3RD MONDAY AFTER PASCHA
3rd Monday after Pascha, Jeremias the Prophet, New Martyr Maria of Fourna, Mirabella in Crete, Tamara (Tamar), Queen of Georgia, Nikiforos the Monk of Chios, Synaxis of the Three New Righteous Martyrs of the Holy Mountain, Euthymius, Ignatius, and Acacius, Asaph, Bishop of Wales
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 6:8-15; 7:1-5, 47-60
In those days, Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, arose and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated men, who said, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God." And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and set up false witnesses who said, "This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us." And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
And the high priest said, "Is this so?" And Stephen said: "Brethren and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, 'Depart from your land and from your kindred and go into the land which I will show you.' Then he departed from the land of the Chaldeans, and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living; yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot's length, but promised to give it to him in possession and to his posterity after him, though he had no child.
But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands; as the prophet says, 'Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool. What house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?'
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God." But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
At that time, there was an official whose son was ill. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Jesus therefore said to him, "Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe." The official said to him, "Sir, come down before my child dies." Jesus said to him, "Go; your son will live." The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was living. So he asked them the hour when he began to mend, and they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him." The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live"; and he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
The Holy Prophet Jeremiah, one of the four great Old Testament prophets, was son of the priest Helkiah from the city of Anathoth near Jerusalem, and he lived 600 years before the Birth of Christ, under the Israelite king Josiah and four of his successors. He was called to prophetic service at the age of fifteen, when the Lord revealed to him that even before his birth the Lord had chosen him to be a prophet. Jeremiah refused, citing his youth and lack of skill at speaking, but the Lord promised to be always with him and to watch over him.
He touched the mouth of the chosen one and said, “Behold, I have put My words into your mouth. Behold, I have appointed you this day over nations and kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to rebuild, and to plant” (Jer. 1:9-10). From that time Jeremiah prophesied for twenty-three years, denouncing the Jews for abandoning the true God and worshipping idols, predicting sorrows and devastating wars. He stood by the gates of the city, and at the entrance to the Temple, everywhere where the people gathered, and he exhorted them with imprecations and often with tears. The people, however, mocked and abused him, and they even tried to kill him.
Depicting for the Jews their impending enslavement to the king of Babylon, Jeremiah first placed on his own neck a wooden, and then an iron yoke, and thus he went about among the people. Enraged at the dire predictions of the prophet, the Jewish elders threw the Prophet Jeremiah into a pit filled with horrid, slimy creatures, where he almost died. Through the intercession of the God-fearing royal official Habdemelek, the prophet was pulled out of the pit, but he did not cease his prophecies, and for this he was carted off to prison. Under the Jewish king Zedekiah his prophecy was fulfilled.
Nebuchadnezzar came, slaughtered many people, carried off a remnant into captivity, and Jerusalem was pillaged and destroyed. Nebuchadnezzar released the prophet from prison and permitted him to live where he wanted. The prophet remained at the ruins of Jerusalem and bewailed his nation’s misfortune. According to Tradition, the Prophet Jeremiah took the Ark of the Covenant with the Tablets of the Law and hid it in one of the caves of Mount Nabath (Nebo), so that the Jews could no longer find it (2 Mac. 2). Afterwards, a new Ark of the Covenant was fashioned, but it lacked the glory of the first.
Among the Jews remaining in their fatherland there soon arose internecine clashes: Hodoliah, Nebuchadnezzar’s viceroy, was murdered. The Jews, fearing the wrath of Babylon, decided to flee into Egypt. The Prophet Jeremiah disagreed with their intention, predicting that the punishment which they feared would befall them in Egypt. The Jews would not listen to the prophet, however, and taking him along by force, they went into Egypt and settled in the city of Tathnis. There the prophet lived for four years and was respected by the Egyptians, because by his prayers he killed crocodiles and other creatures infesting these parts. When Jeremiah prophesied that the King of Babylon would invade Egypt and annihilate the Jews living there, the Jews murdered him. In that very same year the saint’s prophecy was fulfilled. There is a tradition that 250 years later, Alexander the Great transported the relics of the holy Prophet Jeremiah to Alexandria.
The Prophet Jeremiah wrote his Book of Prophecies and also the Book of Lamentations about the desolation of Jerusalem and the Exile. The times in which he lived and prophesied are described in 4/2 Kings (Ch. 23-25) and in the Second Book of Chronicles (36:12) and in 2 Maccabbees (Ch. 2).
In the Gospel of Matthew it is said that the betrayal of Judas was foretold by the Prophet Jeremiah, “And they took thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom the sons of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me” (Mt. 27:9-10). Perhaps Jeremiah 32:6-15 is meant.
Even after his death, the Prophet Jeremiah was regarded as a wonderworker. Dust from his tomb was believed to cure snake-bite, and many Christians pray to him for this purpose.
Venerable Paphnutius, Abbot of Borov
Saint Paphnutius of Borov was born in 1394 in the village of Kudinovo, not far from Borov, and at Baptism he was named Parthenius. His father John was the son of a baptized Tatar, a “baskak” (“tax-collector”) named Martin, and his mother was named Photina. At the age of twenty, Parthenius left his home and received monastic tonsure in 1414 with the name Paphnutius at the Vyosky-Protection Monastery near Borov under its abbot, Marcellus. Saint Paphnutius struggled for many years at the monastery, and when Igumen Marcellus died, the brethren chose him as his successor. Saint Photius, Metropolitan of Kiev (July 2), ordained him to the priesthood around the year 1426.
The monk spent thirty years at the Protection Monastery, where he was igumen, Elder, and Father-confessor. At fifty-one years of age he fell grievously ill, gave up his position as igumen and was tonsured into the Great Schema. After recovering his health on April 23, 1444 (the Feast of the holy Great Martyr George the Victory-Bearer), he left the monastery and settled with one monk on the left bank of the River Protva, where it meets the River Isterma. Soon brethren began to gather to him at this new place, and the number of the monks quickly grew. A new stone church was built in place of the former wooden one, in honor of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos.
The finest iconographers of those times, Dionysius, Metrophanes, and their assistants were invited to adorn the church with icons and frescoes. Saint Paphnutius was an example to the brethren, leading a strict life. His cell was the poorest of all, and he chose the worst morsels of food. On Mondays and Fridays he ate nothing at all, and on Wednesdays he only ate dry food. He did the most difficult tasks himself. He chopped and carried fire wood, dug and cultivated the garden, yet he was always the first to arrive for church services.
Saint Paphnutius earned the deep respect and love not only of the brethren of his own monastery, but also of other monasteries. Through the providence of God a twenty-year-old youth, John Sanin was guided to the monastery. After testing him for a time, Paphnutius tonsured him into monasticism with the name Joseph. Later on Saint Joseph of Volokolamsk (Sept. 9) defended the purity of the Orthodox Faith and entered into struggle against the heresy of the Judaizers, condemned at the Council of 1504. Saint Paphnutius blessed the young man in his endeavors.
A week before his death, the saint foretold his end. After he had prayed and blessed the brethren, he fell asleep in the Lord on May 1, 1477. Saint Paphnutius was a disciple of Saint Sergius of Radonezh (Sept. 25).
New Martyr Euthymius of Mount Athos
This holy New Martyr of Christ was born in Demitsana in the Peloponnesos. His parents were Panagiotes and Maria, and he was given the name Eleutherius in Baptism. Eleutherius was the youngest of five children (the others were George, Christos, John, and Katerina).
After attending school in Demetsana, Eleutherius and John traveled to Constantinople to enroll in the Patriarchal Academy. Later, they went to Jassy, Romania where their father and brothers were in business. Some time afterwards, Eleutherius decided to go to Mt. Athos to become a monk. Because of a war between Russia and Turkey, he was able to travel only as far as Bucharest. There he stayed with the French consul, then with an employee of the Russian consul.
Eleutherius began to pursue a life of pleasure, putting aside his thoughts of monasticism. When hostilities ceased, Eleutherius made his way to Constantinople in the company of some Moslems. On the way, he turned from Orthodoxy and embraced Islam. He was circumcised and given the name Reschid. Soon his conscience began to torment him for his denial of Christ. The other Moslems began to notice a change in his attitude, so they restricted his movements and kept a close watch on him.
One day Eleutherius was seen wearing a cross, so the others reported him to the master of the house, Rais Efendi. The master favored Eleutherius, which made the others jealous. He told them it was still too early for Eleutherius to give up all his Christian ways.
Rais Efendi and his household journeyed to Adrianople, arriving on a Saturday. Metropolitan Cyril, who later became Patriarch of Constantinople, was serving Vespers in one of the city’s churches. Eleutherius pretended to have letters for Metropolitan Cyril, but he sent someone else to receive them. When Eleutherius told this man that he wanted Christian clothes, he became suspicious and sent him away.
Back in Constantinople, Rais Efendi gave Eleutherius costly presents, hoping to influence him to remain a Moslem. Eleutherius, however, prayed that God would permit him to escape. He ran off at the first opportunity, seeking out a priest from the Peloponnesos who lived near the Patriarchate. After relating his story, Eleutherius asked the priest to help him get away. The priest refused to assist him, fearing reprisals if he should be caught. He gave Eleutherius some advice, then sent him away.
With some assistance from the Russian embassy, Eleutherius boarded a ship and sailed to Mt. Athos. At the Great Lavra Eleutherius was chrismated and received back into the Orthodox Church, and also became a monk with the name Euthymius.
Euthymius read the New Martyrologion of Saint Νikόdēmos (July 14), and was inspired by the example of the New Martyrs. He then became consumed with a desire to wipe out his apostasy with the blood of martyrdom.
Saint Euthymius went to Constantinople with a monk named Gregory, arriving on March 19, 1814. A few days later, on Palm Sunday, he received Holy Communion. Removing his monastic garb, he dressed himself as a Moslem and went to the palace of the Grand Vizier, Rusud Pasha. Saint Euthymius, holding palms in his hand, confessed that he was an Orthodox Christian, and wished to die for Christ. He denounced Mohammed and the Moslem religion, then trampled upon the turban he had worn on his head, which led the Vizier to believe that he was either drunk or crazy.
The valiant warrior of Christ assured the Vizier that he was in his right mind, and was not drunk. Euthymius was thrown into a dark cell and bound with chains. After an hour or so, they brought him out again. With flattery and promises of wealth, the Vizier tried to convince Euthymius to return to the Moslem faith. The saint boldly declared that Islam was a religion based on fables and falsehood, and that he would not deny Christ again even if he were to be tortured and slain.
The Grand Vizier ordered the saint to be beaten and returned to prison. After three hours, Saint Euthymius was brought before Rusud Pasha, who said to him, “Have you reconsidered, or do you remain stubborn?”
Euthymius replied, “There is only one true Faith, that of the Orthodox Christians. How can I believe in your false prophet Mohammed?”
Now the Vizier realized that he would never convince Euthymius to return to Islam, so he ordered him to be put to death by the sword. When the executioner attempted to tie the saint’s hands he said, “I came here voluntarily, so there is no need to bind my hands.Allow me to meet my death untied.”
Saint Euthymius was allowed to walk to the place of execution unbound. He went joyfully and unafraid, holding a cross in his right hand, and palms in his left. When they arrived at the site, Euthymius faced east and began to pray. He thanked God for making him worthy of martyrdom for His sake. He also prayed for his family and friends, asking God to grant all their petitions which are unto salvation.
Then Saint Euthymius kissed the cross he was holding, then knelt and bent his neck. The executioner struck a fierce blow with the sword, but this did not behead him. He struck again, and failed to kill him. Finally, he took a knife and slit the martyr’s throat.
Saint Euthymius was killed about noon on March 22, 1814 in Constantinople, thereby earning a place in the heavenly Kingdom where he glorifies the holy, consubstantial, and life-creating Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, forevermore.
The head of Saint Euthymius is in the Monastery of Saint Panteleimon on Mt. Athos.
New Martyr Ignatius the Martyr of Mount Athos
The holy New Martyr Ignatius was born in the village of Eski Zagora in the Trnovo region of Bulgaria, and was named John in Baptism. While he was still a young child, his parents George and Maria moved to the city of Philippopolis and enrolled him in a school there.
Although he did well at school, he had a strong desire for the monastic life. Upon reaching adulthood, he entered the Rila monastery in western Bulgaria. There he was assigned to an Elder, with whom he lived in obedience for six years. When the Elder’s strictness became unbearable, John returned home.
About that time the Serbs rose in revolt against the Moslem government. John’s father was asked to take command of an Ottoman brigade, but he refused to fight against other Orthodox Christians.
The Moslems attacked George with furious anger. He was stabbed and then beheaded. John’s mother and sisters were also taken by the Hagarenes, and they ultimately agreed to convert to Islam.
John fled and hid in the home of an elderly Orthodox woman. His mother and sisters learned where he was hiding, and they told the Moslems. Those sent to capture him did not know what he looked like, so the old woman told them she did not know him. The woman helped him escape to Bucharest, Romania, where he became acquainted with Saint Euthymius, who would also endure martyrdom.
John did not wish to stay in Bucharest, however, and so he left for Mt. Athos. On the way he visited the village of Soumla, where he ran into his friend Father Euthymius again. Learning that Euthymius had denied Christ and become a Moslem, John became very sad and left the village.
He had not gotten very far when Turkish soldiers stopped him and took all his possessions. They demanded that he convert to Islam, and in his fright he told them that he would do so. Satisfied with this reply, they let him go.
John reached the village of Eski Zagora, where he met an Athonite monk from the monastery of Grigoriou. They journeyed to the Holy Mountain together, and John settled in the Skete of Saint Anna. There he met Father Basil.
One day John and Father Basil traveled to Thessalonica on monastery business. While they were there the monks David and Euthymius of Demetsana suffered martyrdom because they were Christians. John was inflamed with the desire for martyrdom. Father Basil, however, urged him to postpone his intention, and so they returned to the Holy Mountain. A short time after this, Father Basil died.
When a monk from the Skete of Saint Anna told him of the martyrdom of the New Martyr Euthymius (March 22), John was once more filled with zeal for martyrdom. He was placed under the spiritual direction of the Elder Acacius, who prescribed for him prayer, prostrations, and reading the Gospel.
In time, John was found worthy of monastic tonsure, and was given the new name Ignatius. The Elder Acacius blessed him to travel to Constantinople with the monk Gregory in order to bear witness to Christ. After receiving the Holy Mysteries in Constantinople, Ignatius felt he was ready for his ordeal.
Dressed in Moslem garb, Ignatius went before the kadi and proclaimed his faith in Christ. He told him how he had promised to become a Moslem when he was younger, but now he threw his turban at the kadi’s feet and said that he would never deny Christ.
Thinking that Ignatius was insane, the kadi warned him that if he did not come to his senses he would endure horrible torments before being put to death. On the other hand, if he embraced Islam, he would receive rich gifts and great honor from them.
The courageous martyr told the kadi to keep his gifts, for they were merely temporal gifts. “Your threats of torture and death are nothing new,” he said, “and I knew of them before I came here. In fact, I came here because of them, so that I might die for my Christ.”
Saint Ignatius went on to call Mohammed “a false prophet, a teacher of perdition, and a friend of the devil.” Then he invited the Moslems to believe in Christ, the only true God.
The kadi then became so angry he could not speak, so he motioned for a servant to lead Saint Ignatius out of the room. Ignatius turned and struck the servant, then knelt before the kadi and bent his neck, as if inviting him to behead him then and there. Other servants entered the room, however, and dragged him off to prison.
Later, Ignatius was brought before the kadi for questioning. When asked who had brought him to Constantinople, he replied, “My Lord Jesus Christ brought me here.”
Again the kadi urged him to reconsider, for he was about to experience unimaginable tortures. “Do not expect to be beheaded so that the Christians can collect your blood as a blessing,” he said, “for I intend to hang you.”
Ignatius replied, “You will be doing me a great service whether you hang me or put me to the sword. I accept everything for the love of Christ.”
Seeing that he could not turn Ignatius from his Christian Faith, the kadi ordered him to be hanged. He was taken to a place called Daktyloporta, where the sentence was carried out. The martyr’s body remained hanging there for three days, then some pious Christians paid a ransom for it and took it to the island of Prote for burial.
Saint Ignatius gave his life for Christ in October of 1814. He is also commemorated on May 1 together with Saints Acacius and Euthymius.
The head of Saint Ignatius is in the Monastery of Saint Panteleimon on Mt Athos.
New Martyr Acacius, Martyr of Mount Athos and Seres
The holy New Martyr Acacius was born at Neochorion, Macedonia near Thessalonica in the eighteenth century. The oldest son of Bulgarian peasants, he was named Athanasius at his baptism. When he was nine years old, his family moved to the city of Serres. Athanasius was apprenticed to a cobbler, who frequently beat him. On the night of Holy Friday, after a particularly severe beating, he wandered onto the street and two Moslem women comforted him, brought him home and fed him. Pretending sympathy, they urged him to deny Christ, the bread which came down from heaven (John 6:41). They took the boy to Yusuf Bey, who adopted him, gave him a Moslem name, and had him circumcised. He lived in that home for nine years.
At first, the wife of Yusuf Bey treated Athanasius with maternal love, but this later turned into a lustful passion. Just as the righteous Joseph (March 31) rejected the advances of Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:8-10), so did Athanasius spurn the advances of the Moslem woman. So she told her husband that Athanasius had tried to force himself on her. His Turkish father threw him out of the house, and the young man returned to Thessalonica to find his real parents. His mother told him it was too dangerous for him to stay with them, and so he went to Mt Athos.
At first he lived at the Hilandar Monastery for a while, but he spent time in other monasteries as well. He confessed his apostasy to Father Nicholas at the Xenophontos Monastery, who read the prescribed prayers and received him back into the Church through Chrismation. Athanasius returned to Hilandar for about a year, then went to Ivḗron. While at the skete at Ivḗron he heard of Saints Euthymius and Ignatius, and desired to imitate their feat of martyrdom. He became filled with the desire to wipe out his sin by shedding his blood for Christ in the same place where he had denied Him. Athanasius revealed all this to Father Nikephorus, who had been the spiritual Father of Saints Ignatius and Euthymius. He was placed under the direction of the monk Acacius, who was to prepare him for his difficult struggle. Athanasius spent his time in ceaseless prayer, vigil, and fasting. This, of course, aroused the hatred of the devil, who sowed the seeds of doubt and uncertainty in his soul. After thirty-five days Athanasius became faint-hearted and ran away in the middle of the night.
Athanasius went to Simonopetra Monastery, but found no peace there. He returned to Hilandar Monastery, but as a penance he had to live in the vineyard rather than in a cell. He soon became ill and was taken to Karyes, the capital of the Holy Mountain, but he refused medical treatment. Those who had brought him there were upset by this, and they said that he was neither a Christian nor a Moslem. Stung by their rebuke, Athanasius went into seclusion for forty days.
At the end of that time, Athanasius returned to Father Nikephorus at Ivḗron and Elder Acacius was assigned to look after him again. He entered upon an intense program of prayer, prostrations, and vigil, and was granted the gift of tears. On the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent, seeing his repentance and progress in virtue, the Elder Acacius tonsured him with the name Acacius.
Soon he left for Constantinople with the Elder Gregory, who had also accompanied Saints Ignatius and Euthymius on their way to martyrdom. They left Mt Athos on a ship, arriving in Constantinople thirteen days later. On April 22, Saint Acacius received Holy Communion at a church in Galata, then returned to the ship. He changed into Moslem clothing and went with Father Gregory to the Porte, where a doorkeeper asked them what they wanted.
Saint Acacius related his story, saying that he had been deceived into renouncing Christianity and accepting Islam, but now he had come to his senses. Denouncing Mohammed as a false prophet, he loudly proclaimed that he was a Christian. Then he threw his turban on the floor, trampled it under his feet, and spit on it.
Saint Acacius was seized, beaten, and thrown into prison. That night he was promised wealth and high position if he would return to Islam. When he refused, they began to beat him again.
The next day, Saint Acacius was brought before the vizier and repeated his story, then was returned to prison. Father Gregory was able to send a messenger to bring Acacius a pyx containing the Holy Gifts, and he partook of the life-giving Mysteries of Christ.
Soon after this, the holy martyr was led to a place called Parmak Kapi, where he was beheaded. Saint Acacius gave his life for Christ on May 1, 1816 at six o’clock in the evening. Some pious Christians ransomed the saint’s body from the Turks, and Father Gregory brought it back to Mt Athos. The holy relics were brought to Ivḗron and buried in a church dedicated to Saints Ignatius and Euthymius.
Although some sources give the year of the saint’s martyrdom as 1815, there is a letter from Saint Acacius to a certain spiritual Father on Mt Athos dated April 27, 1816 which states that he is on his way to martyrdom. Thus, the year is 1816.
The heads of Saints Acacius, Euthymius, and Ignatius are in the Russian monastery of Saint Panteleimon on the Holy Mountain.
Hieromartyr Macarius, Metropolitan of Kiev
The Hieromartyr Macarius, Metropolitan of Kiev, was earlier the archimandrite of the Vilensk Holy Trinity monastery.
In 1495, after the death of Metropolitan Jonah of Kiev, Macarius was chosen and ordained in his place by an assembly of hierarchs; Vassian of Vladimir, Luke of Polotsk, Vassian of Turov and Jonah of Lutsk. Papers of blessing were sent from Constantinople by the Patriarch Niphon, confirming the election of Saint Macarius to the metropolitan See of Kiev. On May 1, 1497 Tatars invading Russia killed Metropolitan Macarius of Kiev and All Rus in the village of Strigolovo, at the River Vzhischa, where the saint was conducting divine services. Many of his flock were killed with him, or taken into captivity .
The holy incorrupt relics of Saint Macarius, glorified by God with miracles, rest now at Kiev at the Vladimir cathedral church.
Martyr Bata the Persian
The Martyr Bata, a monastic, lived during the fourth century in Persia and labored there in one of the monasteries. The holy martyr was killed in the city of Nisibis for confessing the Christian Faith during a time of persecution against Christians initiated by the Persian emperor.
Right-believing Tamara, Queen of Georgia
In 1166 a daughter, Tamar, was born to King George III (1155-1184) and Queen Burdukhan of Georgia. The king proclaimed that he would share the throne with his daughter from the day she turned twelve years of age.
The royal court unanimously vowed its allegiance and service to Tamar, and father and daughter ruled the country together for five years. After King George’s death in 1184, the nobility recognized the young Tamar as the sole ruler of all Georgia. Queen Tamar was enthroned as ruler of all Georgia at the age of eighteen. She is called “King” in the Georgian language because her father had no male heir and so she ruled as a monarch and not as a consort.
At the beginning of her reign, Tamar convened a Church council and addressed the clergy with wisdom and humility: “Judge according to righteousness, affirming good and condemning evil,” she advised. “Begin with me—if I sin I should be censured, for the royal crown is sent down from above as a sign of divine service. Allow neither the wealth of the nobles nor the poverty of the masses to hinder your work. You by word and I by deed, you by preaching and I by the law, you by upbringing and I by education will care for those souls whom God has entrusted to us, and together we will abide by the law of God, in order to escape eternal condemnation…. You as priests and I as ruler, you as stewards of good and I as the watchman of that good.”
The Church and the royal court chose a suitor for Tamar: Yuri, the son of Prince Andrei Bogoliubsky of Vladimir-Suzdal (in Georgia Yuri was known as “George the Russian”). The handsome George Rusi was a valiant soldier, and under his command the Georgians returned victorious from many battles. His marriage to Tamar, however, exposed many of the coarser sides of his character. He was often drunk and inclined toward immoral deeds. In the end, Tamar’s court sent him away from Georgia to Constantinople, armed with a generous recompense. Many Middle Eastern rulers were drawn to Queen Tamar’s beauty and desired to marry her, but she rejected them all. Finally at the insistence of her court, she agreed to wed a second time to ensure the preservation of the dynasty. This time, however, she asked her aunt and nurse Rusudan (the sister of King George III) to find her a suitor. The man she chose, Davit-Soslan Bagrationi, was the son of the Ossetian ruler and a descendant of King George I (1014-1027).
In 1195 a joint Muslim military campaign against Georgia was planned under the leadership of Atabeg (a military commander) Abu Bakr of Persian Azerbaijan. At Queen Tamar’s command, a call to arms was issued. The faithful were instructed by Metropolitan Anton of Chqondidi to celebrate All-night Vigils and Liturgies and to generously distribute alms so that the poor could rest from their labors in order to pray. In ten days the army was prepared, and Queen Tamar addressed the Georgian soldiers for the last time before the battle began: “My brothers! Do not allow your hearts to tremble before the multitude of enemies, for God is with us…. Trust God alone, turn your hearts to Him in righteousness, and place your every hope in the Cross of Christ and in the Most Holy Theotokos!”
Having taken off her shoes, Queen Tamar climbed the hill to the Metekhi Church of the Theotokos (in Tbilisi) and knelt before the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos. She prayed without ceasing until the good news arrived: the battle near Shamkori had ended in the unquestionable victory of the Orthodox Georgian army.
After this initial victory the Georgian army launched into a series of triumphs over the Turks, and neighboring countries began to regard Georgia as the protector of the entire Transcaucasus. By the beginning the 13th century, Georgia was a commanding political authority recognized by both the Christian West and the Muslim East.
Georgia’s military successes alarmed the Islamic world. Sultan Rukn al-Din was certain that a united Muslim force could definitively decide the issue of power in the region, and he marched on Georgia around the year 1203, commanding an enormous army.
Having encamped near Basiani, Rukn al-Din sent a messenger to Queen Tamar with an audacious demand: to surrender without a fight. In reward for her obedience, the sultan promised to marry her on the condition that she embrace Islam; if Tamar were to cleave to Christianity, he would number her among the other unfortunate concubines in his harem. When the messenger relayed the sultan’s demand, a certain nobleman, Zakaria Mkhargrdzelidze, was so outraged that he slapped him on the face, knocking him unconscious.
At Queen Tamar’s command, the court generously bestowed gifts upon the ambassador and sent him away with a Georgian envoy and a letter of reply. “Your proposal takes into consideration your wealth and the vastness of your armies, but fails to account for divine judgment,” Tamar wrote, “while I place my trust not in any army or worldly thing but in the right hand of the Almighty God and the infinite aid of the Cross, which you curse. The will of God—and not your own—shall be fulfilled, and the judgment of God—and not your judgment—shall reign!”
The Georgian soldiers were summoned without delay. Queen Tamar prayed for victory before the Vardzia Icon of the Theotokos, then, barefoot, led her army to the gates of the city.
Hoping in the Lord and the fervent prayers of Queen Tamar, the Georgian army marched toward Basiani. The enemy was routed. The victory at Basiani was an enormous event not only for Georgia, but for the entire Christian world.
The military victories increased Queen Tamar’s faith. In the daytime she shone in all her royal finery and wisely administered the affairs of the government; during the night, on bended knees, she beseeched the Lord tearfully to strengthen the Georgian Church. She busied herself with needlework and distributed her embroidery to the poor.
Once, exhausted from her prayers and needlework, Tamar dozed off and saw a vision. Entering a luxuriously furnished home, she saw a gold throne studded with jewels, and she turned to approach it, but was suddenly stopped by an old man crowned with a halo. “Who is more worthy than I to receive such a glorious throne?” Queen Tamar asked him.
He answered her, saying, “This throne is intended for your maidservant, who sewed vestments for twelve priests with her own hands. You are already the possessor of great treasure in this world.” And he pointed her in a different direction.
Having awakened, Holy Queen Tamar immediately took to her work and with her own hands sewed vestments for twelve priests.
History has preserved another poignant episode from Queen Tamar’s life: Once she was preparing to attend a festal Liturgy in Gelati, and she fastened precious rubies to the belt around her waist. Soon after she was told that a beggar outside the monastery tower was asking for alms, and she ordered her entourage to wait. Having finished dressing, she went out to the tower but found no one there. Terribly distressed, she reproached herself for having denied the poor and thus denying Christ Himself. Immediately she removed her belt, the cause of her temptation, and presented it as an offering to the Gelati Icon of the Theotokos.
During Queen Tamar’s reign a veritable monastic city was carved in the rocks of Vardzia, and the God-fearing Georgian ruler would labor there during the Great Fast. The churches of Pitareti, Kvabtakhevi, Betania, and many others were also built at that time. Holy Queen Tamar generously endowed the churches and monasteries not only on Georgian territory but also outside her borders: in Palestine, Cyprus, Mt. Sinai, the Black Mountains, Greece, Mt. Athos, Petritsoni (Bulgaria), Macedonia, Thrace, Romania, Isauria and Constantinople. The divinely guided Queen Tamar abolished the death penalty and all forms of bodily torture.
A regular, secret observance of a strict ascetic regime—fasting, a stone bed, and litanies chanted in bare feet—finally took its toll on Queen Tamar’s health. For a long time she refrained from speaking to anyone about her condition, but when the pain became unbearable she finally sought help. The best physicians of the time were unable to diagnose her illness, and all of Georgia was seized with fear of disaster. Everyone from the small to the great prayed fervently for Georgia’s ruler and defender. The people were prepared to offer not only their own lives, but even the lives of their children, for the sake of their beloved ruler.
God sent Tamar a sign when He was ready to receive her into His Kingdom. Then the pious ruler bade farewell to her court and turned in prayer to an icon of Christ and the Life-giving Cross: “Lord Jesus Christ! Omnipotent Master of heaven and earth! To Thee I deliver the nation and people that were entrusted to my care and purchased by Thy Precious Blood, the children whom Thou didst bestow upon me, and to Thee I surrender my soul, O Lord!”
The burial place of Queen Tamar has remained a mystery to this day. Some sources claim that her tomb is in Gelati, in a branch of burial vaults belonging to the Bagrationi dynasty, while others argue that her holy relics are preserved in a vault at the Holy Cross Monastery in Jerusalem.
St. Tamara is commemorated on the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women in addition to her regular commemoration on May 1.
Venerable Nikēphóros of Chios
Saint Nikēphóros, the “most luminous star of the Church of Christ,” who delighted the hearts of the faithful “with divinely inspired teachings,” was born around 1750 at Kardamyla on the Greek island of Chios, and his family name was Georgios, or Georgos. When he was still very young, he became sick with a pestilential disease. His parents vowed that if he recovered, they would offer him to the Mother of God to serve Her at the famous Byzantine monastery of Nea Moni, which was dedicated to Her. He did get well, and so the parents took him to the monastery, where he was placed under the guidance of the venerable Elder Anthimus Hagiopateritis.
Later, he was sent to the city of Chios to be educated in its schools by the priest Father Gabriel Astrakaris. Saint Nikēphóros remained close to this priest throughout the period of his education in the city, where he developed a love for learning, and a respect for those who taught others. He also met Saint Athanasius Parios (June 24), who was the Director of the school in the city of Chios. The greatest influence on his life was Saint Macarius of Corinth (April 17), whom he met even before he met Saint Athanasius. Saint Macarius was at Chios in 1780, left for a time, then returned in 1790. Saint Nikēphóros saw Saint Macarius frequently, and learned much from him. After finishing his education, Saint Nikēphóros returned to the monastery and was ordained a deacon.
When Saint Athanasius Parios reorganized the school of Chios, he appointed Nikēphóros as one of its teachers. At the same time, he was also given a blessing to preach the Word of God at Nea Moni and elsewhere.
While serving as a teacher, Saint Nikēphóros was called to become the Igumen of Nea Moni. Until 1802, the monks had managed the monastery’s affairs without any audits. In that year, however, the monastery was fined 600,000 piasters, and some of the monastery’s estates had to be sold to pay the amount. Suspecting that the affairs of the monastery were not being properly administered, the citizens asked that Father Nikēphóros be made Igumen. They knew he despised worldly possessions, and so they had full confidence in him. They also decided that an audit of the monastery accounts would be made every year.
It was not easy for Saint Nikēphóros to assume this burden, for he was not familiar with the many responsibilities of a Superior. He would have preferred solitude and study, but he applied himself to his new duties. During the next two years, he tried to resolve conflicts, and to raise the moral spirit of the monks by teaching and by personal example. There were many people above him and below him who did not appreciate his efforts, however, and they plotted against him. Unaccustomed to quarrels and intrigues, he was unable to complete his two year term in office. Therefore, he left and sought refuge in the Hermitage of Saint George at Resta.
Although he was unable to govern these monks, Saint Nikēphóros did excel in his personal life, and in guiding many people to virtue. He also composed church services and hymns to various saints, including Saints Nikḗtas, John, and Joseph (May 20), and Saint Matrona of Chios (October 20).
The companions of Saint Nikēphóros at Resta were a retired priest (who had also been a teacher) called Father Joseph, and Saint Macarius of Corinth. Father Joseph had lived on Mount Athos for a while, then settled on Chios. He also composed church services, including one to the New Martyr Saint Nicholas the New (October 31), which had been published in Venice in 1791. In 1812, Saint Athanasius Parios retired as Director of the schools of Chios, and joined Saint Nikēphóros and the others at Resta.
Saint Nikēphóros devoted himself to spiritual struggles, study, and writing. He also engaged in physical work of an agricultural nature. He planted olive and fig trees, cypresses, and pines. He also encouraged others to plant trees, for he understood that a lack of trees led to poverty, and that by planting trees one’s material resources could be improved. The saint would sometimes tell those who came to him for Confession to plant so many trees as a penance.
In 1805, on his deathbed, Saint Macarius entrusted Saint Nikēphóros with the task of completing and publishing his book THE NEW LEIMONARION. This book contained the Lives and church services of various martyrs, ascetics, and other saints. It is remarkable in that three saints collaborated on this book about saints, Saint Macarius, Saint Nikēphóros, and Saint Athanasius Parios.
By writing so many saints’ Lives and church services, Saint Nikēphóros showed that he considered them important and beneficial. Not only did he provide the biographical details about these saints, he also expressed the Orthodox view of God and man, the beauty of the virtues, and spiritual concepts such as theosis (divinization), inner attention, ceaseless prayer, purification, and asceticism in general.
Like Saint Macarius of Corinth, Saint Nikēphóros was also known as a trainer of martyrs. Those who abandoned Christianity and embraced Islam, and later repented of their actions, went to him to confess their sin. He helped them to prepare to wash away their apostasy by shedding their blood as martyrs. Mindful of the Lord’s words, “Whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father Who is in heaven” (Mt. 10:33) they believed that only after a public reaffirmation of their faith in Christ before the Moslem authorities (which inevitably resulted in a sentence of death) could their sin be forgiven.
Saint Nikēphóros prepared them with prayer, fasting, prostrations, and by encouraging them to remain strong when they went to their deaths. Thus fortified, they endured the most horrible tortures with astonishing courage. Not only did the martyrs themselves receive grace and forgiveness from God, but their example encouraged others to remain firm in the Orthodox Faith.
In addition to those whom he prepared personally, many others were also inspired to martyrdom through his published Lives and services to the martyrs.
Although Saint Nikēphóros had the grace of working miracles, this is not the only reason that he is venerated as a saint. His holy life and character are also important considerations. A saint is one who is free from all vice and possesses all the virtues through divine grace. The people of Chios recognized that Saint Nikēphóros was humble, gentle, free from anger, and filled with love for others. That is why, even in his lifetime, they regarded him as a saint.
Saint Nikēphóros was of medium height, with a pale and gentle face, and a large black beard. Although Saint Nikēphóros probably reposed in the summer of 1821, his Feast Day is designated as May 1. He died in a home near the church of Saint Paraskeve, where he sometimes stayed overnight when he was unable to get back to Resta. His body was brought back to Resta, and was placed in a grave where both Saint Athanasius Parius and the monk Nilus had once been buried.
The holy relics of Saint Nikēphóros were uncovered in 1845 and brought to the metropolitan church of Chios. Many years later, the Guild of Tanners asked for the relics and placed them in the church of Saint George. In 1907, an icon of Saint Nikēphóros was painted, and a church service was composed in his honor.
“Unexpected Joy” Icon of the Mother of God
The “Unexpected Joy” Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, is painted in this way: in a room is an icon of the Mother of God, and beneath it a youth is kneeling at prayer. The tradition about the healing of some youth from a bodily affliction through this holy icon is recorded in the book of Saint Demetrius of Rostov, The Fleece of Prayer [See Judges 6: 36-40].
The sinful youth, who was nevertheless devoted to the Theotokos, was praying one day before the icon of the All-Pure Virgin before going out to commit a sin. Suddenly, he saw that wounds appeared on the Lord’s hands, feet, and side, and blood flowed from them. In horror he exclaimed, “O Lady, who has done this?” The Mother of God replied, “You and other sinners, because of your sins, crucify My Son anew.” Only then did he realize how great was the depth of his sinfulness. For a long time he prayed with tears to the All-Pure Mother of God and the Savior for mercy. Finally, he received the unexpected joy of the forgiveness of his sins.
The “Unexpected Joy” icon is also commemorated on January 25 and May 1.
“Myrrh-Bearing” Icon of the Mother of God
The “Myrrh-Bearing” Icon of the Mother of God of Tsarevokokshaisk (in the province of Kazan) appeared to the peasant Andrew Ivanov on May 1, 1647 near Bolshaya Kuznetsa, fifteen versts from the city of Tsarevokokshaisk in the Kazan region. Working in the field, Andrew noticed an icon lying on the ground and wanted to pick it up, but the icon became invisible. The astonished peasant, looking around, noticed the icon in a tree, supported by an unseen force. He prayed and took the icon home, where it was glorified by miracles.
Pilgrims thronged to the icon from all the surrounding villages. They carried the image to the city of Tsarevokokshaisk, and later to Moscow, and after a while, they returned home with it. A monastery was built at the place of its appearance. It is called “Myrrh-Bearing” because the Mother of God is depicted with the Myrrh-Bearing Women.
Saint Panaretus of Cyprus
No information available.
Saint Gerasimus of Boldino
Saint Gerasimus of Boldino, whose secular name was Gregory, was born in 1490 at Pereslav-Zalessk. In his early childhood, he often went to church to attend the divine services. When he heard about the holy life of Saint Daniel of Pereyaslavl (April 7), the thirteen-year-old Gregory tearfully begged the Elder to permit him to join him. The Elder accepted the boy as a novice and, after a short time, gave him monastic tonsure with the name Gerasimus. The new monk zealously fulfilled the labors of fasting and prayer, and soon he was known in Moscow as a strict ascetic. He even traveled to the capital with his teacher, and met the Tsar.
Worldly fame was a burden for the ascetic and, after twenty-six years under Saint Daniel’s guidance, Saint Gerasimus obtained the blessing of his Elder to live the solitary life in the region of Smolensk. He settled near the city of Dorogobuzha in a wild forest inhabited by snakes and wild animals.The holy ascetic restrained his body (“the wild beast”) by subjecting it to heat and cold. The saint often had to endure the intrusion of brigands, but he bore all their outrages meekly and patiently, and he prayed for the malefactors.
In a vision, he was instructed to go to Boldino Hill, where an immense oak stood by a spring. The local inhabitants beat him with sticks and wanted to drown him, but they became frightened and handed him over to the administrator of Dorogobuzha, who threw him into jail for vagrancy. Saint Gerasimus patiently endured the ridicule, keeping silence and devoting himself to prayer.
During this time an imperial emissary from Moscow came to visit the administrator. Seeing Saint Gerasimus, he bowed down before him and asked his blessing. He recognized him because he had seen the saint before, with Saint Daniel, in the presence of the Tsar. The administrator became terrified, and immediately begged the saint’s forgiveness and promised to build an enclosure to protect him from robbers.
From that time Saint Gerasimus received those who wished to embrace the monastic life, and sought permission at Moscow to build a monastery. In 1530 he built a church dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity, and he also built cells for the brethren.
Besides the Boldino monastery, Saint Gerasimus founded another monastery in honor of Saint John the Forerunner at the city of Vyazma, and later on, in the Bryansk forest at the River Zhizdra, a monastery in honor of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple. Peter Korostelev, a disciple of Saint Gerasimus, was made igumen of this monastery. Several ascetics were under the spiritual guidance of Saint Gerasimus: the igumen Anthony, who later became the Bishop of Vologda (Oct. 26), and Arcadius, a disciple of Saint Gerasimus, struggled as a hermit and was buried at the Boldino monastery.
Before his death, Saint Gerasimus summoned the igumens and monks of the monasteries he had founded, told them of his life, and gave them his final instructions. This oral narrative of the saint was included in his Life, which was composed by Saint Anthony at the request of the Elders. The Rule, or Testament, of Saint Gerasimus is similar to the “Spiritual Deed” of Saint Joseph of Volokolamsk (September 9, October 18, February 13). From Saint Joseph he also borrowed the practice of having twelve Elders govern the monastery.
There is an oral tradition that he may have converted Opta, the founder of Optina Monastery. It seems that he would convert the criminals in a given area, and then establish a monastery there.
Saint Gerasimus reposed on May 1, 1554. He is also commemorated on July 20.
No information available at this time.
Saint Zosimas II of Kumurdo
Saint Zosimas of Kumurdo lived and labored from the end of the 15th century through the first half of the 16th century. To the world he was known as Zebede. He was raised by Princess Ketevan, the daughter of King George VIII (1446-1466).
In 1515 Zebede was tonsured a monk and given the new name Zosimas. It is believed that in the same year he was also consecrated a bishop. An inscription at Kumurdo Church attests to his hierarchical rank: “May the Lord have mercy on Zosimas, bishop of Kumurdo. Amen.”
Saint Zosimas is credited with compiling a handwritten anthology of prayers, homilies, and other writings in the year 1537. The anthology concludes with two of the holy father’s own wills.
In addition to his pastoral, educational and church-building activity in the Kumurdo diocese, Saint Zosimas also performed many important works in the Holy Land of Jerusalem. In the 15th and 16th centuries the struggle between Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics over whom God had appointed heir to the holy hill of Golgotha became particularly acute, and the Orthodox Church was forced to defend the rights that it had acquired in previous centuries. At that time, Saint Zosimas arrived in the Holy Land and joined the struggle to liberate Golgotha from the Catholics. In honor of his valiant efforts, two vigil lamps were later hung in his name in the churches at Golgotha and the Holy Cross Monastery.
It is significant to note that from the 15th century the names of the bishops of Kumurdo have been inscribed in an important chronicle called Ertgulebis Tsigni, or The Book of Faith. Throughout history the hierarchs of Kumurdo have defended the unity of the Georgian Church and stood steadfast as pillars of national-religious sentiment and examples of faith.
On October 17, 2002, the Georgian Church canonized the holy hierarch Zosimas of Kumurdo and reinstated the bishopric of ancient Kumurdo.