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How to celebrate Feasts and Holidays

December 2, 2009 1 comment

An Excerpt from With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man by Elder Paisios the Athonite (+1994)


Every Orthodox Christian should read this book!

Although Elder Paisios is often addressing monastics, most of it is highly relevant to lay people who want to live authentic Orthodox lives. In his numerous comparisons of modern society with the older times he remembers so well, the Elder offers us glimpses into an Orthodox way of life that has largely been lost today, but which can still be restored and preserved to some degree. He beautifully and simply shows how life-giving Holy Tradition can be.   Patrick Barnes

“Let Us, the Faithful, Celebrate a Spiritual Feast” [1]

Our Lord Jesus Christ, with His great love and joy which fill the souls of the faithful during His holy feast days, exalts us spiritually and truly resurrects us. All we need to do is participate in these feasts and celebrate them with a spiritual appetite; for once we taste the heavenly wine to which the Saints will treat us, we will become drunk in spirit.

—Geronda, what must we do to live a spiritual life during these feasts?

— To live through Christ’s feasts in a spiritual way, we must keep our minds focused on the holy days themselves and not on the work that we have to do to prepare for them. We should think about the events of each holy day (Christmas, Theophany, Pascha and so on) and say the Jesus Prayer glorifying God in our heart. This way we will celebrate with reverence every feast day of the Church. For most people, who live in the world, Christmas is the time to eat pork, Pascha to eat lamb and the Carnival at the beginning of Lent, the time to throw confetti. But for the true monks, every week is Holy Week. Every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday they experience Holy and Great Wednesday, Holy and Great Thursday, and Holy and Great Friday, that is, the days of the Passion of Christ, and every Sunday is for them Pascha, the Day of the Resurrection. Why must we wait until Holy Week to remember the Passion of Christ? Why should we be like people who live in the world? Can’t we realize what Christ is risen means, without eating lamb? You see, Christ said, Therefore be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh. [2] He did not say, “Get ready right now!” From the moment Christ said, “Be ready!” we must all, but especially monks and nuns, be constantly vigilant and ready.

We must study and live through these divine events all the time. When someone studies the events of each feast day, he will be naturally moved to pray with particular reverence. Then, during liturgical services, our mind will be absorbed by the events we are celebrating and we will follow with great reverence the chanting of hymns. When our mind thinks divine thoughts, we get to live through these holy events, and in this manner we are transformed. We think of a Saint for whom we have a special devotion, or of the Saint whose feast day we are celebrating, and our mind rises higher toward Heaven. And when we keep the Saints in mind, they keep us in mind too, and they come to our assistance. This is how we can start a friendship with them one that will last forever. And so, even though we may live alone, we will actually share our lives with everybody: with the Saints, the Angels, the whole world. Imagine, being alone, and feeling their company! This is the living presence of the Saints who are God’s children and will reach out to help us, their poor brothers and sisters.

Our Saints have shed blood, sweat and tears for the love of Christ. We should always celebrate them with reverence, and they will be there to help us. Every time we hear their Synaxarion “On this same day, we commemorate Saint …,” we must rise to our feet, like soldiers standing at attention when the names of their fallen comrades who died heroically are being read. “On this day of the month soldier so and so … fell in action heroically defending the country in such and such a front.”

If we want to really feel the significance of a feast day, we must abstain from all work. On Holy and Great Friday, for instance, the only thing we should be doing is praying. For people who live in the world, Holy Week is full of chores and obligations. On Holy and Great Friday, they will exchange good wishes “Happy Easter! May you live a long life! May your son find a good bride!” This is so wrong! On Holy and Great Friday, I will lock myself in my Kalyvi. Silence will be of great help to the soul during feast days. It’s very much like the time that follows the reception of the Great Schema, when a monk or nun will spend a whole week in silence to allow divine Grace to fill the soul and to appreciate what has actually taken place. In silence, we get the opportunity to rest a little, to study and pray. When a good thought crosses our mind, when we examine ourselves, or say the Jesus Prayer, we will really come to feel something of the divine event celebrated on that day.

“Better Is a Little That the Righteous Has” [3]

It is unfortunate that in our days we don’t use freedom to do good and become holy; instead, we use freedom to become more secular. In the past, people would work all week and rest on Sunday, a holy day. Now, they rest on Saturday as well. But are their lives more spiritual? Or are they more sinful? If people spent their time on spiritual work (prayer, spiritual study and so forth), things could have been different; people would live more conservative and decent lives. But we poor human beings try to rob time from the spiritual things, from Christ. People who live in the world will arrange to do all their heavy chores on Sundays. They are trying to find one Sunday for this chore, a holy day for another, and that’s how they bring God’s wrath on themselves. Why would the Saints then come to their assistance? Turn Sunday into a chore day? Never! Even if others offer to help us on that day, we should never accept it. Not on a Sunday.

We will not allow God to be in charge. And so, everything that we do without faith in God has nothing to do with Him; it belongs to the world. It does not have His blessing and for this reason the outcome is never good. When this happens we like to say, “It’s the devil’s fault.” Well, not really. It’s not the devil’s fault but ours, for not letting God help us. When we work on holy days, we give the devil rights and then he gets involved in our affairs. The Psalm reads, Better is a little that the right eons has than the abundance of many wicked. [4] This is the kind of life that will receive a blessing. The rest is as worthy as shavings. But in order to live this way, we must have faith, philotimo and reverence, and put God in charge of our lives. Otherwise, we’ll never get the job right whether it is on holy days or on week days and we’ll end up spending our time on nonsense. And you’ll see that God will never abandon you. I have never worked on a Sunday or a feast day, and God has never left my side and has always blessed my work.

I remember once, some threshing machines were brought to the village, and my father was notified that they could start on Sunday from our fields, and then move downhill to other lots. My father said to me, “What should we do? The machines are here.” “There is no way I will work on Sunday,” I replied. “We can do it on Monday.” “But,” my father objected, “if we miss this opportunity, we’ll have such a hard time threshing with the horses.” “That’s fine with me,” I said. “If I have to, I’ll be threshing all the way to Christmas.” So, I went to Church anyway, without giving the matter any more thought. Well, as the machines started coming toward our field, they broke down. “Forgive us, but the machines won’t work. We’ll take them to Yiannena and fix them, and when we come back on Monday, you will be first in line”! So instead of threshing on Sunday, they ended up threshing on Monday. I’ve seen this kind of thing happen so many times.

What Are Laypeople Supposed to Do?

How different was the spirit of Monasticism in the old days! I remember how laypeople, who celebrated the Feast of the Holy Cross according to the new calendar, would come to the Holy Mountain after the feast and bring us grapes. Sometimes, the day they arrived, we would be celebrating the Feast of the Holy Cross according to our calendar. But the Fathers would never go to unload the boat on such a day. They would send them back, or just leave them there, both the caique and the grapes. They would do the same if an olive oil or wood shipment would happen to arrive on the day of a feast. And the Monasteries were poor. The monks were thinking “What will people say if they see monks working on this day?” They would rather have a storm take the load, and lose the oil and the grapes, than to go and unload the ship, miss the Feast and scandalize souls.

Not so today… I happened to be at a Monastery on the eve of a feast day, and the monks were unloading grapes. The entire Coenobium later gathered together to squeeze them. That night they were supposed to have a Vigil, but they decided to postpone it and transfer it to another time. And that was a major Feast! “In the case of need even a law may be transferred…” In another place, they were repairing a Monastery damaged by fire, on a Sunday. Just wait size=”1″>.. it will burn down again! When people who live in the world see these things, they naturally say to themselves, “Feast days mean nothing anymore.”

We monks should be especially careful not to work on feast days, not only because doing so is a sin, but because we also become a cause for scandal; we sin twice.

People who live in the world are looking for an excuse to justify their sins. They may be working day and night and never observing the feasts, but let them see a monk or nun working on some emergency, and the devil will whisper to them, “Take a look; if priests work, why not you?” A nun may be seen simply airing a blanket on a Sunday, and if people see her, they will think, “Well, if nuns are working, what’s wrong with us going to work?” That’s why we need to be very careful; we don’t want to cause a scandal.

—Geronda, what if a workman wants to work on a feast day, let’s say on the Entrance of the Theotokos to the Temple?

—To work in the Monastery on the Feast day of the Entrance of the Theotokos in the Temple? No, that’s not right! He should not be allowed to work.

—Geronda, this actually did happen. One of the Sisters did not think of telling the workman to come another day.

—Then the Sister needs to be given a canon. [5]

—Geronda, on a feast day, after the Vigil is over, if one becomes sleepy, can they do some handwork while saying the Jesus Prayer?

—Can’t she do prostrations? Let her do prostrations to overcome her sleepiness. Why do handiwork?

—How about on Sunday? Is it right to weave a komboschoini after a Sister has performed her spiritual duties?

— Why should you weave a komboschoini? Why not enjoy this day’s full spiritual nourishment? Unfortunately the spirit of the world is entering our Monasteries. From what I hear, there are Monasteries where, on Sunday afternoons or in the afternoon of a feast day, they will return to their chores and duties. As if they have children that are dying from hunger or owe heavy debts that will force them to auction their house! Where’s the need? Of course, it’s different with the monk or nun who serves the visitors, or the cooks who serve in the kitchen. Someone needs to be there to do the necessary work.

Sometimes people bring me fish. “Take it and go away,” I tell them. What will happen if people start bringing a live fish here, a dead fish there? If someone brings you fish here in the Monastery on a feast day, you would have to clean and cook it and so on. How will you be able to enjoy the feast day? Do you remember Father Menas in the Skete of Saint Anna?

A fisherman brought him fish on a Sunday morning, for the feast day. “They’re fresh, Geronda,” he said. “Today is Sunday, when did you catch them and they’re so fresh?” he replied, puzzled. “This morning,” the man answered. “Throw them away, son, they’re anathematized,” Father Menas responded. “And if you want to make sure that I’m telling you the truth, give one to the cat and see if it will eat it.” And indeed, the fisherman threw the cat a fish but the animal turned its head away, with repulsion. That’s how sensitive monks were in those days!

Now, on great feast days, you’ll see Monasteries full of workers and technicians… Once, on the Feast of the Theotokos in August, a Monastery had a whole crew working with chain saws in the forest, gathering wood. Even though it was a clear day, suddenly it got cloudy, and lightning struck just next to the woodcutters, who were so terrified that they left without even notifying anyone that the forest was on fire. It took them forever to put out the fire. The following Sunday, two wood cutting crews went out again. These fires are God’s wrath, because we have turned Sundays and feast days into working days. And the sad thing is that we don’t realize what we are doing. We are pushing God’s tolerance and patience to its limits.

If there is a need for something, the monks will pray, saying the Jesus Prayer one hundred times each, and God will enlighten someone to send them one hundred thousand drachmas. The monk’s job is prayer. If we don’t put our trust in God, who will? Those who live in the world? God feels obligated to hear the prayer of the monk who has entrusted his life to Him. When I lived in the Coenobium, there was a monk who assisted the Abbot. He was not quick at all; in fact, he never left before the Divine Liturgy ended, and yet he always managed to finish all his chores. I, on the other hand, who was quicker and left before the Liturgy ended to prepare the assembly room, would be running into all kinds of problems. Sometimes I would mishandle the coffee beaker and the coffee would spill all over; other times I would drop the cups and the glasses; something would always go wrong! But he would wait until the end of the Liturgy. He would cross himself and trust in God to help him. If he were ever reprimanded, he would accept it with humility. He was humble and benefited twice as much.

When we don’t get stuck on unimportant details, which would cause no harm if omitted, we will benefit twice as much from whatever good we do, and give to the Saints, whose feasts we celebrate, double the praise they are due. We should try to the best of our ability, not to devote ourselves to work at the expense of our spiritual life, which should always come first; this way, no matter what job we do, we’ll have the blessing of God. It’s our spiritual life that must come first, not material things. If we put our work ahead of everything else and put prayer in second place, this means that for us work is more important than prayer. It is pride and irreverence that lie behind this attitude. The work of the spiritually bankrupt cannot be sanctified. If we put spiritual matters first, God will take care of us. When we monks don’t observe feast days, what are laypeople supposed to do? If we don’t do our spiritual work and plead with the Saints to help us, who will? What happens is that we end up saying all the time that we believe in God, but in reality we don’t even trust in Him. If we monks and nuns, who wear the monastic cassock, will not respect the Canons of the Church, and violate and dishonour Her age-old traditions, what possible meaning can our lives have?

Normally, we must cease all work before the Vespers of Sunday or of a feast day. If arrangements can be made, it is better to work more on the previous day, and avoid any work after the Vespers of a festal celebration. It is a different matter, if, in the event of an emergency, some light tasks need to be taken care of in the afternoon of a Sunday or a feast day. But even in such cases, the work should be done with discretion. In the old days, when farmers out in the fields heard the church bell announcing Vespers, they would do the sign of the cross and cease all work. The women of the neighborhood would do the same. They would stand up, cross themselves and stop knitting or anything else they were doing. And God would bless them. They had their health and enjoyed life… Now they have abolished the feast days, distanced themselves from God and the Church, and not surprisingly, end up spending all the money they earn on doctors and hospitals… Once, a man came to my Kalyvi and said, “My boy gets sick very often and doctors cannot figure out what’s wrong with him.” “Stop working on Sundays and things will change,” I told him. He followed my advice, and his little boy recovered.

I always tell people that if they want to avoid calamities in their life, they should stop working on Sundays and feast days. Work schedules could be arranged to keep these days free. Where there is spiritual sensitivity, everything is possible; solutions will be found. That’s really the issue here. Even if a particular solution is to our disadvantage, and we suffer a loss, in the end we’ll be twice blessed. But so many people fail to understand this. They do not even attend the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy sanctifies. If a Christian will not go to Church on Sunday, how will he be sanctified?

It’s unfortunate, but, the way things are going, people will do away with feast days, and with everything else. You see, they are even changing their names, and are forgetting their Saints whose name they bear. If they are named Vasilike, they change it to Vicky; Zoe (Life) to Zozo—which sounds like saying zo (animal) twice! They have come up with new feasts, Mother’s Day, May Day, April Fools’ Day… Pretty soon they’ll say, “Today is Artichoke Day, tomorrow Cypress Day, later the birthday of the inventor of the atom bomb, or of soccer and so on…” But God will not abandon us…

Endnotes

1. This is a troparion of the 6th ode to the second Canon of the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (November 21).

2. Mt 24:44.

3. Ps 37:16.

4. Ps 37:16.

5. Canon: the discipline imposed by a Spiritual Father upon the believing sinner in the context of the Mystery of Repentance, for his or her correction. Such discipline could take the form of fasting, alms giving, prayer, abstinence from Holy Communion for a specified time and so on.

From: With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man (Souroti, Thessaloniki, Greece: Holy Monastery “Evangelist John the Theologian”, 2006), pp. 368-379.

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Sts. Cyprian and Justina

October 2, 2009 Leave a comment

Christianity vs. Sorcery. THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, which began with the presumption of imagining itself the most enlightened of all ages, has in reality proceeded of imagining some of the blackest years of all human history. Symptomatic of this truly dark age is the revival in recent decades of interest and active participation in witchcraft and sorcery. Much of this interest is on the level of dilettantism and crude amateurism, but more and more often it produces real results, leads to an actual contact with demonic powers, and causes the eternal damnation of souls caught in the web of nets far more subtle and deadly than the beginning occultist imagines.

All this is not new to Orthodox Christians. In the history of the world’s religions there is a whole tradition of sorcery—the service of the pagan gods, which are demons (Psalm 95:5). This is the religious tradition which Christianity replaced in all lands that accepted the Gospel, and which now comes back in power to destroy Christianity and to conduct mankind to Antichrist.


The Life of Sts. Cyprian and Justina gives one of the fullest accounts in Christian literature of sorcery and its power over men—and its final defeat by the power of Christ. It is not the product of someone’s imagination, but is based on the first-hand testimony of one who was a leading servant of the demons himself.

Let Orthodox Christians read and become sober, and resolve with the more firmness and determination to work out their salvation against the powers of darkness in fear and trembling. And let him who has in his heart even a spark of repentance take courage and hope, for this Life is also the surest proof that God’s mercy is stretched out even to the most lost of souls. If the sorcerer Cyprian could be saved and become a mighty intercessor for the demon possessed, then there is hope for those also who even now have fallen into the darkest and most unnatural sins of our dark age.

The Life and Sufferings of the Holy Martyrs Cyprian and Justina



Kontakion – Tone 1

You turned from the art of sorcery to the knowledge of God,
and were shown forth as a skilful healer for the world, Cyprian, inspired by God.
Together with Justina you grant cures to those who honor you;
with her, pray to the Master who loves mankind that He may save our souls.


IN THE REIGN of Decius (249-251) there lived in Antioch (of Pisidia) a certain philosopher and renowned sorcerer whose name was Cyprian, a native of Carthage. Springing from impious parents, in his very childhood he was dedicated by them to the service of the pagan god Apollo. At the age of seven he was given over to magicians for the study of sorcery and demonic wisdom. At the age of ten he was sent by his parents, as a preparation for a sorcerer’s career, to Mount Olympus, which the pagans called the dwelling of the gods. Here there were a numerous multitude of  idols, in which demons dwelled.

On this mountain Cyprian studied all manner of diabolical arts: he mastered various demonic transformations, learned how to change the nature of the air, to bring up winds, produce thunder and rain, disturb the waves of the sea, cause damage to gardens, vineyards and fields, to send diseases and plagues upon people; and in general he learned a ruinous wisdom and diabolical activity filled with evil. In this place he saw a numberless legion of demons, with the prince of darkness at their head; some stood before him, others served him, still others cried out in praise of their prince, and some were sent into the world in order to corrupt people. Here he likewise saw in their false forms the pagan gods and goddesses, and also diverse phantoms and specters, the invocation of which he learned in a strict forty-day fast. He ate only after the setting of the sun, and not bread or anything else, but only acorns from oak trees.

When he was fifteen years old he began to receive lessons from seven great sorcerers; from them he learned many demonic secrets. Then he went to the city of Argos, where, having served the goddess Juno for a time, he learned many practices of deception from her priests. He lived also in Taurapolis (on the island of Icara) in the service of the goddess Diana; and from there he went to Sparta, where he learned how to call forth the dead from the graves and to force them to speak by means of various incantations and spells. At the age of twenty, Cyprian came to Egypt, and in the city of Memphis he learned yet greater charms and incantations. In his thirtieth year he went to the Chaldeans, and having learned astrology there, he finished his studies. After this he returned to Antioch, being perfect in all evil-doing. Thus he became a sorcerer, magician, and destroyer of souls, a great friend and faithful slave of the prince of hell, with whom he conversed face to face, being vouchsafed to receive from him great honor, as he himself testified. “Believe me,” he said; “I have seen the prince of darkness himself, for I propitiated him by sacrifices. I greeted him and spoke with him and his ancients; he liked me, praised my understanding, and before everyone said: ‘Here is a new Jambres, always ready for obedience and worthy of communion with us!’ And he promised to make me a prince after my departure from the body, and for the course of earthly life to help me in everything. And he gave me a legion of demons to serve me. When I departed from him, he addressed me with these words: ‘Take courage, fervent Cyprian; arise and accompany me; let all the demonic ancients marvel at you.’ Consequently, all of his princes also were attentive to me, seeing the honor shown to me. The outward appearance of the prince of darkness was like a flower. His head was crowned by a crown (not an actual, but a phantom one) made of gold and brilliant stones, as a result of which the whole space around him was illuminated; and his clothing was astonishing. When he would turn to one or the other side, that whole place would tremble; a multitude of evil spirits of various degrees stood obediently at his throne. I gave myself over entirely into his service at that time, obeying his every command. Thus did St. Cyprian relate of himself after his conversion.

From this it is evident what kind of man Cyprian was: as a friend of the demons, he performed all their works, causing evil to people and deceiving them. Living in Antioch, he turned many people away to every kind of lawless deed; he killed many with poisons and magic, and slaughtered young men and maidens as sacrifices for the demons. He instructed many in his ruinous sorcery: some he taught to fly in the air, others to sail in boats on the clouds, still others to walk on water. By all the pagans he was revered and glorified as a chief priest and most wise servant of their vile gods. Many turned to him in their needs, and he helped them by means of the demonic power with which he was filled: with some he cooperated in their adulteries, with others in anger, enmity, revenge, jealousy. Already he was entirely in the depths of hell and in the jaws of the devil; he was a son of gehenna, a partaker of the demonic inheritance and of their eternal perdition. But the Lord, who does not desire the death of a sinner, in His unutterable goodness and His mercy which is not conquered by the sins of men, deigned to seek out this lost man, to draw out of the abyss one who was mired in the filth of the depths of hell, and to save him in order to show to all men His mercy; for there is no sin which can conquer His love of mankind. He saved Cyprian from perdition in the following way.


THERE LIVED AT THAT TIME in Antioch a certain maiden whose name was Justina. She came from pagan parents; her father was a priest of the idols, Aedesius by name, and her mother was called Cledonia. Once, sitting at the window of her house, this maiden, who had then already reached womanhood, by chance heard the words of salvation out of the mouth of a deacon who was passing by, whose name was Praylius. He spoke of our Lord Jesus Christ’s becoming man, that He had been born of the Most Pure Virgin and, having performed many miracles, had deigned to suffer for the sake of our salvation, had risen from the dead with glory, ascended into the heavens, and sits at the right hand of the Father and reigns eternally. This preaching of the deacon fell on good soil, into the heart of Justina, and began quickly to bring forth fruit, uprooting in her the thorns of unbelief. Justina wished to be instructed in the Faith by this deacon better and more completely, but she did not dare to seek him out, being restrained by a maiden’s modesty. However, she secretly went to the church of Christ, and often hearing the word of God, with the Holy Spirit acting in her heart, she came to believe in Christ. Soon she convinced her mother of this also, and then brought to the faith her aged father as well.


Seeing the understanding of his daughter and hearing her wise words, Aedesius reflected within himself thus: “The idols are made by the hands of men and have neither soul nor breath, and therefore how can they be gods?” While he was reflecting on this, once at night he saw during sleep, by Divine consent, a wondrous vision: he saw a great multitude of light-bearing Angels, and in their midst was the Saviour of the world, Christ, Who said to him: “Come to Me, and I will give you the Kingdom of Heaven.” After rising in the morning, Aedesius went with his wife and daughter to the Christian Bishop, whose name was Optatus, begging him to instruct them in the Faith of Christ and to perform upon them holy Baptism. At the same time he informed him of the words of his daughter and of the angelic vision which he had seen himself. Hearing this, the Bishop rejoiced at their conversion, and having instructed them in the Faith of Christ, he baptized Aedesius, his wife Cledonia, and their daughter Justina; and then, having given them communion of the Holy Mysteries, he let them go in peace. When Aedesius had become strengthened in the Faith of Christ, the Bishop, seeing his piety, made him a presbyter. After this, having lived virtuously and in the fear of God for a year and six months, Aedesius in holy faith came to the end of his life.


As for Justina, she valiantly struggled in the keeping of the Lord’s commandments, and having come to love her Bridegroom Christ, she served Him with fervent prayers, in virginity and chastity, in fasting and great abstinence. But the enemy, the hater of the human race, seeing such a life, envied her virtues and began to do harm to her, causing various misfortunes and sorrows.

AT THAT TIME there lived in Antioch a certain youth named Aglaias, the son of wealthy and renowned parents. He lived luxuriously, giving himself entirely over to the vanity of this world. Once he saw Justina as she was going to church, and he was struck by her beauty. The devil instilled shameful intentions into his heart. Being inflamed with lust, Aglaias by all means strove to gain the good disposition and love of Justina and by means of deception to bring the pure lamb of Christ to the defilement which he planned. He observed all the paths by which the maiden would walk, and, meeting her, would speak to her cunning words, praising her beauty and glorifying her; showing his love for her, he strove to draw her into fornication by a cunningly-woven net of deceptions. The maiden, however, turned away from him and fled from him, despising him and not desiring even to hear his deceptive and cunning speeches. But the youth did not grow cool in his desire of her beauty, and he sent to her the request that she should agree to become his wife. She, however, replied to him: “My Bridegroom is Christ; Him I serve, and for His sake I preserve my purity. He preserves both my soul and my body from every defilement.” Hearing such a reply from the chaste maiden, Aglaias, being instigated by the devil, became yet more inflamed with passion. Not being able to deceive her, he intended to seize her by force.

Having gathered to his aid some foolish youths like himself, he waylaid the maiden in the path along which she usually walked to church for prayer; there he met her and, seizing her, began dragging her by force to his house. But she began loudly to scream, beat him in the face, and spat on him. The neighbors, hearing her wails, ran out of their houses and took the immaculate lamb, St. Justina, from the hands of the impious youth as from the jaws of a wolf. The disorderly youths scattered, and Aglaias returned with shame to his house. Not knowing what more to do, he decided, with the increase of impure lust in him, upon a new evil deed: he went to the great sorcerer and magician Cyprian, the priest of the idols, and having informed him of his sorrow, begged his help, promising to give him much gold and silver. Having heard out Aglaias, Cyprian comforted him, promising to fulfill his desire. “I will so manage,” he said, “that the maiden herself will seek your love and will feel passion for you even stronger than that which you have for her.” Having thus consoled the youth, Cyprian let him go, full of hope. Then, taking the books of his secret art, he invoked one of the impious spirits who, he was sure, could soon inflame the heart of Justina with passion for this youth. The demon willingly promised to fulfill this and proudly said: “This deed is not difficult for me, because many times I have shaken cities, crumbled walls, destroyed houses, caused the shedding of blood and patricide, instilled hatred and great anger between brothers and spouses, and have brought to sin many who have given a vow of virginity. In monks who have settled in mountains and were accustomed to strict fasting and have never even thought about the flesh, I have instilled adulterous lust and instructed them to serve fleshly passions; people who have repented and turned away from sin, I have converted back to evil deeds; many chaste people I have thrown into fornication. Will I really be unable to incline this maiden to the love of Aglaias? Indeed, why do I speak? I will swiftly show my powers in very deed. Take this powder” (here he gave him a vessel full of something) “and give it to this youth; let him sprinkle the house of Justina with it, and you will see that what I have said will come to pass.”

Having said this, the demon vanished. Cyprian called Aglaias and sent him to sprinkle the house of Justina secretly with the contents of the demon’s vessel. When this had been done, the demon of fornication entered the house with the flaming arrows of fleshly lust in order to wound the heart of the maiden with fornication, and to ignite her flesh with impure lust. Justina had the custom every night to offer up prayers to the Lord. And behold, when, according to custom, she arose at the third hour of the night and was praying to God, she suddenly felt an agitation in her body, a storm of bodily lust and the flame of the fire of gehenna. In such agitation and inward battle she remained for quite a long time; the youth Aglaias came to her mind, and shameful thoughts arose in her. The maiden marveled and was ashamed of herself, feeling that her blood was boiling as in a kettle; now she thought about that which she had always despised as vile. But in her good sense Justina understood that this battle had arisen in her from the devil; immediately she turned to the weapon of the sign of the cross, hastened to God with fervent prayer, and from the depths of her heart cried out to Christ her Bridegroom:


“O Lord, my God, Jesus Christ! Behold how many enemies have risen up against me and have prepared a net in order to catch me and take away my soul. But I have remembered Thy name in the night and have rejoiced, and now when they are close about me I hasten to Thee and have hope that my enemy will not triumph over me. For thou knowest, O Lord my God, that I, Thy slave, have preserved for Thee the purity of my body and have entrusted my soul to Thee. Preserve Thy sheep, O good Shepherd; do not give it over to be eaten by the beast who seeks to devour me; grant me victory over the evil desire of my flesh.”

Having prayed long and fervently, the holy virgin put the enemy to shame. Being conquered by her prayer, he fled from her with shame, and again there came a calm in Justina’s body and heart; the flame of desire was quenched, the battle ceased, the boiling blood was stilled. Justina glorified God and sang a song of victory. The demon, on the other hand, returned to Cyprian with the sad news that he had accomplished nothing. Cyprian asked him why he had not been able to conquer the maiden. The demon, even against his will, revealed the truth: “I could not conquer her because I saw on her a certain sign of which I was afraid.”


Then Cyprian called a yet more malicious demon and sent film to tempt Justina. He went and did much more than the first one, falling upon the maiden with great rage. But she armed herself with fervent prayer and laid upon herself yet a more powerful labor: she clothed herself in a hair shirt and mortified her flesh with abstinence and fasting, eating only bread and water. Having thus tamed the passions of her flesh, Justina conquered the devil and banished him with shame. And he, like the first one, returned to Cyprian without accomplishing anything. Then Cyprian called one of the princes of the demons, informed him about the weakness of the demons he had sent, who could not conquer a single maiden, and asked help from him. This prince of demons severely reproached the other demons for their lack of skill in this matter and for their inability to arouse passion in the heart of the maiden. Having given hope to Cyprian and promised to seduce the maiden by other means, he took on the appearance of a woman and went to Justina. And he began to converse piously with her, as if desiring to follow the example of her virtuous life and her chastity. Conversing in this way, he asked the maiden what kind of reward there might be for such a strict life and for the preservation of purity. Justina replied that the reward for those who live in chastity is great and beyond words, and that it is very remarkable that people do not in the least concern themselves for such a great treasure as angelic purity. Then the devil, revealing his shamelessness, began with cunning words to tempt her, saying: But then how could the world exist? How would people be born? After all, if Eve had preserved her purity, how would the human race have increased? In truth marriage is a good thing, being established by God Himself; the Sacred Scripture also praises it, saying: Let marriage be had in honor among all, and the bed undefiled (Heb. 13:4). And many saints of God also did they not enter into marriage, which God gave them as a consolation, so that they might rejoice in their children and praise God?” Hearing these words, Justina recognized the cunning deceiver, the devil, and, more skillful than Eve, conquered him. Without continuing this conversation, she immediately fled to the defense of the Cross of the Lord and placed its honorable sign on her forehead; and her heart she turned to Christ her Bridegroom. And the devil immediately vanished with yet greater shame than the first two demons. In great disturbance, the proud prince of the demons returned to Cyprian, who, finding out that he had not managed to do anything, said to him: “Can it be that even you, a prince powerful and more skillful than others in such matters, could not conquer the maiden? Who then among you can do anything with this unconquerable maiden’s heart? Tell me by what weapon she battles with you, and how she makes powerless your mighty power?”

Being conquered by the power of God, the devil unwillingly acknowledged: “We cannot behold the sign of the Cross, but flee from it, because it scorches us like fire and banishes us far away.”

Cyprian became angry at the devil because he had put him to shame, and reproaching the demon, he said: “Such is your power that even a weak virgin conquers you!”

Then the devil, desiring to console Cyprian, attempted yet another undertaking: he took on the form of Justina and went to Aglaias with the hope that, having taken him for the real Justina, the youth might satisfy his desire, and thus neither would the weakness of the demons be revealed, nor would Cyprian be put to shame. And behold, when the demon went to Aglaias in the form of Justina, the youth leaped up in unspeakable joy, ran to the false maiden, embraced her and began kissing her, saying: “How good it is that you have come to me, fair Justina!”

But no sooner had the youth pronounced the word “Justina” than the demon immediately disappeared, being unable to bear even the name of Justina.

The youth became greatly afraid and, running to Cyprian, told him what had happened. Then Cyprian by his sorcery gave him the form of a bird and, having enabled him to fly in the air, he sent him to the house of Justina, advising him to fly into her room through the window. Being carried by a demon in the air, Aglaias flew on the roof. At this time Justina happened to look through the window of her room. Seeing her, the demon left Aglaias and fled. At the same time, the phantom appearance of Aglaias also vanished, and the youth, falling down, was all but dashed to pieces. He grasped the edge of the roof with his hands and, holding on to it, hung there; and if he had not been let down to the ground by the prayer of St. Justina, the impious one would have fallen down and been killed. Thus, having achieved nothing, the youth returned to Cyprian and told him of his woe. Seeing himself put to shame, Cyprian was greatly grieved and thought himself of going to Justina, trusting in the power of his sorcery. He turned himself into a woman and into a bird, but he did mpt manage to reach as far as the door of the house of Justina before his false appearances disappeared, and he returned with sorrow.

AFTER THIS CYPRIAN began to gain revenge for his shame, and by his sorcery he brought diverse misfortunes on the house of Justina and on the houses of all her relatives, neighbors and friends, as once the devil had done to righteous Job (Job 1:15-19, 2:7). He killed their animals, he struck down their slaves with plagues, and in this way he brought them to extreme grief. Finally, he struck with illness Justina herself, so that she lay in bed and her mother wept over her. Justina, however, comforted her mother with the words of the Prophet David: I shall not die, but live, and I shall tell of the works of the Lord (Psalm 117:17). Not only on Justina and her relatives, but also on the whole city, by God’s allowance, did Cyprian bring misfortune as a result of his untamable rage and his great shame. Plagues appeared in the animals and various diseases among men; and the rumor spread, through the activity of the demons, that the great sorcerer Cyprian was punishing the city for Justina’s opposition to him. Then the most honorable citizens went to Justina and with anger tried to persuade her not to grieve Cyprian any longer, and to become the wife of Aglaias, in order to escape yet greater misfortunes for the whole city because of her. But she calmed them by saying that soon all the misfortunes which had been brought about with the help of Cyprian’s demons would cease. And so it happened.

When St. Justina prayed fervently to God, immediately all the demonic attacks ceased; all were healed from the plagues and recovered from their diseases. When such a change occurred, the people glorified Christ and mocked Cyprian and his sorcerer’s cunning, so that from shame he could not show himself among men and he avoided meeting even friends.

Having become convinced that nothing could conquer the power of the sign of the cross and the name of Christ, Cyprian came to his senses and said to the devil:


“O destroyer and deceiver of all, source of every impurity and defilement! Now I have discovered your infirmity. For if you fear even the shadow of the cross and tremble at the name of Christ, then what will you do when Christ Himself comes to you? If you cannot conquer those who sign themselves with the sign of the cross, then whom will you tear away from the hands of Christ? Now I have understood what a non-entity you are; you are not even able to take revenge! Listening to you, I, wretched one, have been deceived, and I believed your tricks. Depart from me, accursed one, depart! For I must entreat the Christians that they might have mercy on me. I must appeal to pious people, that they might deliver me from perdition and be concerned over my salvation. Depart, depart from me, lawless one, enemy of truth, adversary and hater of every good thing!”

Having heard this, the devil threw himself on Cyprian in order to kill him; attacking him, he began to beat and strangle him. Finding no defense anywhere, and not knowing how to help himself and be delivered from the fierce hands of the demon, Cyprian, already scarcely alive, remembered the sign of the cross, by the power of which Justina had opposed all the demons’ power, and he cried out: “O God of Justina, help me!”

Then, raising his hand, he made the sign of the cross, and the devil immediately leaped away from him like an arrow shot from a bow. Gaining courage, Cyprian became bolder, and calling on the name of Christ, he signed himself with the sign of the cross and stubbornly opposed the demon, cursing and reproaching him. As for the devil, standing far away from him and not daring to draw near to him out of fear of the sign of the cross and the name of Christ, he threatened Cyprian in every manner, saying: “Christ will not deliver you out of my hands!” Then, after long and fierce attacks on Cyprian, the demon roared like a lion and went away.

THEN CYPRIAN took all his books of magic and went to the Christian Bishop Anthimus. Falling to the feet of the Bishop, he entreated him to have mercy on him and to give him holy Baptism. Knowing that Cyprian was a great sorcerer, feared by all, the Bishop thought that he had come to him with some kind of trick, and therefore he refused him, saying: “You do much evil among the pagans; leave the Christians in peace, lest you speedily perish.” Then Cyprian with tears confessed everything to the Bishop and gave him his books to be burned. Seeing his humility, the Bishop instructed him and taught him the holy faith, and then commanded him to prepare for Baptism; and his books he burned before all the believing citizens. Leaving the Bishop with a contrite heart, Cyprian wept over his sins, sprinkled ashes on his head, and sincerely repented, calling out to the true God for the cleansing of his iniquities. Coming the next day to church, he heard the word of God with joyful emotion, standing among the believers. And when the deacon commanded the catechumens to go out, declaring: “Ye catechumens depart,” and certain ones were already going out, Cyprian did not wish to go out, saying to the deacon: “I am a slave of Christ; do not chase me out of here.” But the deacon said to him: “Since you have not yet been given holy Baptism, you must go out of the church.” To this Cyprian replied: “As Christ my God I liveth, Who has delivered me from the devil, Who has preserved the maiden Justina pure, and has had mercy on me—you will not chase me out of the church until I become a complete Christian.”

The deacon related this to the Bishop, and the Bishop, seeing the fervor of Cyprian and his devotion to the faith of Christ, called him up and immediately baptized him in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Finding out about this, St. Justina gave thanks to God, distributed much alms to the poor, and made an offering in church. And Cyprian, on the eighth day after his Baptism, was made a reader by the Bishop; on the twentieth day he was made subdeacon, and on the thirtieth day a deacon; and in a year he was ordained priest. Cyprian completely changed his life; with every day he increased his struggles, and constantly weeping over his previous evil deeds, he perfected himself and ascended from virtue to virtue. Soon he was made Bishop, and in this rank he led such a holy life that he equaled many great saints.

At the same time he zealously took care of the flock of Christ which had been entrusted to him. St. Justina the maiden he made a deaconess, and then entrusted to her a convent, making her abbess over other Christian maidens. By his conduct and instruction he converted many pagans and acquired them for the Church of Christ. Thus, idol worship began to die out in that land, and the glory of Christ increased. Seeing the strict life of St. Cyprian, his concern for the faith of Christ and for the salvation of human souls, the devil ground his teeth against him And inspired the pagans to slander him before the governor of the eastern region, saying that he had put the gods to shame, had converted many people away from them, and was glorifying Christ, Who was hostile to their gods. And so, many impious ones came to the governor Eutolmius, who was then governing those regions, and made slanders against Cyprian and Justina, accusing them ,of being hostile to their gods and to the emperor and to all authorities, saying that they were disturbing the people, deceiving them, and leading them in their footsteps, disposing them to worship the crucified Christ. At the same time they asked the governor to give Cyprian and Justina over to death for this. Having heard their request, Eutolmius commanded that Cyprian and Justina be seized and placed in prison. Then, setting out for Damascus, he took them with him in order to make judgment upon them. And when they had brought the prisoners of Christ, Cyprian and Justina, to him, he asked Cyprian: “Why have you changed your earlier glorious way of life, when you were a renowned servant of the gods and brought many people to them?” St. Cyprian related to the governor how he had found out the infirmity and the deception of the demons and come to understand the power of Christ, which the demons feared and before which they trembled, disappearing from before the sign of the precious cross; and likewise he explained the reason for his conversion to Christ, for Whom he declared his readiness to die. The torturer did not accept the words of Cyprian in his heart, but being unable to reply to them, he commanded that the Saint be hung up and his body scraped, and that St. Justina be beaten on the mouth and eyes. For the whole time of the long torments they ceaselessly confessed Christ and endured everything with thanksgiving. Then the torturer imprisoned them and strove by kind exhortation to return them to idol worship. When he was unable to convince them, he commanded that they be thrown into a cauldron; but the boiling cauldron did not cause them any harm, and they glorified God as if they were in some cool place. Seeing this, one priest of the idols, by name Athanasius, said: “In the name of the god Aesculapius, I also will throw myself into this fire and put to shame those sorcerers. But hardly had the fire touched him than he immediately died. Seeing this, the torturer became frightened, and not desiring to judge them further, he sent the martyrs to the governor Claudius in Nicomedia, describing all that had happened to them. This governor condemned them to be beheaded with the sword. When they were brought to the place of execution, Cyprian asked a little time for prayer, so that Justina might be executed first; he feared that Justina would become frightened at the sight of his death. But she joyfully bent her head under the sword and departed unto her Bridegroom Christ. Seeing the innocent death of these martyrs, a certain Theoctistus, who was present there, greatly pitied them and, being inflamed in his heart towards God, he fell down to St. Cyprian and, kissing him, declared himself a Christian.


Together with Cyprian he also was immediately condemned to be beheaded. Thus they gave over their souls into the hands of God; their bodies, however, lay for six days unburied. Certain of the strangers who were there secretly took them and brought them to Rome, where they gave them to a certain virtuous and holy woman whose name was Rufina, a relative of Claudius Caesar. She buried with honor the bodies of the holy martyrs of Christ: Cyprian, Justina, and Theoctistus. At their graves many healings occurred for those who came to them with faith. (Their martyrdoms occurred toward the end of the third century—according to some, in about the year 268, but according to others, in 304.)

By their prayers may the Lord heal also our afflictions of body and soul! Amen!


Translated from the Russian Lives of Saints, Moscow, 1904.

Categories: Lives of Saints

The Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos

October 1, 2009 Leave a comment

” Today the Virgin stands in the midst of the Church, and with choirs of Saints she invisibly prays to God for us. Angels and Bishops venerate Her, Apostles and prophets rejoice together, Since for our sake she prays to the Eternal God!”



From time immemorial, the Church has celebrated the Most-holy Theotokos as the patroness and protectress of the Christian people, who, by her intercessory prayers, implores God’s mercy for us sinners.

The help of the Most-holy Mother of God has been clearly shown numerous times, to individuals and to nations, in peace and in war, in monastic deserts and in densely populated cities.

The event that the Church commemorates and celebrates today confirms the Theotokos’ consistent protection of Christian people. On October 1, 911, during the reign of Emperor Leo the Wise, there was an All-night Vigil in the Blachernae Church of the Mother of God in Constantinople. The church was full of people. St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ was standing in the rear of the church with his disciple Epiphanius. At four o’clock in the morning, the Most-holy Theotokos appeared above the people, holding her omophorion outstretched as a protective covering for the faithful.

She was clothed in gold-encrusted purple, and shone with an ineffable radiance, surrounded by apostles, saints, martyrs and virgins. St. Andrew said to Blessed Epiphanius: ``Do you see, brother, the Queen and Lady of all praying for the whole world?”

Epiphanius replied: ``I see, Father, and am struck with amazement!”

The Feast of the Protection was instituted to commemorate this event, and to remind us that we can prayerfully receive the unceasing protection of the Most-holy Theotokos in any time of difficulty.


On the Feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos we implore the defense and assistance of the Queen of Heaven,

“Remember us in your prayers, O Lady Virgin Mother of God, that we not perish by the increase of our sins. Protect us from every evil and from grievous woes, for in you do we hope, and venerating the Feast of your Protection, we magnify you.”


Categories: Orthodox Feasts