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St. John (Ivan) the Russian

May 29, 2010 Leave a comment

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Categories: Lives of Saints

The Fifth Sunday of the Great Fast. Commemoration of Saint Mary of Egypt

March 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Scripture Readings


Epistle:

The Reading is from the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Hebrews[§ mid 321]. Brethren:

9 11Christ, Who came as High Priest of the coming good things, by means of the greater and more perfect tabernacle-not made by hand, that is, not of this creation,12nor by blood of goats and of calves, but by His own blood-entered once for all into the Holies, having Himself obtained eternal redemption. 13For if the blood of bulls and of goats and ashes of a heifer, sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctifieth to the purity of the flesh, 14how much more shall the blood of the Christ, Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works in order to worship the living God?

COMMEMORATION OF SAINT MARY OF EGYPT

The Reading is from the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Galatians [§§ 208, 209]. Brethren:

3 23Before faith came, we were being guarded under the law, having been closed up to the faith about to be revealed. 24Therefore the law hath become our tutor until Christ, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25But faith having come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26For all are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many as were baptized into Christ, ye put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if ye are Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to promise.

4 1Now I say, as long as the heir is an infant, he differeth nothing from a slave, though he is lord of all; 2but he is under guardians and stewards until the appointed time of the father. 3So we also, when we were infants, were enslaved under the elements of the world. 4But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5in order that He might redeem those under the law, that we might receive what is our due, the adoption as sons.

Gospel:

The Reading is from the Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark [§ 47]. At that time:

10 32 Jesus took aside His twelve disciples, and began to tell them the things that were about to happen to Him, 33saying, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man shall be delivered up to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they shall condemn Him to death and deliver Him up to the Gentiles. 34“And they shall mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit upon Him, and kill Him. And on the third day He shall raise Himself.”

35And Iakovos and John, the sons of Zebedee, go to Him, saying, “Teacher, we wish that Thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall ask.” 36And He said to them, “What do ye wish for Me to do for you?” 37And they said to Him, “Grant to us that we might sit, one on Thy right and one on Thy left, in Thy glory.” 38But Jesus said to them, “Ye know not what ye ask for yourselves. Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink, and to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39And they said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup indeed that I drink, ye shall drink, and the baptism with which I am baptized, ye shall be baptized; 40“but to sit on My right and on My left is not Mine to give, but it shall be given to those for whom it hath been prepared.” 41And after the ten heard it, they began to be indignant on account of Iakovos and John. 42But Jesus called them to Himself, and saith to them, “Ye know that those who are accounted to rule over the nations exercise lordship over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43“Yet it shall not be so among you. But whosoever doth wish to become great among you shall be your servant; 44“and whosoever doth wish to become first among you shall be slave of all. 45“For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Commemoration of Saint Mary of Egypt

The Reading is from the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke [§ 33]. At that time:

7 36 A certain one of the Pharisees was asking Jesus that He would eat with him. And He entered into the house of the Pharisee, and reclined at table. 37And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she found out that He was reclining at table in the house of the Pharisee, brought an alabaster flask of perfumed ointment,38and she stood beside His feet behind Him, weeping; and she began to wet His feet with tears, and was wiping them off with the hairs of her head; and she was kissing His feet ardently and anointing them with the perfumed ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who invited Him saw it, he spoke within himself, saying, “This One, if He were a prophet, would know who and of what sort the woman is who toucheth Him, for she is a sinner.” 40And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to thee.” And he saith, “Teacher, say it.” 41“There were two debtors to a certain creditor: the one was owing five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.42“But when they had nothing to pay back the debt, he showed himself gracious to both. Say which of them then will love him more?” 43Simon answered and said, “I suppose that he, to whom he showed himself the more gracious.” And He said to him, “Rightly thou didst judge.” 44And He turned to the woman, and said to Simon, “Seest thou this woman? I entered into thy house; water thou gavest Me not for My feet, but she with tears did wet My feet, and with the hairs of her head wiped themoff. 45“A kiss thou gavest Me not, but she from the time that I entered did not cease from ardently kissing My feet. 46“With oil thou didst not anoint My head, but she anointed My feet with perfumed ointment. 47“For which reason I say to thee, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” 48And He said to her, “Thy sins have been forgiven.” 49And those reclining at table with Him began to say among themselves, “Who is this Who even forgiveth sins?” 50And He said to the woman, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go thy way in peace.”

Synaxarion Readings


On this day, the fifth Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the memory of our holy and venerable Mother, Mary of Egypt.

The recorder of the life of this wonderful saint is St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem. A hieromonk, the elder Zossima, had gone off at one time during the Great Fast on a twenty-days’ walk into the wilderness across the Jordan. He suddenly caught sight of a human being with a withered and naked body and with hair as white as snow, who fled in its nakedness from Zossima’s sight. The elder ran a long way, until this figure stopped at a stream and called, “Father Zossima, forgive me for the Lord’s sake. I cannot turn around to you, for I am a naked woman.” Then Zossima threw her his outer cloak, and she wrapped herself in it and turned around to him. The elder was amazed at hearing his name from the lips of this unknown woman. After considerable pressure on his part, she told him the story of her life.

She had been born in Egypt and had lived as a prostitute in Alexandria from the age of twelve, spending seventeen years in this way of life. Urged by the lustful fire of the flesh, she one day boarded a ship that was sailing for Jerusalem. Arriving at the Holy City, she attempted to go into one of the churches to venerate the Precious Cross, but some unseen power prevented her from entering. In great fear, she turned to an icon of the Mother of God that was in the entrance and begged her to let her go in and venerate the Cross, confessing her sin and impurity and promising that she would then go wherever the Most Pure One led her. She was then allowed to enter the church. After venerating the Cross, she went out again to the entrance and, standing in front of the icon, thanked the Mother of God. Then she heard a voice saying, “If you cross the Jordan, you will find true peace.” She immediately bought three loaves of bread and set off for the Jordan, arriving there the same evening. She received Holy Communion the following morning in the monastery of St. John the Baptist, and then crossed the river. She spent the next forty-eight years in the wilderness in the greatest torments, in terror, in struggles with passionate thoughts like gigantic beasts, feeding only on plants.

Later, when she was standing in prayer, Zossima saw her lifted up in the air. She begged him to bring her Holy Communion the next year on the bank of the Jordan, and she would come to receive it. The following year, Zossima came with the Holy Gifts to the bank of the Jordan in the evening and stood in amazement as he saw her cross the river. He saw her coming in the moonlight and, arriving on the further bank, make the sign of the Cross over the river. She then walked across it as though it were dry land. When she had received Holy Communion, she begged him to come again the following year to the same stream by which they had first met. The next year Zossima went and found her dead body there on that spot. Above her head in the sand was written: “Abba Zossima, bury in this place the body of the humble Mary. Give dust to dust. I passed away on April 1, on the very night of Christ’s Passion, after Communion of the Divine Mysteries.” For the first time, Zossima learned her name and also the awe-inspiring marvel that she had arrived at that stream the previous year on the night of the same day on which she had received Holy Communion – a place that he had taken twenty days to reach. And thus Zossima buried the body of the wonderful saint, Mary of Egypt. When he returned to the monastery, he recounted the whole story of her life and the wonders to which he had been an eyewitness. Thus the Lord glorifies repentant sinners. She entered into rest in about the year 530.

St. Mary is remembered today, as we reach the end of the Great Fast, to arouse the energy of the slothful and to urge sinners to repentance, imitating her example. She is also commemorated on April 1. The Righteous Zossima, who buried St. Mary, is commemorated on April 4.

O Christ our God, through the intercessions of our venerable Mother Mary of Egypt, have mercy on us and save us. Amen

Prologue

FOR CONSIDERATION

Have more confidence in God than in your mother; confess everything to Him, and He will not betray you; receive all His commandments as good, and He will not deceive you. For insofar as you have confidence in God, so far will you be cautious towards your enemies, towards the world, the flesh and the devil. St Ephraim the Syrian expressed all this better: ‘In receiving God’s commandments, have simplicity, but in the rejection of hostile plots, have cunning (the dove and the serpent).’

Venerable Macarius the Great of Egypt

January 23, 2010 Leave a comment



Commemorated on January 19

Saint Macarius the Great of Egypt was born around 331 in the village of Ptinapor in Egypt. At the wish of his parents he entered into marriage, but was soon widowed. After he buried his wife, Macarius told himself, “Take heed, Macarius, and have care for your soul. It is fitting that you forsake worldly life.”

The Lord rewarded the saint with a long life, but from that time the memory of death was constantly with him, impelling him to ascetic deeds of prayer and penitence. He began to visit the church of God more frequently and to be more deeply absorbed in Holy Scripture, but he did not leave his aged parents, thus fulfilling the commandment to honor one’s parents.

Until his parents died, St Macarius used his remaining substance to help them and he began to pray fervently that the Lord might show him a guide on the way to salvation. The Lord sent him an experienced Elder, who lived in the desert not far from the village. The Elder accepted the youth with love, guided him in the spiritual science of watchfulness, fasting and prayer, and taught him the handicraft of weaving baskets. After building a separate cell not far from his own, the Elder settled his disciple in it.

The local bishop arrived one day at Ptinapor and, knowing of the saint’s virtuous life, ordained him against his will. St Macarius was overwhelmed by this disturbance of his silence, and so he went secretly to another place. The Enemy of our salvation began a tenacious struggle with the ascetic, trying to terrify him, shaking his cell and suggesting sinful thoughts. St Macarius repelled the attacks of the devil, defending himself with prayer and the Sign of the Cross.

Evil people slandered the saint, accusing him of seducing a woman from a nearby village. They dragged him out of his cell and jeered at him. St Macarius endured the temptation with great humility. Without a murmur, he sent the money that he got for his baskets for the support of the pregnant woman.

The innocence of St Macarius was manifested when the woman, who suffered torment for many days, was not able to give birth. She confessed that she had slandered the hermit, and revealed the name of the real father. When her parents found out the truth, they were astonished and intended to go to the saint to ask forgiveness. Though St Macarius willingly accepted dishonor, he shunned the praise of men. He fled from that place by night and settled on Mt. Nitria in the Pharan desert.

Thus human wickedness contributed to the prospering of the righteous. Having dwelt in the desert for three years, he went to St Anthony the Great, the Father of Egyptian monasticism, for he had heard that he was still alive in the world, and he longed to see him. Abba Anthony received him with love, and Macarius became his devoted disciple and follower. St Macarius lived with him for a long time and then, on the advice of the saintly abba, he went off to the Skete monastery (in the northwest part of Egypt). He so shone forth in asceticism that he came to be called “a young Elder,” because he had distinguished himself as an experienced and mature monk, even though he was not quite thirty years old.

St Macarius survived many demonic attacks against him. Once, he was carrying palm branches for weaving baskets, and a devil met him on the way and wanted to strike him with a sickle, but he was not able to do this. He said, “Macarius, I suffer great anguish from you because I am unable to vanquish you. I do everything that you do. You fast, and I eat nothing at all. You keep vigil, and I never sleep. You surpass me only in one thing: humility.”

When the saint reached the age of forty, he was ordained to the priesthood and made the head of the monks living in the desert of Skete. During these years, St Macarius often visited with St Anthony the Great, receiving guidance from him in spiritual conversations. Abba Macarius was deemed worthy to be present at the death of St Anthony and he received his staff. He also received a double portion of the Anthony’s spiritual power, just as the prophet Elisha once received a double portion of the grace of the prophet Elias, along with the mantle that he dropped from the fiery chariot.

St Macarius worked many healings. People thronged to him from various places for help and for advice, asking his holy prayers. All this unsettled the quietude of the saint. He therefore dug out a deep cave under his cell, and hid there for prayer and meditation.

St Macarius attained such boldness before God that, through his prayers, the Lord raised the dead. Despite attaining such heights of holiness, he continued to preserve his unusual humility. One time the holy abba caught a thief loadng his things on a donkey standing near the cell. Without revealing that he was the owner of these things, the monk began to help tie up the load. Having removed himself from the world, the monk told himself, “We bring nothing at all into this world; clearly, it is not possible to take anything out from it. Blessed be the Lord for all things!”

Once, St Macarius was walking and saw a skull lying upon the ground. He asked, “Who are you?” The skull answered,I was a chief priest of the pagans. When you, Abba, pray for those in hell, we receive some mitigation.”

The monk asked, “What are these torments?” “We are sitting in a great fire,” replied the skull, “and we do not see one another. When you pray, we begin to see each other somewhat, and this affords us some comfort.” Having heard such words, the saint began to weep and asked, “Are there still more fiercesome torments?” The skull answered, “Down below us are those who knew the Name of God, but spurned Him and did not keep His commandments. They endure even more grievous torments.”

Once, while he was praying, St Macarius heard a voice: “Macarius, you have not yet attained such perfection in virtue as two women who live in the city.” The humble ascetic went to the city, found the house where the women lived, and knocked. The women received him with joy, and he said, “I have come from the desert seeking you in order to learn of your good deeds. Tell me about them, and conceal nothing.”

The women answered with surprise, “We live with our husbands, and we have not such virtues.” But the saint continued to insist, and the women then told him, “We married two brothers. After living together in one house for fifteen years, we have not uttered a single malicious nor shameful word, and we never quarrel among ourselves. We asked our husbands to allow us to enter a women’s monastery, but they would not agree. We vowed not to utter a single worldly word until our death.”

St Macarius glorified God and said, “In truth, the Lord seeks neither virgins nor married women, and neither monks nor laymen, but values a person’s free intent, accepting it as the deed itself. He grants to everyone’s free will the grace of the Holy Spirit, which operates in an individual and directs the life of all who yearn to be saved.”

During the years of the reign of the Arian emperor Valens (364-378), St Macarius the Great and St Macarius of Alexandria was subjected to persecution by the followers of the Arian bishop Lucius. They seized both Elders and put them on a ship, sending them to an island where only pagans lived. By the prayers of the saints, the daughter of a pagan priest was delivered from an evil spirit. After this, the pagan priest and all the inhabitants of the island were baptized. When he heard what had happened, the Arian bishop feared an uprising and permitted the Elders to return to their monasteries.

  • The meekness and humility of the monk transformed human souls. “A harmful word,” said Abba Macarius, “makes good things bad, but a good word makes bad things good.” When the monks asked him how to pray properly, he answered, “Prayer does not require many words. It is needful to say only, “Lord, as Thou wilt and as Thou knowest, have mercy on me.” If an enemy should fall upon you, you need only say, “Lord, have mercy!” The Lord knows that which is useful for us, and grants us mercy.”
  • When the brethren asked how a monk ought to comport himself, the saint replied, “Forgive me, I am not yet a monk, but I have seen monks. I asked them what I must do to be a monk. They answered, ‘If a man does not withdraw himself from everything which is in the world, it is not possible to be a monk.’ Then I said, ‘I am weak and cannot be as you are.’ The monks responded, ‘If you cannot renounce the world as we have, then go to your cell and weep for your sins.'”
  • St Macarius gave advice to a young man who wished to become a monk: “Flee from people and you shall be saved.” That one asked: “What does it mean to flee from people?” The monk answered: Sit in your cell and repent of your sins.”

St Macarius sent him to a cemetery to rebuke and then to praise the dead. Then he asked him what they said to him. The young man replied, “They were silent to both praise and reproach.” “If you wish to be saved, be as one dead. Do not become angry when insulted, nor puffed up when praised.” And further: “If slander is like praise for you, poverty like riches, insufficiency like abundance, then you shall not perish.”

The prayer of St Macarius saved many in perilous circumstances of life, and preserved them from harm and temptation. His benevolence was so great that they said of him: “Just as God sees the whole world, but does not chastize sinners, so also does Abba Macarius cover his neighbor’s weaknesses, which he seemed to see without seeing, and heard without hearing.”

The monk lived until the age of ninety. Shortly before his death, Sts Anthony and Pachomius appeared to him, bringing the joyful message of his departure to eternal life in nine days. After instructing his disciples to preserve the monastic Rule and the traditions of the Fathers, he blessed them and began to prepare for death. St Macarius departed to the Lord saying,Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

Abba Macarius spent sixty years in the wilderness, being dead to the world. He spent most of his time in conversation with God, often in a state of spiritual rapture. But he never ceased to weep, to repent and to work. The saint’s profound theological writings are based on his own personal experience. Fifty Spiritual Homilies and seven Ascetic Treatises survive as the precious legacy of his spiritual wisdom. Several prayers composed by St Macarius the Great are still used by the Church in the Prayers Before Sleep and also in the Morning Prayers.

Man’s highest goal and purpose, the union of the soul with God, is a primary principle in the works of St Macarius. Describing the methods for attaining mystical communion, the saint relies upon the experience of the great teachers of Egyptian monasticism and on his own experience. The way to God and the experience of the holy ascetics of union with God is revealed to each believer’s heart.

Earthly life, according to St Macarius, has only a relative significance: to prepare the soul, to make it capable of perceiving the heavenly Kingdom, and to establish in the soul an affinity with the heavenly homeland.

“For those truly believing in Christ, it is necessary to change and transform the soul from its present degraded nature into another, divine nature, and to be fashioned anew by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

This is possible, if we truly believe and we truly love God and have observed all His holy commandments. If one betrothed to Christ at Baptism does not seek and receive the divine light of the Holy Spirit in the present life, “then when he departs from the body, he is separated into the regions of darkness on the left side. He does not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but has his end in hell with the devil and his angels” (Homily 30:6).

In the teaching of St Macarius, the inner action of the Christian determines the extent of his perception of divine truth and love. Each of us acquires salvation through grace and the divine gift of the Holy Spirit, but to attain a perfect measure of virtue, which is necessary for the soul’s assimilation of this divine gift, is possible only “by faith and by love with the strengthening of free will.” Thus, the Christian inherits eternal life “as much by grace, as by truth.”

Salvation is a divine-human action, and we attain complete spiritual success “not only by divine power and grace, but also by the accomplishing of the proper labors.” On the other hand, it is not just within “the measure of freedom and purity” that we arrive at the proper solicitude, it is not without “the cooperation of the hand of God above.” The participation of man determines the actual condition of his soul, thus inclining him to good or evil. “If a soul still in the world does not possess in itself the sanctity of the Spirit for great faith and for prayer, and does not strive for the oneness of divine communion, then it is unfit for the heavenly kingdom.”

Troparion – Tone 1

Dweller of the desert and angel in the body
you were shown to be a wonder-worker, our God-bearing Father Macarius.
You received heavenly gifts through fasting, vigil, and prayer:
healing the sick and the souls of those drawn to you by faith.
Glory to Him who gave you strength!
Glory to Him who granted you a crown!
Glory to Him who through you grants healing to all!

Categories: Lives of Saints

VENERABLE ANTHONY THE GREAT- Father of the Monks

January 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Troparion – Tone 4
You imitated the ways of zealous Elijah,
and followed the straight path of John the Baptist.
You became a desert dweller
and strengthened the world by your prayers.
Father Anthony, intercede with Christ God that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion – Tone 2
You rejected the tumult of this life
and lived your life to the end in solitude,
imitating the Baptist in every way.
With him we honor you, most venerable Anthony, foundation of the Fathers.


Saint Anthony the Great is known as the Father of monasticism. As a hermit in the desert he lived a long and saintly life that influenced countless people both in his time and for generations thereafter, even to this day.

He was born in Egypt in the village of Coma, near the desert of the Thebaid, in the year 251. His parents were pious Christians of illustrious lineage. Anthony was a serious child and was respectful and obedient to his parents. He loved to attend church services, and he listened to the Holy Scripture so attentively, that he remembered what he heard all his life.

When St Anthony was about twenty years old, he lost his parents, but he was responsible for the care of his younger sister. Going to church about six months later, the youth reflected on how the faithful,in the Acts of the Apostles (4:35), sold their possessions and gave the proceeds to the Apostles for the needy.

Then he entered the church and heard the Gospel passage where Christ speaks to the rich young man: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me” (Mt.19:21).

Anthony felt that these words applied to him. Therefore, he sold the property that he received after the death of his parents, then distributed the money to the poor, and left his sister in the care of pious virgins in a convent.

Leaving his parental home, St Anthony began his ascetical life in a hut not far from his village. By working with his hands, he was able to earn his livelihood and also alms for the poor. Sometimes, the holy youth also visited other ascetics living in the area, and from each he sought direction and benefit. He turned to one particular ascetic for guidance in the spiritual life.

In this period of his life St Anthony endured terrible temptations from the devil. The Enemy of the race of man troubled the young ascetic with thoughts of his former life, doubts about his chosen path, concern for his sister, and he tempted Anthony with lewd thoughts and carnal feelings. But the saint extinguished that fire by meditating on Christ and by thinking of eternal punishment, thereby overcoming the devil.

Realizing that the devil would undoubtedly attack him in another manner, St Anthony prayed and intensified his efforts. Anthony prayed that the Lord would show him the path of salvation. And he was granted a vision. The ascetic beheld a man, who by turns alternately finished a prayer, and then began to work. This was an angel, which the Lord had sent to instruct His chosen one.

St Anthony tried to accustom himself to a stricter way of life. He partook of food only after sunset, he spent all night praying until dawn. Soon he slept only every third day. But the devil would not cease his tricks, and trying to scare the monk, he appeared under the guise of monstrous phantoms. The saint however protected himself with the Life-Creating Cross. Finally the Enemy appeared to him in the guise of a frightful looking black child, and hypocritically declaring himself beaten, he thought he could tempt the saint into vanity and pride. The saint, however, vanquished the Enemy with prayer.

For even greater solitude, St Anthony moved farther away from the village, into a graveyard. He asked a friend to bring him a little bread on designated days, then shut himself in a tomb. Then the devils pounced upon the saint intending to kill him, and inflicted terrible wounds upon him. By the providence of the Lord, Anthony’s friend arrived the next day to bring him his food. Seeing him lying on the ground as if dead, he took him back to the village. They thought the saint was dead and prepared for his burial. At midnight, St Anthony regained consciousness and told his friend to carry him back to the tombs.

St Anthony’s staunchness was greater than the wiles of the Enemy. Taking the form of ferocious beasts, the devils tried to force the saint to leave that place, but he defeated them by trusting in the Lord. Looking up, the saint saw the roof opening, as it were, and a ray of light coming down toward him. The demons disappeared and he cried out, “Where have You been, O Merciful Jesus? Why didn’t You appear from the very beginning to end my pain?”

The Lord replied, “I was here, Anthony, but wanted to see your struggle. Now, since you have not yielded, I shall always help you and make your name known throughout all the world.” After this vision St Anthony was healed of his wounds and felt stronger than before. He was then thirty-five years of age.

Having gained spiritual experience in his struggle with the devil, St Anthony considered going into the Thebaid desert to serve the Lord. He asked the Elder (to whom he had turned for guidance at the beginning of his monastic journey) to go into the desert with him. The Elder, while blessing him in the then as yet unheard of exploit of being a hermit, decided not to accompany him because of his age.

St Anthony went into the desert alone. The devil tried to hinder him, by placing a large silver disc in his path, then gold, but the saint ignored it and passed by. He found an abandoned fort on the other side of the river and settled there, barricading the entrance with stones. His faithful friend brought him bread twice a year, and there was water inside the fort.

St Anthony spent twenty years in complete isolation and constant struggle with the demons, and he finally achieved perfect calm. The saint’s friends removed the stones from the entrance , and they went to St Anthony and besought him to take them under his guidance. Soon St Anthony’s cell was surrounded by several monasteries, and the saint acted as a father and guide to their inhabitants, giving spiritual instruction to all who came into the desert seeking salvation. He increased the zeal of those who were already monks, and inspired others with a love for the ascetical life. He told them to strive to please the Lord, and not to become faint-hearted in their labors. He also urged them not to fear demonic assaults, but to repel the Enemy by the power of the Life-Creating Cross of the Lord.

In the year 311 there was a fierce persecution against Christians, in the reign of the emperor Maximian. Wishing to suffer with the holy martyrs, St Anthony left the desert and went to Alexandria. He openly ministered to those in prison, he was present at the trial and interrogations of the confessors, and accompanying the martyrs to the place of execution. It pleased the Lord to preserve him, however, for the benefit of Christians.

At the close of the persecution, the saint returned to the desert and continued his exploits. The Lord granted the saint the gift of wonderworking, casting out demons and healing the sick by the power of his prayer. The great crowds of people coming to him disrupted his solitude, and he went off still farther, into the inner desert where he settled atop a high elevation. But the brethren of the monasteries sought him out and asked him to visit their communities.

Another time St Anthony left the desert and arrived in Alexandria to defend the Orthodox Faith against the Manichaean and Arian heresies. Knowing that the name of St Anthony was venerated by all the Church, the Arians said that he adhered to their heretical teaching. But St Anthony publicly denounced Arianism in front of everyone and in the presence of the bishop. During his brief stay at Alexandria, he converted a great multitude of pagans to Christ.

People from all walks of life loved the saint and sought his advice. Pagan philosophers once came to Abba Anthony intending to mock him for his lack of education, but by his words he reduced them to silence. Emperor Constantine the Great (May 21) and his sons wrote to St Anthony and asked him for a reply. He praised the emperor for his belief in Christ, and advised him to remember the future judgment, and to know that Christ is the true King.

St Anthony spent eighty-five years in the solitary desert. Shortly before his death, he told the brethren that soon he would be taken from them. He instructed them to preserve the Orthodox Faith in its purity, to avoid any association with heretics, and not to be negligent in their monastic struggles. “Strive to be united first with the Lord, and then with the saints, so that after death they may receive you as familiar friends into the everlasting dwellings.”

The saint instructed two of his disciples, who had attended him in the final fifteen years of his life, to bury him in the desert and not in Alexandria. He left one of his monastic mantles to St Athanasius of Alexandria (January 18), and the other to St Serapion of Thmuis (March 21). St Anthony died peacefully in the year 356, at age 105, and he was buried in the desert by his disciples.

The Life of the famed ascetic St Anthony the Great was written by St Athanasius of Alexandria. This is the first biography of a saint who was not a martyr, and is considered to be one of the finest of St Athanasius’ writings.

St John Chrysostom recommends that this Life be read by every Christian.

“These things are insignificant compared with Anthony’s virtues,” writes St Athanasius, “but judge from them what the man of God Anthony was like. From his youth until his old age, he kept his zeal for asceticism, he did not give in to the desire for costly foods because of his age, nor did he alter his clothing because of the infirmity of his body. He did not even wash his feet with water. He remained very healthy, and he could see well because his eyes were sound and undimmed. Not one of his teeth fell out, but near the gums they had become worn due to his advanced age. He remained strong in his hands and feet…. He was spoken of everywhere, and was admired by everyone, and was sought even by those who had not seen him, which is evidence of his virtue and of a soul dear to God.”

May the prayers and supplications of this great Saint Anthony, the Father of the Monks, be with us. Amen.


St. Anthony teaches:

  • “Learn to love humility, for it will cover all your sins. All sins are repugnant before God but the most repugnant of all is pride of the heart. Do not consider yourself learned and wise; otherwise, all your effort will be destroyed and your boat will reach the harbor empty. If you have great authority, do not threaten anyone with death. Know, that according to nature, you too are susceptible to death and that every soul sheds its body from itself as the final garment.”


  • Someone asked Abba Anthony, ‘What must one do in order to please God?’ The old man replied, ‘Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.’


  • When the same Abba Anthony thought about the depth of the judgments of God, he asked, ‘Lord, how is it that some die when they are young, while others drag on to extreme old age? Why are there those who are poor and those who are rich? Why do wicked men prosper and why are the just in need?’ He heard a voice answering him, ‘Anthony, keep your attention on yourself; these things are according to the judgment of God, and it is not to your advantage to know anything about them.’

  • He also said, ‘Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.’ He even added, ‘Without temptations no-one can be saved.’
  • He also said, ‘Our life and our death is with our neighbour. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.’

Categories: Lives of Saints

The Holy Virgin Martyr Juliana

December 22, 2009 Leave a comment

Troparion (Tone 4) –

All-blameless bride and venerable trophy-bearer,

You are wedded to the Word of the immortal Father,

O glorious Juliana.

For having wisely disdained your mortal bridegroom,

You strove beyond nature to destroy the serpent,

And now you delight in the joys of your Bridegroom!

Kontakion (Tone 1) –

A comely virgin wast thou, O wise Juliana; and as thy soul was wounded with love for thy Maker thy body was also pierced through with comely martyric wounds, which adorned thee as the bride of Christ and His Martyr; now as thou dost dwell in the bridechambers of Heaven, thou prayest for all of us.

***

Saint Martyr Iuliana lived in the time of Emperor Maximilian. She was from Nicomidia, the daughter of a wealthy family. The parents set her engagement with a Greek senator, named Eleusie. Her fiance was looking forward for the wedding, but the Saint did not agree, and said „I won’t marry you until you become the prefect of the city”. After he became a prefect, the Saint told him again: „I won’t marry you unless you pass from serving the idols to the Christian religion”.

The fiance confessed everything to her father. The father, as he could not deter her from the belief in Christ, confined her to the prefect, her fiance, to look into her case within the Roman laws. The Prefect took off her frock and had her horribly tortured, the he emprisoned her. The night she was sent to prison, while praying, the unseen enemy of all humans, the devil, came close to her in an angel appearance and advised her to sacrifice herself to the idols, in order to escape. The Saint expelled him and made him unwillingly confess who he was.

She was brought again to the prefect, but she kept steady in her love to Christ. This is why she was thrown into a burning furnace which cooled by miracle. At the sight of that miracle, five hundred men and one hundred and thirty women believed in Christ and were soon murdered by sword. And the saint was tortured again; proving to be more enduring in these tryings, she was murdered by sword.

She was 16 years of age when her parents set her engagement with Eleusie; and when she engaged Christ by martyrizing she was 18.


Categories: Lives of Saints

Saint Spyridon the Wonderworker, Bishop of Tremithus

December 12, 2009 Leave a comment

St. Spyridon of Tremithus was born toward the end of the third century on the island of Cyprus. He was a shepherd, and had a wife and children. He was generous with all he owned, meeting the needs of his neighbors and the homeless. For this, the Lord rewarded him with the gift of wonderworking. He healed those who were incurably sick and cast out demons. After the death of his wife, during the reign of Constantine the Great (306-337), he was made Bishop of the city Tremithus on the island of Cyprus. As a bishop, St. Spyridon continued to be a shepherd and also minister to the needs of those entrusted to his care. He was especially known for his deeds of charity.

Bishop Spyridon was one of the many saints (along with St. Nicholas of Myra) who were present at the great First Ecumenical Council in the year 325 A.D. The meeting was called because a leader in the church, named Arius, was teaching doctrine that contradicted the teachings of the Apostles. While St. Spyridon was there, he entered into a discussion with a Greek philosopher who believed that Arius was correct in his beliefs. This is a portion of what St. Spyridon said to him:

“Listen, philosopher, to what I tell you. There is one God Who created man from dust. He has ordered all things, both visible and invisible, by His Word and His Spirit. The Word is the Son of God, Who came down upon the earth on account of our sins. He was born of a Virgin, He lived among men, and suffered and died for our salvation, and then He arose from the dead, and He has resurrected the human race with Him. We believe that He is one in essence with the Father, and equal to Him in authority and honor. We believe this without any sly rationalizations, for it is impossible to grasp this mystery by human reason.”

St. Spyridon was able to defend the faith so clearly and simply that this philosopher changed his mind, agreed with the Saint and later received Holy Baptism. Then the philosopher turned to his companions and said, “Listen! Until now my rivals have presented their arguments, and I was able to refute their proofs with other proofs. But instead of proofs from reason, the words of this Elder are filled with some sort of special power, and no one can refute them, since it is impossible for man to oppose God. If any of you thinks as I do now, let him believe in Christ and join me in following this man, for God Himself speaks through his lips.”

During his time at this important council, St. Spyridon explained the unity of the Holy Trinity in a remarkable way. He took a brick in his hand and squeezed it. At that instant flames shot up from it, water dripped on the ground, and only dust remained in the hands of the wonderworker. There was only one brick,” St. Spyridon said, “but it was composed of three elements. In the Holy Trinity there are three Persons, but only one God.”

It is plain to see why St. Spyridon became known as a wonderworker. Here are just some of the many things that happened during his lifetime:

  • Through his prayers, drought was replaced by abundant rains, and endless rain was replaced by fair weather.
  • Through his prayers, the sick were healed and demons cast out.
  • A woman once came to him with a dead child in her arms, asking him to intercede for her. He prayed, and the infant was restored to life. The mother was so overcome with joy that she collapsed onto the ground, dead. But through the prayer of the saint, she was restored to life.
  • Another time,  St. Spyridon was hurrying to save a friend who had been falsely accused and sentenced to death. The saint came upon a stream that was flooded and he couldn’t cross it. So he commanded the water: “Halt! For the Lord of all the world commands that you permit me to cross so that a man may be saved.” God answered his prayer and the water level went down so that he could cross the stream. The judge who had condemned St. Spyridon’s friend was so amazed by the miracle that had occurred that he received St. Spyridon with honor and set his friend free.
  • On another occasion, he went into an empty church and ordered that the candles be lit, and then he began the service. When he said, “Peace be unto all,” both he and the deacon heard from above the resounding of a great multitude of voices saying, “And with thy spirit.” This choir was majestic and more sweetly melodious than any human choir. To each petition of the litanies, the invisible choir sang, “Lord, have mercy.” Attracted by the church singing, the people who lived nearby hurried toward the church. As they got closer and closer, the wondrous singing filled their ears and gladdened their hearts. But when they entered the church, they saw no one but Bishop Spyridon and several church servers, and they no longer heard the singing which had greatly astonished them.


  • St. Spyridon was known to many for his generous hospitality to strangers, just as Abraham in the Old Testament [read Genesis 18:1-16]. One time, at the start of the Great Fast, a stranger knocked at his door. Seeing that the traveler was very exhausted, St. Spyridon said to his daughter, “Wash the feet of this man, so he may recline to dine.” But since it was Lent, they did not have the kinds of food in the house to provide a big feast. His daughter replied that there was no bread or flour in the house. Then St. Spyridon, apologizing to his guest, asked his daughter to take some meat from their pantry and cook it. After seating the stranger at table,  St. Spyridon began to eat, urging that man to do the same. When the latter refused, calling himself a Christian, the saint instructed, “It is not proper to refuse this, for the Word of God proclaims, ‘Unto the pure all things are pure’.”
  • The saint was known for his charity and generosity. After gathering the harvest, it was his custom to take some of it to those who had no money or food, and some of it to those who owed money to other men. He did not set aside any for himself, but simply showed these people the door to his storeroom, so that they could come and get provisions anytime. In this way, each could take as much as he needed when he had a need, and could later pay it back in the same way, without records or accountings.


  • St. Spyridon understood the command to love your enemies. There were some thieves who planned to steal his sheep. They broke into the sheepfold(a place where a shepherd could keep his sheep safe and protected. Sometimes the walls were built with large stones and there was a gate) at night, but once inside they were tied up by some invisible power. When morning came, the saint went to his flock and, seeing the tied-up robbers, he prayed and then untied them. He spoke to them for a long while and he encouraged them to leave their path of sin and earn money by working hard (instead of stealing sheep). Then he gave them one of the sheep and said kindly, “Take this for your trouble, so that you did not spend a sleepless night in vain.”
  • In the city of Alexandria in Egypt, there were many, many idols and pagan temples. The Patriarch there was very concerned about this and called a special meeting of the bishops to discuss what to do about it. Through their prayers, all the idols fell down – except one. This particular idol was greatly worshiped by the pagans there. It was shown to the Patriarch in a vision that this idol could only be broken by St. Spyridon of Tremithus. The Council sent a message to the saint and urged him to come to Alexandria. St. Spyridon set sail and, the moment the ship touched shore and the saint stepped out on land, the idol in Alexandria with all its offerings turned to dust. This was then reported to the Patriarch and all the bishops.

St. Spyridon lived his earthly life in righteousness and sanctity, and prayerfully surrendered his soul to the Lord. His relics repose on the island of Corfu, Greece, in a church named after him. St. Spyridon is believed to have saved this island when the Turks attacked it in 1716.

Categories: Lives of Saints

Saint Philofthea of Argesh

December 8, 2009 1 comment

Saint Philothea (Philofthea) of Argesh was born in Trnovo, the old capital of Bulgaria, around 1206. Her father was a farmer, and her mother was from Wallachia. She died when Philothea was still a child, and her father remarried.

The child was often punished by her stepmother, who accused her of being disobedient, and of giving their possesions away to the poor. Her father chastised her for this, but Philothea continued to attend church services and to do good to others, just as her mother had taught her. As she grew older, she was adorned with the virtues of prayer, virginity, and almsgiving.

St Philothea used to bring food to her father, who was out working in the fields. Not all of the food reached him, however, because the girl would give some of it to the poor children begging in the street. When he complained to his wife that she did not prepare enough food for him, she replied, “I send you plenty of food. Ask your daughter what she does with it.”

Becoming angry with Philothea, her father decided to spy on her to see what happened to the food. From a place of concealment, he saw her giving food to the poor children who came to her. In a violent rage, he took the axe from his belt and threw it at the twelve-year-old girl, hitting her in the leg. The wound was mortal, and she soon gave her pure soul into God’s hands.

The man was filled with fear and remorse, and tried to lift his daughter’s body from the ground, but it became as heavy as a rock. Then the wretch ran to the Archbishop of Trnovo to confess his sin and explain what had happened. The Archbishop and his clergy went with candles and incense to take up the martyr’s body and bring it to the cathedral, but even they were unable to lift it.

The Archbishop realized that St Philothea did not wish to remain in her native land, so he began to name various monasteries, churches, and cathedrals to see where she wished to go. Not until he named the Monastery of Curtea de Argesh in Romania were they able to lift her holy relics and place them in a coffin. The Archbishop wrote to the Romanian Voievode Radu Negru, asking him to accept the saint’s relics.

The Archbishop and his clergy carried the holy relics in procession as far as the Danube, where they were met by Romanian clergy, monastics, and the faithful. Then they were carried to the Curtea de Argesh Monastery.

Many people have been healed at the tomb of St Philothea in a small chapel in the belltower behind the monastery church, and those who entreat her intercession receive help from her. Each year on December 7 there is a festal pilgrimage to the Monastery, and people come from all over Romania. The relics of St Philothea are carried around the courtyard in procession, and there are prayers for the sick. Many times the relics have been responsible for bringing rain to a drought stricken area of Romania.

The holy Virgin Martyr Philothea is venerated in Romania, Bulgaria, and throughout the Orthodox world.

Categories: Lives of Saints