31 December 2020

A calendar of the Saints of Antioch and Syria

Synaxis of the Great Saints of the Holy Church of Antioch
Apex: Our Lady of Sayyidnaya, Our Lord Christ
Top Row: Ss. Symeōn the Stylite, Daniēl the Stylite
Second Row: Ss. Pelagia, Rōmanos, Ignatios, Christina, Artemios
Third Row: Ss. Kyra, Marōn, Ephraim, Ioulianos, Ananias, Maranna
Fourth Row: Ss. Kyprianos, Kosmas, Theodōros, Barbara, Raphael, Damianos, Isaac
Fifth Row: Ss. Ḥabîb, Andrew of Crete, Meletios, Kosmas the Melodist, Victōr, Sergios, Bacchos
Bottom Row: Ss. John Damascene, John Chrysostom, Peter, Paul, George, Thekla

Our Lady of Sayyidnaya ☩ (8 Sep)

Apostle Peter (29 Jun) and his Throne at Antioch (22 Feb)
Apostle Paul (29 Jun)

Euodios of the Seventy (7 Sep)
Thekla the Protomartyr (24 Sep)
Ananias of Damascus (1 Oct)
Luke the Evangelist (18 Oct)
Barnabas of Cyprus (11 Jun)

Symeōn Stylitēs ‘the Elder’ of Antioch (1 Sep)
Babylas of Antioch (4 Sep)
Iouventinos of Antioch (5 Sep)
Maximinos of Antioch (5 Sep)
Sergios I, Pope of Rome (8 Sep)
Dōrotheos of Gaza (16 Sep)
Theodore of Tarsos (19 Sep)
Flavian I of Antioch (27 Sep)
Rōmanos ‘the Melodist’ of Blachernæ (1 Oct)
Kyprianos ‘the Former Wizard’ of Nikomedia (2 Oct)
Ioustina of Nikomedia (2 Oct)
Peter ‘the Confessor’ of Bayt Ra’as (4 Oct)
Domnina of Edessa (4 Oct)
Verinē of Edessa (4 Oct)
Prosdokē of Edessa (4 Oct)
Sergios of ar-Ruṣâfa (7 Oct)
Bacchos of Bâlis (7 Oct)
Pelagia ‘the Penitent’ of Antioch (8 Oct)
Poplia ‘the Deaconess’ of Antioch (9 Oct)
Andronikos of Wâdî an-Naṭrûn (9 Oct)
Athanasia of Wâdî an-Naṭrûn (9 Oct)
Theoteknos of Antioch (10 Oct)
Iakōbos of al-Ḥamaṭûrâ (13 Oct)
Theophilos of Antioch (13 Oct)
Kosmas ‘the Melodist’ of Gaza (14 Oct)
Loukianos of Antioch (15 Oct)
Sarbēlos of Edessa (15 Oct)
Bebaia of Edessa (15 Oct)
Barsimaios of Edessa (15 Oct)
Ioulianos ‘Saba’ of Edessa (18 Oct)
Artemios of Antioch (20 Oct)
Makarios ‘the Roman’ of Mesopotamia (23 Oct)
Terentios of Syria (28 Oct)
Neonillē of Syria (28 Oct)
Abramios ‘the Recluse’ of Mesopotamia (29 Oct)
Maria of Mesopotamia (29 Oct)
Zēnobios of Cilicia (30 Oct)
Zēnobia of Cilicia (30 Oct)
Serapiōn of Antioch (30 Oct)
Theodotē of Kyrrhos (1 Nov)
Kosmas ‘the Unmercenary’ of Asia (1 Nov)
Damianos ‘the Unmercenary’ of Asia (1 Nov)
Kaisarios of Damascus (1 Nov)
Agrippa of Damascus (1 Nov)
Adrianos of Damascus (1 Nov)
Dasios of Damascus (1 Nov)
Saba of Damascus (1 Nov)
Sabianos of Damascus (1 Nov)
Thōmas of Damascus (1 Nov)
Markianos of Kyrrhos (2 Nov)
Akepsimas of Kyrrhos (3 Nov)
Galaktiōn of Homs (5 Nov)
Epistemē of Homs (5 Nov)
Viktōr of Damascus (11 Nov)
Stephanida of Damascus (11 Nov)
John ‘Chrysostom’ of Constantinople (13 Nov)
Gourias of Edessa (15 Nov)
Samōnas of Edessa (15 Nov)
Abibos of Edessa (15 Nov)
Gennadios I of Constantinople (17 Nov)
Agabbas of Syria (22 Nov)
Iakōbos ‘the Solitary’ of Kyrrhos (26 Nov)
Grēgorios III of Rome (28 Nov)
John of Damascus (4 Dec)
Barbara of Ba‘albak (4 Dec)
Ioulianē of Ba‘albak (4 Dec)
Sabbas ‘the Sanctified’ of Jerusalem (5 Dec)
Athēnodōros of Mesopotamia (7 Dec)
Daniēl Stylitēs of Constantinople (11 Dec)
Ignatios ‘the God-bearing’ of Antioch (20 Dec)
Philogonios of Antioch (20 Dec)
Maurikios of Apameia (27 Dec)
Phōteinos of Apameia (27 Dec)
Theodōros of Apameia (27 Dec)
Philippos of Apameia (27 Dec)
Abo of Tbilisi (8 Jan)
Theodosios ‘the Cœnobiarch’ of Palestine (11 Jan)
Iakōbos of Nisibis (13 Jan)
Mausimas of Kyrrhos (23 Jan)
Makedonios ‘the Barley-Eater’ of Antioch (24 Jan)
Poplios ‘the Ascetic’ of Zeugma (25 Jan)
Marēs ‘the Cantor’ of Omeros (25 Jan)
Isaac of Nineveh (28 Jan)
Ephraim of Syria (28 Jan)
Palladios ‘the Hermit’ of Antioch (28 Jan)
Aphraates the Sage of Persia (29 Jan)
Zēnō ‘the Letter-Bearer’ of Cæsarea (30 Jan)
Peter ‘the Hermit’ of Galatia and Antioch (1 Feb)
Abraham of Erbil (4 Feb)
Julian of Homs (6 Feb)
Nikephoros of Antioch (9 Feb)
Peter of Damascus (9 Feb)
Meletios of Antioch (12 Feb)
Abraham of Harran (14 Feb)
Marōn ‘the Hermit’ of Kyrrhos (14 Feb)
Eusebios ‘the Hermit’ of Syria (15 Feb)
Maruthas of Martyropolis (16 Feb)
Eugenios of Antioch (19 Feb)
Makarios of Antioch (19 Feb)
Eustathios of Antioch (21 Feb)
Thalassios of Tillima (22 Feb)
Limnaios of the Syrian Desert (22 Feb)
Baradatos of Kyrrhos (22 Feb)
John ‘the Ascetic’ of the Syrian Desert (23 Feb)
Antiochos of the Syrian Desert (23 Feb)
Antōninos of the Syrian Desert (23 Feb)
Zebinas of the Syrian Desert (23 Feb)
Polychronios, disciple of Zebinas (23 Feb)
Moses, disciple of Polychronios (23 Feb)
Damianos of Ieros (23 Feb)
Raphael of Brooklyn (27 Feb)
Asklēpios of Nimouza (27 Feb)
Iakōbos of Nimouza (27 Feb)
Thalelaios ‘the Lamenter’ of Jablah (27 Feb)
Maranna of Aleppo (28 Feb)
Kyra of Aleppo (28 Feb)
Barsanuphius of Damascus (29 Feb)
Eudokia of Ba‘albak (1 Mar)
Domnina ‘the Younger’ of Syria (1 Mar)
James ‘the Faster’ of al-Jiyyeh (4 Mar)
Theodorētōs of Antioch (8 Mar)
Sōphronios of Jerusalem (11 Mar)
Malchus of Chalkis (26 Mar)
Markos of Arethousa (29 Mar)
Kyrillos of Ba‘albak (29 Mar)
Platonida of Nisibis (6 Apr)
Isaac of Spoleto (12 Apr)
Artemōn of Latakia (13 Apr)
Anikētos of Rome (17 Apr)
Anastasios I of Antioch (20 Apr)
Anastasios II of Antioch (20 Apr)
Grēgorios of Antioch (20 Apr)
Geōrgios of Lydda (23 Apr)
Thōmas Salos, Fool-for-Christ (24 Apr)
Hēsychios of Antioch (10 May)
Christophoros of Antioch (21 May)
Symeōn Stylitēs ‘the Younger’ of Antioch (24 May)
Ephraim of Amida (8 Jun)
Zōsimas of Phœnicia (8 Jun)
Theophanēs of Antioch (10 Jun)
Pansemnē of Antioch (10 Jun)
Akylina of Byblos (13 Jun)
Antipatros of Bostra (13 Jun)
Leontios of Tripoli (18 Jun)
Hypatios of Tripoli (18 Jun)
Theodoulos of Tripoli (18 Jun)
Ioulianos of Tarsos (21 Jun)
Febrōnia of Nisibis (25 Jun)
Andreas of Crete (4 Jul)
Martha of Antioch (4 Jul)
Joseph of Damascus (10 Jul)
Ḥabîb of Damascus (16 Jul)
Marina of Antioch in Pisidia (17 Jul)
Dios of Antioch (19 Jul)
Theodōros ‘the Sabbaite’ of Edessa (19 Jul)
Christina of Tyre (24 Jul)
Seraphia of Antioch (29 Jul)
Eusignios of Antioch (5 Aug)
Paulos and Ioulianē of Ptolemaïs (17 Aug)
Barsēs of Edessa (25 Aug)
Eulogios of Edessa (25 Aug)
Prōtogenēs of Ḥarrân (25 Aug)

27 December 2020

Holy Martyrs Maurikios and the Seventy at Apameia

Russian Orthodox icon of Saint Maurikios

Today, the twenty-seventh of December, the third day of the Nativity Feast of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, is the feast-day in the Holy Orthodox Church of Saint Maurikios and the seventy soldiers who were martyred for Christ at Apameia (now Qal‘at al-Maḍîq in Syria). They are also commemorated in the OCA on the twenty-second of February, and in the Greek church on the first of July. These military martyrs suffered during the reign of Emperor Maximianus Herculius. Besides Maurikios and his son Phōteinos, two of these soldiers are known by name to human history: Theodōros [Gk. Θεόδωρος] and Philippos [Gk. Φίλιππος]. The names of the rest are known by God and sung in praise by the host of angels.

Saint Maurikios [Gk. Μαυρίκιος, Ar. Mûrîs موريس] was apparently a native of Apameia. He served in the Imperial Guard – a position of high honour and trust. As Emperor Maximianus was passing through the city of Apameia, possibly on campaign against the Persians, he overheard a rumour that his guardsman Maurikios and his family were, in fact, secretly Christians. In particular, the pagan priests complained that Maurikios had been spreading his belief in Christ among the Roman Army. Maximianus summoned Maurikios before him, along with his entire unit of seventy men, and attempted to force them to make sacrifices to the pagan gods. Maurikios refused to do so, and to a man so refused all of his soldiers as well. Instead, they firmly confessed Christ crucified and risen again. Neither threats nor blandishments were of any avail to the Emperor in enforcing the pagan worship on these men.

Saint Maurikios and his men were stripped of their belts, the insignia of their rank. They were publicly humiliated and thrown into prison. After three days the Emperor called them before him, and they again confessed their faith in Christ. Maximianus then gave them over to the executioners to be tortured. They were flogged mercilessly with whips, and then cast into a fire to burn their flesh. Then they were hung from wooden poles and their flesh lacerated with iron hooks. Because Maurikios was the commander of the men, Maximianus wished to make an example of his family, and had his innocent son Phōteinos [Gk. Φωτεινός] put to death by the sword. But even this cruel tyranny of the emperor did not shake the faith of Maurikios, who knew that his son had thus joined the company of martyrs.

Seeing that even the death of his only son had failed to sway Maurikios, in a fury the wicked emperor ordered that the men be led to a marsh that lay at the confluence of two rivers, where there were many biting and stinging insects – wasps and midges and mosquitoes. The emperor ordered that they be stripped naked and their bodies smeared with honey, and then tied to trees and left to be eaten alive by the insects. To further torment Maurikios, Maximianus had the headless body of his son flung into the swamp before his eyes. God’s seventy holy martyrs endured the bites and stings of the pests for ten whole days and nights, and they were weak from thirst and from exposure, but none of them begged for mercy nor recanted Christ. When at the end of the ten days of their suffering the emperor returned and found them alive, he ordered his soldiers to behead them with the sword, and in this way the thrice-blessed martyrs departed to the infinitely more honourable court of their Heavenly Lord. The emperor wanted to leave their bodies exposed, for he did not want them to be given a decent burial. However, local Christians came and claimed the bodies of these martyrs, and had them buried and commemorated in the place of their execution.

The beloved memory of these holy martial martyrs of the Church was promulgated in particular by Saint John Cassian, who spoke highly of their martyrdom to his disciples and spiritual sons in the Ægyptian desert. Over time, Saint Maurikios’s legend took on a local flavour, and he became a patron of Thēbai, with the historical details of his life being tailored to that place. Later legends in the Middle Ages placed his martyrdom in Switzerland, in the ancient Roman city of Agaunum. As a result, in the Western Church in particular, ‘Saint Maurice’ is remembered as an Ægyptian and as a patron of the Swiss Guard, and he is often traditionally depicted as a dark-skinned, African Roman soldier. Holy martyr Maurikios, and the seventy faithful soldiers whose duty to Christ exceeded even your duties to any earthly kings, pray unto Christ our Lord for our salvation!
Apolytikion to Saint Maurikios and the Seventy at Apameia, Tone 4:

Your holy martyrs O Lord,
Through their sufferings have received incorruptible crowns from You, our God.
For having Your strength, they laid low their adversaries,
And shattered the powerless boldness of demons.
Through their intercessions, save our souls!

24 December 2020

The time of our salvation draws near

The time of our salvation draws near.
Make ready, O cave!
The Virgin draws near to bear the Christ.
Be glad and rejoice, O Bethlehem, land of Judah,
for our Lord has come from thee!
Hearken, O mountains and hills, you lands around Judæa,
for Christ, the Lover of man, is coming to save those whom He created!

23 December 2020

Our God-bearing father Naum of Preslav

Saint Naum of Preslav

The twenty-third of December is the feast-day of Saint Naum of Preslav, one of the Seven Great Saints of the early Slavs and a disciple of Saints Cyril and Methodius. Saint Naum is highly regarded among the God-fearing of all the East and South Slavic nations, but in particular among the Bulgarians.

Because Saint Naum belonged to the mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius, and was a contemporary of Saint Kliment of Ohrid, much of their hagiographies are also his. He shared in their hard pastoral labours, suffered the same persecutions and deprivations, and glorified the same Christ all the while. He preached the Gospel to the Slavs in their own language. He endured with patience and hope, strengthened by Christ – the slights and the jeers, the beatings and the mockery of the pagans, as well as the political persecutions of the Frankish enemies of the Slavic tongue. Naum went together with Saints Cyril and Methodius to the court of Pope Hadrian in Rome, where the two elder monks made the case for their Liturgical use of the Slavs’ own language in their mission; while in Rome, Naum while in attendance upon Saints Cyril and Methodius aided and sped their prayers, and they worked many miracles for the poor and sick and invalid of Rome. In this way Pope Hadrian was convinced that theirs was a work of God and gave them his blessing to continue.

It was here in Rome that Saint Cyril stayed at a monastery and met his holy repose. Saint Naum returned to the Slavic lands together with Methodius. However, their Liturgical settings in the Slavonic tongue and their active opposition to the various hæresies and heathen resurgencies that had taken hold in the kingdom of Great Moravia brought down the wrath of princes like the wicked Svätopluk on the one hand, and Frankish priests like Wiching on the other. Saint Methodius suffered these persecutions along with the remaining faithful apostles. They were thrown into prison, but a great earthquake struck and toppled the prison walls – and like Saint Paul and the early Apostles the disciples of Saint Methodius walked free by the grace of God. Saint Naum, along with Saint Kliment, managed to arrive safely at the court of the saintly king of Bulgaria Boris Mihail, who invited the two of them to teach the Bulgarian people both the written Slavonic language in the alphabet that their saintly prædecessors had created, as well as the true love of Christ and the præcepts of the Christian religion. The two humble servants of the true King were all too happy to oblige this God-pleasing request of an earthly one.

Saint Naum founded a school at Pliska. Here, in addition to keeping the rule of the monks – praying, fasting and vigils – he bent his energies upon the training of minds of young people in literature and philosophy, as well as in the good news of Christ, whose love illumines every corner of the cosmos. Saint Naum’s school, blessed by God for this work, would later become the famous Literary School of Preslav. For seven years, between 886 and 893, he laboured here. When he was not teaching the young in Pliska and later in Preslav, he was accompanying his friend and fellow-disciple of Cyril and Methodius Kliment in his missionary ventures into Mœsia and Pannonia. After Saint Kliment was appointed bishop by Tsar Boris Mihail’s successor Simeon, Saint Naum was appointed to take his place at the seminary Kliment had founded in Ohrid. Here Saint Naum founded a monastery in 905, where he spent the final five years of his life in quiet contemplation. He reposed in the Lord on the twenty-third of December in the year 910, and his friend Kliment was the one who began promoting the cause of his glorification. Holy father Naum, excellent teacher and friend to the Slavs, bearer of Christ’s light into Eastern Europe, pray unto Christ our God that our souls may be saved!
Apolytikion for Saint Naum of Preslav, Tone 8:

By a flood of tears you made the desert fertile,
And your longing for God brought forth fruits in abundance.
By the radiance of miracles you illumined the whole universe!
O our holy father Naum, pray to Christ our God to save our souls!
Saint Naum Monastery, Northern Macedonia

20 December 2020

Holy Hierarch Philogonios, Archbishop of Antioch

Saint Philogonios of Antioch

Today, the twentieth of December, is – along with being the feast-day of the glorious and right-victorious God-bearing hieromartyr Saint Ignatios of Antioch – the feast-day of Saint Philogonios, another of the great and holy early primates of Antioch. It is truly meet that today we remember both the third and the twenty-second primates of Antioch, for both were bold confessors of Christ and both shared a great love for the living Truth and for the right beliefs of the Church. Saint Philogonios was also a ‘social justice saint’, who while he was still in his sæcular life was a scholar of the law who defended the poor, the widows and orphans from the predations of the rich and greedy. When he was anointed archbishop of Antioch, he was among the first of the hierarchs of the Church to oppose the hæresy of Arius.

We do not know much about the early life of Saint Philogonios [Gk. Φιλογόνιος, Ar. Faylûjûnûs فيلوجونوس]. We do know, however, that he was well-spoken and thus probably also well-educated. According to his hagiography, he was married and had one daughter. The Latin hagiography departs somewhat from the Ægyptian and Greek hagiographies, however. According to our tradition, after Philogonios’s wife died, he took his property, set aside a portion for his daughter, distributed the rest to the poor and needy, and left the world to become a monk. He had made great progress in the ascetic life before he was chosen as Archbishop. According to the Latin hagiography, he was actually chosen as Archbishop by œconomia, without having become a monk: the canons were dispensed with in his case on account of his great virtue. Whichever is the case, it is clear that the people of Antioch chose Philogonios as their Archbishop on account of his many personal excellences, his vast and profound learning, his ascetic way of life and his true devotion to Christ. His demonstrable love for the poor, the vulnerable and the oppressed clearly also had a great deal to do with his election.

The people’s choice of Archbishop was not in error, for it turned out that Saint Philogonios proved to be a wise archpastor, and a keen expounder and defender of the true doctrines and the true knowledge of Christ. According to the eulogy by Saint John Chrysostom, the flourishing of the Church of Antioch in his own day was evidence of Saint Philogonios’s wisdom and careful stewardship. As archbishop he refused all of the comforts and material dignities that his office was due, setting an example for the Church in future generations that, for example, Patriarch Pavle of Serbia of blessed memory followed. Renouncing all such vanities, Saint Philogonios never kept for himself one single denarius or even one extra tunic. He was among the first to denounce the doctrines of Arius, being a close friend of Pope Saint Alexandros of Alexandria, who informed Saint Philogonios by letter of his decision to excommunicate Arius for the second time.

There was a well-documented persecution of Christians under Emperor Maximianus Herculius, under which suffered the holy Antiochian martyrs Barbara, Ioulianē, Hesychios and Theoteknos. There was another politically-motivated persecution of Christians under Emperor Licinius, who campaigned against the Sauromatæ [Ossetians] in the East during this time. Many army officers in this campaign lost their commissions – and possibly also their lives – if they refused to worship the pagan Roman gods; it was during this time also that Saint Abibos of Edessa was martyred.

The Latin and Orthodox hagiographies of Saint Philogonios tell us that he suffered under both of these persecutions for his confession of faith. He may also have been arrested and interrogated for his faith. However, Licinius was defeated in battle by Emperor Constantine and deposed prior to Saint Philogonios’s repose. In addition, the Ægyptian hagiography of Saint Philogonios tells us that he ‘departed in peace’: it is therefore likely that he was released on the orders of Emperor Constantine and restored to his see for the last three months of his life. Holy hierarch Philogonios, right-believing confessor of Christ, defender of the defenceless and needy poor, pray unto Christ our God that our souls may be saved!
Apolytikion for Saint Philogonios of Antioch, Tone 4:

In truth you were revealed to your flock as a rule of faith,
An image of humility and a teacher of abstinence;
Your humility exalted you;
Your poverty enriched you.
Hierarch Father Philogonios,
Entreat Christ our God
That our souls may be saved.

18 December 2020

Our venerable father Daniil the Hesychast of Voroneț

Saint Daniil of Voroneț

The eighteenth of December is the feast-day in the Orthodox Church of Saint Daniil the Hesychast, who is rightly venerated as one of the great Southern Europeans alongside Saint Teodosii of Tărnovo and Saint Paisii of Neamț who contributed to a rediscovery of the Jesus Prayer and the discipline of hesychasm in the early modern Orthodox Church. Saint Daniil is commonly called the ‘father of the Moldavian hesychasts’.

Saint Daniil was born Dumitru in a small village near Rădăuți at the beginning of the fifteenth century. His parents were poor peasants who lived on the land belonging to the monastery of St Nicholas in that town. He was a contemporary of Saint Ştefan ‘cel Mare’. His parents gave Dumitru to the monks of Saint Nicholas Monastery in Rădăuți to be educated when he was 10 years old. We are told in his hagiography that he quickly memorised the Horologion and the Psalter. When he was 16, he entered the monastery himself, and was tonsured a monk with the name of David. His spiritual father was Saint Leontie of Rădăuți, the great Romanian bishop whose life we celebrate on 1 July. After years of ascetic struggle and spiritual warfare he was appointed to the priesthood.

At some point, the monk David went to the Monastery of Saint Laurence near the commune of Vicovu de Sus. He fulfilled his daily obediences, and during the night he prayed, kept vigil and wove baskets. He took on the Great Schema and with it the monastic dame of Daniil. Feeling the need of greater solitude in his pursuit of Christ, Saint Daniil eventually obtained from his abbot permission to live in solitude in the wilderness. At some point before 1450, he came to live near Neamț Monastery on the Secu River. However, people discovered where he lived, and they began to visit him, seeking wisdom or aid. Further fleeing into the wilderness, Saint Daniil sought refuge in northern Moldavia, along the upper banks of the Putna River. Here he found a cliff face. He built himself a cell by carving a room out of the rock. He dwelt underground, and in a chamber aboveground on the cliff face he carved out for himself a complete chapel for prayer: including an altar, a cross-in-dome and a narthex.

When Saint Ștefan was on the run after the assassination of his father Bogdan II in October of 1451, he took refuge in this area. He discovered the chapel and cell of the holy Daniil, and the elder holy man sheltered and advised him, and furthermore prophesied that in time the hunted man would himself become prince of Moldavia.

Much of what is holy in Saint Ștefan’s highly-sæcular life may be attributed to the influence of Saint Daniil the Hesychast upon his spiritual child. Daniil hated bloodshed and war, and mourned for those whose lives were taken in war. And yet such things happen in the fallen world, and this was not a happy time for the Moldovan people: the Turks incessantly attacked Moldavia, and the Moldavian princes themselves killed each other and went to war with each other. He strictly enjoined the prince under his care to erect monasteries on the battlefields where much blood had been shed, so that there might be mourning and prayers even for his fallen enemies in battle – and he also enjoined the prince to pray for them himself, for the sake of his own soul. As we know from Ștefan’s hagiography, he did indeed submit to Daniil in this obedience.

It was thus under these directives that Putna Monastery was established near Daniil’s cell in 1470. Saint Daniil then removed himself to another cell, also carved out of rock at Șoim Cliff [that is, ‘Falcon Cliff’], near the Voroneț in the vicinity of Suceava. In 1488, after a Moldavian victory against a Turkish invasion, Saint Ștefan also built a monastery at Voroneț, and Saint Daniil – then over 80 years of age – was elected by the monks to head this monastery as its abbot. To this obedience he, we may imagine reluctantly, submitted – but he fulfilled this obedience as he fulfilled all of those he had prior, in a spirit of self-giving love.

On account of this, God favoured Saint Daniil with the gifts of wonderworking and discernment, and he spent his last days of life in the monastery guiding the monks and performing works of healing for both monastics and laity. Many came to him for this healing, and for spiritual advice, and to confess their sins. Saint Daniil reposed peacefully in the Lord in 1496, and was buried at Voroneț Monastery. He was glorified formally by the Church of Romania on the twentieth of July, 1992.

In addition to the hagiography above, which is largely taken from the resources provided by the Orthodox Church in America on the great hesychast, my good friend Fr Dcn Aaron Taylor at Logismoi has compiled an enviable collection of other sources on the life of Saint Daniil. I think it is fitting to quote from these sources to provide an assessment of Saint Daniil’s significance. The following was written by Archimandrite Ioanichie (Bălan) in 1996:
By the holiness of his life, Saint Daniel the Hesychast showed himself to be a Christ-bearer and a great teacher of silence and the Jesus Prayer or even from his youth. During his lifetime there was no hesychast and spiritual father in Moldavia more renowned than he, nor any doer and teacher of prayer more skilled. For this reason all the abbots and spiritual fathers of northern Moldavia, as well as the high officials of the National Council (the Sfat), had him as their spiritual father.
Venerable father Daniil, spiritual father of many monks and wonderworking lover of peace, pray unto Christ our God that our souls may be saved!
Apolytikion for Saint Daniil the Hesychast, Tone 8:

By a flood of tears you made the desert fertile,
And your longing for God brought forth fruits in abundance.
By the radiance of miracles you illumined the whole universe!
O our holy father Daniil, pray to Christ our God to save our souls!
Cell of Saint Daniil at Putna

13 December 2020

Holy Hierarch Dosoftei Barilă, Metropolitan of Moldova

Saint Dosoftei of Moldova

Today, the thirteenth of December, is the feast-day of the great Romanian-language poet and holy hierarch of the Orthodox Church, Saint Dosoftei of Moldova. As well as being a prolific poet in his own right – sometimes counted as the first great poet, indeed, in his own language! – Saint Dosoftei was also an erudite scholar who translated numerous Greek editions of Liturgical texts into Church Slavonic and Romanian. He was also a dedicated and active archpastor. However, owing to the political climate of the time – the incessant wars the Turks waged on Orthodox peoples throughout the Balkans and Eastern Europe on one hand, and the machinations and force of the Uniates on the other – Saint Dosoftei was among those who were persecuted. Because of his steadfast Orthodoxy and his criticism of worldly kings, he ended his life, like Saint John Chrysostom, in exile.

Dosoftei was born Dimitrie Barilă on the twenty-sixth of October, 1624, in Suceava, to Leontie and Misira Barilă. He was named for the fourth-century Saint Dēmētrios of Thessaloniki, on whose feast-day he was born. His parents were faithful Orthodox Christians, and he loved Christ and His Church as much as they did. His parents took care to educate him carefully, so that when Dimitrie was a young man he already had a quick mind, a humble and curious disposition and an ear for languages, of which by adulthood he knew five besides his native Romanian: Greek, Latin, Church Slavonic, Polish and Ruthenian. He attended school at the Three Hierarchs Monastery in Iași, and subsequently from the Orthodox Brothers at the Kiev Caves Monastery. At the age of twenty-five, he forsook the life of the world and took the tonsure of a monk, along with the monastic name Dosoftei – that is to say, Dositheos.

The new monk Dosoftei was a wondrously gifted student. Again, he was not only adept in learning other languages, but he also loved studying the natural sciences and philosophy. But what really drew him were the writings of the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church, the Scriptures and the Psalms. As a monk in the Probota Monastery, as well, he learned and practised the ascetic disciplines of prayer, fasting and obedience to the abbot. By looking to Christ he grew in love and wisdom, and soon he became a mentor, an educator and a spiritual father to other monks in Probota. This was a discipline that well suited his disposition and intellectual strength, and he undertook it for many years, gently and mildly guiding monks in the way of truth and in the love of God.

Advanced in both knowledge and in virtue, he was chosen by God to fulfil the office of an archpastor, although as a monk this was not his first choice. In 1658, at the age of 34, he was anointed as the bishop of Huși, and the year afterward he was transferred to Roman. Thirteen years later, in 1671, Saint Dosoftei was elected to the office of Metropolitan of Moldavia. His wisdom and his kindness were legendary, and he astonished everyone. As the chronicler John Neculce put it:
Acest Dosoftei mitropolit nu era om prost de felul lui. Și era neam de mazâl. Prea învățat, multe limbi știa: elinește, slovenește, și altă adâncă carte și-nvățătură. Deplin călugăr și cucernic, și blând ca un miel. În țara noastră, pe ceasta vreme nu este om ca acela.

This metropolitan Dositheos was not a simple man of his sort. He was of boyar blood; and being so learned, he knew many languages: Greek, Slavonic, and many other profound books and doctrines. A complete and devout monk, as gentle as a lamb. In our country nowadays, there is no such man as this.
Saint Dosoftei lived in very troublous times, with the Moldavian principality being subject to invasions from every side, and particularly by the Turks. And yet it was during this time of trials and hardships that he produced some of his most significant scholarly work – the translations of Liturgical, Scriptural, hagiographical and Patristic texts, into Church Slavonic for the benefit of the Russian people, and into Romanian for the benefit of his own. He wrote a recension of the Greek Old Testament in Romanian which remained in use for many centuries afterward. The fact that he was able to do this, as well as caring for war refugees, widows and orphans in his own territory, tells us much about his spiritual quality and his care for all dimensions of the lives of his flock.

The wars against the Ottomans and the wars against the Poles claimed Saint Dosoftei as one of their victims. When the Turks captured the country in 1673, on account of his anti-Ottoman stances, Metropolitan Dosoftei was deposed from his see and sent into exile in Poland. The following year he was replaced in office by a good monk named Teodosie, but upon Dosoftei’s return from this first exile Teodosie gladly relinquished the Metropolia of Moldavia back to its previous holder. Teodosie himself retired into Bogdana Monastery in Bucovina, and soon thereafter suffered martyrdom.

In Iași Metropolitan Dosoftei restored the printing-house, and used it to publish his new written volumes in Romanian. These included Divine Liturgies (1679 and 1683); a Psalter (1680) with parallel Slavonic and Romanian text; and a Book of Prayers (1681). From 1682 to 1686 he worked on developing a Romanian Paterikon based on Greek and Slavonic sources on the lives of the saints; however, this work was left unfinished, being interrupted by his second exile into Poland. Still, this work demonstrates his great love for the saints – both those of distant antiquity and far-off lands, and Romanian saints whom he knew and treasured personally. He wrote about people like Saint Daniel the Hesychast and Saint Raphael of Agapia. And he supported and encouraged printing of holy books by others, and the establishment of other monastic presses. At his urging and with his backing, Mitrofan of Buzău printed several editions in Greek from his monastery: Cetățuia Monastery in Iași.

What happened in 1686 that interrupted Saint Dosoftei’s work and sent him into exile again, was the invasion of Moldavia by John III Sobieski, which resulted in the plunder of much wealth from the Moldavian people by the Poles, as well as of the relics of Saint Ioan the New of Suceava. Metropolitan Dosoftei spent the rest of his earthly days in exile from his earthly homeland, though all the time he was preparing both himself and his people for entry into the heavenly one. In exile he continued his translations of holy texts into Romanian, including the Patristic writings of Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Ephraim the Syrian, Saint Germanos of Constantinople and Saint Symeōn of Thessalonikē.

Saint Dosoftei endured his exile at Stry Castle with equanimity and set about practically with what he was able to do, providing pastoral care to the mostly Ruthenian flock of Orthodox Christians in Poland. He was, all the same, subject to constant political pressure from the Polish King John III, and attempts to persuade him and his flock to convert to the Unia. However, Saint Dosoftei condemned the Unia in no uncertain terms, and steadfastly refused to abandon Orthodoxy, thus saving his flock from becoming spiritually as well as politically colonised people under Polish dominion. He remained steadfastly Orthodox to the end of his life; he reposed on the thirteenth of December, 1693. Accounts of the monks who were with him show that he was given by God to know the day of his repose in advance. He was buried at the Zhovkva Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God.

The Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church glorified Metropolitan Dosoftei as a saint on 14 October, 2005. An adept student, a prolific scholar and literary mind, a great transmitter of tradition to the future generations, a loving spiritual father to many young monks and a caring and practical archpastor to many more of the laity, Saint Dosoftei is deeply beloved by Romanians, Moldovans and Carpathian Rusins alike. Holy hierarch Dosoftei, angelic scholar and tutor and gentle archpastor to generations of Orthodox Christians, pray unto Christ our God for the salvation of our souls!

Probota Monastery, Romania

11 December 2020

Our venerable father Daniēl Stylitēs of Constantinople

Saint Daniēl the Stylite of Constantinople
القدّيس دانيال العمودي البار

Today in the Orthodox Church is the feast-day of another great Eastern holy man and hermit, Saint Daniēl the Stylite. A native of Mesopotamia who lived during the fifth century, Saint Daniēl is exemplary of both the idiosyncratic personalism of Antiochian ascetic spirituality, and of the general tendency after the wave of fourth-century Roman persecutions of the Christian faith to seek higher forms of ‘training’ and escape from compromise with the world with its snares. Saint Daniēl embodies, in a literal way that is unique only to a handful of saints in the Orthodox Church, this striving after a higher spiritual perfection in Christ.

Saint Daniēl [Gk. Δανιήλ, Syr. Dānī‘êl ܕܢܝܐܝܠ, Ar. Dâniyyâl دانيال] was born in a small village outside Samosata in Mesopotamia – what is now Samsat in Turkey – in the year 409. This village may have been Marutha, a name which means ‘the caves’ and which is also the name of an earlier Mesopotamian saint. His parents were ’Ilyâs and Marṯâ (which was also the name of the mothers of each of the other holy Syrian stylites).

Marṯâ the mother of Daniēl was, for a long time, barren – and this was the cause of many unkind words of reproach toward her, both from her husband and from the others in the village. Like Saint Joachim the righteous ancestor of God, who was also berated and reviled for his childlessness, Marṯâ fled out of the house into a deserted place, raised up her hands in supplication to God, and wept and prayed to Him to remove from her the reproach. She came back into the house and lay down with her husband ’Ilyâs. That night, sleeping beside him, she received an angelic vision of two great circular lights descending from heaven and settling near her. The following morning she related her vision to her husband and her family – each of whom had a different ‘take’ on it. But Marṯâ committed her vision into God’s hands, and not long afterward conceived.

When the saint was born he was given a different name by his parents. But when he was five he went to visit a monastery together with them, and brought with him fruit as a gift for the monks in God’s name. The abbot asked the boy’s name, but when ’Ilyâs told it to him, the holy monastic became angry and berated him. ‘That is not the boy’s name!’ the holy man said. Then he turned to the child and asked him kindly in Syriac: ‘Go, young one, and fetch a book from the altar.’ The boy obediently ran in and grabbed the Old Testament book of the Righteous Prophet Daniel. Then the abbot turned to the boy’s parents and told them that this was the boy’s name, as it had been revealed by God before all. ’Ilyâs and Marṯâ asked the abbot to take the boy and teach him the knowledge of the monastics, but the abbot refused on account of the boy’s young age. Gently he told the parents to care for young Daniēl until he came of age.

When he was twelve years old, Daniēl heard his mother say that she had dedicated him to God. Hearing this he left home and sought out the abbot, fell at his feet, and begged to let him join the monastery. Again the abbot told him he was too young, but as Daniēl insisted repeatedly and with great fervour, at last the abbot relented and allowed him to stay. When his parents found out where he was, they were happy. Seeing him still going about in his sæcular clothes, though, they asked the abbot to tonsure him and to give him the garb of a monk. The abbot did so, and counselled ’Ilyâs and Marṯâ for their son’s sake not to visit him too often.

The boy made rapid progress in the spiritual life, being humble and obedient and never seeking praise for himself. Indeed, it made him uncomfortable and distressed when other monks praised him, and he sought to flee their praise. He told the abbot that he desired solitude, but the abbot forbade this, saying that in his present stage he must learn to live together with other monks. Even so, when the Church bade all the local monastic hegoumens and anchorites to attend a local sobor in the city of Antioch, the abbot took Daniēl along with him as an assistant.

Along the way the Mesopotamian monks stopped by the village of Galanissa, and found the monastery at which Symeōn Stylitēs had made his home and ascended his first pillar. The monks at Galanissa spoke praises of the stylite, while the Mesopotamian monks were perhaps less-than-politely sceptical. Having never heard of this discipline even among hermits, they accused the pillar-dweller of wilfulness and self-seeking vainglory. The monks of Galanissa invited the abbot and his followers to see Saint Symeōn for themselves, and they did so – Saint Daniēl among them. When they approached the pillar and saw the harsh elements to which the saint was daily exposed, and further when they heard the meek and gentle voice in which the holy man called down to them, full of love for them, the monks were amazed and ashamed. Understanding that they had shot far wide of the mark, they did not say anything further against Symeōn. Symeōn asked that a ladder be brought, so that he might kiss the holy monks from Mesopotamia who had come to visit him. But the abbot and his entourage wept for shame, and dared not ascend to kiss with their mouths the man they had just been slandering with their lips.

However, Daniēl told the elders that he was willing to go, and the abbot gave him leave. Daniēl climbed the ladder and kissed the holy Symeōn. The pillar-dwelling saint joyfully laid his hand upon Daniēl, and encouraged him to be strong and brave, for he must still endure many hardships for God’s sake. Then he gave his blessing and sent Daniēl back down the ladder among his fellows.

The monks attended the sobor in Antioch and were dismissed back to their monasteries. Soon afterward Daniēl was found worthy of being named abbot. However, taking the opportunity, he left the monastery by night and went again to see Symeōn at his pillar. Saint Daniēl stayed there two weeks and received much instruction from the holy man. Saint Symeōn begged him to stay longer, for he enjoyed discoursing on holy things with the earnest young man. But Daniēl told the elder stylite that he must go for himself to see the Holy Places and retreat into the desert of the heart, and with sad joy Saint Symeōn gave him leave and blessing to go.

Daniēl embarked on the road to Palestine, which was then experiencing great political upheavals. On the road, however, he met an elderly monk who began inquiring into his purposes in going to the Holy Places. After some discussion, the holy elder advised him not to go to Palestine, but instead turn about and go in the other direction, toward the New Rome where too he could be in the presence of the martyrs and those who had sincerely followed Christ, without the perils of brigands and political rebels. They came to a monastery and Daniēl asked the elder if he would come in with him; he was told ‘Go, I will follow.’ However, he lost sight of the elderly monk, and it was then that he began to doubt if it was not in fact an angel that had visited him.

On the road to Byzantium Daniēl came to a small chapel near what is now the Roumeli Hisar fortress on the Bosporus, associated with a Greek-speaking Orthodox church dedicated to Archangel Michael. This chapel had been abandoned and then used as a pagan temple, and there the dæmons of the wilderness had taken up abode. Daniēl heard some monks conversing in Syriac about the problem, and he asked one of them to lead him to the church. They took him there – going in upon the church ground Daniēl armed himself for battle not with weapons, but rather with the Psalms of David and with the sign of the Cross. Although the dæmons assailed him with stones and howls and nightmares, the holy man of God persevered and took up his abode in this church. Many of the simple folk, Greek and Syrian, from the nearby countryside came to visit him to receive advice or blessings.

The Greek dean of the Church of Archangel Michael, provoked by the Evil One, grew jealous of this Syriac holy man, and complained to the Patriarch of Constantinople about his presence there. This man, the dean complained, was a Syrian and the Greeks could not understand him. Further he complained that the man was a hæretic and should be expelled. But the Patriarch, Saint Anatolios of Constantinople, saw through and understood the priest’s jealousy, and mildly advised him: ‘If you do not speak his language, how do you know he is a hæretic? If he comes with the blessing of God, he will stay. If he comes with the hæresies of the Devil, then the devils in that place will drive him out. You need have no fear and bring scandal where there is none.’ Chastened, the dean put away his complaints for a time.

The dæmons continued to attack Daniēl, and again they stirred up the rage and jealousy of the Greeks against him. At length, Saint Anatolios himself was obliged to come and meet the holy man, breaking into the chapel with crowbars. By means of an interpreter, the Constantinopolitan hierarch held a discussion with the Syrian monk, and soon beheld the sincerity of his faith and the meek humility of his life. He dismissed the priests who had summoned him there, telling them that the holy man was blameless. Indeed he invited Saint Daniēl to come stay in the palace in Constantinople, and although he benefitted greatly from Daniēl’s discourse (and the holy man even healed him of an ailment that had been vexing him deeply), Daniēl wanted nothing for himself but pardon for those who had slandered him, and to be allowed to return to the place that God had showed him. Reluctantly, Saint Anatolios allowed him to return. Many supplicants flocked to the hermit’s abode, to hear his words of grace, and to receive healing and help. He spent nine years living alone in this chapel.

At length, Saint Daniēl received a vision of Saint Symeōn atop his pillar, bidding him come up to him. Shortly after this vision, Saint Symeōn’s disciple Sergios came to Constantinople, bearing with him the leather garment of the saint, who had reposed in the Lord. He brought it to Saint Daniēl. Sergios led Daniēl out into a desert place in Thrace where he saw a dove ascending and descending from heaven, and here Daniēl, with the help of Sergios and an Imperial guardsman named Markos (who had been a friend to the holy Syrian monastic from the beginning), made plans to set up a pillar in that place.

However, that land belonged to Gelanios, the steward of the holy table to Emperor Saint Leōn. Gelanios – as well as the villagers and shepherds who used the land on which they were building the pillar – were angry with Saint Daniēl for having made such use of their land without permission. And although the Emperor had not given them permission to do so, they first tried to destroy the pillar, but the same wedge and lever which they tried to use to topple it, were the very implements which the man of God used to ascend the pillar, which remained fixed. Then Gelanios berated the saint, and tried to have him fetched down, but a hailstorm arose which began to destroy the vineyards and the grazelands around them, and Gelanios was prevailed upon to withdraw.

Gelanios then called up to the saint in his own Syriac language to come down and explain himself, and he did so mildly this time, and with promises that his feet need not touch the ground, such that the saint was obliged to obey. But when Saint Daniēl began descending the ladder, the heels and ankles of Gelanios began to break out in sores and welters. And so Gelanios ran to the holy man and entreated him to ascend the column again, and to forgive his sin against him. Saint Daniēl ascended the column again, and Gelanios was healed. From that time on Gelanios believed in the holy man’s sanctity, and even offered to build the saint a higher column at his own expense. Sergios and Markos both made hermit-dwellings for themselves near the pillar, and lived as his first disciples.

Living as he did near the Second Rome, many eminent people from the City came to visit Saint Daniēl. Among them were Kyrrhos, a former prætorian præfect, whose daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit – she the Saint exorcised. The princess and empress Eudoxia also visited Saint Daniēl and was deeply edified by his teachings. Even Saint Leōn himself benefitted from the Stylite’s blessings, as after one visit to the pillar he returned to his wife Verinē and she conceived for him a son.

Some of the jealous detractors of the saint hatched a plot whereby they conscripted the services of a notable courtezan of Constantinople, Vassianē, to feign illness, mount the column and seduce the holy man. They offered her payment of 100 gold pieces if she could do this. She tried for many weeks to achieve her aim, but despite her evident beauty and subtle allures, Daniēl did not give into the temptation. Later, a dæmon took possession of Vassianē and dragged her into the streets, causing her to shout out and reveal the whole of the plot in the public square, along with the names of all the conspirators. In this way, Saint Daniēl’s good name was further established. However, some people took pity upon Vassianē and brought her to Saint Daniēl for healing. The meek hermit bore the woman no ill-will, for all she had tried to cause him to stumble, and so he earnestly entreated God for several days to forgive Vassianē her sins and to expel the dæmon from which she was suffering, and made her to drink holy oil. God was merciful upon Vassianē – and, having been freed from the dæmon by Saint Daniēl’s prayers, she praised God and Saint Daniēl, went down from the pillar, and reformed her way of living.

It was at this time as well that Saint Daniēl sent word to Saint Gennadios, Archbishop of Constantinople, and to Emperor Saint Leōn, that a very great wrath from God would be sent down upon Second Rome for its sins, and a massive fire would erupt in the city. Because it was Holy Week and the preparations for the Lord’s Pascha were well underway, Patriarch and Emperor thought it best not to disturb the people with such news. Pascha came and went and Saint Daniēl’s prophetic warning was forgotten. The fire did break out – many people were killed, and many more were injured or left homeless. They went to Saint Daniēl, who wept with them and prayed with them, and urged them to bear up under their losses and help each other. He gave comfort to those who came to him. And having seen the devastation, the Patriarch and the Emperor understood the wrong they had done. Leōn went with Verinē in repentance to Saint Daniēl, and Saint Gennadios did the same, and begged his forgiveness for having failed to heed his warnings.

Accounts of several other miracles follow in Saint Daniēl’s hagiography. He endured several vicious storms that blew ice and hail and mighty winds against his pillars, and the saint endured much suffering on their account; however, he would not accept from the Emperor an offer that an iron cage be built over his pillar to protect him from the worst of the elements, for – as he said – his holy prædecessor Symeōn had not availed himself of such amenities. Several other deceptions and complots were played upon him similar to the one in which the former prostitute Vassianē played a rôle; however, Saint Daniēl retained his innocence and simplicity throughout all of them, and in the end all of them were exposed as shams.

Saint Daniēl was active in Emperor Leōn’s foreign policy – as an impartial judge and an effective peacemaker. At that time the Roman Empire had a dispute with the independent, Georgian-speaking Christian kingdom of Lazestan in the Caucasus and northeastern Anatolia, whose prince Gubazi had been attacked by a previous Emperor, and several unjust demands placed upon him and his heirs. For this reason he had come to Constantinople, and Emperor Leōn took him to see Saint Daniēl. Upon seeing the pillar, the Lazestani prince fell upon his face and gave glory to God, for he had never before beheld or heard of such an example of living holiness. Saint Daniēl mediated the dispute between Lazestan and Rome, and Gubazi departed for his homeland, and Leōn to his palace, each satisfied that right had been done. Prince Gubazi maintained a lifelong correspondence with Saint Daniēl, and continually besought his prayers until the end of his life.

Even after the Thracian emperor’s death, Saint Daniēl continued to be active in the lives of Emperor Leōn’s son-in-law Zēnōn and grandson by Zēnōn Leōn II. During the dispute between Verinē’s brother Basiliskos and Zēnōn, Saint Daniēl firmly took Zēnōn’s side. This is possibly because of Basiliskos’s ecclesiastical policies, which favoured the moderately anti-Chalcedonian Miaphysites over the pro-Chalcedonian Orthodox. During this crisis Saint Daniēl was invited into the city by Patriarch Akakios of Constantinople in order to help settle it; a throng of people gathered around him which was so large and so enthusiastic that they nearly crushed the holy man. By the grace of God he was saved when a senatorial personage of the city, Dagalaiphos, and the servants of his household, came to the holy man’s aid. When he came into the cathedral, several people came up to him to beg him for aid, including a noblewoman named Hēraïs who was having trouble conceiving a son. In the end, Saint Daniēl managed to reconcile Basiliskos to Patriarch Akakios and make Basiliskos recant his heterodox beliefs, and the political trouble in Constantinople was temporarily quelled.

Saint Daniēl lived to the age of eighty-four, and was given to know in advance of the time that his course of life would run out. Seven days before he reposed in the Lord he gathered his disciples and the people around the base of his pillar and entreated them to be kind and merciful to one another, to love each other, to show each other hospitality, to be patient and humble to one another, and always to love first Christ and His Church. Three days before his repose he received a vision of the souls of the saints in Heaven. He reposed on the eleventh of December, 493. Many people attended him at his death and burial, and signs of his sanctity, such as luminous crosses in the sky and the flights of doves in the air, as well as wondrous healings, manifested themselves even before his interment. Holy and venerable Daniēl, ascetic and athlete of perfection, peacemaker, beloved by the faithful and feared by devils, pray unto Christ our God that our souls may be saved!
Apolytikion for Saint Daniēl the Stylite, Tone 1:

You were a pillar of patient endurance,
Having imitated the forefathers, O Venerable One:
Job in suffering, and Joseph in temptations.
You lived like the bodiless ones while yet in the flesh, O Daniēl, our Father.
Beseech Christ God that our souls may be saved.

07 December 2020

Holy Martyr Athēnodōros of Mesopotamia

Saint Athēnodōros of Mesopotamia

Today is the feast-day in the Holy Orthodox Church of Saint Athēnodōros, a martyr of the Middle East who suffered for Christ in the year 304, under the persecutions of Diocletian. Saint Athēnodōros was a monastic from his youth, and he lived his entire life in Syrian Mesopotamia. When the persecutions of Diocletian occurred, he was denounced as a Christian and placed under arrest, and brought before the governor, Eleusios.

Saint Athēnodōros was subjected to severe tortures for his faith, but never once broke, enduring them all with a wondrous mental strength. The executioners first strung him up between two pillars, and scorched and branded his flesh with torches of burning resin. Then they heated up two iron bullets until they were white-hot, and pressed them in under his arms, placed iron hooks in his nose, and made him lie down on a copper gridiron that had been heated red-hot. At last a bull cast from copper was prepared, heated red-hot, and Athēnodōros was forced inside. Among the crowds who observed the tortures that Athēnodōros went through, there were fifty pagans who came to understand the power of Christ, and turned toward belief. At last the faithful martyr, who confessed Christ until the end, was beheaded with the sword. The hagiographical legend says that the executioner who was to behead him became paralysed and died soon afterward. Having run the course to its end, he won the crown of victory and was accepted at once into the company of saints. Holy martyr Athēnodōros, glorious athlete and steadfast confessor of Christ, pray unto Him who loves mankind that our souls may be saved!
Apolytikion for Saint Athēnodōros, Tone 4:

Your holy martyr Athēnodōros, O Lord,
Through his suffering has received an incorruptible crown from You, our God.
For having Your strength, he laid low his adversaries,
And shattered the powerless boldness of demons.
Through his intercessions, save our souls!

05 December 2020

Venerable Sabbas the Sanctified of Jerusalem

Saint Sabbas of Jerusalem
القديس سابا القدسي

Today, the fifth of December, is the feast-day of Saint Sabbas, one of the great monastic fathers of the Middle East in Late Antiquity. Saint Sabbas, who in the Orthodox Church is often known by his cognomen ‘the Sanctified’, established the Dayr Mâr Sâbâ, one of the holiest and most visited monastic houses in the Holy Land, which to this day continues as a shining jewel of the Jerusalem Patriarchate. He is venerated throughout the Holy Land and throughout the Orthodox Church.

Saint Sabbas [Gk. Σάββας, Syr. Sava’ ܣܒܐ, Ar. Sâbâ سابا] was born to Cappadocian Greek parents, Iōannēs and Sophia, in Moutalaski – which is in the modern-day Talas district in the Turkish province of Kayseri (Cæsarea) – in the year 439. His father, Iōannēs, was a commander in the Roman Army, who was placed on assignment in Alexandria when the future Sabbas was about five years old. His father left the boy in the care and tutelage of a kinswoman named Hermia. Unfortunately, Hermia was something of a weak governess. The boy’s uncles were given free reign over his property and fell to squabbling over it. As a result, he was sent into the monastery of Saint Flavian and given to the monks to study. When his father returned three years later, the boy had already renounced the world and had dedicated himself to the celibate service of God. Though his parents entreated and begged him to return to sæcular life and marriage and siring children, the young Sabbas adamantly insisted that he stay with the monks.

In particular, he loved reading from the Psalter. He performed all that was asked of him without complaint, even the menial duties, and loved the sixty-five monastic brethren with whom he lived, seeking to learn from each of them. In being the servant of all, he became the greatest among them. He acquired the virtues and held onto them like precious gems: sobriety, obedience and humility. So great was his virtue as a monk that he worked wonders even as a young man. At one time a baker left his clothing in a red-hot oven. Sabbas went into the oven to fetch the clothes, first making the holy sign of the Cross; he came out of the oven unscathed.

When he was fifteen or sixteen years old, he went to the abbot of Saint Flavian’s and asked his leave to undertake a pilgrimage into the Holy City, there to take up another monastic abode. After a probation of two years, his request was granted, and he went into Jerusalem, staying at the monastery of Saint Passarion that winter. The abbot at Saint Passarion’s, Elpidios, asked Sabbas to stay with them in that monastery, but Sabbas asked and was granted permission to seek out instruction from Euthymios who lived nearby, and who understood the path of hesychasm.

Saint Euthymios received Saint Sabbas in his own monastery, and treated him with great warmth and hospitality, but he forbade him to stay there, and instead recommended him to the care of his friend Saint Theoktistos. His reasoning for this seems to have been that he did not want to set the precedent for accepting teenagers into the cœnobitic life. Whatever his reason, however, Saint Sabbas obeyed the word of Euthymios as though it were the word of God Himself, and went and subjected himself to whatever discipline Theoktistos sought to lay upon him. He served in the community of Saint Theoktistos for ten years longer until the age of thirty, in fasting and vigil and prayer, and showed great love for his monastic brethren, as well as great skill and diligence in holding the Divine Liturgy and the monastic hours.

After the repose of the saintly abbot Theoktistos, Saint Sabbas asked the permission of his successor as abbot, Logginos, to go out into the wilderness and lead the life of a solitary anchorite and hesychast. After taking counsel with Saint Euthymios and considering the great virtue of the young monk, Abbot Logginos gave his assent, and Saint Sabbas went to live in a cave some short ways south of the abbey of Saint Theoktistos. Here he prayed, held vigil, fasted five days out of the week, and made crafts with the work of his hands, and brought them to the monastery on the sixth day where he also partook of food and the Eucharist. During Great Lent Saint Sabbas stayed with Saint Euthymios and one of his disciples named Dometian in a desert place in the Wâdî al-Jûz. There they fasted, even barely drinking water, and prayed constantly. Saint Euthymios reposed in the Lord on the twentieth of January, 473.

This wâdî was the place which Saint Sabbas chose for his desert strivings, though he went out further into the desert and lived in a cave there, guided by an angel of God. This became the centre of the Dayr Mâr Sâbâ. Saint Sabbas himself forged a close friendship with Saint Theodosios the Cœnobiarch at this time, and attracted to himself some 150 hermits and monks who together built the lavra. In the early days of the monastery, the ancient Enemy of mankind set eagerly to work sowing discord among the monks, and from their envious hearts they began to grumble against Saint Sabbas, slander him, and asked Patriarch Salloustios to grant them a replacement abbot. Far from granting their wish, however, Salloustios saw through their envy and instead appointed Saint Sabbas a priest as well as confirming him as abbot. Patriarch Salloustios also ordered that the central lavra church be renovated. This occurred in the year 491.

Many new monks came to the Dayr Mâr Sâbâ. Of particular importance among the Sabbaïtes were monks from the Armenian nation, who were drawn to Saint Sabbas’s holy way of life. A certain Bishop Johannes of Köln (not to be confused with the Dominican friar of the Counter-Reformation) even joined the lavra. Saint Sabbas built a cœnobitic monastery at Kastellion, a fortress to the north-east of the lavra. Patriarch Salloustios then proclaimed Saint Sabbas to be the abbot of all the anchorites, and Saint Theodosios to be abbot of all the cœnobites in the Holy Land. Saint Sabbas would joke with Saint Theodosios, that Sabbas was the ‘abbot of the abbots’, while Theodosios was the ‘abbot of the children’, and that Theodosios had the harder job.

Saint Sabbas continued to build new monastic communities and cave-dwellings for hermits. It was during this time in his life as well that he came into conflict with those in authority. If Saint Sabbas had lived an inward life of contemplation, of repentance, of collection of the virtues, he had not forgotten that in the outward world action is sometimes demanded. Emperor Anastasios I Dikoros, who sympathised with the more doctrinaire Monophysites, had begun deporting and exiling Chalcedonian priests and bishops on charges of ‘Nestorianism’. Soon even the new Chalcedon-supporting Patriarch of Jerusalem, Salloustios’s successor Elias, found himself a target of political repression, for his support of the Patriarch of Antioch, Flavian II. Saint Sabbas himself travelled to Constantinople to protest this action and defend Elias in speech, and subsequently organised the anchorites and monks of Dayr Mâr Sâbâ to stage a protest and defend Elias with their bodies. These actions were only partially successful and Elias was still sentenced to exile, where he reposed in the Lord. But Saint Sabbas and Saint Theodosios were able to successfully convince the Jerusalem Synod to appoint Iōannēs III to the Jerusalem Patriarchate. Although Iōannēs was an Alexandrian, his sympathies had been with the more moderate Miaphysite party, and he later embraced the Council of Chalcedon with both arms. In this way, the Chalcedonian creed was saved from being completely suppressed in the Christian East.

Saint Sabbas made a second trip to Constantinople at the age of ninety-two, where he met Emperor Justinian. Here again his pleas were for mercy and for good works. He interceded with the Emperor to spare the populace of the Holy City from a general political repression, which he had planned on account of the Ben Sabar revolt. While he had the ear of the Emperor, Sabbas also encouraged him to promote infrastructure and public architecture in the Holy Land, and prophesied that in so doing Emperor Justinian would win back the West for the Empire (which he did). Sabbas also spent the last years of his life preaching against the various hæresies which threatened the Church. He also by his prayers brought the rain which ended a drought which had plagued the Holy Land for five years following the exile of Patriarch Elias.

Saint Sabbas reposed on the fifth of December, 532, having striven lifelong in monastic asceticism, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. He was recognised as a saint almost immediately. When his relics were uncovered fifteen years later, in the translation from Jerusalem to Constantinople, they were found to be incorrupt. His importance for the life of the Church in his own time was so great that his life was committed to writing by the monk Kyrillos of Skythopolis in 557. The relics of Saint Sabbas rested in Constantinople until 1204. When the Crusaders burnt and pillaged Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, Saint Sabbas’s remains were among the plunder that was stolen and carted off to Venice. It was only in 1965, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, that the Roman Catholic Pope Paul VI formally apologised to the Eastern Orthodox Church and – as a gesture of goodwill and repentance – returned the relics of Saint Sabbas to Dayr Mâr Sâbâ in Jerusalem. Great and venerable father Sabbas, humble servant of all and teacher of monks and anchorites, pray unto Christ our God that our souls may be saved!
Apolytikion for Saint Sabbas of Jerusalem, Tone 8:

With the streams of your tears you cultivated the barrenness of the desert;
And by your deep sighs, you bore fruit a hundredfold in your labours.
You became a luminary, shining upon the world with miracles.
O our righteous Father Sabbas, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved!