4TH WEDNESDAY AFTER PASCHA – MID-PENTECOST
4th Wednesday after Pascha – Mid-Pentecost, Simon the Zealot & Apostle, Laurence of Egypt, Isodora of Egypt
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 14:6-18
In those days, the apostles fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country; and there they preached the gospel. Now at Lystra there was a man sitting, who could not use his feet; he was a cripple from birth, who had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking; and Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and walked. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, because he was the chief speaker, they called Hermes. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the people. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out among the multitude, crying, “Men, why are you doing this? We also are men, of like nature with you, and bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways; yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” With these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.
About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. The Jews marveled at it saying, "How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?" So Jesus answered them, "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me; if any man's will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teacher is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. He who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is not falsehood. Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?" The people answered, "You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?" Jesus answered them, "I did one deed, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man upon the sabbath. If on the sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the sabbath I made a man's whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.
Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, "Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? Yet we know where this man comes from; and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from." So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, "You know me, and you know where I come from? But I have not come of my own accord; he who sent me is true, and him you do not know. I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me." So they sought to arrest him; but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come.
Midfeast of Pentecost
Today’s celebration is the midpoint of the fifty days between the Feasts of Pascha and Pentecost. Saint John tells us (John 7:14) that “in the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the Temple, and taught.” The Feast in question is the Feast of Tabernacles (celebrated in September), not Pentecost.
The Church has appointed John 7:14-30 to be read for the Midfeast, thereby linking Pascha and Pentecost. In Chapter 8 of Saint John’s Gospel, the Lord came to the Temple again and taught the people who came to Him. After leaving the Temple, he encounters the man born blind. We will hear about him on the Sunday of the Blind Man.
The Troparion of the Midfeast (“In the middle of the Feast, O Savior, fill my thirsting soul with the waters of godliness, as Thou didst cry to all: If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink [John 7:37]. O Christ God, Fountain of our life, glory to Thee!”) hints at the encounter of Christ and the Samaritan Woman in just a few days.
Today we perform the Lesser Blessing of Water, and the Blessing of Fields.
Apostle Simon the Zealot
Saint Simon was from Cana in Galilee, and was known to the Lord and His Mother. Tradition says that he was the bridegroom at the wedding where the Savior performed His first miracle. After witnessing the miracle of the water which had been turned into wine, he became a zealous follower of Christ. For this reason, he is known as Saint Simon the Zealot.
Saint Simon was one of the twelve Apostles, and received the Holy Spirit with the others on Pentecost. He traveled to many places from Britain to the Black Sea, proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. After winning many pagans to the Lord, Saint Simon suffered martyrdom by crucifixion.
Saint Demetrius of Rostov says that this Saint Simon is to be distinguished from the Apostle Simon Peter, and from the Lord’s relative Simon (Mt.13:55), who was the second Bishop of Jerusalem.
Saint Simon is also commemorated on June 30 with the other Apostles.
Saint Simon, Bishop of Vladimir and Suzdal of the Kiev Near Caves
Saint Simon, Bishop of Vladimir and Suzdal was an author of the Kiev Caves Paterikon, and he became a monk at the Monastery of the Caves, sometime in the second half of the twelfth century.
In the year 1206 he was appointed igumen of the Vladimir Monastery of the Nativity of the Theotokos, and in 1214, at the wish of Prince George Vsevolodovich (+ 1238), he was made the first bishop of Vladimir-on-the-Klyazma and Suzdal.
In 1218 he consecrated a church at the Nativity monastery, and in the year 1225, a cathedral church at Suzdal. The Great Prince, who deeply respected Saint Simon, was prepared to establish a new bishop’s See at Suzdal for his friend, the monk Polycarp of the Kiev Caves monastery, who sought after spiritual glory. Saint Simon, seeing that Polycarp was not yet ready to assume such an office, talked the Great Prince out of his idea, and he wrote a deeply moving letter to Polycarp, in which he offered his friend advice on overcoming his spiritual shortcomings. Saint Simon’s own inner life, character, and virtue are also revealed in the epistle.
Saint Simon was known as a learned teacher, and his epistle to Polycarp was placed at the beginning of the Kiev Caves Paterikon. On the eve of his repose in 1226, the saint received the schema.
Initially his body was buried at Vladimir, but later, in accordance with the saint’s last wishes, his body was transferred to the Kiev Caves Lavra, where it rests in the Antoniev Caves.
Martyrs Philadelphus, Cyprian, Alphius, Onesimus, Erasmus, and 14 others, in Sicily
The Holy Martyrs Philadelphus, Alphaeus, Cyprian, Onesimus, Erasmus and 14 others with them, lived during the third century and came from Italy. Alphaeus, Philadelphus and Cyprian were sons of a governor in Italy, named Vitalius. They were enlightened by faith in Christ and baptized by Saint Onesimus.
During this period the emperor Licinius issued orders to seek out and hand over the Christians for torture. The brothers went to Rome together with Onesimus, Erasmus and fourteen other Christians. At Rome the pagans crushed the chest of Saint Onesimus with a heavy stone, which killed him. Erasmus and the fourteen Martyrs were beheaded.
The brothers Alphaeus, Philadelphus and Cyprian suffered in the city of Mesopolis Leontini in Sicily, where they had been sent from Rome. Saint Philadelphus was burned over an iron lattice in the year 251, in the reign of the emperor Decius.
In the year 1517 their incorrupt relics were discovered at Leontini [Lentini]. Saints Alphaeus, Philadelphus and Cyprian appeared to Saint Euthalia (March 2) and told her that she would be healed of an affliction after she was baptized.
Martyr Hesychius of Antioch
The Holy Martyr Hesychius of Antioch lived in Antioch during the reign of Maximian Galerius (305-311), and he occupied a high official position. Maximian issued an edict by which all Christians were to be deprived of military rank and expelled from military service. Those who would not renounce Christianity were stripped of their soldier’s belt and military insignia, and degraded to the level of hired servants. Saint Hesychius was one of these.
Maximian ordered Hesychius to remove his robes of office, put on common attire, and to be placed among the women servants. After several days he summoned Hesychius and asked, “Are you not ashamed to remain in such dishonor?” Saint Hesychius answered, “The honors which I had from you were only temporal.”
Then Maximian gave orders to drown Saint Hesychius in a river, with a millstone tied about his neck. The exact year of the martyr’s death is not known.
Blessed Isidora the Fool of Tabenna in Egypt
Saint Isidora, Fool-for-Christ, struggled in the Tabenna monastery in Egypt during the sixth century. Taking upon herself the feat of folly, she acted like one insane, and did not eat food with the other sisters of the monastery. Many of them regarded her with contempt, but Isidora bore all this with great patience and meekness, blessing God for everything.
She worked in the kitchen and fulfilled the dirtiest, most difficult tasks at the monastery, cleaning the monastery of every impurity. Isidora covered her head with a plain rag, and instead of cooked food she drank the dirty wash water from the pots and dishes. She never became angry, never insulted anyone with a word, never grumbled against God or the sisters, and was given to silence.
Once, a desert monk, Saint Pitirim, had a vision. An angel of God appeared to him and said, “Go to the Tabenna monastery. There you will see a sister wearing a rag on her head. She serves them all with love, and endures their contempt without complaint. Her heart and her thoughts rest always with God. You, on the other hand, sit in solitude, but your thoughts flit about all over the world.”
The Elder set out for the Tabenna monastery, but he did not see the one indicated to him in the vision among the sisters. Then they led Isidora to him, considering her a demoniac. Isidora fell down at the knees of the Elder, asking his blessing. Saint Pitirim bowed down to the ground to her and said, “Bless me first, venerable Mother!”
To the astonished questions of the sisters the Elder replied, “Before God, Isidora is higher than all of us!” Then the sisters began to repent, confessing their mistreatment of Isidora, and they asked her forgiveness. The saint, however, distressed over her fame, secretly hid herself away from the monastery, and her ultimate fate remained unknown. It is believed that she died around the year 365.
Blessed Thais of Egypt
Saint Thais lived in Egypt in the fifth century. Left an orphan after the death of her wealthy parents, she led a pious life, distributing her wealth to the poor, and she gave shelter to pilgrims on her estate. She decided that she would never marry, but would devote her life to serving Christ.
After spending all her inheritance, Thais was tempted to acquire more money by any means, and began to lead a sinful life. The Elders of Sketis near Alexandria heard of her fall, and asked Saint John the Dwarf (November 9) to go to Thais and persuade her to repent. “She was kind to us,” they said, “now perhaps we can help her. You, Father, are wise. Go and try to save her soul, and we will pray that the Lord will help you.”
The Elder went to her home, but Thais’s servant did not want to allow him into the house. Saint John said, “Tell your mistress that I have brought her something very precious.” Thais, knowing that the monks sometimes found pearls at the shore, told her servant to admit the visitor. Saint John sat down and looked her in the face, and then began to weep. Thais asked him why he was crying. “How can I not weep,” he asked, “when you have forsaken your Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ, and are pleasing Satan by your deeds?”
The Elder’s words pierced the soul of Thais like a fiery arrow, and at once she realized how sinful her present life had become. In fear, she asked him if God would accept the repentance of a sinner like her. Saint John replied that the Savior awaited her repentance. That is why He came, to seek and to save the perishing. “He will welcome you with love,” he said, “and the angels will rejoice over you. As the Savior said Himself, one repentant sinner causes the powers of Heaven to rejoice” (Luke 15:7).
A feeling of repentance enveloped her, and regarding the Elder’s words as a call from the Lord Himself to return to Him, Thais trembled and thought only of finding the path of salvation. She stood up and left her house without speaking to her servants, and without making any sort of disposition of her property, so that even Saint John was amazed.
Following Saint John into the wilderness, she hastened to return to God through penitence and prayer. Night fell, and the Elder prepared a place for Thais to lay down and sleep. He made a pillow for her from the sand, and he went off somewhat farther, and went to sleep after his evening prayers.
In the middle of the night, he was wakened by a light coming down from the heavens to the place where Thais was at rest. In the radiant light he saw holy angels bearing her soul to Paradise. When he went over to Thais, he found her dead.
Saint John prayed and asked God to reveal to him whether Thais had been saved. An angel of God appeared and told him, “Abba John, her one hour of repentance was equal to many years, because she repented with all her soul, and a compunctionate heart.”
After burying the body of the saint, Saint John returned to Sketis and told the monks what had happened. All offered thanks to God for His mercy toward Thais who, like the wise thief, repented in a single moment.
“Kiev-Bratsk” Icon of the Mother of God
The wonderworking Kiev-Bratsk (i.e. "Brotherhood") Icon of the Mother of God was revealed in 1654, and was originally kept in the church of Saints Boris and Gleb in the city of Vyshgorod (Kiev), and was placed in a shrine to the left of the Royal Doors on the iconostasis.
On May 10, 1662, during a war with Poland (1659–1667), the city suffered great damage from the Poles and Crimean Tatars who fought against Russia. The church of the Holy Passion-Bearers Boris and Gleb was ravaged and looted by enemy soldiers, who took all the jewels and icons, but the relics of the Saints were hidden under a crypt. By God's Providence, the wonderworking Icon of the Mother of God was preserved.
Some devout Christians, at the risk of their very lives, rescued the Icon of the Mother of God from the unclean hands of those who had stolen it. Since they were unable to hide the Icon, they had to consign it to the Dnieper River, praying that God's will would be done. To their amazement, the Icon did not sink, but floated upright down the river.
Leaving Vyshgorod, the Tatars began to cross the Dnieper, but they were drowned during a storm. Only one of them escaped by clinging to the Icon of the Mother of God as though it were a raft. The river carried the holy Icon to the bank of the Podil in Kiev, where it stopped before the Bratsk Monastery. The Tatar was afraid of drowning, and cried desperately for help. A boat was sent from the Monastery, into which the monks received the Icon and the Tatar.
The Tatar, whose life was spared by God, believed in Jesus Christ and was baptized. The Icon was placed in the wooden church of Saints Boris and Gleb, where it remained for a long time. An inventory of the church property in the Kiev-Bratsk Monastery, compiled in 1807, gives a description of the miraculous Icon.
In 1919, the Bratsk Monastery was closed, and the Kiev-Bratsk Icon of the Mother of God was thought to be lost. For a long time, the lack of information about the shrines of the Monastery until the 90s of the XX century was perceived as confirmation that the Icon was lost. In recent years, however, studies have shown that the Icon is one of the five most valuable icons in the Monastery. It was transferred to the Kiev Caves Lavra in 1926.
In 1948, this group of icons was first recorded in the ledger of the National Art Museum of Ukraine (NHMU) with a note saying their fate before they came to the museum was unknown. The reacquisition of the Kiev-Bratsk Icon occurred in the early 2000s, when employees of the NHMU established a connection between these monuments and the Bratsk Monastery.
Currently the Kiev-Bratsk Icon is in the collection of NHMU. It's reacquisition is regarded as confirmation of the Icon's miraculous qualities.
There is an exact copy of the Icon, which is located in the Kievan Monastery of the Protection of the Mother of God.
The Kiev-Bratsk Icon of the Mother of God is commemorated on September 6, May 10, June 2, and on Saturday of the Fifth Week of Great Lent.
Venerable Comgall of Bangor
Saint Comgall (Comhghall), “the Father of Monks,” was born in Ireland at Dalaradia, Co. Ulster sometime between 510 and 520. Unlike many of the early Irish saints, Saint Comgall was not of noble birth. He served as a soldier, then studied with Saint Finnian of Moville (September 10). He was ordained to the holy priesthood by Bishop Lugaid before the age of forty.
Saint Comgall and several companions lived for a time on an island in Lough Erne in the county of Ulster, where they lived a very strict ascetical life. Although his desire was to be a missionary in Scotland, Bishop Lugaid asked him to stay in Ireland and establish a monastery at Bangor (Bennchor) on the southern shore of Belfast Loch (in modern Co. Down). The monastery was founded sometime between 552-555.
It is believed that over four thousand monks were trained by Saint Comgall at Bangor, including Saint Columbanus of Luxeuil (November 21, or 23) and Saint Moluag (June 25). Saint Comgall often prayed while standing in the water for several hours. Sometimes at night his cell seemed to be ablaze with a heavenly radiance.
Later Saint Comgall did visit Scotland, where he became very close to Saint Columba of Iona (June 9), by whose prayers Comgall was once saved from drowning.
Saint Comgall lived to an advanced age, then suffered from a prolonged illness. He completed the course of his earthly life at Bangor on May 10, 602, after receiving Holy Communion from Saint Fiacre (August 30).