THEODORE THE COMMANDER & GREAT MARTYR
Theodore the Commander & Great Martyr, The Holy Prophet Zacharias (Zachariah), Nicephoros & Stephanos the Martyrs, Afterfeast of the Presentation of Our Lord and Savior in the Temple, Cuthman of Steyning
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE EPHESIANS 2:4-10
Brethren, God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God: not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
The Lord said to his disciples, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.”
The sixth day of the Afterfeast of the Meeting of the Lord falls on February 8. The hymns of the day speak of Christ fulfilling the Law by being brought to the Temple, and of how the Theotokos “reveals to the world its Creator, and the Giver of the Law.”
The Great Martyr Theodore Stratelates came from the city of Euchaita in Asia Minor. He was endowed with many talents, and was handsome in appearance. For his charity God enlightened him with the knowledge of Christian truth. The bravery of the saintly soldier was revealed after he, with the help of God, killed a giant serpent living on a precipice in the outskirts of Euchaita. The serpent had devoured many people and animals, terrorizing the countryside. Saint Theodore armed himself with a sword and vanquished it, glorifying the name of Christ among the people.
For his bravery Saint Theodore was appointed military commander [stratelatos] in the city of Heraclea, where he combined his military service with preaching the Gospel among the pagans subject to him. His gift of persuasion, reinforced by his personal example of Christian life, turned many from their false gods. Soon, nearly all of Heraclea had accepted Christianity.
During this time the emperor Licinius (311-324) began a fierce persecution against Christians. In an effort to stamp out the new faith, he persecuted the enlightened adherents of Christianity, who were perceived as a threat to paganism. Among these was Saint Theodore. Licinius tried to force Saint Theodore to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. The saint invited Licinius to come to him with his idols so both of them could offer sacrifice before the people.
Blinded by his hatred for Christianity, Licinius trusted the words of the saint, but he was disappointed. Saint Theodore smashed the gold and silver statues into pieces, which he then distributed to the poor. Thus he demonstrated the vain faith in soulless idols, and also displayed Christian charity.
Saint Theodore was arrested and subjected to fierce and refined torture. He was dragged on the ground, beaten with iron rods, had his body pierced with sharp spikes, was burned with fire, and his eyes were plucked out. Finally, he was crucified. Varus, the servant of Saint Theodore, barely had the strength to write down the incredible torments of his master.
God, however, in His great mercy, willed that the death of Saint Theodore should be as fruitful for those near him as his life was. An angel healed the saint’s wounded body and took him down from the cross. In the morning, the imperial soldiers found him alive and unharmed. Seeing with their own eyes the infinite might of the Christian God, they were baptized not far from the place of the unsuccessful execution.
Thus Saint Theodore became “like a day of splendor” for those pagans dwelling in the darkness of idolatary, and he enlightened their souls “with the bright rays of his suffering.” Unwilling to escape martyrdom for Christ, Saint Theodore voluntarily surrendered himself to Licinius, and discouraged the Christians from rising up against the torturer, saying, “Beloved, halt! My Lord Jesus Christ, hanging upon the Cross, restrained the angels and did not permit them to take revenge on the race of man.”
Going to execution, the holy martyr opened up the prison doors with just a word and freed the prisoners from their bonds. People who touched his robe were healed instantly from sicknesses, and freed from demonic possession. By order of the emperor, Saint Theodore was beheaded by the sword. Before his death he told Varus, “ Do not fail to record the day of my death, and bury my body in Euchaita.” He also asked to be remembered each year on this date. Then he bent his neck beneath the sword, and received the crown of martyrdom which he had sought. This occurred on February 8, 319, on a Saturday, at the third hour of the day.
Saint Theodore is regarded as the patron saint of soldiers. He is also commemorated on June 8.
The Prophet Zachariah the Sickle-Seer the eleventh of the twelve Minor Prophets. He was descended from the tribe of Levi, and seems to have been a priest (Nehemiah 12:4,16). He was called to prophetic service at a young age and became, in the wondrous expression of church hymnology, “a spectator of supra-worldly visions.”
The Book of the Prophet Zachariah contains inspired details about the coming of the Messiah (Zach 6:12); about the last days of the Savior’s earthly life, about the Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem on a young donkey (Zach 9:9); about the betrayal of the Lord for thirty pieces of silver and the purchase of the potter’s field with them (Zach 11:12-13); about the piercing of the Savior’s side (Zach 12:10); about the scattering of the apostles from the Garden of Gethsemane (Zach 13:7); about the eclipse of the sun at the time of the Crucifixion (Zach 14:6-7).
“Enlightened by dawnings all above,” the Prophet Zachariah, “saw the future as it were the present.” According to Tradition, this “most true God-proclaimer” lived to old age and was buried near Jerusalem, beside his illustrious contemporary and companion, the Prophet Haggai (December 16). The title “Sickle-Seer” given Zachariah comes from a vision in which he saw a sickle flying in the air, destroying thieves and perjurors (Zach 5:1-3).
The holy Prophet Zachariah died around 520 B.C. His tomb was discovered in 415 in a village near Eleutheropolis (Sozomen, Hist. Eccles. VI:32, IX:17). At the prophet’s feet was the body of a child dressed in royal accoutrements. His holy relics were transferred to the church of Saint James the Brother of the Lord (October 23) in Constantinople.
Born Predislav Nemanjic, the son of Saint-King Stephen Prvovencani the First-Crowned (September 24) and the nephew of Saint Savva I, the first Archbishop of Serbia (January 14), Saint Savva II distinguished himself in monastic life by his ascetic practices, in imitation of his sainted uncle.
He succeeded Saint Arsenius (October 28) as Archbishop of Serbia in 1266. He guided the Church with great love and dedication until his repose, variously dated as 1268, 1269 and 1271. His holy relics are at Pec, the site of the ancient Serbian Patriarchate.
Liuba Semyonova Sukhanovskaya was born in 1860 in the Ryazan region, in the city of Pronsk, into the family of Semyon and Maria Sukhanovsky, humble and God-fearing people. Later, her younger sister Olga was born.
In 1874, the Sukhanovskys moved to Ryazan and settled in a house on the corner of Vladimir and Resurrection Streets, becoming parishioners of the Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem church. The Lord took special notice of this pious family. The Sukhanovskys lived in poverty, and also had a heavy sorrow. Their beloved daughter Liubushka was paralyzed for fifteen years, and could neither walk nor stand on her own two feet. Her parents taught her to pray and how to read, however. Liuba prayed a great deal and read spiritual books, drawing on these for comfort. In particular, she loved to pray before the family icon of Saint Nicholas. Her pure prayer, and her uncomplaining patience in her illness, were accepted by the Lord, Who revealed His will for Liubushka. One day, when she was alone in the house, the God-pleaser Saint Nicholas appeared before her and said, "Get up, Liuba, go and play the fool!"
Liubushka stood up, which was a great joy for her mother when she returned home. But then her mother realized that the feat of foolishness was very difficult, and she went to the priest for advice. He listened to her and said, "This is God's will! Do not detain your daughter, let her go, let her play the fool! The steps of a man are rightly ordered by the Lord (Psalm 36/37:23). From that time, Liubushka embarked on that very difficult path.
The residents of Ryazan know her as an ascetic who enclosed herself in a wall between the stove and a wall in her house. She stood there for three years, like an ancient stylite, immersed in prayer and in the knowledge of God. Her humility before God's Providence, her patience and heavenly grace helped her to accomplish this unprecedented feat. The Lord prepared her for her contest by her fifteen years of paralysis, just as He did for Saint Elias of Murom (December 19). Three years later, Blessed Liubov, strengthened from above by divine love, left her "torture-chamber" and went out among the people, bearing this love.
Now living in Ryazan away from her relatives, she became a constant intercessor in all the city churches, and above all other monasteries, she loved visiting the Kazan Monastery, where she lived for a long time with some sisters, especially with the Superior, Igoumeness Katherine, who consoled with her sublime discourses. Liubushka was often seen on the street, in the shops of merchants, or in the homes of friends. And her conversations always had some spiritual purpose. The Blessed one prayed for people, giving them good and wise advice, and warning them of dangers. Everyone waited for her impatiently, for honorable people understood that the Lord Himself spoke through Liubushka, and had granted her both clairvoyance and the gift of love.
As with all fools for Christ, her actions were not quite ordinary. For example, the Blessed one would go into the shop of a wealthy merchant and take whatever she needed without asking. The merchant was only too happy about this, for he knew that he would do good business that day. Another time, Liubushka would pass by the shop without stopping, even if she were invited. When she was tired, the Blessed one would sit on someone's porch and be given food. She would accept it from some, but to others she said: "You don't have very much." If she did accept food, she gave it to the needy she met along the way. Poor people and beggars loved her very much.
Being clairvoyant, the Blessed one addressed even strangers by name, and would reply to unspoken questions. More often than not, Liubushka clothed her clairvoyance in a mysterious form, revealing things by means of paper figures. Knowing where her hostess kept scissors and paper, she took them, cut the figures out, and gave them to those for whom they were intended. If someone was about to travel, she would make a horse or a train. If a person was to be married, she would fashion a crown. If someone was about to die, she would cut out a tombstone. Some people feared her predictions and hid the scissors, but the Blessed one just tore the paper with her fingers and still gave the appropriate figures to those for whom they were meant. She made these figures with great skill, and silently she handed them to that person and then left. All of her predictions came true.
Some people, however, did not believe Liubushka, and laughed at her. She endured everything very complacently and patiently, and the smile never left her face. She dressed in very plain clothes, and on her head she wore a kerchief – sometimes blue, or pink. As a child, Liubushka loved the color pink, and she even asked that her coffin be lined with pink cloth when she died.
The Blessed one made predictions not only with paper figures, but also by other means. For example, they mention the following incident. During the Nativity Fast, Liubushka visited the Sh. family, where their grandmother was pouring tea for everyone at 4:00 P.M. At that time, Liubushka came in with a piece of velvet and said: "I was walking past the funeral parlor, where a coffin was being lined, and I took a piece of velvet. Here, take it!" The grandmother was perplexed, but soon they received news that their relative had died, and the velvet was for her coffin. This is how the Blessed one prepared everyone for the sad event.
On another occasion, Blessed Liubushka foretold the fate of two little girls through the icons that she gave them. One received an icon of Saint Alexander Nevsky, and later she married a man named Alexander, and they lived by the Alexander Nevsky train station. The other girl was given an icon of Saint Anna of Kashin, and like that Saint, she too was left as a widow with two children.
The Blessed one foresaw many things at her beloved Kazan Monastery. Once she cut out an entire monastery with scissors. The paper monastery had a fence, a church, and a choir in it. So in this way, she answered a question posed by the sister of a certain novice, who wondered whether she should be a nun. When the time came, this girl did enter the Monastery and, as one who possessed a rare voice (a female bass), she was placed in the choir to chant and read. After the Monastery was closed, she sang in the church until she was quite old.
The Blessed one returned to her home. At that time her grandfather was still alive. One day she arrived when her grandfather's kum1 was in the house, and he decided to joke with her and asked: "Tell us, Liubov Semyonovna, to whom will your house go when you die?" She smiled and replied, "To the soldiers." Everyone laughed at such an unexpected answer. No one could imagine that one day the house would be demolished, and in its place a military warehouse would be built to store equipment. Liuba's sister did not take her seriously either, and only after her death did she realize her mistake, seeing how many people came to accompany Blessed Liuba on her final journey, calling her the holy intercessor of Ryazan.
Before the abdication of the Tsar in 1917, the Blessed one walked through the streets and repeated: "The walls of Jericho are falling, the walls of Jericho are falling." Only later did people realize what that meant.
Three weeks before her death, Liubuska warned her good friend Elizabeth M. about it: "Lizon'ka, I am going to die soon, and you must pray to God for me. Go to my grave and take dirt from it, and line my coffin with pink cloth."
Blessed Liubov reposed on February 8, 1921. Everything was in ruins, the stores were empty, and Elizabeth decided to go to the pharmacy for some gauze at least. And O, the wonder! She was given some pink cloth. The coffin was beautifully decorated, and even ruffles and bows were made. So, to everyone's joy, Liubushka's wish was miraculously fulfilled. When the Blessed one was carried on her final journey, the streets around the funeral procession resembled a living wall of weeping people. Everyone abandoned their businesses in order to bid farewell to the marvelous God-pleaser. Later, over Blessed Liubov's grave, a monument was put up by the efforts of a resident of Ryazan, a Deacon, and others who admired her.
As the years passed, God was gradually displaced from the life and consciousness of formerly devout people who forgot their covenants and their own ancestors. Churches were being closed and destroyed, and priests were tortured and killed. Soon there was only one functioning church in Ryazan – a church dedicated to the "Joy of All Who Sorrow" Icon of the Mother of God. And there was a cemetery. But then few persons visited the cemetery, and Liubushka's grave became overgrown.
One day a certain soldier appeared at the cemetery and began to ask where Blessed Liubushka was buried. He wanted to put up a cross and a metal fence around her grave. This soldier happened to be very sick, but the doctors could not help him. Saint Liubov appeared to him in a dream and said: "Do not grieve or worry, but go to Ryazan, find the grave of Liubov Semyonovna Sukhanovskaya in the cemetery, and enclose it with a fence, and then you shall be healthy and happy."
He did as the Blessed one commanded him to do, and he was healed. He visited her grave every year and had a Panikhida served for her. Thus Saint Liubov came forth once more to the people who had forgotten her, in order to demonstrate that "love never fails" (I Corinthians 13:8).
Many other miracles were performed, and are still being performed, by prayers offered to Blessed Liubov of Ryazan. In 1992, by the diligence of the brethren of Saint John the Theologian Monastery, a chapel was built over her grave, and on June 10/23, 1998, Blessed Liubov was numbered with the Saints of Ryazan (June 23) and her holy relics were transferred to the Saint Nicholas-Yamsk church in Ryazan.
1 Kum = A godparent, or those who hold the crowns at an Orthodox wedding (from the Greek word κουμπάρος).