1. THE HOLY FORTY-FIVE MARTYRS: LEONTIUS, MAURICE, ALEXANDER, SISINIUS AND OTHERS
During the reign of the wicked Emperor Licinius, who ruled the eastern half of the Byzantine Empire, there was a great persecution of Christians. In Armenian Nicopolis, St. Leontius, with several of his friends, appeared before Lysius, the representative of Emperor Licinius and declared that they were Christians. "And where is your Christ?" Lysius asked. "Was He not crucified and did He not die?" To that St. Leontius replied: "Since you know that our Christ died, know also that He resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven." After a lengthy discussion about the Faith, Lysius scourged them and threw them into prison and gave them neither food nor drink. Vlassina, a benevolent Christian woman brought them water and handed it to them through the window of the prison. An angel of God appeared to comfort and encourage them. When the time came for sentencing, two jailers and many others appeared before Lysius as converted Christians, totaling forty-five in number. The judge sentenced all of them to death but in this manner: first, that their arms and feet be severed with an axe and then they be thrown into the fire. This horrible two-fold punishment was carried out and the souls of the holy martyrs took flight to their Lord entering into eternal life. They honorably suffered and inherited the Kingdom in the year 319 A.D.
2. VENERABLE ANTHONY OF THE MONASTERY OF THE CAVES IN KIEV
Anthony was the founder and father of monasticism in Russia. He was born in the small town of Chernigov and, at an early age, left his home and went to Athos, the Holy Mountain, where he was tonsured a monk and lived a life of asceticism in the Monastery Esfigmenou. In obedience to a heavenly appearance, the abbot sent Anthony to Russia to establish monasticism. Anthony chose a cave near Kiev. When those who were desirous of a monastic life gathered around him, he then appointed Theodosius as abbot and he remained in the cave as a Silentary. By the blessing of God, the monastery increased and became the parent-monastery of Russian monasticism. Anthony endured much evil both from men and demons but he conquered all by his humbleness. He possessed the great gift of discerning thoughts and the future and healed the sick. He presented himself to the Lord in the year 1073 A.D. at the age of ninety, leaving his spiritual nursery to bring beneficial fruits to the Orthodox people of Russia throughout the ages.
3. THE TRANSLATION OF THE HONORABLE VESTURE [ROBE] OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST
At the time of the suffering of our Lord Jesus for mankind, there was to be found among the ranks of the Roman army in Jerusalem a Georgian named Elioz from the town of Mtskheta. His mother had heard of Christ and, in her heart, believed in Him. Seeing her son off to the army in Palestine, she counseled him not to do anything against Christ. When the Lord was nailed to the Cross, the sound of the hammer on Golgotha reached the ears of Elioz's mother in the town of Mtskheta. Hearing this sound, she cried out: "Woe is me because I did not die before this time. Death would have rescued me from this dreadful sound!" Saying this, she fell dead. Elioz, at that time, was beneath the Cross and with the other soldiers cast lots for the tunic [robe] of Christ. He won the vesture and brought it to Mtskheta and gave it as a gift to his sister Sidonia. She, having heard about the death of the Lord and that her brother was a participant of the shedding of innocent blood, fell dead holding the tunic of the Lord firmly in her hands and no one was able to tear it away but were compelled to bury the tunic with her. A cedar tree sprouted from her grave from which poured forth a sweet-smelling healing myrrh. In time, the cedar tree fell and the place was forgotten. Following her prayer, St. Nina, found this place with the help of a pillar of fire. The baptized Emperor Mirian erected a church there dedicating it to the Holy Apostles. In the year 1625 A.D., the Shah Abbas took this tunic and sent it to Moscow as a gift to Prince Michael Feodorovitch and Patriarch Philaret. This tunic was placed in the Cathedral Church of the Dormition [Assumption] of the Blessed Virgin in Moscow.
HYMN OF PRAISE
THE MOTHER OF ELIOZ
The mother of Elioz counseled him:
Elioz, O sight of my eyes,
"Behold, you are entering the imperial army
Precisely in the land of my forefathers.
In that land, the King has appeared
From of old awaited, Christ the Lord.
By the prophets, the Savior prophesied.
To Georgia, news of Him came
Unseen miracles, He performs
And, unheard of words, He speaks
Among men, establishing the Kingdom of God,
Everywhere, news of Him is heard.
Men and angels rejoice
But this joy is darkened
By the evil malice of the Jewish elders,
Thought to kill the Savior
By the new curse, the people oppressed.
But, my son, the sight of my eyes,
In their evil, you do not enter,
Into the Blood of the Just One, do not enter."
Time was passing, in its course,
One day the mother at prayer
The sound of the hammer on the Cross she heard,
The mother screamed as though in a live fire:
"O death, why did you not come to me sooner,
That I do not, that awful sound hear
That announces the death of the Sinless Savior
And of the Jewish nation, the curse.
O son, O Elioz,
To your mother, why did you not listen?
Into the Blood of the Just One, why did you enter?"
Having said this, the lamenting mother,
To the ground fell. To God her soul rendered.
The thought of death is like a downpour of cold rain, which extinguishes the fire of passions. The Psalmist David says: "For when he dies he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him" (Psalms 49:17). Who would not be ashamed when he sometimes sees, even among the unbelievers, a better comprehension of our earthly nothingness than with some Christians? When Caliph Saladin died, a crier [Telal] went before his coffin with a spear in his hand and, on the spear one of the emperor's shirts, and he cried out: "O great Saladin who conquered all of Asia and because of that caused many nations to tremble before him and who conquered emperors: behold of all his glory and of all his subjects he takes nothing with him except this miserable shirt."
To contemplate the miraculous appearance of God to Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19):
1. How Moses climbed to the top of Mt. Sinai and entered the darkness where God was: "I am coming to you in a dense cloud" [Exodus 19:9];
2. How the light of God is so great that, before it, all of nature and her light becomes darkness;
3. How the heart of man is like Mt. Sinai; in the darkness of the heart, there God encounters man.
About the duties of spiritual shepherds
"Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint but willingly [in God]; not for filthy lucre but of a ready mind [good heart]; neither as being lords over God's heritage but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5: 2-3).
Here is the constitution for shepherds of the flock of Christ! In a few words, the holy Apostle Peter unmasks three terrible passions which turn the shepherds of the flock of Christ into wolves: the passion of pride, "not by constraint"; the passion of greed, "not for filthy lucre"; and power, "neither as being lords over God's heritage". Contrary to these pernicious passions, the apostle points out three virtues which must adorn the priest of God: the fear of God (but willingly in God), zeal (but of a good heart) and service (being an example to the flock). The apostle gave this constitution not only as a teacher but also as a prophet. Primarily, the centuries have revealed two types of shepherds: the first were those who, in their lofty positions of governing the Church, were guided by their passions: pride, greed and lust for power and the second, those who were guided by the fear of God, zeal and an example of service. From the former, the Church suffered but did not perish while they perished. From the latter, the Church grew and advanced and shone forth in the world. The former are wolves and the latter are shepherds. The former are enemies both of man and of God and the latter are friends of man and of God. Christ the Chief-Shepherd will seek an accounting both from the former and the latter concerning every sheep, i.e. of every human soul and will justly recompense everyone according to their merit. Pride, greed and lust for power in so-called shepherds will be rewarded by eternal fire and the fear of God, mercy and service of the true shepherds will be rewarded by eternal rejoicing.
O Lord Jesus the Chief-Shepherd, help the shepherds of Your spiritual flock that, to the end, they may fulfill the commandment of Your holy apostle.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.