The Presentation of Our Lord and Saviour in the Temple*
The fortieth day after His birth, the All-holy Virgin brought her divine Son into the Temple of Jerusalem, in accordance with the Law, to dedicate Him to God and to purify herself (Leviticus 12:2-7, Exodus 12:2). Even though neither the one nor the other was necessary, the Lawgiver did not want in any way to transgress His own Law, which He had given through Moses, His servant and prophet. At that time, the high-priest Zacharias, the father of John the Forerunner, was serving in the Temple. Zacharias placed the Virgin, not in the temple area reserved for women, but rather in the area reserved for virgins. On this occasion two very special persons appeared in the Temple: the Elder Simeon and Anna, the daughter of Phanuel. The righteous Simeon took the Messiah in his arms and said: Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation (Luke 2:29-30). Simeon also spoke the following words about the Christ-child: Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel (Luke 2:34). Then Anna, who from her youth had served God in the Temple by fasting and prayer, recognized the Messiah and glorified God. She then proclaimed to the inhabitants of Jerusalem the coming of the long-awaited One. But the Pharisees who were present in the Temple, having seen and heard all, became angry with Zacharias because he had placed the Virgin Mary in the area reserved for virgins, and they reported this to King Herod. Convinced that this was the new king spoken of by the Magi from the East, Herod immediately sent his soldiers to kill Jesus. In the meantime, the holy family had already left the city and set out for Egypt under the guidance of an angel of God. The Feast of the Meeting of our Lord in the Temple was celebrated from earliest times, but the solemn celebration of this day was established in the year 544, during the reign of Emperor Justinian.
Symeon the God-receiver, Anna the Prophetess*
During the reign of the Egyptian Emperor Ptolemy Philadelphus, Simeon was chosen as one of the famous Seventy, to whom was entrusted the task of translating the Bible from Hebrew into Greek. Simeon was performing his task conscientiously, but in the process of translating the book of the Prophet Isaiah he came upon the prophecy: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son (Isaish 7:14). He became confused and took a knife to remove the word “virgin” and replace it with the words “young woman,” and thus to translate it into Greek. At that moment, however, an angel of God appeared to Simeon and restrained him from his intention, explaining to him that the prophecy was true, that it was correctly written. The messenger of God also said that Simeon would become convinced of it personally, for, according to the will of God, he would not die until he saw the Messiah born of the Virgin. The righteous Simeon rejoiced to hear such a voice from heaven, left the prophecy unchanged and thanked God, Who made him worthy to live and see the Promised One. When the young Child Jesus was presented in the Temple in Jerusalem by the Virgin Mary, the Spirit of God revealed this to Simeon, who was very old and “as white as a swan.” Simeon quickly entered the Temple and there recognized both the Virgin and the young Child by the light that shone around their heads like a halo. The joyful Simeon took Christ into his hands and prayed to God to release him from this life: Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servent depart in peace, according to Thy word: For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation (Luke 2:29-30). Anna the Prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, was also there; she too recognized the Messiah, and she proclaimed Him to the people. At that time Anna was eighty-four years old. St. Simeon died shortly thereafter. This righteous Elder Simeon is considered to be a protector of young children.
Saint Photios, Patriarch of Constantinople*
Photios was a great beacon of the Church. He was a relative of the emperor and a grandson of the glorious Patriarch Tarasius. He vigorously protected the Church from papal love of power and other Roman distortions of the Faith. In six days he went through all the ecclesiastical ranks, rising from a layman to patriarch. He was consecrated Patriarch on the Feast of the Nativity of Christ in the year 857, and he reposed in the Lord in the year 891.
- St. Photios: From the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Theodore the Commander and Great Martyr*
There are martyrdoms that are beyond any price. The preciousness of martyrdom depends upon the greatness of the good things which a Christian abandons, and in lieu of which he accepts suffering. In addition, it depends upon the greatness of the suffering that he endures for Christ’s sake. St. Theodore, a Roman commander in the army of Emperor Licinius and the governor of the town of Heraclea, scorned his youth, his handsome appearance, his military rank and the good graces of the emperor. In place of all this, he accepted horrible tortures for the sake of Christ. At first, Theodore was flogged and received six hundred lashes on his back and five hundred on his stomach. After this, he was raised on a cross and was completely pierced with lances. Finally, Theodore was beheaded. Why all of this? Because St. Theodore loved Christ the Lord above all else in the world. He abhorred the foolish idolatry of the superstitious Emperor Licinius. He smashed the idols of silver and gold and distributed pieces of them to the poor. He converted many to the Christian Faith and called upon Emperor Licinius himself to reject idolatry and believe in the One Living God. During the entire time of his tortures, St. Theodore said repeatedly: “Glory to Thee, my God, glory to Thee!” St. Theodore suffered on February 8, 319, at three o’clock in the afternoon, and entered into the Kingdom of Christ. St. Theodore is considered the protector of soldiers who call upon him for assistance. His miracle-working relics were translated from Euchaita to Constantinople and interred in the Blachernae Church.
Haralambos the Holy Martyr*
This great saint, Haralambos, was a bishop in Magnesia who suffered for Christ in his 113th year. When a terrible persecution began during the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus, the elderly Haralambos did not hide from the persecutors. Instead, he freely and openly preached the Christian Faith. He endured all tortures as though he were in someone else’s body. When they skinned him alive, the forgiving elder said to the emperor’s soldiers: “Thank you, my brethren, for in scraping my old body you renew my spirit for a new eternal life.” He worked many miracles and converted many to the Faith. Even the emperor’s daughter, Galina, abandoned the idolatry of her father and became a Christian. Condemned to death and brought to the place of execution, St. Haralambos raised his hands to heaven and prayed to God for all people, that God would grant them bodily health and spiritual salvation and that He would multiply their fruit of the earth: “O Lord, Thou knowest that men are flesh and blood; forgive them their sins and pour out Thy grace on all!” After praying, this holy elder gave up his soul to God before the executioner lowered the sword on his neck. He suffered in the year 202. The emperor’s daughter, Galina, removed his body and honourably buried it.
Holy Apostle Onesimus of the 70*
Onesimus was one of the Seventy. He was a slave of Philemon but transgressed against his master and fled to Rome. There he heard the Gospel from the Apostle Paul and was baptized. Since the Apostle Paul had earlier converted Philemon to the true Faith, he reconciled the two of them – Philemon and Onesimus, master and slave – writing a special epistle to Philemon. It is one of the most touching compositions in Holy Scripture. I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds … For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever. Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me (Philemon 1:10, 15, 16). Indeed, moved by this letter, Philemon received Onesimus as a brother, freeing him from slavery. Later Onesimus was consecrated a bishop by the apostles themselves, and he accepted the Episcopal throne at Ephesus at the death of the Apostle Timothy. This is evident from the Epistle of Ignatius the God-bearer. At the time of Trajan’s persecution, Onesimus, already an old man, was arrested and brought to Rome. In Rome Onesimus gave an account of himself before the judge Tertulus, and he was imprisoned and finally beheaded. A wealthy woman removed his body, placed it in a silver coffin and buried it honorably, in the year 109.
Holy Great-martyr Theodore the Tyro*
The word Tyro means recruit. As soon as Theodore entered the army in the Marmarite regiment in the town of Amasea, the persecution of Christians began under the Emperors Maximian and Maximus. As Theodore did not try to conceal the fact that he also was a Christian, he was dragged to court and thrown into prison, which was then locked and sealed because the wicked judge wanted him to die of starvation. The Lord Christ Himself appeared to Theodore in prison and encouraged His martyr, saying to him: “Fear not Theodore, I am with you. Do not partake of earthly food and drink anymore, for you will be with Me in the other world in the heavens – eternal and everlasting.” At that moment there appeared a multitude of angels in the prison, and the entire prison shone brightly. The guards, seeing angels dressed in white raiment, became terrified. After that, St. Theodore was taken out, tortured and condemned to death. Theodore was thrown into a fire and gave up his holy soul to the Most-high God. He suffered in the year 306.
Philothei the Righteous Martyr of Athens
St. Philothei was born in Athens, and was part of a very rich and aristocratic family. Her father was Angelo Benizelos and her mother was Syrigi, barren woman, and gave birth to the Saint by her fervent and constant prayers. At twelve years of age, she was pressured to marry a rich Athenian, who would mistreat her. In three years, however, her husband died, and she was freed of his ill-treatment. Her parents pressured her to get married for a second time; however, St. Philothei decided to become a nun and gave away her prosperity for the betterment of the poor and the freedom of Greek slaves. This last event did not sit well with the Turkish people, who attacked the monastery and greatly wounded the Saint. She gave up her soul to the Lord in 1589.
Saint Leo, Bishop of Catania*
In the town of Catania, below the volcanic Mount Etna, lived St. Leo, a good shepherd and compassionate teacher of the people. He had great concern for the sick and the poor. His zeal for the Faith was as great as his charity toward the less fortunate. A magician named Heliodorus appeared in Catania and deluded the people with various illusions, greatly demoralizing the youth of the town. At one time during the divine services, Heliodorus entered the church of God and began his obscenities. St. Leo approached him, tied him to one end of his pallium, and led him to the marketplace of the city. Here Leo ordered that a large fire be built. When it was raging, he stood in the middle of the blaze and pulled Heliodorus into the fire. Heliodorus was completed consumed, but Leo remained alive and unscathed. All who had been bewitched by Heliodorus and who had looked upon him as someone divine, were ashamed. The compassionate and zealous Leo was proclaimed throughout the entire kingdom as a great miracle-worker, who helped men by his shining miracles. When Leo ended his course, he took up his habitation with the Lord, and from his relics there flowed healing myrrh. He reposed in the eighth century.
Holy Hieromartyr Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna*
Polycarp, this great apostolic man, was born a pagan. St. John the Theologian converted him to the Christian Faith and baptized him. In his childhood Polycarp was orphaned. Callista, a noble widow, after a vision in a dream, adopted, raised and educated him. From his childhood Polycarp was devout and compassionate. He strove to emulate the life of St. Bucolus, then the Bishop of Smyrna, as well as of the Holy Apostles John and Paul, whom he knew and had heard. St. Bucolus ordained him a presbyter and before his death designated him as his successor in Smyrna. The apostolic bishops, who gathered at the funeral of Bucolus, consecrated Polycarp as bishop. From the very beginning Polycarp was endowed with the power of working miracles. He expelled an evil spirit from the servant of a prince and through prayer stopped a terrible fire in Smyrna. Upon seeing this, many pagans regarded Polycarp as one of the gods. He brought down rain in times of drought, healed illnesses, had the gifts of discernment and prophecy, and so forth. He suffered during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Three days before his death, St. Polycarp prophesied: “In three days I will be burnt in the flames for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ!” And on the third day, when the soldiers arrested him and brought him to trial, he cried out: “Let this be the will of the Lord my God.” When the judge counselled him to deny Christ and to acknowledge the Roman gods, Polycarp said: “I cannot exchange the better for the worse!” The Jews especially hated Polycarp and endeavoured to have him buried alive. When they bound him at the stake, he prayed to God for a long time. He was very old and gray, and radiant like an angel of God. The people witnessed how the flame encircled him but did not touch him. Frightened by such a phenomenon, the pagan judges ordered the executioner to pierce him with a lance through the fire. When he was pierced, so much blood flowed from him that the fire was completely extinguished, and his body remained whole and unburnt. At the persuasion of the Jews, the judge ordered that Polycarp’s lifeless body be incinerated according to the custom of the Hellenes. So the evil ones burned the dead body of the one whom they could not burn while alive. St. Polycarp suffered on Great and Holy Saturday in the year 167.
Righteous John Cassian the Confessor*
John, this great spiritual father, was born in Rome of renowned parents. In his youth he studied all the secular sciences, especially philosophy and astronomy. Afterward he devoted himself completely to the study of Holy Scripture. Striving to go from good to better and desiring even higher levels of perfection, Cassian traveled from Rome to Constantinople to personally hear and see St. John Chrysostom. Chrysostom instructed him and ordained him a deacon. Benefiting much from the wise Chrysostom, Cassian traveled farther east, to learn even more and achieve greater perfection. He remained in Egypt, spending the longest time in Nitria among the famous spiritual athletes, from whom he learned the art of every virtue. He finally returned to the West and settled in the town of Marseilles. There he established two monastic communities — one for men and one for women. At the request of the monks, Cassian wrote many essays. Especially beneficial for lovers of the spiritual life is his work, “Eight Books on the Struggle Against the Eight Principle Passions” (The Institutes of the Monastic Life). Of great importance is his essay against the heretic Nestorius. This essay was written at the request of Archdeacon Leo. He served our Lord faithfully and enriched many with his wisdom, then took up his habitation in eternal life in the year 435. The relics of St. John lie in Marseilles even to this day.