1. THE SEVEN HOLY YOUTHS OF EPHESUS
There was a great persecution of Christians during the reign of Decius. The emperor himself came to Ephesus and there arranged a boisterous and noisy celebration in honor of the lifeless idols as well as a terrible slaughter of Christians. Seven young men, soldiers, refrained from the impure offering of sacrifices and they earnestly prayed to the one God to save the Christian people. They were the sons of the most influential elders of Ephesus and their names were Maximilian, Jamblichus, Martin [Martinian], John, Dionysius, Exacustodianus, and Antonin [Antoninus]. When they were accused before the emperor, they retreated to a hill outside Ephesus called Celion and there they hid in a cave. When the emperor learned of this, he commanded that the cave be sealed off. However, God according to His far-reaching Providence caused a miraculous and long-lasting sleep to fall upon the young men. The imperial courtiers, Theodore and Rufinus, secret Christians, built in that wall a copper sarcophagus with lead plaques on which were written the names of these young men and their martyr's death during the reign of Emperor Decius. More than two hundred years then passed. During the reign of Emperor Theodosius the Younger (408-450 A.D.), there was a great dispute about the resurrection. There were some that doubted the resurrection. Emperor Theodosius was in great sorrow as a result of this dispute among the faithful and prayed to God that He, in some way, would reveal the truth to men. At that time of turmoil in the Church some sheepherders of Adolius, who owned the hill Celion began to build folds for the sheep and removed stone after stone from that cave. The youths then awakened from their sleep young and healthy, the same as when they fell asleep. The news of this miracle was spread abroad on all sides so that even Theodosius himself came with a great entourage and with delight conversed with the youths. After a week, they again fell into the sleep of death to await the general resurrection. Emperor Theodosius wanted to place their bodies in gold sarcophagi but they appeared to him in a dream and told him to leave them in the earth as they were laid out.
2. THE PRIESTLY-MARTYR COSMAS, "EQUAL TO THE APOSTLES"
Cosmas was born in Aitolia in the village of Megadendron (Large Tree). As a young man he went to Mount Athos where he was tonsured a monk in the monastery Philotheus. However, driven by a constant desire to preach the Holy Gospel to the people, Cosmas went to Constantinople where he implored the blessing of Patriarch Seraphim II. He visited the regions of the Danube preaching the Good News but remained mostly in Albania where he suffered at the hands of Kurt Pasha whom the Jews incited against Cosmas. The Turks strangled Cosmas and his body was tossed into the river in the year 1779 A.D. His miracle-working relics repose in the village of Kalikontasi in the church of the Holy Theotokos not far from the town of Berat. Cosmas suffered for his Lord in the sixty-fifth year of his life.
HYMN OF PRAISE
THE SEVEN HOLY YOUTHS OF EPHESUS
When the last rays of the sun turned the west bloody red,
Seven Youths, to God prayed,
That, on the morrow again find themselves alive and healthy,
Before Emperor Decius, brought forth to torture
And lay down to sleep a long dream a deep dream,
Time walked by a wide step
One morning, from the east, the sun dawned
And the Seven from their deep sleep awakened.
And Jamblichus the youngest, to Ephesus hurried
To see, to hear, about everything he inquired
Does Decius, even them, seek to slaughter
And bread to buy for the Seven of them.
But behold, what kind of miracle: this is not the gate!
And even the town is totally different!
Everywhere, beautiful churches, domes, crosses,
Jamblichus asks himself: are those not dreams?
Nowhere a familiar face, nowhere kinsmen,
There are no persecutions; there are no martyrs.
Tell me brethren, the name of this town,
And tell me the name of the emperor, who now reigns?
Thus Jamblichus inquires. The people, at him, look,
And about him, everyone judges differently.
This town is Ephesus, now and before,
In Christ, reigns Emperor Theodosius
This Antipater [The Consul] heard and [Martin] the graying bishop,
The entire town was perplexed,
Everyone, to the cave hurries.
And saw the miracle, glorified God,
And the resurrected servants of Christ the Resurrected One.
"Ask and it shall be given to you," said the Lord (St. Matthew 7:7). As parents give to their children all that the children ask and all that is for their benefit, so does God, the Lover of Mankind, give to men all that men ask of God and what serves to their salvation. As a monk on Mt. Athos, Cosmas asked two things of God: to preach the Gospel to the people and to suffer as a martyr for the Faith. For an Athonite monk, who is bound by vows to his monastery, these two desires seem unattainable and unrealistic. But to God, everything is possible. God perfectly fulfilled both desires of Cosmas. The joy of Cosmas was indescribable when he received the blessing of the patriarch that he could leave Mt. Athos and go among the people to preach the Good News. Cosmas had one more similar moment of joy and, that was when the servants of the Turkish Pasha informed him that, according to the command of the Pasha, he must die.
Full of joy, the saint sank to his knees, gave thanks to God that He fulfilled even this desire and gave up his body to death and his soul to the Living God.
To contemplate the miraculous announcement of the birth of Samson (Judges 13):
1. How an angel of God appeared to Manoah and his barren wife and announced that his wife will give birth to a son, who will deliver the people from slavery;
2. How for this, Manoah offered a sacrifice to God and an angel, in the flame of the sacrifice, ascended to heaven;
3. How even a barren woman can give birth when God wills it.
About the sickness of apostasy
"The whole head is sick and the whole heart faint" (Isaiah1:5).
Brethren, God, the God of Sabaoth, is the source of health. Go out to the heights of God, you whose heads are troubled by superfluous works and still more by superfluous concerns and be imbued with health which comes from God, only from God. A sick head those are the leaders and the elders of the people and a faint heart- those are the people. The prophet presents an entire people as one body and shows how even with the body of a people, the same thing happens as with body of a man, i.e., when one organ of the body is sick, then only that organ is sick, but from the sickness of this one organ, the entire body feels faint. So it was with the people of Israel: the head was sick and from a sick head, the heart is faint. The leaders and the elders of Israel abandoned the law of God and followed their senses as their guides. Their sensual mind, tarnished, overly tarnished from the various worldly influences, they took as their direction for a correct life instead of the law of God. They fell into the hopeless darkness of idolatrous errors. And from the insanity of the head, the heart was faint. It is more difficult for the heart to separate from God than it is for the head, it is more difficult for a people to separate from God than their elders, but when the head remains sick for a long time, than the heart is faint and yields. From corrupt leaders, even a people finally stray from the path.
This is the vision of Isaiah, the son of Amos, the true prophet. Indeed, a true vision, both for then and for now, for the people of Israel and for the people of today. Brethren, look at the people whom you know best and you alone judge, is the head sick and is the heart faint? O Lord, true and just, enlighten the head of every people with Your light and strengthen with Your might the heart of every people, so that our enemies will not rejoice and say that You have abandoned us.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.