1. THE PRIESTLY-MARTYR BLAISE
Blaise was born in the Province of Cappadocia. From his early childhood, he was God-fearing and meek. Because of his great virtues, he was chosen as bishop of the city of Sebastea [in Armenia]. Blaise was a great spiritual and moral beacon in this pagan city. At the time of a grave persecution of Christians, St. Blaise encouraged his flock and visited the martyrs of Christ in prison, especially among them was the eminent and glorious Eustratius. When the city of Sebastea was completely depleted of Christians - some were slain, and others fled - the Elder Blaise withdrew to Mt. Argeos and settled there in a cave. Wild beasts recognized the holy man, gathered around him and he tenderly caressed them. But the persecutors found the saint in this remote place and brought him to trial. Along the way, Blaise cured a young boy who had a bone caught in his throat. To the plea of the poor widow whose pig had been snatched by a wolf, the saint, by the power of his prayer, commanded the wolf to return it. The sinister judges tortured Blaise severely: flogging him and scrapping him with an iron comb. By his steadfastness in the Faith of Christ, Blaise converted many pagans to the Faith. Seven women and two children languished in prison with him. The women were beheaded first and, after that, the wonderful Blaise with these two children was beheaded. He suffered and was glorified in the year 316 A.D. People pray to St. Blaise for the well being of their domestic livestock and for protection against wild beasts. However, in the west, he is also invoked for diseases of the throat.
2. THE HOLY MARTYR GEORGE OF KRATOVO
By origin, George was a Serb from the town of Kratovo. He was a silversmith by trade and, in his heart and soul, was a convinced and a devout Christian. George was eighteen years old when the Turks tried to convert him to Islam. George remained as firm as a diamond in his faith. The Turks tortured him with many cruel tortures and finally burned him at the stake. He suffered for the beautiful Faith of Christ on February 11, 1515 A.D. in Sofia, Bulgaria, during the reign of Sultan Selim and was glorified with unfading glory in the heavens.
2. SAINT THEODORA
Theodora, a Greek empress, was the wife of the nefarious Emperor Theophilus the Iconoclast. After the death of Theophilus, Theodora became the ruling empress and reigned together with her son Michael III. At the Council in Constantinople (842 A.D.), she immediately restored the veneration of icons. On this occasion, the Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy was instituted which is still celebrated today on the First Sunday of the Honorable Fast [First Sunday in Lent]. This holy and meritorious woman of the Church gave up her soul to God on February 11, 867 A.D. It was at that time, by the divine and wonderful Providence of God, at the solemn triumph of Orthodoxy over all heresies, that St. Cyril and St. Methodius were sent as Christian missionaries to the Slavs.
HYMN OF PRAISE
THE VENERATION OF ICONS
To what, in such a manner, do you my Christian bow,
When you, O my Christian, venerate the icons?
Before the Living God the Creator, I am bowing down,
With all my soul, heart and mind, I bow down to Him.
Mortal am I and, am unable upon Him to gaze,
Therefore, before His image I bow;
What, my Christian, do you so fervently reverence,
When, the icon O my Christian, you kiss?
Christ the God and Savior, I am kissing,
The choirs of angels, the saints and the Mother of God.
Mortal am I and, therefore am unable them to touch,
But when their images I kiss, my heart is at ease.
Matter is not evil of itself as certain Christian heretics, i.e., the Manicheans and other philosophers taught. Not only is matter not evil, but matter is not the sole conduit of evil, but in as much as matter is a conduit, so also is the spirit a conduit of evil. Every material thing is melancholic and even fearful because of man's sins, but matter is not evil. Matter is corruptible, weak and nothingness in comparison to the immortal spirit, but it is not evil of itself. And, if it were evil, would our Lord Christ have instituted Holy Communion of Bread and Wine and would He call the Bread and the Wine His Body and His Blood? If matter, by itself, is evil, how then, would men be baptized with water? How would the Apostle James have commanded that the sick be anointed with oil? How would Blessed Water [Holy Water] remain beyond spoiling and have miracle-working properties? How would the Cross of Christ have power? How would the garment of Christ transmit the healing power of the Savior by which the woman with the issue of blood was healed? How would the relics of the saints and icons have performed so many miracles and conveyed so much good to people from the kingdom of Grace? Therefore, how then could good come to man through evil? No, no; matter is never evil of itself alone.
To contemplate the Lord Jesus as a Good Merchant Who came into this world as to a market to give and to take:
1. To give His labor and to receive the numerous fruits of joy from that labor;
2. To give Himself to be humiliated, to be spat upon, to be smitten, to be bruised, to be pierced, to be crucified in order to usher the army of His faithful into His eternal glory;
3. To give His Body in order to redeem numerous souls from the multitudes.
About judging according to the flesh and according to the spirit
"You judge according to the flesh" (St. John 8:15).
Thus spoke the Omniscience Lord to the wicked Jews: "You judge according to the flesh." They had caught a woman in adultery and wanted to stone her because of her fleshly sin. But the Lord perceived the soul of the woman and saw that she could still be saved and changed, brought her to repentance and released her. For even though she committed the act of adultery, nevertheless, her soul was not totally adulterous. However, the Pharisees constantly bore the sin of adultery in their hearts but they skillfully concealed that sin of adultery and they did not condemn adultery in the heart but condemned the act of adultery of the flesh only against those whom they caught in that act.
Spiritual men judge by the spirit and physical men judge by the flesh. Even today, the Jews, punished and dispersed throughout the whole world, were never able to think spiritually and to judge spiritually, but still think and judge only by the flesh and only externally according to the ordinance of the Law written on paper or in nature, but still never according to the spirit. For, if they had learned to judge men and deeds according to the spirit, they would have immediately recognized the Lord Jesus as the Messiah and Savior.
Let us be on guard, O Christians, that we judge not only according to the flesh. Let us be on guard that we not be too quick to judge him who because of his ineptness slips into misdeed, nor to praise the one who adheres skillfully and does not slip before men but, who, with his heart is already completely in the abyss of sin. Let us be on guard from error, that we not judge men and nature according to sensual impressions and to strive to judge everything spiritually, i.e., by the spirit. Behold we are the children of the spirit and light, for we are baptized.
O Lord Jesus teach us and guide us that we do not think nor judge according to the flesh but rather by the spirit.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.