Eudokia the Martyr of Heliopolis*
Eudokia lived in the Phoenician city of Heliopolis during the reign of Trajan. Initially, Eudokia was a great debauchee, but afterward she was a penitent, an ascetic, and finally a martyr. Through her harlotry she amassed a huge fortune. The change in her life occurred inadvertently, through God’s providence and a certain elder, the monk Germanus. Having come into the city on an obedience, Germanus was residing at the home of a Christian whose house was adjacent to that of Eudokia. In the evening, according to monastic practice, he began to recite the Psalter and a book on the Dread Judgment. Eudokia heard him and eavesdropped attentively to the end. Fear and terror overcame her, and she remained awake until dawn. At daybreak she sent her servant to beseech the monk to come to her. Germanus came, and a lengthy conversation took place between them about what the elderly monk had been reading the night before, and about faith and salvation in general. As a result of their conversation, Eudokia petitioned the local bishop to baptize her. Following her baptism, Eudokia bequeathed her entire estate to the Church, to be distributed among the poor. After dismissing her servants and slaves, she withdrew to a convent. Thus, Eudokia resolved to dedicate herself to the monastic life: obedience, patience, vigils, prayer and fasting. After thirteen months Eudokia was elected abbess. She lived in the convent for fifty-six years and was found worthy before God. He endowed her with such grace that she even raised the dead. When the persecution of Christians began under Prince Vincent, St. Eudokia was beheaded. Eudokia is a glorious example of how a vessel of impurity can be purified, sanctified and filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit, the precious fragrance of heaven.
Our Venerable Father Nicolas Planas
Saint Nicolas Planas was born of devout parents in 1851, on the island of Naxos. From his very earliest years, he was distinguished by his simplicity and piety; he gave away the bread that his mother gave him to the poor in the village, and even gave his clothing to needy children. Throughout his life, he never kept for himself anything that would be for his personal satisfaction or comfort. He married at the age of seventeen and had a son, but his wife did not understand his spiritual aspirations, and continually reproached him. Becoming a widower after several years, he entrusted his son to his parents and, having given the whole family inheritance to a fellow-countryman who was crippled by debt, was able thenceforward to consecrate himself entirely to the Lord’s service and, in the middle of Athens, lead the life of the desert ascetics. Ordained priest in 1884, he was soon driven out of the Church of Saint Panteleimon, to which he had been attached, and settled in a small church called St John the Hunter: a parish comprising only eight families, from which he received scarcely any stipend. Learn More
Gerasimos the Righteous of Jordan*
This remarkable and renowned saint first learned about the ascetic life while he was in the Egyptian Thebaid. He then went to the Jordan and founded a community in which there were seventy monks. This community still exists today. He instituted a special rule for his monastery. According to this rule the monks spent five days a week in their cells weaving baskets and rush mats. They were never allowed to light a fire in their cells. Five days a week they ate only a little dry bread and a few dates. The monks were required to keep their cells open so that, when they went out, anyone could enter and remove whatever he needed from their cells. On Saturdays and Sundays they gathered in the monastery church. They had a common meal with a few vegetables and a little wine to the glory of God. Each monk would then bring in and place before the feet of the abbot that which he had made during the past five days. Each monk had only one robe. St. Gerasimos was an example to all. During Great Lent he did not eat anything except what he received in Holy Communion. On one occasion, he saw a lion roaring from pain because of a thorn in his paw. Gerasimos drew near to the lion, crossed himself and removed the thorn in his paw. The lion became so tame that he returned with Gerasimos to the monastery and remained there until the elder’s death. When Gerasimos reposed, the lion succumbed to sorrow for him and died. Gerasimos attended the Fourth Ecumenical Council (Chalcedon, 451) during the reign of Marcian and Pulcheria. Although at the beginning Gerasimos leaned toward the Monophysite heresy of Eutyches and Dioscorus (St. Euthymius dissuaded him from the heresy), he was a great defender and champion of Orthodoxy at the Council. Of all the disciples of Gerasimos, the most famous was St. Cyriacus the Recluse. St. Gerasimos died in the year 475, and passed on to the eternal joy of his Lord.
The Holy Forty-two Martyrs from Ammoria*
They were all commanders of the Byzantine Emperor Theophilus. When the Emperor Theophilus lost the battle against the Saracens at the city of Ammoria, the Saracens captured the city and enslaved many Christians. Among them were these commanders. The remaining Christians were either killed or sold into slavery. The commanders were thrown into prison, where they remained for seven years. Many times the Moslem leaders came to them. They counseled and advised the commanders to embrace the Islamic faith, but the commanders refused to listen. When the Saracens spoke to the commanders, saying, “Mohammed is the true prophet and not Christ,” the commanders asked them: “If there were two men debating about a field and the one said, ‘This field is mine,’ and the other, ‘It is not, it is mine,’ and one of them had many witnesses nearby saying it is his field, and the other had no witnesses, but only himself — whose field would you say it was?” The Saracens answered: “Indeed, it is his who had many witnesses!” “You have judged correctly,” the commanders answered. “That is the way it is with Christ and Mohammed. Christ has many witnesses: the Prophets of old, from Moses to John the Forerunner, whom you also recognize and who witness to and about Him, whereas Mohammed witnesses to himself that he is a prophet and hasn’t a single witness.” The Saracens were ashamed and again they tried to defend their faith in this manner: “Our faith is better than the Christian Faith, as is proved by this: God gave us the victory over you and gave us the best land in the world and a kingdom much greater than Christianity.” To this the commanders replied: “If that were so, then the idolatry of Egyptians, Babylonians, Hellenes, Romans, and the fire-worship of the Persians would be the true faith, for at one time all of these people conquered the others and ruled over them. It is evident that your victory, power and wealth do not prove the truth of your faith. We know that God, at times, gives victory to Christians and, at other times, allows torture and suffering so as to correct them and bring them to repentance and purification of their sins.” After seven years they were beheaded, in the year 845. Their bodies were then thrown into the Euphrates River, but they floated to the other shore, where they were gathered and honorably buried by Christians.
Saint Theophylaktos, Bishop of Nicomedea*
When the emperor’s advisor Tarasius, a layman, was elected Patriarch of Constantinople, then many of his friends, admirers, and other laymen received the monastic tonsure either with him or by him. Among them was Theophylaktos. Tarasius appointed him Bishop of Nicomedea. As a bishop, Theophylaktos was a good shepherd to his entrusted flock and proved to be exceptionally compassionate toward the less fortunate and indigent. After the death of St. Tarasius, the patriarchal throne was occupied by Nicephorus. Shortly after that, the imperial throne was occupied by Leo the Armenian, an iconoclast. As such, he raised up an absolute storm in the Church of Christ. Even though iconoclasm had been anathematized by the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicaea, 783), nevertheless, Emperor Leo reinstated it and wanted thereby to supplant Orthodoxy. St. Theophylaktos opposed the emperor to his face. When the emperor would not yield, Theophylaktos said to him: “O deliver you from it.” Because of these words and by the order of the emperor, Theophylaktos was removed from his see and sent into exile. There he spent thirty years undergoing many hardships and insults, and in the end he rendered his soul to the Lord in about the year 845.
Benedict the Righteous of Nursia*
Benedict was born in the Italian province of Nursia in the year 480, of wealthy and distinguished parents. He did not remain long in school for he realized himself that through book-learning he could lose “the great understanding of his soul.” He left school “an unlearned wise man and an understanding fool.” He retreated to a monastery, where he was tonsured by the monk Romanus, after which he withdrew to a steep mountain, where he remained in a cave for more than three years in a great struggle with his soul. Romanus brought him bread and lowered it down the steep mountain on a rope to the opening of the cave. When Benedict became known in the vicinity, he withdrew from this cave in order to retreat from the glory of men. He was merciless toward himself. Once, when an unclean and raging passion of the flesh seized him, he removed all his clothes and rolled around naked in the thorns until he repelled every thought of a woman. God endowed him with many spiritual gifts: clairvoyance, healing, the expelling of evil spirits, the raising of the dead, and the ability to appear to others from a distance in visions and dreams. Once Benedict perceived that a glass of wine served to him was poisoned. When he made the sign of the Cross over it, the glass burst. In the beginning he established twelve monasteries, and in each of them he placed twelve monks. Later he compiled the special “Benedictine” rule, which is followed even today in the Roman Church. On the sixth day before his death, he ordered that his grave, which had been prepared earlier, be opened, for the saint foresaw that his end was near. He assembled all the monks, counseled them, and then gave up his soul to the Lord, Whom he had faithfully served in poverty and in purity. Scholastica, his sister by birth, lived in a convent where, in imitation of her brother, she greatly subdued herself and reached a high state of spiritual perfection. When St. Benedict gave up his soul, two monks, one travelling on the road and one at prayer in a faraway cell, simultaneously saw the same vision. They saw a path extending from earth to heaven, covered with a precious woven fiber and illuminated on both sides by rows of men. At the head of the path, there stood a man of indescribable beauty and light, who said to them that this path was prepared for Benedict, favoured by God. As a result of this vision, these two brother learned that their good abbot had departed from this world. He reposed peacefully in the year 543 and entered into the Eternal Kingdom of Christ the King.
Saint Alexios the Man of God*
Varied are the paths upon which God leads those who desire to please Him and fulfill His law. There lived in Rome at the time of Emperor Honorius a high-ranking dignitary, Euphemianus, who was highly respected and extremely wealthy. He and his wife, Aglaida, led a God-pleasing life. Even though he was wealthy, Euphemianus sat at the table only once a day, after the setting of the sun. He had an only son, Alexios, who was compelled to marry when he became an adult. But, on the night of the wedding, Alexios left not only his wife but also the home of his father. He boarded a boat and arrived at the city of Edessa in Mesopotamia, where there was the wondrous image of our Lord, sent there by our Lord Himself to King Abgar. Having venerated this image, Alexios clothed himself in the garb of a beggar. As such, he lived in the city for seventeen years, continually praying to God in the vestibule of the Church of the Theotokos. When it became known that he was a holy man, he became frightened of the praise of men, departed Edessa, boarded a boat, and traveled to Laodicea. According to God’s providence, the boat was carried off-course and sailed all the way to Rome. Considering this to be the hand of God, Alexios decided to go to the house of his father and there, unknown, continue his life of self-denial. His father did not recognize him but of charity allowed him to live in his courtyard in a hut. Alexios remained there for seventeen years, living only on bread and water. Mistreated by the servants in various ways, he endured everything to the end. When his end approached, he wrote a letter, clenched it in his hand, and then lay down and died, on March 17, 411. At the same time there was a revelation in the Church of the Twelve Apostles. In the presence of the emperor and the patriarch a voice was heard which said: “Seek out the Man of God.” Shortly after that, it was revealed that this “Man of God” resided at the house of Euphemianus. The emperor along with the pope and an entire retinue arrived at the home of Euphemianus, and after a lengthy discussion they learned that the beggar was that “Man of God.” When they entered his hut, they found Alexios dead, but his face shone like the sun. From the letter his parents learned that he was their son Alexios. And his bride, who for thirty-four years had lived without him, learned that he was her husband. All were overcome with immense grief and pain. Later they were comforted, seeing how God glorified His chosen one. By touching his body, many of the sick were healed, and from his body flowed a sweet-smelling oil. His body was entombed in a coffin of marble and jasper. His head is preserved in the Church of St. Laurus in the Peloponnese.
The Holy Martyrs Chrysanthos and Daria, and others with them*
Chrysanthos was the only son of Polemius, a distinguished patrician, who moved from Alexandria to Rome. As the son of wealthy parents, Chrysanthos studied all the secular subjects, having the most learned men for instructors. But secular wisdom confused him and left him in uncertainty as to what is truth. As a result of this, he grieved. But God, Who plans all and everything, alleviated his grief: a written copy of the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles came into the hands of the young Chrysanthos. Having read them, Chrysanthos was enlightened with the truth. He desired a teacher and found one in the person of a certain priest, Carpophorus, who taught and baptized him. This did not please his father, who by all means attempted to dissuade him from believing in Christ. Not succeeding, the wicked father at first tried to corrupt him by placing him alone with an immoral woman. But Chrysanthos was victorious over himself in this, and persevered in chastity. His father then coerced him into marrying Daria, a pagan girl. Chrysanthos counseled Daria to embrace the Christian Faith and to live together with him as brother and sister, although pretending to be married. When his father died, Chrysanthos began to confess Christ openly and to live as a Christian, both he and his entire household. During the reign of the Emperor Numerian, he and Daria were cruelly tortured for their faith. Even the torturer Claudius, witnessing the forbearance of these honorable martyrs and the miracles which were manifested during their sufferings, embraced the Christian Faith along with his entire household. For this Claudius was drowned, both of his sons were beheaded, and his wife, after having recited her prayers, died on the gallows. Daria was so steadfast in her martyrdom that the pagans cried out: “Daria is a goddess!” Finally, it was decreed that Chrysanthos and Daria be buried in a deep pit and covered with stones. Later a church was erected on this site. There was a cave near this pit where some Christians assembled for prayer and Communion in memory of the martyrs Chrysanthos and Daria. Hearing of this, the pagans attacked and sealed off this cave, and thus they drove these Christians from this world to a better world, where Christ reigns eternally. These glorious martyrs, Chrysanthos and Daria and the others with them, among whom were the priest Diodorus and the deacon Marianus, suffered for Christ in Rome in 283 or 284.
The Annunciation of the Theotokos*
When the All-holy Virgin had completed the fourteenth year after her birth and was entering her fifteenth year, after having spent eleven years living and serving in the Temple of Jerusalem, the priests informed her that, according to the Law, she could not remain in the Temple but was required to be betrothed and enter into marriage. To the great surprise of the priests, the All-holy Virgin answered that she had dedicated her life to God and that she desired to remain a virgin until death, not wanting to enter into marriage with anyone! Then according to God’s providence and inspiration, Zacharias, the high priest and father of the Forerunner, in agreement with the other priests, gathered twelve unmarried men from the tribe of David, so that they might entrust the Virgin Mary to one of them to preserve her virginity and care for her. She was entrusted to Joseph of Nazareth, who was her kinsman. In the house of Joseph, the All-holy Virgin continued to live as she did in the Temple of Solomon, occupying her time in the reading of sacred Scripture, in prayer, in godly thoughts, in fasting, and in handiwork. She rarely went anywhere outside the house and was uninterested in worldly matters and events. She spoke very little to anyone, if at all, and never without special need. She most often associated with Joseph’s two daughters. When the fullness of time had come, as prophesied by Daniel the Prophet, and when God was pleased to fulfill His promise to the banished Adam and to the prophets, the great Archangel Gabriel appeared in the chamber of the All-holy Virgin. This occurred, as some Church writers have related, precisely at the same moment that she held open the book of the Prophet Isaiah and was contemplating his great prophecy: Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and bear a son! (Isaiah 7:14). Gabriel appeared in all of his angelic brightness and saluted her: Rejoice, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee! (Luke 1:28), and the rest, as it is written in the Gospel of the blessed Luke. With this angelic annunciation and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Virgin, the salvation of mankind and the restoration of all creation began. The history of the New Testament was opened by the words of the Archangel Gabriel: Rejoice, thou that art highly favored. This shows that the New Testament signified joy to mankind and to all created things. Therefore the Annunciation is considered not only a great feast but also a joyful feast.
- Hymn of Praise
- Theophanes the Cretan and the Iconography of the Annunciation (Courtesy of The Friends of Mount Athos: Annual Report (2012): 40-47.)
Synaxis of the Holy Archangel Gabriel*
Gabriel is the herald of the Incarnation of the Son of God. He is one of the seven archangels who stand before the throne of God. He appeared to Zacharias to announce the birth of the Forerunner. Gabriel said of himself: I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God (Luke 1:19). His name Gabriel means “man-God.” The Holy Fathers, in speaking of the Annunciation, comment that an archangel with such a name was sent to signify Who He was, and what He would be like, Who would be born of the All-pure one. He would be the God-man, the mighty and powerful God. Some of the Fathers understood that this same Gabriel appeared to Joachim and Anna concerning the birth of the Virgin Mary, and that Gabriel instructed Moses in the wilderness to write the Book of Genesis. The Holy Fathers say that Gabriel belongs to the first and greatest order of heavenly powers, that is, the Seraphim, since the Seraphim stand closest to God. He is, therefore, one of the seven Seraphim closest to God. The names of the seven are Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Salathiel, Jegudiel, and Barachiel. To this number some add Jeremiel. Each one has his own particular service and all are equal in honor. Why did God not send Michael? Because Michael’s service is to suppress the enemies of the Faith of God, while Gabriel’s is the mission of announcing the salvation of mankind.
John Climacus the Righteous*
John Climacus is the author of The Ladder of Divine Ascent. John came to Mount Sinai as a sixteen-year-old youth and remained there, first as a novice, later as a recluse, and finally as abbot of Sinai until his eightieth year, when he reposed, in about the year 649. His biographer, the monk Daniel, says about him: “His body ascended the heights of Sinai, while his soul ascended the heights of heaven.” He remained under obedience to his spiritual father, Martyrius, for nineteen years. Anastasius of Sinai, seeing the young John, prophesied that he would become the abbot of Sinai. After the death of his spiritual father, John withdrew into a cave, where he lived a life of strict asceticism for twenty years. His disciple, Moses, fell asleep one day under the shade of a large stone. John, at prayer in his cell, saw that his disciple was in danger and prayed to God for him. Later, when Moses returned, he fell on his knees and gave thanks to his spiritual father for saving him from certain death. He related that in a dream he had heard John calling him, and that he had jumped up at the moment the stone had fallen. Had he not jumped, the stone would have crushed him. At the insistence of the brotherhood, John agreed to become abbot, and he directed the salvation of the souls of men with zeal and love. Certain people reproached John for talking too much. Not at all angered by this, John nevertheless remained silent for an entire year. He did not utter a word until the brothers implored him to speak, and to continue teaching them his God-given wisdom. On one occasion, when six hundred pilgrims came to the Monastery of Sinai, everyone saw an agile youth in Jewish attire serving at table, giving orders to other servants and assigning duties. Suddenly, this young man disappeared. When everyone noticed this and began to ask questions, John said to them: “Do not seek him, for that was Moses the Prophet serving in his own place.” During his silence in the cave, John wrote many worthwhile books, of which the most glorious is The Ladder. This book is still read by many, even today. In this book, John describes the method of raising the soul to God, comparing it to the climbing of a ladder. Before his death, John designated George, his brother in the flesh, as abbot. George grieved much because of his separation from John. Then John said to him that, if he were found worthy to be near God in the other world, he would pray to Him that George would be taken to heaven that same year. And so it came to pass. After ten months, George fell asleep and settled among the citizens of heaven as his great brother, John, had done.