1. SAINT SOPHRONIUS, PATRIARCH OF JERUSALEM
Sophronius was born in Damascus of distinguished parents. Having acquired worldly wisdom, he was, nevertheless, not satisfied but went to seek and acquire spiritual wisdom. In the monastery [Lavra] of St. Theodosius, he found himself in the company of a monk, John Moschus, whom he choose for his teacher, and together with him traveled about and visisted monasteries and those ascetics in Egypt who were practicing the life of asceticism. His watch word was "Each day learn more about spiritual wisdom." All that they had learned they wrote down and later published two books under the title, "Spiritual Meadow." Later on, they traveled to Rome, where Moschus died leaving a testament to Sophronius to have his body taken, either to Sinai or to the Monastery of St. Theodosius. Sophronius fulfilled the desires and wishes of his teacher and translated his body to the Monastery of St. Theodosius and thereafter remained in Jerusalem which, at that time, was liberated from the Persians. He was present at the Translation of the Honorable Cross from Persia which the Emperor Heraclius carried on his shoulders into the Holy City. The aged Patriarch Zacharias, who had also returned from bondage, did not live long thereafter when he took up habitation in the other world. Patriarch Zacharias was replaced by Modestus who died in 634 A.D. Modestus was replaced by Blessed Sophronius. He governed the Church for ten years with exceptional wisdom and zeal. He rose up in defense of Orthodoxy against the heresy of Monotheletism which he condemned at his Council in Jerusalem before it was condemned at the Sixth Ecumenical Council [Constantinople, 680 A.D.]. He wrote The Life of St. Mary the Egyptian, complied The Order of the Greater Blessing of Water, and introduced several new hymns and songs in the various liturgical services. When the Arab Caliph captured Jerusalem, Sophronius begged him to spare the lives of the Christians which Omar insincerely promised. When Omar immediately began to plunder and maltreat the Christians in Jerusalem, Sophronius, with lamentation, prayed to God to take him from among the living on earth, so that he would not witness the desecration of the Holy Shrines. God heard his prayer and took Sophronius to Himself into His heavenly mansion in the year 644 A.D.
2. THE HOLY MARTYR PIONIUS AND OTHERS WITH HIM
Pionius was priest from Syria. He suffered in Smyrna during the time ofpersecution under Decius. He was condemned to be crucified, for which he was exceedingly glad. As soon as the soldiers formed a cross and laid it upon the ground, Pionius freely lay on the cross, stretched out his arms and ordered the soldiers to nail him in the hands with spikes. The cross was inserted in the ground upside down and a fire was ignited under the head of the martyr. Many people gathered around. Pionius closed his eyes and prayed to God within himself. The flames of the fire did not even catch the hairs of his head on fire. When, at last, the fire was extinguished and when everyone thought that Pionius was dead, he opened his eyes and cried out rejoicing, "O God, receive my soul," and expired. This saint wrote " The Life of St. Polycarp of Smyrna," with whom he rejoices in the Kingdom of Christ. He suffered and was glorified in the year 250 A.D.
3. THE VENERABLE GREGORY SINAITES
Gregory was the abbot of Mount Sinai, a great ascetic and a just man. On the vigil of Pascha [the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ],an angel of the Lord conveyed him to Jerusalem for the Divine Services and returned him again to Sinai the same day. He died peacefully in the sixth century.
HYMN OF PRAISE
Pionius speaks while being tortured:
O, citizens of famous Smyrna,
Fellow townsmen of Omar, the well known,
I know that which all of you know,
Not one of you know, that, what I know:
The sweet pleasure of dying, I know
And sweeter yet, hoping in Christ.
I know that death will destroy me not
But just the body, to separate from the soul;
For me, I know that the angels are waiting
In the mansions of the Heavenly King,
And angels, prophets and saints,
Many armies of those chosen by God,
And the wonderful martyrs for Christ.
I know that I am returning to my homeland,
From whence I came here.
The goal of my suffering, I do know,
(You know not why you are torturing me!)
Seethe, O malice, and against me rage!
With outstretched arms, the Savior awaits me,
Strike me, all of you, with greater tortures.
The more difficult the suffering, the sooner the dawn,
The quicker the death, the more joyful the soul.
"No good works are accomplished by our efforts alone but by the power and will of God. Nevertheless, God demands effort on our part in conforming to His will." These are the words of Saints Barsanuphius and John. Few words but much said. We are obliged to labor, to cultivate and to prepare every good thing, and if some good will take root, grow and bring forth fruit, that is up to the power and will of God. We plow the furrows and God sows, if He wills it. We cleanse the vessels of the Spirit and God pours the Spirit into these vessels, if He wills it. He can do anything if He wills it. And He will do everything that responds to the highest wisdom and suitability, that is, to His plan of man's salvation. In interpreting the words of our Lord, "So be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves" (St. Matthew 10:16), St. John Chrysostom writes that our Lord gave this commandment to His disciples that "they themselves should cooperate in some way, so that it will not to appear that all effort is of Grace alone and for them not to think that they received the wreaths of glory for nothing." And so, both of them are indispensable for our salvation: our effort and the power of God's Grace.
To contemplate the Lord at judgment before Caiaphas:
1. How the High Priest of the Jews detains our Lord in his home surrounded by men almost as wretched as he himself;
2. How Peter, sitting outside in the courtyard by the fire and how before the servants, denies our Lord Jesus three times;
3. How even today, it happens that some Christians, out of fear of the world, deny the Lord in this manner: How they also purport not to be Christians; that they are not familiar with the commandments of the Lord and are not concerned about the Lord.
About the second coming of Christ
"When the Son of Man comes in His glory and all the angels with Him, He will sit upon His glorious throne" (St. Matthew 25:31).
This is how our Lord spoke just before His most horrible humiliations, before being bound, before being spat upon, before being slapped, and before being ridiculed prior to His crucifixion. In His most darkest hour, He speaks about His most vivid and most glorious hour. Before His most terrible and miserable departure from this world, He speaks about His second coming in His glory. At first, He came from the cave in Bethlehem, humble and unseen, and the second time, He will come on the clouds of His angels. The first time as though He sprouted out of the earth, and the second time He will appear from the heavens. The first time He stood and knelt on the ground, and the second time He will be sitting on His throne of Glory.
When He comes again on His throne of Glory, He will not be unseen by anyone. No one will ask, as did the wise men [the Magi] before his first coming,
"Where is the King?" (St. Matthew 2:2). At this time, everyone will see the King and recognize Him as the King. But this vision and recognition will be for some, their joy and for some, their fear and terror. Just think of the joy of those who have fulfilled His commandments, those who have prayed in His Name, those who have performed good works and especially those who have suffered for His Name! Just think of the fear and terror of all those who have spat on Him, struck Him and crucified Him in Jerusalem.
O, Merciful Lord, forgive all of us who call upon Your Name and who because of our weaknesses, sin against You; forgive us before that great marvelous hour when You begin to appear in Your glory with all Your holy angels.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.