmed, without the slightest trace of injury. Then they stretched Saint Savva on the axles of a cart, and they beat him the whole day. During the night, a certain pious woman got up to prepare food for the household, and seeing the martyr, she set him free. He began to help her with the housework.
During the day, by Atharid’s order, they suspended Saint Savva from the lintel of the house. They placed meat offered to idols before him and the priest, offering to set them free if they ate it. The priest Sapsal replied, “We would prefer that Atharid crucify us, than to eat meat defiled by devils.”
Saint Savva asked, “Who has sent this food?”
“Master Atharid,” the servant replied.
“There is only one Master, God, Who is in Heaven,” said the martyr. In anger one of the servants struck Saint Savva in the chest with a spear. Everyone thought that the martyr was dead, but the saint did not feel any pain. He said to the one who had struck him, “Your blow felt as if you had struck me with soft wool.”
Atharid gave orders to put Saint Savva to death. They left the priest Sapsal tied up, and led Saint Savva to the River Mussova to drown him. Along the way the saint gave thanks to God for allowing him to suffer for His Holy Name.
During all this the servants said, “Why shouldn’t we free this innocent man? Atharid will not find out if we free him.” Saint Savva heard them and cried out, “Do as you are commanded! For I see angels coming with glory to receive my soul!” Then they threw the martyr into the river, after they tied a large beam of wood to his neck.
Saint Savva suffered on April 12, 372, when he was thirty-eight years old. The executioners recovered the body of the martyr and threw it on shore, but Christians later hid it. Still later, one of the Scythian leaders, the Christian Junius Saran, brought the relics of Saint Savva to Cappadocia, where they were reverently received by Saint Basil the Great (January 1).
On June 20, 1992, the Romanian Orthodox Church glorified the Holy Martyr Savva of Buzău. This was the third canonization in its history, following those in 1517 and 1955-56.
The Romanian Orthodox Church has established the annual Feast Day of Saint Savva as April 12th. His Feast Day is on April 15 according to Slavic usage, but on April 18 in Greek practice.
Saint Ephraim the Great of Atsquri
Saint Ephraim the Great of Atsquri—one of the most important figures in the Georgian Church of the 8th and 9th centuries—was a disciple and companion of Saint Grigol of Khandzta.
On his way from Klarjeti in southern Georgia to Abkhazeti in the northwest, Saint Grigol met the young Ephraim and immediately perceived in him a like-minded companion and the future wonderworker and bishop of Atsquri.
Grigol promised to take the young man as his disciple. On his way back to Klarjeti Saint Grigol accompanied Ephraim and another youth, Arsenius, the future Catholicos of Georgia. He entrusted the upbringing of these two holy youths to his spiritual sons Christopher and Theodore.
The brothers of Khandzta Monastery objected to the arrival of the youths, since the monastery rules prohibited young visitors. But Saint Grigol told them that God had revealed this as His will and that, after being raised at the monastery, these young men would be like spiritual successors of Saint Ephraim the Syrian and Saint Arsenius the Great.
Saint Ephraim was later consecrated bishop of Atsquri and became a major figure in the Church of his time. He significantly contributed to the definitive strengthening of the autocephaly of the Georgian Church. As a result of his labors, the Georgian Church received a blessing from Antioch to prepare its own chrism in Mtskheta.
Saint Ephraim administered the diocese of Atsquri for forty years. God endowed him with the gifts of prophecy, wonderworking, and healing. He lived to an advanced age and reposed peacefully. Even today, those who approach his holy relics are healed of their infirmities.
Saint Ephraim of Atsquri is also mentioned in the Life of Saint Arsenius the Great [commemorated September 25].