Ecclesiastical New Year (Beginning of the Indiction)**
The First Ecumenical Council (Nicaea, 325) decreed that the Church year should begin on September 1. The month of September was, for the Hebrews, the beginning of the civil year (Exodus 23:16), the month of gathering the harvest and of the offering of thanks to God. It was on this feast that the Lord Jesus entered the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21), opened the book of the Prophet Isaiah and read the words: The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me; because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn (Isaiah 61:1-2). The month of September is also important in the history of Christianity, because Emperor Constantine the Great was victorious over Maxentius, the enemy of the Christian Faith, in September. Following this victory, Constantine granted freedom of confession to the Christian Faith throughout the Roman Empire. For a long time, the civil year in the Christian world followed the Church year, with its beginning on September 1. The civil year was later changed, and its beginning transferred to January 1. This occurred first in Western Europe, and later in Russia, under Peter the Great.
Holy Prophet Zacharias, Father of St. John the Forerunner**
He was the father of St. John the Forerunner. Zacharias was the son of Barachias, from the lineage of Abia, of the sons of Aaron. Zacharias was a high priest who held the eight degree of service in the Temple of Jerusalem. His wife Elizabeth was the daughter of Sophia and the sister of St. Anna, who was the mother of the Holy Theotokos. During the reign of King Herod the child-slayer, Zacharias was serving one day at the Temple of Jerusalem according to his turn. An angel of God appeared to him in the sanctuary, and Zacharias had great fear. The angel said to him: Fear not, Zacharias (Luke 1:13), and announced that Elizabeth would bear a son, in answer to their prayers. But both Zacharias and Elizabeth were old. When Zacharias doubted the words of the heavenly herald, the angel said: I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God (Luke 1:19). Zacharias was struck dumb from that hour, and could not speak until his son was born and he had written on a tablet: His name is John (Luke 1:63). Then his speech returned, and he magnified God. Some time later, when the Lord Jesus had been born and Herod began to slaughter the children of Bethlehem, he sent men to find and kill the son of Zacharias – for Herod had heard all that had happened to Zacharias, and how John has been born. Upon seeing the soldiers coming, Elizabeth took John into her arms – he was a year and a half old at that time – fled from the house with him, and ran to a rocky and desolate place. When she saw the soldiers following her, she cried out to the mountain: “O Mountain of God, receive a mother with her child!” and the rock opened and hid the mother and child. Then Herod, enraged that the child John had not been slain, ordered Zacharias be slain before the altar. The blood of Zacharias was spilled on the marble and dried solid as stone, and remained as a witness as Herod’s evil deed. In the place where Elizabeth hid with John a cave opened, water flowed out of it, and a fruit-bearing palm grew, all by the power of God. Forty days after the death of Zacharias, the blessed Elizabeth died. The child John remained in the wilderness, fed by an angel and protected by God’s providence, until the day he appeared at the Jordan.
The Nativity of Our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary**
The Holy Virgin Mary was born of aged parents, Joachim and Anna. Her father was of the lineage of David, and her mother of the lineage of Aaron. Thus, she was of royal birth by her father, and of priestly birth by her mother. In this, she foreshadowed Him Who would be born of her as King and High Priest. Her parents were quite old and had no children. Because of this they were ashamed before men and humble before God. In their humility they prayed to God with tears, to bring them joy in their old age by giving them a child, as He had once given joy to the aged Abraham and his wife Sarah by giving them Isaac. The Almighty and All-seeing God rewarded them with a joy that surpassed all their expectations and all their most beautiful dreams. For He gave them not just a daughter, but the Mother of God. He illumined them not only with temporal joy, but with eternal joy as well. God gave them just one daughter, and she would later give them just one grandson – but what a daughter and what a Grandson! Mary, Full of grace, Blessed among women, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Altar of the Living God, the Table of the Heavenly Bread, the Ark of God’s Holiness, the Tree of the Sweetest Fruit, the Glory of the race of man, the Praise of womanhood, the Fount of virginity and purity – this was the daughter given by God to Joachim and Anna. She was born in Nazareth, and at the age of three, was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem. In her young womanhood she returned again to Nazareth, and shortly thereafter heard the Annunciation of the Holy Archangel Gabriel concerning the birth of the Son of God, the Savior of the world, from her most-pure virgin body.
Our Holy Mother Theodora of Alexandria
The Lord likened the Kingdom of Heaven to ten virgins, which is most evidently true of the ten holy women renowned in the Church for having led the ascetic life disguised in monasteries of men.+ Saint Theodora, who lived in Alexandria in the reign of the Emperor Zeno (474-91), is one of these women. She was married to a devout and respectable man called Paphnutius, but one day, led on by the devil, she committed adultery. No sooner had she sinned than she was so afflicted in conscience that she dared not return home, but felt a burning desire to do penance without delay. So, dressing as a man and calling herself Theodore, she asked to be admitted as a novice in a neighbouring monastery. Learn More
The Exaltation of the Venerable and Life-Giving Cross**
Two events in connection with the Honorable Cross of Christ are commemorated on this day: first, the finding of the Honorable Cross on Golgotha and second, the return of the Honorable Cross from Persia to Jerusalem. Visiting the Holy Land, the holy Empress Helen decided to find the Honorable Cross of Christ. An old Jewish man named Judah was the only one who knew where the Cross was located, and, constrained by the empress, he revealed that the Cross was buried under the temple of Venus that Emperor Hadrian had built on Golgotha. Learn More
Euphemia the Holy and Great Martyr**
Euphemia was born in Chalcedon. Her father Philophronus, a senator, and her mother Theodorisia were devout Christians. Euphemia was a beautiful virgin in body and in soul. When the Proconsul Priscus held a feast and offered sacrifices to Ares in Chalcedon, forty-nine Christians avoided this foul sacrificial offering and hid themselves. However, they were discovered and brought before Priscus. Among them was St. Euphemia. When the arrogant Priscus asked them why they defied the imperial decree, they replied: “Both the emperor’s and your command should be obeyed, if they are not contrary to the God of heaven; but if they are contrary to God, they should not only be disobeyed, but should also be opposed.” For nineteen consecutive days, Priscus imposed various tortures on them. On the twentieth day he separated Euphemia from the others and began to flatter her for her beauty, attempting to win her over to idolatry. As his flattery was in vain, he ordered that the virgin be tortured again. First, they tortured her on the wheel, but an angel of God appeared to Euphemia and shattered the wheel. Then they threw her into a fiery furnace, but she was preserved by the power of God. Upon seeing this, two soldiers, Victor and Sosthenes, came to believe in Christ, for which they were thrown to the wild beasts, and thus gloriously ended their earthly lives. Euphemia was then thrown into a pit filled with water and every kind of poisonous vermin; but she made the sign of the Cross over the water and remained unharmed. She was finally thrown to the wild beasts and, with a prayer of thanksgiving to God, gave up her spirit. Her parents buried her body honorably. Euphemia suffered in the year 304 and entered into eternal joy. She is also commemorated on July 11.
Eustathius the Great Martyr, his wife and two children**
Eustathius was a great Roman general during the reigns of Emperors Titus and Trajan. Though he was a pagan, Placidas (for that was his pagan name) was a just and merciful man, similar to Cornelius the Centurion, who was baptized by the Apostle Peter (Acts 10). Out hunting one day, he pursued a stag. By God’s providence, a cross appeared between the antlers of the stag and the voice of the Lord came to Placidas, directing him to go to a Christian priest and become baptized. Placidas was baptized, along with his wife and two sons. At baptism, he received the name Eustathius; his wife, Theopiste (“faithful to God”); and his sons, Agapitus and Theopistus. After his baptism, he returned to the place where he had experienced the revelation of the stag and, kneeling, gave thanks to God that He had brought him to the truth. Just then, the voice of the Lord again manifested itself to him, foretold that he would suffer for His name, and strengthened him. Then Eustathius secretly left Rome with his family, intending to hide among the simple people and serve God in humble and unknown surroundings. Arriving in Egypt, he was immediately beset by trials. An evil barbarian abducted his wife, and both of his sons were seized by wild beasts and carried away. However, the barbarian soon lost his life, and the children were saved from the wild beasts by shepherds. Eustathius settled in the Egyptian village of Vadisis and lived there for fifteen years as a hired laborer. Then barbarians attacked the Roman Empire, and Emperor Trajan grieved that he did not have the brave General Placidas, who had carried the victory whenever he fought. The emperor sent two of his officers to seek the great commander throughout the empire. By God’s providence, these officers (who were once companions of Eustathius), came to the village of Vadisis, found Eustathius and brought him back to the emperor. Eustathius amassed an army and defeated the barbarians. On the way back to Rome, Eustathius found his wife and both sons. Meanwhile, Emperor Trajan had died and Emperor Hadrian was on the throne. When Hadrian summoned General Eustathius to offer sacrifices to the gods, Eustathius declined, declaring himself a Christian. The emperor subjected him and his wife and sons to torture. They were thrown to the wild beasts, but this did them no harm. Then they were cast into a red-hot metal ox. On the third day their dead bodies were removed, but they were unharmed by the fire. Thus, this glorious commander rendered unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s (Luke 20:25), and took up his habitation in the Eternal Kingdom of Christ our God.
The Conception of Saint John the Baptist**
On this day the mercy, miracles and wisdom of God are celebrated: His mercy toward the devout and righteous parents of St. John, the aged Zacharias and Elizabeth, who all their lives had wished for and begged a child from God; His miracle, that of John’s conception in the aged womb of Elizabeth; His wisdom, in the dispensation of man’s salvation. God had an especially great intention for John: namely, the he be the Prophet and Forerunner of Christ the Lord, the Savior of the world. Through His angels, God announced the births of Isaac to the childless Sarah, Samson to the childless wife of Manoah, and John the Forerunner to the childless Zacharias and Elizabeth. All of these were those for whom He had special intentions, and he foretold their birth through his angels. How could children be born of aged parents? If someone desires to understand this, he should not ask men about it, for men do not know; nor should he study natural law, for this is beyond natural law. Rather, he should turn his gaze upon the power of the Almighty God, Who created the whole world from nothing, and Who needed no parents – old or young – for the creation of the first man, Adam. Instead of being curious, let us give thanks to God, Who often reveals His power, mercy and wisdom to us in ways that are beyond natural law – in which we would be imprisoned without these special miracles of God, and would fall into despair and forgetfulness of God.
Holy Protomartyr Thekla, Equal to the Apostles**
Thekla was born in Iconium of eminent but pagan parents. As a girl of eighteen, she was betrothed to a young man at the same time that the Apostle Paul arrived in Iconium with Barnabas to preach the Gospel. Hearing Paul’s testimony for three days and nights, Thekla converted to the Christian Faith, and vowed to live in virginity. Her mother, seeing that she was now ignoring her betrothed and no longer thought of marriage, tried to dissuade her, and then beat her and tortured her by starvation. Finally, this wicked mother turned Thekla over to the judge and demanded that Thekla be burned. The judge threw her into the fire, but God preserved her unharmed. Then, Thekla followed the Apostle Paul, and went to Antioch with him. Attracted by Thekla’s external beauty, a certain elder of the city wanted to take her for himself by force, but Thekla escaped his grasp. The pagan elder accused her to the eparch as a Christian who disdained marriage. The eparch condemned her to death, and had her thrown to wild beasts, but the wild beasts did not touch the body of this holy virgin. Amazed by this, the eparch asked her: “Who are you and what kind of power is in you, that nothing can harm you?” Thekla replied: “I am a servant of the Living God.” The eparch then released her, and she departed to preach the Gospel. She succeeded in converting many to the true Faith, among whom was Tryphena, a prominent and honorable widow. Then, having received the blessing of the Apostle Paul to do so, Thekla withdrew to a secluded place near Seleucia. There she lived a life of asceticism for a long time and, by healing the sick with wonderworking power, she converted many to Christianity. The doctors and soothsayers in Seleucia were envious of her, and sent some young men to defile her, hoping that the loss of her virginity would also mean the loss of her miraculous power. Thekla fled from these arrogant young men, but as they were about to catch her, she prayed to God for help. A large rock opened up and hid this holy virgin and bride of Christ. This rock was her refuge and her tomb. St. John Chrysostom says of this wonderful Christian heroine and saint: “It seems to me that as I see this blessed virgin, in one hand she offers Christ virginity, and in the other hand, martyrdom.”
Our Venerable Father Chariton, Confessor and Teacher of the desert
Our holy Father Chariton was born and brought up at Iconium in Asia Minor. The Emperor Aurelian (270-6), who showed no hostility to Christians at the outset of his reign, was incited by the Devil after a while to begin a violent persecution of those who called upon the Name of Christ.+ Chariton, whose piety and godliness were well known in Iconium, was arrested and brought before the Consul when the imperial decree arrived. As he fearlessly confessed Christ and his abhorrence of idols, he was stretched on the ground, violently scourged, and thrown into prison with his flesh torn to shreds. A few days later, after a second appearance at the tribunal, he was set free and took refuge in Egypt, until the death of the tyrant put an end to persecution for a time. Learn More
Cyriacus the Hermit of Palestine**
Cyriacus was born in Corinth, to John and Eudoxia. His father John was a presbyter and Peter, Bishop of Corinth, was his kinsman. In his early youth, the bishop ordained Cyriacus a reader in the cathedral church. Reading the Holy Scripture, the young Cyriacus marvelled at God’s providence: how God glorified all His true servants and how he arranged the salvation of the human race. At age eighteen, Cyriacus’s desire for the spiritual life led him to Jerusalem. There, he entered the monastery of a godly man Eustorgius, who gave him his first instruction in the monastic life. After that, he went to St. Euthymius, who foresaw that he would be a great spiritual father. He clothed him in the schema and sent him to St. Gerasimus at the Jordan, where Cyriacus spent nine years. Following the death of Gerasimus, he returned to the Monastery of St. Euthymius, where he remained in stillness for ten years. Then, fleeing the praise of men, he moved from place to place. He finally lived a life of asceticism in the community of St. Chariton, where he ended his earthly sojourn of 109 years. A celebrated ascetic and miracle-worker, St. Cyriacus was massive and strong in body, and remained such in deep old age, despite strict fasts and vigils. In the wilderness, he sometimes ate only raw greens for years. He was very zealous for the Orthodox Faith, denouncing all heresies, especially that of Origen. He said of himself that, since he became a monk, the sun had neither seen him eat nor become angry with anyone. According to the Rule of St. Chariton, the monks ate only once a day, after the setting of the sun. Cyriacus was a great light, a pillar of Orthodoxy, the adornment of monks, a mighty healer of the sick, and a gentle comforter of the sorrowful. Having lived long for the benefit of many, he took up his habitation in the eternal joy of his Lord in the year 557.