19 October 2010

The Holy Martyr Varus and Seven Teachers of Christians

from the Slavonic Menologion of St. Demetrius of Rostov:

During the reign of the impious Maximian, the Emperor of the Romans, there lived in Egypt a brave soldier named Varus, who secretly served the King of Heaven. Out of fear he hid his faith in the true God for a time, but later, he revealed it before both heaven and earth and became a spectacle before angels and men.

At that time Maximian raised up a persecution against the Christians and issued a decree in every province of his empire commanding that those Christians who would not sacrifice to the gods be put to death. When this ordinance was published in the land of Egypt, the blood of Christians was shed mercilessly; all who worshipped the Creator and not things created were subjected to various torments. Varus, a secret Christian, visited by night the faithful who were held in prison for their confession of Christ, bribing the guards with gold to permit him to enter the cells in which they were held. He bound up the wounds of the holy martyrs and washed their blood, gave them to eat, kissed their stripes, and prayed them to beseech Christ to have mercy on him.

It happened that there were seven teachers of the Christians, desert- dwellers, that were brought before the Prince of Egypt. When the Prince questioned them, he found them to be firm in the faith. Having subjected them to flogging, he had them cast bound into prison. When Varus learned of this, he hastened by night to the dungeon where the saints were being held. After he had given much gold to the guards, he was permitted to visit the saints. Varus loosed their hands and removed their feet from the stocks that held them and then placed food before them. He besought them to eat, for they had remained hungry for eight days since they had been left in prison with no food. He fell at their feet and kissed them, and he praised them for their suffenngs, saying, "Blessed are you, o good and faithful servants of the Lord! You shall enter into the joy of your Lord, for you have resisted unto blood (Heb. 12:4). Blessed are vou, 0 good strugglers; the right hand of the Most High has woven crowns for you in Heaven. You have run with patience the race that is set before you (Heb. 12:1), and I know for certain that tomorrow your sufferings shall come to an end. Blessed are you, 0 passion-bearers of Christ; the Kingdom of Heaven is open unto you, for you suffer with Christ, Who suffered for our sake, as the Apostle says, If so be that we suffer with him, we shall also be glorified with him (Rom. 8:17). I beseech you, 0 holy servants of God, pray for me to Christ that He have mercy upon me, for it is my desire to suffer for Him, but I have not the strength to do so. I fear the cruel torments I see you have undergone."

The saints replied, "Beloved, no one who is fearful can attain perfection, nor can he who does not sow reap. Likewise, a man who is unwilling to suffer receives no crown. Remember the words written in the Gospel: Whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I deny before My Father which is in Heaven (Matt. 10:33). If you fear passing torments, you shall not escape those which are eternal. If you fear to confess Christ on earth, you shall not be sated with the vision of His countenance in Heaven. Therefore, come, 0 brother, and tread with us the path of martyrdom, which leads to the Master Who looks down upon our struggles. Suffer together with us, for you will not soon find again a company like ours.

When he heard these things, Varus' heart was set afire with love for God, and he wished to endure torment for Jesus Christ. He passed the entire night at prayer with the holy martyrs and hearkened unto their teaching gladly.

When the morning was come, the Prince's servants came to the prison to bring the holy martyrs before the tribunal. As they entered the dungeon, they saw Varus seated with the prisoners, hearing their words with compunction of heart. They were astonished, and they asked, "What is your business here, Varus? Have you lost your mind, giving heed to the myths of which these wicked men tell? Have you no fear that someone will speak of this to the Prince or one of the nobles? You shall lose both your military rank and your life!"

Varus replied, "He who tells the Prince of me is my benefactor. Know that if you choose to make accusation against me, I am ready to die for Christ with the other Christians here."

The servants were thus put to silence. They took six of the martyrs from the prison, but the seventh they left, for he had weakened so from his wounds that he died and departed unto the Lord, leaving his place to be filled by Varus, who was to complete his suffering. The saints were led bound before the Prince, who sat proudly upon his tribunal and sought to compel them to sacrifice to the idols. When they would not consent, they were stripped and beaten mercilessly upon the wounds they had already received. Thus were wounds added to their wounds and stripes to their stripes, but they endured their suffering as though it were nothing and said only, "We are Christians."

Then the Prince asked, "Were there not seven of these men? Now there are but six. Where is the seventh?"

At that very moment Saint Varus entered and said, "I am the seventh. He of whom you spoke has already finished his course and gone to Christ, leaving me to complete his sufferings. I am prepared to render to you whatever he owed you. I wish to take his place among these noble martyrs who suffer for Christ, for I am a Christian."

When the Prince heard this, he asked his attendants, "Who is this man?"

They replied, "It is the soldier Varus, the commander of the band of Tyanis."

The Prince was perplexed and said to Varus, "What demon has led you to surrender yourself to perdition? Why do you choose to forsake your military rank and the honors that await you and bring evil upon yourself?"

The blessed Varus answered, "I prefer the Bread which is come down from heaven and the chalice of the divine and most precious blood of my Lord to your honors and esteem. I count nothing more dear than my Christ: not your regard, my rank, great honors, nor yet life itself. To suffer for Christ I count as the greatest honor and to lose all things for His sake as gain."

The Prince then cast his angry glance upon the six holy martyrs and said, "This is your work, you impious deceivers! It is you who have beguiled this soldier of the Emperor, depriving him of his senses by your sorcery! I swear to you by my great gods that I shall put you to death even before I do the same to him and thus revenge the dishonor you have shown our gods. You are unworthy to remain among the living, for you blaspheme the gods and lead others into wicked error."

The saints replied, "We have not beguiled Varus but have rather delivered him from deception. We have not caused him to lose his mind but have restored him to his senses. God has vouchsafed him strength and boldness for the struggle, that together with us he might prevail over your feeble might and that of your gods. In but a short time you shall behold his soldierly courage, for we have enrolled him in the host of the angels. Is it your boast that you shall destroy us? Know that it is our desire to lay down our lives for the Lord of all."

The Prince said, "I will immediately have you cut in pieces if you do not fall down and worship the gods of Egypt!"

The saints answered, The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish (Jer. 10:11).

Wishing to move the Prince to yet greater anger, the blessed Varus said, "The fool shall speak foolish things, says the Prophet Isaiah. Lo, our bodies lie stretched out before you. Do with them as you would."

Greatly angered, the Prince commanded that Varus be suspended from a tree, that he might put him to torture. To the six saints he said, "We shall see who will prevail over whom: you over us as you suffer torment or we over you as we inflict our tortures. Of a truth I say to you that if you by your patience prevail over me, I will renounce my gods and believe in your Christ."

The saints replied, "Try your strength against one of us, and if you can overcome him, you may hope to prevail over the others."

As they began to torment Varus, he said to the holy martyrs, "0 holy passion-bearers! Bless me, who am your servant, that I may share your lot. Entreat the Master Christ for me that He grant me patience, for He knows that our flesh is infirm. The spirit indeed is willing, it is written, but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41)."

The saints lifted up their eyes unto Heaven and prayed fervently for Varus as the servants began to beat his whole body with rods and staves. As the saint was being beaten, the Prince said, "Now tell us, Varus, what profit your Christ brings you."

Varus bravely replied, "More than you receive from your gods."

The saints cried out to Varus, "Take courage, Varus, and may your heart be strengthened, for Christ invisibly stands before you and strengthens you!"

Answered Varus, "Truly, I perceive the help of my Christ, for these torments seem as nothing to me."

Then they scraped his sides with iron claws, after which he was hung upside-down from the tree. They tore the skin from his back, cut his flesh with razors, and thrashed him with switches until he burst open and his bowels fell to the ground. When the holy martyrs saw his inward parts fall out, they wept. The persecutor beheld the martyrs weeping, and he cried out with a great voice, "Lo, you are defeated! You have been brought low, and you weep from fear of torment! What more is necessary for you to acknowledge that Christ cannot deliver you out of our hands and for you to forsake Him and worship our gods?"

The saints answered, "You are a beast and not a man! We are not defeated but shall yet prevail by the power of Jesus, Who strengthens us. We do not weep because we fear torment but out of natural love for our brother, whom you wish to slay in a beastly manner. In spirit we rejoice for him, for a crown has already been prepared for the noble sufferer."

The Prince then commanded that they be led back to prison. As Varus saw the saints being returned to the dungeon, he cried out to them from the tree from which he was suspended and was being tortured, saying, "My teachers! Pray for me one last time unto Christ, for I am about to depart from my body. I thank you for you have made me to inherit life eternal."

Saint Varus endured torture for five hours and then in suffering surrendered his honorable and holy soul into the hands of the Lord. Thinking that he was yet alive, the torturers continued to beat and torment his corpse. When they saw that he was already dead, they were amazed, and in accordance with the persecutor's command, they cast him out of the city in the place where the carcasses of beasts were left to be devoured by dogs.

There was a widow living in that city named Cleopatra, who was born in Palestine. Her husband, an officer, had died in Egypt, and she had a son named John, who was still a little boy. When Saint Varus was tortured, she looked on from afar upon his sufferings, sighing and beating her breast, for she was a Christian. When the martyr's corpse was cast out of the city, she arose by night, took certain of her servants, and went to remove the long-suffering body of Saint Varus. She brought it to her home, where she dug a grave for it in her room.

The next morning, the Prince had the other martyrs brought forth from the prison, and after he had tortured them for a long time, they were beheaded. They were also cast out of the city without burial, but their corpses were taken by night and committed to the earth by secret Christians.

Every day Cleopatra censed and lit candles before the grave of Saint Varus, whom she regarded as her great intercessor and mediator before God. When, after some years, the persecution died down, she began to consider how she might return to the land of her birth, and she won dered how it would be possible for her to take with her the relics of Saint Varus. She decided to send a gift to the Prince, which was taken to him by a messenger, who said to him on her behalf, "My husband was an officer and died here in the Emperor's service. He has still not received final burial, for it is not seemly that an officer and man of rank be buried in a foreign land. I, who am a widow and a stranger in this country, wish to return to my homeland to live with my kindred. Therefore, my lord, permit me to take the remains of my beloved husband to the land of my birth, that I may give them a fitting burial together with my forebears, for I wish to remain with my spouse even after I die."

The woman sent this message that the Christians might not think that it was the relics of the holy martyr she was removing from the city, for she was afraid that they would prevent her from taking that sacred treasure. The Prince accepted her gift and granted her request, but she took the remains of Saint Varus rather than those of her husband. Like a vine she brought them out of Egypt (cf. Ps. 79:8) into Palestine to her village of Edras, which was near Tabor, and she buried them there with her fathers. Every day she went to his grave, censed it, and lit candles there. When the other Christians who lived there saw this, they began to go with her to where the saint lay. They brought with them their sick, who received healing at Saint Varus' grave through his prayers. Soon all the Christians in the parts that lay roundabout learned of Saint Varus, and they began to come with faith to his tomb.

When Cleopatra saw how the Christians gathered to pray at the grave of the saint, she determined to build a church dedicated to him. Soon its erection was begun. By that time her son had reached manhood, and Cleopatra desired that he receive a position in the imperial army. Through the intercession of certain mediators she requested that her son be commissioned an officer, and her entreaty was granted. Her son received from the Emperor his appointment to the army and the emblems of his rank while the church was being constructed, but Cleopatra said, "My son shall not begin to serve the Emperor in the army until the house of God is completed. It is my intention that he be here to help transfer the saint's relics to the church. After this is done, he may depart to serve the Emperor."

When the church was completed, Cleopatra summoned bishops, priests, and monks, removed the precious relics of the holy martyr from their grave, and had them placed on a very costly bier. She laid her son's military belt and uniform upon the relics, that they might be sanctified by the saint's remains. She prayed to Saint Varus fervently that he be her son's protector, and all the bishops and priests present bestowed their blessing upon the young man. A multitude of Christian people without number had gathered there as well, and accompanied by them, Cleopatra and her son carried the bier and the relics to the church. The church was consecrated, and the remains of the saint were placed beneath the altar. Then the Divine Liturgy was served. Cleopatra fell down before the relics of Saint Varus and prayed thus: "I beseech thee, 0 passion-bearer of Christ: Ask God for that which is profitable for me and for mine only son. I do not dare ask for anything more than what the Lord Himself wisheth, for He knoweth what is needful for us. May His good and perfect will be done in us!"

After the service was completed, a great banquet was set before those present at which Cleopatra and her son served the guests.

Cleopatra instructed her son to eat nothing until the evening, when the meal was finished and only then to partake of that which remained. As the youth was serving, he suddenly took ill, and he went to lie down upon his bed. When all the guests had arisen from the meal, Cleopatra called for her son, that he might share with her what food remained. But John was unable even to reply, for he was burning with a great fever. When Cleopatra saw how ill her son was, she said, "As the Lord lives, I will not put food into my mouth until I learn what is to become of my child!"

She sat down beside him and sought to cool the fire of his fever; but her own womb burned still more than did his body, and her heart ached for her only son. At midnight the youth died, leaving his mother to weep inconsolably. As she lamented bitterly, she hastened to the Church of Saint Varus, and she fell down before his sepulcher and cried out, "0 servant of God! Is this how thou hast rewarded me for the great labors I endured on thy behalf? Is this the succor which thou providest me, who forsook my husband on thine account and have placed my hope in thee? Thou hast permitted mine only son to die; thou hast deprived me of mine only consolation and hast taken from me the light of mine eyes! Who shall now feed me in mine old age? Who shall close mine eyes when I die? Who shall commit my body to the grave? It had been better for me to die than to behold my beloved son perish in his youth like a flower before its time. Either give me back my son as once Elisha returned the son of the Shunamite woman (cf. IV Kings, ch. 4) or take me hence without delay, for I can endure this bitter sorrow no longer."

Cleopatra remained weeping by the grave of the saint and then fell asleep for a short while from weariness and grief. As she slept, she beheld Saint Varus in a dream. He held her son by the hand, and they both shone like the sun. Their vesture was whiter than snow, and they were girded with golden belts; upon their heads were crowns of unspeakable beauty. Seeing this, the blessed Cleopatra fell down before them, but Saint Varus lifted her up and said, "0 woman, why do you cry unto me? Do you imagine that I have forgotten the good works you did on my behalf in Egypt and along the way to this place? Do you suppose that I felt nothing when you removed my body from amid the carcasses of beasts, placing it in a coffin? Have I not always hearkened to your prayers? I make entreaty for you at all times unto God. I have prayed first of all for your relatives, with whom you buried me, that their sins be remitted them, and now I have enrolled your son in the army of the King of Heaven. Did you not beseech me here at my grave that I ask God to grant you and your son whatever is in accordance with His will and is to your benefit? Therefore, I have prayed unto the good God, and in His ineffable kindness He has deigned to number your son among the host of Heaven. Lo, you see that your son now stands near the Lord's throne. If you wish, take him and send him to serve a mortal and earthly king since you do not desire that he should serve the heavenly and eternal King."

The youth, who sat beside Varus and embraced him, exclaimed, "No, my lord! Pay no heed to my mother, neither permit me to be returned to the world, which is full of falsehood and every iniquity, and from which you delivered me when you came to me. Do not deprive me, 0 father, of a portion with the saints and a dwelling place among them."

Then the youth turned to his mother and said, "Why do you lament for me thus, mother? I have been enrolled in the host of Christ the King and have been permitted to stand before Him with the angels. Why do you now ask that I be removed from the kingdom and brought to abasement?"

When the blessed Cleopatra saw that her son's appearance was like that of an angel, she said, "Take me with you that we may be together."

Saint Varus said, "In this place you are with us. Go in peace, and after a time, when the Lord commands, we shall come and take you.

After saying this, the saint became invisible. When Cleopatra awoke, her heart was filled with ineffable happiness and joy, and she related her dream to the priests. They buried her son beside the sepulcher of Saint Varus, and Cleopatra wept no more but rather rejoiced in the Lord. Later she distributed her possessions among the needy and renounced the world. She lived beside the Church of Saint Varus, serving God in prayer and fasting by day and night. Every Sunday as she prayed Saint Varus appeared to her in great glory with her son. After she had lived in this God-pleasing manner for seven years, the blessed Cleopatra reposed. Her body was placed in the Church of Saint Varus near her son John, and her holy soul took up its abode in the heavens, together with Saint Varus and John. There it now stands in the presence of God, to Whom be glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Translated by Father Thomas Maretta


By virtue of the grace given to St. Varus to intercede on behalf of Cleopatra's son, it is to his intercessions that we turn when we pray for our non-Orthodox departed friends and family. The canon to him for such prayers may be found here.

Troparion of St Varus the Martyr (Tone 5):
Thou didst follow in the steps of the martyrs/ and contend for the glory of Christ./ Thou wast tied to a beam and restored by the Tree of Life,/ and thine intercessions gladden our souls.

Kontakion of St Varus (Tone 4)
Thou hast followed Christ and drunk His chalice;/ thou didst receive the crown of martyrdom, O holy Varus./ Thou art rejoicing with the Angels: pray unceasingly for our souls.

15 October 2010

Maybe We Should Read This Again

from The Synodicon on The Holy Spirit (to be read on the second day of Pentecost):

TO: those who falsely and variously corrupt the divine, sacred writings of the the divine fathers, that is, of the great Athanasios, Basil the great, Epiphanios of Cyprus, Cyril, Maximos the Confessor, and the remaining divine and Orthodox holy fathers,
I take this to mean we should be very, very much more careful with our use of the Fathers than many of us generally are. Lord have mercy.

14 October 2010

Call for Papers

The Journal of Faith and the Academy has posted its call for papers for the upcoming 2011 conference. All academic disciplines are welcome, so please consider submitting a paper. More information can be found here.

08 October 2010

The Nun Taisia

from the Synaxarion:

The Nun Taisia, raised by her mother in a spirit far removed from Christian piety, led a depraved and dissolute life. She was famed for her beauty, alluring many on the path to sin.

The account about the prodigal Taisia spread throughout all Egypt and reached even the Elder Paphnutios, a strict ascetic who had converted to salvation many of the lost. Dressing himself in worldly attire, Elder Paphnutios went to Taisia and asked her to name for him a place where not only people but even God Himself would not see them. Taisia answered that this was impossible, since God is omnipresent everywhere, and He sees and knows all. Having seen in her soul the spark of the fear of God, the Elder went further. He pointed out all the grievousness and loathesomeness of her sins, and he told her about the answering she would have to give before God for the souls of people corrupted and destroyed by her.

The words of Saint Paphnutios so affected the sinner that she, having gathered up all her riches acquired by her shameful manner of life, then set them afire in the city square and withdrew with the Elder to a monastery, where for three years she dwelt in seclusion. Having turned herself towards the East, Taisia incessantly uttered the short prayer: "My Creator, have mercy on me!"

"From that minute, when I entered into the cell, all my sins constantly were before my eyes, and I burst out in tears in remembering them," said the Nun Taisia to the Elder before her death. "It is for this, thy tears, and not for the austerity of thy seclusion that the Merciful Lord hath granted thee mercy," said Saint Paphnutios in answer to her.

Thus the life of St. Taisia proved the prophet's words, "a heart that is broken and humbled God will not despise." [Psalm 50/51]

05 October 2010

The Difference Between the Orthodox and the Catholics

Abbot Nikon, from Letter #31:

You write of arguments...concerning Catholic saints. Here polemics are useless. The point is not in the logos, but in spiritual activity. What did the Eastern saints seek in spiritual endeavors and what by contrast did the Western saints seek? The Western saints strive with all their might toward that which is strictly, definitely forbidden and warned against by the Eastern fathers. In contrast to those who were in a state of prelest [spiritual delusion], all the Eastern fathers considered themselves unworthy of any visions and spiritual gifts. If, quite apart from their own will, they received such gifts, they begged God to either remove them or give them special protection so that such gifts would not be harmful for them or lead to perdition. They believed that repentance is required of all men to the end of their days on earth, because man is an insolvent debtor before God. He can never "earn" enough to pay off his debt, let alone amass a surplus of earnings over and above that which he owes. When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say: We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do (Luke 17:10). All the debtors, as the Gospel shows, received a release from their debt; no one cold pay off his debt--not the one who owed 50 pence, nor 500, and especially not the one who owed 1000 talents. Where is there any mention of earnings in excess of the amount of the debt? Concerning the gifts received by the Apostles, the Lord days: Freely ye have received, freely give.[1]

[1] Abbot Nikon, Letters to Spiritual Children. Trans. Maria Naumenko. Richfield Springs: Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society, 1997. Pages 66-67.

16 September 2010

The Academy and Learning

Matthew made an interesting post at The Champions of Western Culture on the laughable state of "general education" in the modern university. It's worth looking at and thinking over.

14 September 2010

The Elevation of the Venerable and Life-Creating Cross of the Lord

from the Synaxarion:

The pagan Roman emperors tried to completely eradicate from human memory the holy places where our Lord Jesus Christ suffered and was resurrected for mankind. The Emperor Adrian (117-138) gave orders to cover over the ground of Golgotha and the Sepulchre of the Lord, and upon the hill fashioned there to set up a pagan temple of the pagan goddess Venus and a statue of Jupiter. Pagans gathered on this place and offered sacrifice to idols there. Eventually after 300 years, by Divine Providence, the great Christian sacred remains -- the Sepulchre of the Lord and the Life-Creating Cross were again discovered and opened for veneration. This occurred under the Equal-to-the-Apostles Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337) after his victory in the year 312 over Maxentius, ruler of the Western part of the Roman empire, and over Licinius, ruler of its Eastern part, becoming in the year 323 the sole-powerful ruler of the vast Roman empire. In 313 he had issued the so-called Edict of Milan, by which the Christian religion was legalised and the persecutions against Christians in the Western half of the empire were stopped. The ruler Licinius, although he had signed the Milan Edict to oblige Constantine, still fanatically continued the persecutions against Christians. Only after his conclusive defeat did the 313 Edict about toleration extend also to the Eastern part of the empire. The Equal-to-the-Apostles Emperor Constantine, having with the assistance of God gained victory over his enemies in three wars, had seen in the heavens the Sign of God -- the Cross and written beneath: "By this thou shalt conquer".

Ardently desiring to find the Cross on which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, Equal-to-the-Apostles Constantine sent to Jerusalem his mother, the pious Empress Helen (Comm. 21 May), having provided her with a letter to the Jerusalem patriarch Makarios. Although the holy empress Helen was already in her declining years, she set about completing the task with enthusiasm. The empress gave orders to destroy the pagan temple and idol-statues overshadowing Jerusalem. Searching for the Life-Creating Cross, she made inquiry of Christians and Jews, but for a long time her searchings remained unsuccessful. Finally, they directed her to a certain elderly hebrew by the name of Jude who stated, that the Cross was buried there, where stands the pagan-temple of Venus. They demolished the pagan-temple and, having made a prayer, they began to excavate the ground. Soon there was detected the Sepulchre of the Lord and not far away from it three crosses, a plank with inscription having been done by order of Pilate, and four nails, which had pierced the Body of the Lord. In order to discern on which of the three crosses the Saviour was crucified, Patriarch Makarios alternately touched the crosses to a corpse. When the Cross of the Lord was placed to it, the dead one came alive. Having beheld the rising-up, everyone was convinced that the Life-Creating Cross was found. Christians, having come in an innumerable throng to make veneration to the Holy Cross, besought Saint Makarios to elevate, to exalt the Cross, so that all even afar off, might reverently contemplate it.

Then the Patriarch and other spiritual chief personages raised up high the Holy Cross, and the people, saying "Lord have mercy", reverently made poklon/prostration before the Venerable Wood. This solemn event occurred in the year 326. During the discovery of the Life-Creating Cross there occurred also another miracle: a grievously sick woman, beneathe the shadow of the Holy Cross, was healed instantly. The starets/elder Jude and other Jews there believed in Christ and accepted Holy Baptism. Jude received the name Kyriakos (ie. lit. "of the Lord") and afterwards was ordained Bishop of Jerusalem. During the reign of Julian the Apostate (361-363) he accepted a martyr's death for Christ (Comm. of Priest-Martyr Kuriakos is 28 October). The holy empress Helen journeyed round the holy places connected with the earthly life of the Saviour -- the reason for more than 80 churches -- raised up at Bethlehem the place of the Birth of Christ, and on the Mount of Olives from whence the Lord ascended to Heaven, and at Gethsemane where the Saviour prayed before His sufferings and where the Mother of God was buried after the falling-asleep. Saint Helen took with her to Constantinople part of the Life-Creating Wood and nails. The Equal-to-the-Apostles Emperor Constantine gave orders to raise up at Jerusalem a majestic and spacious church in honour of the Resurrection of Christ, including in itself also the Sepulchre of the Lord, and Golgotha. The temple was constructed in about 10 years. Saint Helen did not survive until the dedication of the temple; she died in the year 327. The church was consecrated on 13 September 335. On the following day, 14 September, the festal celebration of the Exaltation of the Venerable and Life-Creating Cross was established.

On this day is remembered also another event connected to the Cross of the Lord, its return back to Jerusalem from Persia after a 14 year captivity. During the reign of the Byzantine emperor Phokas (602-610) the Persian emperor Chosroes II in a war against the Greeks defeated the Greek army, plundered Jerusalem and led off into captivity both the Life-Creating Cross of the Lord and the Holy Patriarch Zacharios (609-633). The Cross remained in Persia for 14 years and only under the emperor Heraclius (610-641), who with the help of God defeated Chosroes and concluded peace with his successor and son Cyroes was the Cross of the Lord returned to Christians from captivity. With great solemnity the Life-creating Cross was transferred to Jerusalem. Emperor Heraclius in imperial crown and porphyry (purple) carried the Cross of Christ into the temple of the Resurrection. Alongside the emperor went Patriarch Zacharios. At the gates, by which they ascended onto Golgotha, the emperor suddenly stopped and was not able to proceed further. The Holy Patriarch explained to the emperor that an Angel of the Lord blocked his way, since He That bore the Cross onto Golgotha for the expiation of the world from sin, made His Way of the Cross in the guise of Extreme Humiliation. Then Heraclius, removing the crown and porphyry, donned plain garb and without further hindrance carried the Cross of Christ into the church.

In a sermon on the Exaltation of the Cross, Saint Andrew of Crete (Comm. 4 July) says: "The Cross is exalted, and everything true gathers together, the Cross is exalted, and the city makes solemn, and the people celebrate the feast".

10 September 2010

The Nobleborn Empress Pulcheria

from the Synaxarion:

The Nobleborn Empress Pulcheria, daughter of the Byzantine emperor Arcadius (395-408), was co-regent and adviser of her brother Theodosius the Younger (408-450). Having received a broad and well-rounded education, she distinguished herself by her wisdom and piety, firmly adhering to the Orthodox teaching of faith. Through her efforts the church of the Most Holy Mother of God at Blachernae was built, and likewise other churches and monasteries. With her assist, the Third Ecumenical Council was convened in the year 431 at Ephesus, to deal with the heresy of Nestorius.

Through the intrigues of enemies and also Eudocia, the wife of the emperor Theodosius the Younger, Saint Pulcheria was stripped of rule. She withdrew into seclusion, where she lived a pious life. But without her things became disorderly, and after a certain while, upon the urgent request of her brother the emperor she returned, and the unrest provoked by emerging heresies was quelled. After the death of Theodosius the Younger, Marcian (450-457) was chosen emperor. Saint Pulcheria again wanted to withdraw into her seclusion, but both the emperor and officials besought her not to forsake the rule, and instead become the spouse of the emperor Marcian. For the common good she consented to become the wife of Marcian on the condition, that she be permitted to preserve her virginity within the marriage. In such manner the imperial spouses lived in purity, like brother and sister.

Through the efforts of Saint Pulcheria, the Fourth Ecumenical Council was convened in the year 451 at Chalcedon, to deal with the heresies of Dioskoros and Eutychius.

Throughout the course of all her life Saint Pulcheria defended the Orthodox teaching of faith against the various heresies that emerged. Having distributed off her substance to the poor and to the Church, she died peacefully at age 54 in the year 453.

02 September 2010

On this day in 1982

One of the modern-day champions of the Orthodox Faith reposed this life.

Fr. Seraphim of Platina, pray for us sinners.

30 August 2010

Too Much Reality

One of my favorite Orthodox blogs is A Desert Seeker, written by an internet friend, Arsenios, who is a recent convert to Orthodoxy. In one of his recent posts, "saints, demons, and the supernatural," he opines on what he sees as a deficiency with many moderns--including some modern Orthodox--specifically, an inability to believe in the reality of satan, demons, and the supernatural. Corollary with this is an inability to believe in the accounts of the saints lives the seemingly 'fantastical' elements contained therein. Part of the account Arsenios shares has to do with his growing up among animists in South America, where encounters with the more "real" and less refined conception of demons was an everyday, present reality.

Encounters with demons in this fashion, though, are not confined to animists living in the jungles of other continents. The worship and supplication of the powers of darkness happens every day right here in our own little suburban, American neighborhoods. I know, because in the years between when I left Christianity (at 13) and the years where I became convinced of it again, through Orthodoxy (sometime around 22), I was involved in (and obsessed with) demonology, ceremonial occultism, and was, in general, very messed up. Depression was a constant, ever-present part of that life; and that is not surprising. To be involved with demons, who are themselves the end result of slavery to passions, is to become a slave of passions.

Perhaps this is why there are some who see them as being, essentially, some kind of external projection of our own passionate desires; the Psalms tell us that "the gods of the nations are demons" (Psalm 95 LXX), and St. Paul tells us that the idols worshiped by the nations are nothing (1 Cor. 8:4). We can see how the case could be made for the passions (logismoi) being nothing, because they have no being; but then, there are the countless passages in the scriptures and in the hagiography that depict the demons as very real. How do we resolve this?

I think that it's not really something that we should try to divide out into an either/or. If those who claim the unreality of demons mean that in an ontological sort of way--i.e. that they have no being in themselves, being created themselves, and that in trying to live separate from the source of that being, which is God, they have come as close to un-being as is possible, and thus are tortured forever by that choice of self-will--then I wholeheartedly agree. But the same St. Paul who tells us that the idols are nothing tells us that "we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph 6:12). These agents of darkness are there, present, and supremely real, in the sense that they do, in fact, exist. St. Athanasius even goes so far as to say that the reason Christ had to be crucified on the Cross, lifted up into the air, was so complete the conquest of death in the aerial stronghold of the demons; if they weren't real, this seems wildly unnecessary.

I think we ignore their reality to our own peril. Not that we need to live in fear of the demons or their powers (which are powerless against the power of the Cross), but if we pretend that they are not real in order to make ourselves feel better, or somehow superior to our ancestors who took the demons reality very literally, we are deceiving ourselves, and any time we deceive ourselves we become somewhat more receptive to the prince of lies.

26 August 2010

The Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God

From the Synaxarion:

The Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God was written by the Evangelist Luke on a board from the table, at which the Saviour ate together with His All-Pure Mother and Righteous Joseph. The Mother of God, in seeing this image, exclaimed: "Henceforth shalt all generations call Me blessed. Let the grace of both My Son and Me shalt be with this icon". In the year 1131 the icon was sent from Constantinople to Rus' to holy Prince Mstislav (+ 1132, Comm. 15 April) and was installed in the Deviche monastery in Vyshgorod, the ancient appanage city of holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Princess Olga.

The son of Yurii Dolgoruky, Saint Andrei Bogoliubsky, in 1155 brought the icon to the city of Vladimir and installed it in the reknown Uspenie-Dormition cathedral built by him. And at this time the icon received its name of "the Vladimir Icon". And in the year 1395 the icon was first brought to Moscow. Thus the blessing of the Mother of God tied the spiritual bonds of Byzantium and Rus' via Kiev, Vladimir and Moscow.

The festal celebration of the Vladimir Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God occurs several times during the year (21 May, 23 June, 26 August). The most solemn celebration occurs on 26 August, the feast established in honour the Meeting of the Vladimir Icon upon its Transfer from Vladimir to Moscow. In the year 1395 the fearsome conqueror, khan Tamerlane, reached the Ryazan frontier, took the city of Elets and advancing towards Moscow he came nigh the banks of the River Don. Great Prince Vasilii Dimitrievich went with an army to Kolomna and halted at the banks of the River Oka. He prayed to the Sainted Hierarchs of Moscow and the Monk Sergei for the deliverance of the Fatherland, and he wrote to the Metropolitan of Moscow Saint Kiprian (Comm. 16 September), that the pending Dormition Fast should be devoted to zealous prayers for mercy and repentance. Clergy were sent to Vladimir, where the famed wonderworking Vladimir Icon was situated. After Divine Liturgy and a molieben on the feast of the Dormition, they clergy took the icon and in a church procession conveyed it to Moscow. Along the way, on both sides of the road and innumerable number of people prayed kneeling: "O Mother of God, save the land of Russia!" And in that selfsame hour, when the people of Moscow were meeting the Vladimir Icon on Kuchkov Field, Tamerlane was slumbering in his tent. Suddenly he saw in a dream a great mountain, at the summit of which coming towards him were the sainted hierarchs with golden staffs, and over them in a brilliant radiance shone a Majestic Woman. She commanded him to leave the domains of Russia. Awakening in fright, Tamerlane asked the meaning of the apparition. The experts answered that the Radiant Lady was the Mother of God, the great Protectress of Christians. Tamerlane then gave the order for his troops to turn around. In memory of this miraculous deliverance of the Russian Land from Tamerlane on Kuchkov Field, where the Meeting of the Vladimir Icon took place, they built the Sretensk-Meeting monastery. And on 26 August there was then established the all-Russian celebration in honour of the Meeting of the Vladimir Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God.

Very important events in Russian Church history have occurred in front of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God: the election and elevation of Sainted Jona, Advocate of the autocephaly of the Russian Church (1448), and of Sainted Job, first Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia (1589), and of His Holiness Patriarch Saint Tikhon (1917). And the enthronement of His Holiness Pimen, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, occurred on a day of celebration in honour of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God, on 21 May (NS 3 June) 1971.

The historical days of 21 May, 23 June and 26 August, connected with this holy icon, have become memorable days for the Russian Orthodox Church.

25 August 2010

Welcoming the Champions of Western Culture

For the past few years, I've been working away on my Master of Liberal Arts degree at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama. I have to say, some of the best discussions about the fundamentals and classics of western culture that I've ever had have been had in the various classes there. One of the things that I want to do is help raise awareness that there is this program here in middle Alabama; there are precious few Great Books-based masters programs in the United States. What's more, this program is at once very committed to the great classics of western culture, has an obviously Christian foundation, and--perhaps most importantly right now for those thinking of further academic study--is extremely affordable.

To the end of advertising the MLA program, and letting people see the kind of first-rate thinking and discussion going on inside it, we are starting a new blogging community at Champions of Western Culture. The goal is to get the professors, the students, and the alumni of the program all involved in an online version of the 'great conversation.' Visitors are, of course, graciously welcomed to participate as well. In addition to this, we are providing on the site links to various internet resources that are invaluable to anyone studying classics, the western tradition, or is just looking to expand their field of knowledge to include the classical and Christian world.

There's a link to the new blog in the sidebar. Please don't hesitate to check it frequently. I have a feeling there is going to be some great stuff on there.

Sainted Minos, Patriarch of Constantinople

From the Synaxarion:

Sainted Minos, Patriarch of Constantinople (536-552), was at first a priest at Constantinople and supervisor there for the homeless-shelter, home of the holy Monk Sampson the Hospitable-to-Strangers, during the reign of Saint Justinian I (527-565). After the removal of the heretic Anthymos (535-536), the holy presbyter Minos was elevated upon the Constantinople patriarchal throne as one worthy to be bishop for his profound virtue and firm confession of Orthodoxy. His ordination was done by the Pope of Rome Agapitus (535-536) who then at the time was in Constantinople. During the time of the patriarchate of Saint Minos there occurred a miracle in Constantinople, widely known to all the city:

A certain Jewish boy went with other children to church and he communed the Holy Mysteries of Christ. At home he told his father about this. In a terrible rage he seized the child and threw him into a red-hot oven (this Jewish man was a glass-blower by trade). He said nothing to his wife. The mother for three days in tears searched for her son; loudly she called for him, and finally on the third day he emerged from the red-hot oven. With difficulty she pulled out the child, who was unharmed. The boy told her that a Most Radiant Lady had there come to him, and She cooled down the fire and brought water and food. This incident became known to Saint Minos and the emperor Justinian I. The boy and his mother received baptism, but the father of the child became obdurate and did not wish to repent, in spite of the great miracle to which he was a witness. Then the emperor handed him over for trial as a child-killer and sentenced him to death by execution. The holy Patriarch Minos ruled the Constantinople Church for 16 years. During the time of his patriarchate at Constantinople, the famous temple in honour of Saint Sophia the Wisdom of God was consecrated. The saint died peacefully in the year 552.

04 August 2010

Couple of Business Items

To all those who were members of Desert Calling or followers of the DC blog, I posted an apology and explanation of a few things today, as well as a the first post of the new (or old) direction of that blog, reflecting on the Desert Fathers.

03 August 2010

The Martyr Razhdenes

from the Synaxarion:

The Martyr Razhdenes, a Persian and worshipper of the Zoroastrian religion, was descended from an illustrious family. He was the tutor of the Persian princess Balendykhta (daughter of the Persian emperor Ormizd), who entered into marriage with the pious Georgian emperor Vakhtang the Great (446-449). Together with her, Razhdenes resettled in Georgia. Out of consideration for his high parentage, the emperor heaped his wife's tutor with favours and made him his adviser. The simple and good-natured foreigner was soon beloved by all the court and the people. When he learned about Christianity and had accepted Baptism, he then began frequently to converse with Archbishop Michael and to visit church. The heart of the saint burned with an inexpressible love for Christ. He strove to comprehend the wisdom of God, he conversed much with the pastors of the Church and with eagerness he listened to the accounts and teachings about the deeds of Christian martyrs. The desire to be united with Christ irresistibly attracted him to accept suffering for the Saviour.

A bloody war between Persia and Greece spilled over into Orthodox Georgia. The new Persian emperor Firuz (from year 456) urged Georgia to dissolve its alliance with the Greeks, despite their common bond of the Orthodox faith. Having received refusal, he marched an army against Georgia, and began a bitter war. In the words of the chronicler, the women were given over to brazen outrages, and the men -- to cruel torments and tortures. Looking upon this, Christians remained firm in the faith and, hoping on the help of God, they gave resistance to the enemy. During this time Saint Razhdenes had accepted the command over the army at the capital and its surrounding fortifications. For four months he led a stubborn struggle against the enemies of Christianity and repulsed them from the capital. The Persians decided to take revenge, having captured the zealous leader alive. All together all at once they attacked the Georgian detachment of the fortress of Armaz and Saint Razhdenes was treacherously handed over by those to whom he had bestowed high rank. They immediately took the captive to the emperor Firuz. Informed about everything, the emperor questioned Saint Razhdenes about his parentage and the reasons for renouncing his former faith and people. The martyr answered:

"It is certainly true, emperor, that I once left my own nation and its gods, which serve man and are an adornment of the universe, but I now serve the One True and Living God, Who made Heaven and earth and everything that exists, Who alone possesses immortality and dwelleth in the Light imperishable, Whom no one hath ever beheld or seeth. This is the One True God, Whom I know in Three Persons in One Existence. And one of the Persons of the Holy Trinity, the Word and Son of the Father, in the fulness of time and for our salvation, came down upon the earth, was incarnated of the Holy Virgin Mary, lived upon the earth, suffered, was nailed to the Cross, died, and on the third day after death He arose, and after forty days He ascended up to Heaven and doth sit at the right side of the Father. At the end of the world This One -- the Son of God, Jesus Christ, will come again upon the earth in glory, so as to judge the living and the dead, and then the righteous wilt shine like the sun, but the impious and those disobedient to Him He wilt bind together with the devil in eternal torment."

Knowing the courage of the saint, the emperor Firuz decided to make him worship the sun and fire not by torture, but with words of flattery.

"Let it be known to thee, emperor, -- answered the martyr, -- that I shalt not renounce my Lord Jesus Christ, Who hath created me, and I wilt not worship thy gods. Keep to thyself thy promises to me of riches and glory, which are for me neither necessary nor wanted, and for them I shalt not abandon my God, Who called me to the Light of His Son, and I shalt not exchange the eternal life promised us of Christ, for life temporal and transitory. Wherefore do not promise nor advise me, for thou wilt not force me to recant from Christ my God; I reject thy offers of honours and riches and I shalt no more listen to thee, rather than my Lord."

When they took hold of the martyr so as to begin the tortures, he again turned to the emperor:

"Thou sayest, that thou shalt give me over to tortures, and dost thou think that these torments would be more terrible than eternal agonies, knowing, that for me Christ and death -- are to my advantage."

The fire-worshippers began the terrible tortures, and then locked up the martyr in prison. After some time the emperor Firuz on the advice of serveral perfidious Georgian dignitaries sent Saint Razhdenes to Mtskheta, where his family lived. The emperor sent him safely, knowing, that the martyr would keep his given word to return to the Persians. His family entreated him to spare himself and those near him, but Saint Razhdenes answered firmly: "Nothing shall turn me away from love for my Lord Jesus Christ.”

He returned to the Persians, and emperor Firuz sent him off to the governor of Upper Kartalinia, living in the town of Tsrom. They again began with their deluded exhortations and fierce tortures. Then they cast the mutilated martyr into a fetid prison. By night the Saviour Himself appeared to him and healed his wounds. The astonished Persians then decided that it was time to execute the sentence of the emperor -- to crucify the martyr on a cross.

"Rejoice, Life-Creating Wood, by which was slain the serpent of old and to which are nailed my sins, -- cried out the martyr, seeing the instrument of his death by execution. -- And I through thee shall ascend to my Lord Jesus Christ, Who shalt grant me the help and the strength to bear to the end the lot prepared for me. Wherefore I have witnessed to truth before His enemies and like Him I shall be nailed to thee".

They stripped the holy martyr and nailed him to the cross amidst four criminals, crucified in a row. Wanting to increase his suffering, the Persians requested archers from the governor. Struck by poisoned arrows like the Martyr Sebastian, Saint Razhdenes died on the cross in the year 457. All the ground under him was covered by his holy blood. Portents appeared in the heavens: the sun was hid and there began a long eclipse, and during the night there arose a terrible storm, such that nothing could be seen right in front of oneself. Only the body of the martyr shone with an Heavenly light. The guards were seized with terror at the vicious act committed, and they fled to their quarters. Christians, hiding not far away, took down the martyr from the cross and buried him with honour, near the place where he had been crucified.

The saint's place of burial remained unknown for a long time, until the martyr himself commanded the priest who had buried him to reveal this to Vakhtang the Great. With great solemnity the relics of the Martyr Razhdenes were transferred to a Nikozeia church (near the city of Tsinvali).

The name Razhdenes signifies "shining faith". The First-Martyr of the Georgian Church -- by his death, accompanied by the appearance of the Saviour and Heavenly portents, gives firm hope for the General Resurrection at the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

28 July 2010

The Holy Martyr Eustathios

from the Synaxarion:

The Holy Martyr Eustathios was a soldier. For confessing the Christian faith he was arrested and brought before the head of the city on Ancyra. At the interrogation, the saint firmly and bravely confessed himself a Christian and was sentenced to tortures. They beat him without mercy, they bore into his heels and, having tied him about with rope, they dragged him in the city to the River Sagka (Sangara). At the bank of the river they put the martyr into a wooden chest and threw it in the water. An Angel of God brought the chest to shore. The saint, situated in the chest, was singing the 90th (91st) Psalm: "He that dwelleth in the help of the Most-High..." Beholding the miracle and sensing himself disgraced, the governor having drawn his sword killed himself. The holy martyr, having received Communion from the hand of an Angel, gave up his spirit to God (+ c. 316). His venerable relics were buried in the city of Ancyra.

23 July 2010

The Priest-Martyr Apollinarius, Bishop of Ravenna

From the Synaxarion:

During the reign of the Roman emperor Claudius (41-54), the holy Apostle Peter came to Rome from Antioch, and he ordained the Antiochene Apollinarius, who had come with him, to be bishop of Ravenna. Arriving in Ravenna as a stranger, Saint Apollinarius asked shelter of a local inhabitant, the soldier Ireneius, and in conversation with him revealed also for what purpose he had come. Ireneius had a blind son, whom Saint Apollinarius healed, having turned to the Lord with prayer. The soldier Ireneius and his family were the first in Ravenna to believe in Christ. The saint stayed at the house of Ireneius and preached about Christ to everyone wanting to hear what he said. One of the miracles done by Saint Apollinarius was the healing of the incurably sick wife of the Ravenna tribune, Thecla. After she stood up from her bed completely healthy -- through the prayers of the saint, not only did she believe in Christ, but so also did the tribune. At the house of the tribune Saint Apollinarius constructed a small church, where he offered the Divine Liturgy. For the newly-baptised people of Ravenna Saint Apollinarius ordained two presbyters, Aderetus and Calocyrus, and also two deacons.

Saint Apollinarius preached the Gospel at Ravenna for twelve years, and the number of Christians steadily increased. Pagan priests made complaint against the bishop to the governor Saturninus. Saint Apollinarius was brought to trial and subjected to grievous tortures. Thinking that he had died, the torturers took him out of the city to the sea-coast and threw him in; but the saint was still living. A certain pious Christian widow rendered him aid and gave him shelter in her home. Saint Apollinarius stayed at her home for six months and continued secretly to preach about Christ. The whereabouts of the saint became known when he healed the loss of speech of an illustrious resident of the city named Boniface, at the request of his wife, who besought the help of the saint for her husband. After this miracle many pagans were converted to Christ, and again Saint Apollinarius was brought to trial and tortured, this time setting his bared-feet on red-hot coals. They removed him from the city a second time, but the Lord again kept him alive.

The saint did not cease preaching until they expelled him from the city. For a certain while Saint Apollinarius found himself elsewhere in Italy, where as before he continued to preach the Gospel. And again having returned to Ravenna to his flock, Saint Apollinarius again went on trial and was sentenced to banishment. In heavy fetters he was put on a ship sailing to Illyrica to the River Danube. Two soldiers were responsible to convey him to his place of exile. Three of the clergy voluntarily followed their bishop into exile. Along the way the vessel suffered shipwreck and all drowned, except for the rescued Saint Apollinarius, his acompanying clergy and the two soldiers. The soldiers, listening to Saint Apollinarius, believed in the Lord and accepted Baptism. Having found shelter nowhere, the travellers came to Mycea, where Saint Apollinarius healed a certain illustrious inhabitant from leprosy, and for which both he and his companions received shelter at his home. In this land Saint Apollinarius likewise preached tirelessly about Christ and he converted many of the pagans to Christianity, for which he was subjected to persecution on the part of unbelievers. They beat up the saint mercilessly, and boarding him on a ship sailing for Italy, they sent him back. After a three year absence, Saint Apollinarius returned to Ravenna and was joyfully received by his flock. The pagans, however, having fallen upon the church where the saint made Divine Liturgy, scattered those at prayer, and dragged the saint to the idolatrous priests in the pagan temple of Apollo, where the idol fell just as they brought in the saint, and it shattered. The pagan priests brought Saint Apollinarius for trial to the new governor of the district, named Taurus.

Apollinarius worked here a new miracle: he healed the son of the governor, who had been blind from birth. In gratitude for the healing of his son, Taurus strove to shelter Saint Apollinarius from the angry crowd. He dispatched him to his own estate outside the city, where the son and wife of Taurus were baptised, but he himself fearing the anger of the emperor did not accept Baptism, but conducted himself with gratitude and love towards his benefactor. Saint Apollinarius lived for five years at the estate of Taurus and preached without hindrance about salvation. During this time pagan priests dispatched letters of denunciation to the emperor Vespasian with a request for a sentence of death or exile of the Christian "sorcerer" Apollinarius. But the emperor answered the pagan priests, that the gods were sufficiently powerful to take revenge for themselves, if they reckoned themselves insulted. All the wrath of the pagans fell upon Saint Apollinarius: they caught hold of him when the saint left the city setting out for a nearby settlement, and they beat him fiercely. Christians found him barely alive and took him to the settlement, where he survived for seven days. During the time of his pre-death illness the saint did not cease to teach his flock and he predicted, that after persecution Christians would enter upon better times, when they could openly and freely confess their faith.

Having given those present his archpastoral blessing, the Priest-Martyr Apollinarius expired to the Lord. Saint Apollinarius was bishop of Ravenna for 28 years and he died in the year 75 AD.

(Image is of the altar in the Church of Sant'Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna.)

21 July 2010

Beginning at the Beginning

As mentioned in the previous post Democracy, Anyone?, I've been working on exploring some interesting connections between religion and government and, because I'm an Orthodox Christian (and happen to believe that in Orthodoxy all of the human experience is capable of being restored by the operative power of God's grace) I, quite naturally, wanted to try to understand it from that point of view. I am aware that there are other points of view; this on-going study is not really an attempt to convince anyone not starting at the same baseline. And, while I would like to convince people in my own tradition, I am aware that so many of us are unwilling to give up some fundamentally held beliefs that have been inculcated in us Westerners (and those cradle Orthodox who have grown up and been educated in the West)--specially Americans—that this whole project may be about as useful as fairy wings on a cement truck. Nevertheless, I think this is a worthwhile thing to look at, and, frankly, I am pretty shocked that the subject is so taboo among modern Orthodox.

Since I need a way to break all this down and organize it in some fashion, and because I'm terribly out of date and old-fashioned, I decided an Aristotelean approach would be best. So as I make these posts, I'll be breaking down the Orthodox political worldview accordingly by attempting to answer the following four questions: What does the Orthodox political vision contain, or, of what is it made? Second, how does it manifest itself in the world? Third, what principle(s) guide or move Orthodox politics? And, finally, what is its aim or purpose? I will, of course, be drawing parallels from the reality of the political world, particularly America, by way of contrast and explanation.

There are, of course, simple answers to each of these questions—and those simple answers, which I have encountered many times in my relatively short time in Orthodoxy, are true up to a point, but they often are subject to misinterpretation through omission and ambiguity (whether these are honest or intentional I am not sure, but, nevertheless, they lead to distortions and confusion about what the Orthodox Church has taught about the political life of human beings for centuries). There is also a shocking amount of political agnosticism among contemporary Orthodox in America (of course, there is also a shocking amount of American politicization, too; both are, I think, bad). Then there is the tendency among the descendants of those cradle Orthodox (and, it must be said, the ex-Uniates) who came to the U.S. in particular seeking escape from political oppression and the economic disasters of 19th and early 20th century Europe not to criticize the form of government which allows them the protection of “freedom of religion.” This is entirely understandable and even, on some level, a noble impulse—I'm sure that some view it as a corollary of Japeth and Shem walking backward and throwing a cloak over their father, so as not to see him in his nakedness and shame (Gen. 9:23). But the simple fact remains that many of the dearest-held beliefs about the origin and intent of the liberal government of the U.S. is nothing more than deception and delusion.

Consider what has been said by the much-beloved Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko, Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, on this very subject:

As long as the "American experiment" remained rooted in its Christian soil, it worked. It was truly the worst possible form of human society, except for all others. It deteriorated to its present condition not only by evil and sin, or as some say, by ceasing to be overtly Christian, and even Protestant. It decomposed when democracy became an idolized end-it-itself and every participant and group demanded its right not only to be respected and tolerated, but to be affirmed and approved without condition or question. It collapsed, and continues to collapse, not only through the loss of basic Christian doctrine and ethics, but through the loss of the conviction that there is truth and righteousness for all people in any form at all. Because of this, the transformation of modern American liberal democracy into a post-modern pluralistic plethora of hostile and warring interest groups, including some which bear the name "Christian", was inevitable. [1]

What Fr. Thomas says here is true to a point, but it misses the fact that the “American experiment” was never imagined to be a democracy, nor does he seem to understand the roots and origins of democratic government (perhaps even believing the liberal lie from the Enlightenment that selfish human interests are a good thing and will, when unfettered, lead to unlimited progress and social good—aka “enlightened self interest”) or its historically predictable outcomes, nor still yet that the grand experiment was never rooted in explicitly Christian soil. (Certainly not Orthodox or even “orthodox” Christianity.) It is probably better understood now than ever that the deistic/theistic impulses of many of the Founders of the U.S., while dressed, perhaps, in the trappings of Christian heritage, had at its root not Christianity, but a rival religion inspired by (and in many causes purporting to be the continuation of) the pagan mystery cults and “rational religion” of pre-Christian antiquity. Among these many groups (Freemasons, Rosicrucians, the 'Illuminati,' among others) was conceived and articulated a “new” conception of humanity: a brotherhood of all men, transcending nationality and creed, dedicated to the ideal of perfecting humanity through knowledge, learning, and freedom from the traditional confines of European culture and society (which must, no matter what one thinks of Western Christianity since 1054, be understood as deriving from the Church and upheld by the institution of monarchy).

The pervasive nature of these ideals, and their inculcation as tenets to be held against tide and time at all costs, shows just how influential these groups promulgating their doctrine of man's perfectibility through his own means have been; and yet, it does not take a saint or even a particularly good biblical scholar to detect as an enthymeme in that declaration the words of the serpent from Genesis: “For God doth know that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). The liberal promise has always been the exact same...to make people better through “freedom.” We contrast this to the words of the holy Orthodox elder of modern times, Elder Paisios the New of the Holy Mountain, who said “Freedom is good when the person can use it appropriately. Otherwise it is a disaster.”[2] And it is precisely through the promise of greater and greater “freedom” (or, in more modern terminology “justice”) that the “new” liberalism—that is, socialism—devoid of its sacred cow of private property as a basic human right, has ensnared generations of Westerners with the promise of freedom from want and necessity. [3] It makes for n interesting juxtaposition for anyone familiar with the wording of the Great Ektenia from Eastern Rite liturgies where the priest asks God “For our deliverance from all tribulation, wrath, danger, and necessity...” [4] Apparently, we don't need God; human progress can do that all on it's own.

That the roots of this political and spiritual plague are in the Schism between the Churches I hope to demonstrate more fully at a later time; and while it is in the East that the purity of Orthodoxy was preserved, there were many from the East that were responsible in large part for the rise of humanism which elevated the worth of pre-Christian antiquity (primarily Greek, but Latin as well) over and above the esse of Western civilization which is Orthodox Christianity (and which, like it or not, the Russo-Byzantine east is actually the major and only surviving part)...leading directly to the religious and political factiousness of the 15th century (not only the Protestant reformation, but the ultimate fall of the Eastern Roman empire in 1453). That this disease manifests itself first as a hostility to tradition, and to the traditional of the principle of monarchical power, and then moves on to the Church, then to the principle of “religion” in general, is not coincidental, and I hope to demonstrate those connections more thoroughly in subsequent posts. I also hope to point to a more specific cause (or causes) than has generally been the wont of historians or theologians or philosophers, or anyone else who has bothered to look into these things.

This, then, is the beginning of the beginning. I make the commitment to this to finish it as best I am able, by God's grace, and to be dedicated only to the truth—as best as it can be judged by a sinful and unworthy man. May the prayers of our fathers among the saints Justinian the right-believing emperor of the Romans, King Alfred the Great of England, King and Martyr Edmund of East Anglia, Prophet and King David, ancestor of the Lord, and all the holy Orthodox monarchs of all ages enlighten and bless this work which is dedicated to them and the memory of their wise and just rule and their dedication to the Holy Orthodox faith. In name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

[1] Fr. Thomas Hopko, "Orthodoxy in Post-Modern Pluralistic Societies." (http://www.svots.edu/fr-thomas-hopko-orthodoxy-in-post-modern-pluralistic-societies/).

[2] Elder Paisios, Elder Paisios the New of Mount Athos. (http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english elder_paisios_mount_athos.htm#_Toc61750930)

[3] F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom. pg. 77.

[4] from The Divine Liturgy of Our Father Among the Saints John Chrysostom. (http://www.orthodoxyork.org/liturgy.html)

16 July 2010

The Fourth Ecumenical Council

From the Synaxarion:

The Fourth Ecumenical Council, at which 630 bishops participated, was convened in the year 451 in the city of Chalcedon under the emperor Marcian (450-457). Still back in the time of the emperor Theodosius II (408-450), the bishop of Dorileuseia Eusebios in 408 reported to a Council held at Constantinople under the holy Patriarch Flavian (Comm. 18 February), concerning a personage of one of the monasteries of the capital, the archimandrite Eutykhios, who in his undaunted zeal against the soul-destroying heresy of the Nestorius -- went to the opposite extreme and began to assert, that within Jesus Christ the human nature under the hypostatic union was completely absorbed by the Divine nature, in consequence of which it lost everything characteristic of human nature, except but for the visible form; wherein, such that after the union in Jesus Christ there remained only one nature (the Divine), which in visible bodily form lived upon the earth, suffered, died, and was resurrected.

The Constantinople Council condemned this new false-teaching. But the heretic Eutykhios had patronage at court, and was in close connection with the heretic Dioskoros, the successor to Sainted Cyril (Comm. 18 January) upon the patriarchal see at Alexandria. Eutykhios turned to the emperor with a complaint against the injustice of the condemnation against him, and he demanded the judgement of an Ecumenical Council against his opponents, whom he accused of Nestorianism. Wanting to restore peace in the Church, Theodosius had decided to convene a Fourth Ecumenical Council in the year 449 at Ephesus. But this Council became branded in the chronicles of the Church as the "Robbers Council." Dioskoros, appointed by the emperor to preside as president of the Council, ran it like a dictator, making use of threats and outright coercion. Eutykhios was exonerated, and Saint Flavian condemned. But in the year 450 the emperor Theodosius died. The new emperor Marcian raised up onto the throne with him the sister of Theodosius, Pulcheria.

Restoring peace to the Church was a matter of prime importance. An Ecumenical Council was convened in the year 451 at Chalcedon. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Saint Anatolios (Comm. 3 July) presided over the Council. Dioskoros at the first session was deprived of his place among those present, and at the third session he was condemned with all his partisans. The Sessions of the Council were 16 in all. The Chalcedon holy fathers pronounced anathemas against the heresy of Eutykhios. On the basis of Letters Saint Cyril of Alexandria and Pope Saint Leo the Great, the fathers of the Council resolved:

"Following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach to confess as one and the same the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, perfect in Divinity and perfect in humanity, truly God, truly man, of Whom is a reasoned soul and a body, One in Essence with the Father through Divinity and that Same-One one-in-essence with us through humanity, in all things like unto us except for sin, begotten before the ages from the Father in Divinity, but in these latter days born for us and our salvation from Mary the Virgin Mother of God in humanity. This self-same Christ, Son and Lord, the Only-Begotten, is in two natures perceived without mingling, without change, without division, without separation [Greek: "asugkhutos, atreptos, adiairetos, akhoristos"; Slavic: "neslitno, neizmenno, nerazdel'no, nerazluchno"], such that by conjoining there be not infringement of the distinctions of the two natures, and by which is preserved the uniqueness of each nature conjoined in one Person and One Hypostasis, -- not split nor separated into two persons, but rather the One and Self-same Son, the Only-Begotten, the Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, as in antiquity the prophets taught of Him and as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself taught us, and as the Creed-Symbol of the fathers has passed down to us."

In the two final Sessions of the Council, 30 Canon-rules were promulgated concerning ecclesial hierarchies and disciplines. Beyond this, the Council affirmed the decrees not only of the three preceding Ecumenical Councils, but also of the Local Councils of: Ancyra, Neocaesarea, Gangra, Antioch and Laodiceia, which had occurred during the fourth century.

13 July 2010

Democracy, Anyone?

"[...] a new demonic outpouring is being loosed upon mankind. In the Christian apocalyptic view...we can see the power which until now has restrained the final and most terrible manifestation of demonic activity on earth has been taken away (II Thess. 2:7), Orthodox Christian government and public order (whose chief representative on earth was the Orthodox emperor) and satan has been "loosed out of his prison," where he was kept by the grace of the Church of Christ, in order to "deceive the nations" (Apoc. 20:7-8) and prepare them to worship antichrist at the end of the age. Perhaps never since the beginning of the Christian era have demons appeared so openly and extensively as they do today."
Fr. Seraphim (Rose) of Platina, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, p. 109.
"Masonic and mystical symbolism has been used on American currency since the very beginning, and was employed as a means of of distinguishing our money from that of Old World Europe, which invariably featured the bust of the reigning monarch. In contrast, America's founding fathers agreed that American money should be decorated with symbols of the anti-monarchist, pro-democratic Enlightenment philosophy upon which the Republic was founded, and many of these ideals were Masonic in origin. [...] The Rosicruicians and proto-Masons believed that if a system of government could be set up somewhere that was not beholden to any church, or to any royal house, then its citizens would be free to learn these ancient [occult] truths and explore these new ideas. Then they could export their wisdom, and their enlightened form of government, to the rest of the world."
Tracy R. Twyman, Solomon's Treasure, pg. 3, 18-19.
"Conservative refers to someone who recognizes the old and natural through the "noise" of anomalies and accidents and who defends, supports, and helps preserve it against the temporary and anomalous. [...] Just as a hierarchical order exists in a family, so there is a hierarchical order within a community of families--of apprentices, servants, and masters, vassals, knights, lords, overlords, and even kings--tied together by an elaborate and intricate system of kinship relations; and of children, parents, priests, bishops, cardinals, patriarchs or popes, and finally the transcendent God. Of the two layers of authority, the earthly, physical power of parents, lords, and kings is naturally subordinate to control by the ultimate spiritual-intellectual authority of fathers, priests, bishops, and ultimately God,"
Hans Herman Hoppe, Democracy: The God that Failed, pg 188.
"The Holy Fathers agreed with Eusebius. Thus St. Gregory the Theologian wrote: 'The three most ancient opinions about God are atheism (or anarchy),polytheism (or polyarchy), and monotheism (or monarchy). The children of Greece played with the first two; let us leave them to their games. For anarchy is disorder: and polyarchy implies factious division, and therefore anarchy and disorder. Both these lead in the same direction – to disorder; and disorder leads to disintegration; for disorder is the prelude to disintegration. What we honour is monarchy…' 'What we honour is monarchy…' That certainly appears to imply that monarchism is part of the Orthodox world-view, even if it does not figure in any of the Creeds. We find the same in the Fathers of the fifth century. Thus Archbishop Theophan of Poltava writes: 'St. Isidore of Pelusium, after pointing out that the God-established order of the submission of some to other is found everywhere in the life of rational and irrational creatures, concludes from this:‘Therefore we are right to say that the matter itself – I mean power, that is, authority and royal power – are established by God.'"
Vladimir Moss, The Restoration of Romanity, pg. 275.
"The two greatest gifts which God in His infinite goodness has granted men are the Priesthood and the Empire. The priesthood takes care of divine interests and the empire of human interests of which is has supervision. Both powers emanate from the same principle and bring human life to its perfection. It is for this reason that emperors have nothing closer to their hearts than the honor of priests because they pray continually to God for the emperors. When the clergy shows a proper spirit and devotes itself entirely to God, and the emperor governs the state which is entrusted to him, then a harmony results which is most profitable to the human race. So it is then that the true divine teachings and the honor of the clergy are the first among our preoccupations."
St. Justinian, Novella Six
Fear God. Honor the emperor.
1 Peter 2:17

I realize that this post is going to end up being rather cryptic, but I wanted to give a sort of update on things I've been working on lately. As someone who has been critical of what passes for Western culture for a while, I've been interested in an on-again off-again way with the causes of Western decline. No doubt, this is the Aristotelian in me. However, as a result of last semester's final project for my class on the topic of Justice, Law, and Government, I began thinking about the relationship of chaos and order, of law to government (and justice to each), of democracy to monarchy, of secularism to the Orthodox Christian worldview...and certain things began to "click." As a result I've been working (when I've had time this summer, which has not been much, alas) on revising that project and expanding it to be less consumed by the abstraction of theory, and putting it to more concrete, practical use as a framework for understanding the interrelatedness of the Schism, humanism, the 'Renaissance,' the Protestant Reformation, the 'Enlightenment,' the occult, and the downward spiral of the West. More on this will follow, but for now, I ask you to read over the quotes I've pulled out here, and really think about them--not just react according to the dictates of modern western bias.

29 June 2010

The Glorious and All Praise-Worthy First-Ranked Apostles Peter and Paul

Sermon of Blessed Augustine, Bishop of Hippo

On this present day Holy Church piously remembers the suffering of the Holy Glorious and All-Praiseworthy Apostles Peter and Paul.

Saint Peter, the fervent follower of Jesus Christ, for the profound confession of His Divinity: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God", -- was deemed worthy by the Saviour to hear in answer: "Blessed art thou, Simon... I tell thee, that thou art Peter (Petrus), and on this stone (petra) I build My Church" (Mt. 16: 16-18). On "this stone" (petra), is on that which thou sayest: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God", -- it is on this thy confession I build My Church. Wherefore the "thou art Peter": it is from the "stone" (petra) that Peter (Petrus) is, and not from Peter (Petrus) that the "stone" (petra) is -- just as how the Christian is from Christ, and not Christ from the Christian. Do you want to know, from what sort of "rock" (petra) the Apostle Peter (Petrus) was named? -- Hear ye the Apostle Paul: "I do not want ye not to know, brethren, -- says the Apostle of Christ, -- how our fathers were all under a cloud, and all passed through the sea: and all in Moses were baptised in the cloud and in the sea. And all thus eating spiritual food, and all thus drinking spiritual drink: for they did drink from the spiritual accompanying rock: for the rock indeed was Christ" (1 Cor. 10: 1-4). Here is the from whence the "Rock" is Peter.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the final days of His earthly life, in the days of His mission to the race of man, chose from among the disciples His twelve Apostles for preaching the Word of God. Among them, the Apostle Peter for his fiery ardour was vouchsafed to occupy the first place (Mt. 10: 2) and to be as it were the representative person for all the Church. And therefore it is said to him, preferentially, after the confession: "And I give thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: and if thou bindest upon the earth, it will be bound in the Heavens: and if thou loosenest upon the earth, it will be loosened in the Heavens (Mt.16; 19). Wherefore it was not one man, but rather the One Universal Church, that received these "keys" and the right "to bind and loosen". And that actually it was the Church that received this right, and not exclusively a single person, turn your attention to another place of the Scriptures, where the same Lord says to also all His Apostles: "Receive ye the Holy Spirit", -- and further after this: "Whoseso sins ye remit, are remitted them: and whoseso sins ye retain, are retained" (Jn. 20: 22-23); or: "with what ye bind upon the earth, will be bound in Heaven: and with what ye loosen upon the earth, will be loosened in the Heavens" (Mt. 18: 18). Thus, it is the Church that binds, the Church that loosens; the Church, built upon the foundational corner-stone -- Jesus Christ Himself (Eph. 2: 20) doth bind and loosen. Let both the binding and the loosening be feared: the loosening, in order not to fall under this again; the binding, in order not to remain forever in this condition. Wherefore "by the passions of his own sins, -- says Wisdom, -- is each ensnared" (Prov. 5: 22); and except for Holy Church nowhere is it possible to receive the loosening.

And after His Resurrection the Lord entrusted the Apostle Peter to shepherd His spiritual flock not because, that among the disciples only Peter alone was pre-deserved to shepherd the flock of Christ, but Christ addresses Himself chiefly to Peter because, that Peter was first among the Apostles and as such the representative of the Church; besides which, having turned in this instance to Peter alone, as to the top Apostle, Christ by this confirms the unity of the Church. "Simon of John, -- says the Lord to Peter, -- lovest thou Me? -- and the Apostle answered: "Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee"; and a second time it was thus asked, and a second time he thus answered; being asked a third time, seeing that as it were not believed, he was saddened. But how is it possible for him not to believe That One, Who knew his heart? And wherefore then Peter answered: "Lord, Thou knowest all; Thou knowest that I love Thee". "And sayeth Jesus to him" all three times "Feed My sheep" (Jn. 20: 15-17). Besides this, the thrice appealing of the Saviour to Peter and the thrice confession of Peter before the Lord had a particular beneficial purpose for the Apostle. That one, to whom was given "the keys of the kingdom" and the right "to bind and to loosen", himself thrice bound himself by fear and cowardice (Mt. 26: 69-75), and the Lord thrice loosens him by His appeal and in turn by his confession of strong love. And to shepherd literally the flock of Christ was acquired by all the Apostles and their successors. "Attend yourself to all the flock, -- urges the Apostle Paul to church presbyters, -- in which the Holy Spirit hath established ye as bishops, to shepherd the Church of the Lord God, acquired by His Blood" (Acts 20: 28); and the Apostle Peter to the elders: "Feed among you the flock of Christ, attending to it not by need, but by will and according to God: not for unrighteous profit, but zealously: not as commanding parables, but be an image to the flock. And when is appeared the Prince of pastors, ye will receive unfading crowns of glory" (1 Pet. 5: 2-4).

It is remarkable that Christ, having said to Peter: "Feed My sheep", -- did not say: "Feed thy sheep", -- but rather to feed, good servant, the sheep of the Lord. "For was Christ divided, or is Paul crucified according to you, or are ye baptised in the name of Peter or of Paul?" (1 Cor. 1: 13). "Feed My sheep". Wherefore "wolfish robbers, wolfish oppressors, deceitful teachers and mercenaries, not being concerned about the flock" (Mt. 7: 15; Acts 20: 29; 2 Pet. 2: 1; Jn. 10: 12), having plundered a strange flock and making of the spoils as though it be of their own particular gain, they think that they feed their flock. Such are not good pastors, as pastors of the Lord. "The good pastor lays down his life for the sheep" (Jn. 10: 11), entrusted to Him by the Prince of pastors Himself (1 Pet. 5: 4). And the Apostle Peter, true to his calling, gave his soul for the very flock of Christ, having sealed his apostleship by a martyr's death, now glorified throughout all the world.

And the Apostle Paul, being formerly Saul, was changed from a robbing wolf into a meek lamb; formerly he was an enemy of the Church, then is manifest as an Apostle; formerly he stalked it, then preached it. Having received from the high-priests the authority at large to throw all christians in chains for execution, he was already on the way, "he breathed with rage and murder against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9: 1), he thirsted for blood, but -- "the Living One in the Heavens mocked him" (Ps. 2: 4). When he, "having persecuted and vexed" in such manner "the Church of God" (1 Cor. 15: 9; Acts 8: 5), he came nigh to Damascus, and the Lord from Heaven called to him: "Saul, Saul, wherefore persecutest thou Me?" -- and I am here, and I am there, I am everywhere: here is My head; there is My body. There becomes nothing of a surprise in this; we ourselves -- are members of the Body of Christ. "Saul, Saul, wherefore persecutest thou Me; it is terrible to thee to kick against the goad" (Acts 9: 4-5). Saul, however, "trembling and frightened", cried out: "Who art Thou, Lord?" I am Jesus, -- answered the Lord to him, -- Whom thou persecutest". And Saul suddenly undergoes a change: "What wantest Thou me to do?" -- he cries out. And suddenly for him there is the Voice: "Rise up and go to the city, and it will be told thee, what thou ought to do" (Acts 9: 6). Here the Lord sends Ananias: "Rise up go upon the street" to a man, "by the name of Saul", and baptise him, "for this one is a vessel chosen by Me, to bear My Name before pagans and rulers and the sons of Israel" (Acts 9: 11, 15, 18). This vessel must-needs be filled with My Grace. "Ananias however answered: Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he hath done to Thine saints in Jerusalem: and to be here to have the authority from the high-priests to seize all calling upon Thy Name" (Acts 9: 13-14). But the Lord urgently commands Ananias: "Search for and fetch him, for this vessel is chosen by Me: for I shalt tell him, how much must-needs be for him to suffer about My Name" (Acts 9: 11, 15-16).

And actually the Lord did direct the Apostle Paul, what things he had to suffer for His Name. He instructed him the deeds; He did not stop at the chains, the fetters, the prisons and shipwrecks; He Himself felt for him in his sufferings, He Himself guided him towards this day. On a single day is done the memory of the sufferings of both these Apostles, though they suffered on separate days, but by the spirit and the closeness of their suffering they constitute one. Peter went first, Paul followed soon after him, -- formerly called Saul, and then Paul, having transformed in himself his pride into humility, as means also his very name (Paulus), meaning "small, little, less", -- demonstrates this. What is the Apostle Paul after this? Ask him, and he himself gives answer to this: "I am, -- says he, -- the least of the Apostles: but moreso than all I have laboured, yet not I, but the grace of God, which is with me" (1 Cor. 15: 9-10).

And so, brethren, celebrating now the memory of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, remembering their venerable sufferings, we esteem their true faith and holy life, we esteem the innocence of their sufferings and pure confession. Loving in them the sublime quality and imitating them by great exploits, "in which to be likened to them" (2 Thess. 3: 5-9), and we shall attain to that eternal bliss which is prepared for all the saints. The path of our life before was more grievous, thornier, harder, but "how great the cloud of witnesses enveloping us" (Hebr. 12: 1), having passed by along it, made now for us easier, and lighter, and more readily-passable. First there passed along it "the Founder and Fulfiller of faith" our Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Hebr. 12: 2); His daring Apostles followed after Him; then the martyrs, children, women, virgins and a great multitude of witnesses. Who acted in them and helped them on this path? -- He that said: "Without Me ye are able to do nothing" (Jn. 15: 5).

17 June 2010

The Holy Martyrs Manuel, Sabel and Ismael

from the Synaxarion:

The Holy Martyrs Manuel, Sabel and Ismael, brothers by birth, were descended from an illustrious Persian lineage. Their father was a pagan, but their mother was a Christian, who baptised the children and raised them with firm faith in Christ the Saviour. Having grown into adults, the brothers entered military service. Speaking on behalf of the Persian emperor Alamundar, they were his emissaries in the concluding of a peace treaty with the emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363). Julian received them with due honour and showed them his favour. But when the brothers refused to take part in a pagan sacrificial offering, Julian became angry, and annulling the treaty, he locked up the peace emissaries of a foreign country in prison, like common criminals. At the interrogation he told them, that if they scorned the gods worshipped by him, it would be impossible to reach any peace or accord between the two sides. The holy brothers answered that they were sent as emissaries of their emperor on matters of state, and not arguments about gods. Seeing the firmness of faith of the holy brothers, the emperor gave orders to subject them to fierce tortures.

They suspended the holy martyrs, having nailed their hands and feet to wood, at their heads they thrust nails, and under their finger-nails and toe-nails they wedged sharp needles. During this time of torment the saints, as though not feeling the tortures, glorified God and prayed. Finally, they beheaded they holy martyrs. Julian ordered their bodies to be burned. But suddenly there occurred an earthquake, and the ground opened up and took the bodies of the holy martyrs into its bosom. After two days, following upon the fervent prayers of Christians, the earth returned the bodies of the holy brothers, from which issued forth a fragrance. Many pagans, having witnessed the miracle, came to believe in Christ and were baptised. Christian reverently buried the bodies of the holy Martyrs Manuel, Sabel and Ismael. This occurred in the year 362. And since that time the relics of the holy passion-bearers have been glorified with wonder-working.

Having learned about the murder of his emissaries, and that the law-transgressor Julian was marching against him with a numerous army, the Persian emperor Alamundar gathered up his army and started off towards the border of his domain. In a large battle the Persians vanquished the Greeks. Julian the Apostate was killed by the holy Great-Martyr Mercurius (Mercury, Comm. 24 November).

Thirty years later the pious emperor Theodosius the Great (+ 397) built at Constantinople a church in honour of the holy martyrs, and Sainted Germanos, Patriarch of Constantinople (Comm. 12 May), then still a priestmonk, wrote a canon in memory and in praise of the holy brothers.